Saturday, 13 October 2012

Conan And Marius

There are some similarities between these characters but also what a contrast! Both were fearsome soldiers and neither was created by Poul Anderson. Conan was an already established fantasy hero. Marius was a really existent historical figure.

Conan is the central character of a novel whereas Marius is discussed by characters in a novel and a short story. Marius, good at soldiering and at nothing else, made the mistake of going into politics and causing chaos whereas Conan, disliking states, preferring barbarism to civilisation, had the good sense to stay with what he was good at. I understand that later in this multi-authored series Conan does become a king but I imagine that this involves one-man rule of a small kingdom with popular assent, a very different proposition from electoral office and power politics in the growing, soon to be imperial, Roman state.

Marius, a general, rallied Romans and annihilated barbarian invaders. Conan, a barbarian, inspired rebels who annihilated imperial invaders. Conan also performed the cinematic feat of swinging on a rope to attack his enemies from behind. Only in Poul Anderson's works is it possible to read both an assessment of the historical Marius' military and political careers and an addition to the fictitious Conan's military exploits.


  1. "...Conan does become a king but I imagine that this involves one-man rule of a small kingdom ..."

    Ummm, not quite. Conan seized the throne of Aquilonia, and as his creator, Robert E. Howard, put it: "But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west."

    1. Dear Mr. Birr and Paul:

      I would like to the attention of both you Poul Anderson's essay "On Thud and Blunder," to be found in the collection FANTASY (Pinnacle Books, 1981). The bits I have in mind applicable to Conan are on page 166: "Can Gnorrts [a fictional barbarian created by Anderson to use as an analogy for bad heroic fantasy] truly seize the throne? He'll have to have an acquiescent majority, at the very least; else his regime won't last an hour." And, in the next paragraph: "Howard could make Conan's accession reasonably plausible."

      Anderson's argument was that politics is not simple and that no barbarian was ever likely to impose a lasting over a civilized nation unless he could somehow be accepted by the conquered as legitimate. The Merovingian founder, Clovis I, succeeded in post Roman Gaul because he was able to become accepted by the Gallo-Romans. Whereas, the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths eventually failed because they were not accepted by many of the conquered Romans as legitimate rulers.