Biographical sketch[edit | edit source]
Conan grew up fast: by age fifteen he was already a respected warrior, participating in the destruction of the Aquilonian outpost of Venarium. By age sixteen he already knew what was best in life. After this he was struck by wanderlust and began the colorful and exciting adventures chronicled by Howard and others, encountering fabulous monsters, evil wizards, and beautiful wenches and princesses - he has travelled throughout the world and been a thief and outlaw, a mercenary and commander of a mercenary company, and a pirate. He begins building larger units of men, aiming for greater territorial ambitions, though his efforts are repeatedly thwarted - usually by the total massacre of his force excepting himself. But in his forties he finally succeeds, becoming king of Aquilonia, the most powerful kingdom of the age, having strangled the previous ruler, Numedides, on the steps of the throne. In his sixties, Conan leaves his country—never to return—to seek new battles in the uncharted west, leaving Conan II, his son by Queen Zenobia (a former Nemedian slave girl), to rule Aquilonia in his stead. Although Conan's adventures often result in him performing heroic feats, his motive is more than often his own survival, enrichment or rise to power and he thus displays many of the characteristics of an anti-hero.
Conan is the anglisicized version of the Irish name Conán. There are several characters who bear the name Conán in Irish mythology, most notably Conán mac Morna, also known as Conán Maol ("the Bald"), a member of the fianna and an ally of Fionn mac Cumhail. While uncommon, the name is still used in Oireland.
Its etymology is ambiguous. Some sources (e.g., Irish Baby Boy Names) say it is the diminutive of con or cú, meaning a "hound" or (figuratively) "a swift-footed warrior". Hence, Conan would mean "Little Hound" or "Little Warrior". Others (e.g., Collins Gem Dictionary of First Names, ISBN 0004587480, 1983) say it comes from the Irish meaning "high" or "wisdom". Given Conan the Cimmerian's career, both are apt.
Physical appearance[edit | edit source]
Conan is darkly tanned, has "sullen" or "smoldering" blue eyes, a "mane" of long black hair, and is scarred - Oft is mentioned the scarring on his face. Contrary to many modern illustrations, Conan is hirsute:
- So formidable was his appearance, naked but for short leather breeks and sleeveless shirt, open to reveal his great, hairy chest, with his huge limbs and his blue eyes blazing under his tangled black mane...
He is exceptionally tall and strong.
- At Vanarium he was already a formidable antagonist, though only fifteen. He stood six feet [1.83 m] and weighed 180 pounds [82 kg], though he lacked much of having his full growth.
Conan's height and weight as an adult are subject to speculation - some estimates make him 6' 6" (2 m) and up to 250 lb (113 kg) - but extrapolating the growth of the 15-year-old Conan based on modern data would make him at least 6' 2" (1.88 m) and 216 lbs (98 kg) at 18.
No other human of the Hyborean Age was ever described as stronger than Conan, although several are mentioned as taller (such as the strangler Baal-Pteor) or of larger bulk.
Although Conan is muscular, his silence, suppleness, agility, and way of moving was frequently compared to that of a panther - or another feline:
- He moved with the supple ease of a great tiger, his steely muscles rippling under his brown skin.
His garb was very often a loincloth or breeches and sandals, and his weapon a sword of some description, depending on his fortunes and location.
- He had discarded his torn tunic, and walked through the night naked except for a loin-cloth and his high-strapped sandals.
- His only garment was a pair of short red silk breeks, and his sandals were slung to his back, out of his way, as were his sword and dagger.
Sometimes he wears more:
- The man in the boat was a picturesque figure. A crimson scarf was knotted about his head; his wide silk breeches, of flaming hue, were upheld by a broad sash, which likewise supported a scimitar in a shagreen scabbard. His gilt-worked leather boots suggested the horseman rather than the seaman, but he handled his boat with skill. Through his widely open white silk shirt showed his broad, muscular breast, burned brown by the sun.
- The stranger was clad like himself in regard to boots and breeks, though the latter were of silk instead of leather. But he wore a sleeveless hauberk of dark mesh-mail in place of a tunic, and a helmet perched on his black mane. That helmet held the other's gaze; it was without a crest, but adorned by short bull's horns.
During his reign as King of Aquilonia, Conan was:
- … a tall man, mightily shouldered and deep of chest, with a massive corded neck and heavily muscled limbs. He was clad in silk and velvet, with the royal lions of Aquilonia worked in gold upon his rich jupon, and the crown of Aquilonia shone on his square-cut black mane; but the great sword at his side seemed more natural to him than the regal accouterments. His brow was low and broad, his eyes a volcanic blue that smoldered as if with some inner fire. His dark, scarred, almost sinister face was that of a fighting-man, and his velvet garments could not conceal the hard, dangerous lines of his limbs."
He loses none of his vigour with age with the above description coming when he is in his mid 40's.
Though several later historians have referred to Conan as "Germanic-looking," Howard imagined the Cimmerians as a proto-Celtic people with mostly dark hair and blue or grey eyes. Racially the Cimmerians to which Conan belongs are descendants of the Atlanteans, though they do not remember their ancestry. In his historical essay "The Hyborian Age", Howard describes how the people of Atlantis (the land where his character Kull originated) had to move east after a great cataclysm changed the face of the world and sank their island, settling where northern Scotland and Norway would eventually be located. In the same work, Howard also described how the Cimmerians eventually moved south and east after the age of Conan.
Traits and skillsEdit[edit | edit source]
Despite his brutish appearance, Conan used his brain as well as his brawn. The Cimmerian was a talented fighter, but due to his travels abroad, he also had vast experience in other trades, especially the thiefly one; he was also a talented commander, tactician and strategist, as well as a born leader.
Conan spoke many languages:
- Many a sheltered scholar would have been astonished at the Cimmerian's linguistic abilities, for he had experienced many adventures where knowledge of a strange language had meant the difference between life and death.
And could read and write:
- Behind an ivory, gold-inlaid writing-table sat a man whose broad shoulders and sun-browned skin seemed out of place among those luxuriant surroundings.
He was able to recognize, or even decipher, certain ancient or secret signs and writings, such as when he used the sign of Jhebbal Sag.
Another noticeable trait is his sense of humour. He is a loyal friend to those true to him with a barbaric code of honour and chivalry that often marks him as more civilized than those more sophisticated people he meets in his travels. Indeed his straighforward nature and barbarism are constants in all the tales.
One fact that is often emphasized is that Conan was very difficult to defeat in hand-to-hand combat. Conan needs only to have his back to the wall so that he cannot be surrounded, and then is capable of engaging and killing opponents by the score. Conan prefers to fight with a single sword and an open off-hand, which he uses for punching and grappling. However, he is also skilled with shields, axes, spears, daggers, and many other weapons.
Conan is not superhuman, though: he did need the providential help of Zelata's wolf to defeat four Nemedian soldiers. Some of his hardest victories have come from fighting single opponents, but ones of inhuman strength: one such as Thak, the ape man, or the strangler Baal-Pteor.
Conan is far from untouchable and has been captured several times (knocking himself out running into a wall drunk after being betrayed, although he still slays the people initally sent to arrest him, a fall from a wounded horse) but never as a result of martial failings.
One of Conan's skills is that of climbing. Cimmeria is a land of hills and cliffs, and its people are skilled at navigating them. Conan frequently astounds others with his abilities to climb sheer walls and cliffs. Conan is not greatly skilled at diplomacy or deception. However, his many years of combat experience have made him highly skilled at recognizing dissembling in others. He is especially skilled at reading body language, or in using it to miscommunicate his intentions.