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Nestor slowly makes his way through the gorge, fully expecting Conan to ambush him, until he finds himself on a plateau facing the ancient ruins of Larsha. Conan himself is at the gate and Nestor rushes him, but the older mercenary is no match for the youthful barbarian, and Nestor is knocked unconscious. Conan decides he can't break down the bronze fate, so he searches for a way over the crumbling walls and enters the deserted city.
He notes that his feet stick to the ground and to a dried substance that covers the streets.
Occasionally, he thinks he hears sounds of movement, but can't be sure. Turning the corner, he encounters a giant fifty-foot long slug, the source of the dried mucus.
He leaps out of the way just as the creature spits an acidic geyser in his direction. Conan races away, the slug in hot pursuit, and barely escapes by climbing the high walls of a temple.
The slug begins to ascend the temples as well, but Conan pushes a stone gargoyle, and then several others, onto the monster until it lies dead, finishing it by scurrying down the walls and slashing at it with his sword. At that moment, Nestor appears, ready for another round with Conan. Conan manages to convince Nestor that they should work together and split the treasure, as Nestor, having lost his men, has nothing with which to return to Shadizar, and Nestor reluctantly agrees to assist Conan and split the loot.
The two men light torches and head towards the central place. It was a ghastly, unreal nightmare existence these people lived, shut off from the rest of the world, caught together like rabid rats in the same trap, butchering one another through the years, crouching and creeping through the sunless corridors to maim and torture and murder For example, in this story he is employed by Valannus, the governor of the Aquilonian city of Velitrium, as a military advisor and leader.
The Aquilonians are attempting to push their border beyond Thunder River to the Black River, which functions as the boundary with the neighbouring Pictish kingdom. Thus in both a literal and metaphorical sense, the entire story takes place in this liminal, contested borderlands space between barbarism and civilisation.
Who knows what shapes earthly and unearthly may lurk beyond the dim circle of light our knowledge has cast?
He retains his barbarian nature and capabilities but has now become more adept at negotiating civilisation. This duality makes him ideal for navigating the hybridised world of the borderlands. First, the borderlands as a place of hybridisation and transculturation. The borderlands in which the story is set has attracted a range of people from different regions of the Hyborian world. Conan is obviously from Cimmeria and Balthus is from an area called the Tauran.
In this way, these men chart an inverse path to Conan—where he moved from barbarism to civilisation, they have moved from civilisation to semi - barbarism. Nevertheless, they have each arrived at this permuted status of borderlands duality. To this end, the borderlands possesses an agency and character independent of the centre which can engender tensions between the centre and the borderlands.
There is a gulf of difference between the centre and the borderlands and the lack of knowledge the centre has of the borderlands is frequently emphasised.
Indeed, Howard often uses the figure of Conan—that embodiment of the borderlands—to reify this civilisation-barbarism dialectic. Howard also allows Conan himself to comment on this dialectic. Hence we get the quote about soft- bellied fools sitting on velvet cushions above and then the following long passage: The Cimmerian might have spent years among the great cities of the world; he might have walked with the rulers of civilisation; he might even achieve his wild whim some day and rule as king of a civilised nation; stranger things had happened.
But he was no less a barbarian. He was concerned only with the naked fundamentals of life. Howard also uses this borderlands-centre dichotomy to explore the civilisation- barbarism dialectic that was of such interest to him.
As in many other stories, Conan operates as his intermediary and interlocutor. The forces of barbarism proceed to overrun that outpost of civilisation, Fort Tuscelan, and we are left with the impression that they may even have overwhelmed the whole of Aquilonia had Conan not killed a wraith-like creature that was the source of a kind of esprit-de-corps for the Celts. Civilisation is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. Both these stories concern the life of Conan once he has ascended the throne of Aquilonia, that most civilised of Hyborian kingdoms.
He pines for his old life of a mercenary and adventurer but seems incapable of doing anything about it. For the first time in his life he appears genuinely impotent. And this introduces an aspect to borderlands theory which even Bolton did not assay; that just as the centre might be challenged and entangled in the borderlands so the inverse might be true. But is there something more that all this can say about the emergence of the sword-and-sorcery genre more broadly of which Howard is widely regarded as the pioneer with his Conan stories?
In Gunfighter Nation, Slotkin claims that the role of the frontier in American history can be divided into two camps— progressive and populist Slotkin The progressive school of thought took shape as a coherent doctrine at the end of the nineteenth century, primarily through the political speeches and frontier histories of Theodore Roosevelt.
Its basic tenets were a belief that the frontier was a vital element in shaping American institutions and national character and that the closing of the frontier in the nineteenth century marked a crisis in American history.
The way to tackle this crisis was through greater centralisation, with an emphasis on the efficacy of corporate managerialism. The populist school of thought emerged in the early twentieth century as a reaction to this progressive doctrine. The various ways in which these differing ideologies can be charted through popular culture is the main subject of Gunfighter Nation. Slotkin examines many aspects and genres of popular culture— such as literary fiction, popular history, dime and pulp novels, and films—but at no point does he discuss Howard or the genre of sword-and-sorcery more generally.
He does, however, comment on the emergence of hard-boiled detective fiction in the s and s, a genre that he places firmly in the populist camp by dint of it representing a reaction to the progressive political narrative that had dominated the first three decades of the twentieth century. These decades had witnessed obvious efforts on the part of the political establishment to assert America as a Great Power on the world stage and, domestically, a burgeoning monopolistic capitalism that had resulted in the expansion of big business at the cost of smaller entrepreneurs.
There are a number of ways in which the hard-boiled detective can be seen to represent a reaction to this progressive politico-economic paradigm. Howard was writing within the same economic and political milieu and I would argue that, as with the hard-boiled detective genre, the sword-and-sorcery of the Conan stories are a reaction to this progressive ideology. Tolkien Knight Furthermore, Howard himself, in his correspondence with Lovecraft, often evinced a populist mindset.
He also believed that similar forces within America wanted to make J. Lovecraft, December , as cited in Burke This is all to argue for the merit of a Boltonian borderlands reading of Robert E. This is supported, first, by the stylistic and thematic content of the Conan chronicles and, to this end, the Hyborian Age is replete with borderlands tropes and characteristics. The interaction between borderlands regions and civilised centres is a constant theme and the borderlands are often presented as sites where the civilised and civilising narrative unravels.
In many ways, Conan functions as an embodiment of the borderlands. He is a product of a borderlands region Cimmeria and Howard often deploys him to expound the civilisation-barbarism dichotomy. That said, the peoples who inhabit this world are, in fact, sourced from a multitude of different historical periods in a heady, postmodern brew Hall. This creates the intriguing potential for not only geographic but also temporal borderlands in the Hyborian Age. In other words, he was concerned with exploring a history of the Americas that encompassed both continents.
The history of the Hyborian Age spans thousands of years and charts the rise and fall of various peoples, some historical, such as the Picts, and others mythical, such as the Atlanteans and Lemurians. Sometimes the rise and fall of races is caused by conquest, sometimes by natural cataclysms, sometimes by internal enervation.
What is interesting, though, is that even in the instances where conquest is the reason for the rise or movement of a people which is, it must be stated, the most common cause , the final result is most often not the obliteration of one people but, rather, a racial blending of the two peoples. Thus the Hyborian Age presents a world replete with borderlands potential and it is in this world that the Conan stories take place.
Howard did not write these tales in chronological order. Howard letter to P. Schuyler Miller, March , cited in Cerasini and Hoffman However, they can be arranged chronologically and when done so they chart the evolution of the character of Conan from a virtually unknown adventurer to, ultimately, the ruler of the kingdom of Aquilonia. The stories, in general, also get longer and more complex as we follow this transformation and the character likewise gains in depth and complexity.
Thus through the figure of Conan we are also able to navigate and observe these various centres and borderlands. So what can we make of the character of Conan? He was born and grew up in Cimmeria, a kingdom so remote that it did not even feature on the maps of the civilised southern kingdom of Aquilonia Interestingly, it appears that the inception of the character of Conan may have even had a borderlands element.
I did not create him by any conscious process. In this way, Conan the Cimmerian is a product of the borderlands and can be seen to embody the borderlands of the Hyborian world. Thus he represents and conveys the essential characteristics and qualities of the borderlands.
In effect, this also equates to the characteristics and essential qualities of barbarism, since the Cimmerians are barbarians. Much has been made of the civilisation vs. The theme was the topic of many letters between Howard and H.
Lovecraft with Howard clearly on the side of barbarism Herron ; Coffman; Joshi. As Howard wrote to Lovecraft in I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies…With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilised man.
Always I am the barbarian…This is reflected in my writings, too, for when I begin a tale of old times, I always find myself instinctively arrayed on the side of the barbarian, against the powers of organised civilisation.
Herron  The Conan stories provide an example par excellence of this dis position. Conan, that avatar of barbarism, is frequently brought into contact with Hyborian centres of civilisation. This provides Howard the opportunity—via Conan—to expatiate on this civilisation-barbarism dichotomy. As noted, a number of the Conan tales bring our barbarian protagonist into contact with centres of civilisation.
This story takes place in an unnamed city in the eastern kingdom of Zamora and presents Conan coming to grips with civilised ways and conventions. In fact, it is his inexperience of civilised ways and norms that instigates the main plot of this story. Howard then shows us a more contemplative side to Conan that is somewhat at odds with his previous action. He is unable to understand neither the social nor the metaphysical codes and customs of this civilised people.
Yet, tellingly, it is his barbarian instincts that enable him to get the better of the civilised Kothian. Conan is then brought into contact with other civilised centres and peoples on a fairly regular basis in subsequent stories. He is banished to the desert borderlands and crucified. However, in an apt representation of the agency of the borderlands, Conan survives and returns at the head of a desert borderlands army to wreak his revenge.
The tribes are locked in an unremitting and bloody feud that seemingly has no resolution. The story has been interpreted as a critique by Howard of modern, urban life. Their subsistence is described in the following terms: They never left their barricaded castle except to steal forth into the Halls of Silence that lay between the opposing fortresses, to slay and be slain It was a ghastly, unreal nightmare existence these people lived, shut off from the rest of the world, caught together like rabid rats in the same trap, butchering one another through the years, crouching and creeping through the sunless corridors to maim and torture and murder For example, in this story he is employed by Valannus, the governor of the Aquilonian city of Velitrium, as a military advisor and leader.
The Aquilonians are attempting to push their border beyond Thunder River to the Black River, which functions as the boundary with the neighbouring Pictish kingdom.
Thus in both a literal and metaphorical sense, the entire story takes place in this liminal, contested borderlands space between barbarism and civilisation. Who knows what shapes earthly and unearthly may lurk beyond the dim circle of light our knowledge has cast?
He retains his barbarian nature and capabilities but has now become more adept at negotiating civilisation. This duality makes him ideal for navigating the hybridised world of the borderlands. First, the borderlands as a place of hybridisation and transculturation. The borderlands in which the story is set has attracted a range of people from different regions of the Hyborian world.