Lin Carter on Conan the Barbarian

Lin Carter was most famously a writer of science fiction and sword & sorcery, but he was also a US Army infantry veteran of the Korean war. I happened across an introduction he wrote for a book building out the Conan mythology with L. Sprague de Camp. The introduction was authored in 1971, long enough ago that the book could be dedicated to "the greatest living creator of swordsplay-and-sorcery, J. R. R. Tolkien."

Even then, it seems, Carter felt it was necessary to justify the project. The justification sounds shockingly familiar.
These days, many people, including (alas!) many of my fellow science-fiction writers, seem to feel it is somehow vaguely immoral to read purely for pleasure. A story, say these wise men, should really come to grips with something critical and important, like the oil slick on Laguna Beach, or the vanishing Yellowcrested Sandpiper. At very least, such persons advise, the hero should be a Negro striving to free his people, a homosexual gaily battling for social recognition, a concerned college youth protesting the iniquities of the Pentagon by blowing up his English Lit class, or an Amerindian getting back at the paleskins by seizing control of Alcatraz.
He goes on to say that he doesn't think this is necessary, and that in any case he doubts that his generation or the next one will solve any of the social problems afflicting society. I suspect his contemporaries, looking back on recent history, would say that they are justified by the subsequent progress on social recognition for gays at least; perhaps in other ways.

Still, I transmit his words because they go to show just how long this conversation has lasted. It's not at all new: 1971 is now 45 years ago, and the fight over making sure that all the heroes are this-or-that minority resisting this-or-that oppression is still going strong.

In any case, it perhaps explains some of the attraction of barbarism. 45 years is a long time to be lectured -- longer, indeed, than most of the American population has been alive.


raven said...

1971 would have been the leading edge of the cultural insanity-

Prosperity and peace have a lulling effect, allowing all sorts of foolish thoughts to stand as if they had merit, though the slightest wind would bend them flat.

Anonymous said...

One of Conan's best lines can be paraphrased as "Apparently there is a law against killing town's guards."

Grim said...

I remember that scene. It's in "Queen of the Black Coast."

Ymar Sakar said...

Raven, quite poetic and true.

The history of humanity is the cycle up and down of foolishness and creative genius.

There have been nations which fell because they deserved better leaders and got evil ones (Germany) and there have been nations which got great leaders that didn't deserve them (Athens).