Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Barbarian

Poul Anderson's "The Barbarian" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 148-158, is an insightful satire.

Conan stories and novels are decipherments, by Howard, de Camp and their successors, of pre-Pleistocene inscriptions. One preglacial people were horse nomads or maybe Centaurs. Serpens was ruled by snake worshipers or possibly by snakes.

A wandering barbarian adventurer would lack civilized values and virtues. His wars would be merely destructive, not also diplomatic. Tireless himself, he would march his troops so fast that they outran their supplies and were too exhausted to fight. He would lack finesse in both social and sexual intercourse. (Some) women would run towards him but even faster away from him. He would alienate allies and depress the economy by destroying wealth. The most prudent course for any civilization is to ensure that he supports their enemies, not them!

This satire is followed by an essay on heroic fantasy which I will reread next.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Yes, I too have read this essay, "The Barbarian," and appreciated both Anderson's shrewdness and wry humor.

    I'm reminded of how, in the Later Roman Empire, some barbarians served it as mercenaries or auxiliaries. By and large, it was not a successful experiment, hastening both the military decline of the Western Empire and adding another element of political instability in both West and East.

    And the illustration reminded me of Anderson's contribution to the Hyperborian literature: CONAN THE REBEL. I'm not sure if you've read that book or commented on it.


  2. Sean,
    I did comment on CONAN THE REBEL a while back but this blog is getting so long that neither of us can remember what is on it!

  3. I called Anderson's Conan novel one of his "3 BC", the other 2 being THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS and THE GOLDEN SLAVE.

  4. Hi, Paul!

    Quite true! There's been so much discussed here that it's too easy to lose track of the topics talked about.