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Conan the Banker?
Crackpot Mailbox: Lynn Lockhart Wonders about Banking as a Low-T Influence
© 2019 James LaFond
I think I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo when it occurred to me that banking was a major technology for the sissification of men. Before banks, a man had to defend his wealth at all times, and traveling with gold was cumbersome and risked robbery. With a bank, any wimp can rely on the bank to keep a majority of his wealth safe. Did Howard ever address this directly? One of Conan's best characteristics is his easy-come-easy-go attitude with riches (and women and his own life).
'Beyond the Realm of Almighty Dollar'
Brian W. Aldiss, in his book A Million Year Spree, or, as memory falters, perhaps it was Prichard in the 100 Greatest Fantasy Novels, reviewed Howard's Hour of the Dragon, and mentioned that the core appeal of fantasy over science fiction was as a mythic magic hut of human agency untouched by the tainted hoarding house of modernity.
Of course, My Bright Lady, the world of coin calls for greater masculinity than that of easily hidden cash, and my world of cash calls for more balls and back hair than my sons' world of credit, for my hunters knew I carried cash home from work a Saturday morning and I carried my own, much-reduced sword, a mere foot-long knife to protect my earnings of old on the streets of Baltimore.
I would remind that coin is where the evil of our Babylonian Woe took hold, that coin—money in its true form—formed the basis for the enslavement of our forbearers and the seduction of their kings, ultimately resulting in the greatest betrayal in Аrуаn history, the signing of the Magna Carta, when the King betrayed his fighting men to the money-lenders, his God to expediency and the lowly folk of his realm to chattel slavery.
Lacking much of his Anglo-Saxon ancestors' slave instinct and tending to weight his fiction towards his Gaelic ancestors' yearning for tribal hearth and heroic heather, Howard crafted only one English hero of note, Solomon Kane, ironically a man who had renounced his wealth as an austere avenger and righted the wrongs of his greed-sodden countrymen.
As for Howard's most renowned literary hero, Conan, he is a tribal populist, giving away the treasures he fought for in one adventure to an impoverished lady, arrogantly asserting that he could win more, and adventuring out of wanderlust, beginning each adventure as broke as he ended the last—a man of tribal stripe who, despite being cunning, ruthless, murderous and tempted by the urge of rapine, again and again chooses honor and decency over riches.
As King of Aquilonia, when his saga begins at the end, Conan sleeps in an austere chamber surrounded only by the weapons of the warrior as a wizard [1] plots his doom.
In Rogues in the House, Conan is hired to murder a wizard [1] to free himself from prison but soon asserts his masculine authority over the conspirators.
As a thief in The Tower of the Elephant, Conan decides to rob a wizard [1] on a dare, only to give up the quest for riches for a humane cause on behalf of an alien intelligence in great suffering.
As a betrayed King, in The Scarlet Citadel, Conan spits at the feet of the wizard [1] mastermind, consigning himself to be eaten alive in the dungeon below, rather than betray his own kingdom's people for empire—this despite him being a usurper.
As a thief in The God in the Bowl, Conan plays a bank robber of sorts, when he breaks into a wealthy man's storehouse-museum and proves willing to do far more violence in the cause of his honor than for the fattening of his empty purse. And what lurks within the museum but the evil agent of a wizard [1].
In Queen of the Black Coast, Conan teams up with a savage woman in a fantasy version of the career of Bonnie and Clyde, written just after their death. In this fantasy they raid palaces—the palaces of Stygia, the dark land or sorcery—which are the banks of the ancient world and plunder merchants, who are the bankers of the modern world.
In the Hour of the Dragon, King Conan pretends that he is dead and adventures as a penniless mercenary in order to regain his kingdom, which he values only as the focus of his moral responsibility, not as his wealth repository.
In The People of the Black Circle, Conan turns down the hand of the richest queen in the world to live as a bandit, not for riches, but for freedom, as Howard's anachronistic wonderlust was expressed in his fictional hero's wanderlust.
Notes on Banking and Sorcery
-1. In Howard's fantasy writing—particularly in the Conan and Kull series, concerning populist, usurper kings—the power that topples kings from thrones and casts peoples into bondage is that which is elevated above the warrior in the Magna Carta, by placing money lenders above family, heredity, nationality and religious piety. It is no stretch to regard Howard's wizards, not as cult leaders as depicted in the movie Conan the Barbarian, but as wealthy and powerful crypto-politicians with the assets and advanced communications skills to unseat monarchs and imprison heroes while disposing of the common folk as callously as a shepherd castrating rams and slaughtering lambs.
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