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Civilization
A Mythic Dimension in Fiction


“…Cairn’s license [civilization’s toleration of his masculine expressions as a prize-fighter] was revoked…Bewildered, unsatisfied, he wandered over the world, a restless Hercules…”

-Almuric

In Howard’s fiction civilization is an all-corrupting, humanity-limiting, masculinity-stifling field of manipulated experience in which evil naturally rises to the top of the domesticated human pyramid. All of Howard’s characters are restless wanderers on the face of the world, even the civilized ones.

-Kull is a caged tiger of a barbarian king sitting a civilized throne.

-Conan is the leonine version of Kull, fretting at his ethical chains and falling prey to manipulation, but still managing to carve his barbaric way through the decadent halls of palace and temple thanks to a more charismatic character.

-Bran Mak Morn is a lone wanderer on the land despite being a king, ever probing the chinks of civilization for a weakness.

-Kane is the most savage of them all—despite being a civilized Christian—as he journeys into the desolate places of civilized lands and ultimately to dark Africa, battling the residual evils of civilization all the way.

-El Borak and other heroes of the late 1800s desert adventures must seek freedom of expression in the dangerous and desolate wild lands beyond the reach of civilization, which, when they encounter it in the form of a town or settlement is a place of conniving, duplicitous intrigue ironically necessary for the adventure spark, that would often not flame into full fury until it could be resolved in the purity of a wild place.

Howard’s ancient fantasy yarns feature the bones of ages past standing exposed in the form of lost and decaying cities. These often provide a linkage point with the dimensions of race, dream, gulfs and cataclysm, with ruins sometimes housing the dream-feeding memories of elder ages. As much as Howard’s fiction is a polemic on barbarism as superior to a civilized state, his stories—often his very best—tend to rely heavily on the gross structures and decadent nuances of civilization for their very telling.

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