Rick Stump picks up on a couple of recent topics we’ve touched on here: the abuse of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey template in film, the way the industry relentlessly un-imagines characters from before 1980, and of course… Conan:
This is another reason the arc of ‘avenge my father’s murder’ is slapped onto the Conan movies; the writer’s want to motivate Conan, they want to give him a reason to pursue all these adventures, to travel to all these places, to fight all these creatures. They assume that for a man to conquer incredible odds and do incredible deeds of heroism he needs a motivation that is almost singular, one that would obsess an man. So they kill his father (and mother) in front of him.
But in Howard’s tales, why did Conan leave home? What drove him to be a mercenary in the frozen North, a thief in the desert metropolis, a pirate, a nomadic horseman, a soldier, a general, and a king? What great event forced him to leave his home village and put him on the path of the hero? Was it murder? Death? A lost love?
According to Howard, Conan walked the world because… he was bored at home. Conan wandered the land and sea, fought monsters and wizards, and became a mighty king all because he was restless and easily bored.
It seems legit. I joined the army very literally because I knew it would be hard and I wanted to be hard enough to do it. A friend of mine joined because he wanted to travel for free. Hundreds of reasons, all legitimate, all interesting.
Movies serve up the same sorts of characters over and over, but the old pulp stories…? They’re all kinds of different. This is especially aggravating given the extent to which the pulp are smeared for being “formulaic”. And yes, it’s true that Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Princess of Mars, A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon, Jack Vance’s City of the Chasch and E. C. Tubb’s Derai all follow the same sort of template in a lot of ways. But the differences! Each of those authors developed their own style, their own approach. And they did so while managing to come off as far less derivative than the Conan clones and the interminable “Tolkenesque” series.
This is a function of the pulps being more like a scene than an actual industry. You see the same kind of wild, unrestrained variety in the tabletop gaming blogs of the past ten years or so. There are so many parallels: cheap or virtual paper, a great many creators, and intense competition for attention. What sort of stuff rises to the top in that environment…? Formulaic isn’t it! Formulaic is only sustainable in the gatekeeping era. (Of course it comes at the cost of editors effectively burning through their seed corn…!)
But you look at the really great game bloggers– James Raggi, Zak S, Ron Edwards, James Maliszewski, Jeff Rients, Philotemy, the Alexandrian— they’re all characters! They’re all doing the same thing… but they all have their own spin on it. Their own voice. It’s awesome. A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and C. L. Moore were like that. That’s why we’re still reading them. That’s why so many people that came after them are seen as merely being a product of their times.
Rick covers much more in his post, however. Read the whole thing!