Conan ... has really been a more popular fictional universe, more akin to characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Batman or Superman.Charles's point is interesting on several levels. I actually agree that a great many people, perhaps even the vast majority of them, don't know the real Conan. They've never read a word of REH and probably never will. To them, "Conan the Barbarian" -- a moniker I have come to dislike rather strongly -- is, effectively (or literally, in some cases), a comic book character brought to life by a succession of bodybuilders-turned-actors.
Many authors and artists have interpreted the character, and many of those interpretations have taken root in the general consciousness.
When printing Howard's stories, I think all that stuff (de Camp, Lin Carter, Frazetta, Roy Thomas) should be kept at bay.
When making a movie, I think it needs to be considered, because a certain percentage of the audience will only know Conan from those other sources. [Italics mine - JDM]
What's ironic is that, whenever an author's work is popularized by Hollywood, criticisms of the liberties taken with the source material are often dismissed by claiming that "by getting X out into public consciousness, it'll draw people back to the original," the implication seemingly that the original material is incapable of succeeding on its own merits or, less strongly, that it's somehow unsuitable to popular tastes. If this line of thinking ever actually bore fruit -- and I welcome examples to the contrary -- I might be willing to stomach it. But, from where I'm sitting, every time Howard (or any other author) gets bastardized under cover of "this will draw people back to the Real Thing," it only reinforces popular misconceptions and makes it that much more difficult for the genuine article ever to enter the popular imagination. Conan is Exhibit A in just the kind of miscommunication I was talking about last week. Who is Conan? I'd wager that a large percentage of the English-speaking world "knows" Conan, who, as Charles rightly notes is now a pop-cultural icon like Sherlock Holmes or Dracula, but is that really Conan? Or is it, as I would contend, a caricature of Howard's creation, a mere shade of a far more complex literary creation that deserves to be better known and appreciated in its own right?
What's so frustrating about this new Conan movie is that it's being made after a generation-long critical re-evaluation of Robert E. Howard as a writer, culminating in his short stories being canonized by Penguin Classics and included in a collection of fantastic tales published by the prestigious Library of America. Freed from the shackles of pastiche (thanks in no small part to the pioneering work of none other than Karl Edward Wagner), Conan -- and his creator -- have finally come into their own, being judged for what they truly are rather than for what others claimed that they are. Conan is not so strange a character nor his adventures so esoteric that they could not be faithfully adapted to film -- or at least more faithfully than we've seen to date. Why, in this day and age, when Howard's writings are more well regarded and critically appraised than ever, must the shadow of L. Sprague de Camp still fall over the Cimmerian?
If asking for a film in which Conan is recognizably the character created by Robert E. Howard and whose plot is drawn substantially from an actual story in which the character appears is "way too high a bar," as Charles suggests, is it any wonder that I'm so down on Hollywood these days?