Divine Serenity in Conan the Barbarian
The Savage Sword of Conan was a black and white comic book magazine which was published from 1974 until 1995. I don’t know much about Conan, if anything at all, but having a vague idea of who Robert E. Howard was combined with a quick search on the series’ Reddit board and a few extra clicks eventually led me to the previously mentioned magazine. Which I didn’t know it was, a magazine that is, with articles and non-Conan stories. As someone who is used to reading comic books as individual volumes, collected and published in chronological order, this was something entirely new to me. Well, that’s not exactly true, I have many fond memories of excitedly waiting each week for a new issue of Donald Duck & Co to arrive in the mailbox, although it’s been a decade or so since. It is really cool to be able to say that something happened a decade ago, by the way.
I’m not going to get too sidetracked though, what I want to discuss is this comic adaptation of Howard’s short story “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.” If you want the publishing details of this, just copy and paste the title into Wikipedia. What struck me in particular about this short story is also related to its publishing in a magazine. The first two stories in issue #1 are about Conan and Red Sonja. In the first one, Conan and Sonja team up and fight a necromancer, I think, not quite sure what he is, an evil sorcerer? It’s not too important. Regardless, they do that, end of story. In the second one, Sonja is betrayed and made a slave to a king, before she ends up killing him herself. So here we have two awesome and extremely cool stories about super strength fantasy people with swords, which is all well and good, I loved them! Well, maybe not the Red Sonja one so much but it wasn’t all bad. Point is though, if you’re all acquainted with sword and sorcery stuff from beforehand, they’re nothing but a bit quaint and neat.
The Frost-Giant’s Daughter, however, is different. It is, in a sense, serene and mystical. Reminds me a lot of walking to school on a dark morning during winter, trudging forward in the snow, waiting to get to the warm school. The story itself is about Conan, who fights some people in a cold, snowy and mountainous area, before meeting a mystical woman, alien in nature, clad in nothing but a scarf. He then proceeds to chase her, which takes him a long time, until finally he gets close to her. But, her true goals is revealed: she intentionally led him to her two brothers - giants. The mystical woman says: “Kill him, my brother! He is only flesh and blood, kill him!” But Conan fights back, and manages to kill the two brothers himself. For the last part, I’ll let the pages themselves do the talking.
“And now, for the first time, Conan begins to sense the awesome forces he has offended--and fear claws its way up his spine--as the whole sky suddenly leaps into icy fire!”
I love this, a lot. It really does speak for itself: a powerful man comes into contact with a mystical force, which he fights, not knowing the consequences his actions will have, if seemingly any at all, for they are above him. Isn’t that just cool? It reminds me of Berserk, with Guts fighting supernatural beings whom he can’t understand, although the monsters in Berserk tend to be a bit more, well, monster-esque. Not talking, humanoid frost giants. Both of these men are driven by survival, they come into contact with these forces, and are forced to fight for their survival, although Conan is a lot more conflict seeking than Guts, who would rather, in his own words, be left alone for good. In this story, Conan literally chases after the mystical woman - but I think the comparison still stands, at least somewhat. I don’t have much more to say, I’d just be repeating myself. I do highly recommend you read the first issue of The Savage Sword of Conan though, if not the entire thing, which I didn’t even do myself, it’s 70 pages total but I skipped the non Conan/Red Sonja story, the story I discussed here is 11 pages so not a big time commitment at all. And the artwork is gorgeous. In total, there are 235 issues of Savage Sword - so I suppose I’ll just get back to reading.
Serene, mystical, unknowable. Did it matter? Will there be consequences. Who knows, the forces are beyond our grasp.