William Smith and Nadiuska play Conan's father and mother in John Milius' revised script for Conan the Barbarian. They depict the characters described in the script very accurately - but how do they compare to what Howard said about Conan's family?
A huge man, bearded, primordial, like Vulcan himself, pounds down into the flames with a hammer. The blow strikes a glowing anvil, and bolts of magma are flung into the darkness with a clear and resounding ring.
The great figure - is it Thor, the great god of fire, or Wotan, forger of the Universe? - pounds down with the hammer again and again.
- Description of Conan's father, Conan the Barbarian script (1980 revision)
Little is known of Conan's father, save that he was a blacksmith:
“I have no royal blood,” ground Conan. “I am a barbarian and the son of a blacksmith.”
- "The Hour of the Dragon," The Bloody Crown of Conan, p97
He was not noted to have been slain when Conan was a child, nor was there any fascination for swords and riddles mentioned. It does seem logical that he would tell Conan of Cimmerian religion, though as written above, it would be very different from the creation story of the film.
While we don't have any descriptions of Conan's father on hand, there are some things we can surmise based on readings of the stories. For instance, Conan's father is unlikely to have been bearded, at least when he was a younger man. Howard's Gaelic heroes are always clean-shaven, as is Conan himself: beards are normally the mark of an older man among Howard's barbarians, aside from his Norse and Viking heroes, who sport voluminous beards. Historically, the Gaels preferred to be clean-shaven, though occasionally they would wear a moustache. It isn't impossible for Conan's father to be bearded - there just happens to be more precedent for clean-shaven Cimmerians than for bearded ones.
A strong, curvaceous, flaxen-haired woman stands at his side...
- Description of Conan's mother, Conan the Barbarian script (1980 revision)
Even less is known of Conan's mother, save that the circumstances of Conan's birth imply that she was as fierce and tough a warrior as any Cimmerian woman. The only reference to Cimmerian women in the Conan stories is in "Black Colossus," where it is stated that the women often fought with the men: it stands to reason that Conan's mother may well have been actively involved in the battle where Conan was born. Like Conan's father, the fate of his mother is never stated.
Although there are no actual descriptions of Conan's mother and father, it's fairly certain that both would have black hair and light eyes, and be darkly complected, like all Cimmerians:
They were a tall powerful race, averaging six feet in height. They were black haired, and grey or blue eyed. They were dolichocephalic, and dark skinned, though not so dark as either the Zingarans, Zamorians or Picts.
- "Notes on Various Peoples," The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p348-349
... the Cimmerians are tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or grey eyes.
- "The Hyborian Age, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p355-356
In the north there was incessant bickering along the Cimmerian borders between the black-haired warriors and the Nordheimr...
- "The Hyborian Age, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p357
They swept into the Cimmerian hills, driving the black-haired barbarians before them...
- "The Hyborian Age, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p362
In every description, the Cimmerians are described as black-haired and light-eyed, and never noted to have tawny or blonde hair: this is noted to be a Hyborian or Nordheimr trait. Howard used hair colour as an important form of distinction between disparate tribes: the Vanir are red-haired, the Aesir golden-haired, and the Cimmerians black-haired. Since this is set in a period before admixture between different ethnic tribes became fairly common, it's perfectly feasible to have "barbarians of different colours" populating the world, especially since they are nearly constantly at war. Tawny-haired Cimmerians blurs the lines considerably, and wouldn't really happen until after the Hyborian Age.
One other thing we do know about Conan's mother is that she would not have been hypnotised by Thulsa Doom - nor would any Cimmerian.
Khemsa’s sorcery was based on hypnotism, as is the case with most Eastern magic. The way has been prepared for the hypnotist for untold centuries of generations who have lived and died in the firm conviction of the reality and power of hypnotism, building up, by mass thought and practise, a colossal though intangible atmosphere against which the individual, steeped in the traditions of the land, finds himself helpless.
But Conan was not a son of the East. Its traditions were meaningless to him; he was the product of an utterly alien atmosphere. Hypnotism was not even a myth in Cimmeria. The heritage that prepared a native of the East for submission to the mesmerist was not his.
He was aware of what Khemsa was trying to do to him; but he felt the impact of the man’s uncanny power only as a vague impulsion, a tugging and pulling that he could shake off as a man shakes spider webs from his garments.
- "The People of the Black Circle," The Bloody Crown of Conan, p45
“Not so. You would not have led a charge into it. You would have suspected a trap. You would never have crossed the river in the first place, until you were sure the Nemedian rout was real. Hypnotic suggestions would not have invaded your mind, even in the madness of battle, to make you mad, and rush blindly into the trap laid for you, as it did the lesser man who masqueraded as you.”
- "The Hour of the Dragon," The Bloody Crown of Conan, p105
If Thulsa Doom's hypnotism is anything like the hypnotism found elsewhere in the Hyborian Age, then a Cimmerian would not be so easily swayed.
The only figure in Conan's family about whom we know anything is, oddly, someone absent from Conan the Barbarian (1982), the live-action Conan series, and the upcoming Conan the Barbarian alike: his grandfather.
His grandfather was a member of a southern tribe who had fled from his own people because of a blood-feud and after long wanderings, eventually taken refuge with the people of the north. He had taken part in many raids into the Hyborian nations in his youth, before his flight, and perhaps it was the tales he told of those softer countries which roused in Conan, as a child, a desire to see them.It isn't clear whether this was his paternal or maternal grandfather, but it should be reminded that the "southern tribe" of the letter is a southern Cimmerian tribe, not, for example, the Black Kingdoms or Shemites: in the same letter, Conan was called a "pure-blooded Cimmerian." The fact that Howard made special mention of Conan's grandfather possibly rousing a desire for Conan to explore the Hyborian Kingdoms is vital in understanding why Conan left Cimmeria in the first place.
Considering the instrumental role Conan's grandfather played in the young Conan's life, it seems incredibly strange that he so rarely features in adaptations: even the animated Conan the Adventurer got this element.
There is a slight possibility that Conan was not an only child, in a sentence in "The Black Stranger":
"Even a Zingaran ought to know there's never been peace between Picts and Cimmerians, and never will be," he retorted with an oath. "Our feud with them is older than the world. If you'd said that to one of my wilder brothers, you'd have found yourself with a split head."However, it's probably more likely that these "wilder brothers" are simply Conan's kinsmen, and not actual siblings.
Even if one presumes that Conan's parents indeed died at an early age, there is strong evidence that Conan's village at least survives into his adulthood:
... he returned for a brief period to Cimmeria, and there were other returns to his native land from time to time.
- Letter to P.S. Miller, The Conquering Sword of Conan, p343-344
Why would Conan make so many returns to his native land if there is no-one there to meet him?