This particular gem is from the IMDB. Because the moderators clean out the forums periodically, much discussion is lost. Usually this is for the better, but occasionally some really good stuff is consigned to the aether.
As such, I wanted to keep this from such a fate, because it's pretty damn awesome. It is said that the best thing a Cimmerian can do to please Crom, is to ensure he never calls himself to the grim god's attention. With that in mind, may Crom disregard you for your tireless efforts, Amsterdamaged!
Okay. You asked for it. Why REH's has both more depth (and is more of a badass) than the Milius version.
Barbarism vs. Civilization
The struggle between barbarism and civilization is one of the prevaling themes that run through all of the Conan stories, and define the character. That theme is virtually non-existant in the Milius film. Conan is a badass because he was raised in the wilderness, beyond the reach of civilization, constantly battling monsters, wild animals, and other hostile tribes. Before he was full grown, he broke the neck of a bull with his bare hands. At 15, he participated in the sack of Venarium, and Aquilonian outpost. He's constantly compared to civilized folk, and even the strong ones are soft and weak by comparison.
“You fool!” he all but whispered. “I think you never saw a man from the West before. Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man — like this!”
And with a savage wrench he twisted Baal-pteor's head around until the ghastly face leered over the left shoulder, and the vertebrae snapped like a rotten branch. -REH, The Maneaters of Zamboula.
By comparison, Arnold Conan, from about the age of ten, was enslaved, and all of his barbaric instincts (that were not yet fully developed) were systematically purged from him. He spent his formative years pushing a wheel around, which would do nothing to stimulate one's mind or reflexes. He was taught to fight by civilized swordmasters. Some might find "Conan the Asian swordmaster" to be impressive, but he's still a product of civilization, and the literary Conan would mop the floor with him.
Zaporavo was the veteran of a thousand fights by sea and by land. There was no man in the world more deeply and thoroughly versed than he in the lore of swordcraft. But he had never been pitted against a blade wielded by thews bred in the wild lands beyond the borders of civilization. Against his fighting-craft was matched blinding speed and strength impossible to a civilized man. Conan's manner of fighting was unorthodox, but instinctive and natural as that of a timber wolf. The intricacies of the sword were as useless against his primitive fury as a human boxer's skill against the onslaughts of a panther. -REH, Pool of the Black One
Conan the Existentialist
The literary Conan is an existentialist. This is another theme that runs throughout the original stories. In short, it means that Conan determines his own destiny and defines the meaning of his own life.
"I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."
-REH, Queen of the Black Coast
Milius Conan, by comparison, is defined by what others do to him. In short, he's a victim, and never really in charge of his own life. His people are slaughtered, and he's enslaved. The literary Conan, even at ten, would have fought to his last breath against Doom's troops, and would rather have been killed outright than to live a life defined and controlled by others. Ditto for Conan's mom. And Conan never prays nor calls to his god for aid, because that is for weaklings.
"Their chief is Crom. He dwells on a great mountain. What use to call on him? Little he cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not fortune! He is grim and loveless, but at birth he breathes power to strive and slay into a man's soul. What else shall men ask of the gods?" -REH, Queen of the Black Coast
Arnold Conan, by comparison, believes in some sort of afterlife reward for valiant behavior. "I must go before Crom and tell him the Riddle of Schteel, and if I do not know it he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me." The literary Conan, by comparison, doesn't believe in some afterlife reward. He lives for today.
"There is no hope here or hereafter in the cult of my people," answered Conan. "In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls enter a gray misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander cheerlessly throughout eternity."
-REH, Queen of the Black Coast
Conan actually talks
Unlike in the Milius film, where Conan apperars to be barely articulate, the literary Conan is able to form complete sentences. The most famous line in the Milius film:
"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
The most famous line from literary Conan:
“He was a man,” said Conan. “I drink to his shade, and to the shade of the dog, who knew no fear.” He quaffed part of the wine, then emptied the rest upon the floor, with a curious heathen gesture, and smashed the goblet. “The heads of ten Picts shall pay for his, and seven heads for the dog, who was a better warrior than many a man.”
...now that's bad ass Defiant, even in the face of defeat
"I never saw a man fight as Conan fought. He put his back to the courtyard wall, and before they overpowered him the dead men were strewn in heaps thigh-deep about him. But at last they dragged him down, a hundred against one. When I saw him fall I dragged myself away feeling as if the world had burst under my very fingers. I heard Constantius call to his dogs to take the captain alive--stroking his mustache, with that hateful smile on his lips!"
-REH, A Witch Shall Be Born
The Milius Conan, by comparison, grovelled before Thulsa Doom and muttered "You killed my mutter, you killed my vader, you killed my people! You took my father's sword". Not badass. At all. Conan changes And most importantly, the literary Conan is a character who changes and evolves over the course of his stories. Despite the comments from some uninformed people, the individual stories, when taken as a whole, form a cohesive narrative of the character's life, every bit as rich, detailed, and cohesive as Tolkien's Ring Trilogy. The naive, wet behind the ears thief in The God in the Bowl is quite different than the seasoned pro in Rogues in the House. The selfish, bloodthirsty pirate of Pool in the Black One is quite different from the responsible ruler of The Hour of the Dragon. At seventeen, Conan spend time listening to philosophers ( Tower of the Elephant). He's a patron of the arts, and a skilled cartographer (The Phoenix on the Sword). He's traveled to virtually all corners of the known world and speaks dozens of languages fluently. He went from a thief, to a mercenary, to a pirate, to a general, and eventually to a king.
Would the Milius Conan have evolved in a similar fashion had the film series continued? Impossible to say. But what we do know for sure is that the film series launched on a shaky foundation, one that would have made a similar character evolution virtually impossible. It was already established in the Milius film that the character was a "barbarian" in name only, since he was systematically stripped of virtually all the characteristics that define what a "barbarian" is. It would have been difficult to show on screen how exposure to civilization contributed to the character's evolution when the foundation was no longer there.