Godspeed, you Barbarian Kings, Godspeed:
Have you ever read Conan the Barbarian?
Not the comics, though they aren’t bad at all. No, I mean the original Robert E. Howard stories. The old pulp-magazine tales. If no, then you should. If yes, well – go re-read them. They are, as a matter of fact, excellent. Even when some of them admittedly suffer from the old pulp-magazine curse of being somewhat overwritten. No wonder, of course, considering that these magazines more often than not paid their writers per word. If they paid them at all. When Robert E. Howard shot himself, the Weird Tales magazine owed him a not insubstantial amount of money. But that is besides the point. So, too, is Conan the Barbarian, when it comes to that. But it is a nice introduction, and an opportunity for me to recommend these excellent stories.
Howard was a very talented writer, in my humble opinion. And his tales (not only Conan), weird though they be, have everything they need to have in order to be classic tales: heroism, swordplay, action, brains, brawn, sly sexual innuendoes, a masculine archetype so masculine as to put the rest of us to shame; save the day, get the girl, go on and carry on – onwards towards the next adventure.
They are, in essence, classic tales.
Mythic, if you will allow. Classic escapism that, even when it is escapist at its core, can not help but tell us something about our world as-is. I would say as “was”, but the world does not seem to have changed much since Howard spun his yarns. Nor have human beings changed. I mean; we have tried altering the societal fabric and human nature to suit the ever-changing and slightly confused demands of whoever is in charge of the rhetorical broadswords at present, but we have not changed at our core. I wonder if Howard was correct in his assesment that barbarism, not civilization, was the human default. Sure seems like it at present, as the western world collapses in on itself in its confused blubbery death-throes; the rhetorical broadswords swung at our necks by those who have commandered the head of the fleet at present as deadly as they are inept; as poisonous as they are immature, as surprisingly influential as they are childish.
I would say more about the merits of Howard as a writer and Conan the Barbarian as a whole, but I fear I have to run along to defend the walls of my crumbling castle from the Hordes of Twitter; the present-day barbarians (or, perhaps, rival barbarian clan) that seek to sack, rape, ravage and pillage the last remnants of civilization here at the borders of time and cyclical time.
I would, had I the time and the space (but Tom has urged me to spin shorter yarns than I usually do, and I will not argue the point – a poor writer needs his scraps, after all, and these chains are ever so tight) go on at great length about the common tactics from these hordes that spawn from the night’s Plutonian shore, but I will focus on one of their most asinine, ridiculous, and insulting-to-my-intelligence tactics.
Which is the redundantly ridiculous phrase, fired from the faultering flint-lock pistols of their mealy-mouthed sausage-fingers: “read a book”; a phrase so common amongst the proud pink-haired warriors of Twitter as to undoubtedly be something they tell each other to employ when they have no counter-arguments and no rebuttals.
Now, I must admit for full disclosure, that I steer clear of any-and-all internet arguments. These people commenting on my various ramblings? Ignore. Commenting on Twitter? Ignore. Sending me hate-filled screeches through my email?
Ignore, ignore, ignore.
I am not one for internet arguments. I don’t have the time, the energy or the patience for it. Which may or may not label me a coward. I consider it more of a tactic in its own right, not to give the narcissists the attention that they crave, nor to give the mob the power which they demand.
However: I do read quite a lot of internet “debates”, and this phrase always stuck out to me as ridiculous and hollow.
Fucking “Read a book”.
Well, yes. I do.
And have done all my life, in actuality. With the exception of listening to music, reading is the most pleasurable solitary activity I engage in. In fact, I find myself increasingly worried about my continued reading of said books, considering that the very same hordes that shout that I should read books are the same types of people that call for banning certain books for being so horribly offensive to their delicate sensibilities. Dr. Seuss, for example. And Pippi Longstockings, wherein any remarks about the father of Pippi herself being a “king of the negroes” is removed for fear of offending. This is altering history and censoring culture. Modern day book-burnings, I would say. And this I say without any intention of sounding melodramatic. I see very few differences in burning piles of books for offending the dominant cultural or narrative sensibilities and that of banning/censoring/erasing piles of books from online vendors or real life bookstores for offending the dominant cultural or narrative sensibilities. The only thing that separates them is the ritualistic nature of fire.
It is all well and good I suppose, to propose people “read a book”, when one’s tribe of barbarians are in charge of which books people are able to read. Or allowed to read, come to that. And my love of these old pulpy tales, with their proud masculine archetypes; their unashamed masculinity and heroics would not exactly be on the top of their recommended, or allowed, reading lists.
Read a book.
Now: this is advice that everyone ought to take to heart.
On this I can agree, proud warrior of the howling plains of Twitter. But something tells me that you would not like the kind of books that I read. No matter: the point of starting this whole thing with Conan the Cimmerian; the glorious barbarian, was exactly that: these people would not like the kinds of books I tend to read. This is not to say that the only books I read are the old pulps. Far from it, in fact. The old pulp fiction thing is part of my escapism; the weird tales so weird and so brilliant that one may, for a short moment at least, escape the present-day realities and relax for a while.
As anyone of any wisdom would agree, reading more is great advice. Advice which this humble internet-rambler would recommend anyone follow. Read anything, read everything.
This will be my greatest advice, the best legacy I could ever hope to pass down to my son, when he gets to that age where I may give him such advice: read everything within your reach, not only that which conforms to your worldview; your knowledge of the world. For that is the most important thing one could do: expand ones horizons.
Books, no matter their genre, no matter if they are fact or if they are fiction, broadens the mind and expands it far more than any psychedelic ever could. They force truth and they force consideration; they force a broadened understanding of the world we inhabit, and they force – and this is the most important thing – a great grasp and understanding of language. With a great understanding of language comes an even greater ability to express ones opinions; to explain oneself properly to those willing to listen. Which may, of course, contribute to more books being written and thus more books being read, perhaps keeping the barbarism boiling beneath our skin and flaccid, over-civilized muscles at bay for a few decades more.
Whether or not barbarism is the default nature of man may well be up for debate. Civilization, such as it stands and with all its trappings and its potential for decadence, is to me preferable to a state of complete and utter barbarism.
And this, to my consideration, is only maintained through the delicate balance that comes between the yin and the yang; that keeps the forces of order and chaos in a state of functional, albeit reluctant truce and even cooperation; that not one sole tribe shall conquer and dominate and not one sole set of ideas be allowed free expression and free consumption. Which, interesting as it is, may well be a call that one set of ideas shall be allowed free expression and free consumption, which is the idea that not only one set of ideas shall be allowed free expression, etcetera.
An interesting twist, one could say. Tribalism is not easily avoided, it seems. And so, neither is barbarism. Still: I would prefer that all shall be allowed free expression rather than just the one.
Paint me as a hypocrite then, if you will. I’ll be out back, sharpening my axe and readying my shield.