Archive for the ‘Conan Myths & Misconceptions’ Category
Wikipedia says that Conan was 6’2″ and 210lbs, just like Cormac Fitzgeoffrey. Is that true?
This is a very pervasive myth, usually citing Conan and Cormac as “physical doubles at 6’2″ and 210 lb.” However, despite being mentioned on wikipedia, not only are there no references to such a comparison among Howard’s letters that I am aware of, but the very numbers are inaccurate. In “Hawks of Outremer,” Cormac FitzGeoffrey’s dimensioned were defined quite specifically: “a fraction of an inch above six feet” and was “two hundred pounds of iron muscle.” The other tales are more abstract in description: in “The Blood of Belshazzar” his height is given as “above six feet” and in “The Slave Princess,” “over six feet in height.” I have no clue to the source of this misconception, though I’d be very interested in tracking down the origin of this “factoid.”
In addition, Wikipedia states that this mirrors Howard’s own measurements. Once again, this is incorrect, as Howard gives his height and weight in a letter when he was around 22 years old:
I used to think if I ever got so I weighed 160 pounds I’d have enough self confidence to start a battle ship with. Now I stand six feet and weight 182, mostly solid muscle, and I have no more confidence in myself than I did then.
— Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. March, 1928
So what were Conan’s measurements, then?
The only height and weight measurements Howard ever wrote for Conan were his statistics at the age of fifteen:
At Vanarium he was already a formidable antagonist, though only fifteen. He stood six feet and weighed 180 pounds, though he lacked much of having his full growth.
— letter to P. Schuyler Miller, March 10, 1936
That “lacked much of having his full growth” indicates that whatever Conan’s measurements were when he was fully grown, they were substantially more than when he was fifteen. While there’s only so much a man can grow in height in his later teens, he could certainly have put on muscle mass over the years. Of special note is the fact that according to Howard, the average height of the Cimmerians was 6′. This is tall even by modern standards: only the people of the Dinaric Alps and the Netherlands are taller on average. For comparison, the average height of US males today is 5’9″. For Conan to be the average height of a full-grown Cimmerian male at the age of 15 suggests he may be even taller as an adult.
A comparison to Howard’s other Gaelic and Celtic heroes may give a sense of perspective:
- Cormac Mac Art: 6′
- Cormac Fitzgeoffrey: 6′
- Turlogh Dubh: 6’1″
- “Sailor” Steve Costigan: 6′
- Kull: over 6′
It should be noted that Howard’s Norse characters were generally taller than his Gaelic heroes:
- Athelstan: “half a head taller” than Turlogh Dubh
- Halfgar (“Swords of the Northern Sea”): taller than Wulfhere (Cormac Mac Art’s companion in arms, who’s the same height as Cormac, albeit much more heavily built)
- The Germanic Legionary (protagonist of “Men of the Shadows”): 6’5″
Though there are exceptions, such as in “The Lost Race”: the Cornish king Buruc is “vastly over six feet in height,” while the Belgic-Briton Cororuc is six feet.
So even if the Cormac Fitzgeoffrey measurements are inaccurate, 6’2″ and 210lbs isn’t too far off, right?
It’s a perfectly reasonable speculative conclusion: however, it should be stressed that it is as much a supposition as any height you yourself derive. In the end, Howard never gave an exact height and weight for Conan as an adult, but one can be speculated upon by looking at the hints he left, comparison to other heroes, even comparison to Howard himself. The implication from the stories is that he was greater than 6′, and there is justification for heights ranging from 6’2″ to 6’6″ within the text.
So what’s the story with the Atlantean Sword?
There isn’t one. Conan didn’t really have a favoured sword.
But Conan the Barbarian–
Forget Conan the Barbarian for a minute.
… But in Conan the Adventurer–
Forget that too.
… I mean, the live action-
Forget that too!
Ok, then what was Conan’s favourite weapon in the Howard stories?
There was none. Conan’s favourite weapon was the one in his hand in that story, and that varied from location to location. In “The Tower of the Elephant,” it was a simple dagger; in “Queen of the Black Coast” it was an Aquilonian broadsword; in “The People of the Black Circle,” it was a tulwar; in “Beyond the Black River,” it was an axe; in The Hour of the Dragon, goes through a dozen weapons.
The idea of Conan being partnered to a particular weapon subtly ties Conan to other hero/sword combos in history, mythology and myth, to the point where the two are inseparable. Bring up Excalibur, and one immediately thinks of King Arthur; a mention of Stormbringer conjures Elric; Anduril recalls Aragorn, Hrunting evokes Beowulf. There was no such duality in the original Howard stories: there, swords and other weapons were tools to be used, not symbols to be venerated or scrutinized.
The special sword of great power, antiquity or quality is central to the mythology of Conan the Barbarian, as well as in the live action and animated series, but it has no basis in the original stories.