Historic Passions in the Hyborian Age: A Furetian Analysis of Robert E. Howard's "The Hyborian Age"

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English Language and Literature


Robert E. Howard, in his stories about Conan the Barbarian, presented elaborate descriptions of a number of different fictional societies based primarily on real world examples, with Stygia based on ancient Egypt, Aquilonia on medieval France, etc. My paper will investigate these conceptions of civilization, particularly in how they appear in the Conan tales "Beyond the Black River" and "Red Nails." Each of these two stories contain vivid descriptions of societies in flux and offer superb examples of Howard's depiction of civilization, particularly in relation to Howard's views on mankind's inevitable descent into barbarity. To accomplish this investigation, I will utilize a framework first established by French historian Francois Furet to analyze how the societies present in each text function. Furet's analysis, as described in his Interpreting the French Revolution, views historical events not through a traditional "cause and effect schema" but as a confluence of "societal passions" and sentiments which govern a populace's behavior in times of strife. Furet's understanding of humans as mercurial beings, prone to drastic changes in behavior, will be especially useful when approaching Howard's work because of the incredibly frenetic descriptions of turmoil and civilizational upheaval described in the texts, particularly Howard's essay on the fictional history of his world, "The Hyborian Age." My paper will also look to the cultural moment of Howard's own time and how the "passions" of his own age are mirrored in the Hyborian Age.

First Advisor

Skip Willman

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