The Women of 'Conan the Barbarian'

Aug 17, 2011 Comments

Female fantasy characters are often relied upon purely for their curvy appeal – relegated to mere damsels in distress clad in chain mail and fur-trimmed bikinis bursting at the seams. While the genre's earliest female roles rarely transgress that of sex object for the claiming, authors like Conan the Barbarian's Robert E. Howard planted the seeds for more multi-dimensional women in his sword and sorcery tales, helping to mold the shape of fantasy into the genre as we know it today.

Howard's literary series starring the steely, blue-eyed Cimmerian featured its share of passive wenches, but the barbarian met his match on multiple occasions when it came to the women in his universe. Conan formed alliances with several strong and capable female characters – some who helped him out of trouble, others whose fighting talents he wholly respected and nearly matched his own, and yes, even a few he even fell in love with. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger's filmic performance as Conan would have you believe he was all brawn and no brains, Howard's invention was a cunning and astute leader and was not content to squander his affections on just any Hyborian floozy. There were also several formidable opponents that evaded his nearly inhuman physical prowess – something that wasn't easy to convincingly render when it came to facing the mighty hero.

Strong female archetypes weren't a big selling point in Howard's time, but he provided us with an imaginative blueprint that tried to transcend the hoary clichés – assuming a more sympathetic and naturalistic perspective for his universe, in which women are capable of resistance, accomplishment, and combat. Here are eight women from Howard's original Conan stories that proved women had power.
 

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