You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author watches when he’s not writing. Well, how about a cartoon that must have been one of the weirdest pitches in the history of animation?
Let me tell you of
the days of High Adventure! 1990s animation.
Incidentally, Conan the Adventurer is available for viewing legally and for free via Tubi.
In brief, Conan the Adventurer looks something like this:
Now, much like our favourite Cimmerian when faced with some eldritch thing that has crawled out of the stygian void beyond the stars, my mind cannot comprehend what I’m seeing here.
And most bizarrely of all, it’s a shockingly faithful adaptation of the source material — probably more so than any other adaptation of Conan we’ve got.
That’s the weirdest part to me.
Kids really, really shouldn’t have enough familiarity with Conan to be able to recognise that; adults familiar with the Conan stories probably wouldn’t want to watch those stories adapted into a cheesy cartoon.
And yet, here we are.
And the cherry on top of this whole bizarre spectacle is that Conan the Adventurer is CanCon — that’s, uh, that’s short for “Canadian Content“, for those of you who may not be familiar with Canadian Telecommunication regulations.
Robert E.Howard is one of my literary idols and Conan is by orders of magnitude his most famous creation — posthumously, at least (we almost certainly owe that to the movie); his most popular stories in his own lifetime were comic Westerns starring a dude named Breckenridge Elkins.
Perhaps not actually that surprising given that Howard was from Texas…
Howard’s stories don’t usually pull any punches when it comes to content and subject matter. It sort of comes with the territory writing for pulp magazines. And the Conan stories have a propensity for being particularly lurid.
Which brings me back to the previous point.
Why is there a Conan cartoon?
And how did it end up this good?
Conan the Adventurer necessarily has to change a lot of things for the sake of its audience — the violence and the, uh, shall we say, “mature” subject matter, and the unfortunate portrayals of non-white cultures and people are toned way down.
But the world — the cultures, the cities, the places, certain characters — was clearly being written by someone who did their homework.
Conan is still a Cimmerian who swears by Crom, he’s not Austrian (Cimmeria, incidentally, is supposed to be Fantasy Ireland), he’s still bewildered by the ways of civilised Men, he’s still not book-smart but immensely shrewd and clever, Set is still an evil snake god, wizards are still usually evil, the ghost of the sage Epemitreus still shows up to help Conan.
Some the episodes borrow their plotlines from the stories — though, again, delivered in such a way as to be appropriate for children and playing fast and loose with the specific details.
But, also, there are episodes where Conan and friends do stuff like fight giant tanks or learn to be ninjas.
On the whole, though, it’s shockingly faithful to the mythos.
Even the fact that Conan isn’t actually killing any of the Serpent-Men bad guys, just using his magic sword to send them back to another dimension dimension (as explained in the theme song) isn’t entirely out of line with the original stories.
Don’t get me wrong, Conan killed a whole lot of the things in the original stories, but Serpent-Men and evil (and occasionally good) things from other dimensions show up in a lot of Howard’s stories (not exclusively the Conan ones) and Conan has used a magic sword more than once.
Though, of course, it wouldn’t be a 90s cartoon if the hero didn’t have a goofy sidekick. In this case, a scatterbrained magic phoenix who lives in Conan’s shield. The bad guy has a goofy sidekick of his own, a bumbling snake-lizard-person … thing.
Again, in principle, this isn’t anything out of line with the established Conan lore. Conan’s phoenix is clearly a twist on the first-ever Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword”, where Conan gets empowered by receiving a sacred phoenix emblem on his sword. Similarly, there are plenty of snake-things in the Conan-verse.
That’s definitely a thing inescapable in the extent to which it happened…
Conan the Adventurer is ridiculous in every possible way.
But, also, it’s glorious.
It’s sort like Professional Darts. It’s one of those things that I can’t quite tell if I enjoy sincerely or ironically.
But, either way, it’s a
And it’s also a fairly easy recommendation because it’s available legally and for free online. So even if you end up absolutely hating it, it’s not like you’ve really got much more to lose than maybe twenty or so minutes of your time.
The rest of my recommendations are here.
FYI, we’re down the last few days of the ongoing YA Fantasy giveaway:
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