“Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to bear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”

When I was a college student it was fashionable for theleft-leaning intellectual crowd to say things like “America has no culture.”They would haughtily offer as proof the lack of any sophisticated homegrownmythology. Stories such as Paul Bunyanand Johnny Appleseed didn’t count because they were just tall tales forrednecks and rubes.

While the claim that “America has no culture” is patently ridiculous most people accept the observation that America lacks its own mythology. To the extent the observation has any weight the same could be said of England. In fact, the lack of an indigenous English mythology is what motivated J.R.R. Tolkien to write the
Lord of the Rings
. Whether or not he accomplished that goal, he created stories that are loved all over the world.

However, an American author writing at about the same timeas Tolkien did create an American mythology that continues to expand and thriveto the current day. The author wasRobert E. Howard and the mythology he created centered on his most famouscharacter, Conan.

It has often been observed that one of the maincharacteristics of mythology is that it communicates the worldview of aculture. Mythology accomplishes this through dramatic and fantastic storiesthat express cultural values in terms recognizable to its members. It is simultaneously a product and expressionof a culture’s value system.

Conan is an expression of a particular American culture andhis stories dramatically communicate the values of that culture. The character is the product of the Southern,small town Texas environment Howard grew up in.
Accordingto Howard
Conan was “a combination of a number of men I have known…” Increating Conan he “took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters,gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen…andcombining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian.” In short, Conan bears the unmistakable stampof the environment in which Howard grew up.

Howard was born in Peaster, Texas to a traveling countrydoctor and was raised in a number of small Texas towns. As H.P. Lovecraft (a mentor to Howard)
,“Mr. Howard’s family is of distinguished southern planter stock of Scotch-Irishdescent…” Lovecraft further observedthat Howard, who was raised in Texas and Oklahoma, was “Steeped in its frontieratmosphere” and a “devotee to its virile Homeric traditions.”

The “virile Homeric traditions” Lovecraft referred to werelargely those of Howard’s Scotch-Irish ancestors that settled the region. These people were a hard, fiercelyindependent, and warlike people. Theirculture was a by-product of several centuries of fighting and border warfare onthe frontiers between England and Scotland and then as Protestant settlers inNorthern Ireland. Their experiences onAmerica’s frontier and early wars only served to reinforce their culturalheritage of war. Walter Russell Meadrefers to this culture as “
,”named after Andrew Jackson, the pugilistic seventh president of the UnitedStates who was the embodiment of that culture.

Walter Russell Mead, in his book “
Special Providence
,” identified five core values that formed the basis of Jacksonian culture created by the Scot-Irish settlers. These values were self-reliance, equality, individualism, financial adventurism, and courage. Unsurprisingly, Howard used these same values to flesh out the personal code of the mythological Conan.

Howard’s Conan defiantly demonstrated the first of thesevalues, self-reliance in the “
Scarlet Citadel
.” In that story Conan tells his captors whoseek to buy him off in order to gain the kingdom he earned, “You sit on satinand guzzle wine the people sweat for, and talk of divine rights ofsovereignty—bah! I climbed out of the abyss of naked barbarism to the throneand in that climb I spilt my blood as freely as I spilt that of others.”

Conan goes on to display the second value, equality, when he taunts his captors saying, “I found Aquilonia in the grip of a pig like you—one who traced his genealogy for a thousand years. The land was torn with the wars of the barons, and the people cried out under oppression and taxation. Today no Aquilonian noble dares maltreat the humblest of my subjects, and the taxes of the people are lighter than anywhere else in the world.” In Conan’s world view, everyone, regardless of rank or birth is entitled to equal treatment and a person only deserves what he or she earns by the sweat of their brow.

The third value, individualism, not only defines thecharacter of Conan, but informs the philosophical conflict underlying Conan’sstories – the individual vs. the collective. In a
letterto H.P. Lovecraft
, Howard described the motivation behind his writing:
I have but a single conviction or ideal, or whatever the hell it might be called: individual liberty. It’s the only thing that matters a damn. I’d rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crustal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid.

Walter Russell Meade pointed out that Jacksonians view moneyand wealth as a means to finance a lifestyle of self-definition. The value of wealth is to enable you to beyou, to live life to its fullest. Conan demonstratedthis clearly in “Queen of the Black Coast” saying: “Let me live deep while I live; let me knowthe rich juices of red meat & stinging wine on my palate, the hot embraceof white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame crimson,and I am content.” For Conan andJacksonians, to the degree that wealth has any use, it is facilitate livinglife to its fullest.

The final value, courage, is the preeminently definingcharacteristic of Conan and Jacksonian culture. Conan is a warrior who makeshis living fighting for survival in hair-raising adventures. He exemplifies andrespects martial prowess.

Jacksonians, due to their cultural history of warfare,likewise revere military service and experience. They strongly support national defensepolicies that call for strong, decisive responses to national threats. This sentiment was perfectly captured in theConan story “Red Nails” where the narrator observes, “Once the sword was drawnthere was no turning back; for blood called for blood, and vengeance followedswift on the heels of atrocity.” ForConan and Jacksonians threats are to be met head on with strong immediateresponses, not avoided.

In light of our history, no American mythos would becomplete if it didn’t address the issue of race. The existence of competing races is aninescapable element of Howard’s Conan stories. Every race apes stereotypes of existing ethnicities from Scandinaviansand Europeans to Middle Easterners and Africans. In fact, Howard’s use of race in his Conanstories has led to accusations of racism.

However, in true American fashion, race does not create an impassable barrier for working or living together. Conan often befriends and fights alongside characters of different ethnicities. The love of his life is the pirate queen Belit, whose ethnicity is described as proto-Semitic. He sails with Argossean (i.e. proto-Greek) sailors, fights with proto-Welsh archers, and fights alongside the proto-Steppe Hyrkanians and the proto-African Bamulas. While Howard treats his races as real, Conan and other characters regularly transcend racial differences to achieve common goals or forge lasting relationships. Few things could be more American than to find oneself trapped in these ideas of race, but to find ways to overcome them.

The character of Conan is the vehicle through which thesecultural values and issues have been given popular artistic expression. Like mythologies from other older cultures,the stories of Conan have grown beyond those of its creator. Different authors have written stories andnovels featuring Conan. He has been andcontinues to be featured in comic books and films. Regardless of the author or artist, Conan’scharacter continues to exemplify the uniquely Jacksonian American valuesdiscussed above.

The next time some pretentious lefty “intellectual” claimsthat America lacks its own mythology simply offer, “Let me tell you of the daysof high adventure!”