What Would Conan Drink?
I’ve been considering Robert E. Howard’s Conan. As one does, you know. I don’t need to tell my discerning and intelligent audience that there is more to the character than a violent savage in a hairy diaper. But I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts.
Note his eating habits. Conan grabs the biggest haunch of meat available and eats as much as possible. Always. Not just when he’s stumbled in from the desert, half-starved. Always, even when the taverns have food aplenty and he has no particular intention of leaving town any time soon. Conan is a barbarian, raised in an environment that would teach him to expect that his next meal was not a certainty, so he eats when he can and as much as he can. (Is that nature or nurture, do you think? Barbarism may be the natural state of man, as a wise man once wrote, but as this is a question of upbringing, would it not be Nurture?) Would he have tempered this habit after he became king, beginning to see it as a sign of weakness and wanting to keep himself in fighting trim? Or would he maintain his habits and instead keep fit by beating the bejeezus out of his troops in the training yard?
The same barbarian upbringing might suggest Conan would drink beer, having grown up used to the relatively weak beer of a near subsistence-level culture and in a climate not conducive to viticulture. But not Conan. He’ll gulp down a flagon of wine. Why? I think it’s due to a couple of reasons. First is the simple matter of alcohol content. Recall that Conan is a man of gigantic mirth as well as melancholy. What quicker road to both than the bottle? The greater the alcohol content of the bottle, the greater (and faster) the result. (Was Conan bi-polar/manic depressive? Maybe. Or just on a spectrum like everyone else. I don’t know. I’m as much of an armchair psychologist as the next writer, but I don’t have an opinion on this question.) The second reason, I think, is that while Conan may deprecate civilization, he dives into it headfirst. Wine, to his thinking, is the drink of a civilized man. And so he’ll indulge in that as well as other temptations, all the while scorning it. (Part of that mirth/melancholy dichotomy? Probably not. Merely an example of the complexities and contradictions of any character that a good writer manages to imbue with a semblance of life.)
Why was I thinking of this? Probably hungry or thirsty. Or both. But I can say that Conan was in the back of my mind — or occasionally at the forefront — while writing Blood and Jade, the first book of my Semi-Autos and Sorcery series, just out from Aethon Books. There is, I hope, a touch of Conan in Karl Thorson, as well as a hint of the Conan stories in Karl’s adventures. Though Karl Thorson is a beer drinker, not an oenophile. Well, he’s fond of Tecate, anyway, which technically counts as beer; Karl Thorson is a fictional character so he doesn’t have to reflect the tastes of his creator. Not that I mind Tecate: it goes well with a lounge chair on a beach in Mexico. (Though, note that Mexico has upped its craft beer game. If you take the time to look, you can find options that you won’t want to add a squeeze of lime to.)
Can I digress, or what?