Some time back I pointed to a discussion of fantasy literature as a way of way of exploring religious themes. I was thinking about the sorts of religion found in fantasy recently, and stumbled across Michael Mock’s posting of the prayer to Crom from the first Conan movie:
Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
Dated acting aside, it’s an interesting piece. As Mock points out, “It reflects a completely different relationship with the Divine – one in which humility isn’t necessarily a virtue, and a god who doesn’t help his worshipers is worthless.”
It goes back to an ancient view in which the line between Gods and humans was much thinner. Crom will forget the causes of the battle, just as any human would. In time, Conan himself could have become a demigod or a God, much like Hercules.* It also shows a very practical approach to worship. Gods were honored because it was believed it would bring rewards to the worshipper. A God who granted a miracle would find more worshippers, while a God whose followers were defeated in battle might be supplanted by the God of the victor.
I don’t believe the above quote came from anything that Robert Howard wrote, but it is in line with his attempts to make a primal mythology, influenced by everyone from Lovecraft to Thomas Bulfinch. In Queen of the Black Coast, Howard gives us a glimpse of Crom:
`Their chief is Crom. He dwells on a great mountain. What use to call on him? Little he cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not fortune! He is grim and loveless, but at birth he breathes power to strive and slay into a man’s soul. What else shall men ask of the gods?’
In typically overheated prose, Howard also gives us Conan’s philosophy of life:
`I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.’
(*)Although, Pratchett’s dead-on parody of Cohen, the aging barbarian hero was far more realistic. Which reminds me, check out Dr. Jim Linville’s take on Pratchett’s Small Gods.