How was I born? – The Grey God Passes

Hello, peeps! This is Alice!

In each installment of “How was I born?” I’m gonna introduce y’all a piece of fiction that has a special place in my heart – a piece of fiction that made me who I am.

This week’s piece is a bit, well, gunky. The Grey God Passes, written by Robert E. Howard, was published in 1962. I chose it as the title, but this post is just as much about its contemporaries, the stinky old pulps of the past century – y’know, with heroes like Conan, Elric, and Jirel.

These are the stories I read as a little kid, and that’s why they have to be here, I suppose. They’re not good stories, really. But they’re stories that have affected me a lot, so forgive me as I try to pick apart my own soul here, brick by stained brick.

The Grey God Passes fictionalises the Battle of Clontarf, and is indicative of all these stories. In them, mightily muscled guys swing swords, hacking to bloody pieces cartloads of nondescript enemies, after which they bed buxom, round-armed wenches, all the while struggling against dim, inanimate dooms looming over them. Yech.

So, what could there possibly be in them, to attract the little girl that I was?

Well, I was a tomboy. I loved to adventure. These stories fed me that which is irresistible to all adventurous humans: fantasies that I am strong, that I am special, that I alone can triumph against all odds and take what I want. Fantasies of power.

Those stories always blithely blurred the realities of the world. That, y’know, when you swing swords and trample about, the weak suffer. What happened to all the families of the men Conan killed? What happened to all the women he casually impregnated? What happened to the poor, while Conan squandered all the gold he’d grabbed?

Power wants to disregard all that. Power wants to say, “I alone matter. Whatever is in my way, I smash.”

It’s a heady mantra. And it’s dangerous, because deep down, part of it is true, and part of it is false. We want to believe the part that is true – the part that Conan seeks to embody – and forget the part that is false, the part Conan magically seems to avoid.

Power can be used to do things. That’s still true, even in this automated world of machinery and electricity. The strong can still smash and grab.

Yet, at the same time, nobody can be the Conan of their world. If you have power, you have it at the permission of other humans.

They could have killed Conan in any of the stories, you see. They, the rabble. It’s written as if they couldn’t, as if Conan was a superlative fighter, above lesser beings. But that part is untrue, the part the fantasy tries to gloss over. At any time, the rabble could just band together, stab Conan in the back, brain him while he slept, burn him in his house.

That’s the part I can’t ignore in my own stories. Yes, that lure of power calls to me always, I know. And I’ll listen to it – I can’t not. But I’m not a little girl any more. I’m a bit wiser.

I know now what I didn’t then. Power is true, but it can’t live as it pretends to, nourished by itself. True power is in the rabble. They’re together. They’re the herd.

In the end, power is not for smashing things and taking what you want. Power is for preventing power to be used in just such ways.

Author: alicegristle

Hi y'all! I love carrots, knights, and magic castles!

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