From Conan to Clovis, why is the barbarian so popular (in long hair)?

From Conan to Clovis, why is the barbarian so popular (in long hair)?

There is the Mage, the Elf, the Dwarf, but all of them have eyes only for… the Barbarian. The cult miniatures game HeroQuest has experienced a triumphant reissue that is very faithful to its game system and its design of the 1990s. Around the table, when choosing their character, the four young players of 2022 have the same debate as their elders: who will have the honor of playing Rogar the Barbarian?

With his great sword and his Conan-like physique, the character is unanimous despite the competition from other figurines. “He’s more powerful, he’s the one who hits, it’s more fun than casting spells, analytical, pragmatic, Paul, ten years old. His sidekick, Adrien, 15, adds: “The Dwarf and the Elf are nice but playing a barbarian is more fun. We don’t have to think and play tactics, we can just go for it. »

Conan the Forerunner

The attraction of these young fantasy fans for a muscular barbarian in animal skin underpants echoes a more general trend: the barbarian is on the rise. Netflix, with an animated series, and Mattel, with a new line of toys, have brought Musclor out of mothballs. After a game of figurines (another one) having raised hundreds of millions of euros via Kickstarter, Conan the Barbarian is the subject of many projects: films, series…

Musclor figure, 2022 version
Musclor figurine, 2022 version – Mattel

If Conan has known a return to favor for a few years at the same time as its author, Robert E. Howard, whose works are finally studied, there is also the whole galaxy of current fantasy franchises which highlight the glory of the barbarian. In Game Of Thrones, the wildlings of the North are highly valued, for example (Ygrit and Tormund in our hearts…). And even the ancient Star Wars takes care, in its new developments, to take care of the portrait of its barbarians. In the Disney series, The Boba Fett Book for example, the Tuskens (the men of the sands who frighten Luke and make Anakin the future Darth Vader) are no longer bloodthirsty savages, but a nomadic people with their own culture and traditions…

The steps-us

Because the growing interest of pop culture for barbarians is quite naturally accompanied by a passage through the mill of the values ​​of our time. Bloodthirsty, certainly, but with values… This strange love-hate relationship for the barbarians is not new, as explained by Bruno Dumézil, historian who coordinated the book The Barbarians.

“The definition of the term barbarian is very simple in antiquity. It designates all peoples who are not Roman. Later, the term took on other meanings, but he kept this idea of ​​peoples “external to us”, the barbarian represents otherness. »

The barbarian who became king of France

An exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum, of which Bruno Dumézil is one of the curators, with Fanny Hamonic, offers a better understanding of a famous barbarian: Clovis. “Clovis was seen as a successful barbarian, beginning in the 19th century. But he was a general-in-chief and consul in Gaul. He was Roman, and even a member of the Roman aristocracy. For nationalist and ideological reasons, Clovis has been made the symbol of the barbarian who chooses to become a Christian and French. »

Image of his season 2 of the series Barbarians
Image of his season 2 of the series Barbarians – Netflix

For the French today, Clovis is still this “barbarian who has become a king. “A cliché that dates, says Bruno Dumézil: “In the history books of the Third Republic, Clovis is presented as a somewhat childish, spontaneous character… But as he listened well at school, he became king. That’s the story we tell the children of the Third Republic. We use the figure of the barbarian who extricates himself from his condition to educate young children. »

Rogar and his heart of gold

But then, what is the relationship between Conan the Cimmerian, Rogar the orc slayer and Clovis? Their hidden depth. Around the game table HeroQuest, the game quickly turns into a role-playing game. And behind his tense muscles, the Barbarian hides a heart of gold. “In fact, it was his mother who taught him how to handle his sword before she died, and he became a warrior to protect his little sisters”, imagines Laura, 12 years old.

The cult game Hero Quest has been re-released and appeals to a new generation of gamers
The cult game Hero Quest has been re-released and is appealing to a new generation of gamers – Hasbro

“It’s characteristic of the barbarian to be more positive than it seems,” explains Bruno Dumézil. In pop culture, but before that with Tacitus or Montaigne, barbarism is positive. The barbarian is closer to nature, he commits “natural” murders…”

And for those reasons, it feels good to have a barbarian in your family tree. “Civilizations insist on having dynamic ancestors. We fantasize about their share of savagery, but also about their link with nature, about their common sense… Before Clovis, Vercingetorix represented this barbaric part of ourselves that civilization knew how to channel, reason. »

Vikings are invading us (again)

While waiting for a Netflix series on Clovis or Vercingetorix, we can watch season 2 of Barbarians, which arrives this Friday. We follow Germanic barbarians fighting (and messing with) the Roman invader. If she does not yet have the success of vikings, Barbarians is based on the same process.

“At the moment, there is a passion for the Vikings who represent the perfect barbarians: violent, dominating and pagan, but also white, and therefore easily appropriated by Europeans”, analyzes Bruno Dumézil.

There are countless works and studies on the Vikings. National Geographic recently dedicated an exciting documentary series to them. The already cult series has ended but has a spin-off Vikings: Valhalla. YouTuber Nota Bene, a great connoisseur of the Viking world, has dedicated a book to them.

witness to civilization

And in a humorous register, Wilfrid Lupano and Ohazar published the first volume of the comic strip Vikings in the mist. “I was interested in the Vikings for the vanished civilization side, explains screenwriter Wilfrid Lupani. Our Vikings are living the end of their civilization, which will be subsumed into something else, Christianity. The humor arises from the gap between people from a predatory and violent civilization at odds with the new world. They are lost, their values ​​no longer mean anything. I see a parallel with our capitalist civilization, and its absurd violence…”

Musclor figure, 2022 version
Musclor figurine, 2022 version – Mattel

For this approach to the barbarians of the North to work, the cartoonist Ohazar took his task very seriously: “When you make jokes with barbarians, it’s easy to caricature them. But I found it more interesting, on the contrary, to stick as much as possible to historical reality. In the outfits, in the customs… We pay homage to this civilization, which sailed to America long before all the other Europeans, which made raids on Seville, Sicily… They disappeared but the Vikings made great things, they weren’t just drinking from skulls! »

The barbarian in us

Historical or from a fantasy world, barbarians in majesty obviously say a lot about us, civilized people of 2022. “Studies on barbarians have always served to self-depreciate the civilizations that produce these studies, explains Bruno Dumézil. By talking about others, we are talking about ourselves. Seeing a purity among the barbarians that we would have lost, we feel sorry for ourselves, we feel guilty. It is a dangerous discourse, used in particular by the Nazis who sought glorious ancestry among pagan peoples. »

From the barbarian as “the one who is not us” to the barbarian who sleeps in us to arrive at the barbarian who reveals us to ourselves, the figure – historical or mythological – deserves better than a caricature. The young playerHeroQuest makes himself worthy of this heritage by advising the figurine of the barbarian Rogar: “His face is strange, we don’t really know if he is laughing or if he is crying. »

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