During my freshman year of High School, a group of us played Dungeons and Dragons. One of these friends and I fell into discussion over our reading, and in time a dialogue emerged wherein we debated who was the greater hero: Conan or Elric. Looking back, it's obvious that we were discussing the fictional creations of two literary giants. But back then, it was all about which characters we most admired. The stories of both were contained in slim paperback editions we found on the spinner racks in grocery stores. How were we to know that the authors of both our heroes, Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, would be even more celebrated in our "old age" than they were in our teens?
For those of you who don't know, Conan the Barbarian is the fictional creation of Robert E. Howard. From twenty stories and a novel written in the early twentieth century, Conan has ventured into comics, the movies and TV, and had numerous other novels written about him.
Thanks to his surpassing popularity, Conan has helped revive and sustain interest in Howard's other characters and stories, and some, particular Red Sonja in comics, have emerged to become his extremely popular literary grandchildren. Unlike Howard, modern readers are still blessed with Michael Moorcock's continuing presence in our lives. Thus, over the years, he's written other stories about Elric, his famous Albino prince, who for strength and sustenance must rely on a sword he hates--a sword that drinks souls--to sustain his life.
As you can imagine, I backed Conan as the great Fantasy hero, while my friend sang the praises of Elric. I don't know if it was a result of that competition, an inevitably backing of my hero versus another's, but I've never really liked Elric. Thanks to those discussions with my friend, I read most of Moorcock's early Elric novels, but they never resonated with me the way Conan did in the writings, comics, and movies. But those books and discussions made me aware of Moorcock's storytelling ability, and because of them, I went on to read other stories about heroes I liked a lot, including Dorian Hawkmoon, a man with a jewel in his forehead, and Corum, the last of a gracious elf-like race now hunted by mankind.
Have you ever found yourself pitted against another reader, and forced to make a claim over which was the greatest character? Have you found you came to appreciate your peer's favorite characters more as a result? And how has your love for the character whose talents you once trumpeted changed as you have matured?