In Conan the Barbarian, the plot seems to have the following sequence:

  1. Thulsa Doom destroys Conan's village and enslaves women and children.

    Profit motive for the latter - he can sell the slaves.

  2. Conan's buyers make the children move the milling wheel

    Profit motive for the buyers: labor to produce energy for milling (we'll leave aside the economic efficacy of that specific plot device).

  3. Conan's buyers sell the muscled-up Conan to "Red Beard" (he's never named).

    Profit motive for the buyers - get money for Conan, presumably. Or something of value.

    Profit motive for Red Beard - Conan is good gladiator material, and gladiator slave's owners win money on the fights (we see that happen in the movie).

  4. Red Beard teaches him how to fight locally.

    Profit motive - he fights better, more winnings.

  5. Red Beard takes Conan to the warmasters of Khitai (China, though they look very Mongol), to be taught warrior ethics, warrior skills, poetry, writing, philosophy.

    Profit motive - WHAT PROFIT!?!?! Red Beard releases Conan into the wild - forcefully - the moment Conan finished his education!

Why in the world would Red Beard kick Conan free in the first place? Never mind first spending a - presumably - considerable fortune upgrading Conan with Asian Martial Arts and Crafts training?

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    +1 for 'Asian Martial Arts and Crafts' – evilsoup May 24 '13 at 9:14
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    Why was Conan freed by his former owner? You mean NBC? – Chris B. Behrens May 24 '13 at 15:22

Assuming we take the official movie novelisation as canon, the answer is that Conan was freed primarily because Red Beard (AKA Toghrul) was becoming increasingly worried about Conan's aggression and independent spirit and sensed that he was plotting to kill him at the first opportunity

For the record, Conan fought for several more seasons after studying with the warmaster.

“I hated myself. Never have I told this tale before, for the deed is one of the few of which I am ashamed. True, the woman was dying, and the death I dealt her was perhaps more merciful than letting her die slowly; but still, the deed was vile and cowardly to a Cimmerian. Then I bethought me of Toghrul, who had made me thus to despise myself. All my hatred focused on him, and I swore that one day I would repay him for my shame.”


Approval lit the dark eyes of the general. “The Pit has not broken the spirit of your champion, O Toghrul. Neither has it sapped his will. Beware lest this young tiger some day turn and rend you!”
“He wears chains so that he cannot,” said Toghrul, chuckling.
Conan said nothing more; but a strange volcanic fire smouldered briefly in his fierce blue eyes.

Note that in the film Red Beard frees him voluntarily whereas in the book (which seems to be based on the earlier Milius script), Conan escapes from Toghrul's clutches after an earthquake occurs.

Below him, at the foot of the little hill, Conan saw the Pit master’s head protruding from a wide crack in the earth. He saw that the earth had opened beneath the Hyrkanian’s feet and swallowed him to his shoulders. Wedged in the crack, the man was unable to free himself.
“Pull me out!” implored the Pit master.
“Why should I?”
“I’ll pay gold! I’ll give you your freedom! Only save me now!”
“My freedom, eh?” Conan threw back his head and laughed—his first good laugh since the Vanir had captured him, ten long years ago. “That I already have. Stay there, swine! If the earth swallows you down, good riddance to you!”
Conan turned and walked away.

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    Oh wonderful. Yet ANOTHER novelization that contradicts the film! WTF people? Can't you write what the script says, at least in important plot points? (So far, just today, I have "The Force Awakens", "A New Hope", "Return of the Jedi", and now this. ALL in the same bloody day). – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 26 '15 at 4:25
  • @DVK - The novelisation seems to be based on the earlier Milius script. WHen they made the film, they did a re-write a couple of month before shooting started. – Valorum Dec 26 '15 at 10:57
  • I read through your answer and can only hear Arnold's voice ... haha, made me chuckle when I realized it :o) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 May 21 '17 at 22:28

Here's the words of the narrative:

In time, his victories could not easily be counted... he was taken to the east, a great prize, where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets. Language and writing were also made available, the poetry of Kitai, the philosophy of Sung; and he also came to know the pleasures of women, when he was bred to the finest stock.

The last half sentence indicates a profit motive: Conan had proven an extremely powerful warrior, and someone (the war masters, their rulers, Red Beard himself) wanted to use him to breed more such warriors. Presumably those would be born as slaves, and quite valuable ones. As for why they first educated him, perhaps they believe that education is in some way heritable.

Another factor: The words "a great prize" indicate that bringing such an accomplished warrior to the east was considered some sort of achievement; perhaps Red Beard did it to improve his reputation there, which could be considered an intangible profit.

Finally, profit is not the only possible motive, and an owner of slaves and gladiators not necessarily a soulless profit worshipper. Perhaps Red Beard simply came to like Conan and felt that after gaining so much money and status through Conan, he owed him his freedom.

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    I agree. Conand did just as some Gladiators did in their time: gain their freedom. – ArcDare May 24 '13 at 10:16
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    Besides all pointed, since Conan become recognized as the best warrior, others would be not likely to put their warriors against Conan. This way diminishing the profit of Red Beard – RMalke May 24 '13 at 13:43
  • Not to mention, gladitorial fighting is a continued investment. People aren't indestructible. Think of it like the stock market- you may start off really well, and keep climbing from there, but eventually things are going to take a turn. The difference being that Google won't collapse overnight with no warning, but Conan might. Why not quit while you're ahead? – Adele C Oct 21 '14 at 10:33

I believe it's an equal exchange. The WarMasters paid Red Beard to provide Conan as stud for their gene pool and in exchange they taught Conan in their ways of War. Then one night maybe those two old men got together and talked about how it would be a shame to let Conan rot and die as a gladiator, then concluded to set him free...

  • " The WarMasters paid Red Beard to provide Conan as stud for their gene pool" - is there ANY canon support for that? He was provided slave girls for fun, not breeding stock as per the movie – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 21 '14 at 11:30
  • Never mind, it's in the voice over... "pleasures of women.... when he was bred to the finest stock" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '14 at 1:54

Its pretty obvious really, he is freed immediately after the "what is best in life" speech, and after Conan's terrifying "correct" answer his owner decides that continuing to own his is too dangerous -- the movie makes it look as if he is freed that very evening, and the expression on Red Beard his owner is one of much concern and consternation, fear even.

So, yeah, letting him go was perfectly justifiable as a self serving action on the part of his owner.


Considering that the "What's best in life" speech is (allegedly) a quotation from Genghis Khan, I can see why that might make Conan seem dangerous and frightening.

  • I'm seriously doubting that Temuchin was a figure in-Universe for Conan's Hyborea. So Conan couldn't have been percieved as frightening because of quoting a scary person due to such person not having existed – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 29 '15 at 14:33

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