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Literature and War


War and Comedy (with special reference to the Danish fantasy film Ronal the Barbarian and Thomas Hobbes's text Leviathan.

The concept of war in the film and the text

War is an integral part of civilization. History of humanity is essentially a history of warring clans, tribes and nations. From the ancient time art by using its different languages represents different kinds of images of war. Generally the term ‘war’ is related with words like ‘destruction’, ‘demolition’, ‘blood’, ‘battlefield’, ‘death’ etc. And in this sense the war has also led to the tragedy of human loss. But sometimes artists use the genre of comedy to describe the tragic scenario of the war. It is very important to note that several artists through their creations want to question the ultimate result of the war and they also focus on the question of the necessity of war. But some of them have come to the conclusion that war is a human tendency because human beings are so self-centered that they always think about their comfort and success in each and every step of their life. Thorbjon Christoffersen, Kresten Vestbjerg Andersen and Philip Einstein Lipski in their film Ronal the Barbarian try to represent human beings’ natural tendency to fight and to be more powerful by defeating opponents. In this film the traditional figure of the hero is satirized. The protagonist Ronal who has no heroic strength and power is ridiculously portrayed in this film. But through the character of Ronal the directors want to establish their views that only Ronal in his tribal community is like a true human being who has intelligence but who never likes violence and warfare. Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan(1651) says that all men are mentally equal and all of us have some intellectual abilities but according to Hobbes each and every man in this world considers himself as superior and from this concept of superiority comes the concept of diffidence and from diffidence comes war. War or the tendency to war is therefore a presupposed reality of human civilization.

Hobbes's Leviathan and the Black comedy

According to Hobbes there are three principles which are considered as the essential causes of war. These three principles are – 1) competition , 2)diffidence or distrust of one another and 3) glory. Hobbes says that the first makes men invade for gain, the second for safety and the third for reputation. It is because of these three reasons that human society is in a state of what Hobbes says is ‘permanent war’ or ‘permanent conflict’. In the beginning of the film Ronal the Barbarian the demon Zaal in the land of Metalonia is defeated by Kron, the world’s mightiest hero. As Kron dies, a hundred warriors drink his blood to gain his strength and become the first Barbarian. If we compare Kron with the figure of Leviathan, the huge individual monster with sword in one hand then we can see that the Kron is considered as the king of the barbarians who think themselves as the sons of Kron. So the figure of Kron is like a gigantic state with absolute power. After getting the strength of Kron the barbarians think themselves as superiors and they have a pride that no one can defeat them because they are the sons of Kron and the strongest barbarians in the world. It is very important to note that in the beginning the barbarians are considered as human beings who are weak and oppressed by the demon Zaal but after Kron’s death they are become known as barbarians. Actually the term ‘barbarian’ signifies that they are savage and barbaric in nature. Although the film is a black comedy fantasy and the story represents an ancient time when people are literary barbaric but Hobbes in his book Leviathan argues that the fear of death, the desire to have an adequate living and the hope to attain this through one’s labor make the life of man nasty, brutish and short. Nevertheless until the state of war ends, each person has a right to everything including another person’s life.

Black humor in the film

Black humor is a form of humor that regards human suffering as absurd and considers human existence as ironic and pointless. The barbarians’ false pride and their lives are ridiculously portrayed and the dark humor signifies that their lives have no meaning because they always engage themselves in doing conflict with each other. Their courage and bravery are also false because they can’t protect their land in the time when they are really attacked by the soldiers of Lord Volcazar. Apart from Ronal no one is intelligent in this tribal community but everybody thinks him or herself as superior than others. Ronal does not like the life of barbarian but he is the man who ultimately saves the sons of Kron by defeating Lord Volkazar. But for his thin and feeble figure Ronal is humiliated by other men in his community. Only his uncle motivates him to be a real barbarian but at the end of the day he becomes a real hero and a true human being. When they are attacked by Lord Volkazor everybody except Ronal is busy in the feast. Only Ronal can spot the armies led by the evil Volcazar and he realizes that they are under attack but he becomes helpless because he can not inform others within a minute even for his weak lungs he can’t blow the warning horn. Hobbes in his book talks against drunkenness which according to him tends to the destruction of particular people. Here Ronal is not a drunker, he has not masculine body but he has a responsibility for his tribal community. His all activities and works are represented in a comic sense but behind this comedy there is a harsh reality that Ronal has to face. When his uncle dies Ronal is forced to promise that he will save the barbarians. When the armies of Volcazar kidnap all barbarians Ronal goes for a quest to find Kron’s sword, the only weapon capable of wounding Volcazar. In the story of Ronal’s journey the role of Aliberth, the travelling bard is very important because he is the only man who stays with Ronal till the end and takes many risks to help Ronal when he is caught by Lord Volcazar. It is very important to note that Aliberth always criticizes the society by his comic songs. He is like the character of Shakespeare’s Fool who stays with the King and gives advice to him.

The relation between Hobbes's Leviathan and the film Ronal the Barbarian

Ronal always tries to avoid quarrel and fighting and uses his intelligence to solve any problem. According to Hobbes war is not merely a physical battle , it is also the willingness or the mentality to engage in a conflict and the peace comes only when men do not engage them in the battle. When Ronal and Aliberth are suddenly confronted by a young shield-maiden named Zandra who kills any warrior who attempts to challenge her, Ronal tearfully begs Zandra to spare his life and she reluctantly agrees as he is not a worthy challenger. Aliberth suggests that Zandra could be the fearless warrior the oracle spoke of and so Zandra agrees to help them to save the barbarians. Actually Zandra is pleased by the softness of Ronal and later she falls in love with him. Somehow the character of Ronal challenges Hobbesian notion of self that self is giddy, conflicted and violent and it has no morality. When Zandra is challenged by a strong warrior in the land of elves Ronal requests Zandra to avoid the fight. But it is also important to note that without the strength of Zandra Ronal can do nothing. Hobbes in his book Leviathan argues that if the state of natural man is a state of chaos then we need a form of Government that is extremely strong. Here comes the question that who is ultimately strong – Zandra or Ronal? where Ronal has no physical strength and he is completely depended on Zandra but at the end of the film we notice that Ronal becomes almost the king of the barbarians. So there remains a question that if the land of the tribal community is again attacked by other powerful opponents in the future then how Ronal can save his land without the help of Zandra. So it becomes clear to us that although Ronal is intelligent but he can’t be a real hero because he is physically weak. But again we have to keep in mind that the protagonist Ronal is represented to satirize the conventional figure of the hero. Running towards the glory according to Hobbes is one of the causes of war and when people think about their reputations then a kind of false pride comes to them. The traditional hero has always a false pride because of his masculine body and power. The film Ronal the Barbarian represents Zandra as a real heroine who always follows some ethics and who has no pride for her extreme strength and bravery. So the Hobbesian concept of absolute power comes through the feminine concept of the hero.

Hobbes has written the book Leviathan in the immediate after month of the civil war. In 1688 we have a political system where parliament has the supreme power and the king is more or less a titular head of the state. But in 1651 when Hobbes writes this treatise then society is in the grip of severe confusion. All utopian literatures react to the society and criticize, evaluate the historical reality. And Hobbes in Leviathan goes to create a utopian version of government through a dystopia. Utopia actually means ‘no place’ ; it doesn’t exist. On other hand dystopia means a space which is not ideal. Hobbes in his text fundamentally tries to define and describe why a strong state is required. It is due to this dystopic reality that he wants to project an ideal form of Utopian government and therefore to solve the dystopic problem he has to cultivate an ideal state of politics. Hobbes says that the state of affairs is historically unsatisfactory. This particular historical crisis and its solution in terms of an eternal problem about what he calls the natural state of man and it is this natural state of man that is the fundamental concern of the human Enlightenment. Eighteenth century Enlightenment deals with this category of the state of nature. Enlightenment gives a structure to human society and this structure is beyond the religious structure and it gives freedom and liberty to the human self. In the film Ronal the Barbarian Lord Volcazar and his soldiers are influenced by the European rationality. They use modern technologies and scientific instruments in the battlefield. When their first mission to capture Ronal is missed then the main soldier of Lord Volcazar calls him through a machine like modern mobile phone and informs him that the target has escaped. Volcazar’s magical suit is also a symbol of modern scientific weapon by which he has defeated Gundar and Zandra. Volcazar wants to be more powerful and this becomes the cause of his downfall. So Hobbesian concept of self as nasty, brutish and short is seen in the character of Lord Volcazar who has a high ambition to rule over the earth and who is influenced by enlightened rationality but he what Hobbes says is naturally irrational and so he takes the blood of all barbarians to resurrect Zaal and becomes more powerful.

Although Ronal the Barbarian is a black comedy fantasy film but it is not suitable for children at all because there are many slangs are used to describe the harsh reality behind the farcical scenes. There are also many sexual imagery in this film. When Ronal and Aliberth are kidnapped by buxom Amazonian women who have never seen men before, spend the whole night by using Ronal for breeding purpose while Aliberth is sexually harassed by the Amazonian queen. The portrayal of the elf Elric is also very funny. Elric leads them to the gate of the elven kingdom, a dangerous stone passageway where Ronal succeeds in retrieving the location of the sword inside Kron’s tomb. The image of the battlefield is also represented in a farcical way. The use of the background music is so perfect that it seems to us as a black comedy fantasy as well as a film which represents the tragic life of Ronal. Ronal uses slangs for describing his life as meaningless. He is the man who completely follows Hobbes’s first law of nature. Hobbes’s first law of nature is that human being should seek peace. Ronal in this film doesn’t like to engage himself in the battle but at the end of the film he establishes peace by killing the monster Zaal. So he can’t follow the second law of nature because he can’t divest himself from certain rights (such as the right to take another’s life).


To conclude we can say that the film Ronal the Barbarian by using the genre of black comedy successfully represent Hobbsian concept of war and absolute power. The question of succession is also very problematic in this film. There remains a question that whether the land of the barbarian is ultimately able to get a monarch with absolute power or not. The title of the film is also problematic because Ronal is not like other barbarians but still he is forced to do fight for survive and in this way he becomes the greatest barbarian in this earth. But the irony is that he is like a perfect civilized human being who always wants to establish peace in this world and that’s why he is so frustrated at the end of the film. Although the love of Zandra gives him pleasure but ultimately he is not a happy person. Hobbesian concept of irrationality comes again at the end of the film. As Ronal is not a powerful man the barbarians are not given a structural system of absolute sovereignty and that’s why the barbarians will remain as barbarians forever with their false pride and inherent irrationality. Ronal uses slang like ‘fucking barbarians’ at the end of the day to signify the brutal nature and nasty lives of barbarians.

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