Entry 0091: Conan Strikes Again

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LP: Ace of Spades by Motorhead

1980 Mercury Records SRM-1-4011

Favorite Track: Ace of Spades

 

This has been an extremely busy summer for me, but it has been filled with special times. To top it off, everything I have been reading since June has been outstanding. V.E. Schwab captured my imagination with a swashbuckling adventure with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. Then Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series was full of violent death, psychedelic imagery, and a sorrowful ending. I finished the first book in the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon and started the second: what a beginning! Everything hinted at in the first book (i.e., magic, elves, gnomes, larger world building) comes flying right out of the gate and has me reading much faster than the first book. M.R. James has been keeping me up with his ghosts.

And then we come to Conan the Cimmerian. Two more spoiling reviews below:

“The God in the Bowl” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard

This story almost got 2 broken skulls, but I bumped it up one for some fantastic images at the end of the story. The weakest aspect of this story is the locked room murder mystery framework it is told in. A curator dead! Conan the prime supsect! The night watchman and magistrate standing around interrogating the barbarian and each other! The premise is amusing enough to be hilarious, but the tone is too serious. Also, the real murderer is pretty damn obvious from the start. Had Howard used this opportunity to explore primitive or feudal justice systems, had Conan moved to jail, stand trial, interact with different levels of the judicial system then the atmosphere and environment of the story may have been better. Instead, we get some mediocre dialogue and some blind to the obvious guards.

However, we do get some interesting world building and a hint at the conflicts between nations. The sarcophagus was sent from Stygia–a place Conan has not visited yet that I am vastly excited to see happen. But the saving grace of the story is Howard’s descriptions of the giant bowl and its engravings and the final conflict between Conan and the murderer. Needless to say, the Lovecraft influence is still touched upon these stories and I’m curious to see if they will stay that way or turn toward more typical hack’n’slash.

“Rogues in the House” – 4 out of 5 broken skulls

While reading this story, I wished I had kept a Conan kill count. His sword has tasted much blood at this point. This story is similar to other Conan tales: Conan goes a-plundering, meets people, dodges traps, and slays anyone he can. However, this one puts a magnifying lens on its characters: Conan, Murilo the aristocrat, and the Red Priest, Nabonidus. At first, Conan is the rogue–Murilo attempting to free him from prison to serve his bidding. Then the Red Priest is the rogue for his strange house, rituals, and using the king. But, at last, Murilo admits his own rogue behaviors, being forced to admit he sells state secrets to other cities. It’s some nice introspection some of the other Conan stories lack. I easily could have spent more time with these characters.

But the stars of this story are Thak and the Red Priest’s traps. Thak is the Red Priest’s servant–a grotesque half-evolved man with more cunning intelligence than giving credit for. Which is why the Red Priest gets knocked unconscious and thrown into the basement while Thak runs around in his red cloak. He disposes of most of the challenges he faces and provides to be Conan’s toughest enemy in combat by far, however, he is slain. Conan admits he did not kill a beast, but a man–due to some barbarian battle honor. Which makes an interesting question: most of society (at least the rich represented by the Red Priest and Murilo) look down on Thak and especially believe him to be stupid, but Conan’s morality is based upon strength and combat which Thak is strong in. Whose view of Thak is correct, or more-correct? Is Thak a rogue as well?

Then there are the DnD-styled traps. Oh, I love when houses have secret passageways and hidden switches and poisonous gas clouds.This story is high fantasy approaching greatness.

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