LP: Da Capo by Love
1966 Elektra Records, EKL-4005, Mono
Favorite Track: She Comes in Colors
I finally found a falling apart copy of the third Lancer publication of Conan. Right off the bat, I found the stories better paced with more quality writing than the second half of Conan of Cimmeria. The misogyny is a bit off the charts in the following three stories as three separate women are frightened by the mighty thews of Conan, but then succumb to his silent staring and fighting prowess. I even think one of the stories ends with the implication that Conan has sex with the lady right in front of the corpse of the demon lord that was trying to rape her. Yikes! Also, Robert E. Howard uses “hawk-faced”, “thews” and “gold” way, way too often. There was also a lot of male nudity in two of the tales. Perhaps, Howard was feeling a little too frisky when he wrote these.
“Hawks Over Shem” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls
Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague De Camp
This story followed the typical Conan story–a scheming general who befriends Conan to rebel against a mad king, another scheming general jockeying for power, and a weak woman character who irrationally falls in love with Conan–that it is almost amazing that it isn’t originally a Conan the Barbarian story. It’s original title was “Hawks Over Egypt” and it was set in 1021. De Camp, for some reason, decided to change it to a Conan story and switched some names and altered the story to fit in with Howard’s Hyborian age. That normally would make me almost dislike the story just on premise, but De Camp does a good job. As I said, it read like a common Conan tale.
Starting with this story, a motif has been developing surrounding Conan and his relation to the different cities and peoples he visits. Everyone, especially women, are wary by his barbarism. He is often compared to a wild beast. Everyone assumes he is ignorant of their customs although constantly he has spoken in different languages and accents, and is probably more worldly than most of the inhabitants of the Hyborian age. Yet, he is not the most cruel, tyrannical, or savage of humans. He is definitely not kind or polite. His hands are covered in blood. But society is the real ill. The “civilized world” is where slavery, sexual subjugation, terror, and exploitation exist. Conan cuts a swath through this reminding us humans that we will never be stronger than the earth that created us.
Despite De Camp’s good transition of converting this tale to Conan standards, there are few stand outs. One noticeable aspect of the story is that it takes places over several days. A lot of early Conan stories have taken place within a few hours or, at least, one day and night. This lends a little more realism that Conan can exist in a world where he doesn’t immediately solve every problem by slaying the villain right away or being saved by a deus ex machina. The supreme highlight of the tale is when Zeriti the witch returning to life. A nice little unexpected touch that added the right supernatural flare to the story. It was also hilarious (in a dark comedy way) to read the mad king who thinks he is god attempt to fly. Why are we humans so attracted to flight?
“Black Colossus” – 5 out of 5 broken skulls
Robert E. Howard
I feel like to Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp, this was an important Conan tale in helping them establish the chronological order of the tales. Here Amalric gives way will be a prophecy and we read the first of Conan’s true destiny of being a fearless war commander and possible king. And what a needed break from the thievery and sneaking around the king’s chambers! Here we have our first large-scale army fight described in bloody, bone-stricken detail. Sure, there is a bit of hyperbole in the wading through the blood sea soaked lands, but, Howard’s skill for fast-paced action sweeps you off of your feet until the end of the action and leaves you wanting more, even though you just read nine of the bloodiest pages ever.
A common theme in Conan stories is how long will it be before Conan himself actually shows up. “Black Colossus” starts with a soft opening, perfect for a movie. Shevatas, a thief of renown, manages to open up a temple that no other thief had been able to do. He even survives an attack by the slithering guardian of the treasure. But Shevatas needed more than dexterity to save him. Always, remember to improve your Will saves my friends. For the supernatural takes his life and Thugra Khotan awakes from his centuries of slumber. Fuck yeah.
Then we meet Yasmela, daughter of a king and princess to the throne, who is being haunted at night by a shade-form of Thugra Khotan, who is actively trying to prove that being asleep forever does not stop one from being super horny. Instead of asking Ishtar for help, she and her maid invoke upon Mitra, who tells them to give command of the army to the first man they meet. I wonder who that can be.
The giant battle scene is excellently handled with points of great suspense to add tension to the billowing sentences of life-wrecking destruction. We have one of Conan’s generals disobeying orders and paying with their lives; we have Thugra using supernatural magic to smite foes; even Conan has to admit defeat and death and charge recklessly into combat, which (like all great and non-realistic heroes do) turns the tide for the barbarian’s victory. Then there is a final chase to save Yasmela from a terribly necrophilia-influenced fate.
“Shadows in the Moonlight” – 4 out of 5 broken bones
Robert E. Howard
A very interesting thing happens in this story: Olivia, a princess albeit sold from her family and made slave to others, rises to become a pirate. Had this story been written by a feminist writer, I feel like this could have been one of the all time greats and could combat against Howard’s use of women as prizes for Conan’s bravery and slaying skills. Unfortunately, that was not to be, but Olivia’s arc has potential and she is given an equally heroic and Conan-like task of having to sneak into the enemy’s camp and rescue Conan! The ferocious fight with the man-ape reminded of a previous Conan story. Numerous illustrations of this battle adorn book covers (like the copy of Conan the Freebooter I own) and Weird Tales magazine, which has my favorite depiction by Hugh Doak Rankin. We also have some supernatural iron statues that come to life in the moonlight to slay a bunch of pirates.
But the standout is the tall talking parrot that gives a cosmic horror warning that Conan and Olivia ever understand completely. Olivia has a dream that hints at something beyond our comprehension of the universe, but much like H.P. Lovecraft, we the readers are left with just enough evidence to have our imaginations run rampant.