As part of my guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. David Thomas I am very excited andthe blogger behind Conan the Cimmerian Blog (The Rambling Conan Blog)
Would you like to be a part of my guest blog series? Please contact me! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now without further adieu here is David’s awesome guest blog.
And don’t forget to check out his blog:
Conan the Cimmerian Blog (The Rambling Conan Blog)
The Fragments, a series looking at the Conan story fragments of Robert E Howard
by David Thomas
The Fragments, incomplete stories that are still great! pt.1
Rambling Conan Blog pt.28
There are 21 complete Conan stories written by Robert E Howard. I’ve read and reread these stories so many times. There are also 5 fragments and/or synopsis of incomplete Conan stories (1 features Conan only in the background). I was unable to read these in their original form for a very long time, only able to read the “finished” version of them by L. Sprague de Camp and friends. Now they are all available in original form, in the Del Rey Conan collections. Do yourself a favor and never read the “finished” versions, but do read the originals. They are incomplete, but they each hold fantastic Conan moments which I am glad to be able to experience.
In this first part I’ll be talking about the shortest of the fragments. It’s only 2 pages, and since it’s not a synopsis it gives no indication what the actual story was going to be about. It’s often called the “Hand of Nergal” fragment, after the title of the “finished” Lin Carter version. Carter placed it during the time period when Conan served in the army of Turan… a time period which never took place in the original Howard stories.
The story starts with the remains of a battle. A wounded Conan searches the dead for loot, but there is none, as he stayed in the fighting too long and missed it all. There were chariots in the battle, and a river nearby. In the distance, across a plain, are the towers of a city. Conan stumbles across a wounded girl, and at first is going to mercy kill her, but then carries her to the riverbank.
On the next page we learn the city is named Yaralet, at least we assume this is the same city. There is no mention of a battle outside it’s walls. The people of the city lock themselves indoors at night, terrified of some horror that lurks the streets, something so terrifying it drove a child insane. We meet a scholar named Atalis, who has some crippling affliction, and a man with curly black hair and feathered cap named Prince Than.
I love the setup, so many possibilities. The introduction of Conan is great too, looting the battlefield. As for the city, this could really be anywhere, but I’m inclined to agree with Dale Rippke, and say that it is most likely in Corinthia, Koth, or Zamora’s borders, and that Conan is fairly young at the time, new to mercenary work.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I wish we had the complete story from REH himself, but I’m glad we have the fragment!
Next time I’ll look at the “Hall of the Dead” fragment.
The Fragments, Bits of story you should still read! pt.2
Rambling Conan Blog pt.29
Last week I started talking about the Conan fragments, 5 Conan stories that Robert E Howard started but are either only incomplete stories or synopsis.
Last weeks was the “Hand of Nergal” fragment.
This week I’m talking about the “Hall of the Dead” synopsis (Named for the De Camp “finished” story, written from Howard’s synopsis).
The story opens in the mountains bordering Zamora. Conan has worn out his welcome in the “nearest Zamorian city” due to his thieving ways, and is being pursued by “a squad of Zamorian soldiers, led by the officer Nestor, a Gunderman mercenary.” With a trip wire and spring pole trap, Conan wipes out the Zamorian’s by dropping boulders on them. Nestor survives and battles Conan, but is knocked out. Conan, suspecting Nestor to be dead, enters the “deserted city of the ancients”. Here Conan finds a monstrous creature haunting the ancient ruins, which he slays.
I personally like to think this creature is one of the Giant and Monster Kings mentioned in The God in the Bowl, but I have zero evidence of this.
Conan proceeds to the palace, where Nestor once again confronts him. Conan convinces Nestor to share the cities loot rather than fight. Inside the palace are warriors of a long gone age lying about in lifelike positions. The adventurers loot the place and roll dice to decide who gets to keep a jade statue of what appears to be a serpent god, along with a perfectly matched set of “uncanny gems”. Conan wins the toss and takes the gems and statue, leaving all the other loot for Nestor.
When Conan removes the items on the altar, the ancient warriors come to life and attack. Conan and Nestor fight their way out of the palace, and the warriors, which are now called “giant warriors”, turn to dust in the sunlight. An earthquake then shakes down the ancient city. The two adventurers are separated during the escape.
Conan makes his way back to the Zamorian city, which has a district called “the Maul”, which probably makes it the same city as The Tower of the Elephant, Zamora the Accursed.
Here he meets up with his “light-of-love” in a tavern, and spills the jewels on the table for her, but they have turned to dust. Meanwhile Nestor has also returned to the city, spent gold (which didn’t turn to dust) on drinks, bragged of his exploits, and then cut his way out of the city when guards tried to arrest him. Through this, a magistrate finds Conan and some guards try to arrest him, but the magistrate stuffs his hand in the loot sack and the jade serpent statue bites him, killing him with deadly poison. Conan and the girl escape.
This woman is probably the same one from Rogues in the House, and Nestor is probably the Gunderman from that tale as well. Both of their fates can be found in that story.
There are also Marvel and Dark Horse comic adaptations of this synopsis, but once again they of course go beyond Howard’s synopsis, and you should read the original before reading any adaptations.
Till next time Dog Brothers!
The Fragments part 3, bits of story that tell a lot
Rambling Conan Blog pt.31
In this post, part 3 of the fragments series, I’m going to talk about the Wolves Beyond the Borders drafts.
In the manuscript entitled “Untitled Notes” in Del Rey’s The Conquering Sword of Conan, the layout and political situation of the province’s between the Bossonian Marches and the Pictish Wilderness are described. This is some time after the fall of Conajohara (about 6 years) and during the time of Aquilonia’s civil war and Conan’s move for the crown.
Wolves Beyond the Border (draft A)
The protagonist watches a terrible Pict ritual of dark magic. He momentarily forgets his mission, when he recognizes and tries to kill the shaman, old Garogh of the Hawks, who burnt his friend, Jon Galter’s son, alive.
The Picts are squat, with shorter legs than the settlers. They wear hawk feathers in their hair, being of the Hawk clan. We learn that there are also “white savages” called Socandagas who live in small clans and often war with the Picts.
A type of hanging tree serpent is noted to be the “only living creatures a Pict fears”.
The protagonist recognizes the shaman and fires an arrow, but old Garogh dodges slightly and the arrow hits his shoulder. Protagonist then flees, killing a Pict scout in his flight. He reaches the nearest outpost of Schohira.
We learn that the protagonist, Gault Hagar’s son, was 5 during the events of Beyond the Black River. His family fled to Thandara, a mostly independent province on the Pictish border in the South, on the Warhorse river.
Thandara is separated from Schohira by Hawk clan wilderness and the Sword river. Gault Hagar’s son is taking a message there, that Thandara has sided with Conan in the civil war that is being waged in Aquilonia. He is authorized to offer 150 Thandaran Rangers to Schohira if they side with Conan.
While making his offer he exposes a traitor, Lord Valerian, who he witnessed with the Picts during the ritual. That night, Lord Valerian sends a Chakan after him, a semi-human ape thing good at tracking.
It all ends with a quick encounter at Ghost Swamp, told in short summary.
Wolves Beyond the Border (draft B)
Howard changes the name of the Hawk clan from Skondaga to Onayaga. The shaman now wears a mask which looks like a “forest devil”, and his dance is described as “indescribably grotesque”. A drummer is added to the scene, probably the one who alerts the protagonist at the story opening. The white savages are now called “Ligureans”.
The captive who is the rituals victim is now more clearly described as an enemy of the Hawk clan. He is a member of the Raven clan, who is continuously at war with the Hawks. The hideous ritual is better described, and the purpose is not mentioned to involve reincarnation, but only evil for evil’s sake. The ritual is given a name as well, the Dance of the Changing Serpent.
The shaman’s name is now old Teyanoga of the South Hawks. The protagonists arrow strikes him full in the chest in this version.
The nearest outpost of Schohira is given a name in this version, Fort Kwanyara.
Gault Hagar’s son’s Age changes to 10 during the events of Beyond the Black River in this version. This is more reasonable, as Conan is about 40 when he gains the throne. Gault Hagar’s son is probably around 16 years old.
In this version the Sword River has been downgraded to Knife Creek. We learn that Conan has chosen the Gold Lion on black banner, which was the standard of the Mercenary regiment he commanded as a general of Aquilonia. The Royal standard of Namedides is a golden serpent. We learn Poitain was the first to revolt.
The fight with the Chakan is better described.
Gault Hagar’s son discovers Teyanoga is still alive and assaults a cabin where he and Lord Valerian are meeting, but Valerian and his “half-breed” (half Pict, half-Ligurean) mistress escape, and we are not told of the pursuit into the wilderness.
If you are a Conan fan, and it’s strange you are reading this blog is you are not, definitely read draft B if you can. It’s cool to see a story in the Hyborian Age told through someone else’s viewpoint, especially when Conan is striking for the throne of Aquilonia. Also, you can pick up a lot of little details about Pictland and the frontier.
The Fragments pt.4, Beyond the Black Coast
Rambling Conan Blog pt.33
This week I’m looking at the synopsis and story fragment known as the “Snout in the Dark” fragment, due to the De Camp and Carter completed and titled form. Don’t read the “finished” De Camp/Carter version, there is no need. One of the great things about this fragment is that it exists in synopsis and fragment form. Read the fragment, and then when it ends abruptly, read the synopsis to see how it all turns out.
This story fragment is interesting to me for several reasons. First, it tells us where Conan goes immediately following the end of Queen of the Black Coast. Second, the story features a scene in which Conan is at his mad-slayer best. Those people who say that Conan only stood against overwhelming odds in the comics need look no further than chapter 3 of this fragment to see how wrong they are. Third, the fragment contains one of my favorite subtle depictions of Conan’s character. The last few sentences of chapter 3 are priceless.
Lastly, this story features a lot of information about Kush and the city of Shumballa. It is described that a walled section of the city, called El Shebbah, houses the ruling caste who may be descended from Stygians and are called Chagas. There are only a few hundred of these people. Beyond the walls is the outer city which is called Punt. Here lives the general populace, more native to Kush, who are called Gallahs. We also learn that there are men of a profession called “witch-finder” in Punt among the Gallahs, which leads to the conclusion that witches are bad among the people of Kush, although the witch-finder Ageera seems to possibly possess a few spells himself, or at least that is his reputation.
I’m not including any spoilers here, so go read the fragment and then the synopsis, and learn what happens to Conan after his corsair years in QotBC. You can find the synopsis and fragment in the Del Rey collection The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.
The Fragments pt.5, Amalric & His Unruly Barbarian Friend
Rambling Conan Blog pt. 35
This week I’m looking at the last of the Conan fragments. This time the focus is a fragment and synopsis called “The Drums of Tombalku” fragment, after the title L. Sprague de Camp gave the story when he “finished” it.
This story fragment and synopsis is strange in that it almost tells two stories. In fact, you could read the fragment and it feels like a complete story! It’s not really about Conan, but is a good story about an Aquilonian named Amalric. It’s only because of the synopsis that we know the fragment continues into a second story about the semi-mythical city of Tombalku. This first part of the story is similar to Xuthal of the Dusk; a city of dreamers is preyed upon by a horror. The horror bears a bit of resemblance to Lovecraft’s “Haunter of the Dark”, and the story itself is very good.
The story has some good information in it as well. We find that even though Zingara and Argos war, Zingarans still sometimes serve as leaders in the Argos mercenary army. There is more information about Stygia, the deserts, and the Black Kingdoms. The term “witch-finder” is found here again, as in the Snout in the Dark fragment, and seems to be used for shaman/sorcerer types among the Black Kingdoms. Conan is recognized as Amra the Lion from his corsair days along the Black Coast. Also, the pre-Numedides Aquilonian king, Vilerus is currently monarch of that Hyborian Kingdom.
I see no obvious signs for the placement of this story, except for Conan mentioning that he has been in this area before, and the fact it takes place a while after Conan’s “Amra the Lion” corsair days. I’m inclined to agree with Dale Ripkke’s placement, between Man-Eaters of Zamboula and The Vale of Lost Women.
The synopsis continues the story with more information about Tombalku, and the outcome of Conan’s brief rule there. I’m avoiding spoilers here because if you have not read this fragment, I highly recommend you read the fragment first, treating yourself to a mostly complete new Conan tale. After you finish the fragment, read the synopsis to see the second story about Tombalku.
That finishes my look at the Conan fragments. I enjoyed returning to them for these articles, and I hope I’ve inspired a few of you to give them a look. They are a rare treat, and I hold them as closely as any of the completed Conan tales.
About David Thomas
How much thieving do you have to do in Zamora to get kicked out of a city for thieving too much? Leave it to Conan to find out!
Great summary of the fragments and worth checking out. I think what’s also interesting is that it gives some insight into how Howard worked.
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Glad you enjoyed! Thanks!
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Conan must have been a bold thief indeed to draw the attention of the authorities in an entire city of thieves!
Glad you liked it, and I agree that the fragments are a great look at how Howard worked.
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This was great! Got to check out his blog too.
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Thanks for checking it out!
In 2023, it can be fun to supply ChatGPT with the story fragments and ask it to complete a Conan story. I tried this with the “Nergal” (not so-called by HOward) fragment, with passable results.