Conan: Shadows in the Moonlight (1934) – Review – Robert E. Howard

Weird Tales April 1934.jpgSetting: Marshlands on Vilayet Sea shoreline, Vilayet Sea, Iron Statue Island.

Hyborean Topography: Marshes, Reeds, Sea, Woods, Sward, Cliffs, Plateau, shoreline, Ancient ruins.

Creatures: Ants (mentioned), Vultures (mentioned), Muskrat (mentioned), Parrot, Man-ape.

Olivia, a former royal sold to the abrasive Chief of Akif named Shah Amurath, flees into the marshes among the Vilayet Sea shoreline. Having corned her in the swamp, he attempts to coax her to come back with him. She rebuffs his pleading, and faces the rage of his charging sword as he yells “slut.”

Suddenly, out of the murky reeds, Conan emerges like a menacing apparition, cursing the Hyrkanian warrior for maiming and mutilating his mercenary comrades in the steepes near the Ilbars River. Conan had crawled to safety and was lying low until the heat of the massacre had died down. He’d led a band of raiders along the Turan border. Coincidentally, the young girl had led Conan’s foe right into his aces.  With a swift lance to the chief’s shoulder, Amurath drops and calls for mercy. Seeing how merciless Amurath was to his men, Conan spurns his request and butchers him in front of an aghast Olivia.

The escaped harem leeches to the barbarian, urging him to take her before Amurath’s warriors caught up to them. The two of them row across the Vilayet sea, though Olivia feared the jeopardy of wicked pirates along the way. Exhausted, Conan eventually docks the boat on a distant island, full of woodlands and mountainous terrain. They gorge on fruit and observe an ancient parrot squawk an ancient phrase. Conan calls the old parrot ‘the grandfather of all parrots,’ but the bird and foreign phrase seemingly play no role in the overall plot.

As they rest, something unknown hurls a boulder at them through the trees. They investigate, climbing up the ridges and onto a plateau where they locate a lost village, one Conan says he hasn’t heard of in the history of this island. The ceiling was shattered, the insides vine-choked. Crumbling masonry laid on polished floors. Most grim of all, august statues stood like vigilant sentries. Their faces were hawk-like and wrought in iron. Conan quips they look like negroes but they aren’t exactly negroes.

Sensing a foreboding presence as the moon glows, they exit the ruins. Atop the plateau they spot the white sail of a ship they surmise to be pirates. They sleep back in the ruins. Olivia has a horrifying nightmare of the ancient divines having mated with women in the past, imagining the moonlight resurrecting statues to life. The next day, they witness the galley dock on the shores, and find their own ship smashed and inoperable.

Hoping to hitch a ride, Conan confronts the pirates. Unfortunately their captain is Sergios of Kharosha, an old nemesis of Conan. The captain orders his fighters to attack but Conan calls out his cowardice. They duel in the white sun of dawn and Conan plunges his sword into the captain victoriously. Off his bravery, Conan arrogantly challenges the rest of the crew. Like the biblical shepard David, Aratus, a crewmen,  slings a stone at Conan and he collapses instantly. They pirates deliberate at what to do with the unconscious barbarian. Some declare him to be their captain since he’d slain their captain. They postpone the debate, tethering him to a pole. They march inland and spend the night cavorting, drinking, and gambling.

Meanwhile, Olivia, helpless and scantly dressed, ensconces herself in the woods until the roar of the jamboree dies down. She frees Conan from his restraints. In the silver brilliance of moonlight a fanged ape-man appears, grappling with Conan. He hacks off its arm, yet it chokes him with its remaining limb. In a deathly struggle, the ape nearly snaps his neck, almost gnashes off his face, and pulls a tendril of hair out by the root. Exerting primal strength, Conan triumphs in agony. He claims it was a man-eating gray ape from the hills on the eastern shoreline, postulating it made its way to the island by driftwood in some tempestuous storm. They figure this was the creature that’d hurled the boulder at them earlier.

During the fray, the corsairs had not awaken from their drunken stupor. Therefore, Conan and Olivia make it to the coastline and onto the corsair’s galley. Before they unmoor it, a shriek of terror erupts as forty of the once seventy strong clan come racing out of the woods. They wail a tale about the statues coming alive, slaughtering their brethren. Reluctant to offer them permission to board, Conan forces them to anoint him  Captain of the vessel. Aratus, the scoundrel who’d slung a stone at Conan, died in the massacre. Olivia commits to a life of rapine as Conan asserts revenge on King Yildiz’s platoon. And thus Conan embarks on his buccaneer career.

Overall: This is one of the more enjoyable Robert E. Howard original Conan stories, a coherent plotline not muddled in Hyborean vernacular. He captures an exceptional blend of action and character emotion. It’s a brief story full of what Conan does best: batter and bravery. The mysticism is lacking–no wizards. And the history of the iron statues is left as an enigma. Still, I highly recommend it to any level of Conan fandom.

 

 

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JBM

Literary Heathen

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