Hour of the Dragon, Chapters 19-conclusion

I’m going to digress a little here into a short (bear with me) conversation about my life. When I started this blog I was working a dead end job and was bored all day, then I came home and had a few hours to kill before starting the whole process all over again. At the time, writing in-depth blog posts about Conan’s adventures seemd liked a good idea. Now, however, I’m in school, spend most of my free time studying, and have a reasonably-mentally-taxing job at a tutoring center. As a result of which, the original concept of this blog no longer works well and, consequently, my post-rate dropped through the floor. So I’m going to try to make a move to shorter, punchier blog posts with less summary to see if I can get my post rate up that way.  So without further ado, let’s get back to the sword-and-sorcery.

Conan eventually gets the magic gem and escapes from Stygia, but not before seeing an awesome fight between some Stygian priests and a bunch of evil kung fu guys that have apparently been tailing Conan for the entire book. He goes back to Aquilonia and raises an army, then has a big multi-chapter battle with the bad guys. Conan and company win, mostly because Conan’s buddy (the priest of the death god that we met a long time ago) uses to Heart of Ahriman to banish Xaltotun back to the underworld. Without magical backup, the bad guys’ army doesn’t get very far. So Conan gets his kingdom back, which isn’t a surprise. He also frees Zenobia from slavery with the intent to make her his queen. This is a surprise and probably makes “The Hour of the Dragon” the last Conan story chronologically, since Queen Zenobia doesn’t show up in any other stories that I’m aware of.

Final thoughts – This story is fantastic. I like Conan plenty, but I’m willing to admit that Howard’s writing varies in quality, from respectable literature all the way down to stuff I’m sort of embarassed to be reading. “The Hour of the Dragon” might not quite be the sort of thing you’d read in English class, but it’s close enough. And if anyone is wondering what kind of English lit teacher might possibly assign a Conan story as a reading assignment, the answer is: any teacher who’s read “Beyond the Black River.” It’s like Shakespeare, but with much more punching (no it’s not, but anyone who can name that song without resorting to google gets my respect).

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Hour of the Dragon, Chapters 17-18

Conan and his crew of bloodthirsty ex-galley slaves continue sailing south. The pirates are all set to begin a new reign of terror on the high seas under Amra (that’s Conan, remember), but he’s just anxious to get to Stygia as quickly as possible. Fortunately, they don’t run into any other ships on the way, so it doesn’t come up. When Conan and company finally get to Stygia Conan drops anchor in a secluded bay and waits a couple of days until a hapless fisherman happens by. When he does, Conan steals his clothes and his boat and takes off for Khemi, the capitol of Stygia.

It’s getting dark in Khemi, so Conan manages to avoid notice in his fisherman’s disguise even though he’s a giant and white. Things are actually going pretty well until he runs into the snake. For those unfamiliar with the Conan mythos, the Stygians worship the snake god, Set, and his priests keep a lot of big consrictors around. The rules are that the snakes don’t get fed, they just wander the streets and whoever they decide to kill just has to take it like a man, no fighting back or anything. Then they eat you and everyone considers this a sacrifice to Set. It’s danerous for people in the streets, but I guess it gets around a lot of the messy details of human sacrifice, what with choosing the victim and tying them up and having a big ceremony and whatnot. Conan sees one of the big snakes coming his way and everyone around him is prostrating themselves and holding real still; unfortunately, Conan’s policy is that he doesn’t bow down to stuff. Ever. So he just stands there and looks the snake in the eye, which naturally attracts the snake’s attention. Now if I was a big snake and I saw a bunch of people lying on the ground trying not to move and this one guy standing up and looking at me menacingly, I’d go for the easy meat. But I guess the snake wasn’t used to having any opposition and couldn’t think about anything besides what a big meal Conan was going to make. The snake goes for Conan and, predictably, Conan kills it instantaneously. Everyone around is horrified because that’s really going to tick Set off and Set isn’t the kind of god you want to have angry at you, so pretty soon Conan’s running from an angry mob. Down a couple of side alleys, through a small door, and Conan’s safe from the mob, but now he’s inside some creepy Stygian temple and robed priests in weird masks are coming in. At this point, Conan makes the obvious next move (for him): he kills the first priest he finds alone and takes his robe and mask (this makes the fifth disguise Conan’s worn in jus this one adventure, four of which he got by either killing or kidnapping someone and then taking their clothes. I guess if it keeps working there’s no reason to change the formula).

Pretty soon all the priests head off for some ceremony and Conan tags along because Thutothmes is going to be there, and that’s the guy Conan’s looking for. Since he has a mask and robe, there’s obviously no chance that any of the other priests will notice that he’s white. Or a foot taller than everyone else.  

They’re all going to one of the biggest and oldest pyramids in town, and unfortunately there’s a guy at the door asking everyone for a password, which Conan doesn’t know. So he spends a minute pretending to tie his shoe and, after all the other priests have gone through and are out of sight he gives the guard the universal password (by which I mean he kills him and then hides the body).

 

That gets Conan into the building, but now he’s lost sight of the other priests and he doesn’t know his way around inside the big, creepy pyramid. After a few minutes Conan is hopelessly lost and, just as he’s wondering what to do, a beautiful, scantily-clad woman shows up and offers to help him find his way. Now maybe I’m just suspicious by nature, but if I was wandering around the most secret forbidden temple of an evil god in the capitol of a foreign, hostile country and a beautiful, mosly-naked woman that I’d never met before offered to help me out, I probably would not take that offer. Conan is a more trusting sort, however, (at least where scantily-clad women are concerned) and the last time he trusted a random girl in a dungeon things worked out pretty well, so he accepts her offer. The woman leads Conan farther and farther into the pyramid until they finally arrive in a small room with a few pieces of living room furniture and, bizarrely, a coffin. At this point the girl sits down on the couch and starts making small talk.

Conan doesn’t like this much, but when he insists that they get going again the mystery woman just starts monologuing about how great it is to be pretty and how you can stay that way forever if you know what you’re doing. At first it seems like this weird naked lady has dragged Conan all the way down here to sell him skincare products, but then it turns out that she’s a vampire. Who knew?

Conan’s not stupid and he left his garlic and stakes in his other disguise, anyway, so he only lets her kiss him once before he runs away. He spends awhile blundering around in the dark while maniacal laughter echoes through the corridors before he finally loses the vamp and her minions (Egyptian vampires apparently likes snakes better than bats, which I think is a good choice – snakes are scarier and bats are a cliche, anyway). Of course, now Conan doesn’t know where he is, but since he didn’t know where he was to begin with this is hardly the end of the world.

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A brief non-sequitur – John Carter is going to Mars

I’m getting close (-ish) to the end of Hour of the Dragon and I’m starting to think about what I should read next. A Princess of Mars has been coming to mind a lot lately, which is a little weird because Burroughs is not typically one of my favorite authors. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently begun to appreciate Frank Frazetta’s awesome artwork and his John Carter stuff is some of his best. Like This:

Fact: gravity on Mars is less than 40% that of earth.

The crescent moon, black sky, and bizarre city in the background really say “alien landscape” to me. That and the 4-armed apes and the green-skinned guy.

Or maybe it’s because Disney’s John Carter is coming out in theaters this year and the newest trailer (not that new anymore) is pretty awesome. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you – it’s got a Led Zeppelin song in it. So maybe I’ll pick up a copy of Princess. It’s available for free online, of course, but I like a hard copy. Especially if the hard copy has awesome cover art (which it probably won’t because old books with awesome cover art are often more expensive than a newly-returned student like myself wants to spend).

 

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Hour of the Dragon, Chapters 14-16

Publio’s got great news for Conan: his spies have learned where the Heart of Ahriman is. Conan sets off for the designated place, but his timing is pretty unfortunate. He shows up right after the mysterious man who already murdered the jewel’s owner and made off with it, but just before the guys that Publio sent along to murder Conan. Conan’s timing isn’t as bad as those other guys’, though, because they arrive in plenty of time to take a shot at killing Conan, and that’s usually a fatal move. So most of them get killed and Conan has just enough time to realize that the man he came to murder has been marked with the Black Hand of Set (mark of the priests of the Stygian snake god). So while he’s blacking out, he realizes that he at least knows where he’ll need to go after he wakes up again. Meanwhile, some mysterious Khitaians (that’s Chinese for anyone who hasn’t yet figured out how Howard renamed everyone) show up and interrogate Publio about where Conan is, but it turns out they already know more than he does, so they intimidate him into giving them a ship and they take off after Conan.

But where has Conan gotten to? He’s on a ship, himself. It turns out that he fainted from blood loss or concussion or something down by the docks and a passing ship picked him up as an extra deck hand. Conan wakes up on deck the next day and finds himself on a surprisingly racially segregated ship (well, maybe not surprisingly, since the story was written in the ’30s, but most modern fantasy writers don’t mention race if they can get away with it). It turns out that all the black men on the ship are chained to their oars, and all the white men are deck hands. Except for the captain, who’s the captain. The captain explains to Conan that he’s a deckhand now and that he’d better get used to taking orders. Conan asks a few questions and learns that the ship just happens to be going exactly where he’s heading, anyway. A reasonable person might decide at this point to just lay low for a couple of days until the ship gets him where he needs to go and then go AWOL.

Instead, Conan does what is perhaps the most unreasonable thing possible. He immediately dislocates the captain’s shoulder, then grabs a boarding axe and kills a couple of the crew. While everyone else is standing around trying to figure out where they lost control of the situation, Conan jumps down into the galley pit and uses his axe to break the slaves’ chains. He then declares himself to be Amra, the lost pirate king (he’s not making that part up. Amra’s the name he went by when he was a pirate. But he didn’t get lost so much as he just left one day because he decided it would be more fun to take over a country than rule a bunch of pirates). The slaves get so excited about all this that they kill all of the crewmen and then wait impatiently for Conan to begin a voyage of robbery and terror to rival the good old days. Instead of doing this, however, Conan orders the newly-minted pirates to sail him to Stygia, which is exactly the same thing that was going to happen anyway, only now Conan had to go to all the trouble of an armed mutiny.

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Hour of the Dragon, Chapters 12-13

Howard really surprised me at the beginning of chapter 12. In this chapter Conan rides off in search of the Heart of Ahriman…alone. That’s right, Howard went to all the trouble of introducing, not one, but two rescuable potential love interests in this story and halfway through Conan is off adventuring alone. Sure, it makes more sense this way but that’s never stopped Howard before. I mean, he dressed Albiona up like a corpse so she could go with Conan just a few chapters ago, I’d think he could think up something similar here.

Anyway, Conan heads off dressed like a roaming mercenary and doesn’t get far before he’s stopped by some local strongman looking for new recruits. Conan’s about to tell him to drop dead when the guy happens to mention that he’s just captured this merchant with an un-openable box and would Conan happen to have any experience in the field of torture and interrogation? To make a long story short, Conan convinces the merchant to reveal the secret to opening the box. He doesn’t, however, reveal the secret to opening the box without getting killed by the poison needle trap hidden in the lid (it turns out the secret is opening the lid while wearing thick gloves. Who knew?). Count You-should’ve-had-an-underling-do-that drops dead, and the lucky underling hits Conan over the head, grabs the Heart of Ahriman (which, no surprise, was in the box) and takes off.

I’m not sure why that seemed like a good idea to the underling, but he and Conan grab some horses and off they go on a big chase through the forest. And Conan would’ve gotten the guy, too, except his horse tripped and then he got attacked by ghouls. I know, it’s like someone took a Dungeons & Dragons adventure, hopped into a time machine to the ’30s, and paid Howard to narrativize it.

By now Conan’s lost his man, but there’s only one place he could be going – Messantia (it’s a major seaport and a great place to either skip town or sell something weird without attracting a lot of attention). The only problem with this is that Conan used to be a big-time pirate in the area and a lot of folks in Messantia will likely remember him without a lot of fondness. Fortunately, there’s this rich guy in town who made his money selling Conan’s stolen goods, and Conan thinks the guy’ll put him up for the night and then help him find the fugitive with the gem. The guy agrees to the deal, but he also hires a bunch of thieves to assassinate Conan.

And that about wraps things up. I really wanted to get three chapters into this post, but  I couldn’t do it. When Howard’s writing he doesn’t play around. No fancy descriptions, no cultural background, it’s exposition, action, or nothing.

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Going Back to School

Remember when I said I was going to use this site to catalog interesting things that happened in my life, should such a thing ever occur (it’s on the “about” page, you can check)? Well, today’s the day, because I’m headed back to school. Under normal circumstances that’s not very exciting, but I haven’t been a full-time student for a while. I graduated back in ’09 with an education degree and a teaching license (anyone who just wondered why I’m not working as a teacher somewhere just got an F in both Economics and Current Events). I’ve spent the last few years roaming the job market, always with enough work to pay the bills but never anything better than I could have gotten right out of high school. I spent about 90% of 2011 working in the exciting field of data entry, and that was the last straw. I can handle jobs where I have to sit really still for hours at a time, but I don’t enjoy them. And I can handle jobs where I have to turn off most of my higher brain functions for hours at a time, but I don’t enjoy those, either. Spending a year doing both at the same time was too much. So now it’s back to school. Right now it’s prerequisites at the local community college, and later this year I’ll start applying to veterinary schools.

The Past

 I was going to do a “future” shot with a cow standing next to a vet covered in poop, but there’s already plenty of places you can go on the web for potty humor.

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Hour of the Dragon, Chapters 10 & 11

Wow, that last post was long. I guess I just got excited about the awesome rescue adventure Conan was on. I’ll try to make this one a little shorter.

Conan, Albiona, and their rescuers-ex-machina eventually end up in a weird underground temple. They find out that their new friends are worshipers of Asura, who in Howard-land is a creepy Eastern death god (I don’t know anything about Asura in real-life mythology except that it’s a real thing – I’m feeling too lazy to look it up right now, even though with Google literally at my fingertips it would have taken me less time to look it up than it did to explain why I wasn’t looking it up). Conan starts to get worried that his disguise was less impenetrable than he thought. However, the high priest assures him that the Asura worshipers only recognized him because they’re trained to look below the surface for true meaning and no one not trained in the worship of Asura could possibly have seen past such a clever disguise (that must have been some eyepatch).

It turns out that the Asura folks liked King Conan because worshipers of the traditional Aquilonian god (Mitra) persecuted the Asura-ites. Conan was never interested enough in religion for persecution so his official policy was religious tolerance because that was easier. That part about Conan being non-religious isn’t strictly true, Conan worships the Cimmerian god, Crom, but since the correct way to worship Crom is to not bother him and solve your own problems it amounts to the same thing.

The high priest informs Conan about a magical artifact called the Heart of Ahriman, and Conan deduces that A) he must get this artifact to stop Xaltotun and save his kingdom and B) that this artifact is the object which he saw Tarascus giving to a servant on his way out of the dungeon back in chapter 6. So he decides to go on a quest to retrieve the Heart (he doesn’t call it a quest, but that’s what it is). The high priest offers to send some of his lackeys along to help Conan, but Conan declines, saying he doesn’t need any priests tagging along and slowing him down.

However, Conan apparently feels that pretty young noblewomen are less trouble than priests because he takes Albiona with him without a second thought. I leave the reader to draw his (or her) own conclusions.

Conan and Albiona set off down the river in a boat painted all black except for the white skulls all over it. My first thought was that Conan was masquerading as a pirate, but the actual explanation is less interesting. It turns out that when the followers of Asura die their bodies gets escorted back to the far east in one of these boats (and since the locals are afraid of Asura no one will mess with the skull boats, so Conan gets a free pass as long as he stays on the river). Conan is disguised as the boat’s lone sailor and Albiona is disguised as the corpse, which is boring and creepy at the same time. She should’ve stayed home.

After a few days on the river Conan and Albiona leave the boat and head cross-country towards Poitain, which is one of the few provinces still in rebellion against Valerius. Conan is recognized almost immediately and escorted to the local ruler’s palace. The locals want to raise a new army and reconquer the rest of Aquilonia, but by now Conan has his heart set on the “regain the Heart of Ahriman” plan so he turns them down. Fortunately, the local congregation of Asura has ascertained the Heart’s recent whereabouts (it turns out that Asura is also the god of discovering other people’s secrets) and Conan prepares to track down the magical artifact unaided except for the help of (inexplicably) Albiona.

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