Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review - Conan - The God in the Bowl - by Robert E. Howard

The "God in the Bowl" was first published in 1975 several years after it was written by Robert E. Howard, it is a fine example of the evolution of Conan in Howard?s mind, and back story on the political and economic philosophy he was creating in the Hyborian age. I need to mention again that I am exceedingly pleased with Del Rey and how they were edited. The editor of the book tried to produce the stories as close to the original text as written by Howard, and if changes were made, they were noted in the back of the book, giving the page number, line number and word that was changed or a note as to how the text was changed. This is why I like this book so much. For the most part the only changes made were minor grammatical changes, if the original text had a misspelled word; they changed it in the text, but noted how Howard originally spelled it. If you are interested in purchasing this book the bottom of the page contains a link to Amazon, so if you haven?t got a copy yet, pick one up.

Ok, enough advertising for the book; I?ll get on with the review. The story "God in the Bowl" starts with a guard discovering the dead body, Kallian Publico, the owner and curator of the museum. Soon Conan enters the scene and the guard seeing Conan comes to the conclusion that he must have murdered the man, and sounds an alarm. Conan is quickly surrounded by other guards along with Demetrio, the chief of the Inquisitorial Council of the city of Numalia, and the prefect of police Dionus. The rest of the story revolves around questioning Conan, and the guard telling the story of how Publico went to town and returned in his chariot, how the guard watched him enter the museum, where no others could have entered because the doors were locked. Howard wraps the story of a criminal investigation being done on the spot, and then brings in a mysterious bowl. During the investigation Conan mentions that he entered the building for the soul purpose of stealing an object and that it was a job, but he maintains his incense when it comes to the murder of Publico. Howard increases the tension by implying that a mysterious and deadly beast was contained in the bowl, but only the clerk, Promero, believes the beast exists. The story reaches a climax when the nephew of the city's governor, Aztrias, arrives on scene. Conan recognizes him and names him as the one who hired him to steal a gem from the museum. When Aztrias does not support Conan's claims, even though Demetrio offers to sweep it under the rug, Conan becomes enraged kills Aztrias and disarms and maims the remainder of the guards. Suddenly Promero appears in the hallway from the chamber he was thrown in, he screams and dies. When they inspect him they find that he has no wounds. Conan enters the chamber sees a head and strikes, severing it from its body, when he looks at the body of the beast it is that of a huge serpent.

One of the things I notice about the way Howard wrote this and other Conan tales is that Conan is almost a side bar to the story. What I mean by that is that most of the action happens with out him. For instance in this story Conan shows up and is accused of the crime, yet most of the story is retelling about Publico's movements, the guards movements, and back story into the daily life of Numalia. Conan only shines in the last three pages of a seventeen page story, but otherwise stands off to the side while the investigation goes on, only providing short direct answers in his own defense. This comment is not to dissuade any one from reading the story or any other story by Howard, it is merely an observation. Howard wrote a remarkably mysterious and tension filled story, which resulted with Conan winning a battle with the guards and killing the beast. I would say that if this was the only Conan story I had ever read and I didn't know Conan?s history, I might be asking myself, "Why do I care about this character?" Very little is provided to make the reader really care about and want Conan to succeed, he is just a brooding Barbarian standing off to the side. The obstacles he encounters continue to increase and things look more and more desperate as the story unfolds, but through out it all he stands by the side and lets it develop around him, until Aztrias infuriates him.

I really enjoy how Howard makes Conan utterly independent. He is a man who holds in high regards the freedom of the individual. And as a reader who has read Conan stories and know the history of Conan, I like how Howard stood Conan off to the side while the story drove on with out him. This illuminated Conan's complete confidence in his abilities to handle the guards. It also showed how Conan impressed the guards, since they never tried to disarm him. Additionally it showed that Conan had a regard for the law, believed in some sort of code of conduct, and had a deep belief in honesty. His belief in honesty can be seen in two separate events, he willing says that he came there to steal a gym, and that he didn't kill Publico, also when Aztrias does not come forward about hiring him, this is what sets off Conan and ultimately results in him killing Aztrias. This shows us that Conan the barbarian is more honest and noble than the nephew of the governor. I like how Howard sneaks in the concept of a mans is only as good as his word, and how he turns the concept of strength in numbers upside down and shows the power and greatness of the individual.

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