Retrospective: Dumarest of Terra 01: The Winds of Gath – 1967

Sorry for the holiday, I was cleaning my room.

***

Retrospective

Dumarest of Terra 01: The Winds of Gath

1967

E. C. Tubb

Here we go back to the very beginning of the Dumarest saga. In a novel that sets up the themes, tone and background of the series, Tubb introduces our hero and lays down the formula that works so well for dozens of tales.

***

Dumarest is brought up out of Low, half frozen, mostly dead, body wasted and weak. The hull trembles with the tell tale vibrations of the space travel. Travellers are never revived in space, something is wrong.

The Matriarch of Kund chartered the ship, they were headed to Gath, dead end world for tourists, the end of the line. Gath, tide locked to its baleful sun, a tiny strip of land on the terminator habitable, endless light on one side, frozen dark on the other.

Already in the first chapter some of the main themes of the Dumarest books are set out, space travel can be dangerous if you don’t have the money, you never want to end up on a world where you can’t build a stake. Everything changes on the whims of those Houses that have the wealth and power, to have a patron is often necessary to survive.

The Matriarch is even accompanied by a cyber, an as yet unknown quantity, far from the constant antagonist that they will later become. The rapport with the central Cyclan intelligence is described, the first of many to come.

At five he had been chosen. At fifteen, after a forced puberty, he had undergone an operation on the thalamus. He could feel no joy, no hate, no desire, no pain. He was a coldly logical machine of flesh and blood, a detached, dispassionate human robot. The only pleasure he could know was the mental satisfaction of correct deduction.

On Gath is a great mountain range, filled with enormous resonant crystals, buffeted by the winds of the great storms that arise only several times a year, the range sings the music of the spheres. The Matriarch of Kund has brought her ward and successor here, both to avoid assassination, and to possibly find answers. To what?

Dumarest barely survives an ill fated and desperate fishing trip, the first of many death defying hunts. The monks, future allies of Dumarest are introduced with their meagre church, the benediction light. Dumarest, penniless, is reduced to scraping tasteless pulp off native grasses to trick his stomach and reduce the pangs of hunger for a moment.

A sadistic princeling tempts stranded travellers with a fight against one of his men, a vicious killer. Dumarest knows the odds, two dead men already testament to the efficiency of the fighter, but hunger drives a man. High passage for a kill was temptation enough. The fight stands out in the chronicles of Dumarest, given his penchant for his nine inch blade, you would think it would feature in this first fight, but this one is hand to hand.

Slow time for healing, gets Dumarest back on his feet in four hours actual, one week subjective. The Matriarch dislikes the prince and that is enough to gain Dumarest patronage, the key to his continued survival. A high passage means nothing if the prince takes his revenge.

The time of storms is near and everyone is swept up to the mountains, scions of great houses in comfort, tourists with slightly less, travellers with none, serving as pack bearers and raft pullers. The answers the Matriarch seeks become clearer, the scurrying creatures of Gath are physiologically compatible with humanity, perfectly deaf, they are actually telepathic, and the organs responsible could be grafted into a human skull. The cyber seeks this for the Cyclan, the prince seeks it unknowingly, Dumarest accompanies the ward as protection and distraction and the stage is set for the celestial music to come.

First comes the rain, thunderously thick, then the voices of the dead begin.

Morning brings chaos, the wind tore the rafts from their moorings, most structures are torn to shreds and tourists and travellers scatter the field, dead.

Dumarest is caught up in the manoeuvring of the great houses, the ward has been replaced by a doppelganger, the prince has gone mad, the Matriarch lies dying and Dumarest is resolved to pay his debts.

Dumarest kills his first cyber, rescues his first woman, begins the hunt for Earth. From here he will venture further and further from the core worlds, closer to the edge of the galaxy where Earth, maybe, might be found.

***

It was interesting going back and seeing how the formula was always there from the beginning. The technology, the social aspects, Dumarest’s personality and reactions to events. The story beats – the early struggles and hunts, the single combat, the final race against some villain or natural danger.

The pacing is just as good in this first novel as it is in later novels. Tubb went into the series with the strength of an established and competent writer. The novel is short, compact, easy to read in an afternoon or over a week on your breaks, generally an unknown format in the genre in these days of overblown door stoppers.

Reading it again to do this write up was just as enjoyable if not more so compared to my first reading. My familiarity with the series adding to the enjoyment of the satisfying and recognised tempo of the story.

 

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Prognostication

I wanted to record some predictions for the year ahead now that it has started, simply to grade myself at the end of the year. I like to be an insufferable know it all, so an exercise of such futility as predicting the future should serve to humble my outsized ego.

I start with the three topics you don’t discuss shipboard.

In Politics:

First, I think that Labor will win the federal election here in Australia. The lesson of Victoria will of course be completely missed by our ersatz conservative party who will determine that pandering to the bioleninist factions will of course win them votes from the ‘new’ Australians and the woke set.

Second, Australia will have a race riot of some sort. Aborigines versus Africans, Viets versus Africans, Chinese versus Africans, Indians versus Africans, Some ethnic group versus Africans. It may be no more than a few hundred in a messy brawl, but it is going to happen. Howard’s legacy. The news media will find it very hard to report on as they won’t know who to call racist, so they will blame it on white Australians, especially if none are involved. If only one is involved, then that person will be used as the image during coverage. This event will be used to discuss the importance of diversity and having more foreigners.

Third, Sue Hickey will join the cross-bench after the national election is lost by the Liberal party. This beady eyed opportunist will demonstrate that having or encouraging more women to enter politics is the last thing any conservative party should do. Of course, this was easily demonstrated by the events of last year. This repeated demonstration will fail to make any impact in the minds of the retarded homonculi that run the party. They will learn the wrong lesson. In 30 years I’ll wonder why I cared. Everyone has already forgotten the Rundle government and that was only 20 years ago.

In Religion:

First, the consequences of the federal election will include deliberate reductions of religious rights in schools and other organisations. Sodomites will be sacralised and trying to stop them from being in positions to groom children will be prevented. Exceptions will probably be made for Mohammedans and Jews.

Second, the ABC will push out more articles like this one to give the impression that to be a true Catholic means accepting sodomite priests that are allowed to marry each other, women bishops and sacred divorce and abortion sacraments. No article will be published by a single mother saying that a true Muslim must support sodomites teaching children about sodomy in every mosque.

Third, more intellectual right wingers will join or consider joining the Church. The same thing happened at the end of the 19th Century, even as the world celebrated the march of secularism. One of our guys who is famous on the internet will do so publicly, and it will not have been an obvious choice. They probably won’t even be able to explain it in the face of what the Church is doing to itself.

In Women:

The discussion of politics and religion started a fight shipboard so we never got to the women question.

Well, these are my inconsequential predictions. This time next year I’ll grade them for inaccuracy.

This is the end

By way of rounding out 2018, I would like to thank all of you that have found something interesting to read here this year.

There were 145 visitors over 2018 and 274 views. My visitors as yet have made no comments on my posts.

The vast majority are from Australia, while the top five is rounded out by United States, UK, Netherlands and India.

Interestingly, most referrals come through the WordPress reader which must be my few valued subscribers as well as the occasional featured post or like? A few also click through from twitter, but not very many.

This year went quite well. I managed my 52 books, discussed a few other book related topics and succumbed to the desire to rant about some things.

Some interesting posts that you may have missed:

Organising Books

Reading Great Books: Part 1

Reading Great Books: Part 2

In total I made 76 posts over the year and many thousands of words – I know of no easy way to check sorry.

Overall I did quite a bit better than I thought I would when I started the blogging project. I never thought I would be able to actually finish my posts on the 52 books let alone keep going for the whole year. Next year you can expect to see another 52 books, as well as a few other things that I plan. My goal is mostly to write things that I enjoy writing, enjoy reading and on topics I find interesting, so I am glad that there are a few others of you out there that are interested in the same things.

The clear favorites have been the posts on the Dumarest novels and the Conan comics. The Dumarest novels will continue next year, along with another series that E. C. Tubb wrote under Gregory Kern. The Conan’s will also continue until I have gone through all 22 of the collected Savage Sword volumes.

I will of course spice it up with a few other things that I mentioned in my 52 book retrospective and anything else I manage to get through in the year. I will be busier next year, but hopefully not so terribly that I have a two month drought as I did this year.

That is all. See you next year.

The Betrayal of the Great Books

I like the subtle dig at lefty staff… probably unintentional.

Staff left ‘betrayed’ as university reveals Ramsay Centre deal

The number one reason they don’t want the literature of Western Civilisation being taught, is that after you read real literature, you can never once again stomach feminist or post-colonial ‘texts’.

The number two reason they don’t want the literature of Western Civilisation being taught, is that students somehow start becoming Catholic after being exposed to good literature.

The Ramsay Centre’s Indicative-Curriculum isn’t too bad, hopefully the texts are to be read in full. Not really worth it otherwise.

I wonder if it will actually take off? It will be fought the entire way, so hopefully the money is enough to get the administration of a uni somewhere on side and they can attract talent that aren’t pinko scum to teach it…

Why doesn’t the boy read?

Because the FM in my car is broken, I am stuck with AM and so I get three flavours of ABC: Local, News and RN. There’s also some community station and the horse racing, but despite their best efforts they don’t really count. The ABC, especially on RN is starting to remind me of the pointless obliviousness of NPR in the US. They are so sheltered and ignorant of the world outside Melbourne and Sydney – and this is despite a rather strong rural section that sometimes does some good work – that sometimes I can’t fathom how to be so blinkered.

Anyway I caught this segment on ABC RN the other day – How to make reading fun for teenagers which reminded me of a piece from a bit earlier in the year – Six things you can do to get boys reading more.

Coincidentally, because of the incestuous ABC/Conversation complex , they rely on the same people over and over again and the Margaret Merga who wrote the piece on boys is the woman interviewed for the piece on teenagers.

I’ll get to the getting boys reading article first –

  1. just as your interests and views are not identical to all those of the same age and gender, boys have diverse interests and tastes. These don’t necessarily stay static over time. To match them with reading material they’re really interested in, initiate regular discussions about reading for pleasure, in order to keep up with their interests

  2. schools should provide access to libraries during class time throughout the years of schooling. Girls may be more likely to visit a library in their free time than boys, and as children move through the years of schooling they may receive less access to libraries during class time, curtailing boys’ access to books. Access to books is essential to promote reading

  3. keep reading to and with boys for as long as possible, as many boys find it enjoyable and beneficial beyond the early years

  4. provide opportunities and expectations for silent reading at home and at school, despite competing demands on time

  5. keep paper books available. Boys who are daily readers are even less likely to choose to read on screens than girls. The assumption that boys prefer to read on screens is not supported by research

  6. promote reading as an enjoyable and acceptable pastime by being a great role model. Let your children or students see you read for pleasure.

Blah blah blah

What are they going to read?

To get them to read there actually have to be books that they want to read. Unless you know books and know of good books for boys, and know where to get them online, or have a store you can order them through then you have no chance.

You ever been to the State Library? They have all been purged of boy books. Hardy Boys in Tasmania are down from hundreds to just 80, and some of them are Nancy Drew crossovers. There are double that in Nancy Drew books. 20 years ago it was the opposite. Look at the shelves and you can only see books for girls, or effeminately covered books for all kids. There might be a few sops for the boys, but when you actually read them you realise why they are allowed to stay on the shelf.

Been to your local bookshop? Where they remain anyway. It is no secret that bookshops are havens for shitlibs and co. The reactionary bookshop keeper is far and few between. Take new books, because that is what you are most likely to find – probably in one of the few remaining chain stores, or few remaining independents. Those new books in the children section? It is all books for girls, and the books that are supposed to be for boys? Well, they don’t really compare to anything even available in the 90s! Let alone earlier.

The young adult section is even worse. How many books about special girls fighting the dystopian system can we have shoved into our daughter’s hands? Not that the ones for adults are any better.

For a third of a century there was always Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Wilbur Smith. The three main men’s adventure writers, but who is there now? Amazon Kindle rankings have some bugger called L.T. Ryan taking up 12 of the top 50, but that is some self published fella, I don’t think that is the sort of thing you can pick up off the street.

Do you know where boys get books to read? They read books their father or other men have lying around. Is there even a broadly published men’s adventure author like Wilbur Smith who’s books are immediately thrown out of second hand stores into the trash because they are so ubiquitous? Used to be every working man had one in the loo, in the workshop, dusty in the garage, in the office, on the hospital bedside. They were ever-present in the airport newsagency. They just sort of hung around dog eared, gathering dust and when there was nothing else to do, well little Johnny just starts to have a read don’t he.

Ms. Godfree, the teacher librarian from the RN segment reckons students ask her for books that make them cry. Well, obviously she is never asked this by a teenage boy. They want a bit of violence, a bit of casual misogyny, preferably few female characters, lots of strange places to adventure in, and hints of a masculine adult world. Those old men’s adventure staples were just the thing. Written for the reading ability of a 12 year old to recognise the limits of their main audience, working class men who want something light to read, they were just the sort of thing their boy could pick up and read too.

This is what boys want

The reading teenagers article recommends reading books to your children as long as possible. You know what is perfect for reading out loud to older boys? Traditional stories, ballads, poems. But no one reads poetry any more. No one teaches the folk tunes and songs to their boys, and traditional story telling stops at a collection of Grimms. You have to do better.

Read old books we say. Well you better start buying them and hoarding them, because old books are dangerous and get harder and harder to find. If you want your son to have good books to read then you are going to have to provide them yourself. When you take him camping, fishing, shooting, no phones. You want something to do boy? Read a book. What, you aren’t taking your boy bush? Are you even a man?

Need a list? Here’s somewhere to start. I tried to make a list of my own, but I used a file system where I remembered all the books’ location in the local library and they have all been purged. It is taking a long time to recollect everything I used to read.

What happened to those old floppy digest sized westerns? Can we bring stuff like that back? Our libraries used to be great. Then the bureaucracy finally caught up to them.

The RN segment also mentioned comics. Well, sure, they might read them, that is if you can find something that isn’t pozzed out till next Tuesday. It isn’t like you can pick up a Phantom on your weekly run to the newsagent. The newsagents are all dead!

I guess there are some old comics that are okay, but you have to do your research, same with Manga – You have to learn to filter out the trash – the thing is though, you can’t just buy basic boy comics, cape or otherwise, at the supermarket or servo. Not any more, and if you go to a comic book shop and open a standard DC Superman or Marvel Spiderman or some such tripe, well you discover that it isn’t worth the hideous price they are charging you now days.

You know what would be really handy? – lists of things that aren’t shit. You can’t trust the news presses to give you an honest accounting of anything, it would have to be one of our own. Start with baby books – seriously, have a child and start buying little kid books and you discover a world of poz beyond imagining. Move on up through the age groups so we know what to use for gift ideas.

It would have to be a crowd though, if you start reviewing, and get review copies, that will dry up fast once they realise you are assessing for mental toxins…

52 New Books 2018 – The Complete List

#52 New Books 2018

I – 1963 – Space Viking

II – 1971 to 1981 – Man Thing Omnibus

III – 1833 – Eugénie Grandet

IV – 1884 – Against Nature / A rebours

V – 1894 – The Wood Beyond the World

VI – 1919 – Jungle Tales of Tarzan

VII – 1202 – Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds

VIII – 1971/72 – Roots of the Swamp Thing

IX – 1880 – The Diary of One of Garibaldi’s Thousand

X – 1960 – A Man For All Seasons

XI – 1862 – Salammbo

XII – 2002/03 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin II

XIII – ~98 – Agricola and Germania

XIV – 2003/04 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III

XV – 2004 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin IV

XVI – 2005 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin V

XVII – 1834 – Sartor Resartus

XVII – 2005/06 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin VI

XIX – 2006 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin VII

XX – 2007 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin VIII

XXI – 1969 – Dumarest of Terra 03: Toyman

XXII – 1969 – Dumarest of Terra 04: Kalin

XXIII – 1970 – Dumarest of Terra 05: The Jester at Scar

XXIV – 1971 – Dumarest of Terra 06: Lallia

XXV – 1972 – Dumarest of Terra 07: Technos

XXVI to XXVIII – 1973 – Dumarest of Terra 08 to 10

Dumarest of Terra 08: Veruchia
Dumarest of Terra 09: Mayenne
Dumarest of Terra 10: Jondelle

XXIX – 1974 – Dumarest of Terra 11: Zenya

XXX – 1975 – Dumarest of Terra 12: Eloise

XXXI – 1975 – Dumarest of Terra 13: Eye of the Zodiac

XXXII – 1976 – Dumarest of Terra 14: Jack of Swords

XXXIII – 1976 – Dumarest of Terra 15: Spectrum of a Forgotten Sun

XXXIV – 1977 – Dumarest of Terra 16: Haven of Darkness

XXXV – 1977 – Dumarest of Terra 17: Prison of Night

XXXVI – 1978 – Dumarest of Terra 18: Incident on Ath

XXXVII – 1978 – Dumarest of Terra 19: The Quillian Sector

XXXVIII – 1979 – Dumarest of Terra 20: Web of Sand

XXXIX and XL -1983 and 1984 – The War Against the Chtorr: Book 1 and 2

XLI – 1961 – Three Hearts and Three Lions

XLII – 1295 – Vita Nuova

XLIII – 1983/84 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 9

XLIV – 1984/85 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 10

XLV – 1985/86 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 11

XLVI – 1986 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 12

XLVII – 1986/87 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 13

XLVIII – 5thC BC – The Trojan Women and Other Plays

XLIX – 5thC BC – Bacchae and Other Plays

L – 5thC BC – Medea and Other Plays

LI – 5thC BC – Orestes and Other Plays

LII – 5thC BC – Heracles and Other Plays

LIII – 1987/88 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 14

LIV – 1988/89 – The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 15

LV – 2003 – The Gothic Enterprise

LVI – 6thC BC – The Complete Fables

Retrospective and Prospective

52 New Books – LVI – Aesop: The Complete Fables – 6th Century BC

52 New Books – Supplemental – Book LVI

The Complete Fables

6th Century BC

Aesop

This particular edition is translated by Olivia and Robert Temple. I read it to my child nightly over the last year and only recently finished. Well annotated, unbowdlerised and has the entire corpus of 358 fables. The notes are excellent and well worth getting this edition for.

Aesop’s fable should need no introduction from me. I can safely say that it surely deserves the reputation that preceded it.

I present a selection:

11
The Ethiopian

A man who bought an Ethiopian slave presumed that his colour was due to neglect by his former owner. Taking him home, he set to work scrubbing him down with soap. He tried every method of washing which he knew, to try and whiten him. But he could not alter his colour. Indeed, he made himself ill with his exertions.

 

25
The fisherman and the Large and Small Fish

A fisherman drew in his net from the sea. He could catch big fish, which he spread out in the sun, but the small fish slipped through the mesh, escaping into the sea.

 

56
The Charcoal Burner and the Fuller

A charcoal burner who carried on his trade in a certain house noticed that a fuller had established himself nearby. So he went to see him and urged him to come live with him. He said they were so close that they could live with much less expense if they shared a single dwelling.

But the fuller replied:

‘That is out of the question! For whatever I will clean you will blacken with soot.’

 

194
The Lioness and the Vixen

A Vixen criticized a lioness for only ever bearing one child.

‘Only one,’ she said, ‘but a lion.’

 

286
The Hen and the Swallow

A hen found the eggs of a snake and carefully hatched them by sitting upon them and keeping them warm. A swallow, who had seen her doing this, said to her:

‘What a fool you are! Why are you rearing these creatures who, once grown, will make you the first victim of their evildoing?’

 

 

52 New books – LV- The Gothic Enterprise – 2003

52 New Books – Supplemental – Book LV

The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral

2003

Robert A. Scott

Initially I was quite impressed with this book. The first 3/5ths of the book are an excellent overview of the Gothic cathedral and how and when and why they were built the way they were. This is all let down rather terribly by the last 2/5ths where Scott, unable to approach his subject from within, tries to expound on spiritual forces, double down on the typical errors about medieval life and rather make a hash of his explanations.

The best part of that section is the discussion of memory and the physical manifestation of the traditional memory preserving methods in the spaces of a cathedral – the rest, fell far short of what I had hoped from such a book.

One of the great things about the book is the obvious and honest appreciation of the Gothic cathedral that Scott demonstrates. He really does admire these great buildings in their grandeur and as aesthetic exemplars. This is especially apparent in the first sections where he discusses and describes various cathedrals.

Over five sections Scott describes the era of cathedral building from the 12th to 16th Century, the history of these period in social and economic terms, the features of Gothic cathedrals, the religious function of the cathedrals and how the cathedrals served the medieval world. Those last two sections are the weakest of the book and let it down considerably.

The descriptions of how the cathedrals were conceived, designed, organised, financed and built is particularly valuable, relying on much primary and secondary evidence to provide an accurate picture of the challenges and triumphs of cathedral building. Salisbury, Scott’s favourite cathedral, serves as an exemplar and he goes into a lot of detail and uses it to compare other buildings. Scott’s genuine admiration for the often century long building process is infectious in this section and I was very impressed with what started out as a casual browse.

The historical section focuses on the relationship of nobility to the church, the place of the monasteries and the impact that heresy, particularly that of the Albigensians, had on the development of cathedrals as seats of orthodoxy. While not as faulty as the later sections, the obvious bias against the efforts of orthodoxy to suppress the heretics is a weakness, one that only grows throughout the book in disserves to Scott’s text.

The following section on the political and military manoeuvring of the Holy Roman Empire, the French, the English and the Church itself is quite valuable and provides a comprehensive background of the social and political order within which the cathedrals were envisioned. Particular attention is paid to Abbot Sugar of St. Denis as one of the leaders in the introduction and development of the Gothic style.

The design and appearance of the Gothic cathedrals is the third main section of the book. Here Scott describes the importance of rational, proportional and harmonious design to the Gothic designers and builders. The constraints of technology and mathematics of the time, the limits of the labour pool, the importance of light and shadow, height and support, geometry and order are all explained as well as how the style developed over time.

The penultimate section on religious experience relies on Émile Durkheim too much, to describe cathedrals as sacred spaces protecting and discharging sacred forces. He does go into contemporary debates about the valuable ornament and decoration of cathedrals, but does not rely on any other sources from within the tradition to explore whether his ideas from Durkheim can actually be justified. However, this weakness is made up in part by the next section on memory where Scott explores the medieval continuation of the traditional memory arts and the place of imaginary constructs as a method of retention and recollection.

Then we get to a discussion of miracles, relics and saints. Here Scott cannot but be a modern, and the constant caveats and dismissals start to bore, and I wonder if he felt that he had to include them, or if he really felt he had to belabour the point over and over again, so as to distance himself from any accusation of being too involved to be impartial.

The final section includes a discussion of medieval life and conditions that is so horrendously clichéd and tedious that it is better skipped, while the section on the clergy and community is so typically academic that it bores. Scott ends with a discussion of Stonehenge that he links as similar in impulse to the cathedrals and I tuned out like a first year student in the lecture theatre after a 5am drinking binge.

Overall, it is an interesting book, and I did not feel that it was a total waste of time to have read it. I especially appreciated the historical detail and discussion of the mechanical and engineering problems and solutions, the link to Augustinian order and sacred geometry as well as the discussion of memory and the link between procession and prayer.

52 New books – LIV- The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 15 – 1988 to 1989

52 New Books – Supplemental – Book LIV

The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 15

The Savage Sword of Conan: #151 to #160

1988-1989

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #151
August 1988
“Fury of the Near-Men”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Crossing the great southern grasslands, Conan comes across a party of hunters seeking beasts for the arenas. Attacked by apish beast men, Conan is separated from them. Conan finds himself leader of yet another beastman tribe, more feline than ape and teaches them fire and war.

– Well, I enjoy the theme of beastmen, but the single issue format leaves everything a bit rushed. This sort of story needs a bit of time, the great godlike leader that teaches the primitive man new skills to improve their life, and leads them in war – it all rushes past too swiftly to make much impact.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #152
September 1988
“Valley Beyond the Stars”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

A shaman, witch, mystic and priest all converge, warned by their spiritual eye that death and doom comes and it must be stopped. Conan by chance is thrust into their midst, to find his old friend Vitellus, priest of Mitra! They make their way to a shrine atop a rocky pillar where a Stygian queen attempts to summon an eldritch evil.

– I guess it isn’t too bad, but with this one and the last I feel that Dixon’s interest or creativity is waning. The overall idea is good, but the execution is a bit limp.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #153
October 1988
“Blood on the Sand”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon and Gary Kwapisz
Art by Gary Kwapisz

In the deserts of Shem, Conan hunts uprising peasants for gold as a bounty hunter. Feeling sorry for some of the peasant slaves taken by the King’s slave catchers, Conan aids the rebellion. However, they are in turn betrayed.

– Conan used to not bother with things that did not affect him. When did he start getting sentimental?

“Phantasm”
Written by Jim Owsley
Art by Luke McDonnell and Armando Gil

Conan and Red Sonja battle for Conan’s right to bed her. Sonja wins, yawn. Not a great introduction by Owsley.

– Called Phantasm since it is intercut by scenes of Sonja’s fantasy of finally being with Conan or something? I am not sure, and I don’t think Owsley was either.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #154
November 1988
“Return of the Iron Damsels”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon and Gary Kwapisz
Art by Gary Kwapisz

Pursuing the traitor from the last issue, Conan crosses path with the Iron Damsels, who are also hunting men. The traitor seeks aid from a wizard and the Iron Damsels and Conan fight a series of conjured terrors.

– Now this is Dixon’s biggest misstep. Why would you bring these women back for another story is quite beyond me. The skinny women who are all amazing fighters might have been more interesting in the 80s, I don’t know, but the last 30 years have worn the trope down to the bloody nub. Though to be sure, they sure do act like petulant women! Conan of course, doesn’t give a damn.

“… To Fight Another Day”
Written by Don Kraar
Art by Terry Tidwell and Dave Simons

Conan barely survives a battle, awakening only to find a scavenger trying to relieve him of a trinket. He patches himself up and makes his escape from the battlefield.

– This is a wordless story, very well told and aided by some excellent art.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #155
December 1988
“Behind the Walls of Night”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Ernie Chan

Conan is commissioned to accompany a group of mercenaries into a long abandoned city, a strange walled in and roofed over place that no man has entered for two generations. Within lie the gold symbols of rulership that a scion of the old family needs to prove his right to rule. Also within lurk those who thirst for blood!

– This one was better than the last couple of Dixon stories. The ending is wryly ironic and well suits a Conan tale.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #156
January 1989
“Rogue’s Honor”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Mike Docherty and Ricardo Villagrán

Conan joins a party of thieves to rob the treasure rooms in the fortress of Artallus. Some are less professional than others and they are discovered, barely escaping with a hostage. Betrayed and left for dead, Conan is found and offered a chance to hunt his erstwhile companions. A task he gladly takes, as his need for revenge demands no less.

– This one is okay too, spoiled a little though by Conan’s weird sentimentalism he appears to have developed.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #157
February 1989
“The Wrath of Crom”
Written by Don Kraar
Art by Dale Eaglesham and Pat Redding

Conan leads a desperate rear guard fighting its way back to Cimmerian lands. No one believes in the old magician’s powers, but on a hallowed Cimmerian battlefield we learn that sometimes Crom really does favour his subjects.

– This is a great story despite the art. Kraar deserved to have Kwapisz and Chan for this story.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #158
March 1989
“Bane of the Dark Brotherhood”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Ernie Chan

A rogue robs a shaman of a precious relic. In turn he is hunted by Conan, sent to retrieve the rogue after he absconded with a large fraction of a prince’s treasury and left his daughter with an ugly child. Once captured they are haunted by the possessed, forced by the shaman into servitude to retrieve the relic.

– This was a good story and made up a bit for the other weak entries in this volume. Conan’s propensity for taking personal revenge and ignoring his previous mission when it suits him is part of the charm.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #159
April 1989
“The Wheel”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Mike Docherty and Dave Simons

Conan is spared death at the end of a lost battle he fought in as a mercenary. The mercy comes at great price however, as he is chained to the great wheel that powers a great machine to move water from a reservoir. A lovesick young man tags along the inevitable escape and they plot to steal into the nearby fortress for treasure.

– This was a pretty good story too. Conan finds out there is no treasure, the young man learns about the fickle nature of women and they all get mixed up in a coup attempt. A good pace and it ties up nicely in the end.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #160
May 1989
“Brothers”
Written by Jim Owsley
Art by Andy Kubert

Conan has fallen in with the desert Kozaki and fights with them against the king’s men that hunt them like dogs. The son of a dear friend of Conan’s arrives. Conan’s friend is dead and he has asked Conan one last favour. Look after his son.

– This was a better story than the last Owsley, I enjoyed this one. I think there are more Owsley stories to come so hopefully he is building up into one of the good writers.

***

52 New books – LIII- The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 14 – 1987 to 1988

52 New Books – Supplemental – Book LIII

The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 14

The Savage Sword of Conan: #141 to #150

1987-1988

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #141
October 1987
“The Crimson Citadel”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

In Vanaheim, a mine breaks into ancient tunnels leading to a sealed wall that when broken unleashes terrible demons from an aeon ago. Conan, a priest of Mitra and a young woman from a nearby village descend into the mines to investigate what has been preying on the nearby Vainer villagers. They discover an ancient city of horrors in disguise.

– I like this one. The Mitran priest Vitellus is an excellent foil for Conan and his faith in Mitra is well rewarded. The ancient city and its perpetual war has a nice twist to it as well.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #142
November 1987
“Blind Vengeance”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

His side defeated in battle, Conan collects a few other stragglers and sets off for new lands. A village of blinded adults, testament to the cruelty of a despicable warlord, is to be Conan’s next stand.

– A seven samurai type scenario follows, though Conan of course survives. Others of his band of stragglers also survive to stay on in the village. It is as fun and entertaining as ever for a Dixon tale.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #143
December 1987
“Blood and Honor”
Written by Don Kraar
Art by Val Mayerick

Conan is a mercenary scouting for the Aquilonians. He rescues a woman from the vanguard of the Pictish raiders. They hole up in an abandoned fort held by the rest of Conan’s scouts where they are beset by the Pictish chieftain and his shaman. A Pictish savage and a Cimmerian barbarian are not so different.

– Kraar writes a good story but Mayerick’s art is a bit sketchy and this lets it down a bit. The trade of a quisling merchant for a shaman, and the accord between Conan and the Pictish leader were highlights.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #144
January 1988
“The Waiting Doom”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan, hunting an ancient idol for a mage, meets up with Red Sonja, who hunts children stolen from her care. In turn they are tracked by brigands who intend to kill Conan to take the idol for themselves. Everything comes to a climax in an eldritch shrine to an inhuman god, guarded by a monstrous mutant born of foul sin.

– Another good Dixon, which also partakes of the clever science in a fantasy land aspect that was occasionally there in the Howard, and of which a great example can be found in Three Hearts and Three Lions. The mage had given Conan a heavy lead box to carry the idol in, Conan merely assumes that it has some protective magics. It turns out that without this protection the idol kills, after days of fiery pain.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #145
February 1988
“Feast of the Stag”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Geof Isherwood

Conan and Sonja recover the children that Red Sonja hunted in the previous issue. Conan, once again setting out on his own, finds himself in a land beset by a prophet that calls the peasants to worship the great Oranah, the stag god. Burn your farm, kills the livestock, murder your children he crows, and the stag god Oranah will reward you. Through blood and sacrifice we shall summon him! Conan enlists in the army sent to suppress the cult.

– A good story and Isherwood does a good job in place of Chan. Conan loses a friend and mourns him, in a touching scene. Conan confirmed for dog person.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #146
March 1988
“Blood Circus”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan is framed for a theft, betrayed by a whore and enslaved. Alongside a silent Kushite, Conan is sent to train as a gladiator and earns fame in the arena. His victories find him in the Empresses bed. The cucked Emperor orders Conan’s death, which leads to his own.

– I wish that this had more gladiatorial arena fighting and less story.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #147
April 1988
“Vulture’s Shadow”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan still rules the arena, but the Empress is manoeuvred into offering him an army of layabout auxiliaries and a generalship, by others who wish to see the Cimmerian fail and fall from grace. Conan is granted his silent companion, the Kushite, and forces the auxiliaries to bend to his will. The mission, to end the reign of terror inflicted by an army of brigands.

– Conan ends up with two legions after spitting the backstabbing general of another legion on his sword and offering gold, glory and women if the legion follow him to war. I’m not sure if that corresponds to any of Sun Tzu’s strategies.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #148
May 1988
“Besieger of Cities”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan’s Nemdian legions gather victory after victory. City after city. The fame of the arena has followed him into the field of battle. Conan replicates the exploits of Hastein in Luni, pretending to want a blessing from Mitra for his funeral within city walls, having convinced a city that he had died. Conan faces an unwelcome reception when he returns for his triumph.

– A great story. Wisely, Dixon does not take it through for another issue but has Conan escaping with some loyal men on a ship.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #149
June 1988
“Slaves of the Circle”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Tom Grindberg and Bob McLeod

Conan and his men, including the silent Kushite, who has survived all of their misadventures so far, are headed into the Kushite wilderness to escape the searching eyes of the Nemedian Navy. They befriend Kushite tribesmen, courtesy of their own Kushite companion, yet soon after are again entrapped by slavers!

– The art is good, but I’m sorry to say that Dixon let us down with this one. He should have had a different plot to slavery, especially with the elements of Conan attracting the eye of the leader’s woman, and being attacked by the aggrieved man in return. Ho hum. The were-panthers were an okay touch – even though this is a recycled story element, it probably would have made a better primary focus than what we actually got.

***

THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #150
July 1988
“Call to the Slain”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan and his men have almost finished building a new ship to take them away from the Kushite wilderness and back to civilisation. All that stands in their way is the undead army of a shaman necromancer. The spirit of an ancient warrior god is summoned by their own shaman to help defend them against the corrupting touch of the necromancer.

– Now this is the sort of story I can get behind. Shaman necromancers, shambling undead, long delicate rituals to summon ancient spirits, pitched defence. This story was a great capstone to the volume.

***

52 New Books: Retrospective and Prospective

Well I did it. Wrote about 52 books (supplemental volumes still to come), and fulfilled my goal of writing at least one post for each week of the year. It genuinely was a lot of fun to write these up. I have discovered that it is much easier to write up my thoughts and ideas about each book if I write notes and write about it immediately after reading each book. Some of these were written six or so months after reading and this turned out to be very difficult.

The quality of most of these posts was of course quite low. I am an under-educated peasant after all! Still, some of them are not too bad. The Dumarest series will be continued to the very last book next year, and I will write retrospective notes on the first few not included this year. There are a couple of extra Savage Sword volumes that I will add on as supplemental to this year’s 52 books, while next year I may as well back fill in the earlier volumes I had already read previously.

E.C. Tubb also wrote a series of books about the interstellar agent Cap Kennedy under the name Gregory Kern. I have all of these books bar the first, so for anyone interested in more adventures from Tubb they’ll be among the books I include in next year’s 52 new books. There are more than a dozen of these to provide inspiration for your science fiction gaming needs.

Other ideas are to continue reading the other extant Greek playwrights. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes and Meander. As well as the Italian Epics – Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Bolardo’s Orlando Innamorato. Furioso appears to be quite formidable in verse translation so I may start with the prose translation first. Penguin has it in verse in two volumes, while Oxford has a medium sized single volume for the epic in prose.

I also intend to dive into the history wars with the series of claim and counter claim made in  Fabrication, Whitewash and Washout in turn. I’ll head into the trenches via The Killing of History and I have been inspired to check out Sick Societies courtesy of The Orthosphere. The connecting link being the section on the Tasmanian Aborigines.

My favourite books of this year’s 52 were Space Viking, Against Nature (A rebours), and Eugénie Grandet.

I enjoyed my Conans and I definitely enjoyed my Dumarest novels. However, I have to say that those three novels were by far the most edifying books that I read this year. I can’t believe that I had never read Space Viking before this year, I have two out of the three original magazines it was serialised in as well, yet it had never crossed my radar.

Huysmans was another step along the path laid by the Song of Roland, while Balzac was much better than I had ever thought he was going to be. I am not one much for the genre, but the distance of 160 years does wonders. Balzac’s generally reactionary outlook (compared to the spirit of our own age especially) is also a part of my positive feeling.

Honourable mentions to Flaubert’s Salammbo.

∗∗∗

52 New Books – LII – Heracles and Other Plays – 5th Century BC

52 New Books – Book LII

Heracles and Other Plays

Euripides

5th C BC

Heracles and Other Plays:

Alcestis
Heracles
Children of Heracles
Cyclops

Well, we are finally here at the end of the project (barring the few extra supplementary books I have also read this year). 52 new books read, and something written about them. It might not have been great writing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t inflict myself on you.

If you are reading it, then it is for you.

My last volume is Heracles and Other Plays containing Alcestis, Heracles, Children of Heracles and Cyclops. Now, I actually really enjoyed this volume as these plays really stuck in the mind after being read. The ancient plays of Athens are in general, by virtue of their great age, rather reactionary, but Alcestis is particularly so.

Admetus is an honourable man. When Apollo is sent to work as a labourer for a man as punishment by Zeus, he works for Admetus who treats him well. In return, Apollo seeks to defend Admetus and even preserves his life, but only if another can be found to take his place. Admetus’ wife Alcestis is the only one to do so, and it is she that lies dying when Heracles comes to visit.

Despite the terrible sorrow of Admetus watching his wife die, he is still sensitive to the proper welcoming of guests, and despite Heracles rather boisterous ways, willingly puts him up and will hear none otherwise. It is in praise of this attitude that the play is in service of and this behaviour is rewarded when Heracles collars Death and forces him to give up Alcestis, thus retrieving her from the underworld.

It is not only Admetus that is a study of proper and honourable behaviour. His wife too, after whom the play is eponymously named, is a proper and honourable example to her sex. Not even Admetus’ aged parents would sacrifice themselves for their son. Only his dear wife would do that, only she would represent her womanhood with such perfection as to sacrifice herself for the benefit of her husband, with only the bitter thought that her husband’s parents were so selfish as not to make the same sacrifice and so spare her. Her only worries are that any step mother will mistreat her children and that her daughter will never find a good match or have someone to help her through her future pregnancy and labour.

Now days of course, a woman is praiseworthy is she bothers to stay with her husband and help raise their children together.

Heracles depicts the eponymous hero struck with madness by Hera and his own murder of his wife and children. In the aftermath, he accepts life polluted by these terrible events and accepts the help of his friend Theseus of Athens.

– I am not sure exactly how to categorise it. I feel though that it has to be considered in connection with the Dionysian play I wrote about earlier.

The Children of Heracles was another play that I enjoyed. The children of Heracles (he appears to have many not from the family that he killed), have been hounded to their last refuge, a temple to Zeus in Marathon.

Led by the aged Iolaus and Heracles’ mother Alcmene, the children are hounded by Heracles old nemesis, Eurystheus of Argos. It is only their defence by Demophon of Athens  and an army raised by Heracles’ son Hyllus that they are spared a final indignity. Iolaus himself receives a gift from the goddess Hebe, a youthful body with which he is able to catch up to Eurystheus and take him prisoner. Something that Alcmene abuses with the illegal summarily execution of the king.

Hints at future conflict are foretold, when Eurystheus claims that the Heraculeidae’s descendants (Sparta) will one day attack Athens. If they take his corpse and honour him with a tomb at the temple to Athena at Pallene, he would guard against that day. For his persecution of the Heracleidae was more than just the bidding of Hera, the oracles know of this future.

Alcmene demands he be fed to the dogs.

The turn of characterisation from vicious to sympathetic on the part of Eurystheus and in turn, sympathetic to vicious, on the part of Alcmene is the strongest part of this play.

Finally, my last Euripidean play is Cyclops. This is an adaption of the story from the Odyssey where Odysseus finds himself captive of the dreaded Cyclops. Only this time he is accompanied by some lustful satyrs and the Cyclops is a homosexual rapist. Two thumbs up.

∗∗∗

52 New Books – LI – Orestes and Other Plays – 5th Century BC

52 New Books – Book LI

Orestes and Other Plays

Euripides

5th C BC

Orestes and Other Plays:

Ion
Orestes
Phoenician Women
Suppliant Women

There are four plays in this volume: Ion, Orestes, Phoenician Women and Suppliant Women. Ion is a bit Shakespearean to me, with its hidden identities and so on. Narrative wise, to which I will stick to in this piece, it was not that fascinating. It is solved too neatly by deus ex machina and the simplicity of Euripidean drama works less in its favour than against.

In Ion – Ion was the product of rape by Apollo. Abandoned by his mother, he was whisked to a far temple to serve until that time that his mother by coincidence arrived and at last they are reconciled.

In theme, the most important is the desire of Creusa that a true son of Athens is lord. This autochthonous desire is natural but so long suppressed that the wish freely expressed is delightful.

Orestes too is not too much to my liking – narratively that is. Orestes and Electra are condemned to death. Shunned by Menelaus, they conspire to murder Helen and Menelaus’ daughter Hermione in revenge. Apollo arrives to set things in their proper order and prevent bloodshed. Not much of a tragedy, but it isn’t that that left me cold. Rather, it was that some of the argument was more political than personal and this feels odd given the circumstance.

Though it does have some great lines:

Orestes: Menelaus has behaved in a despicable fashion towards me and my sister.
Pylades: Of course, since bad women make their husbands bad.

∗∗∗

I did enjoy the following two plays more – Phoenician Women and Suppliant Women. In Phoenician Women, Phoenician girls, sent to the Delphic Oracle to serve, are travelling through Thebes, where they are witness to the convulsions of the House of Labdacid, incestuous and fratricidal.

Polynices and Eteocles, sons of Oedipus, are determined to war. Eteocles has not given up his rulership to share the right with his brother as was determined, and Polynices has brought a host to force his claim. Jocasta, their mother, tries to broach a peace. Tiresias, the blind seer foretells doom unless the son of Creon is sacrificed for the sake of Thebes. Great captains of Polynice’s host are slain and the final outcome is decided by single combat. One in which both brothers die.

No more brother wars my friends, nothing good has ever come from it. The stories from 2500 years ago warn us, Can we really think that we are greater than they were?

In Suppliant Women, women of Argos have come to petition Theseus of Athens to right the dreadful wrong done to them. Their sons were in Polynice’s army, that descended on Thebes to aid him in his argument with this brother. Dead on the field at the walls of Thebes, they have been denied the proper rites.

Theseus agrees, so an army descends n Thebes once again, and Creon still refuses to allow proper burial. Battle is met outside the walls. Theseus victorious does not press the advantage, but merely requests again the Argive bodies.

Interesting thing that I noted in this one was that there is a place where the argument is made that it is useless to recount who made what wounds that felled the great captains of the Argives. The heat and chaos of battle making any such claims specious. Rather different to the careful match up of opponents that slay each other in single combat in The Song of Roland

On Supplication Among the Greeks – an alternative view

When reading the ancient Greeks, you will notice the peculiar act of supplication. Begging for mercy or justice is not unknown in all ages, and may have rote phrases or actions involved. In the Greek, such as in the plays of Euripides that I have been reading, it is often described as either a physical action, or the characters symbolically take action by figurative declamation (I grasp your knees).

This act of supplication when made in person follows a general formulae – the supplicant will endeavour to grasp the knees of the supplicated, to touch their hands and even reach up to grasp their chin.

This places a strong pressure on the person being supplicated to accede to the request being made. Sometimes this works, in other times people will withdraw their hands and turn their head to avoid being supplicated and failure might lead to, as in the Iliad, the one making supplication forcibly kicked away and killed.

In the scholarly literature, the act of supplication is usually considered in its two main forms, personal supplication like I have described and supplication at the shrine or temple of a god. A key text is John Gould’s 1973 article Hiketeia in The Journal of Hellenic Studies.

The significant section from Gould for my discussion here relates to why a supplicant grasps for the knees, hands and chin. Gould discusses the general consensus as to the ritual nature of the gestures as well as the general ideas about the peculiar sacredness of these parts of the body.

Gould notes that a particularly well argued position is that of R.B. Onians, who in The Origins of European Thought, argued that the knees and the chin in particular were sacred in a special sense, seats of the ‘life-stuff’ that provides a man with physical strength and the sexual and reproductive power of a man.

As Gould notes, the supplicant could be either drawing on the strength of the person being supplicated, to strengthen their plea, or they are touching those important and guarded parts in a symbolically aggressive but unhurtful way.

There has been a more recent book by F. S. Naiden, Ancient Supplication, that examines in a lot of detail the act of supplication among the Latins and Greeks. It is more lawyerly than literary, but encyclopaedic according to the reviews. He argues against the idea that supplication was hard to decline, or that social pressure demanded acquiescence. However, for my purpose, from the reviews, I do not know if he discusses why the knees and chin are so important to supplication.

So we follow Gould and Onians.

Gould also dispenses with women’s importance to supplication, as examples are few or weakly attested. However, from my last Euripidean text, in the play Helen, Helen supplicates figuratively by the knee the oracular Theonoe, sister of the Egyptian King. This supplication might be rare, or weakly attested, but it seems strange to seek to draw upon a man’s physical strength and sexual power though a virgin maiden’s knees.

So, for those few of you that have made it this far, why am I discussing this?

Editors of Greek translations tend to note supplication when it occurs in the texts as it is an important piece of context to consider the actions taking place. Something about the notes and the ideas about supplication has always bugged me though. It seemed strange that the knees or the chin might be some sort of sacred seat of masculine power, and it didn’t seem to explain the power that supplication seemed to hold over the Greeks as a social custom.

It is of course a gesture that the weak or weakened make towards the strong. Slaves supplicate their masters, women supplicate men and diminished men will supplicate the stronger man. However, it didn’t seem right that a Greek man would supplicate by reaching for the sacred parts of some barbarian’s body, even if they are the knees of Nausicaa.

So my modest proposal, made without reference to the Greek language or to artefacts or to art is this:

When you hold a baby cradled in your arms and she is drifting off to sleep, she reaches up to touch your face, or rather, she reaches up and touches the closest part, your chin. When the toddler is frightened, he hides in his mother’s skirts, he runs up to her and clasps her by the knees, as this is as high as he can reach.

When the Greek gestured in supplication, it was to remind you of children. The children that would have touched your chin or clasped your knees would be your own children or from your family. The supplicant seeks to present themselves as though they were children of your own house, towards whom you should have tender feelings.

… Actually, subsequent re-reading since writing this allows me to add some small amount of support for my idea in the texts. In Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, Iphigenia reminds her father Agamemnon of when as a child she reached up to touch his chin, not in supplication, but to speak words of filial love.

In the James Morwood translation:

… as I reached up to clasp the chin which I take hold of now

***

So this is how I have chosen to interpret this fascinating custom.

 

52 New Books – L – Medea and Other Plays – 5th Century BC

52 New Books – Book L

Medea and Other Plays

Euripides

5th C BC

Medea and Other Plays:

Medea
Hippolytus
Electra
Helen

Four plays about women now, in Medea and Other Plays.

Medea is of course the famed story of the slaughter of Jason’s new family by the put aside Medea. An unwise decision to make when your woman is a witch. Medea compounds her crimes with infanticide, killing her own children in the end to complete her revenge against Jason. How many Medeas are out there now, endlessly killing off their own young?

While Medea’s actions are condemned, her cause is not totally illegitimate. Jason’s taking a new wife to ingratiate himself within Corinth is acknowledged to be a shameful act, and the King of Athens offers his support to Medea, should she leave those lands, on these grounds. The Greeks of Corinth may not like his barbarian wife, and Jason himself may believe that he needs to marry into the Corinthian royal family to protect himself and in turn his children by Medea, but it is a poor action by the hero of the Argo. The sanctity of marriage was at least theoretically important to the Greeks.

Another interesting thing is how loyal and true many servants and slaves are to their masters and mistresses. In a later play, this will be part of the tragedy, but in Medea, her slave is confided in by Medea, yet she reveal nothing of what is to transpire to Jason or to other Corinthians. Was it loyalty or fear? It can’t just be because Medea is a witch, for many other slaves in these plays are loyal to all ends. The chorus of Corinthian women are even more culpable, their inaction leads to the death of their King and Princess. Do they condemn the royal treatment of Medea so far? Or were Medea’s arguments just that powerful?

∗∗∗

Hippolytus is about false accusation and suicide rather than infanticide. Also, a warning against rebelling against your telos. It was not for Hippolytus to dedicate himself to Diana. Aphrodite knows who are hers, and so Theseus’ illegitimate son, Hippolytus will be undone. Theseus’ wife Phaedra will burn with desire for Hyppolytus, and a fateful word to a servant will undo them all.

We begin with Aphrodite telling us what she will do. Hyppolytus does not pay the proper respect, so Phaedra will become infatuated and tell Theseus. In turn, Theseus will call on the power of Poseidon to kill Hyppolytus. Hyppolytus is given warning. A servant reminds him of the pride of gods, but Hyppolytus dismisses his advice. Phaedra’s nurse convinces her to tell her what ails her, her infatuation having made her listless. If only she had kept her sinful desires to herself!

From there on people make the decisions that lead to death and despair. Whether at their own will, or by design of Aphrodite is left ambiguous. The temptations are provided by Aphrodite, that is clear, but the actions may only be their own.

∗∗∗

Infanticide, suicide and now matricide. Electra’s mother killed her husband, King Agamemnon, and supplanted him. Electra’s brother Orestes has returned and together they kill their own mother and the supplanter Aegisthus.

Electra is interesting for the virtuous farmer who Electra had been married off to in order to ensure that her sons would have no name to use to gain favour and seek revenge for their grandfather’s death. This ordinary farmer of no great renown or name keeps her according to his means but refuses to abuse her in any way out of respect for her station. The best decision, as this is favourably received by Orestes when her arrives. In a cast of sinners, the farmer stands out quite a bit. However, he is only an ordinary man, so he disappears some third way through the play, never to be seen or heard of again.

It is in this play that the idea of Helen having been held in Egypt rather than responsible for Troy is bandied and sets up nicely the next play – Helen.

∗∗∗

Finally, this book has Helen. Not a tragedy, rather more of an adventure with a happy ending, and a happy premise too. For it was not Helen that went to Troy and saw to the death of an entire civilisation, but an image sent by Zeus. The real Helen is in Egypt, and a washed up Menelaos discovers her there and they arrange an escape.

It is a funny little light story and entertaining, but I am an anti-helenist, so I object to the premise.

∗∗∗

52 New Books – XLIX – Bacchae and Other Plays – 5th Century BC

52 New Books – Book XLIX

Bacchae and Other Plays

Euripides

5th C BC


Bacchae and Other Plays:

Iphigenia among the Taurians
Bacchae
Iphigenia at Aulis
Rhesus

I turn now  to a second volume, Bacchae and Other Plays, also translated by James Morwood.

Iphigenia Among the Taurians, is first, and was not one that I enjoyed overly much. Iphigenia was whisked away from her sacrifice by the gods (Her father having set to sacrificing her to provide safe passage for the Greek army headed to Troy), and is a priestess among the Taurians, where she must offer as sacrifice any Greek that ventures into those lands. An image of Athena rests in the temple and her brother Orestes has come to retrieve it, and end the persecution of the Furies, angry at Orestes’ matricide (He and Electra having killed their mother Clytemnestra, in revenge for the slaying of their father). He is captured, and is to be offered as a sacrifice, with the unknowing Iphigenia presiding.

Even though I was not entirely enamoured with the play, The scene where Orestes and Iphigenia finally recognise each other as long separated brother and sister is a very powerful image and the friendship of Orestes and Pylades rings true.

This play too ends in deus ex machina, and once again, all involved immediately cease and obey. I wonder if there is any play where the god is ignored or disobeyed in this type of ending?

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The next play was Bacchae, and on this one I am not sure. The King of Thebes refuses to acknowledge Dionysus and doubts his power. In return, Dionysus sends the women of Thebes into frenzy in the wilderness, including the King’s own mother. The King himself, Pentheus, Dionysus also drives mad, tricking him into misadventure, killed and eaten by the Bacchants, led by his own mother. Who with severed head in hand when she finally comes to her senses, understands perfectly that Dionysus has the real power of a god.

I guess it is rather gruesome, but still the play has a certain energy to it. I can’t really see it with my two eyes, but my third eye can feel it.

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Iphigenia at Aulis covers the sacrifice of Iphigenia to provide the winds to carry the Greeks to Troy.  Agamemnon, Menelaus and even Iphigenia run hot and cold to the idea of the sacrifice. In the end the demands of the army and Iphigenia’s decision to accept the martial spirit of her people and the burden that lays on her sets Iphigenia on that final fatal walk. Here also, the rage of Achilles is previewed. For Iphigenia was promised to him to wife, as a ploy to have her brought to the staging area of all the Greeks in order to be sacrificed.

The notes in this book note that this play was produced posthumously by Euripides’ son, and that the end, where Iphigenia is replaced by a deer, while she in turn is whisked away, was probably a later addition – to provide a happier ending. Most modern performances generally end where Iphigenia walks off on her way to the sacrifice. However, an alternative reading – as it is from a messenger speech that Clytemnestra hears about the miraculous exchange, is that these are the pretty lies told to a woman to keep her from hysterical reaction.

Of course, if she were to later learn the truth. Well, she did kill her husband when he returned from the siege after all…

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The final play in the book is Rhesus. This is basically, as the blurb puts it, a miniature Iliad. It is probably not by Euripides, or so the notes told me, but I enjoyed it the most out of this book’s plays. It is the one that I think would be very rewarding to see performed. Hector is hot headed, Aeneas, cool, Paris, effete. Odysseus cunning, Rhesus , a braggart. Athena, both protective and duplicitous. Rhesus the Thracian King is summoned to aid the Trojans. Hector almost achieved victory over the Greeks, and is ready for the final strike. Odysseus, with Diomedes, infiltrate the Trojan lines and assassinate Rhesus. Now the tide has turned and the Greeks may find themselves ascendant.

This one takes place at night, and a live performance by torchlight would be quite a spectacle, with the great bombastic Rhesus and his finery, the chorus of sentries, the whispered passwords and the ill-omened mission of Dolon.

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52 New Books – XLVIII – The Trojan Women and Other Plays – 5th Century BC

52 New Books – Book XLVIII

The Trojan Women and Other Plays

Euripides

5th C BC

The Trojan Women and Other Plays:

Hecuba
The Trojan Women
Andromache

 

I had finally collected translations of the main surviving Greek playwrights. Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus and Meander. So where was I to begin?

I began with Euripides.

There are 19 extant plays of Euripides. Most of these surviving plays are tragedies, though an example of a Satyr play also remains. I read the translations of James Morwood and Robin Waterfield collected in five volumes by Oxford. On their efforts I can offer no real comment, as an unschooled peasant I can only discuss these things in generalities.

I enjoyed reading these plays a lot more than I initially thought I would. I came to them with a sense of duty. I knew that they were favoured texts of the Canon, but I did not know how well I might personally enjoy them. One surprising thing is how well the general plot of each play sticks in the mind. Even now, months after I initially read these plays for the first time, I can almost describe every single play on naming the title. I feel like reading them again, and more than ever, I really want to see them performed if it were possible.

If only there were some classically minded arts patron that would finance performances, or failing that, create animated versions to stand as faithful replications.

My own reading was also influenced by the introductions to each book by Edith Hall. Who despite being a woman, managed to keep the gender baiting trash to a minimum. These introductions were actually quite interesting and informative and were definitely worthwhile reading along with the plays.

I never read them in any particular order, chronological or otherwise, but rather which ever came to hand first. I began with The Trojan Women.

This volume begins with Hecuba. Now I have a passing knowledge of Greek legend, the siege of Troy, the fate of Agamemnon, the sacrifice of his daughter at the beginning of the war, so I was able to think of that while I read the play. However, there were aspects that I was unfamiliar with and as I learn more and more, the plays become a richer experience. At a minimum, Hecuba is greatly improved if you understand some of the background to the Trojan war and if you have some knowledge of the origins and ultimate fates of the various characters.

In this play, there are two stories. Hecuba loses her daughter to sacrifice, killed to appease the spirit of Achilles and her son also is killed, by the greedy Thracian lord who was to have kept him safe.

It is a rather grim play. Hecuba loses her children, only one enemy is revenged upon, and further grisly fates for Hecuba and Agamemnon are foretold. Odysseus is rather unheroic in his arguments for the sacrifice of a young woman and The chorus of captive Trojan women are full of lament at their fate. There is an ironic note at the end, where Agamemnon hopes for a happy voyage home, having disregarded the Thracian king Polymestor’s dire warning of the result of taking Cassandra home with him.

A lot of the idiosyncrasies of the plays come out in this one too. Violence is always off stage, or described either by the victim, the perpetrator or through a messenger’s speech. Messenger’s speeches are also used to describe more complex interactions, so that we never have more than a few people on the stage at any one time. It will become obvious that there is usually no more than three people on the stage at any one time that will speak. The use of the chorus to comment, narrate and react to the events of a play is also seen.

The other theme explored is the willingness of the sacrificial victim to be killed, either as an alternative to slavery, or to save their people or honour. They are not mute, but will often argue that they meet their fate properly and willingly, this of course making the sacrifice that much more powerful. It is a marked difference from the story of Abraham and Isaac, as Isaac does little but question where the sacrificial lamb is, while Abraham is not open about his intention. Of course, the stories are about different themes, but it is interesting to see the difference in how the cultures approached a similar event.

This play also served as my introduction to stichomythia, where the characters talk back and forth in single lines, leading to a quick fast paced conversation, usually when the characters are in conflict, excitement or haste. I get from the notes that sometimes this point is belaboured on as if some people can’t avoid pointing out every last manifestation of the technique so as to say “I recognised it!”

Another thing that I would point out is how Hecuba’s argument with Odysseus and then Agamemnon later are structured like legal arguments in a court, making claim and counter claim while providing evidence and support for the claims, which can seem a little passionless when they are discussing whether tearing out someone’s eyes was a legitimate course of action or arresting your daughter to sacrifice should be allowed.

However, I think that rather than actually becoming passionless and derailing the intensity of the moment it is a valid stylistic choice. These are after all noble people, schooled in rhetoric, clever (famed for it in fact, in the case of Odysseus) and intelligent. Mere emotional claims carry little weight, rather it is appeal to the ancient laws of natural justice that must be used to gain favour or to change a mind. The ancient values of hospitality, of returning favour, of recognising debts, of just vengeance being especially applicable to the events of this play.

Even so, it must be acknowledged that in these circumstances, the court is a bloodthirsty mob, and in the other, justice was taken into hand, extra judicially. This piles on top of the generally grim tone of the play. No one comes out looking especially heroic or moral.

Finally I was introduced to the concepts of supplication, in this play, it is described through its avoidance when Odysseus turns away, pulls back his hands and head to avoid having Hecuba to make the one emotional and irrational plea allowed. That of supplication. Supplication is a very important cultural concept to recognise in these plays for the role it plays in character interactions so this play served to point that out to me, and I continued to notice it in other plays. So much so that I created my own terms of reference through which to understand the concept. Something that I will explore more later on in another post.

These translations are all in prose, however, the sections that are chanted or songs are generally set out in shorter lines to show the difference. However, much of the song is missing from such a translation, especially as the metre is absent. This leaves the translations feeling a little dry, an unavoidable consequence. For this reason, the play was not one of my favourites as I think that some of the appreciation must come from the poetics. Even so, it does have some striking moments that come out vividly, even in translation, such as when Polymestor comes crawling out of the women’s tents on all fours, with bloody eye sockets. This has a greater impact than the typical display of a body on a platform – another convention of Greek theatre, also in this play – when Polymestor’s sons are brought out, having been killed by the Trojan women when they took his eyes.

The Trojan Women is the next play in the book. Calamity upon calamity is heaped on the heads of the women of Troy. Cassandra is taken by Agamemnon to illegitimately wife, against the wishes of fair Phoebus. She knows what awful fate awaits her when Agamemnon returns home, but no one of course would believe her, even if she told them. Hecuba’s other daughter Polyxena has been sacrificed to Achilles and Hector’s wife is given away, while her son, Hecuba’s grandson, is thrown from a tall tower to ensure that he never assails the Greeks. Andromache misses the chance to bury her son and perform the proper rights. Hecuba herself, as we learned in the last play, will transform into a dog and drown in the storms that wrack the Greeks as they return home.

Helen is to be executed, but she argues, and blames everyone but herself for the destruction of Troy. She is successful and we learn that she survives, returning to Sparta with her husband.

Another rather grim tragedy. In the end the great house of Priam is dead or dispersed and Troy itself is set to the torch. A great earthquake ends the ruination. The misery is compounded by Hecuba’s defence of Helen’s right to speak before Menelaus kills her. A chance that Helen uses to argue successfully that she deserves no blame and should return with Menelaus as his wife once more. A final insult to Hecuba!

I think I enjoyed this one a bit more than Hecuba. The constant depredations that affect the women of Troy compound the great insult of their defeat and bring into sharp relief the consequences of such a war.

The final play of this books is Andromache. In a foreign land, taken as a slave, she has a child by her captor Neoptolemus, raising the ire of Hermione, daughter of Menelaus. Jealous and vengeful, Hermione plots to kill Andromache’s son, she herself seems barren and she fears that Andromache could supplant her. Menelaus arrives to aid his daughter, but all is resolved when old Peleus arrives to protect Andromache and her son. It is revealed that the absent Neoptolemus has been killed, Orestes claims Hermione for himself as once promised by her father and the goddess Thetis arrives to settle everything to the proper order – as a literal deus ex machina.

Neoptolemus shades the entire play. He is ever unpresent and when he does arrive, he is on his funeral bire, dead. Yet he has driven all of the action and activity of the play and all of the characters are reacting to his earlier actions, prior to his absence.

The most striking thing that was new that I noticed was how Thetis as the deus ex machina settled any further reaction to the events of the play. She commands Peleus to bury his kin and to no more mourn. This he instantly agrees to. This is something that I will notice in the other plays where such a device is used. The characters involved at that point always immediately comply with the wishes of whatever god is involved. All disputes are immediately ended. It might seem arbitrary to our modern sensibilities, but I think it reflects the honest appreciation of the people for the power that they knew their gods to have, they are with good reason, unwilling to tempt them.

I never meant to write so much about these plays. I even intended to have all five books in the one post but it just kept running away ahead of me. I think that I will return to them to write about them some more, as even in translation, there are many powerful passages. The way they reveal a certain ancient point of view that is yet still applicable and perfectly relevant to our age demonstrates the value and importance of these ancient texts and their place in the canon.

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52 New books – XLVII- The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 13 – 1986 to 1987

52 New Books – Book XLVII

The Savage Sword of Conan: Volume 13

The Savage Sword of Conan: #131 to #140

1986-1987

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #131
December 1986
“Reavers of the Steppes”
Written by Don Kraar
Art by Dave Simons

Conan captures a princess on her way to the Turanian Kings’s harem. He faces sedition from his own Kozak ranks and black magic from a desperate Turanian lord!

– This one is worth it for the wonderfully characterful face of the Kozaki whisperer that sets Kozak against Kozak in an attempt to take Conan’s place as Hetman. What a conniving little bastard he looks. Physiognomy is real my friends.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #132
January 1987
“Master of the Broadswrod”
Written by Larry Yakata
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Deep in the lands of the East, Conan is bothered by tribesmen, lords and magicians. He meets Sennan once again, his old sword master who taught him so much. Cursed and bedevilled Conan agrees to find Snow Raven, tribal princess and aid his old master.

– This is the one that made think that I would never escape the baleful eye of Fleisher. The annoying overused bolding of the lettering, the “gulps” and “uungs” littering the page like droppings, the derpy looking mantis demon. Okay, it isn’t that bad, but I was getting tired of this sort of thing. However, little did I know that things were about to start looking up!

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #133
February 1987
“Winter of the Wolf”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

A young princeling foolishly gets himself killed on the hunt. Conan, not wanting to take his chances, heads north into the wintery lands where wolves rule. At an isolated hillfort town, he takes refuge, only to be beset by packs of hungry wolves. Led by a vengeful werewolf, there seems to be no way to stop them.

– This was a great story, fast paced and tightly plotted. Chuck fits in a scheming chief’s daughter, a werewolf king, a last stand in the great hall and a bloody hand to hand combat with the werewolf king. I enjoyed this one so much after the last couple of stories, but as yet I hadn’t noticed the new writer.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #134
March 1987
“Cursers of the Light”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan is hired to escort an elder and his ward, highborn lady from the border kingdoms, to Aquilonia. The land is beset by warring armies and bandits. They take refuge for a night in a castle, a dangerous undertaking, for it is ruled by a patricide and haunted by vicious ape men!

– This one was fun too. Turns out the lord’s old man isn’t as dead as he thought, and he has made a few friends over the years. This combination of Chuck, Kwapisz and Chan is looking good. Around here, I started to notice that the stories were actually really fun and entertaining in a way they hadn’t been for a few dozen issues.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #135
April 1987
“Three Lives for N’Garthl”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan leads mercenaries against the savage Picts. His scouting party is captured and is to be sacrificed to N’Garthl, ancient beyond reckoning, demonspawn! N’Garthl demands three lives, can Conan avoid one of them being his own?

– Another great Dixon story, with Conan turning the tables on the tribe’s shaman. Pity about the rest of his scouting party though!

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #136
May 1987
“Seventh Isle of Doom”
Written by Larry Yakata
Art by Andy Kubert

His ship sunk by Takma, the merciless pirate, Conan, the princess under whom he had been serving and an old friend are all that survive, only to wash up on an island of cannibals. The fire of the battle and the subsequent storm has stranded Takma too, the rest of his crew eaten. They grudgingly work together.

– Kubert’s art isn’t as great as we have been getting so far in this volume, but that is okay. Yakata is back for another bash. He does all right on this one. The annoying verbal ticks are subdued, and the swamp beast isn’t too stupid, having Conan kill it lets him develop a rapport for the tribesmen. The little twist at the end with the princess was slightly funny. Out of sorts amongst the more serious Dixon tales though.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #137
June 1987
“The Lost Legion”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Seasons ago, the XXI Legion of Aquilonia disappeared into the dark forests of the Picts. Another legion has been sent  to find them, for they carried a tribute of gold for a Pict King to buy his allegiance and the Empire desires its return. Mercenaries are sent out to scout, better they die to pictish blades than legionnaires.  The XXI is discovered by Conan’s scouting party, long dead, slain with Aquilonian arrows.

– Another good Dixon story. I think that it is about here that I decided to look and see who had been writing these recent stories and discovered that all of the really good ones recently had been written by some Charles Dixon. I thought that it sounded familiar, a quick check and search later and I found that it was good ol’ Chuck Dixon! Who I didn’t even know of until I started backing Arkhaven comics. What a coincidence! Backing his work was obviously a good idea if this is the quality that I can expect.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #138
July 1987
“Lair of the Lizard God”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan is tricked by Valeria into leading an expedition into the Pictish wilderness to find an ancient ruined city where wealth may yet still be found. But the Picts have other ideas. So too does the enormous dinosaur that still calls this jungle home.

– I appreciated that this one still had Conan working as a mercenary for the Aquilonians against the Picts. It isn’t directly related to the previous story, but it adds a degree of continuation that loosely connects what we are reading together. Dixon, Kwapisz and Chan is basically my idea of a comics dream team based on the last five volumes that I have been reading. There is so much more of them to come in the next two volumes that it more than makes up for a few weak volumes earlier on.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #139
August 1987
“Garden of Blood”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Rick Parker

Conan has returned to the Red Brotherhood with Valeria to terrorise the sea lanes. Having defeated an Aquilonian warship, they find a strange island, never before charted in this region. Covered in strange vines filled with some strange milky fluid and berries that burst into corrosive acids, the island holds other deadlier secrets.

– I get repetitive, but this is another great story. The nods to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and possibly Aldiss’ Hothouse are welcome and work well together. The return of the Aquilonians is a clever way to avoid a deus ex machina to resolve Conan’s predicament.

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THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN #140
September 1987
“The Girl of the Haunted Wood”
Written by Charles “Chuck” Dixon
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ernie Chan

Conan is ensorcelled by the haunted spirit of a long dead girl. Flickering between a nightmare purgatory and waking, he is driven to seek revenge on her behalf. He hires himself to a warcamp led by a Jarl that hunts a bandit chieftain. Guided by the memories of the haunted spirit Conan helps the Jarl break the siege of the bandit chief’s fort, only to discover that it is the bandit on whom he is to take revenge under geas!

– Well, another good story. What else was I expecting? I did like the hints of the purgatory like dream land that Conan enters into under the influence of the girl’s spirit. More tales in this type of environment would be entertaining.

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