Monday, July 18, 2011
The People of the Black Circle, by Robert E. Howard
(hb; 1977: second book in a four-book fantasy/horror anthology series, edited by Karl Edward Wagner & supervised by Glenn Lord)
From the inside flap:
"The People of the Black Circle is the second volume in the authorized edition of [the] Conan [the Barbarian quadrilogy] edited by Karl Edward Wagner and supervised by Glenn Lord, trustee of Robert E. Howard's estate. The People of the Black Circle assembles. . . Howard's novellas 'The Devil in Iron,' 'The People of the Black Circle,' 'A Witch Shall Be Born,' and 'Jewels of Gwahlur,' which first appeared in Weird Tales [magazine] during the flowering of the pulps in the 1930s.
"In 'The Devil in Iron,' the first novella in The People of the Black Circle, Conan journeys to the kingdom of Turan, where he is betrayed by the king, lured by Octavia, the beautiful slave girl, and forced to flee into an eerie subterranean realm. there he wages deadly battle with Khel, the monster whose human body is made of iron.
"In 'The People of the Black Circle,' Conan battles the mountain-dwelling Seers of the Black Circle, powerful sorcerers who threaten the kingdom of Vendhya. their leader and master, the magician of Yimsha, uses black magic to enslave Conan. In a thrilling climax, Conan's strength and the magician's power are pitted in winged combat.
" 'A Witch Shall Be Born' follows Conan's adventures against the forces of Salome, the witch-queen of Khauran, and the reptilian monster she commands. In 'Jewels of Gwahlur,' Conan's goal is the legendary Teeth of Gwahlur, a cache of gems in the ghost city of Alkmeenon. Man-apes, priests and the forces of evil clash in an epic battle in which Conan must choose between the jewels and a beautiful slave girl."
This four-book series republished the Conan stories, in the order in which they were originally published in Weird Tales magazine. The four novellas in this second volume were published between 1934 and 1935.
Howard's vivid, brutal, overheated and sexist/xenophobic sword & sorcery fare is on full display here, within the intense and fantastical scope of these Conan tales.
"The Devil in Iron" is a good, engrossing read; the two middle tales, "The People of the Black Circle" and "A Witch Shall Be Born," are the best of these stories, plot-twisty, character- and action-intense and incredibly inspired; the last tale, "Jewels of Gwahlur," is the least-inspired work of the bunch - it reads like a tired retread of Howard's more spirited and freshly imaginative pieces.
Excellent collection of tales, overall.
Followed by Red Nails.
"The Devil in Iron" was "freely adapted" into comic book form in issue #15 of The Savage Sword of Conan, by Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala. This magazine was published by Marvel Comics in October 1976; it was republished in expanded, graphic novel form (The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Two) by Dark Horse Books in March 2008.
That same graphic novel also featured an adaptation of "The People of the Black Circle". The comic book version of this story originally appeared in issue #16 of The Savage Sword of Conan in December 1976. It was illustrated by Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala. (The cover for the 2008 graphic novel, illustrated by Boris Vallejo, follows this review.)
Conan, the character, inspired the film Conan the Barbarian, which was released stateside on May 14, 1982.
Arnold Schwarzenegger played Conan. James Earl Jones played Thulsa Doom (a character who's scheduled to be the titular character of a 2012-release film). Sandahl Bergman played Valeria. Max von Sydow played King Osiric.
Ben Davidson played Rexor. Mako played Akiro/"The Wizard/Narrator". Valérie Quennessen played "The Princess". William Smith played "Conan's Father". Jack Taylor played "Priest". Cassandra Gava, billed as Cassandra Gaviola, played "The Witch". Gerry Lopez played Subotai.
An uncredited John Milius, who directed the film, played "Foodseller in the Old City". Milius co-scripted the film with Oliver Stone, from a story by an uncredited Edward Summer.
A lackluster, kid-friendly, comedic sequel, Conan the Destroyer, was released stateside on June 29, 1984.
A reboot/remake of Conan the Barbarian is scheduled for stateside release on August 19, 2011.
Jason Momoa played Conan. Rachel Nichols played Tamara. Stephen Lang played Khalar Zym. Rose McGowan played Marique. Saïd Taghmaoui played Ela-Shan. Ron Perlman played Corin.
Leo Howard played "Young Conan". Katarzyna Wolejnio played Valeria. An uncredited Shelly Varod played "Student Nun".
Marcus Nispel directed the film, from a screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood.
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