Sunday, May 20, 2012

The God in the Bowl

Getting behind in my Conan story reviews.  Sorry about that, folks.  I'm still reading, just haven't had much time to sit down, consider the stories, and write.  At this pace, I'm gonna have to re-read them again before writing.  Or just post a bit more often.  We'll see which happens.

Anyway, on with the review.  The God in the Bowl is the third Conan story that Howard wrote, and like The Frost Giant's Daughter, it didn't sell.  We have another young Conan story here, with him a thief in Nemedia.  The entire story takes place within a rich merchant's store-house, and is a murder mystery story with a supernatural element, rather than an action story.  Until the end, Conan is less the main character than just a participant in the action, being accused of murdering the merchant and questioned by Demetrio the Inquisitor and his police backup.

The story really puts Howard's theme of corrupt civilization vs. noble barbarism in focus.  Demetrio (who is really the main character until the last couple pages) is a decent enough fellow, but the rest of the police, especially the leader, are simply brutish thugs who abuse and terrorize the citizens.  The young, effeminate noble that hired Conan to break into the store house is pretty much Conan's exact opposite, being a weak, deceptive and soulless bastard.  Minor spoiler if you haven't read the story (but probably not unexpected), Conan decapitates him.

The real murderer is of course the supernatural element, and Conan in the end is the only one who faces it.  The "bowl" in the title is a large sealed urn from a Stygian tomb, and the contents of the "bowl" leave even Conan awash with horror.

Overall its a pretty good story.  It's well done, but it might have been the wrong sort of story for the weird fiction magazines Howard was trying to publish his work in.  The hero is sidelined for most of the story, there are no women (in distress or otherwise), and the one fight scene is cut short by the second murder caused by the mysterious creature.  This is all just speculation on my part, of course.

I'll likely be using "The God in the Bowl" in a future Beast of the Week post.

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