*****Note: A few spoilers are found towards the bottom of this piece!***********************************
First however, let me repeat a point I made last month in the discussion of Queen of the Black Coast. So far as I can tell, REH took the title "Black Colossus" from a throw-away line in the previous Conan story. I haven't noticed any other rationale for that term within the story of that title, unless it is intended as a reference to larger than average Conan, with his black mane.
Some years ago, I considered Black Colossus a marginal story. IMHO, it and The Scarlet Citadel pale in comparison to the more fully realized The Hour of the Dragon, which greatly expands on the themes of the earlier tales. I prefer the more fleshed-out later story, though I can see how some would prefer the relative conciseness of those earlier pieces. However, Patrice Louinet makes an excellent point, among many other keen observations, when he notes in his introduction to the Bison Lord of Samarcand collection that Black Colossus was written about the same time asThe Shadow of the Vulture, and it allowed REH to write a story similar to his "Oriental" tales, but in a made-up milieu that required far less time research time prior to writing.
I was then able to see how Black Colossus and The Scarlet Citadel are very much cast from the same mold as the Oriental stories, in that they cast an adventurer lose in the midst of a war, and follow how he overcomes all the obstacles in his way, as he heads to his inevitable fate (whether it be triumph or death).
This was a key in helping me understand a point made by various REH scholars. The Conan stories are each a reflection of what was in REH's mind at that time. Thus The God in the Bowl shows REH during his attempts to write detective fiction, while Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger are indicative of his growing interest in writing westerns. And Black Colossus similarly ties in with REH's Oriental adventures. I've come to see that a valid way of reading Conan is to not worry about the order in which the stories were written, or their placement in the character's career, but to follow a third option, and to read them alongside the related-genre pieces.
Back to Black Colossus, part of my enjoyment of it is in treating it as another recounting of a military campaign, albeit even more fictionalized than the related-genre Oriental adventures. But it goes deeper, what sets it apart from many other REH stories is that he indulges in the sensual aspects to be found. REH had his kinky side, but I'm not used to seeing it mixed so completely with the manly adventure parts. Because really, the star of the piece isn't Conan, it's Princess Yasmela. she's lonely and sexually frustrated, and seeking a strong man to ease her troubles. Natohk isn't the answer, his dream-advances repulse her, so she turns to the paternal figure of Mitra. She intends to go before his idol naked, and in the event, prostrates herself, before receiving guidance. She then meets up with Conan, and is quickly imagining herself getting busy with him, and only really feels at peace when she can sleep on the ground at Conan's feet, wrapped in his cloak.
In the end, the baddie is defeated, and Yasmela and Conan do bump uglies, and REH's letters make is plain that he was quite aware of what he was doing in writing his story in such a way. Louinet makes the point in Hyborian Genesis that an earlier draft of Black Colossus had included a mention of a naked Yasmela being switched (essentially, whipped) on her birthday every year while growing up. So as I indicaed above, REH was giving some rein to his kinky side in this story, and it works for me far better than the more chaste sort of "romance" that wa sthe norm for pulp fiction of the day.
There's lots more to talk about, such as whether Amalric in The Hour of the Dragon was intended to be the same guy as Amalric of Nemedia in Black Colossus, but I'll leave off for now to let others get in their say!
Edited by Kortoso, 31 July 2009 - 11:01 PM.