Jump to content


Photo

The Vale Of Lost Women; Conan "SotM" for October


  • Please log in to reply
82 replies to this topic

#1 Kortoso

Kortoso

    -=Reiver of the Western Marches=-

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,400 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Northern California

Posted 28 October 2007 - 05:20 PM

Back by popular demand, you know him, you love him, it's bwana Conan!

Actually many fans remark that this is one of their least favorite Conan tales. Which led me to wonder if I should even post a discussion of it. But what the heck!

So get out your decoder rings, kiddies, read through this short story just one more time, and share what you think.

ERB fans, does this really seem like a "quote" of a Tarzan tale?

Possibly one reason people don't like it is it's naked racism, which seems to be the central feature of this yarn.

Maybe it's just that this yarn doesn't seem to have many central features in the first place?

#2 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,238 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 28 October 2007 - 05:28 PM

Hey Kortoso! Plenty of things to discuss in this yarn, IMO. Got a reunion and concert to go to today, so I'll see what I can squeeze in later. :)

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#3 Taranaich

Taranaich

    Metal Barbarian Dinosaur

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,932 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:The Bleak Moors of Scotland

Posted 28 October 2007 - 10:37 PM

Actually many fans remark that this is one of their least favorite Conan tales. Which led me to wonder if I should even post a discussion of it.


All the more reason to discuss it, I say!

Possibly one reason people don't like it is it's naked racism, which seems to be the central feature of this yarn.


Something that critics of the Conan stories don't really get is that in the Hyborian Age, "race" does mean some folk are better and worse at some things than others due to their ancestry and genetics. Modern ethnicity has been proven to have negligible impact in terms of an individual or community's potential for growth, but it seems to have been a tangible factor in the Hyborian age. The Cimmerians and Nordheimers are racially stronger, more dexterous and durable than Hyborians, by virtue of the fact that they're evolved from sub-humans and snow-apes as much as their environment. The Stygians might similarly have a genetic predisposition to both magical ability and physical strength due to centuries, millennia even, of pure breeding and maybe even sorcerous tampering. Such strengths and weaknesses could be extended to the other peoples of the Hyborian age. While modern beliefs of racial superiority may be at best pseudoscientific and at worst arrogant bigotry, it may just be basic scientific fact in the Hyborian Age. While Howard's personal beliefs may be based on his 1930's Texan political climate and the information at hand as well as his upbringing, it is important to not mistake the fiction from the author's voice.

Although the description of the Bakalah and to a lesser extent the Bamula is hardly noble, I actually think it's somewhat less one-sidedly racialist than people think. Though people tend to focus on the squalor and degeneracy of the black folk, Livia is portrayed in a racist light too: she sells her body to Conan on her perceived "superior" white flesh, and shows an imperious arrogance towards the blacks that's racist in itself. Naturally Conan sees right through it, though he himself is not averse to racism (though this is hardly a revelation given Conan being Conan.)

The story is indeed racist, but in my opinion it's completely understandable in context. The Bakalah, and most of the Black Kingdoms, are degenerate, savage and squalid. This does not equal "modern black people", or even "historical black people", it is these fictional nations. Why are the Black Kingdoms so miserably portrayed, when other savages such as the Picts and Yuetshi are given a sort of nobility, or at least some redeeming qualities? Stygian, Shemite and possibly Kosalan influence seems the most likely cause. The black corsairs of The Hour of the Dragon seem more noble than the Bakalahs, with little of the corruption or unnatural degeneracy that was rampant in other Black Kingdoms. Who's to say that Zembabwei, Amazonia or Atlaia are the despotic cesspools that Kush and Keshan appear to be?

I guess I'm just saying that the portrayal of the Bakalah as they are is just that: a portrayal of the Bakalahs.

I hope I haven't offended anyone, but to be frank the only way to conquer racism, misinformation and ignorance is frank and thorough discussion, not through tiptoeing around the subject. I realise this may not be the best forum for such debates, but it would perhaps be inevitable in discussion regarding The Vale of Lost Women.

Robert E. Howard, 1906 - 2006

Sword & Sorcery! Posted Image Posted Image Historical Fiction!
Horror! Posted Image Posted Image Westerns!
Boxing! Posted Image Posted Image Conan!


#4 timeless

timeless

    timeless

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,262 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Florida

Posted 29 October 2007 - 12:12 AM

Humans have been xenophobic and violent for our entire existence, only recently implementing institutions and laws and changing norms of thought and behavior to combat prejudice to some (small) degree. And the Hyborian Age takes place long before any advances allowed us to become tolerant. So to show anything that took place then in a politically correct manner would be pure anachronism.

I don't know why other fans complain about this story. I realize the deus ex machina ending (just toss in an Elder God and ship the story out) is more than a little convenient. But as far as the rest of it, this is Conan at his most elemental. In 'Frost Giant's Daughter' he was going to commit rape. In 'Rogues' he agrees to murder for money. But in this tale he's not yet the mature man who would become a king that did not wish an empire, only to rule what was his...in this story he's a conqueror. He betrays and kills an ally without remorse. He's not the pulp hero with a rough code of honor like Tarzan or Philip Marlowe. It's dog eat dog and Conan's the most savage dog in the jungle.

Edited by timeless, 29 October 2007 - 01:17 AM.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. - Edgar Allen Poe

It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the timeless things. - Robert Service

For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious. - Thomas Mann

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. - Norman Maclean

#5 Kortoso

Kortoso

    -=Reiver of the Western Marches=-

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,400 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Northern California

Posted 29 October 2007 - 05:26 PM

Sudanese Arabic: angareb < Nobiin: ?ng?r?? "wooden bed"
mealies = African name for maize or corn.

#6 timeless

timeless

    timeless

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,262 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Florida

Posted 29 October 2007 - 05:41 PM

I thought mealies were big juicy grub worms.
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. - Edgar Allen Poe

It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the timeless things. - Robert Service

For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious. - Thomas Mann

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. - Norman Maclean

#7 Hawkbrother

Hawkbrother

    Adventurer

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 286 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Rappahannock County, Va

Posted 31 October 2007 - 02:01 PM

I thought mealies were big juicy grub worms.


You're thinking of meal worms.
Have seen other reference to corn or maize as mealies. Corn meal of course!

#8 Guest_Tu for Kull_*

Guest_Tu for Kull_*
  • Guests

Posted 31 October 2007 - 04:03 PM

Greetings!

Points and questions:

You said I was a barbarian,he said harshly, and that is true,Crom be thanked.


One of my favorite lines ,..... ( I have used this and the reply was "Huh?") :P

and though your kind call me a robber,I never forced a women against her consent.


Did Conan,or REH forget about Atali? Or is Conan such a stud-muffin how could anyone refuse? :lol:

Truces in this land are made to be broken,he answered grimly.He would break his truce with Jihiji.And after we'd looted the town together,he'd wipe me out the first time he caught me off guard.What would be the blackest treachery in another land,is wisdom here.


So Conan know the deal,...correct?

Tu

#9 Mikey_C

Mikey_C

    Ancient Briton

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,338 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Waterlooville, UK

Posted 31 October 2007 - 08:04 PM

If some Conan fans complain about this story, it's probably because it gives us a view, through the young girl Livia's eyes, of a character who is entirely different to the role model depicted in pastiches and TV series. Although no rapist (my view on this stale old debate is that his actions towards Atali don't contradict this claim as she was a supernatural being who bewitched him, but bit off more than she could chew!) , Conan is sexually menacing and, there's no point in denying it, racist. He responds to this situation with extreme violence, massacring the entire village to rescue the one white girl - surely he could have used his brain to strike a deal with Bajujh or try and avoid so much collateral damage by getting her out by some other means?

In his depiction of the Black Kingdoms, Howard was, like Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, writing of the "Dark Continent" of the popular imagination rather than attempting an historically accurate picture of Africa. There are, of course, problems if some readers don't recognise this. Without (I hope) getting too political, I suspect that the rest of the world's failure to intervene and stop the Rwandan massacre had something to do with the common perception of Africa as a place where this is exactly the sort of thing that might be expected to happen with these people and what on earth can anyone do about it? (The point being that when it happened in Europe, something was done).

This point aside, TVoLW, whilst not exactly Joseph Conrad, is quite a powerful illustration of Howard's favourite "barbarism vs. civilisation" theme, which then takes on a Lovecraftian turn when the refuge which Livia thinks she has found from the "brutality of men" turns out to be the gateway to a new level of eldritch horror.

Only, of course, it isn't, as Howard unfortunately blows it, and the "devil from the Outer Dark" is dispatched all too easily. The throwaway line "a man, like myself, with a sword, is a match for any amount of fangs and talons, infernal or terrestrial" just makes me feel that Howard lost interest at this point. I think he had attempted too much in one short story. It's a shame, as I like the image of the vale, but the ending just doesn't deliver. We are left with a flawed, but memorable little tale.
Visit my blog: Necronomania

#10 Guest_Tu for Kull_*

Guest_Tu for Kull_*
  • Guests

Posted 31 October 2007 - 08:27 PM

Greetings!
Hey Mickey_C! I agree to a point,.....Atali,...well put,...
The racist thing,mmm,...he is leading another black tribe,why would someone who is racist delve into the black countries,led a tribe of well,..blacks?Again this might be the 20-21st century perception of it ,if he hated blacks(or any other non-white race)? The racist I have known(and it has nothing to do with skin color) wanted to have nothing to do,interact with their so-called 'not of their own kind'.Why do the slaves in 'The Hour of the Dragon' (i.e. "The Return of the Corsair") follow Amra? 'Cause the white boy is there to save the day,or sitting in s#!! and rowing endlessly under the lash is enough? Just wondering,.... ;) If you read the quote,Conan is,IMHO going by the 'rules', if he doesn't then he will face death and,.....well,kicking a$$ seems to be the better thing to do,... :P

Now,what about the kiss between the two women? That might have also shocked the reading public for it's time.What do you all think?

Tu

Edited by Tu for Kull, 31 October 2007 - 08:33 PM.


#11 Kortoso

Kortoso

    -=Reiver of the Western Marches=-

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,400 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Northern California

Posted 31 October 2007 - 09:15 PM

He responds to this situation with extreme violence, massacring the entire village to rescue the one white girl - surely he could have used his brain to strike a deal with Bajujh or try and avoid so much collateral damage by getting her out by some other means?

And which part of "barbarian" do you need help understanding? :D

ERB fans: How much of this is lifted from Tarzan? (ie, the white boy saving the day, etc.)

And considering the girl-on-girl action, it would be worthwhile to see this on film, and no PG here! ;)

#12 Fernando

Fernando

    WarLord

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,403 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Zamboula

Posted 31 October 2007 - 09:59 PM

I agree with the last Tu for Kull's post about Conan's "racial question". But about Atali, we mustn't forget that the Cimmerian was then 16 years-old, with few sexual experience and no contact with the "civilization". What he tried to do with the Ymir's daughter when he was a teenager, he'd never do with any women after he was 20 or 30 years-old. I respect the Mikey C's point of view, but I don't believe Conan tried to rape Atali because he was "bewitched" B) .

Edited by Fernando, 01 November 2007 - 10:47 PM.


#13 Mikey_C

Mikey_C

    Ancient Briton

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,338 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Waterlooville, UK

Posted 31 October 2007 - 10:16 PM

The racist thing,mmm,...he is leading another black tribe,why would someone who is racist delve into the black countries,led a tribe of well,..blacks?

Well, this is a fascinating question... It makes the "Heart of Darkness" comparison spring to mind yet again. Was Kurtz a racist? Of course, racism doesn't have to be absolute or consistent. To back my side of the argument, we have the telling lines "If you were old and ugly as the devil's pet vulture, I'd take you away from Bajujh, simply because of the color of your hide. But you are young and beautiful, and I have looked at black sluts until I am sick at the guts." Conan's not exactly being Mr PC here, is he? This story takes place much earlier in his career than The Hour of the Dragon, so it seems like he's had time to sort some things out in his head by then.

(Intriguing geek-point; which "devil" would Conan have been referring to in that quote?)

And which part of "barbarian" do you need help understanding? :D


:lol: It's not me, it's the others! I don't have a problem with Conan's depiction in this tale. But it certainly shows he's no role model. Anyway, at other times, he certainly gives the lie to the "brainless barbarian" stereotype. And I'd say from modern experience that so-called civilised races are capable of doling out more mindless devastation than barbarians could dream of. What would Conan think of concentration camps and aerial bombing?
Visit my blog: Necronomania

#14 deuce

deuce

    The OG of "Psychotic Maladjustment"

  • Moderators
  • 13,238 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Serpent-haunted SEK, beside the Lake of the Mound

Posted 31 October 2007 - 11:07 PM

I've got a Halloween party to attend to, but I'd just like to point out how much quality badinage we've already gotten out of this oft-denigrated li'l yarn. :)

Support the Robert E. Howard Foundation. It helps you and Robert E. Howard's legacy.


#15 Kortoso

Kortoso

    -=Reiver of the Western Marches=-

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,400 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Northern California

Posted 31 October 2007 - 11:26 PM

(Intriguing geek-point; which "devil" would Conan have been referring to in that quote?)

From Hour of the Dragon:

Crom's devils! What ails the men of Aquilonia?


Crom seems to have had several to choose from.

#16 timeless

timeless

    timeless

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,262 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Florida

Posted 01 November 2007 - 01:06 AM

I think it's fairly obvious that Conan's plan was to betray and butcher his supposed 'ally' from the beginning. The girl was just a bonus.
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. - Edgar Allen Poe

It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the timeless things. - Robert Service

For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious. - Thomas Mann

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. - Norman Maclean

#17 Guest_Tu for Kull_*

Guest_Tu for Kull_*
  • Guests

Posted 01 November 2007 - 10:48 PM

The racist thing,mmm,...he is leading another black tribe,why would someone who is racist delve into the black countries,led a tribe of well,..blacks?

Well, this is a fascinating question... It makes the "Heart of Darkness" comparison spring to mind yet again. Was Kurtz a racist? Of course, racism doesn't have to be absolute or consistent. To back my side of the argument, we have the telling lines "If you were old and ugly as the devil's pet vulture, I'd take you away from Bajujh, simply because of the color of your hide. But you are young and beautiful, and I have looked at black sluts until I am sick at the guts." Conan's not exactly being Mr PC here, is he? This story takes place much earlier in his career than The Hour of the Dragon, so it seems like he's had time to sort some things out in his head by then.

(Intriguing geek-point; which "devil" would Conan have been referring to in that quote?)

And which part of "barbarian" do you need help understanding? :D


:lol: It's not me, it's the others! I don't have a problem with Conan's depiction in this tale. But it certainly shows he's no role model. Anyway, at other times, he certainly gives the lie to the "brainless barbarian" stereotype. And I'd say from modern experience that so-called civilised races are capable of doling out more mindless devastation than barbarians could dream of. What would Conan think of concentration camps and aerial bombing?


Greetings!
Well this story was penned just under a year after 'Queen of the Black Coast' and I don't know Conan's age at the time of each story,...
Why would Conan be PC? (F'in hate that term!) A barbarian,who goes off in the so-called 'civilized' world,first career choice - thief! And don't forget this as we are being civil:

I am a daughter of the king of Ophir, she said.My father sold me to a Shemite chief,because I would not marry a prince of Koth.
The Cimmerian grunted in surprise.
Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. Aye civilized men sell their children as slaves to savages,sometimes.They call your race barbaric,Conan of Cimmeria.
We do not sell our children, he growled,his chin jutting truculently.


So we agree there,... ;)

What makes Conan so human(if I can borrow that line from Tim Kirk about Kull) is that he has his faults as a man,as we all do,he is not 1 dimensional as some might believe,....
Now about that kiss,... :P

Tu (who needs to buy more books)

#18 Speelie

Speelie

    Warrior

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 113 posts

Posted 02 November 2007 - 04:26 AM

I've mentioned the following before on this forum, but now we are talking about the specifics, so it seems like a good time for repetition :P

I like The Vale of Lost Women. I like it because Conan seems like a real person, as mentioned above. He's not some PC contrivance, he's a thinking, felling person, who carries out actions that seem reprehensible to modern sensibilities. I suspect his actions would also seem disturbing to 30's readers, had this story been published close to its time of writing.

I also like it because it seems close to realities many of us wouldn't want to recognize in ourselves. My case a year or so ago was that most of us here are of European descent, and if we aren't, we are still culturally close to European descended people. I make no judgement on this, it simply IS, for better or for worse. But as such, if most of us were, for example, on a UN mission to Afghanistan, and found ourselves at a truce meeting with the Taliban hold-outs, if we saw they had a, say, Canadian woman as a captive, we'd want to free her. Imagine this, she is a journalist (maybe she's black, fwiw), and her male driver and photographer took a wrong turn, and they were captured by Taliban militants. The man was recently murdered, and the woman is being held hostage, as a bargaining chip. Ask yourself, would your thought be, "that poor woman, she's a victim, just like these Taliban fighters, of US imperialism that seeks to control the Caspian Sea oil pipeline to Pakistan through the use of the US Army, and only when we establish full justice in this region will there be true freedom for anyone..." OR, would your thought be "I've GOT to get her away from these blankety-blank towel heads, politics be damned..."?

In those terms, Conan's actions seem entirely understandable, even if the liberal in me wishes it wasn't so. But that's life, and REH captured a slice of life in this story, at least for me. Your mileage may vary.

PS I agree that Conan probably would have carried out the surprise attack on his rival regardless of Livia's presence.

#19 Strom

Strom

    Fearing No Evil

  • Admin
  • 8,554 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Michigan, USA

Posted 02 November 2007 - 04:47 AM

I need to read this story again but I remember from my prior readings that the biggest reason I didn't enjoy this story was because Conan isn't in it very much. Coupled with the issues already being discussed, I can see why this story would not be a easy sell for Bob and why this story is often labeled as one of the weaker Conan stories. The best Conan stories have him front and center. 'A Witch Shall Be Born" is a better example of Bob deemphasizing Conan compared to the rest of the cast. It just doesn't work very well in 'The Vale of Lost Women", IMO.

Join and Support The Robert E. Howard Foundation!  Membership has Benefits! 

 

 

 


#20 timeless

timeless

    timeless

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,262 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Florida

Posted 02 November 2007 - 05:55 PM

I'm definitely in the minority...I think the scene where Conan smashes Aja with a bone is one of the best in Howard's writing. This story works for me because he's not a heroic hero doing hero things...he's a product of his era and environment. And also I like the variety of setting...on the ocean, in Pictland, in cities, in the desert or the mountains, and here in the jungle, he does what it takes to not merely survive but prosper and lead others.
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. - Edgar Allen Poe

It's the olden lure, it's the golden lure, it's the lure of the timeless things. - Robert Service

For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious. - Thomas Mann

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. - Norman Maclean