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The Blood Of Belshazzar: REH "SotM" For December


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#1 deuce

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 06:41 AM

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>SPOILERS FOLLOW<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<


Robert E. Howard's tale about Cormac FitzGeoffrey, The Blood of Belshazzar, can be found in three different collections: Donald M. Grant's Hawks of Outremer, Wildside Books' Gates of Empire and Bison Books' Lord of Samarcand.

Other than Golden Hope Christmas, it's hard to find a Howard yarn to fit with a Christmas theme. In "Belshazzar", Cormac seeks a "gift" to save a friend. The action takes place in the Middle East. Close enough for me. ;) Plus, December is the "birthday month" (see the Phoenix on the Sword thread) of Conan. Ol' Cormac F. is, inarguably, a direct progenitor of Conan.

REH called FitzGeoffrey "the most somber character I have yet created". CF was also one of the deadliest. Just read this yarn and see for yourself.

REH scholar, Fred Blosser, says of this tale:
"In Blood of Belshazzar, Howard drops Cormac into a bandit stronghold where outlaws scheme against each other for a fabulous jewel. This is a favorite plot device of Howard's; outnumbered and surrounded by enemies, his hero must survive and prevail."

Roy Thomas adapted this yarn into a Conan story in Conan the Barbarian #27 as "The Blood of Bel-Hissar".

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#2 DogBrother

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 04:35 PM

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>SPOILERS FOLLOW<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<


Robert E. Howard's tale about Cormac FitzGeoffrey, The Blood of Belshazzar, can be found in three different collections: Donald M. Grant's Hawks of Outremer, Wildside Books' Gates of Empire and Bison Books' Lord of Samarcand.

Other than Golden Hope Christmas, it's hard to find a Howard yarn to fit with a Christmas theme. In "Belshazzar", Cormac seeks a "gift" to save a friend. The action takes place in the Middle East. Close enough for me. ;) Plus, December is the "birthday month" (see the Phoenix on the Sword thread) of Conan. Ol' Cormac F. is, inarguably, a direct progenitor of Conan.

REH called FitzGeoffrey "the most somber character I have yet created". CF was also one of the deadliest. Just read this yarn and see for yourself.

REH scholar, Fred Blosser, says of this tale:
"In Blood of Belshazzar, Howard drops Cormac into a bandit stronghold where outlaws scheme against each other for a fabulous jewel. This is a favorite plot device of Howard's; outnumbered and surrounded by enemies, his hero must survive and prevail."

Roy Thomas adapted this yarn into a Conan story in Conan the Barbarian #27 as "The Blood of Bel-Hissar".


A most excellent chioce, Deuce. I always enjoyed Howard's Middle Eastern stories. Merry X-Mas.

#3 Sermon Bath

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 07:33 AM

I have always loved Cormac Fitzgeoffrey and it bums me out that howard didnt write more stories about this cool crusader..................

I actually think belshazzar is the weakest of the three cormac tales.......Slave Princess is the best, I would love to read the Tierney completion but cant afford it...(mondo expensive)

Has anybody ever read The King's Crusader by John Jakes..........I know Jakes is a huge howard fan and wrote tons of Howardish material like the brak adventures during his early career...........does anybody know if The King's Crusader reads anything like a Cormac Fitzgeoffrey or Howard crusader yarn. I like the brak tales so it would be cool if Jakes crusader book was similar to the howard stories....I would love to read it if so
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#4 deuce

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 07:57 AM

Hey XS. Is King's Crusader the same as Sir Scoundrel? Haven't read it, but pretty sure it is. I own I, Barbarian, which could be a companion piece to Red Blades of Black Cathay. Very Howardian. Jakes, at his best, could/can(?) write very good historical fiction.

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#5 Sermon Bath

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 09:18 AM

I dont know the answer to that question.......I do know that King's Crusader is supposedly a revised version of a book written under Jake's other name Jay Scotland. Maybe the book had a different title to go with the different name...I just don't know. Jakes is a good writer of historical fiction.....it made him a millionaire at any rate.........

if I scoundrel was written under the name Jay Scotland it may be the same book
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#6 Sermon Bath

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 09:28 AM

I did a bit of research....evidently King's crusader is an updated and revised version of Sir scoundrel......King's crusader came out in 1977 whereas Sir Scoundrel was published in 1962. "Jay Scotland" also has a book called Strike the Black Flag which is apparently a Pirate yarn about Blackbeard (whoa, can you say a thinly disquised Black Vulmea novel????????!!!gotta be considering the writer and his Howard infatuation during this period) I also found it interesting that Scotland aka Jakes has a novel called Veil of Salome that is selling for no less than a cool one hundred dollars on biblio used books?????????!!!!!!!!! what the heck is that all about...we are talking john jakes here arent we?

Edited by xssurdinynexes, 16 December 2007 - 09:30 AM.

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#7 deuce

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 01:24 AM

I have always loved Cormac Fitzgeoffrey and it bums me out that howard didnt write more stories about this cool crusader..................

I actually think belshazzar is the weakest of the three cormac tales.......Slave Princess is the best, I would love to read the Tierney completion but cant afford it...(mondo expensive)


Yeah, I'd like to read what Tierney did with it as well. RT did a better job completing the CMA fragments than LSdC did the Conan fragments, IMO. However, it's hard to see how a very short fragment (that only vaguely indicates how it will turn out) can be rated higher than actual stories that Robert E. Howard felt were worthy of publication. One could argue that the incomplete state of "Princess" makes it not only "weak", but crippled.

As for "Belshazzar" being the "weakest" CFG yarn, that's purely a matter of opinion, to which you're entitled. You've given no reasons for your opinion, nor have you mentioned anything that you felt Mr. Howard might have done right in this tale.

The purpose of each "Story of the Month" isn't to discuss just the Howard yarns that everyone (let alone you, XS) thinks are classics. That's an almost impossible task AND we'd run out of stories to discuss in very short order. The purpose of each "SotM" is to provide a forum where REH fans can be exposed to Howard tales they might not have read (some of which, according to individual tastes, will be better than others). To provoke discussion as to what makes a good (or not-so-good) REH story. To study Howard's development as a writer and to explore connections between various yarns.

BTW, thanks for spending more time discussing John Jakes than REH or Cormac FitzGeoffrey. :)

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#8 Sermon Bath

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:14 AM

naturally none of my opinions or view are as worthy as yours.......that goes without saying
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#9 deuce

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:18 AM

naturally none of my opinions or view are as worthy as yours.......that goes without saying


Hardly. Your view is just a valid as mine (or anyone else's). The fact is that you haven't contributed one reason for your opinion but you have done your damnedest to derail this thread. Feel free to discuss Cormac FitzGeoffrey and The Blood of Belshazzar. Surely Robert E. Howard did something right when he spun this action-packed yarn? If he didn't, by all means, point out where he went horribly wrong. :)

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#10 deuce

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 05:34 AM

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>SPOILERS<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

For me, "Belshazzar" benefits greatly from several readings. This was my third or fourth time, and I really had some insights (IMO) only as a result of this latest reading. There is a large cast of characters (of varying ethnicity) packed into this relatively short tale. That may confuse/slow down the story for some people (worry not, annotations are coming). I'd point out that REH did the same thing in Hyborian Age/Conan yarns like Servants of Bit-Yakin and The Black Stranger.

Basically, what I got from my rereading was that REH was taking a respectable (IMO) stab (OK, many stabs AND slashes) at writing a murder mystery. This is easier to discern if one already has all of the characters/factions sorted out. Also, this is a sword-and-sorcery tale in mundane sheep's clothing. This yarn makes MUCH more sense if one accepts the idea that the gem at the heart of the tale (the "Blood of Belshazzar") IS magical AND exerts an evil psychic influence on those near it. Hitchcock would call the gem a "MacGuffin". This is a magical MacGuffin. REH goes to great pains to lay out the history of the Blood of Belshazzar and to demonstrate that its possession (who is possessing whom?) has left a trail of blood in its wake unprecedented in the history of precious stones.

~The Song of the Red Stone~

It shone on the breast of the Persian king,
It lighted Iskander's road
It blazed where the spears were splintering,
A lure and a maddening goad.
And down through the crimson, changing years
It draws men, soul and brain;
They drown their lives in blood and tears,
And they break their hearts in vain.
Oh, it flames with the blood of strong men's hearts
Whose bodies are clay again.


~Robert E. Howard~

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#11 Mark Finn

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:57 PM

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>SPOILERS<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

For me, "Belshazzar" benefits greatly from several readings. This was my third or fourth time, and I really had some insights (IMO) only as a result of this latest reading. There is a large cast of characters (of varying ethnicity) packed into this relatively short tale. That may confuse/slow down the story for some people (worry not, annotations are coming). I'd point out that REH did the same thing in Hyborian Age/Conan yarns like Servants of Bit-Yakin and The Black Stranger.

Basically, what I got from my rereading was that REH was taking a respectable (IMO) stab (OK, many stabs AND slashes) at writing a murder mystery. This is easier to discern if one already has all of the characters/factions sorted out. Also, this is a sword-and-sorcery tale in mundane sheep's clothing. This yarn makes MUCH more sense if one accepts the idea that the gem at the heart of the tale (the "Blood of Belshazzar") IS magical AND exerts an evil psychic influence on those near it. Hitchcock would call the gem a "MacGuffin". This is a magical MacGuffin. REH goes to great pains to lay out the history of the Blood of Belshazzar and to demonstrate that its possession (who is possessing whom?) has left a trail of blood in its wake unprecedented in the history of precious stones.


Bingo, Deuce. You hit the nail on the head. It IS a Maguffin, and a pretty good one, at that; a Crusades-version of the Maltese Falcon. Whomever ends up with the gem is secondary to FitzGeoffrey living the night. And I really enjoy the various factions at each others' throats. It's like an encapsulation of the conflicts that REH wrote about in his other Crusades stories. This actually is my FAVORITE FitzGeoffrey tale, for all of the above reasons!
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#12 Hans

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 07:36 PM

Some time in the last 3 years,I wrote what I felt to be a detailed critique of this story.In my opinion,I thought that "Blood of Belshazzar" was poorly written,covered too much material in too little space,had too many characters with too little character development,adn was generally unbelievable.
I'm not at all sure how to go about retrieving it from the files of the dim and murky past.If I knew how to do so,I'd attempt to pull it out,and put it in this space.If anyone out there can assist me.I'd be most appreciative.

#13 Axerules

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 08:19 PM

Hey Hans, the thread you're searching is here. ;)
You were a little bit harsh IMHO.

BTW, I typed "Belshazzar" and "Hans" for author after clicking on "More search options" when I was in the search engine to find it. Hope that helps.
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#14 Mikey_C

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 09:33 PM

Some time in the last 3 years,I wrote what I felt to be a detailed critique of this story.In my opinion,I thought that "Blood of Belshazzar" was poorly written,covered too much material in too little space,had too many characters with too little character development,adn was generally unbelievable.
I'm not at all sure how to go about retrieving it from the files of the dim and murky past.If I knew how to do so,I'd attempt to pull it out,and put it in this space.If anyone out there can assist me.I'd be most appreciative.

I remembered someone dissing BoB big time - so it was you, Hans! You started this thread back in May '06. This is a good opportunity to read the story again. I'm halfway through and I am starting to reconsider my opinion. I'm enjoying it more this time.
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#15 deuce

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:49 AM

Some time in the last 3 years,I wrote what I felt to be a detailed critique of this story.In my opinion,I thought that "Blood of Belshazzar" was poorly written,covered too much material in too little space,had too many characters with too little character development,adn was generally unbelievable.
I'm not at all sure how to go about retrieving it from the files of the dim and murky past.If I knew how to do so,I'd attempt to pull it out,and put it in this space.If anyone out there can assist me.I'd be most appreciative.


You raised some interesting points, Hans. :) Any new opinions you'd like to add? What do you think REH might have done to improve/correct it?

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#16 deuce

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 07:01 AM

As promised...

The Blood of Belshazzar from The Lord of Samarcand (Bison Books).

~Chapter 1~

Bab-el-Shaitan:"the Gate of the Devil" (in Arabic). The stronghold of Skol Abdhur. It was situated in "the frowning foothills of the Taurus" (see: http://en.wikipedia....aurus_Mountains ). "Once it was called Eski-Hissar, the Old Castle". It was a "crumbling pile" in the days of Abu Bekr, when the Arabs rebuilt it. "Here luxury and nakedness met, the riches of degenerate civilizations and the stark savagery of utter barbarism." (p.60)
Abu Bekr: was the first Caliph of Islam, companion and father-in-law to Mohammed. He died in 634AD.
Feasts: During feasts within Bab-el-Shaitan, "trembling slaves" served wine, "joints of roasted meat and loaves of bread" to the followers and guests of Skol Abdhur. (p.60)

Skol Abdhur's Men: The Persians were "slim, lethal". The Turks were "dangerous-eyed", clad "in mail shirts". There were "lean Arabs" and "tall ragged Kurds". Also Lurs (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lurs ) , "Armenians in sweaty sheepskins, fiercely mustached Circassians and even a few Georgians (see: http://en.wikipedia....eorgia_(country) ), with hawk-faces and devilish tempers." REH called them all "tall sons of the desert and mountains". (p.61)

Cormac FitzGeoffrey:"was above six feet" in height. The "breadth and thickness of him were gigantic". His "eyes were a volcanic blue" and his "square-cut black hair (...) crowned a low, broad forehead." An "ex-Crusader", Cormac was "armed in close-meshed chain mail from head to foot." Just like Conan in "TF-GD". He bore a "heavy sword" and a kite-shaped shield with a "grinning skull wrought in the center". He was a "fierce Irish warrior". Formerly, "in his native Ireland he had sat among barbaric figures in the gatherings of chiefs and reavers in the hills". (p.61) Doesn't that last line sound a bit like a young Conan?

Kadra Muhammed:"a Lur, hairy as an ape", "with yellow fangs like a wolf". (p.62)
Nadir Tous: a suave, deadly Persian. He was "once an emir high in the favor of the Shah of Kharesmia". (p.62) His last name means "Peacock" in Farsi, as in "Malik Tous".
Kai Shah:"a Seljuk Turk" in "silvered mail shirt, peaked helmet and jewel-hilted simitar". He "had ridden at Saladin's side in high honor once, and it was said that the scar that showed white in the angle of his jaw had been made by the sword of Richard the Lion-hearted in that great battle before the walls of Joppa." (p.62) Some have noted that Shah Amurath in "Iron Shadows" is a Turanian with "shah" (a Persian honorific, sorta like "Mister") in his name. It's been speculated that REH somehow intended his Turanians to be "Persian-like" because of that. Here we see a full-blown Seljuk Turk named "Kai Shah". The Persians exerted a heavy cultural (and genetic) influence on the Turkish peoples for thousands of years. However, any Turk (or Persian) will tell you that Turks aren't Persians.

Yussef el Mekru: A "wiry, tall, eagle-faced Arab", who "had been a great sheikh once in Yemen and had even led a revolt against the Sultan (Saladin) himself." (p.62)
Tisolino de Strozza: For "strangeness and vivid fantasy", his past exploits outshone those of any of the cutthroats present in Bab-el-Shaitan. Aforetime, he was a "trader, captain of Venice's warships, Crusader, pirate, outlaw." He "was tall and thin and saturnine in appearance". His armor "was of costly Venetian make" and he wielded a "long narrow sword". He was "hook-nosed", dark-eyed and sported a "thin mustache". (p.62) Sounds like de Strozza got around. Makes you wish that REH (or maybe Lamb or Sabatini) had chronicled some more of his strange and vivid history.

Kojar Mirza:"a brawny Kurd". (p.63) see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds
Shalmar Khor:"a tall swaggering Circassian". (p.63) http://en.wikipedia....iki/Circassians
Justus Zehor:"a renegade Georgian who wore half a dozen knifes in his girdle." (p.63)
Musa bin Daoud:"a lean Syrian scribe" to Skol Abdhur. (p.64)
Jacob: Skol Abdhur's majordomo. (p.64)

Cormac:"could count his friends on his fingers and his personal enemies by the scores." (p.64) At one time, he "had been cup-companion (ie,"drinking buddy") to King Richard." (p.65)

Skol Abdhur: The lord of Bab-el-Shaitan, called "the Butcher". A 'bizarre giant" and "an image of physical prowess" who "towered half a head taller than Cormac". He sported a "huge belly" and a "short, naturally black beard" that had been "stained to a bluish tint". (p.65)
Bab-el-Shaitan: According to Skol Abdhur, its "foundations were built in the long ago by Iskander Akbar - Alexander the Great. Then centuries later came the Roumi - the Romans - who added to it. Parthians, Persians, Kurds, Arabs, Turks - all have shed blood on its walls." Also according to Skol, "only when hope is dead do men ride to Bab-el-Shaitan", and "Bab-el-Shaitan is the end of the world." (p.67) I almost wonder if REH was speaking figuratively through Skol, saying that the world of men would end in a welter of maddened slaughter. Both Bab-el-Shaitan and Xuchotl were claustrophobic microcosms of decadence and savagery.
Women: according to Skol, "are food for the gods." (p.67)

Cormac: According to Skol, Cormac's life was forfeit to his people (the European Crusaders) because he slew Count Conrad Von Gonler. This datum places "Belshazzar" after Hawks of Outremer. (p.67)
Sir Rupert de Vaile: Cormac's friend and the Seneschal of Antioch. His capture by a "Turkish chief" was what motivated Cormac to come to Bab-el-Shaitan. (p.68)
Abdullah:"the black mute" who guarded Skol Abdhur's chamber. He was a Nubian who wielded "a two-handed simitar whose five foot blade was a foot wide at the tip." (p.65, 68)

"the Blood of Belshazzar": The "ruby" was "a huge jewel that sparkled like a tiny lake of blood" and was "the most ancient and costly gem in the world." According to Skol, "Ten thousand pieces of gold could not buy it." That's at the very least a cool $1 million in "medieval money". The gem was "strangely carved". It "seemed that the ancient carver had followed some plan entirely unknown and apart from that of modern lapidary art." (p.68)
According to Skol Abdhur, "king" Belshazzar went from his palace in Baylon and betook himself on a cruise of the "Green Sea" (the Persian Gulf) aboard his pleasure-barge. A pearl-diver, Naka, was allowed by Belshazzar to dive for pearls to give his sovereign. When Naka finally floated back to the surface, near death, he related a strange tale. Far below, he had found a city of "marble and lapis lazuli". Naka had wrested the ruby from the "taloned hand" of a "monstrous mummied king on a jade throne". Though implored by his court to cast the eldritch jewel from him, Belshazzar "was as one mad" and placed it upon his chest. (p.69)
Cyrus the Great wrested it therefrom, on the night Babylon fell. The Persians, seeing the ruby by the gory light of the burning palace, dubbed it "the Blood of Belshazzar". Blood followed the course of the uncanny jewel. Cyrus fell fighting the Massagetae on the banks of the Jaxartes River. The queen of the Scythian Massagetae, Tomyris, placed the ruby on her "naked bosom". She was robbed by a "rebel general" who was then killed by the Persians. Cambyses, the son of Cyrus (see http://en.wikipedia....iki/Cambyses_II ) came into possession of "the Blood". He took it with him during his conquest of Egypt. Much like Skol Abdhur later, Cambyses seems to have become a drunken madman. The jewel was stolen from the Persian by a priest of Bast. Cambyses committed suicide not long after (522BC). A mercenary from Numidia (modern Morrocco) mudered the priest and stole the gem. By "devious ways" the ruby came back into the hands of the Persian shah-in-shahs. "It gleamed on Xerxes' crown when he watched his army destroyed at Salamis." (p.69)
Alexander took "the Blood" from the corpse of Darius, and then had it set into "his breastplate". The Blood's "gleams lighted the road to India". In "a battle on the Indus", a "chance sword blow" dislodged the gem. Alexander had to turn back towards Babylon soon after. For centuries following Alexander's loss, the history of the Blood is unclear. According to Skol, the gem was "far to the east" and it "shone on a road of blood and rapine". "For it, as of old, women gave up their virtue, men their lives and kings their crowns." (p.69)


All for now...

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#17 Kortoso

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 07:39 PM

Doesn't that last line sound a bit like a young Conan?

No doubt, but this story at least seems to lack the precise height and weight rumored.

#18 deuce

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 08:02 PM

Doesn't that last line sound a bit like a young Conan?

No doubt, but this story at least seems to lack the precise height and weight rumored.


Hey Kortoso! Merry Christmas. :D REH notes that CFG's height is fairly unremarkable amongst the bloody throng in Bab-el-Shaitan. Skol is "half a head" taller. All things considered, it definitely looks like CFG was 6'1"-6'3" (just like Kull, and probably, Conan). CFG's "giant" status seems to depend more on "breadth" and overwhelming presence rather than mere vertical height. I think "Hawks" might have more precise stats.

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#19 Scott Oden

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 08:43 PM

I'm a great fan of Cormac FitzGeoffrey's, but this tale didn't quite do it for me. I greatly prefer "Hawks of Outremer". I am curious, though, if REH knew Belshazzar wasn't the last king of Babylon (it was Nabonidus, his father; Belshazzar was governor of Babylon during Nabonidus' decade-long absence -- he was off attempting to subjugate Arabia and generally going as mad as a hatter). REH's other facts regarding Cyrus, Xerxes, Alexander, etc. were fairly accurate, and since he uses the name 'Nabonidus' in the Conan tale "Rogues in the House" we can surmise he was at least aware of the man. Was it an error or creative license?

I vote the latter, but I thought I'd toss it out there for discussion.

Merry Christmas, all!

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#20 deuce

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Posted 01 January 2008 - 12:12 AM

I'm a great fan of Cormac FitzGeoffrey's, but this tale didn't quite do it for me. I greatly prefer "Hawks of Outremer". I am curious, though, if REH knew Belshazzar wasn't the last king of Babylon (it was Nabonidus, his father; Belshazzar was governor of Babylon during Nabonidus' decade-long absence -- he was off attempting to subjugate Arabia and generally going as mad as a hatter). REH's other facts regarding Cyrus, Xerxes, Alexander, etc. were fairly accurate, and since he uses the name 'Nabonidus' in the Conan tale "Rogues in the House" we can surmise he was at least aware of the man. Was it an error or creative license?
I vote the latter, but I thought I'd toss it out there for discussion.
Merry Christmas, all!
Scott


Hey Scott! Here's something interesting from "TCLoREH,v2", circa late 1930, page 111...

~ Belshazzar ~

Slow through the streets of Babylon he went,
The naked harlots knelt and shrank aside;
The canopy above him swayed and bent:
"Way for the king of kings!" the herald cried.
-- And in the crowd a lean and ragged Mede
Thumbed a knife edge and grinning, turned aside.


~ Robert E. Howard ~

I think I'd have to say that REH knew that Belshazzar wasn't actually "king of kings", but for artistic and cultural reasons, he ignored the fact. Howard would be well aware that more people would know "the facts" about Belshazzar from their Bibles than they would from The Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Plus, "Belshazzar" just sounds cooler than "Nabonidus".
My two lunas. :)

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