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In Atla's Defense


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#1 daniel

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 09:23 PM

whoever will film worms of the earth should remember that the relationship between bran and atla were not entirely hateful. from this we may conclude that atla was not without an atractiveness to her, lizard or no. on the other hand , the angelina jolie look in beowulf would be altogether too human. the answer is in the middle, i guess.

#2 Primeval

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 06:30 AM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!

"Roll on me like a flood, now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley - of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall!" - Bran Mak Morn in "Worms of the Earth"


#3 daniel

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 12:25 PM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!


howard was no clark ashton smith. the latter would indeed have allowed his lizardmen some evident attractiveness. had atla truely been repulsive bran would have chopped her head off and get it over with or something. i may be a sauromaniac (figure that one for yourself) but the film would lose much with a repulsive atla , ever more so should bran have a human love interest.

#4 deuce

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 12:28 PM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!


Hey Primeval! I suppose that my perception of Atla could be influenced somewhat by Sanjulian's classic painting for the ACE edition of Bran Mak Morn (my first exposure to Atla and BMM). On the other hand, I think it also very possible that many have gotten their ideas about the "witch-woman of Dagon-moor" from the hag-like renditions by Conrad and Gianni. Nowhere does REH describe her as old. In fact, he says "she was not old". He uses the same words ("lithe" and "supple") to describe Atla as he later used to describe many of Conan's later paramours. All of the differences Howard describes are subtle: "disquietingly long hands", "slanted yellow eyes", "almost pointed ears". Okay, the "mottled skin" is a little bit of a tip-off, :P but it doesn't appear to be extensive. All in all, she basically appears to be "exotic". I've read "TWotE" a hundred times. My impression has always been that BMM's repulsion was "racial". Atla was the spawn of a "Child of the Night/'Peep' of the Dark/Worm of the Earth". The Picts and the "Worms" were age-old enemies. In Bran's eyes (and he might have been right), Atla was only "half-human". Atla tries to kill Bran simply because he was a Pict. I suppose that Conrad and Gianni felt they couldn't convey this psychological undercurrent, so they went the "hag-witch" route. Or, perhaps, they just didn't pick up on it.
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Posted 24 February 2008 - 01:07 PM

I reckon she sounds pretty saucy. Nowt wrong with bit of the 'exotic'.

#6 daniel

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 03:46 PM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!


Hey Primeval! I suppose that my perception of Atla could be influenced somewhat by Sanjulian's classic painting for the ACE edition of Bran Mak Morn (my first exposure to Atla and BMM). On the other hand, I think it also very possible that many have gotten their ideas about the "witch-woman of Dagon-moor" from the hag-like renditions by Conrad and Gianni. Nowhere does REH describe her as old. In fact, he says "she was not old". He uses the same words ("lithe" and "supple") to describe Atla as he later used to describe many of Conan's later paramours. All of the differences Howard describes are subtle: "disquietingly long hands", "slanted yellow eyes", "almost pointed ears". Okay, the "mottled skin" is a little bit of a tip-off, :P but it doesn't appear to be extensive. All in all, she basically appears to be "exotic". I've read "TWotE" a hundred times. My impression has always been that BMM's repulsion was "racial". Atla was the spawn of a "Child of the Night/'Peep' of the Dark/Worm of the Earth". The Picts and the "Worms" were age-old enemies. In Bran's eyes (and he might have been right), Atla was only "half-human". Atla tries to kill Bran simply because he was a Pict. I suppose that Conrad and Gianni felt they couldn't convey this psychological undercurrent, so they went the "hag-witch" route. Or, perhaps, they just didn't pick up on it.
My two lunas. :)


so she isn't sexy in gianni? that breaks my heart!

#7 Mikey_C

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:20 PM

Interestingly, REH describes Atla as having "red lips"; not very lizardlike! It is her movements that are described as "almost serpentine". As well as attributes Deuce has noted, she has "black locks" which are "tangled and unkempt", "sharp and pointed" teeth "like fangs". Not very attractive, but there's nothing to indicate a hag-like appearance.

Words such as "lithe" and "supple", on the other hand, do indicate attractiveness. "Supple" in particular is a word which REH applied almost as shorthand to describe sexually attractive women. Added to which (and I'm assuming that Bran went further than just kissing her, although the mores of the time would not permit REH to describe this), although he has to "force his head down to meet her lifted lips", surely Atla must have had something going on for him to be able to complete the twisted act?

Looking at all this, if I were casting the movie, I would go for a shapely body with a disgusting face. It would be fun to find some well known actress who would be willing to be made up for this. You'd then be able to convey the whole attraction / repulsion thing that REH's words subtly suggest.

Right at the end of the story, Bran's feeling of revulsion at seeing one of the Worms is triggered by seeing its "mottled" body. I think the emphasis put on this word, which Bran has already used to describe Atla before their mating, is intended to convey his sexual disgust at what he has done, as he now realises that the Worms have degenerated so far they are no longer human; "You're ancestors were men ... but gods, ye have become in ghastly fact what my people called ye in scorn! Worms of the earth..." It is at this point that "all human attributes dropped from (Atla) like a cloak in the night" and the very last image is of her "hellish laughter" as Bran rides off in horror and disgust.

I think the true terror at the heart of this tale is that of inter-species sex; the depth to which Bran's determination to destroy the Romans has driven him. Is the message that hatred can destroy our humanity? WotE is a dark, dark tale dealing with a taboo subject. The figure of Atla is at the heart of it. In my opinion, to turn her into nothing more than an ugly old witch ignores some of the more subtle hints that REH gives us to warn that subhuman evil has its attractive side. So, I'm with Daniel on this one.



But then again maybe I'm just another pervy saurophile. There are these websites, you know ... ;)

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#8 Primeval

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:34 PM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!


Hey Primeval! I suppose that my perception of Atla could be influenced somewhat by Sanjulian's classic painting for the ACE edition of Bran Mak Morn (my first exposure to Atla and BMM). On the other hand, I think it also very possible that many have gotten their ideas about the "witch-woman of Dagon-moor" from the hag-like renditions by Conrad and Gianni. Nowhere does REH describe her as old. In fact, he says "she was not old". He uses the same words ("lithe" and "supple") to describe Atla as he later used to describe many of Conan's later paramours. All of the differences Howard describes are subtle: "disquietingly long hands", "slanted yellow eyes", "almost pointed ears". Okay, the "mottled skin" is a little bit of a tip-off, :P but it doesn't appear to be extensive. All in all, she basically appears to be "exotic". I've read "TWotE" a hundred times. My impression has always been that BMM's repulsion was "racial". Atla was the spawn of a "Child of the Night/'Peep' of the Dark/Worm of the Earth". The Picts and the "Worms" were age-old enemies. In Bran's eyes (and he might have been right), Atla was only "half-human". Atla tries to kill Bran simply because he was a Pict. I suppose that Conrad and Gianni felt they couldn't convey this psychological undercurrent, so they went the "hag-witch" route. Or, perhaps, they just didn't pick up on it.
My two lunas. :)



Good points Deuce! I never said she was old though or hag-like. There is one more thing REH mentions - when Bran touches her, "An involuntary shudder shook him at the feel of her sleek skin". Is it the way her skin feels or just the mere fact he is touching an enemy? For me, all the words and phrases used to describe her, when taken together, seem chosen to convey someone Bran is not physically attracted to, enemy or no. But I do see where you are coming from as well.

Another thing that I wonder about - she calls herself a 'were-woman" at one point; is this literal or just superstition from the locals, or just a different wording for half-human, half Worm?

I guess I have always thought of the Worms as descendants of the Serpentmen, so I don't see them as lizardmen but as serpentmen, and I therefore picture Atla as human in basic form with traits of the serpentmen. Not sure where I got that or if it bears up under scrutiny.

"Roll on me like a flood, now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley - of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall!" - Bran Mak Morn in "Worms of the Earth"


#9 Guest_yimsha_*

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 10:26 PM

I'm not so sure - Bran has to force himself to kiss her, and he is driven by an insane need for vengeance. My picture of her is human but with the serpentine features Howard describes. From a distance you probably wouldn't notice, but up close it would be a bit disconcerting I imagine!


Hey Primeval! I suppose that my perception of Atla could be influenced somewhat by Sanjulian's classic painting for the ACE edition of Bran Mak Morn (my first exposure to Atla and BMM). On the other hand, I think it also very possible that many have gotten their ideas about the "witch-woman of Dagon-moor" from the hag-like renditions by Conrad and Gianni. Nowhere does REH describe her as old. In fact, he says "she was not old". He uses the same words ("lithe" and "supple") to describe Atla as he later used to describe many of Conan's later paramours. All of the differences Howard describes are subtle: "disquietingly long hands", "slanted yellow eyes", "almost pointed ears". Okay, the "mottled skin" is a little bit of a tip-off, :P but it doesn't appear to be extensive. All in all, she basically appears to be "exotic". I've read "TWotE" a hundred times. My impression has always been that BMM's repulsion was "racial". Atla was the spawn of a "Child of the Night/'Peep' of the Dark/Worm of the Earth". The Picts and the "Worms" were age-old enemies. In Bran's eyes (and he might have been right), Atla was only "half-human". Atla tries to kill Bran simply because he was a Pict. I suppose that Conrad and Gianni felt they couldn't convey this psychological undercurrent, so they went the "hag-witch" route. Or, perhaps, they just didn't pick up on it.
My two lunas. :)



Good points Deuce! I never said she was old though or hag-like. There is one more thing REH mentions - when Bran touches her, "An involuntary shudder shook him at the feel of her sleek skin". Is it the way her skin feels or just the mere fact he is touching an enemy? For me, all the words and phrases used to describe her, when taken together, seem chosen to convey someone Bran is not physically attracted to, enemy or no. But I do see where you are coming from as well.

Another thing that I wonder about - she calls herself a 'were-woman" at one point; is this literal or just superstition from the locals, or just a different wording for half-human, half Worm?

I guess I have always thought of the Worms as descendants of the Serpentmen, so I don't see them as lizardmen but as serpentmen, and I therefore picture Atla as human in basic form with traits of the serpentmen. Not sure where I got that or if it bears up under scrutiny.



..." It is at this point that "all human attributes dropped from (Atla) like a cloak in the night"


I would concur there. I think the line above would suggest that she has the shape changing abilities as in 'The Shadow Kingdom'. I also got the impression that REH described her a one of those women who are just well, horny. Not necessarily text book beautiful, but they get the glands in an uproar ;) . Not unlike the witch in the Milius film.

Edited by yimsha, 24 February 2008 - 10:27 PM.


#10 Mikey_C

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 10:33 PM

The final line describes her as a "were woman". I take that to mean she can physically change her appearance (like a werewolf).
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#11 deuce

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 02:08 AM

Good points Deuce! I never said she was old though or hag-like. There is one more thing REH mentions - when Bran touches her, "An involuntary shudder shook him at the feel of her sleek skin". Is it the way her skin feels or just the mere fact he is touching an enemy? For me, all the words and phrases used to describe her, when taken together, seem chosen to convey someone Bran is not physically attracted to, enemy or no. But I do see where you are coming from as well.


Thanks Primeval! Damn good points from your ownself. I definitely see where you're coming from now. I shouldn't have read more into your post than what was there. :rolleyes:

As an aside, I think that if Atla had a mouth that literally stretched from ear-to-ear (as depicted by Gianni), then REH would've mentioned it. Instead, he noted her "red lips".

Another thing that I wonder about - she calls herself a 'were-woman" at one point; is this literal or just superstition from the locals, or just a different wording for half-human, half Worm?
I guess I have always thought of the Worms as descendants of the Serpentmen, so I don't see them as lizardmen but as serpentmen, and I therefore picture Atla as human in basic form with traits of the serpentmen. Not sure where I got that or if it bears up under scrutiny.


You know what, Primeval? You've just made me look at what REH said about Atla (and her paternal forebears) in a slightly different (and illuminating) fashion. :D I'd always taken the "were-woman" tag to simply mean "half-beast/"Worm". I'd also always "read" the line about Atla's "human attributes" dropping away as simply meaning that utter hatred/rage transformed her features. I've seen that happen before, even to very beautiful women. However, if the two references are connected, then that puts everything into a different light.

The ultimate provenance of the "Worms" is very problematic. The oldest "reference" is when Aryara/O'Donnel (in The Children of the Night) says that, "We (the "Aryans") had encountered them before, ages before." Since REH definitely places his Aryan homeland somewhere on the Eurasian steppes, one might conjecture that they "encountered" the Worms there. There is also the reference in the "Hyborian Age" essay about the "stunted aborigines" encountered by the Hyrkanians, who seem to have "tainted" the blood of the scions of Lemuria.

In his letters and his yarns (like "TCotN"), REH refers to the Worms as "Mongoloids". On the other hand, there are LOTS of "reptilian/serpentine" comparisons. Howard just keeps hitting us with 'em. In The People of the Dark, REH shows the last(?) "Worm" to have "devolved" into what is basically a "legged serpent". Whaddaya do? :blink: Karl Edward Wagner (in The Legion From the Shadows) speculated that the Worms (as well as the "Worm-ish" denizens of "The Valley of the Lost") were "degenerate serpent-men". I thought that was brilliant, at the time (and a LONG time after).

However, once I really began researching the question, I had to start wondering. To be honest, I really couldn't come to a solid conclusion. Still can't, really. The tentative theory I've been running with is that the "Mongoloids" were already "tainted", when they lived east of the Vilayet, by "serpentine" blood. The Shadow Kingdom makes vague allusions to exiled serpent-folk (I really wish REH had come up with an actual name for 'em) in the "wastelands". This might refer to the wastes beyond the Stagus River (during the Thurian age), which is the same area where the Hyrkanians encountered the "stunted aborigines". Also, just as a piece of useless trivia, (Persian) Magian priests were said to have the sacred duty of killing serpents. Was this a legacy of an ancient conflict? However, the taint in the "Worms" is so strong (as opposed to the "Mongoloids" of The Black Stone), one has to wonder if there wasn't a relict population of degenerate serpent-folk already in Britain. They might be the source of the Cimmerian "goblin/dwarf" legends. The Picts reached Great Britain after the Worms/"Mongoloids". How is that? I think something(s) had a foothold there already.

I've begun to think that the serpent-folk's ability to shape-change might be due to them actually being "were-snakes" (see Post#6, "Prehistory in Howard"). If the ability is/was inheritable, then it's possible that Atla inherited it from her sire. There's also the chance that she received "instruction" from her father's folk. Perhaps the two references pointed out above were what sparked KEW's theory?

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#12 Primeval

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 02:36 AM

Excellent post Deuce! Lots of good info, and I think I stand by my serpentmen conjecture even more now, although as you said it is hard to say with any certainty one way or the other.

However, the taint in the "Worms" is so strong (as opposed to the "Mongoloids" of The Black Stone), one has to wonder if there wasn't a relict population of degenerate serpent-folk already in Britain. They might be the source of the Cimmerian "goblin/dwarf" legends. The Picts reached Great Britain after the Worms/"Mongoloids". How is that? I think something(s) had a foothold there already.


Yep - that's what I am thinking - the serpentmen were there before the Picts (do we even know when the Picts arrived?), and eventually were driven into the nether regions (ties into the goblin/dwarf thing too) to devolve into the Worms. Howard says they needed the stairs that Bran and Atla descend to reach them once, but no more.

If the were-snake idea is true, then it's a good thing Bran didn't cry out "Ka nama kaa lajerama" during their tryst! :)

I'm off to check out the Pre-History in Howard thread now...

"Roll on me like a flood, now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley - of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall!" - Bran Mak Morn in "Worms of the Earth"


#13 daniel

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 09:25 AM

Excellent post Deuce! Lots of good info, and I think I stand by my serpentmen conjecture even more now, although as you said it is hard to say with any certainty one way or the other.

However, the taint in the "Worms" is so strong (as opposed to the "Mongoloids" of The Black Stone), one has to wonder if there wasn't a relict population of degenerate serpent-folk already in Britain. They might be the source of the Cimmerian "goblin/dwarf" legends. The Picts reached Great Britain after the Worms/"Mongoloids". How is that? I think something(s) had a foothold there already.


Yep - that's what I am thinking - the serpentmen were there before the Picts (do we even know when the Picts arrived?), and eventually were driven into the nether regions (ties into the goblin/dwarf thing too) to devolve into the Worms. Howard says they needed the stairs that Bran and Atla descend to reach them once, but no more.

If the were-snake idea is true, then it's a good thing Bran didn't cry out "Ka nama kaa lajerama" during their tryst! :)

I'm off to check out the Pre-History in Howard thread now...


saurophiles of the world unite!
now, as for "were-woman" if this is the case what animal would atla be able to change to? a giant serpent? this would fit in a film perfectly! as for her locks, am i the only one thinking gorgons here? in grrek myths as told by writers and not spoken tradition, the gorgons were known to be very beautiful seconds before turning you to stone. with the romans as the representatives of classical hellenis in britain i' surprised nobody was onto this, including wagner.
anyway, to make atla unatractive on film would be an injustice to the story. it may be that the film would call for a novelisation but that is another matter

#14 Primeval

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 10:08 AM

saurophiles of the world unite!
now, as for "were-woman" if this is the case what animal would atla be able to change to? a giant serpent? this would fit in a film perfectly! as for her locks, am i the only one thinking gorgons here? in grrek myths as told by writers and not spoken tradition, the gorgons were known to be very beautiful seconds before turning you to stone. with the romans as the representatives of classical hellenis in britain i' surprised nobody was onto this, including wagner.
anyway, to make atla unatractive on film would be an injustice to the story. it may be that the film would call for a novelisation but that is another matter


Those of us that are thinking the Worms may be descendants of the serpentmen are saying she would become a serpentwoman - just like the serpentmen in the Kull stories. If you haven't already, reading "The Shadow Kingdom" will explain it.

I'm not sure why making her unattractive on film would be an injustice to the story - I'm curious to hear your reasoning as this whole thread has been a pretty enlightening one.

"Roll on me like a flood, now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley - of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall!" - Bran Mak Morn in "Worms of the Earth"


#15 daniel

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 11:25 AM

saurophiles of the world unite!
now, as for "were-woman" if this is the case what animal would atla be able to change to? a giant serpent? this would fit in a film perfectly! as for her locks, am i the only one thinking gorgons here? in grrek myths as told by writers and not spoken tradition, the gorgons were known to be very beautiful seconds before turning you to stone. with the romans as the representatives of classical hellenis in britain i' surprised nobody was onto this, including wagner.
anyway, to make atla unatractive on film would be an injustice to the story. it may be that the film would call for a novelisation but that is another matter


Those of us that are thinking the Worms may be descendants of the serpentmen are saying she would become a serpentwoman - just like the serpentmen in the Kull stories. If you haven't already, reading "The Shadow Kingdom" will explain it.

I'm not sure why making her unattractive on film would be an injustice to the story - I'm curious to hear your reasoning as this whole thread has been a pretty enlightening one.

if you mean my personal reasoning, it's fairly simple: the encounter between brn and atla is not described as 100% repellent. there are hints of atraction , as belabored as it is. howard is telling us that in a large sense bran and atla are the last of dying races. this may account for some drive behind their intercourse. howard actually placed an unnessecary hinderance on the story by not making atla fully attractive either with or without bran's agreement to this. on film, if i know "movie sense" nobody would fil bran without a love interest. the all-male adventure story is not digestible on film to the masses. see the rev iew of "the lost world" on "cold fusion reviews" to get my exact meaning.

so, with or without a love interest for bran on film to counter atla, she herself would have to be sufficiently attractive to serve as the feminine equivalent of bran.

i will have more to say about this. back after these messages:

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try "cthulhuside" guarranteed to destroy extra dimensional horrors in 10 minutes!

cthulhuside cthulhuside no more ticks on your shoggoth's hide!

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#16 deuce

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 02:37 PM

In my previous post, I forgot to mention the ancient mythological/folkloric trope of the "maiden-hag witch". She fools unwitting mortals with her captivating beauty, then reveals her true hideousness after her prey is doomed. Darrell Schweitzer used this to very good effect in his We Are All Legends. Some think the mythological Gorgons were a dim echo of a feminine cthonic/snake-worship cult.

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#17 Mikey_C

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 08:10 PM

I think she's what is termed a "brown paper bag job". :lol:
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#18 daniel

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 08:52 PM

I think she's what is termed a "brown paper bag job". :lol:

maybe a small black handbag after it all...... i donno really. howard wrothe her in such a way that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. her and nekari too. those howard heroes should live a little. wake up and smell the reptiles. there's a whole lotta lovin' in them lizards....

if only howard knew about raptors.........

#19 Kortoso

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 09:28 PM

Any chance she's got elves in her family tree?

#20 timeless

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 02:48 AM

I think Tim Conrad did a great job with his rendition of her in the Savage Sword version.

Bran made a definite sacrifice for her help.
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