"A Witch Shall Be Born" is one of the original novellas by Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian. It was written in only a few days in spring of 1934 and first published in Weird Tales in December 1934. A book edition was published in 1975 by Donald M. Grant, Publisher with illustrations by Alicia Austin.
The story concerns a witch replacing her twin sister as queen of a city state, which brings her into conflict with Conan who had been the captain of the queen's guard. Themes of paranoia, and the duality of the twin sisters, are paramount in this story but it also includes elements of the conflict between barbarism and civilization that is common to the entire Conan series. The novella as a whole is considered an average example of the series, but one scene stands out. Conan's crucifixion early on in the story during the second chapter ("The Tree of Death") is considered one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series. A variation of this scene was included in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
|"A Witch Shall Be Born"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Published in||Weird Tales|
|Publisher||Rural Publishing Corporation|
|Media type||Pulp magazine|
|Publication date||December 1934|
|Preceded by||"The People of the Black Circle"|
|Followed by||"Jewels of Gwahlur"|
Queen Taramis of Khauran awakens one day to find her identical twin sister, Salome, staring at her in the face. As an infant, Salome was deemed a witch due to a crescent-shaped birthmark on her chest. This birthmark was believed to be a sign of evil, so she was left in the desert to die. However, a magician from Khitai (China) found Salome, brought her up, and instructed her in the art of sorcery.
Salome has conspired with a voivode named Constantius, also known as "The Falcon", the Kothic leader for an army of Shemitish mercenaries, to take over the city of Khauran. Queen Taramis is sent to the palace dungeon, with the implications of torture and rape. Salome assumes Taramis' identity as the queen of Khauran and names Constantius as her royal consort. The Khaurani army is disbanded and replaced by Constantius' Shemitish mercenaries, an event which turns violent when the captain of the queen's guard, Conan the Cimmerian, refuses to obey Salome's order.
After putting his back against a wall while killing a number of Constantius' warriors, Conan is finally captured and crucified for his defiance. Olgerd Vladislav, the Zaporoskan leader of a band of Zuagir desert raiders, is riding by with his scouting party and discovers a crucified Conan miles from the city walls. Vladislav doesn't entirely help Conan. He has the base of the cross cut, leaving it to fate and Conan's hardiness that he isn't crushed by the heavy wood. Vladislav then refuses to give Conan any water, claiming the Cimmerian must wait until after a ten-mile trek towards their outlaw camp to prove himself worthy of his band.
In Khauran, Salome's reign as "Taramis" has plunged the city into ruin. Citizens are killed, tortured, or sold as slaves; heavy taxes are imposed; and women are frequently debauched by the Shemites. Salome desecrate the temple of Ishtar in the center of her city and summons a demon, Thaug, to live inside it. Soon, the citizens of Khauran are routinely sacrificed to Thaug.
Conan has been expanding the numbers of Zuagirs as Vladislav's lieutenant, while also secretly establishing communication with the Khaurani Knights who had become refugees. When he has a sufficient force, Conan deposes Vladislav's leadership of the Zuagirs, but doesn't kill him in repayment for Vladislav having saved his life from the cross. Conan fakes the construction of siege engines with palm trees and painted silk. Soon, Constantius is fooled by this as his scouts cannot get close enough to see them properly and Conan is known for his experience in all manner of warfare. The Shemitish mercenaries ride out of their city for an open-field battle, with Constantius expecting only the lightly armed Zuagirs, but are taken by surprise by the Khaurani cavalry hidden amongst them. Conan's forces are victorious, ruthlessly taking no prisoners. The Zuagirs, Semite nomads, are hereditary enemies of the Western Semite city dwellers from whom Constantius' mercenaries were drawn, while the Khaurani exiles are full of bitterness over the Semites' oppression of their city; neither are inclined to be merciful to their defeated enemies.
Meanwhile, Valerius, a former member of the Khaurani army, has discovered the secret of Salome's masquerade, and the fact that Salome is holding the real Taramis within her dungeon. With Conan's forces approaching Khauran, Valerius plans to rescue Taramis and reveal the conspiracy to his people or to escape with the true queen. Conan's victory is not certain to the Khauranis and they are nervous about his intentions if he does take Khauran. When it becomes apparent that Conan has defeated Constantius' Shemites, Salome decides to kill Taramis before his army can reclaim the city. She thwarts Valerius' rescue attempt and sends Taramis to the former temple of Ishtar to sacrifice her to Thaug. Valerius saves Taramis and kills Salome, but not before she unleashes Thaug. Conan arrives with his Khaurani allies and some Zuagir warriors, who kill the demon with two flights of arrows.
Soon, Taramis offers to make Conan her royal councillor and captain. However, he declines the queen's offer and nominates Valerius instead. Conan, as chief of the Zuagirs, drives away the remaining Shemites (capturing Constantius in the process) and leaves to raid the nearby kingdom of Turan. Before leaving Khauran, he nails Constantius by the stump of the crucifix from which he escaped, commenting with irony to a crucified Constantius the difference between their respective situations: "I hung there on a cross as you are hanging, and I lived, thanks to circumstances and a stamina peculiar to barbarians. But you civilized men are soft; your lives are not nailed to your spines as are ours. Your fortitude consists mainly in inflicting torment, not in enduring it. You will be dead before sundown. And so, Falcon, I leave you to the companionship of another bird of the desert."
Salome's words at the beginning - "'Every century a witch shall be born.' So ran the ancient curse. And so it has come to pass. Each was named Salome. I too am Salome. It was always Salome, the witch. It will always be Salome, the witch, even when the mountains of ice have roared down from the pole and ground the civilizations to ruin, and a new world has risen from the ashes and dust—even then there shall be Salomes to walk the earth, to trap men's hearts by their sorcery, to dance before the kings of the world, and see the heads of the wise men fall at their pleasure" - clearly imply that the witch Salome of this story is an earlier incarnation of the notorious Salome of the New Testament, who instigated the beheading of John the Baptist.
A theme of paranoia runs through the story. Howard uses a theme common to his works in having evil hide behind innocent features. Similarly, Vladislav is unaware of Conan's plans until it's too late. Of all the characters, only Conan is aware of all the facts. The twin sisters, Taramis and Salome, are an instance of Howard's interest in siblings and the theme of duality, which appeared in several other works.
Howard may have been experimenting with style in this novella, leaving behind any standard pulp formula. Conan dominates the story, but he is only actually present in two chapters. The narrative instead builds the plot by following others, such as Valerius, Salome, and a wandering savant named Astreas.
Louinet suggests that Conan becomes figuratively immortal and superhuman following his crucifixion: "How can anybody kill a character—literarily or literally—who can survive such a scene as that one?"
The supernatural elements of the story are minor and may only have been included to justify publication in Weird Tales. The demon Thaug is similar to that in Howard's unfinished novel Almuric, which he had abandoned only a few months before starting this story. The quick reveal and defeat of the demon may indicate that Howard was embarrassed by its inclusion.
The ongoing theme of Barbarism vs. Civilization, which pervades the entire Conan series, is present in this story in two crucifixions. Conan is able to endure and survive his crucifixion, as well as the subsequent journey without water, thanks to his barbarian stamina. When Constantius is finally crucified, Conan states "You are more fit to inflict torture than endure it. ...You civilized men are soft; your lives are not nailed to your spines as ours."
This story was written in late May or early June 1934. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, was running out of Conan stories which were growing in popularity and attracting new readers to the magazine. Howard had recently finished the Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon, which was not intended for publication in Weird Tales and the story previous to that, "The People of the Black Circle" was already scheduled for August. He finished "A Witch Shall Be Born" in only two drafts over a period of days in order to meet this deadline. Wright accepted it without hesitation, telling Howard it was his best Conan story to date, and made it the cover story for the December issue.
Howard scholar Patrice Louinet refers to this as a rather forgettable Conan story but one that contains the most memorable scene of the entire series: Conan's crucifixion at the hands of Constantius. He goes on to say that, while of average quality, it "exudes Howard's confidence in his creation."
Robert Weinberg concurs, mentioning the "best scene in the entire Conan series" but comments that the remainder of the story in only average. Of the crucifixion, Weinberg writes, "Only Howard could have given the scene life." He states that this scene, the "blood and passion", is an indicator of why Howard is better than any of his imitators. The violence is "graphic and elemental" while the torture "barbaric, primitive and real" not allowing the hero a chance to escape. Instead, Conan survives by sheer endurance, even killing an overeager vulture with his teeth. The passion in the text and strength of the prose suspends disbelief in Conan's survival on the cross. However, Weinberg criticizes the fact that much of the action takes place offstage, for instance, being related to the reader through a letter from the otherwise unseen Astreas or through a priest communicating with Salome.
On the same subject, Rev. Austin Spencer noted  that: "The Crucifixion of Jesus has left a deep mark on all members of Western culture, regardless of whether or not one be a Christian believer. Robert E. Howard is certainly no exception. (...) When I was preparing the present volume, a colleague drew my attention to A Witch Shall be Born. I was both impressed and appalled by Howard's achievement - creating a full-fledged Pagan counterpart and total antithesis to the New Testament account.(...) The crucified Conan does not feel forsaken by his god, Crom. This god, Crom, offers neither physical deliverance not spiritual solace - he merely endows Cimmerians with enormous strength and tenacity to fight. Conan, killing a vulture with his teeth while pinioned to the cross, is a true votary of his savage god. There are no thieves crucified at Conan's side - the thieves remove him from the cross in exchange for his joining their thievery. (...) Conan does not forgive his enemies, and certainly does not ask Crom to do so; he takes direct and ruthless revenge. For Conan, the rule is simple and straightforward - "Crucify Or Be Crucified". (...) One need not take literally the grim tribal god on his mountain to recognize in today's America the votaries and prophets of Crom, who would take spiritual guidance from the Crucifixion of Conan rather than the Crucifixion of Jesus".
The story was first published in the December 1934 issue of Weird Tales. The first reprint followed in 1949, when the story was published in the digest anthology Avon Fantasy Reader #10. The novella was the cover story and main feature of both publications.
A version of the story that was edited and altered by L. Sprague de Camp appeared in the collection Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954). This was reprinted several times, including the collection Conan the Freebooter (Lancer Books, 1968). It was first published by itself in book form by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., titled A Witch Shall Be Born, in 1975, which did not use the de Camp version.
The novella has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), The Bloody Crown of Conan (Del Rey, 2005). It was selected by John Clute as part of the Penguin Modern Classics collection Heroes in the Wind (Penguin Books, 2009). All versions used pure-Howard texts with de Camp's alterations excised.
The story was adapted for comic books by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in Savage Sword of Conan #5 (1975). The crucifixion scene was adapted for the first Conan film, Conan the Barbarian (1982). The original script for the film, written by Oliver Stone, was based on this novella and another Conan story, "Black Colossus", and re-set in a post-apocalyptic future. When John Milius took over directing the film, he had the script changed but retained the crucifixion scene, described by Kenneth Von Gunden as "Howard's quintessential Conan scene: the mighty Cimmerian, hanging on a cross, nails driven through his hands and feet, tearing out the throat of a vulture which comes to peck out his eyes."
The name "Queen Taramis" was also used in the second Conan movie, Conan the Destroyer (1984), played by actress Sarah Douglas. The mark of Salome also appears in this film, with the character Jehnna, but it is not used in the same way.
The Czech death metal band Animal Hate released the album ...A Witch Shall Be Born in 2008 based on this story.
"The People of the Black Circle"
| Original Howard Canon
"Jewels of Gwahlur"
"The Slithering Shadow"
| Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
"The Devil in Iron"
The People of the Black Circle
| Grant Conan series
The Tower of the Elephant
"The Road of the Eagles"
| Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
"Black Tears" is a short story by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, featuring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian created by Robert E. Howard. It was first published by Lancer Books in the paperback collection Conan the Wanderer (1968), which was reprinted several times, first by Lancer and later by Ace Books through 1982. It has since been published by Orbit Books in the omnibus paperback collection The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990).Conan chronologies
This article covers some of the major Conan chronologies that have been advanced over the years. From the 1930s onward a number of fans and scholars have attempted to create a chronological timeline into which the numerous Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard and later writers could be placed.
Going beyond a simple fan activity, these efforts have had a significant impact on the development of the popular conception of the character of Conan as well as economic consequences on the Conan franchise. As Paolo Bertetti observes, the focus on the creation of a character chronology outside of the work of the original author begins a "process that tends to transform the character into a social object of inter-individual construction and public debate, rendering it independent of texts in which it was born," and in the case of Conan, this has led to the exploitation of the character for commercial reasons and perhaps encouraged and justified the proliferation of pastiche stories and novels over the years.A number of factors have prevented the establishment of a consensus on order of the Conan stories, most notably the fact that Howard himself apparently had little more than a general idea of the character's career path and intentionally wrote the stories out of chronological sequence.
Clearly, the stories where Conan is a thief are at the early part of his career and those of King Conan – at the later part. But the middle part – the various tales of his being a pirate, brigand, and mercenary at various locations around the world – are more difficult to arrange in a neat order. While the earliest (Miller/Clark) timeline had at least partial endorsement from Howard, the addition of stories discovered and published after Howard's death in 1936 are more difficult to place. Fragments and synopses that were never completed are even more problematic and some contain what appear to be internal inconsistencies.Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Barbarian (also known as Conan the Cimmerian) is a fictional sword and sorcery hero who originated in pulp fiction magazines and has since been adapted to books, comics, several films (including Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer), television programs (cartoon and live-action), video games, role-playing games, and other media. The character was created by writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales magazine.Conan the Barbarian (1955 collection)
Conan the Barbarian is a collection of five fantasy short stories by American writer Robert E. Howard, featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian, first published in hardcover by Gnome Press in 1955. The stories originally appeared in the 1930s in the fantasy magazine Weird Tales. This collection never saw publication in paperback; instead, its component stories were split up and distributed among other "Conan" collections. A later collection with the same title but different contents was issued in paperback by Del Rey/Ballantine Books in 2011.Chronologically, the five short stories collected as Conan the Barbarian are the second in Gnome's Conan series; the stories collected as The Sword of Conan follow.Conan the Freebooter
Conan the Freebooter is a 1968 collection of five fantasy short stories by American writers Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, featuring Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. Most of the stories originally appeared in the fantasy magazine Weird Tales in the 1930s. The book has been reprinted a number of times by various publishers, and has also been translated into German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Italian, and Japanese. It was later gathered together with Conan and Conan of Cimmeria into the omnibus collection The Conan Chronicles (1989).Conan the Mercenary
Conan the Mercenary is a fantasy novel written by American writer Andrew J. Offutt and illustrated by Esteban Maroto featuring Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian, the second volume in a trilogy beginning with Conan and the Sorcerer and concluding with The Sword of Skelos. It was first published in paperback by Ace Books in 1980, with an official publication date of January 1981. Ace reprinted the novel in April 1983, and issued a trade paperback edition in 1985. The first British edition was published by Sphere Books in July 1989.Conan the Wanderer
Conan the Wanderer is a 1968 collection of four fantasy short stories by American writers Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, featuring Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. Most of the stories were originally published in various fantasy magazines. The book has been reprinted a number of times since by various publishers, and has also been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish and Italian. It was later gathered together with Conan the Adventurer and Conan the Buccaneer into the omnibus collection The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990).Jewels of Gwahlur
"Jewels of Gwahlur" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, it concerns several parties, including Conan, fighting over and hunting for the eponymous treasure in Hyborian Africa. The tale was first published in the March, 1935 issue of Weird Tales. Howard's original title for the story was "The Servants of Bit-Yakin".Queen Taramis
Queen Taramis is a character in the Conan the Barbarian universe, featured in the novella A Witch Shall Be Born. She is an Askhauri from Khauran in the Hyborian era.The Bloody Crown of Conan
The Bloody Crown of Conan is the second of a three-volume set collecting the Conan stories by author Robert E. Howard. It was originally published in 2004, first in the United Kingdom by Wandering Star Books, under the title Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Two (1934), and then in the United States by Ballantine/Del Rey under the present title in 2005. The Science Fiction Book Club subsequently reprinted the complete set in hardcover. The set is noted for presenting the original, unedited versions of Howard's Conan tales. This volume includes three short novels (two of which had never before been released in their original form) as well as miscellanea for Howard fans and enthusiasts (e.g., drafts, notes, maps, etc.), and is illustrated by artist Gary Gianni.The Complete Chronicles of Conan
The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition is a collection of fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The book was published in 2006 by Gollancz and is an omnibus of their earlier collections The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle and The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon, though the stories are rearranged. The collection is edited by Stephen Jones and was issued to celebrate the centenary of Howard's birth. Most of the stories originally appeared in the magazines The Phantagraph, Weird Tales, Super-Science Fiction, Magazine of Horror, Fantasy Fiction, Fantasy Magazine and The Howard Collector.The Conan Chronicles
The Conan Chronicles is a 1989 omnibus collection of three fantasy collections by American writers Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, featuring Howard's seminal sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian, published by Sphere Books. The component collections had originally been published by Lancer Books in 1967, 1968 and 1969, and later reissued by Ace Books. The omnibus collection was followed by The Conan Chronicles 2.The Conan Chronicles, 1
The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle is a collection of fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The book was published in 2000 by Gollancz as eighth volume of their Fantasy Masterworks series. The book, edited by Stephen Jones, presents the stories in their internal chronological order. Most of the stories originally appeared in the magazines The Phantagraph, Weird Tales, Super-Science Fiction, Magazine of Horror and Fantasy Fiction.The Devil in Iron
"The Devil in Iron" is one of the original stories by Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian, first published in Weird Tales in August 1934. Howard earned $115 for the publication of this story.The plot concerns the resurrection of a mythical demon due to the theft of a sacred dagger, and an unrelated trap that lures Conan to the island fortress roamed by the demon. Due to its plot loopholes and borrowed elements from "Iron Shadows in the Moon", some Howard scholars claim this story is the weakest of the early Conan tales.The Essential Conan
The Essential Conan is a collection of fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The book was published in 1998 by the Science Fiction Book Club. It collects the editions of the Conan books, edited by Karl Edward Wagner and published by Berkley Books in 1977. Most of the stories originally appeared in the magazines Weird Tales, The Phantagraph and The Howard Collector. The Wagner editions were the first to virtually reproduce Howard's original stories without any editorial changes other than typo fixes.The Flame Knife
The Flame Knife is a 1955 fantasy novella by American writers Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, featuring Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. It was revised by de Camp from Howard's original story, a then-unpublished oriental tale featuring Francis X. Gordon titled "Three-Bladed Doom". De Camp changed the names of the characters, added the fantastic element, and recast the setting into Howard's Hyborian Age. The story was first published in the hardbound collection Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955), and subsequently appeared in the paperback collection Conan the Wanderer (Lancer Books, 1968), as part of which it has been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch and Italian. It was published by itself in paperback book form by Ace Books in 1981, in an edition profusely illustrated by Esteban Maroto.The People of the Black Circle
"The People of the Black Circle" is one of the original novellas about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine in three parts over the September, October and November 1934 issues. Howard earned $250 for the publication of this story.It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan kidnapping an exotic princess from Vendhya (prehistoric India), while foiling a nefarious plot of world conquest by the Black Seers of Yimsha. Due to its epic scope and atypical Hindustan flavor, the story is considered an undisputed classic of Conan lore and is often cited by Howard scholars as one of his best tales. It is also one of the few Howard stories where the reader is treated a deeper insight on magic and magicians beyond the stereotypical Hyborian depiction as demon conjurer-illusionist-priests.The Road of the Eagles
The Road of the Eagles (a.k.a. Conan, Man of Destiny) is a 1955 Conan the Barbarian novelette by L. Sprague de Camp based on a story by Robert E. Howard, by the same name. It is usually credited to Howard and de Camp.The Tower of the Elephant (collection)
The Tower of the Elephant is a 1975 collection of two fantasy short stories written by Robert E. Howard featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The book was published in 1975 by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. as the third volume of their deluxe Conan set. The title story originally appeared in the magazine Weird Tales. "The God in the Bowl" is the original version of the story that first appeared, edited by L. Sprague de Camp, in the magazine Space Science Fiction.