Beyond the Black River

"Beyond the Black River" is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine, v. 25, nos. 5-6, May-June 1935. The story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967). It has more recently been published in the anthology The Mighty Swordsmen (Lancer Books, 1970), and the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005). It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan's battle against a savage tribe of Picts in the unsettled lands beyond the infamous Black River.

"Beyond the Black River"
Weird Tales May 1935
Cover of Weird Tales, May 1935.
Art by Margaret Brundage
AuthorRobert E. Howard
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesConan the Cimmerian
Genre(s)Fantasy
Published inWeird Tales
Publication typePulp magazine
PublisherRural Publishing
Publication dateMay 1935
Preceded by"Jewels of Gwahlur"
Followed by"Shadows in Zamboula"

Plot overview

The foreword to the story tells of Conan's journey to Punt with Muriela, a scam perpetrated against the worshippers of an ivory goddess, and then into Zembabwei, where he joins a trading caravan on their way towards Shem. Around 40 now, Conan visits Cimmeria and finds his old friends are now fathers. Bored, Conan sets off for the Bossonian Marches and becomes a scout at Fort Tuscelan on the Black River, at the western border of the newly conquered Aquilonian province of Conajohara.

A young settler named Balthus encounters Conan in the forest slaying a marsh devil. Accompanying the young man back to the Fort, Conan finds the corpse of a merchant left by a Pictish wizard named Zogar Sag and slain by a swamp demon. The fort's commander, Valannus, desperately asks Conan to slay Zogar Sag before he raises the Picts against the whole borderlands, especially since their fort is vastly undermanned after the Aquilonian king, Numedides, has foolishly decided to withdraw most of his army. Taking a hand picked team of scouts and Balthus, Conan sets off stealthily in canoes.

Hugh Rankin - Beyond the Black River
Illustration by Hugh Doak Rankin published in Weird Tales, 1935

Soon, Balthus is captured and most of Conan's men are slaughtered in an ambush. Balthus and one of the scouts are tied to stakes, while the scout is sacrificed by Zogar Sag to one of his jungle creatures. Before Balthus can meet a similar fate, Conan sets a Pictish village on fire and the two flee into the forest. Conan tells Balthus information on the cult of Jhebbal Sag, now forgotten by most. Once all living creatures worshipped him when men and beasts spoke the same language. Over time, both men and beasts forgot his worship. Zogar Sag has not, however, and can control those few animals and creatures who also remember, sending them on Conan's trail.

Conan is able to neutralize the creature using a symbol he once noticed, and the pair return to the Fort to warn everyone of an impending Pictish assault, but they are too late. The Picts have already surrounded the fort, and a fierce battle is going on. The number of Picts ensures that eventually the fort will be overwhelmed and the defenders slaughtered. The only thing left to do is warn the settlers to flee while the Picts are busy with the fort - otherwise they will be slaughtered, too.

The two soldiers go to warn everyone that an army of Picts have crossed the river and are about to attack. They are joined by Slasher, a feral dog formerly owned by a settler who had been slain by the Picts. Balthus is sent on to warn the settlers of an incoming raid, and Conan parts from him to aid a group of fishermen who had gone to gather salt. Balthus warns the women and children to leave their huts and flee. When a band of Picts arrive, who move quicker and might overtake the women, Balthus stays behind to cover their escape. Accompanied by Slasher, he makes a stand against the coming Pictish raiders, first shooting arrows from concealment and then in a furious face-to-face battle. Both Balthus and Slasher's sacrifice delays the Picts while giving the settlers time to reach safety. Conan manages to warn the salt-gathering party in time, but finds he has been marked for death by the gods of darkness for misusing the symbol of Jhebbal Sag, and is attacked by a demonic creature who tells him that it and Zogar Sag are of one blood. Conan triumphs against the creature, but the fort is lost, and so is the entire province.

The story ends in a tavern on the other side of Thunder River, the former boundary to the Pict Lands in Conajohara. A survivor tells Conan about the courageous act of Balthus and Slasher, and how their final stand had delayed the Picts just barely long enough for the settlers to reach safety. He also relates that in the midst of his victory at Fort Tuscellan, Zogar Sag was mysteriously struck dead, sporting the same kind of wounds Conan had inflicted on the swamp demon. Upon hearing of Balthus' and Slasher's demise, Conan vows to take the heads of ten Picts to pay for Balthus, along with seven heads for the dog, who was "a better warrior than many a man".

Adaptation

References

  1. ^ Ziemke, Mark. "The Sword are Gods of the Earth". Ground Control. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2012.

External links

Preceded by
"Jewels of Gwahlur"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Preceded by
"The Pool of the Black One"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Black Stranger"
Preceded by
Conan the Rogue
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"Moon of Blood"
Aquilonia (Conan)

Aquilonia is a fictional country created by Robert E. Howard for the fictional character Conan the Barbarian, who eventually becomes its king. The mythical country existed during the Hyborian Age. Howard was precise concerning the geographic relationships between his fictional world and the real world, placing it in modern France and southern Britain, but left the origins of Aquilonia vague. In the real world, it was an ancient battle, and a Roman city. See Aquilonia. Stygia (Egypt) was far to the south in the Hyborian age.

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 Rogue

Conan the Rogue is a fantasy novel written by John Maddox Roberts featuring Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. It was first published in trade paperback by Tor Books in November 1991; a regular paperback edition followed from the same publisher in August 1992, and was reprinted in January 1999.

Conan the Warrior

Conan the Warrior is a 1967 collection of three fantasy short stories by American writer Robert E. Howard, featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The collection is introduced and edited by L. Sprague de Camp. The stories originally appeared in the fantasy magazine Weird Tales in the 1930s. The book has been reprinted a number of times since by various publishers, and has also been translated into Japanese, German, French, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and Italian.

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".

King Conan

King Conan 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 1953. The stories originally appeared in the 1930s in the fantasy magazine Weird Tales. The collection never saw publication in paperback; instead, its component stories were split up and distributed among other "Conan" collections.

Chronologically, the five short stories collected as King Conan are the fourth in Gnome's Conan series; the novel Conan the Conqueror follows.

Moon of Blood

"Moon of Blood" 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 Bantam Books in the paperback collection Conan the Swordsman in August 1978. Later paperback editions of the collection were issued by Ace Books (1987 and 1991). The first hardcover edition was published by Tor Books in 2002. The book has also been translated into Italian. It was later gathered together with Conan the Liberator and Conan and the Spider God into the omnibus collection Sagas of Conan (Tor Books, 2004).

Red Nails (collection)

Red Nails is a 1977 collection of three fantasy short stories and one essay by American writer Robert E. Howard, featuring his sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. The collection was edited by Karl Edward Wagner. It was first published in hardcover by Berkley/Putnam in 1977, and in paperback by Berkley Books the same year. It was reprinted in hardcover for the Science Fiction Book Club, also in 1977, and combined with the Wagner-edited The Hour of the Dragon and The People of the Black Circle in the book club's omnibus edition The Essential Conan in 1998. The stories originally appeared in the fantasy magazine Weird Tales in the 1930s.

The pieces in Red Nails, in common with those in the other Conan volumes produced by Karl Edward Wagner for Berkley, are based on the originally published form, of the texts in preference to the edited versions appearing in the earlier Gnome Press and Lancer editions of the Conan stories. In contrast to the earlier editions, which included Conan tales by authors other than Howard, Wagner took a purist approach, including only stories by Howard, and only those thought to be in the public domain. His editorial comments dismiss editorial revisions made in the earlier editions.

Robert E. Howard

Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. He is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.

Howard was born and raised in Texas. He spent most of his life in the town of Cross Plains, with some time spent in nearby Brownwood. A bookish and intellectual child, he was also a fan of boxing and spent some time in his late teens bodybuilding, eventually taking up amateur boxing. From the age of nine he dreamed of becoming a writer of adventure fiction but did not have real success until he was 23. Thereafter, until his death by suicide at age 30, Howard's writings were published in a wide selection of magazines, journals, and newspapers, and he became proficient in several subgenres. His greatest success occurred after his death.

Although a Conan novel was nearly published in 1934, Howard's stories were never collected during his lifetime. The main outlet for his stories was Weird Tales, where Howard created Conan the Barbarian. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard helped fashion the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted.

Howard's suicide and the circumstances surrounding it have led to speculation about his mental health. His mother had been ill with tuberculosis his entire life, and upon learning she had entered a coma from which she was not expected to wake, he walked out to his car and shot himself in the head.

Savage Sword of Conan

The Savage Sword of Conan was a black-and-white magazine-format comic book series published beginning in 1974 by Curtis Magazines, an imprint of American company Marvel Comics, and then later by Marvel itself. Savage Sword of Conan starred Robert E. Howard's most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, and has the distinction of being the longest-surviving title of the short-lived Curtis imprint.

As a "magazine", Savage Sword of Conan did not have to conform to the Comics Code Authority, making it a publication of choice for many illustrators. It soon became one of the most popular comic series of the 1970s and is now considered a cult classic. Roy Thomas was the editor and primary writer for the series' first few years (until issue 60), which featured art by illustrators such as Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Pablo Marcos, and Walter Simonson. Painted covers were provided by such artists as Earl Norem, Bob Larkin, and Joe Jusko.

Savage Sword of Conan was published under the Curtis imprint until issue 60, when it became part of the Marvel Magazine Group. Stories from the comic were reprinted in the Marvel UK title of the same name. The original run of Savage Sword of Conan ran until issue #235 (July 1995).

Marvel Comics reacquired the publishing rights in 2018, and started a new run of Savage Sword of Conan beginning in February 2019.

Shadows in Zamboula

"Shadows in Zamboula" is one of the original stories by Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian, first published in Weird Tales in November 1935. Its original title was "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula".

The story takes place over the course of a night in the desert city of Zamboula, with political intrigue amidst streets filled with roaming cannibals. This story also introduced a fearsome strangler named Baal-Pteor, who one of the few humans in the Conan stories to be a physical challenge for the main character himself.

By present-day sensibilities, the story is seriously marred by including a vicious racial stereotype - blacks as cannibals - though Howard strove to lessen this by making it clear that the cannibals in Zamboula are only the specific blacks from Darfar, other blacks being untainted.

Shikari in Galveston

Shikari in Galveston is an alternate history short story written by S. M. Stirling. It is a prequel to The Peshawar Lancers.

The Black Stranger

"The Black Stranger" is one of the stories by American writer Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian. It was written in the 1930s, but not published in his lifetime. When the original Conan version of his story failed to find a publisher, Howard rewrote "The Black Stranger" into a piratical Terence Vulmea story entitled "Swords of the Red Brotherhood".

The original version of the story was later rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp into a different Conan story and published in Fantasy Magazine in February 1953. It was retitled "The Treasure of Tranicos" for book publication later the same year. Its first hardbound publication was in King Conan by Gnome Press, and its first paperback publication was in Conan the Usurper published by Lancer Books in 1967. It was republished together with an introduction and two non-fiction pieces on the story and on Howard by de Camp with illustrations by Esteban Maroto as The Treasure of Tranicos by Ace Books in 1980.

Howard's original version of the story was first published in 1987 in Echoes of Valor and more recently in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey Books, 2005).

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, 2

The Conan Chronicles: Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon 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 2001 by Gollancz as sixteenth 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 Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine and The Howard Collector.

The Conquering Sword of Conan

The Conquering Sword of Conan is the third of a three-volume set collecting the Conan the Barbarian stories by author Robert E. Howard. It was originally published in 2005, first in the United States by Ballantine/Del Rey under the present title and thereafter in 2009 by Wandering Star Books in the United Kingdom under the title Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935–1936). The Science Fiction Book Club subsequently reprinted the complete set in hardcover. The set presents the original, unedited versions of Howard's Conan tales. This volume includes short stories as well as such miscellanea as drafts, notes, and maps, and is illustrated by Greg Manchess.

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 Pool of the Black One

"The Pool of the Black One" is one of the original short stories starring the sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, and concerns Conan becoming the captain of a pirate vessel while encountering a remote island with a mysterious pool which has the power of transmutation.

First published in Weird Tales in October 1933, the story was republished in the collections The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952) and Conan the Adventurer (Lancer Books, 1966). It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

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