Greatest Ever Pulp Stories #4 – The People of the Black Circle

Weird_Tales_1934-09_-_The_People_of_the_Black_Circle

By: Robert E. Howard

Appeared in: Weird Tales (serialized) September, October, November, 1934

Character/Series: Conan

The king of Vendhya (the Hyborian Age equivalent of India/Pakistan) has been slain through foul sorcery. The neighboring kingdom of Turan has employed the Black Seers of Mount Yimsha to murder him and pave the way for their invasion of Vendhya.

Seeking vengeance on her brother’s murderers, the king’s sister Yasmina journeys to the province of Peshkari hoping to recruit the aid of Conan; a barbarian adventurer from the distant land of Cimmeria who has risen to a position of leadership amongst the wild Afguli hillmen. Before the offer can be put to him, Conan abducts Yasmina and rides off into the hills, aiming to ransom her for the lives of several of his tribesmen who languish in the dungeons at Peshkari.

Conan takes Yasmina to a village in the mountains but finds that the Afguli have turned on him. Forced to flee deeper into the mountains, Conan and Yasmina draw perilously close to Mount Yimsha and its dreaded sorcerers of the Black Circle.

conan 2

Illustration by Gary Gianni

More complex than the average Conan story, People of the Black Circle easily makes the top five stories of most Conan fans. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Conan yarn; an exotic setting, plenty of sorcery, an evil cult and a battle with a giant serpent. What makes it stand out is the large cast of characters and their conflicting interests but also the female lead. Howard’s writing is often criticised for being a little on the sexist side with most of his female characters falling into one of two camps; 1. the bratty, spoilt princess who finds herself in the wilderness and in need of Conan’s help or 2. the busty, tough-as-nails warrior woman who proves a match for Conan (this ‘Red Sonja’ type has become a staple of the genre in more recent decades). The Devi Yasmina refreshingly falls somewhere in the middle of these two categories. She is a princess but is strong-willed, takes no crap and the story is more or less based on her wish for revenge. She seeks Conan out.

conanConan has joined the company of Tarzan and Zorro as one of the few pulp heroes who have really stood the test of time. There were two Conan movies in the 1980s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and a more recent version with Jason Momoa as the mighty-thewed Cimmerian, but Conan fans have yet to see one of Robert E. Howard’s original stories on the big screen.

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