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  • Greg O'Driscoll

When Conan was also Kothar

CTB #48

Cover of Conan the Barbarian #47 from Marvel Comics - "Rampage at Ravengard!"

Looks like another Kane cover, layout/pencils at least. A blurb notifies us of "the return of Red Sonja" and another announces "Rampage at Ravengard!" Roy Thomas is writer/editor, John Buscema does pencils and Giordano and Adkins inked it. Freely adapted from someone else this time. Instead of repurposing yet another of REH's non-Conan adventures Thomas "freely adapted" Kothar and the Conjuror's Curse by Gardner F. Fox.

Picking up from the previous issue, Conan rides along with a half-dressed woman clinging to him, the dead body of a wizard being pulled behind his horse on a travois. Having not read the Kothar novel this story is based upon, a reasonable guess is that the "conjuror's curse" involves protecting his dead body and transporting it to some specific place of burial. As they ride along, Conan satisfies the woman's curiosity about his youth back in Cimmeria, which seems out of character except for his usual one off comments about being born on a battlefield.

Sent out upon a manhood ritual of some kind to survive in the Cimmerian wilderness, the fifteen year old Conan (true to his nature) heads off into some shunned, forbidden area. He meets and hooks up with a beautiful woods witch that controls polar bears. The Conan story ends a trifle abruptly and on a cliffhanger to boot, but that is probably to make room for the Red Sonja backup titled Episode. That final splash page of Conan is a pretty good one!

Conan is left staked out for the hungry rats to nibble upon in a cool cliffhanger.

Sonja travels through Darkwood, a dense forest in Nemedia rumored to be thick with evil wizards and other nasty things. Trapped in the web of a giant spider, Sonja is pulled free by two Kushite warriors and brought to a hidden castle before she can be wrapped up and devoured like her horse. The master of the mysterious castle wants to sacrifice Sonja to appease the evil gods he worships. This is pretty by the numbers sword and sorcery stuff.

The little details are what keep things from being completely cliche. The decrepit wizard actually refers to his evil gods as "Those of the Unpronounceable Names whom I do serve!" which is a dig at all the evil beings with swirled up alphabet soup for names; Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, etc. Another wrinkle is the revelation that the wizard's gods "have both male and female in them" and so require two sacrifices, a man and a woman.

It's a small thing but notable if only because, however inhuman and alien they were/are/will one day be again, the pantheon of the Cthulhu Mythos is pretty aggressively gendered. Cthulhu and Tsathoggua are presented as male, the fathers of "spawn", whereas Shub-Niggurath the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young is female and a mother.

Not that any of it matters. Red Sonja gets free and kills the wizard before any gods with weird names can be summoned. She soon discovers the intended male sacrifice is just as untrustworthy as the wizard and has to kill him in a final surprise that isn't terribly surprising.

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