I had asked former member of REHupa, Richard Toogood, to provide me with some information on L. Sprague de Camp’s Conan and the Spider God. He did one better, he wrote this essay on the novel and risked his health and mental sanity rereading the novel I may add.
Or A Cimmerian Idiot in the De Camps’ Court
In the wake of reading CONAN AND THE SPIDER GOD precious few words now seem qualified to convey just how atrocious this utterly wretched excuse for a novel really is. But words are what you’ve asked me for and so words are what I must somehow endeavour to supply you. But I fear no commentary of mine will be half so successful in furnishing the rope to hang it by than the book’s own turgid prose.
The whole miserable enterprise gets under way with Conan soldiering in the army of Turan. Before anyone gets the idea though that this is some sort of career move engineered to provide Conan with the sort of dangerous daring do in which he excels, de Camp is quick to set us straight on this score. The limit of this Conan’s ambition, his “heart’s desire” indeed, is “duty with the palace guard” where he might “have aught to do but swagger about in well-polished armour and ogle the ladies”. Gosh, what a barbarian. Anyway, eventually even this arduous activity begins to pale for him and so he strikes up a dalliance with a woman called Narkia, the mistress of his commanding officer. He does this not out of any sense of lustful abandon you understand, goodness me no, but simply for the “boyish thrill of stealing his commander’s girl”. In the course of one illicit liaison though the said commander, a Captain Orkhan, bursts in on them, at which Narkia immediately cries “rape” in that hoary old ploy of self-preservation; this despite the fact that Conan is lounging in a chair at the time with his hands behind his head in an altogether unpredatory manner. Orkhan dutifully attacks him nevertheless; though we’re not given time to appreciate whether this is out of gullibility or wounded pride. Conan’s actions in the ensuing fight are even harder to fathom. He enters into it urging Orkhan to stop owing to the fact that he and Narkia haven’t done anything – and true to his customary puritanical primness de Camp ensures that they actually haven’t- but when he wounds the man and has a chance to end the fight peaceably he elects to polish him off instead. For her part, Narkia receives only a playful slap on the rump for her duplicity rather than the dunking in the cesspit that is the real Conan’s usual revenge on faithless women.
Orkhan though had powerful family connections, his father Tughril is a high priest of Erlik no less, and so Conan finds it prudent to desert and flee the city. He strikes north through the dreary Marshes of Mehar which border the Vilayet Sea. This, we are obligingly advised, is the habitat of the Swamp Cat, a most dangerous predator although “Conan had never met anyone who claimed to have seen such a creature”. Blow me down then if this rarest of beasts doesn’t only go and turn up one page later. This is but the first in a whole catalogue of plot developments which couldn’t be any more obviously prefigured even if de Camp had strung a line of telegraph poles across Hyboria.
Conan encounters the beast just as it has a group of Zamorians trapped upon a hillock. The scene is set for a savage primordial battle, a crimson clash of iron and talon, and if this was a Howard story then that is doubtless what we would get. But this is DeCampland, a far more tepid literary habitat and one, moreover, with its environmentalist credentials all present and accounted for.
So after Conan does a comedy pratfall from his saddle, thereby demonstrating his uselessness as a horseman to set by his failures both as a soldier and a lothario, he sends the Swamp Cat on its way by singeing its whiskers with a flaming faggot. But don’t worry children, it’s not really hurt.
The Zamorians are suitably grateful for this awesome display of barbarian vigour and so they invite Conan to share their camp where he further wows them by doing a musical routine in the language of the Aesir:
“Forsooth,” he said,”this thing is not unlike the harps of my native land.” In a deep bass, he launched into a song: “We’re born with sword and axe in hand, For men of the North are we. . .”‘
But it isn’t all choruses and conservation though; de Camp’s Conan might have the intellect of a mollusc but even he can see that there’s something fishy about these Zamorians. Amongst their number is a woman, and although she spends much of the evening closeted in her tent she does make one brief appearance from which our Cimmerian Sherlock is able to deduce that she is high born, being clad in “garments more suitable for a lordly Hyrkanian’s harem than for travel in the wilderness”, to say nothing of having a jewel the size of a duck’s egg slung about her neck. It is evident also that she appears to be labouring under some sort of malign influence. The source of this becomes readily apparent when Harpagus, the leader of the Zamorians, dispatches her back to her tent with a nifty exhibition of hypnotism. The significance of this though is completely lost on our gormless hero who subsequently allows himself to be hypnotised also and then robbed of both his gold and his horse.
As luck would have it though, Conan just happens to know a half blind seer called Kushad who’s up on all this eastern mummery and, wouldn’t you know it, he only lives a mere four days walk away in Sultanapur. Kushad, a wise even tempered and erudite scholar with a white beard (goodness, who on earth could he be modelled on?), is naturally only too happy to provide a sanctuary for his old friend. Especially as he entertains hopes of Conan providing a husband for his nubile daughter Tahmina, provided he first “gave up his wild, headstrong ways, got on the right side of the law, and settled down in Sultanapur to wait for the child to reach a marriageable age” of course.
It is from Kushad that Conan learns that Jamilah, the favourite wife of King Yildiz of Turan, has been abducted and Iâ€˜m gratified to be able to report that this is one equation that even our mathematically challenged hero can get his head around. To his credit though de Camp’s Conan does profess to being more concerned with getting his horse back or, failing that, wreaking revenge but he doesn’t dismiss the idea of rescuing Jamilah out of hand. Although he’s so timid about the risks involved that one can almost imagine him demanding a health and safety assessment first.
Anyway, after undergoing a crash course in mental discipline to help him withstand any further attempt at hypnotism, and with a fresh horse conveniently supplied by Kushad’s gold Conan sets off on his quest.
Courtesy of a handy demonstration of remote viewing by Kushad, Conan now knows that the men he seeks are heading for their native Zamora and so that’s where he heads also. But, unfortunately, even crossing a sparsely guarded border undetected proves quite beyond the capabilities of our intrepid hero. No sooner has he bedded himself down for the night than he is taken unawares by a squad of Turanian soldiers who have managed to sneak up on him undetected, horses and all, and who overpower him with very little effort. This is just one in a whole series of slanders that the book perpetrates on Conan’s superior senses. The Turanians take Conan to a nearby border post but once there they can’t actually bring themselves to believe that the man they’ve caught really is the renegade Captain Conan that they’re after and so they simply release him. As one of them puts it;
“Conan is said to have such keen senses and mighty strength that he could not so easily have been taken alive.”‘
On the evidence dished up so far any Howard fan will find their incredulity all too easy to sympathise with.
Back on his way again Conan subsequently arrives in Shadizar the Wicked, although why he comes here of all places isn’t readily apparent. Certainly it is something which seems designed to serve the arbitrary demands of the plot rather than any sense of logic or credibility. Be that as it may, in an old haunt from his thieving days he gets chatting with a despondent migrant from Yezud, the city of the priests of Zath the spider god. It seems that strange doings are afoot in Yezud with the priests now hiring only foreigners as temple guards. When Conan also learns that a Turanian agent called Parvez is in Shadizar making enquiries after him, all thoughts of rescues and vengeances are conveniently jettisoned and he scarpers sharpish like a frightened jackrabbit. And with the entire Hyborian world to choose from, where do you think he makes for? Blimey, how did you work that out?
But before he gets to Yezud though he does interrupt his journey just long enough to save a witch called Nyssa from being burnt at the stake. Again no readily plausible explanation is forthcoming about why he should choose to do this apart from the rather limp contention that “the protection of women, regardless of age, form, or station, was one of the few imperatives of his barbarian code”. The most risible aspect of this sorry episode comes though when Conan struggles to outdistance the pursuing pack of pitchfork wielding yokels and has to be saved by the witch casting a glamour spell of illusion. Memories of “The Black Stranger” and of a limping Conan outrunning a Pictish war-party can seldom have seemed more remote. Anyway, having served the onerous demands of de Camp’s plot by supplying Conan with a powder of forgetfulness in gratitude for his help, Nyssa obligingly dies leaving our hero free to continue his journey.
When he eventually gets to Yezud though, he is disconcerted to discover that he is too late and that all the temple guard vacancies have been filled by a free company of Brythunians under the command of one Captain Catigern. Undeterred he arranges a job interview with the vicar of the temple of Zath and- strike me down with a feather- this only turns out to be that old rascal Harpagus, doesn’t it. Conan might have done his utmost to escape the demands of the plot for the last couple of chapters but authorial artifice and a contrived narrative have worked to ensure that it has well and truly caught up with him again. Amazingly however, even though he had stared into his face whilst hypnotising him Harpagus fails to recognise Conan, apparently this is because Conan had been wearing a turban the last time they met. Yes, really. By this stage such lamentable instances of lazy slip-shod storytelling fail to surprise one much and recording them begins to assume a sort of perverse pleasure instead.
With there being no jobs for guards Harpagus offers Conan the post of an accounts clerk of all things. Sadly Conan has to decline this hilariously bourgeois conceit of de Camp’s on account of the fact that he “cannot add a column of numbers twice and arrive at the same sum”. Fortunately there is also a need for a blacksmith and this is something that Conan can do. So after pausing to discuss wages, which might have made for an amusing conversation in light of Conan’s tactless admission, the Cimmerian settles down to good honest toil at his forge.
Yezud is something of a curious creation. On the one hand it satisfies all the worst criteria of de Camp’s po-faced Puritanism: “for those who dwell in holy Yezud, there shall be no drinking of fermented liquors, no gambling, and no fornication”. But on the other the rites of the cult of Zath come across like a spiteful parody of the Catholic Mass with the priests lampooned as sanctimonious hypocrites. Neither has any place in a Conan story and their presence here only serves to cast de Camp’s prissy sanctimony in a contemptible light.
In reading about the rites of Zath also it is hard not to be reminded of the Cult of Doom from the first movie. Like most people, I guess, I’ve always regarded such as Stone’s bitter commentary on the Vietnam stay-at-homes and the flower power movement, but it’s possible to argue a certain cribbing of the idea from here too.
Despite de Camp persisting in the impression that he’d really much rather be writing about Solomon Kane (and it remains a mystery to me why he never tried) Conan just isn’t a character that you can pen for any length of time in such a sterile environment, and so before long de Camp grudgingly despatches him to the woefully tame bawdy house outside the city. There he quickly gets in a fight with the drunken Captain Catigern over the resident whore, or as de Camp prissily describes her “public woman”. This Conan though is such an incompetent swordsman that it’s all he can do to hold his own against the almost paralytic Brythunian. But after one of de Camp’s customary lectures on the virtues and shortfalls of the broadsword as opposed to the scimitar, Fate intervenes when a shadowy figure suddenly tries to knife Catigern in the back. Conan however harbours unbarbaric scruples about winning fights in such a manner (even though on the evidence provided so far it’s difficult to imagine how he could ever hope to win one any other way) and so he shouts a warning to Catigern who despatches the would be assassin with the sort of alacrity one wishes Conan would begin to demonstrate at some point.
Fortunately, for the purposes of exposition, the dead assailant thoughtfully provides a scroll explaining his action which a handy Stygian scholar called Psamitek is present to interpret. It turns out that Tughril, the high priest of Erlik and father of the dead Orkhan (remember him? One should really as we’re eighty pages in at this point and so far he is the only person Conan has succeeded in killing) has put a price of ten thousand pieces of gold on Conan’s head. Which seems just a tad excessive to me and would surely have succeeded in putting every cut-throat from Zingara to Vendhya on Conan’s trail if true and not just a single rat-faced Zamorian? But as Conan is now cunningly going under the name of Nial this information seems to shed no light on the incident, at least insofar as the rather dim company of characters present are concerned. Conan though does come out of it all with a new best friend in the form of the grateful Catigern.
Soon afterwards he’s bagged himself a girlfriend too in the curvy shape of the temple dancer Rudabeh. Rudabeh is de Camp’s rather quaint ideal of respectable young womanhood, virginal naturally but also “clean, healthy, and regular-featured”. As well as being a sum of statistics though she’s also a mine of information on the workings of the temple. Before you can say “Yara had an elephant” she’s blathering on and on about reservoirs of bitumen and treasure crypts and all sorts. In actual fact their first date is such an info dump that the sharper reader must just cotton on to the possibility of this all proving pertinent at some point.
For the time being though the smitten Conan is far more concerned with impressing his girl with his credentials as a wine connoisseur.
“Conan endeavoured to pursue the civilized custom of sniffing the aroma and delicatelyÂ savouring each sip.”
Hook Howard’s grave up to a generator and I reckon the dynamo revolutions produced by this particular passage could power a city block.
As it happens though Conan isn’t able to enjoy his new epicurean pursuits for very long before he is accosted by Parvez who has followed him from Shadizar. Parvez has been charged by Yildiz with recovering his beloved Jamilah who, as Conan has already ascertained from Rudabeh, is being held prisoner in the temple. It seems that Jamilah is a hostage against Yildiz interfering in some plot or other that the priests of Zath are planning to launch against the king of Zamora. Parvez persuades Conan to rescue Jamilah and to this end furnishes him with something called the Clavis of Gazrik, a magic arrow, don’t you know, which can open any door. For someone supposedly averse to the supernatural Conan is now beginning to accrue talismans with all the assiduousness of a collector.
Of course, even with the aid of such magical accoutrements, getting Jamilah out of the temple is going to prove no easy matter; not when a quick trip there and an encounter with a solitary Brythunian is enough to convince our impressionable hero that the temple is far too well guarded to infiltrate. No, he decides heroically, he will have to break in.
His preparations for doing this though aren’t made any easier by the fact that he has now taken to mooning over the priggish Rudabeh like a soppy lovesick schoolboy. Rudabeh though, true to her de Campian mores, wont dream of putting out unless Conan first changes his ways and settles down “as a proper householder and husband”. Add to this the wish he has developed also to steal the jewelled eyes of the statue of Zath from the temple and one has a barbarian beset by the sort of conflicts that are usually reserved for the teenage stars of daytime soap operas:
“if he took the eyes, he would have to flee from Yezud as fast as a horse could carry him. If Rudabeh would flee with him – but suppose she refused? Would he give up his quest for the Eyes to settle permanently in Yezud. If he did, would either he or the girl survive Feridun’s doom?”
And here I was thinking a barbarian’s life was all pillage and plunder. Who would ever have guessed that they laboured under such mental pressures.
Matters aren’t helped any by the fact that someone has, all of a sudden, taken to having pot shots at him with a bow and arrow. To say nothing of a suspicious Harpagus attempting to hypnotise him again. This time though Conan is able to thwart his efforts by the employment of Kushad’s schooling in mental discipline. When the frustrated Harpagus then tries to turn the screw on Conan’s beloved Rudabeh instead, her use of Nyssa’s powder of forgetfulness, which Conan has supplied her with, has the effect of wiping the vicar’s mind as clean as a scrubbed blackboard.
With time becoming of the essence Conan finally undertakes his rescue of Jamilah. With Rudabeh having supplied him with the woman’s location an initial recce over the temple walls discloses the fact that Jamilah’s chamber is situated directly above a pen containing a tiger. Fortunately, the ever obliging Parvez is on hand to help out here with the convenient supply of a handy sleeping draught, which he just happens to have about him, and which Conan uses to lace a joint of beef which he then feeds to the tiger.
This contrivance aside, the rescue of Jamilah constitutes the only adequate sequence in the entire book. A rope and grapnel quickly takes Conan up the marble walls to Jamilah’s room. Predictably though the woman herself proves to be just another in de Camp’s stable of haughty prudes and refuses to get out of bed unless Conan first turns his back.
“Women!” grunted Conan disgustedly. “With our lives hanging on one thread, this is no time for your civilized niceties.”‘
And while one wishes that de Camp will take his character’s advice here it’s telling that Conan eventually ends up doing as he’s told just like the overgrown boy scout that he is.
By the time Conan has joined Jamilah in the tiger’s pen the beast has succeeded in shrugging off the effects of the drug and has lurched to its feet:
“As the giant cat, fangs bared and talons unsheathed, hurtled toward him, Conan whipped his scimitar up over his head and, with legs braced and both powerful hands gripping the hilt, brought the heavy curved blade whistling down between the glowing emerald eyes. The tiger’s body slammed into him and hurled him back against the wall, so that man and tiger fell in a tangled heap at the foot of the enclosure.”
Ok, so it’s not exactly on a par with the battle with Thak but it is an improvement on the risible Swamp Cat sequence, even if the mood is spoiled somewhat by Jamilah’s utterly inane query “Are you dead, Nial?”
Although it might just come as a shock to some, he isn’t actually; and shortly afterwards Conan delivers Jamilah into the care of Parvez; at which point all the Turanians exit stage left. All that is except for a fellow called Chagor, one of Parvez’s retainers whom Conan had earlier humiliated in a tavern squabble. The suggestion of a grudge of some kind couldn’t be any more laboriously delivered if it turned up in a skip.
With the Turanians out of the picture Conan is able to devote all his time to wetly simpering over the increasingly irritating Rudabeh:
“fierce desire, like a tornado whirling along its serpentine path of destruction, surged up within him, to give up his rootless, adventurous life, to wed Rudabeh according to the laws of Zamora, and to become, as best he might, a solid citizen who cherished his growing family, joined the municipal watch, worshipped at the temple, and paid his tithes.”
What comment could I possibly make here that would supplement one jot the utterly clueless preposterousness of the above passage?
Sunk in a pubescent mope, you can imagine Conan’s delight when he is lured out of the tavern one night by the sight of the girl dressed in nothing but her dancer’s beads. Imagine his consternation too when this alluring sight changes into one of the vengeful Chagor with a drawn bow. Then imagine my derision when the dependable Catigern conveniently turns up just in time to distract Chagor and spoil his aim and so give Conan the chance to kill him. Catigern is also able to help Conan apprehend the Stygian Psamitek who is the architect of the deception. Although the fact that Conan needs any help to subdue one scrawny Stygian is a pretty miserable indictment of his feeble physical powers.
Anyway, Psamitek knows all about the price on Conan’s head of course because of the scroll that he had earlier translated while Chagor had succeeded in uncovering Conan’s real identity owing to a chance remark of Parvez’s that he had overheard. The two of them had put their heads together in an attempt to claim the reward. With Chagor dead and Psamitek caught this particular conspiracy seems to have come to an abrupt end, but Psamitek just happens to possess powers of illusion and so, after heaping further humiliation on Conan’s feeble strength by slipping out of his grasp, the Stygian uses them to turn himself invisible and escape.
A few days pass and Conan at long last makes his play for the jewelled eyes of the statue of Zath. The Clavis of Gazrik, just about as lazy a narrative prop as it is possible to imagine and one far more in keeping with Sinbad than Cimmeria anyway, makes his covert entry to the temple tediously easy. But before he can secure the gems he is yet again taken by surprise, this time by Rudabeh who has come to tend the temple’s sacred flame. Then the unexpected arrival of a visiting party of priests compels him to take refuge in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the temple.
This climactic sequence should form the set-piece highlight of the book. It’s unquestionably a promising scenario and in the hands of even a half competent wordsmith offers the potential to resonate with tension and atmosphere. Sadly both these qualities are entirely absent from the treatment it is given here. All we get instead is a tedious tour of passageways and intersections with all the while Conan quaking like a girl:
“Although no stranger to the stink of corpses and cadavers, the soft squelch of a patch of rotting entrails, on which he stepped, so revolted him that for an instant he almost vomited and fought down a panicky urge to run screaming.”
The tunnel floor boasts more backbone than this Conan does.
When the giant spider, which all but the gormless Conan will have deduced is kept in the tunnels, finally appears its nothing more than a mediocre monster. Despite harping on about how much it eclipses in size Howard’s spider from “The Tower of the Elephant” de Camp’s monster doesn’t convey a fraction of that creature’s repulsive threat. The book goes through the motions of the obligatory chase sequence but there’s pitifully little drama in it. Not even when the Clavis of Gazrik predictably melts at the strain of trying to unlock a heavy door, the suggestion is one of artifice rather than any suspenseful skill. In due course Rudabeh predictably arrives to distract the creature and to dutifully get herself killed in the process. At which point, believe it or not, the spider simply runs away having served the author’s heavy handed requirements. We’re then left with a dollop of slop besides which the putrefying entrails in the tunnels pale into insignificance:
“Hot tears ran down Conan’s rugged countenance – the first he had shed in many years. He angrily wiped them away, but still they flowed. Those who knew Conan as a man of iron, hard, merciless, and self-seeking, would have been astonished to see him weeping. . .”
You can say that again. Not exactly the death of Belit though is it?
Following on from this pinnacle of melodrama we get some more aimless traipsing about in the tunnels before Conan finally comes across a vast chamber full of spider’s eggs. And blow me if they don’t all hatch simultaneously and at the very moment that Conan stumbles upon them. Finally displaying the sort of presence of mind that had entirely escaped him earlier, Conan now runs back to the trapdoor in the temple floor by which he had entered the tunnels in the first place. There, by virtue of the sort of contrivance which has been the governing feature of the entire book, the bitumen that feeds the temple’s sacred flame is directed into the tunnels and ignited by Conan’s torch. As the whole temple goes up in flames the giant spider takes its cue and lumbers out of the temple only to be perfunctorily polished off by the redoubtable Captain Catigern with his sword. Although, for appearances sake, Conan does chip in too with a swipe from a halberd.
And on this farcical note the entire execrable enterprise limps to a close. All that remains is one last indignity which it is the privilege of the persistent Psamitek to inflict when he, literally, appears out of thin air in the middle of nowhere and attempts to strangle Conan with a rope of sorcerous smoke. Conan is such an incapable incompetent idiot that it will surely surprise no one to learn that, with no one else in attendance to do it, it is now left to his horse to save him, which it does by smashing in the Stygian’s skull.
As is all too painfully apparent from the above, this is a quite appalling book. Literally jaw droppingly abject in actual fact. I’m quite at a loss to recall the last time I came across a novel anywhere near as incompetently conceived and executed as this one. The whole sloppy narrative is entirely driven by contrivance and coincidence from start to finish. It is utterly impoverished in imagination and displays not even the most meagre sense of any sort of enthusiasm whatsoever on the part of the author. All of its dialogue is excruciatingly stilted, and its characters are so thin that to describe them as cardboard would be to invest them with much greater substance than they actually possess.
Perhaps even faults and failings as crippling as these could be overlooked though were it not for the quite unconscionable crime perpetrated against the character of Conan himself. It’s really small wonder that de Camp hides him under an alias for the majority of the book because the character he’s written here bears not even the remotest resemblance to Howard’s creation. The character in this book is an utterly inept gullible gormless buffoon who fails miserably at pretty much everything he attempts. He’s physically feeble, cretinously stupid and completely reliant on others to save him from the scrapes which his own idiocy gets him into in the first place.
I’ll admit I was at an utter loss to explain how even de Camp could ever have come up with something quite so misguided as this. I mean, it’s no secret that he never had even the slightest empathy with Howard’s ideas but he had been involved with Conan, in one form or another, for thirty years by the time this book came out. So how on earth is it then that was he able to display such complete cluelessness about both the character and the concept?
And then you ventured your suggestion that the book was actually written by de Camp’s wife, and in an instant the reason for every one of the novel’s abundance of faults became blindingly clear. Simply put, this is a woman’s book and its Conan is a woman’s concept of what makes an acceptable hero.
Every single macho attribute and quality that epitomizes Howard’s character is methodically lampooned and denigrated here. This Conan is a useless warrior for a start – he kills just two men in the whole book – but he’s also a failure both as a soldier and as a thief; he’s a poor horseman too, and the superior barbarian faculties that Howard so prided the character with are mercilessly and systematically ridiculed.
On the other hand the things that he is allowed to excel in are every bit as suggestive as the things that he isn’t. He follows an honest trade of blacksmithing for most of the book; he sings and he even cooks, believe it or not. Moreover he is unfailingly chivalrous and studiously polite and always respectful to his elders. He also displays a quite unbelievable sexual propriety. In one of the book’s more bizarre episodes, a chance to take advantage of an insensible Rudabeh is forestalled by a chastening “vision of his aged mother, back in her Cimmerian village”. Can’t recall such scruples bothering him while he chased Atali across the wastes of Vanaheim, can you? This Conan is also cringingly servile, he’s continually being belittled and insulted and he takes it all stoically. He’s labelled “a boor” on the third page which pretty much sets the trend for all that follows.
This then is a character few women would balk at taking home to meet their mother. Indeed one of the book’s recurring themes is the urging of marriage and respectability upon him. The virtues of civilized domesticity are relentlessly chorused at him by such a succession of characters that in the end he even begins to seriously consider it. This is the complete antithesis of Howard’s reckless freedom. One must wonder if this was all intended as some sort of grave social guidance aimed at the sort of adolescent male that the author imagined made up the main audience for the work.
Of course, what Mrs de Camp has really achieved here is the metaphorical castration of the character. What perverse gratification she might have got from this crass act of literary vandalism I wouldn’t presume to guess. Though it’s hard not to imagine that it might just have constituted some sort of spiteful revenge against her husband’s detractors. Whatever the reason, the book is a heartless travesty of its source material. It is also stupefyingly well-mannered with few characters even succeeding in losing their tempers. A tell-tale female trait but one hardly compatible with plausibility in the telling of a Conan story.
At the risk of appearing irreparably chauvinist, I would also suggest that the use of a spider as a central feature indicates the governing hand of a woman in the creation of the book. Spiders are far more of a female fear than a male one, as a thousand cartoons and sit-com cliches will testify to.
It isn’t particularly unusual to come across a book that one dislikes every now and then. It isn’t even uncommon to find a book that one hates every so often. But, in my experience, it is rare indeed to discover a book that one actively despises. That is the lasting achievement of this book for me. I can’t say it one to be particularly proud of.