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Friday, December 31, 2010

Pulp Fiction Friday: The Phoenix on the Sword by Robert E. Howard

"The Phoenix on the Sword" was the first Conan story to be published in Weird Tales which began a long run of tales featuring the Cimmerian conqueror.  The story ran in the December 1932 edition of the pulp magazine. 

In the story, a middle-aged Conan finds himself as the king of a foreign land after slaying the former ruler and taking the crown.  A man by the name of Ascalante attempts to take the throne for himself and engages with four other nobles in a coup.  Ascalante has in his service a fallen wizard from another land whom, now powerless, has no other choice but servitude.  During the night Conan meets with an ancient sage named Epemitreus in a vision.  The sage marks Conan's blade with the symbol of a phoenix.

As the plot unfolds, Ascalante sends a group of men to attack Conan while he sleeps, but Conan, now awakened, is prepared for the attack.  Meanwhile the fallen wizard, having now recovered a powerful ring which was once stolen from him, has regained his power.  He summons a creature to attack Ascalante.  The creature attacks and kills Ascalante during the attempt on Conan's life.  Conan then slays the creature with the marked sword. 

The story is reprinted in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, a collection of Howard's Conan tales, but can also be read online for free along with many of his other works, as I pointed out in last week's entry.