The Marvel Comics run of stories based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan character from 1970-1993 helped maintain the character’s place in the public consciousness after the end of the Pulp Magazine era.
Here is a multi-part 1970s Marvel Conan story that was adapted from the Gardner Fox novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #46 (January 1975)
Title: The Curse of the Conjurer
Villain: Shokkoth of the Many Stones
Synopsis: While riding through the Border Kingdoms, Conan meets a wizard named Merdoramon. This figure, knowing that a Cimmerian’s word is their bond, pays Conan a pouch of gold to deliver a mystic amulet to Themas Herklar, the Regent of the kingdom called Phalkar. The enchanted item is called the Amulet of Blue Fire.
Conan accepts the gold and gives his word to deliver the amulet to Themas Herklar. Putting the amulet around his own neck for the journey, the barbarian rides west toward Phalkar.
Before long he passes through the village of Sfanol, where he sees the inhabitants about to burn at the stake a beautiful young woman named Stefanya. She cries out to Conan for help, and he decides it is time for him to take action.
Our hero saves Stefanya from this fate and learns she was being burned for her service to the late sorcerer Zoqquanor now that he is no longer alive to protect her. The panicked woman tells Conan that they must retrieve Zoqquanor’s body from the ruins of his castle, which was leveled by the same superstitious villagers who tried to burn her alive.
Stefanya insists that a spell cast by the sorcerer when he was alive binds her fate to his, and if his body is destroyed so will she be. In the ruins of Zoqquanor’s castle, Conan and Stefanya find the premises now being guarded by Shokkoth of the Many Stones, a monstrous creation of the late wizard.
Naturally, Conan is able to destroy Shokkoth after a lengthy battle. Stefanya insists that Zoqquanor can still be saved and that she will find a way to bring him back to life.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #47 (February 1975)
Title: Goblins in the Moonlight
Villains: Hyborian Age goblins
Synopsis: Stefanya tells Conan that they must depart with Zoqquanor’s remains immediately rather than stay the rest of the night. She says that the castle’s protection spells cast by the sorcerer when he was alive may unleash nocturnal horrors similar to Shokkoth if they linger. She offers her body to the barbarian on their journey if he lets her travel with him and he accepts.
While Conan and Stefanya make hasty arrangements to leave, he notices a star-shaped birthmark on her hip. With the woman riding behind him on his horse and Zoqquanor’s body being dragged along behind on a travois, Conan resumes his journey toward Phalkar to deliver the Amulet of Blue Fire around his neck.
With morning just a few hours off, Conan stops to get some rest at the next set of ruins that he and Stefanya come across. Before long they are attacked by humanoid goblins who want to defile Zoqquanor’s corpse as revenge for unspeakable transgressions the vile sorcerer committed against them in life.
Because Stefanya is still convinced that her late master’s body must be kept safe or she, too, will suffer from what happens to it, Conan uses his sword in a monumental battle to slay these creatures like he slew Shokkoth.
Once that is accomplished, Stefanya tells Conan that they obviously need to get more distance between them and the old stomping grounds of Zoqquanor so they immediately resume their journey.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #48 (March 1975)
Title: The Rats Dance at Ravengard
Villain: Torkal Moh
Synopsis: This issue picks up at least a day later as another evening approaches. Zoqquanor’s corpse is still being dragged along behind our main characters as they continue riding toward Phalkar. Stefanya has been pleading with Conan to tell her more about himself and the narration tells us that “it would take a man even stronger-willed than Conan to long resist the pleadings of a girl as beautiful as Stefanya.”
The barbarian tells her (and us readers, in flashback) about his ritual of manhood when he was 15 back in his cold, snowy homeland of Cimmeria. Like others of his tribe undergoing that initiation into adulthood he was given a sword and a fur cloak then sent out into the wintry wilds to survive on his own for a designated length of time.
Conan relates how, amid the blowing and drifting snow, he encountered a beautiful dark-haired woman flanked by two large polar bears. He refers to being entranced by the woman’s loveliness and how he “probably said something foolish. I was very young and very stupid then.”
The woman tells the young barbarian that she is Ursla, a Priestess of the Wild, and she takes him back to her residence, where she lives in comfort with her attending bears on guard outside. Ursla treats Conan to a meal and some wine while they make conversation.
The priestess discusses her role and, while reassuring Conan that she is not lonely for human companionship she mentions that “men seek me out from time to time.” The naive Conan says “Why?” and Ursla laughs.
Then she replies “If you were not so young, boy … Still, you’re big for your age and handsome, in a craggy sort of way.” Regarding him with a sidelong glance she continues – “Yes, the boy becomes the man, I think.” And then the priestess goes on to seduce Conan into his first night of sex.
The next day Ursla tells Conan she foresees great things for him and tells him he will some day encounter other Priestesses of the Wild. She also gives him the gift of a jewel to prove he really met her.
When our hero returns to his tribe, the elders are at first skeptical of his tale regarding what happened to him while he was gone, but the jewel does indeed convince them. They vow to take him with them on their next military campaign, when they march on Vanaheim.
We rejoin Conan and Stefanya in the present as the Cimmerian wraps up his reminiscence by saying “It was at the fall of that hated Aquilonian outpost that I received my baptism of blood.” Next, Stefanya tells our hero about her childhood and how she was so young when she was given to Zoqquanor as his servant that she doesn’t recall anything before it.
Conan and Stefanya stop for the evening and spend another night together, and the next day while riding onward to Phalkar they are accosted by a band of armed and mounted men. They are led by a man named Torkal Moh (at left), who tells our two lead characters that they are traveling through his domain of Ravengard, which means they must pay him a toll.
In Conan’s case, Torkal Moh demands the amulet for Themas Herklar which the Cimmerian has around his neck. In Stefanya’s case, it’s obvious what Torkal Moh wants. Conan whispers to Stefanya to slip down off their horse and run while he faces these men.
She does so, and Conan uses his sword to kill a few of Torkal Moh’s soldiers before he hears Stefanya screaming because she has been intercepted by some of the men and herded back toward Torkal Moh. Distracted by her scream, Conan is knocked out from behind and the villain plans to torture the barbarian to death as punishment for his defiance.
Conan comes to as another night is approaching and finds himself lying face-up on the ground, spread-eagled and bound to four stakes at his wrists and ankles. Torkal Moh and his men are gathered around him, with Stefanya being restrained by the villains and the amulet for Themas Herklar now in Torkal Moh’s possession.
The villain taunts Conan about his plight, and he replies “I’d spit in your face, only my throat’s too dry.” Torkal Moh, in the manner of so many fictional heavies, says “Defiant to the last, eh? By Mitra I like that.” He pours a clay cup of water for Conan and places it beside his bound right hand, where, naturally, our hero can not drink from it due to his restraints.
Torkal Moh and his men prepare to leave, taking Stefanya with them, as the villain informs Conan that he uses this spot for a lot of painful, lingering executions. A colony of rats is nearby and they feed on the people that he leaves here for them, bound to the stakes.
Already some rats are eyeing the helpless Conan from a distance as Torkal Moh and his men ride off.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #49 (April 1975)
Villain: Torkal Moh
Synopsis: In a well-handled opening, as the sun continues to set, the rats grow ever more bold toward the bound Conan, at length darting in to nibble at parts of his body. When he proves incapable of fighting back due to the strength of his bonds, the pack closes in to gnaw at him even more.
After a while, Conan cannot bear the pain in silence anymore and screams as an outlet. The scream frightens the rats, one of whom in his panic accidentally knocks over the clay cup of water that Torkal Moh had left behind to tantalize the barbarian.
This allows Conan to grip the turned-over cup in the fingers of one of his bound hands and use his barbaric strength to shatter it. Next, he uses one of the sharp shards to cut at the ropes binding his wrist to the spike driven into the ground. And he does it while enduring the renewed gnawing from the rats.
At last, the Cimmerian pulls one arm free and swats away some of the rats, hollering curses at them as he does it. The other rats scamper off as they realize their now-mobile intended victim can strike back. Conan soon manages to free all of his limbs and runs off in search of water for drinking and for his wounds.
The narrative compares the barbaric Conan to animals in the way they can smell water, and soon our hero has found a body of water to drink from and dive into for a while, letting it clean his wounds from the rat bites. At length, the Cimmerian heads off into the night, intent on finding Torkal Moh’s castle so he can get revenge on him, plus retrieve Stefanya and the amulet for Themas Herklar.
To his regret, he comes across a pack of wolves and, unarmed as he is, must flee. Just as the wolves are about to overtake him, they are called off by a woman named Lupalina, who identifies herself as a Priestess of the Wild, like Ursla in the far north.
Like Ursla did, Lupalina takes Conan to the lair she shares with her attending wolves and provides him with food and drink. Lupalina inquires about what caused our hero to get left for the rats by Torkal Moh, so Conan explains his quest toward Phalkar with Stefanya.
Lupalina knows about Stefanya’s star-shaped birth mark but does not yet reveal how she knows the young woman. However, she agrees to help Conan free Stefanya from Torkal Moh’s castle the next day.
Our hero sleeps the rest of the night and Ursla appears to him in a dream, telling him to give Lupalina her greetings and to let the wolf-priestess know about his encounter with the bear-priestess in his youth. Conan does so at breakfast the next morning.
Later in the day, Lupalina leads Conan and her wolf pack to a location where they lie in wait for some of Torkal Moh’s troops. At last they come along on horseback, leading a fresh group of peasants who cannot pay Torkal Moh’s abusive taxes and so must serve him as slaves from now on.
Conan and Lupalina (plus her wolves) attack the soldiers, Conan with a new sword provided by the wolf-priestess. For herself, Lupalina proves deadly with a sling and her wolves, naturally, feed upon the soldiers that they kill.
Next, Lupalina rallies the freed slaves to strike back at Torkal Moh. She, Conan and a few of the freed slaves don the uniforms and helmets of some of the fallen soldiers while most of the intended slaves walk along with them to keep up the appearance of everything being routine.
Once inside the gates of Castle Ravengard, our band of heroes go on the attack, killing and being killed as the battle progresses. Lupalina has the gates opened to admit her wolfpack and she spreads out as does Conan as they search the castle for Stefanya.
The barbarian fights his way to Torkal Moh and the pair engage in a swordfight. The pompous villain brags that he will target Conan’s legs then torture him to death. The Cimmerian says “You just named your own finish, man.” and kneecaps Torkal Moh with his sword.
The fallen villain is in agony and pleads for death but Conan wants to know where he can find Stefanya and the Amulet of Blue Fire. Torkal Moh, by this point literally frothing at the mouth from pain, gives Conan the information and begs him again for death.
The Cimmerian refuses to end it for the villain but as he leaves he tells Torkal Moh that he’ll be sure to send back any rats that he comes across. Soon, Conan grabs a serving girl named Gwineer and orders her to lead him to the Gifting Pool, where his fallen foe told him he could find Stefanya and the amulet.
Conan and Gwineer enter the orchard/ jungle that leads to the Gifting Pool and our hero is amazed to see that all the trees in the orchard bear at least one piece of extravagant jewelry. The Cimmerian asks Gwineer why no one steals these jewels that are left out in the open like this, but quickly learns why.
The trees are man-eating creatures who can use their branches as tentacles and they attack Conan. Gwineer says that Torkal Moh gets sadistic entertainment out of watching the fates of any thieves who try stealing baubles from the branches as the monstrous trees eat them alive.
The trees have never faced a brutal, savage foe like Conan before and are no match for him. Sword in hand, he fights a way through the trees for himself and Gwineer until they reach the shore of the Gifting Pool, where Conan spots the Amulet of Blue Fire on one of the branches and puts it back around his neck.
Nearby, at the very edge of the pool, he also sees Stefanya, tied up as an offering to the Dweller in the Pool (according to Gwineer). Conan frees Stefanya and then – ever the mercenary – starts to grab as many other jeweled necklaces as he can from the branches, putting them around his neck like the amulet for Themas Herklar.
Gwineer, who was too frightened of the surviving tree-monsters to go back through the orchard alone, cries out that it is too late and they are doomed. The waters of the Gifting Pool become turbulent and Gwineer says it is the Dweller in the Pool … “Pthassiass comes!” she concludes, as she, Conan and the groggy Stefanya see an enormous, scaly water-creature with tentacles and a long tongue emerge from the Gifting Pool.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #50 (May 1975)
Title: The Dweller in the Pool
Villains: Pthassiass and Unos
Synopsis: Pthassiass attacks Conan and the two women, quickly devouring the screaming Gwineer while being unfazed by the barbarian’s repeated cuts with his sword.
Soon, Conan savvies the Dweller in the Pool’s weakness and tricks it into emerging too far into the Gifting Orchard where it falls victim to the living trees.
Unlike our hero, Pthassiass is not capable of dodging the branch-tentacles of the tree-creatures and when enough of them get hold of the huge monster their toxic poison proves capable of killing it and then they start sucking the skin off of it.
As the living trees feast upon the dead Pthassiass, Conan and Stefanya realize that the Gifting Orchard was the only thing preventing the Dweller in the Pool from making its way into Castle Ravengard itself.
Conan and Stefanya withdraw back inside the castle proper, where they meet up with Lupalina and her wolf pack. The Cimmerian mentions that he is still honor-bound to deliver the Amulet of Blue Fire (still around his neck) to Themas Herklar in Phalkar and he wants to depart with Stefanya.
Lupalina decides to reveal her secrets and her connection to Stefanya, whose star-shaped birth mark she was aware of, as related above. She says that Stefanya is really the daughter of Thormond, the former ruler of Phalkar. When Stefanya was far too young to remember, Lupalina was known back then as Samandra the Sorceress.
She was the lady-in-waiting to Queen Chrysala, Stefanya’s mother, and Samandra’s wizard mentors – Thalkalides and Elviriom – recruited Samandra into their plot against the king and queen. Overcoming the mystical protections that the then-younger Merdoramon created to protect the royals, the two elders killed off Thormond and Chrysala, while trusting to Samandra to kill the child Stefanya.
Samandra was turning against Thalkalides and Elviriom and only pretended to kill Stefanya, in truth smuggling her to the sorceror Zoqquanor for safe-keeping. After Thalkalides and Elviriom installed their puppet Themas Herklar on the throne following the supposedly accidental death of the king and queen, Samandra fled Phalkar and ultimately became a Priestess of the Wild, rechristening herself Lupalina.
In recent months, Themas Herklar grew wary that Thalkalides and Elviriom were ready to kill him off and replace him with a new puppet of theirs. He covertly commissioned Merdoramon the Sorcerer to provide him with mystical protection against the pair of wizards. To that end, Merdoramon fortified the powers of the Amulet of Blue Fire and hired Conan to deliver it to him.
Her tale told, Lupalina uses her remaining powers of sorcery to remotely show Conan and Stefanya the oft-mentioned Themas Herklar. She conjures up a vision of the throne room in Phalkar’s capital city of Alkarion. Instead of Themas being on the throne, they see he has already been deposed by Thalkalides and Elviriom and replaced by their new puppet ruler – a sinister looking man called Unos by the others in the throne room.
This alarms Lupalina, who senses extraordinary power in Unos. Magic also reveals that Themas Herklar is in the dungeon, barely still alive after torture. Our heroes learn that Unos is an artificial being created magically by the two plotting wizards to replace Themas Herklar.
Themas and another, unnamed prisoner in the dungeon meet their intended fate by being fed upon by unholy creatures sicced upon them by Thalkalides and Elviriom. Back with Conan, Stefanya and Lupalina, the trio vow to take down the evil wizards, depose Unos and replace him with the true heir to the crown of Phalkar – Stefanya.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #51 (June 1975)
Title: Man Born of Demon
Villains: Unos, Thalkalides and Elviriom
Synopsis: We pick up a few days later. Conan and Lupalina/ Samandra have had time to ride to Phalkar and are in the capital city of Alkarion on the day of the month when the new ruler Unos (or any previous ruler) allows commoners to approach him with their grievances or other matters.
When the pair get their turn addressing Unos, Samandra publicly airs the fact that the true heir to the throne – Stefanya – still lives. Not only that, she further scandalizes all in attendance by revealing how the wizards Thalkalides and Elviriom not only killed the king and queen long ago, but deposed, then killed Themas Herklar, the Regent before Unos.
Pushing on recklessly, Samandra also makes clear how Unos himself was conceived through demons in a black magic ritual held by Thalkalides and Elviriom in order to produce another disposable Regent to sit on the throne as their puppet.
The two sinister Court Wizards furiously deny it and insist that Conan and Samandra be put to death. Unos, however, disregards their advice for the very first time because this news has made him realize that Thalkalides and Elviriom really may plot to do away with him whenever they please. Just like they did with Themas Herklar.
Conan and Samandra drop a hint about where they can be found in the days ahead (as bait) and leave the capital. Stopping off at the location they hinted at, the pair linger. Not long after, as expected, the worried Unos catches up with them, wanting mystical protection from the conspiratorial Court Wizards.
Lupalina/ Samandra conjures up the two demons who created Unos, and the demonspawn begs his creators to eliminate Thalkalides and his colleague. As a one-time favor to their spawn, they do so, showing magical images of them killing off the treacherous Court Wizards in horrifying ways.
In return, as the courageous Samandra expected, the pair of demons demand the death of the person who disturbed their rest by summoning them. Unos kills Samandra by way of eldritch energy beams that he shoots from his eyes.
Conan swiftly races to where Stefanya has been hidden and returns with her to Castle Ravengard, now in the hands of the rebels/ former slaves. This is the next stage of the plan, because with the Court Wizards eliminated, Unos will doubtless want to kill the true heir to the throne of Phalkar.
Conan and Stefanya are securing the dead Zoqquanor’s corpse when Unos comes upon them. Conan tries to fight him but is struck by Unos’ eye-blasts. As the late Samandra had told Conan, the Amulet of Blue Fire that he wears about his neck protects its wearer from all mystical power, even that of a being like Unos. (Remember, the amulet was being delivered to Themas Herklar in the first place as protection against dark sorcery.)
Unos responds by not attacking Conan directly again, but instead conjuring up vine-ridden vegetation as an obstacle to bar the Cimmerian’s attempts to attack him. Next, the demonspawn uses his eye-beams to destroy Zoqquanor’s corpse and, as Stefanya stated regarding her link to her late master, she is also struck down.
NOTE: For those unfamiliar with the genre this is an occasional element in sword & sorcery stories in which a wizard casts a spell that will harm their servant if the servant harms them. It’s protection against treachery.
Stefanya falls to the ground, mortally wounded, and this fuels Conan’s fighting fury to such a degree that he can overcome Unos’ mystic vines and throws himself into a clinch with the villain. The Amulet of Blue Fire thus makes physical contact with Unos and destroys him.
Quickly, before the mortally wounded Stefanya can perish, Conan places the amulet around her neck, and she is healed from the eldritch energies which struck her down.
EPILOGUE: Stefanya is installed as the new ruler of Phalkar and wants Conan to marry her and reign at her side. Conan shows his usual “love them and leave them” attitude and mentions how he longs to one day sit on a throne in his OWN kingdom, not gain a throne through marriage.
The barbarian rides off, and Stefanya, realizing that her oinking and boinking with Conan during their travels meant more to her than it did to him, has tears running down her cheeks as she assumes the throne.
Since too many people still seem to think that Conan was a mere comic book character, please bear in mind he came from the printed page as one of Robert E. Howard’s greatest creations. The original stories from 1930 until Howard’s suicide in 1936 predated even Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Robert E. Howard even set the standard in world-building for Tolkien, drawing detailed maps of the fictional nations in his Hyborian Age and writing a history about that age.
FOR MY REVIEW OF THE CONAN STORY QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST CLICK HERE.
FOR MY REVIEW OF ALL FOUR PARTS OF THE SWORD AND SORCERY STORY ABOUT THE MAN CALLED STALKER CLICK HERE.