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‘Gods and Demons’
An Untitled Synopsis and Draft by Robert E. Howard


Formerly published as ‘A Caste Of Dusky Aristocrats’

Unfinished in Howard’s lifetime, done as the pastiche ‘The Snout in the Dark’ in the Ace paperback series

Reading from the Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Del Ray, 2003, NY, pages 407-16

The synopsis is two pages long and sketches a plot concerning the black Kingdom of Punt based around the city of Shumballa. The kingdom is ruled by ‘a caste of dusky aristocrats’ known as the Chagas [One cannot help but be reminded of the Yagas of Almuric, albeit they were not a Negro race, but demonic creatures. It seems Howard simply liked simple two-syllable tribal names—something that could be read out loud without stumbling over the tongue], who reside exclusively within the city and maintain power through cunning and treachery. [Wait, was Howard writing sci-fi about early 21st Century America?] The mass of the population and the bulk of the military consist of the black Gallahs of neighboring Kush. The rebel noble, Tuthmes is scheming for the crown, the blacks are restive, and he decides to ‘play the race card’ and somehow ride out the genocidal upheaval it will unleash. Conan is merely inserted as a white interloper—ever the heroic role in Howard’s mythos.

Of course a plot involving mixed-race aristocrats and lower class blacks hits too close to home to be considered as a salable storyline in our time. Did you know that some black college sororities are segregated along color lines, such as 'lighter' or 'darker than a paper bag'? Writers in Howard's less squeamish time had the luxury to consider things as they were, not just as they should be, and write with more authenticity than in our day of black Viking gods and pacifistic American Indian warriors.

During this period Howard was writing a few Conan stories set in black regions where he was an interloper. Punt, specifically, might be supposed to be the Sudan, Shumballa standing in for Khartoum. Every schoolboy of Howard’s time knew the story of Chinese Gordon’s famous stand at Khartoum against the Mahdis, which Howard uses as the plot for another story from this period, Black Colossus. [1] Men of Howard’s era, in general, were big fans of ‘oriental adventures’ set in the Middle East, as most real adventurers of this period were white men adventuring in brown, black, or yellow lands. He developed his own oriental adventure characters, including 19th century Xavier Gordon, and a handful of crusaders.

However, as with every theme and setting he explored, be it island-bound horror, barbarian king of a declining civilization, castellated mountain top or racially riven city state, Howard at least sketched the concept in terms of Conan, as if there were something about this character that spoke to him with a unique clarity. For a fiction, prose stylist dealing with masculine concepts, a character is at once the glass through which we perceive the nuanced world, the filter by which we sift the perplexities of Man’s condition and the mirror without which the underlying myth dies on the page. So it is no surprise to find white interloper stories set in exotic lands among his Conan drafts.

The actual draft is a nice piece of work, retaining the feel of horrific sorcery mingled with political intrigue found in his Kull stories, but without the dreamy quality. It begins with Amboola, a chief of the black Gullah spearmen [half of the military] awakening in a prison tower after having been drugged with wine. He is then attacked by a night horror that mutilates him. When Afari, the faithful servant of Tuthmes, finds Amboola dead—not knowing that his master has plotted this with a sorcerer—he exclaims, “…I have seen many dead men, but never one less lovely in his death than Amboola!”

Tuthmes responds to the mention of a demonic agent of death, “Gods and demons work for a bold man,” as much as claiming the supernatural killing as a symbol of divine favor for his earthly aspirations.

This draft is the type of unfinished adventure that begs for comic treatment or a pastiche, and is fun reading in its incomplete state.

Note

http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/warsofthebritishempire/p/Mahdist-War-Siege-Of-Khartoum.htm

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