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‘Shake Off Your Yoke’
The People of the Black Circle: Chapter 3, Khemsa Uses Magic
“The girl threw her supple arms about his neck. She was panting, but not only from exertion. Her eyes blazed like black jewels in the starlight. Her upturned face was close to Khemsa’s, but though he submitted to her embrace, he did not return it.”
And so the monastic man challenges the wiles of the seductress. He will not, however, resist her many charms and she seduces him into turning on his masters, the seers of The Black Circle, to whom he is an errand boy and agent, their slave. She is the handmaiden of the Devi, whom Conan has kidnapped. He is a Rakhsha, a powerful combatant with his empty hands, who wields enchantments and utilizes lethal devices in the name of his masters. It was he who slew the Devi’s brother and brought this story into being. He, not Conan, is the primary plot driver in this turbulent yarn.
Khemsa himself possesses a power of suggestion to rival most of the sorcerer-villains in Howard’s fantastical worlds, yet he is human, fallible, truly striving to make this story his story, the first of his her cycle. Khemsa, however, is doomed, for The People of the Black Circle is a tale about the hero’s struggle to remain free of all compromising influences upon his honor and his autonomy. And already, in his second appearance in the story, he submits to the will of a manipulative woman, a scheming girl who had stolen his heart and clouded his judgment with her own potent spell.
Throughout the story, the hero who is merely reacting to events, Conan, lacks much of Khemsa’s qualifications. However, Conan repeatedly resists the allure of committing to those who would change him, stays true to his own rude code of honor, and manages to maintain his autonomy of action amidst a variety of moral snares, all equal or superior to the scheming girl on Khemsa’s arm. In this sketch of Khemsa we find the slave hero, who manages to be terribly potent but never to break free of an exterior will, simply changing allegiance and never detaching himself altogether from the puppet strings from which all civilized [domesticated] beings dangle.
Khemsa is a hero in his own right, but remains the slave hero of civic myth, twisting awfully in the unseen palm of his distant master’s taloned hand. With all of its gaudy, civilized affectations, The People of the Black Circle is Howard’s most insightful argument against human domestication, discussed by its actors from within that emasculating edifice, to more clearly shade the gray alternative to barbarism—for the hero's core quest, spiritual autonomy, which, fittingly is to be painted in red under blue skies.
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RubenNovember 26, 2016 5:18 PM UTC

Kudos James. I was going to relate a lot of this to my own life experience. Then i thought better of it. This is quite insightful. Funny, for once I wished I lived in the same town as someone and belonged to one of those library reading groups. Keep it up. I'll have to dig my Conan books out of the garage. I got a kick out of reading Barry Sadler's book series Casca: The Eternal Mercenary