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‘Great Crags Shouldering the Stars’
An Encounter in the Pass: People of the Black Circle, Chapter 4
The Queen Apparent of the world’s richest kingdom, come to the frontier in disguise to see to avenging her brother’s terrible death, finds herself swept up into the armored arms of a giant savage and carried off across a saddle up into the highest mountains in the world.
“You dare” she says, but he laughs and takes her deeper into a world so savage she will require his barbaric presence to survive.
Chapter 4 of The People of the Black Circle is a clutch turn in the main thread of this adventure yarn, which has to do with Yasmina, the pinnacle of civilized womanhood, being put in touch with what most of the world’s women had faced before her, dark terrors, rough, hairy hands and abrupt violence in cold lands.
“She felt her anger being submerged by awe as they entered the mouth of the pass, lowering like a black well mouth in the blacker walls that rose like colossal ramparts to bar their way. It was as if a gigantic knife had cut the Zhaibar out of walls of solid rock. On either hand sheer slopes pitched up for thousands of feet, and the mouth of the pass was dark as hate…”
As in most Conan stories, the lead character is primarily a plot driver. The reader as often sees him from the compromised civilized or feminine view as he does civilization from the heroic outsider’s perspective. The Conan character was the perfect vehicle to cut, blunder and connive his way through the haunted maintainscape Howard carved in what is possibly the best fantasy novella ever written.
As the reader experiences a looming dread of the universe through a captive princess, he is in many ways stricken with the realization that she holds more in common with the modern reader than does the heroic image of the mythic hero that seized her. Yasmina is a study in crisis-induced self-examination, written with an attention to gender perceptions incisive enough to thrill readers, male and female equally, and to satisfy neither that the human experience blesses their way.
Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend
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