Literature / The God in the Bowl

"The God in the Bowl" is a Conan the Barbarian story written by Robert E. Howard.

A nightwatchman comes upon a corpse while making his rounds, only to run into Conan in the process of attempting a heist. With Conan as the prime suspect, the city guards and lead investigator are called in, but Conan proclaims he is innocent of the murder. Nobody is buying Conan's story, except for the curator, who claims that the murderer was not a man, and is still in the building.

The curator reveals that the murder victim had recently received a strange sealed bowl from Stygia, and, hoping to find riches inside, had sent the curator away with plans to open it. Conan and the guards find the bowl, its seals broken, and with a mysterious insignia carved on its base. Suddenly, the guards start reporting seeing a strange moving figure out of the corner of their eyes, moving throughout the building, but always gone before they can investigate.

Out of nowhere, a young noble arrives, who Conan claims hired him for the burglary in the first place. The nobleman denies it and Conan is sentenced to death. Conan readies to fight, but the curator comes running in, terrified; he has found the murderer. As the guards go to investigate, Conan springs into action, slaying the nobleman and several of his captors. The guards return, only to run past Conan, driven mad by what they've found. Conan cautiously enters the room, only to be struck dumb with terror at what he finds. He slays the creature, only to turn and run as far away from the city as he can, having almost been driven mad by what he saw.

Written in 1932 or 1933, but not published. A version edited by L. Sprague de Camp was first published in September, 1952. The original version was first published in 1975.

Marvel Comics would adapt the work for their ongoing Conan the Barbarian comic, as well as The Savage Sword of Conan a few years later. Darkhorse Comics would later adapt the story for their own ongoing Conan book.

Tropes found in this work

  • Animalistic Abomination: Whatever the hell was in that bowl. It's implied to look like a giant snake, but something about it was so horrifying that it prompts a panicked Conan to flee the city immediately after killing it. The fact that it's referred to as a god adds more fuel to the fire.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: The story begins when the night watchman comes across Conan near the body of Kallian Publico. It doesn't help his case that the Cimmerian was there to steal.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Conan, did you just decapitate a Physical God?
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Do not open the bowl
  • Faking and Entering: Kallian opens the bowl to look for valuables, since he can claim the burglar took them.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Dionus
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Demetrius and Dionus, to a large extent. Dionus threatens Conan with beatings and execution every chance he gets; Demetrius mostly just wants Conan's cooperation in figuring out what actually happened.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Thoth-Amon doesn't appear in the story, but the characters suspect that he's the one who sent the bowl to the museum.
  • Hero Antagonist: The guards led by Dionus and Demetrius are just people doing their job, trying to stop a burglary and figure out who or what is responsible for the murders. Demetrius in particular is very fair and even-handed in his dealings with Conan, in that while he knows the Cimmerian is a thief, he deduces he couldn't have possibly killed anyone.
  • Jerkass: Dionus
    • Conan himself is not exactly at his best here. The story takes place very early in his adventuring life, and he is even more hot-tempered than usual. He inflicts some very cruel damage to some of the other characters, most of whom are just honest cops doing their jobs.
    • The large guard that enjoys tormenting suspects and terrorizing them a little too much. He once tore out the sweetheart of a thief and he gets some justice when Conan tears his eye out.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Kallian Publico is found dead in his own museum, alone except for the night watchman who discovered the corpse and Conan, who had just broken in through a trapdoor on the roof and wouldn't have had time to kill him. The doors are all locked; Kallian and the watchman have the only keys.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Conan only broke in to the museum to steal a jeweled goblet; he had no idea that at the same time the museum's owner had accidentally unleashed an eldritch monstrosity and died horribly.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Demetrius generally comes across as one.
  • The Scapegoat: Dionus plans this for Conan. Arus as well since the prince was going to have Conan steal some jewels and the plan was to blame Arus who likely would have been killed. Arus getting his mouth smashed doesn't seem so bad off.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Everyone who isn't dead, or driven mad, or named Conan of Cimmeria hightails it out of the place before the climax.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Especially gigantic snakes that can and do kill people.
  • Snake People: One, in a jar
  • Unknown Rival: Thoth-Amon and Conan