Literature / The People of the Black Circle

"The People of the Black Circle" is a Conan the Barbarian novella by Robert E. Howard. Published in three parts, from September to November, 1934. Entire text online here.

Tropes Included

  • Arranged Marriage: the Devi Yasmina must make one; Conan jeers.
  • Big Bad: The Master of Yimsha.
  • Break the Haughty: the necromancer's plans for Yasmina
  • Celestial Deadline: The king's murder is governed by this
  • The Chains of Commanding: Conan resolves to take Yasmina with him. Yasmina feels some desire to join his wild existence (and some attraction to him), but believes more strongly that she must return to her people.
  • Distressed Damsel: the Devi Yasmina. Yet she's made of some pretty tough stuff and is not just a wilting lily. She pro-actively seeks her brother's murderers and intends to hire Conan to help her get them.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Somewhere between this and a Tear Jerker is the opening scene where Bhunda Chand commands Yasmina to kill him while he's lucid, so the evil forces won't get him. She does it, and he dies with a "grim smile". In these few lines, some of the best Howard ever wrote, we learn all about Bhunda Chand and mourn his loss.
  • Eye of Newt: the king's hair was needed
  • Girl in the Tower: the Devi Yasmina is imprisoned in one.
  • The High Queen: Yasmina
  • Hungry Jungle: Where the black lotus grows
  • Love Makes You Evil: Yasmina's servant Gitara
  • Made a Slave: The necromancer resolves to do this with the Devi Yasmina.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Where they got the king's hair
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Lampshaded by Yasmina; when Conan says she needs new clothes and a peasant girl happens by, Yasmina worries that Conan will kill the girl and take her clothes. Conan says he won't and simply pays the girl. Yasmina is relieved.
    It was perhaps natural for men to slay and die; her flesh crawled at the thought of watching the butchery of a woman.
  • Mind Rape: The necromancer does this to Yasmina. She is horrified, but does not lose her mind.
  • Necromancer: How the king was murdered.
  • Redshirt: When Conan and Kerim Shah agree to an alliance to rescue Yasmina, several of Kerim Shah's men come with them. Their main function is to be killed so we can see the Black Seers' magic in action.
  • Royal Blood: Yasmina is proud of hers.
  • Villainous Valor: Khemsa is an evil wizard in a Conan story, so of course he is doomed, but he is also the best-developed such character Howard had created up to this point. His lover, Gitara, induces him to betray his masters, the Black Seers of Yimsha (just as she has betrayed her mistress, Yasmina, in the hopes that the two of them can conquer an empire together). When he does they retaliate, and four of them bring their full sorcerous might down on him. But his love for Gitara is genuine and allows him, in defense of both himself and her, to draw on a strength of will not even he suspected he possessed. For a time, he is able, alone, to withstand the power of the four together. Unfortunately, one of them recognizes the source of his newfound strength and forces Gitara to throw herself from a cliff. This breaks Khemsa's will and allows them to defeat him. When Conan finds him later, broken but still alive through a combination of his magical power and burning desire for vengeance, he gives Conan the means to defeat the Black Seers. Khemsa is so remarkable that it's probably best the story didn't end in a showdown between him and Conan, because some readers might have found it rather difficult to root for the Cimmerian by that point. (It's not like Conan never betrayed anyone to get what he wanted.)