Literature / The Vale of Lost Women

"The Vale of Lost Women" is a Conan the Barbarian story by Robert E. Howard. Written in 1933 or 1934, but not published. First published in Spring, 1967.

The story begins with Livia, a soft and civilized young woman, as a prisoner of the Bakalah jungle tribe, who have captured her and have killed the brother she was traveling with excruciating savage tortures. Conan soon appears as the leader of Bamulas, a rival tribe which nonetheless is about to parlay a truce with their rivals. Thinking Conan, being a white man, may feel some kinship with her and assist her, Livia asks him for his help. When Conan balks at her proposal, Livia offers him herself as a sexual reward for rescuing her.

Keeping his side of the bargain, Conan and his warriors slay the Bakalah and their brutal chief after engaging with them in an uncivilized revelry which lasts all night and does much to disgust the proper and civilized girl. Then, when Livia sees Conan drenched in blood coming toward the hut she is kept in, figuring he immediately wants to claim his reward, she breaks their agreement and flees into the thick of the jungle (getting her clothes ripped off in the process, leaving her naked for the remainder of the adventure) to a strange valley with beautiful blossoms, inhabited by strange brownish-skinned women with apparent lesbian inclinations.

Glad to have found shelter from the blood-soaked "male brutality" of her Cimmerian pursuer, Livia is so enraptured at the eerie beauty of the women and dazed by the hallucinogen scent of the flowers that she barely notice being led to an altar-like section of the glade, where she is to be sacrificed to a moth-like entity. Conan, having pursued her, is soon forced to intervene again on her behalf; after having fought and driven away the demon, Conan jokingly scolds her for having fled, saying he never had the intention to force her into having sex, which in his view would have been as damnable an action as raping her, and that he will soon let her leave the Black Kingdoms since she's too soft to be a proper partner for a Bamula warchief.

Tropes included

  • Blue Blood: Livia
  • Damsel in Distress: Livia
  • Designated Hero: Conan is pretty unsympathetic in this story; he leads the slaughter of a village and agrees to free a slave girl in exchange for her virginity (although he later changes his mind and decides that he's above having sex with a woman who is unwilling).
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Of a tall tale from Howard's native Texas, trading out the native Americans for black bushmen, and the cowboy hero for Conan. And an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Human Sacrifice: In the vale.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: When Livia makes her escape on horseback her clothes are torn off and she spends the rest of the story walking around completely naked. She doesn't seem to mind though, so she's not quite a Reluctant Fanservice Girl.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Conan deals with the Eldritch Abomination with a few whacks of a sword.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Conan seems almost embarrassed when he turns down Livia's offer of sex at the end - after all, a civilized woman like her is no companion for a war-chief like him.
  • The Promise: Livia promises herself to Conan, bolts in panic, and admits it was wrong after. Conan lets her off.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The tribe Conan leads is implied to be this having been "suckled on the teats of war".
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Pre-emptively! Conan casually decides to stab the chief in the back, because he knows well the other man was planning to do it to him the moment Conan's war-band, the Bamulas, outlived their usefulness.
  • Values Dissonance: The portrayal of (pseudo-)African people is particularly bad in this one, even by the standards of some of Robert E. Howard's other work. Howard himself may have realized this, as he made no new or edited drafts of the story, something he did with all of the stories he was considering for publishing. By modern standards, it's by far the most racist story in Howard's Conan canon.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Conan tells Livia she's safe with him in the end.