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Literature / Iron Shadows in the Moon

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Olivia dreamed, and through her dreams crawled a suggestion of lurking evil, like a black serpent writhing through flower gardens. Her dreams were fragmentary and colorful, exotic shards of a broken, unknown pattern, until they crystalized into a scene of horror and madness, etched against a background of cyclopean stones and pillars.
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"Iron Shadows in the Moon" (a.k.a. "Shadows in the Moonlight") is a Conan the Barbarian story by Robert E. Howard. First published in April, 1934.

The story begins with Olivia, a beautiful slave girl, being chased down by her cruel master, Shah Amurath, who traps her at the edge of the water, where she can not even drown, but Conan appears, the only survivor of a band of kozaks massacred by the Shah's men and intent upon revenge, who savagely kills him. At Olivia's plea, Conan takes her in a boat, and they escape to an isle, where they find a parrot screeching mysterious words and a hall of mysterious statues, depicting men who are black but not Negroes. When they sleep there, Olivia dreams of these men torturing a demigod, who finally summons his father and is murdered before the god arrives. The god appears and turns to them to stone, and — from his gestures at the moon — declares they shall wake only under moonlight. Olivia wakes, panicked, and convinces Conan to leave.

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They find pirates arriving, and Conan kills the captain, an old enemy, making himself their captain by the laws of the Red Brotherhood. They capture him and dispute the matter in the hall. Olivia sneaks in and rescues Conan, who then has to kill a prowling ape-man who had earlier thrown boulders at them. They hear a slaughter behind them, and the survivors of the band return to the ship to beg Conan to take them on. Conan sets sail, promising Olivia that she will be the 'Queen of the Blue Sea'.


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Tropes included

  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The Red Brotherhood operates this way, and Conan claims captaincy of the pirates after slaying their former captain. Though there's immediately heated debate on if the rules apply to Conan.
  • Arranged Marriage: Olivia was enslaved for refusing this
  • Badass in Distress: Conan is knocked out and tied up by the pirates after his attempt to invoke Asskicking Equals Authority goes awry.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The demigod and god.
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: Olivia is one to a thoroughly repellent man, who it's implied tortures her instead of or in addition to raping her. Conan saves her from her owner at the start of the story, but mostly because Conan had his own score to settle.
  • Call on Me: In Olivia's dream, the demigod calls out to his godly father to save him from torture.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: In Olivia's dream. Also, apparently, to Olivia herself.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Olivia complains about the dangers on Conan's proposed route. When he points out that he's doing her a favor, she apologizes.
  • Cowardly Lion: Olivia. From beginning to end, she's afraid for her life, but she was able to successfully rescue Conan when push came to shove.
  • Curse Escape Clause: Moonlight revives the titular Iron Shadows from whatever the god did to them.
  • Damsel in Distress: Zig-Zagged with Olivia. While she definitely needs Conan to rescue her several times, she also rescues him when the pirates knock him out and tie him up. She's also the POV character for the story, and demonstrates some admirable determinator qualities.
  • Death of the Old Gods: Presumably what happened to the Physical God
    "What gods?" he muttered.
    "The nameless, forgotten ones. Who knows? They have gone back into the still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs beyond the stars. Gods are no more stable than men."
  • Distressed Dude: Conan is knocked out and captured by the pirates, and Olivia has to sneak into their camp at night to rescue him.
  • Divine Parentage: The demigod.
  • Dramatic Thunder: When the god arrives.
  • Dreaming of Times Gone By: Olivia, sleeping in the ruins, dreams of how the Iron Shadows came to be.
  • Driven to Suicide: Olivia threatens this when she's cornered by Shah Amurath.
  • Due to the Dead: The god retrieves his son's body.
  • Enemy Civil War: The pirates have a very heated argument about the legitimacy of Conan's Asskicking Equals Authority claim.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Pirates have to honor their code.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Laughing at torture. Both the men who became the Iron Shadows and Shah Amurath.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Amurath is unfailingly smiling and well-spoken, even as he threatens Olivia with torture and rape.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Conan became a bandit when he was this.
  • Frazetta Man: An ape man menaces Olivia
  • Gold and White Are Divine: The Half-Human Hybrid
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The demigod
  • Klingon Promotion: Conan tries to invoke this, killing the pirate chief and claiming the right to lead the crew. It backfires when the pirates start arguing about his right to do this as an outsider, up to the point where they knock Conan out and capture him to await their judgement.
  • Language of Magic: Used by a Physical God. Repeated by a parrot.
  • Lonely Together: Olivia argues for this with Conan.
  • Lunacy: It can restore the statues.
  • Made a Slave: Olivia's Back Story.
  • Physical God: In the dream.
  • Plot Hole: Why did the god let them come back to life?
  • Precursors: the god must be long gone
    "The nameless, forgotten ones. Who knows? They have gone back into the still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs beyond the stars. Gods are no more stable than men."
  • Random Events Plot: Three unrelated perils. (The Iron Shadows, the pirates, the ape-man.)
  • Rape as Drama: Olivia, as a sex slave, obviously went through this repeatedly with Amurath, and he intends to drag her back to it. Also, it's possible that the demigod was raped by the black warriors. The descriptive language Howard uses toward him is similar to the way he describes beautiful women, and there are lines like this:
    "The lithe naked form writhed beneath their cruel hands. Blood trickled down the ivory thighs to spatter on the polished floor."
  • Revenge: Conan is the only survivor of a band of kozaks massacred by Shah Amurath and his men, and as one can probably guess, he's quite pissed about it. His vengeance upon the Shah is anything but pretty.
  • Run or Die: From the statues. Yes, even Conan.
  • Sex Slave: Olivia was this before she escaped at the start of the story.
  • Talking Animal: The parrot appears unintelligent but repeats the magical curse.
  • Taken for Granite: The statues
  • Villain Opening Scene: It opens with Olivia's pursuit
  • Villains Want Mercy: Amurath and his warriors slaughtered Conan's companions to a man, yet when Conan quickly breaks his shoulder when they fight one-on-one, he cries out for quarter. Conan doesn't oblige.
  • You Are Too Late: The god can't save his son, only punish his torturers

Alternative Title(s): Shadows In The Moonlight

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