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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.

"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.

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'.

Iron Tropes in the Moon:

  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends with Conan and Olivia setting out to sea with the pirate crew.
  • Arranged Marriage: Olivia was enslaved for refusing this. It's why she's in the hands of Shah Amurath.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: 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.
  • Badass in Distress: Conan is knocked out and tied up by the pirates after his attempt to invoke Asskicking Leads to Leadership goes awry.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The demigod and god. For the demigod, this overlaps with So Beautiful, It's a Curse, as it seems this is the reason he was tortured, possibly raped, and ultimately murdered.
  • 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.
  • Black Speech: The god's line, "yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!"
  • 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, this was visited on the demigod, resulting in the god cursing the torturers. Also,Olivia herself, at the hands of Shah Amurath, hence her being so desperate to get away from him.
  • 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.
  • Crippling Castration: What the black men did to the demigod is not clearly explained, but the lines used by Howard imply quite clearly that they castrated him.
    "The lithe naked form writhed beneath their cruel hands. Blood trickled down the ivory thighs to spatter on the polished floor. The screams of the victim echoed through the hall."
  • 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."
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The ancient builders of the city captured a young, ephebic demigod, subjected him to what is implied to be sexual mutilation, and finally killed him for the kicks. However, it turns out they Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu, because the demigod summoned his father before dying and the latter turned them all into statues.
  • 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. His dad shows up very unhappy at the fate of his son.
  • 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 Leads to Leadership claim.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Red Brotherhood pirates have members from many different nations in their ranks.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Pirates have to honor their code. Though there is some debate on precisely when, how, and to whom the code applies.
  • 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.
  • Frazetta Man: An ape man menaces Olivia, and Conan kills it.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: The Half-Human Hybrid, who had golden curly hair and marble-like skin.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The demigod. "Demi" because only his father was godly.
  • 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. It's the words the god spoke to curse his son's tormentors.
  • Lonely Together: Olivia argues for this with Conan, that they can just retire on this remote island. This is before they learn it's hardly an ideal summer home location.
  • Lunacy: The statues are returned to life under the light of the full moon.
  • Made a Slave: Olivia's Back Story, for refusing an Arranged Marriage.
  • Physical God: In the dream, he comes to retrieve his son's body and visit a curse on those who tortured him to death.
  • 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."
  • Private Military Contractors: Conan was in a company of mercenaries called the Free Companions, before their employer lost the war he was raging. After they went pillaging and were wiped out, he was the Sole Survivor.
  • 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 held as a sex slave by the black warriors, as the descriptive language Howard uses toward him is similar to the way he describes beautiful women.
  • 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, another instance of him not being consistently able to punching out Cthulhu.
  • Sex Slave: Olivia was this before she escaped at the start of the story. The demigod was likely it as well.
  • Taken for Granite: The statues used to be people, and under the light of the full moon, will be again.
  • Talking Animal: The parrot appears unintelligent but repeats the magical curse.
  • 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