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Literature / Man Eaters of Zamboula

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"Man-Eaters of Zamboula" (a.k.a. "Shadows in Zamboula") is a Conan the Barbarian story written by Robert E. Howard. First published in November, 1935.

Conan's travels bring him to Zamboula, a city-state heavily populated by a slave-caste of blacks from a specific region. Having wasted his money gambling, as usual, Conan prepares to retire for the night to a pre-rented room when a friend of his tries to warn him of the dark secret of the city; many of the black slaves of the city are members of the Darfar, a tribe that practices cannibalism in homage of dark gods, and because of their numbers, the townsfolk allow them to run rampant at night so long as they only prey upon beggars and travellers. Conan scorns this claim, and the rumors that the inn at which he stays makes extra money by selling travellers to the slaves for their cannibal banquets, but finds himself forced to believe when he is attacked in his bed by one of the slaves.


Slaying his assailant, Conan wanders out into the night, where he finds himself drawn to rescuing a woman who is being threatened by more cannibals. She gives her name as Zabibi, and begs Conan to aid her, using promises of gold and her body. Firstly, he catches and subdues her lover, who has been driven mad, then he goes with her to the Temple of Hanuman to retrieve an antidote to the "love potion" that rendered him this way.

There, he fights a holy strangler and kills the high priest to retrieve the antidote, only to learn that Zabibi hasn't been telling him the whole truth. Given gold as a reward, he leaves — though not before stealing a magical talisman from her, and murdering the innkeeper who almost got him killed.


Trope Eaters of Zamboula:

  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Zabibi can't help feeling a touch annoyed when Conan takes her gold instead of her body without a word of protest.
  • Badass Boast: Conan gets one when faced by the professional strangler, who he promptly throttles to death in turn. Though he notes afterwards that he was mostly bluffing; a few seconds either way and his opponent genuinely would have strangled Conan first.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Aside from nude, Zabibi goes through the story in bare feet, presumably because, just like the rest of clothing, she is accustomed to be that way due to her work as a dancer.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Conan aids a random woman he meets on the street, simply because he can't bear the thought of allowing a woman to be slaughtered and devoured. Of course, the fact that she is beautiful and naked cannot be discounted.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Totrasmek, the priest of Hanuman.
  • The Gambling Addict: Conan gets his room in advance so he doesn't gamble the money he needs to pay for it away beforehand.
  • Human Sacrifice: Baal-pteor trained as a strangler to offer these up to the gods of his homeland before becoming hired by the Temple of Hanuman. He finds strangling a well-muscled barbarian is a lot harder than your average city-born weakling.
  • If I Can't Have You…: The intended love potion drives her lover mad so that he attacks her, because she got it from the sorcerer whose advances she rejected. Turns out she was trying to drug the king so she could steal the Ring of Power off him, while the sorcerer hoped to kill or discredit the king by having him go mad, so he could seize power himself.
  • Infallible Babble: Conan's friend babbles about the fate of strangers who stay the night in the house of Aram Baksh.
  • Inn of No Return: Conan books a room at an inn where the malevolent innkeeper Aram Baksh sells travellers to the cannibal slaves for money.
  • Irony: Zabibi swears by Set several times, and states she worships the serpent god. She is nearly killed by magically conjured snakes in a sacrifice to ape god Hanuman.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Conan flatters Zabibi by saying, when told her lover has gone mad, that her beauty could have that effect on many a man.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The prince, it is said, is ruled by his mistress.
  • Master of Illusion: Both Baal-pteor and Totrasmek use mesmerism, of something similar, against Conan and Zabibi.
  • Moral Myopia: Since the slaves murder only strangers, the townsfolk don't care.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Zabibi, who spends the entire story in the nude and is forced to dance while dodging poisonous snakes at one point.
  • Neck Snap: Used for human sacrifice in one distant country, and one of their temple executioners is working in the city. Conan ends up snapping his neck, while bragging that he'd necksnapped a wild Cimmerian bull while he was still young.
  • No Ontological Inertia: The illusory cobras threatening Zabibi turn to wisps of smoke when Totrasmek dies. Conan only saw them as smoke, even while Totrasmek lived.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Conan knew Zabibi's true identity from the start and only pretended to be fooled by the ruse.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: At the end of the story, Conan removes the tongue from the innkeeper mentioned above, mutilates his beard to disguise his appearance, then gives him to the cannibal slaves to be eaten.
  • Pillow Pistol: Conan sleeps with his steel, which is how he avoids being cut down by the cannibal who sneaks into his room.
  • The Power of Blood: Why Baal-pteor was trained as a strangler, his god wants blood so badly no drop is to be wasted.
  • Red Herring: The titular man-eaters. Conan is only threatened by them at the start because he chose to stay at the wrong inn, and the story's main conflict is completely unrelated. Conan actually does the cannibals a favor in getting his poetic justice against the man who set him up to be eaten at the beginning.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Totrasmek has 'em.
  • Ring of Power: The Star of Khorala, said to be able to control the minds of the opposite sex, and Totrasmek indicates it has more powers for one versed in his manner of sorcery.
  • The Reveal: Zabibi is Nafertari, the mistress of the town's ruler, Jungir Khan. And her lover is really Jungir Khan. And Conan knew the whole time.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Conan is warned about the inn by a man he had traveled with for many month, and stayed in his tent.
  • Scene Cover: The original Weird Tales cover features a naked Zabibi surrounded and threatened by a ring of cobras, which occurred near the stories climax. Also doubles as a Fanservice Cover.
  • Sex for Services: Well aware of how Conan is Eating the Eye Candy, Zabibi offers herself if he will kill Totrasmek for trying to drive her lover insane. Conan realises this is entirely a business arrangement for her, and so doesn't take offense when she reveals herself to be the king's mistress and gives him a bag of gold instead.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Conan is offered a job as captain of the guard reporting solely to Nafertari, with his first task being to find Star of Khorala. As Conan has already filched it, he just uses the bag of gold she gave him to buy a horse and ride as fast as he can out of the kingdom, pausing only to get revenge on the innkeeper.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Zabibi spends all the story voluntarily naked, only getting a cloak after the adventure is over, with the implied excuse of being an exotic dancer and being accustomed to go around wearing little to nothing. Of course, given that she is deceiving Conan all the time, it's implied she doing it in order to exploit I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!.
  • Schmuck Bait: Baal-pteor kidnaps Zabibi, barring the Secret Passage so Conan can't follow. When Conan tries another door however it's conveniently unlocked. Conan doesn't have to be told this is a trap, but enters anyway.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Zabibi slips her lover a Love Potion. Turns out she was Slipping a Mickey instead.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The local slaves are all cannibals who are allowed to run riot at night because the townsfolk consider them too useful to give up.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Apparently the difference between Baal-pteor's mesmerism (or skill with it) and Totrasmek's. While the illusions Conan faces are proven false as he interacts with them, Totrasmek states that the cobras will kill Zabibi should they bite her, but Conan sees them as nothing more than wisps of smoke.

Alternative Title(s): Shadows In Zamboula