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Literature / The God in the Bowl

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"The God in the Bowl" is a Conan the Barbarian story written by Robert E. Howard.

A nightwatchman at Kallian Publico's temple comes upon the owner's corpse while making his rounds, only to run into Conan in the process of attempting a heist. Thinking Conan the murderer, the watchman sounds the alarm to summon the city guards, and by luck the chief inquisitor happened to be accompanying the guards on their round. An investigation is initiated, and despite the chief guard's insistance that Conan is the guilty party, the inquisitor finds doubt as to such accusations.

As the investigation goes on, more participants are brought in, secrets are revealed and eventually, Conan stands alone against an otherworldly foe...

Written in 1932 or 1933, but not published. A version edited by L. Sprague de Camp was first published in September, 1952. The original version was first published in 1975.


Marvel Comics would adapt the work for their ongoing Conan the Barbarian comic, as well as The Savage Sword of Conan a few years later. Darkhorse Comics would later adapt the story for their own ongoing Conan book.

Tropes found in this work

  • Animalistic Abomination: A serpent with an inhumanly beautiful humanoid head.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Zig-Zagged. Dionus think the best way to go about the investigation is to beat a confession out of Conan, while Demetrio knows antagonizing a wild Cimmerian is a fatally bad idea.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: The story begins when the night watchman comes across Conan near the body of Kallian Publico. It doesn't help his case that the Cimmerian was there to steal.
  • Death By Greed: Kallian Publico opens the bowl meant for the high priest of Ibis in the hopes of claiming the riches within for himself. Instead, what lurked within strangles him dead.
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  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Conan, did you just decapitate a Physical God?
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Do not open the bowl.
  • Eye Scream: Posthumo, a Numalian guard, once gouged a woman's eye out when she would not betray her sweetheart of a thief. He gets his own eye gouged out by Conan later on during a tussle.
  • Faking and Entering: Kallian opens the bowl to look for valuables, since he can claim a burglar took them.
  • Genre Shift: The bulk of the story reads less like a typical Sword & Sorcery adventure and more like a police procedural or CSI: Nemedia. Really shows Robert E. Howard's genius as a writer: he can plunk his Barbarian Hero into a detective story — as a suspect, no less! — and still make a compelling yarn of it.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Demetrio and Dionus, to a large extent. Dionus threatens Conan with beatings and execution every chance he gets; Demetrio mostly just wants Conan's cooperation in figuring out what actually happened.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Thoth-Amon doesn't appear in the story, but the characters suspect that he's the one who sent the bowl to the museum.
  • Hero Antagonist: The guards led by Dionus and Demetrio are (mostly) just people doing their job, trying to stop a burglary and figure out who or what is responsible for the murders. Demetrio in particular is very fair and even-handed in his dealings with Conan, in that while he knows the Cimmerian is a thief, he deduces he couldn't have possibly killed anyone.
  • Jerkass: Dionus
    • Conan himself is not exactly at his best here. The story takes place very early in his adventuring life, and he is even more hot-tempered than usual. He inflicts some very cruel damage to some of the other characters.
    • Posthumo, a towering guardsman, enjoys tormenting suspects and terrorizing them a little too much. He once tore out the eye of a thief's ssweetheart to get her to tell on him. He gets some justice when Conan gouges his eye out.
    • Aztrias Petanius is this in droves. He hires Conan to steal a jeweled goblet and keeps feigning ignorance when he's caught, even as the authorities promise that not only will he not be implicated, but Conan's freedom would also be guaranteed.
  • Kick the Dog: Posthumo gouged out a woman's eye for not testifying against her thieving lover.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Posthumo gets trampled by his compatriots as they flee.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Kallian Publico is found dead in his own museum, alone except for the night watchman who discovered the corpse and Conan, who had just broken in through a trapdoor on the roof and wouldn't have had time to kill him. The doors are all locked; Kallian and the watchman have the only keys.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Conan only broke in to the museum to steal a jeweled goblet; he had no idea that at the same time the museum's owner had accidentally unleashed an eldritch monstrosity and died horribly.
  • Off with His Head!: Conan decapitates Aztrias Petanius with a single sword stroke.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Demetrio generally comes across as one.
  • The Scapegoat: Dionus plans this for Conan.
    • Kallian Publico fully intended for Arus, the nightwatchman of his temple, to take the blame for the "theft" of the bowl's contents.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Everyone who isn't dead, or driven mad, or named Conan of Cimmeria hightails it out of the place before the climax.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Conan versus the son of Set.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Especially gigantic snakes that can and do kill people.
  • Snake People: One, in a jar
  • Unknown Rival: Thoth-Amon and Conan


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