Queen of the Black Coast

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This article is about a short story. For the protagonist and principal character, see Conan the Barbarian. For the collection of the same title that contains this story, see Queen of the Black Coast (collection).
"Queen of the Black Coast"
Weird Tales 1934-05 - Queen of the Black Coast.jpg
Cover by Margaret Brundage for Weird Tales issue May 1934
Author Robert E. Howard
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Weird Tales
Publication date 1934

"Queen of the Black Coast" is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine circa May 1934. It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan becoming a notorious pirate and plundering the coastal villages of Kush alongside Bêlit, a head-strong femme fatale.

Due to its epic scope and atypical romance, the story is considered an undisputed classic of Conan lore and is often cited by Howard scholars as one of his most famous tales.[1]

Howard earned $115 for the sale of this story to Weird Tales[2] and it is now in the public domain.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins in an Argos port where Conan forcefully demands passage aboard a sail barge, the Argus, which is casting off for southern waters to trade beads, silks, sugar and brass-hilted swords to the black kings of Kush. The captain of the barge reluctantly agrees to Conan's request for passage only after several threats of violence. The captain is soon informed that Conan is fleeing the civil authorities of Argos due to a court dispute in which Conan refused to betray the whereabouts of a casual friend to a fascistic magistrate (although no actual political reference is hinted in Howard's story).

Upon reaching the pirate-infested waters of Kush, their trade ship is attacked by the infamous reavers led by Bêlit, the Queen of the Black Coast. Bêlit and her ebony-skinned warriors slaughter the unprepared crew of the Argus, but she spares the Cimmerian due to his unique appearance. Bêlit offers Conan the chance to sail with her, be her chosen mate, and help lead her fierce warriors. Oddly smitten by this fiery woman, Conan agrees and, for a time, they raid the Black Coast together brutally pillaging coastal towns and instilling fear into the superstitious natives.

Soon, the Hyborian legends begin that the she-devil of the sea, Bêlit, has found a mate, Conan, an iron man whose wrath is that of a wounded lion. Survivors of butchered Stygian ships curse the name of Bêlit and her Cimmerian warrior with fierce blue eyes.

Sailing up a nameless river, Bêlit and Conan encounter ancient ruins in which is found a lost treasure, a winged monstrosity and skulking hyenas that were once men. Despite the bizarre murders of their crew and the various horrors lurking in the jungle, Bêlit and Conan still find time for their sexual romance which is alluded to by Howard as having sadomasochistic undertones. In a moment of passion, Bêlit promises that even death could not keep her from Conan's side, a promise which she must keep far sooner than she expects.

Despite her intense love for Conan, Bêlit is soon captivated by a cursed jeweled necklace found among the lost treasure which seemingly instills the wearer with a mix of madness and monomania. In such a twisted mental state, Bêlit issues faulty orders. Given the constant bizarre dangers and her own madness, her crew is soon decimated and Bêlit herself is hanged by the winged monster. Driven to rage and now alone, Conan confronts her supernatural murderer. He is on the verge of being slain when the spirit of Bêlit intervenes. Conan slays the winged horror and leaves the ruins in Bêlit's ship with her corpse.

The story closes with Conan giving Bêlit a Viking funeral and reflecting upon his loss.

Reception[edit]

The use of poetic descriptions throughout the tale is quite strong, and on par with Howard's "The Frost-Giant's Daughter." However, the narrative is often criticized by Howard scholars for not having the flow of the better Conan yarns. Largely, this is because Howard was aiming for an epic feel, something to which the story is eminently suited. Plot-point by plot-point, "Queen of the Black Coast" comes closest of any of the Conan stories to achieving the quality of "legend" as the story is filled with classic moments: the dead Bêlit hanging by her necklace from a yardarm; Bêlit's Viking funeral in a flaming ship as Conan moodily looks on; the ghostly spirit of Bêlit returning to protect her lover. Howard also begins each chapter with excerpts from The Song of Bêlit, a poem presumably written by Hyborian Age minstrels to honor her memory.

Everett F. Bleiler described "Queen of the Black Coast" as "probably the best of the Conan stories, perhaps because it is the only one based on another emotion than lust, greed, or hatred."[4]

Publication history[edit]

The story was first published in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales magazine. It was republished in the collections The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer Books, 1969). It has most recently been republished in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

Adaptation[edit]

The story was adapted and expanded by Roy Thomas, Mike Ploog and John Buscema in Conan the Barbarian #57, #58 and #100.

Petri Hiltunen made his own graphic novel adaptation in 1991. It has only been published in Finland.

A roleplaying adventure adaptation, authored by Robert Traynor for the GURPS roleplaying system, named Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast, was published by Steve Jackson Games in 1989.[5]

The concept of the woman who dies, but returns to help Conan in battle, was used in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian.

The newly launched Conan the Barbarian series from Dark Horse Comics by writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan uses Queen of the Black Coast as the basis for the first three issues. The death of Bêlit is told in issues 22-25.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, pages 445, 446 and 447, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.
  2. ^ REHupa Fiction Timeline, retrieved 1 December 2007
  3. ^ The Robert-E-Howard: Electronic Amateur Press Association, The Copyright and Ownership Status of the Works and Words of Robert E. Howard by Paul Herman, retrieved 1 December 2007
  4. ^ Bleiler, The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, Kent State University Press, 1983, p.260
  5. ^ Page for Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast on the SJ Games website, retrieved March 3, 2011

External links[edit]

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"Shadows in the Moonlight"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Devil in Iron"
Preceded by
"Black Colossus"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
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"The Snout in the Dark"
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Conan the Guardian
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology
(Part 1)
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Conan the Rebel
Preceded by
Conan the Rebel
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology
(Part 2)
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Conan at the Demon's Gate