The Slithering Shadow

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"The Slithering Shadow"
Author Robert E. Howard
Original title "Xuthal of the Dusk"
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Weird Tales
Publication date 1933

"The Slithering Shadow" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in the September 1933 issue of Weird Tales magazine. "The Slithering Shadow" is the original title, but the story is also known as "Xuthal of the Dusk" in further publications.[1] It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan finding a lost city in a remote desert and encountering therein a Lovecraftian-esque demon known as Thog.

The story was republished in the collections The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952) and Conan the Adventurer (Lancer Books, 1966). It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) as "The Slithering Shadow" and in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003) as "Xuthal of the Dusk."

Plot summary[edit]

Conan the Cimmerian and Natala the Brythunian are the sole survivors of Prince Almuric's army which swept through the Lands of Shem and the outlands of Stygia. With a Stygian host on its heels, the prince's army had cut its way through the kingdom of Kush, only to be annihilated on the edge of the southern desert.

From that slaughter, when the Stygians and the Kushites surrounded the trapped remnants, Conan had cut his way clear and fled on a camel with Natala into the southern desert. For days they pushed on, seeking water, until their camel died. Then they continued on foot.

When their canteen is empty, Conan prepares to slay Natala as a mercy-killing, but he spies a distant city: Xuthal. At length, Conan and Natala enter Xuthal only to be attacked by an entranced guard. They soon encounter Thalis, a beautiful Stygian, who reveals the history of the peculiar city and the existence of Thog.

Thog is a monstrous demon from the city-states of ancient Valusia, his present form spun by the ancient sorcerers of Xuthal from the darkness between the stars. For an ageless time Thog has haunted the halls of Xuthal in search of living flesh to assuage the continuing manifestation of his body on the physical plane.

Thalis falls in love with Conan and, to eliminate her rival, kidnaps Natala in the hopes of sacrificing her to Thog. However, Thalis pauses to strip Natala of her tunic and, with a jewel-handled whip, flagellates her. In the middle of this whipping, Thog clandestinely appears, snatches Thalis, and devours her. The demon returns for Natala, but Conan intervenes and saves her. Conan fights Thog with all his might but scarcely harming its supernatural form, while receiving hideous crushing wound in the coils of its pseudopods and tentacles until he manages to pierce what he perceives as the 'head' of the monster from below and to precipitate it down into a well. Conan frees Natala who sets forth to help him but he's rapidly dying (this is the closest Conan ever gets to death in all of his saga), the Brythunian girl then brings him a jade decanter full of golden wine, retrieved from a room with a dreaming woman of Xuthal in it. The beverage proves to be a life giving elixir briefly mentioned by Thalis in a previous exchange, which miraculously heals all of Conan's wounds. Finally the couple retrieve food and water to cross the rest of the desert with and depart toward the horizon with Natala jokingly blaming Conan for having aroused Thalis' lustful nature and him retorting playfully about women's jealousy.

Reception[edit]

Fritz Leiber rated it among the worst of the Conan stories, "repetitious and childish, a self-vitiating brew of pseudo-science, stage illusions, and the 'genuine' supernatural."[2]

Adaptation[edit]

The story was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan #20.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cover of Weird Tales September 1934, with original tile.
  2. ^ Fritz Leiber, "Fantasy Books", Fantastic, May 1968, p.143

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Black Colossus"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Pool of the Black One"
Preceded by
"The Snout in the Dark"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"A Witch Shall be Born"
Preceded by
Conan and the Mists of Doom
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"Drums of Tombalku"