Jewels of Gwahlur

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"Jewels of Gwahlur"
Weird Tales March 1935.jpg
Cover of Weird Tales, March 1935.
Art by Margaret Brundage
Author Robert E. Howard
Original title "Servants of Bit-Yakin"
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in Weird Tales
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Rural Publishing
Publication date March 1935
Preceded by "A Witch Shall be Born"
Followed by "Beyond the Black River"

"Jewels of Gwahlur" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, it concerns several parties, including Conan, fighting over and hunting for the eponymous treasure in Hyborian Africa. The tale was first published in the March, 1935 issue of Weird Tales. Howard's original title for the story was "The Servants of Bit-Yakin".

Plot summary[edit]

Robert E. Howard set his story in Hyborian Africa. The Teeth of Gwahlur are legendary jewels, kept within the ancient city of Alkmeenon, in the country of Keshan "which in itself was considered mythical by many northern and western nations".

Conan, following rumors of this treasure, journeys into Keshan and offers his services in training the local army against their rival, Punt. However, Thutmekri, a Stygian thief with similar intentions, and his Shemitish partner, Zargheba, also arrive in the country with an offer for a military alliance with another of Punt's neighbors, Zembabwei, with some of the Teeth to seal their pact. The high priest of Keshan, Gorulga, announces that a decision on the matter can only be made after consulting with Yelaya, the mummified oracle of Alkmeenon. This is all the treasure hunters require. Zargheba joins Gorulga in his expedition while Conan travels ahead of them.

In the abandoned city, an initial atmosphere of the supernatural gives way to intrigue over the oracle. Zargheba has brought along a Corinthian slave girl, Muriela, to play the role of Yelaya and tell the priests to give all of their jewels to Thutmekri. Conan is at first frightened by the living oracle, but quickly discovers the ruse. Intrigue and mystery follows as the imposter and the body of the genuine oracle switch roles. Gorulga, however, is innocent in this, genuinely attempting to consult his oracle.

However, a fourth faction quickly appears. A Pelishti traveller, Bit-Yakin, had visited the valley where Alkmeenon is located centuries ago. When the natives of Keshan visited the site to worship Yelaya as a goddess, Bit-Yakin provided prophecies from a nearby cave. Eventually, he died there; his undying servants buried him as per his instructions and, free of their master's control, brutally slaughtered any priests from Keshan who attempted to visit the city while consulting with Yelaya afterwards. Bit-Yakin's servants, revealed to be large gray-haired apes, kill the survivors of Gorulga's party after they attempt to claim the jewels. Conan manages to acquire a chest containing the jewels, but is forced to abandon his prize so he could rescue Muriela. The two escape together and Conan ends his adventure by outlining a new plan.

Characters and places[edit]

Several parts of the story highlight Conan's intellect, in particular his grasp of written and spoken languages: "In his roaming about the world the giant adventurer had picked up a wide smattering of knowledge, particularly including the speaking and reading of many alien tongues. Many a sheltered scholar would have been astonished at the Cimmerian's linguistic abilities, for he had experienced many adventures where knowledge of a strange language had meant the difference between life and death." Conan's polyglottery is also a plot point in Robert E. Howard's only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, while his literacy and knowledge were noted in the very first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword".

The ending emphasizes Conan's chivalry and his strong tendency to save damsels in distress. Being able to save either Muriela or the chest of priceless gems which he spent months in seeking, and only seconds to make a choice, Conan without hesitation chooses to save the girl and let the treasure be irrevocably lost.

The Conan stories are ambiguous with regard to whether the various gods truly exist. In "Black Colossus" Mitra is quite real and unequivocally manifests himself to those who come to his shrine; conversely, in the present story all "manifestations" of the goddess are nothing but cynical frauds; but in L. Sprague de Camp's sequel, "The Ivory Goddess", the balance turns again to real and actually manifest deities.

The Conan stories take place in a fictional past, known as the Hyborian Age, but based on real places. The main country of Keshan takes its name from "Kesh", the Egyptian name for Nubia. Their enemy, the Land of Punt, has a similar Egyptian origin. The other nation, Zembabwei, takes its name from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe (as did the real-world country Zimbabwe some time after this story was published).

Reception[edit]

Fritz Leiber rated it among the worst Conan stories, "repetitious and childish, a self-vitiating brew of pseudo-science, stage illusions, and the 'genuine' supernatural."[1]

Reprint history[edit]

The collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967) republished the story. It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) as "Jewels of Gwalhur" and The Conquering Sword of Conan (2005) under Howard's original title, "The Servants of Bit-Yakin".

Adaptations[edit]

Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano adapted the story in Marvel Comic's "Savage Sword of Conan" magazine #25 in 1977. In 2008, that adaptation was reprinted in the trade paperback collection "Savage Sword of Conan" Volume 3.

P. Craig Russell also adapted the story in Dark Horse comics in 2005 as a three issue mini-series and collected in 2006 as a hardcover book.

An audiobook edition was narrated by Phil Chenevert in 2013 and released by LibriVox in the public domain.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fritz Leiber, "Fantasy Books", Fantastic, May 1968, p.143
  2. ^ Jewels of Gwahlur, narrated by Phil Chenevert for LibriVox

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"A Witch Shall be Born"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"Beyond the Black River"
Preceded by
"Red Nails"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Preceded by
Conan and the Gods of the Mountain
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Ivory Goddess"