Shadows in the Moonlight (story)

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"Shadows in the Moonlight"
Weird Tales April 1934.jpg
Cover of Weird Tales, April 1934.
Art by Margaret Brundage
AuthorRobert E. Howard
Original title"Iron Shadows in the Moon"
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesConan the Cimmerian
Genre(s)Fantasy
Published inWeird Tales
Publication typePulp magazine
PublisherRural Publishing Corporation
Publication dateApril 1934
Preceded by"Rogues in the House"
Followed by"Queen of the Black Coast"

"Shadows in the Moonlight" 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 Weird Tales magazine in April 1934. Howard originally named his story "Iron Shadows in the Moon". It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan escaping to a remote island in the Vilayet Sea where he encounters the Red Brotherhood, a skulking creature, and mysterious iron statues.

The story was republished in the collections Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954) and Conan the Freebooter (Lancer Books, 1968). It has more recently been published 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).

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins when Olivia, having fled from her captivity in the city of Akif, is finally cornered near a marsh on the edge of the Vilayet Sea. Olivia's pursuer and former master is a sadistic rogue named Shah Amurath. Suddenly, before Amurath could lay his hands on Olivia, a figure rises from the reeds. The newcomer has witnessed all his friends betrayed and treachery drag him down to a man, before escaping into the marshes. There, the man has hidden out for so long he is nearly mad. The newcomer quickly kills Amurath, as he and Olivia climb aboard a raft while deciding to lie low for some time. Only then, does the stranger reveal his true identify: Conan the Cimmerian.

Illustration for "Shadows in the Moonlight" on p. 467 of Weird Tales by Hugh Doak Rankin, April 1934

The fugitives journey towards a dark and apparently deserted island, where they spend the night sleeping in ancient ruins decorated with remarkably lifelike statues. Olivia has a dream in which she witnesses a tribe of warriors turn into the statues, and is convinced they will come to life in the moonlight. Conan is less than convinced by Olivia's fears; he's more concerned by whatever it is lurking in the jungle, lobbing giant boulders at the two fugitives.

Soon, a pirate ship arrives on the island. Leaving Olivia hidden in the brush, Conan challenges their captain, an old rival. He slays the pirate captain, but is knocked unconscious by a stone from his sling. The pirates capture Conan and take him to the ruins, where they discuss his fate, before passing out drunk. Meanwhile, Olivia narrowly escapes from a massive and dark figure which pursues her close to the ruins.

Olivia sneaks past the drunken pirates and frees Conan. Soon, Conan slays the dark figure pursuing Olivia, a giant ape, which had also been hurling the boulders at them. As Conan recovers from his battle with the ape, he hears the beginning of a horrific slaughter back at the ruins.

The two quickly head back to the deserted pirate ship. As Conan prepares the ship to sail, a band of bruised and bewildered pirates appear while asking for his aid in leaving the "devil island". Conan challenges the pirates and they accept him as their new captain. At the end, Olivia begs Conan to allow her to stay with him and he, laughing, accepts, saying he will make her into a "Queen of the Blue Sea".

Themes[edit]

The last sentence, in which Conan promises to make Olivia "Queen of the Blue Sea", is similar to the last sentence of "The Hour of the Dragon" in which Conan declares: "Zenobia was a slave in Nemedia, but I will make her queen of Aquilonia!". However, the directions of social movement are reversed between these two cases - Olivia, who was born a princess, becomes a pirate queen; Zenobia who had been a slave becomes the queen of a major kingdom.

Olivia never again appears in the Conan stories, and it remains unknown what was her ultimate fate. It is noteworthy, however, that the very next Conan story, published one month after the present one, was the well-known "Queen of the Black Coast" where Conan is paired with a female pirate - though one very different from Olivia, and on a different sea.

Adaptation[edit]

The story was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan #4 in 1974, then by Tim Truman and Tomás Giorello in Conan the Cimmerian #22-25 in 2010.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Rogues in the House"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"Queen of the Black Coast"
Preceded by
"The Hand of Nergal"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Black Colossus"
Preceded by
Conan the Renegade
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan of the Red Brotherhood