The God in the Bowl

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An illustration of a dramatic scene in The God in the Bowl as depicted by Mark Schultz in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Del Rey, 2003). The original short story was written by Robert E. Howard and first appeared in a 1952 issue of Space Science Fiction magazine.
"The God in the Bowl"
AuthorRobert E. Howard
Original title"The God in the Bowl"
SeriesConan the Cimmerian
Published inSpace Science Fiction
Publication typePulp magazine
Publication date1952

"The God in the Bowl" is one of the original short stories featuring the sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard but not published during his lifetime. It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan robbing a temple museum only to be ensnared in bizarre events and deemed the prime suspect in a murder mystery. The story first saw publication in September 1952 in Space Science Fiction and has been reprinted many times since.

Plot summary[edit]

One night in the Nemedian municipality of Numalia, the second largest city of Nemedia, Conan enters a fantastic establishment: a great museum and antique house which citizens call the Temple of Kallian Publico.

In the midst of robbing this museum, Conan finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation when the strangled corpse of the temple's owner and curator, Kallian Publico, is found by a night watchman. Though the Cimmerian is the prime suspect, the investigating magistrate, Demetrio, and the prefect of police, Dionus, show remarkable forbearance. The two allow Conan not only to remain free, but also to keep his unsheathed sword while their nervous men search the shadowy premises. It was a combination of Conan's massive physique, the fiery glare in his eyes, and the insistence that he'll disembowel the first person who tried to apprehend him which kept the royal guards at bay.

As his on-scene investigation unfolds, the magistrate soon learns from Promero, Publico's clerk, that Publico had received from distant Stygia a strange bowl-like sarcophagus which now lies unsealed, open, and empty. This sarcophagus was said to be a priceless relic found among the darkened tombs far beneath the Stygian pyramids and sent to Caranthes of Hanumar, Priest of Ibis, "because of the love which the sender bore the priest of Ibis". Intercepting this rare item meant for Caranthes, Publico had believed the sarcophagus contained the fabled diadem of the giant-kings whose primordial kin dwelt in that dark southern land before the ancestors of the Stygians arrived. However, the object contained within was never the diadem, but something of a more insidious nature.

While the magistrate and his men are baffled when uncovering this aforementioned information, the reader quickly begins to suspect[original research?] the murderer may have been something other than entirely human and was contained within the now-opened sarcophagus.

An inhuman scream forces the police to retreat from the museum, leaving Conan to fend for himself with the roaming "murderer". Soon, Conan eventually locates the culprit whom he hesitantly dispatches with his long sword.

Editing controversy[edit]

The original version of the story was rejected by pulp magazine Weird Tales in Howard's lifetime and only rediscovered in 1951. It was then edited by L. Sprague de Camp for publication, and this edited version was the first version to see print. Several other differently-edited versions followed. The unedited, original version was only printed in 2002 with Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933).

Many of the changes made to the story by de Camp were slight. They have been characterized as technically correct and giving greater precision to the text, but as losing some of the richness and energy of Howard's original. One instance of the differences in texts follows (the first is by Howard, the second by de Camp):

Arus stood in a vast corridor, lighted by huge candles in nitches along the walls. These walls were hung with black velvet tapestries, and between the tapestries hung shields and crossed weapons of fantastic make.

The watchman stood in a vast corridor lighted by huge candles set in niches along the walls. Between the niches, these walls were covered with black velvet wall-hangings, and between the hangings hung shields and crossed weapons of fantastic make.

De Camp's editorial work on both this and other Howard Conan stories, in which he reportedly substantially altered and rewrote whole sections, often to include references to his own work, have been decried by Howard purists.[1]

Everett F. Bleiler, commenting on the edited text, described "The God in the Bowl" as "a primitive detective story" and found it to be "not very good".[2] Carson Ward commented further: "A more fitting term would be an anti detective story- since it turns upside down the basic conventions of the genre. It begins in normal detective story fashion - a murder is discovered, the police arrives, a rationalist detective (Dionus) starts a thorough investigation, discards red herrings, and looks for the real culprit. But in total opposition to the conventional ending of a detective story - i.e, the detective solving the mystery and triumphantly apprehending the culprit - 'God in Bowl' ends with the forces of law and order totally routed, detective and constables fleeing the scene in panic. The stage is left to the clash of primeval forces, the barbarian from the north against the sinister magic from the south. The outcome is entirely due to Conan's sword-arm. The laws and criminal procedures of the surrounding city and kingdom are effectively nullified."[3]

Reprint history[edit]

Reprints of this story have appeared in the collections The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan (Lancer Books, 1967). 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). Recent versions have removed all alterations made by L. Sprague de Camp.


The story introduces the god Ibis and his priest, Caranthes of Hanumar, but not much is told of them - except for the evident fact that somebody in sinister Stygia disliked the priest (and presumably, his god) enough to spend considerable effort in the attempt to kill him. Howard never made much more of Ibis in the rest of the canonical Conan stories, leaving him a rather obscure feature of the Hyborian age. But, some writers of future Conan stories gave Ibis a more prominent role. In particular, the plot of Sean A. Moore's Conan and the Grim Grey God takes up in detail thousands of years' of the history of Ibis and his priesthood, and their hereditary conflict with the Stygian priests and gods.


The story was adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian #7 ("The Lurker Within", July 1971) and by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord in Dark Horse Comics' Conan #10 & 11.


  1. ^ The Barbarian Keep, retrieved 7 July 2007
  2. ^ Bleiler, The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, Kent State University Press, 1983, p.260
  3. ^ Carson Ward, "Detective Stories with a Historical, Fantasy and Science Fiction Background" in Berry Sheridan (ed.) "Collected Essays on the Development of Crime Fiction", London 1989

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"The Hyborian Age"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Black Stranger"
Preceded by
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Tower of the Elephant"
Preceded by
Conan the Fearless
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Warlord