The People of the Black Circle

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"The People of the Black Circle"
Weird Tales 1934-09 - The People of the Black Circle.jpg
Cover of Weird Tales, September 1934.
Art by Margaret Brundage
Author Robert E. Howard
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Weird Tales
Publication date September–November 1934
Preceded by "The Devil in Iron"
Followed by "A Witch Shall be Born"

"The People of the Black Circle" is one of the original novellas about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine in three parts over the September, October and November 1934 issues. Howard earned $250 for the publication of this story.[1]

It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan kidnapping a regal princess of Vendhya (pre-historical India) and foiling a nefarious plot of world domination by the Black Seers of Yimsha. Due to its epic scope and atypical Hindustan flavor, the story is considered an undisputed classic of Conan lore and is often cited by Howard scholars as one of his best tales.[2] It is also one of the few Howard stories where the reader is treated a deeper insight on magic and magicians beyond the stereotypical Hyborian depiction as demon conjurer-illusionist-priests.

Plot summary[edit]

This Conan story is set in mythical Hyborian versions of IndiaPakistan (then united) and Afghanistan (Vendhya and Ghulistan respectively).

The death of Bunda Chand, King of Vendhya, via a curse channeled to his soul through a lock of his hair leads to the ascension of his sister, Devi Yasmina, who vows to get revenge on his killers, the Black Seers of Yimsha. Conan, meanwhile, has become chief of a tribe of Afghuli hillmen. Seven of his men have been captured by the Vendhyans and Yasmina intends to use them as collateral to force Conan to kill the Seers. However, Conan infiltrates the border fort where they are held and kidnaps the Devi instead (with the intent of exchanging her for the seven men). The problems are complicated by Kerim Shah, an agent of King Yezdigerd of Turan, who arranged Bunda Chand's death in order to lead an army through the mountains and invade in the subsequent confusion and turmoil. His contact with the Black Seers, Khemsa, has fallen in love with the Devi's maid Gitara. They decide to strike out on their own, kill the seven hillmen and pursue Conan and Yasmina to kill them both as well.

Cover of the first stand-alone book publication of the novella, published by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. in 1974. Art by David Ireland

Conan escapes into the Afghuli villages of the Zaibar Pass and Himelian Mountains (Hyborian equivalents of the Khyber pass and Himalayas). Yar Afzal, chief of the Wazuli village, is killed by Khemsa and the people turn against Conan, yet he manages to escape again with Yasmina. Khemsa again catches up with the pair but his attack is interrupted by four Rakhshas from Yimsha. His original masters kill Khemsa and Gitara, stun Conan and kidnap Yasmina. Khemsa survives a fall from the mountain-side long enough to give Conan a warning and a magic girdle. Shortly after, Kerim Shah and a group of Irakzai (Iraqis), also intent on capturing the Devi for King Yezdigerd, encounter Conan. They join together to rescue Yasmina, both open about their private reasons for doing so, and approach the mountain of Yimsha. Most of the men are killed in the attempt but, following Khemsa's warnings, Conan succeeds in killing the Black Seers and rescuing Yasmina.

As they escape they encounter the Turanian army of King Yezdigerd in conflict with Conan's former hillmen (who blame him for the death of the seven captives). Despite their attitude, Conan feels obliged to assist but cannot abandon the Devi. This problem is resolved when a Vendhyan army, invading the mountains to rescue their Queen, arrives. Together, Conan with his Afghulis and Yasmina with her cavalry, they destroy the Turanian army. Conan leaves with the hillmen and the Devi returns to her country.

Though they are strongly attracted to each other, the affair between Conan and Yasmina never gets beyond some kissing. Their respective roles pull them in opposite directions - she the Queen of Vendhiya, he the leader of roving hillemen engaged in constant robbery against her domain. In the original Howard stories, they never meet again. In the 1957 Return of Conan Björn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp let Conan and Yasmina meet again for one night of intensive love-making, many years later - when he is already King of Aquilonia and there is no more a conflict of interest.


Everett F. Bleiler noted the story's "Much spectacular magic and interesting characters."[3] Fritz Leiber praised the story lavishly, comparing it to "the melodramas of [Christopher] Marlowe and declaring "It has stirring language, strong motives, awesome sorcerers, brilliant magical devices, sympathetic hero-villains, and a Conan subdued enough to make the outcome interesting."[4]

Republishing history[edit]

The story was republished in the collections The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952) and Conan the Adventurer (Lancer Books, 1966). It was first published by itself in book form by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. in 1974.[5] It has most recently been republished in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and The Bloody Crown of Conan (Del Rey, 2005).


The story was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan #16-19 (Reprinted in 2008 by Dark Horse Comics in Savage Sword of Conan, Volume Two – ISBN 1-59307-894-3).


  1. ^ REHupa Fiction Timeline, retrieved 20 August 2007
  2. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 2, The Bloody Crown of Conan; 2005, Del Rey.
  3. ^ Bleiler, E. F. (1983). The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP. p. 259
  4. ^ Fritz Leiber, "Fantasy Books", Fantastic, May 1968, p.143
  5. ^ Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. p. 322. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"The Devil in Iron"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"A Witch Shall be Born"
Preceded by
"The Devil in Iron"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Preceded by
Grant Conan series
(publication order)
Succeeded by
A Witch Shall be Born
Preceded by
Conan and the Shaman's Curse
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Marauder