The Vale of Lost Women
|"The Vale of Lost Women"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Original title||"The Vale of Lost Women"|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Publication type||Pulp magazine|
|Publisher||The Magazine of Horror|
"The Vale of Lost Women" is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard, but not published during his lifetime. The story was first published in The Magazine of Horror for Spring, 1967, and republished in the collection Conan of Cimmeria (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). It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and details Conan rescuing a female Ophirean captive from the Bamula tribe, on the (apparent) condition that he will receive sexual favors in return for his generosity.
"The Vale of Lost Women" is another short story which, although included in the official lore of Conan the Cimmerian, was not published until long after the death of Robert E. Howard.
The story begins with Livia, a soft and civilized woman, being held captive by of the Bakalah tribe. They captured Livia and her brother, when the two were traveling across a remote jungle. Eventually, the natives kill Livia's brother in an act of excruciating torture. Conan appears as the leader of the Bamulas, a rival tribe. He negotiates a possible truce with the Bakalah, and plans for a joint attack on Jihiji. After realizing Conan is white and may feel some kinship towards her, Livia asks him for his assistance against the black tribesmen. When Conan rejects her proposal, Livia offers herself to him as a reward for rescuing her.
Keeping his side of the bargain, Conan and his warriors proceed with a surprise attack on the Bakalahs in the middle of their celebratory feast. Soon, he slays their brutal chief by slicing his head off. The resulting carnage pushes the proper and civilized girl to her breaking point. When Livia sees Conan, drenched in blood and walking toward her bamboo hut while carrying the chief's head, she believes he is coming to claim his reward. Frightened, she breaks their agreement by fleeing on horseback into the nearby jungle.
After escaping from the village, her horse stumbles and Livia is thrown onto the ground. Unharmed, she descends into a mysterious valley filled with beautiful orchids. The valley is also inhabited by a tribe of brown-skinned women with a lesbian culture. Believing she has found shelter from the blood-soaked "male brutality" of her Cimmerian savior, Livia feels safe around the eerie beauty of her surroundings. Mesmerized by the hallucinogenic scent of a native flower, Livia barely notices she's being led to an altar-like section of the glade, where she is to be sacrificed to a bat-like entity, a devil from the Outer Dark.
Conan, having pursued Livia and heard her cries for help, rushes to her aid. After a brutal fight, Conan drives away the bat-like creature. Conan tells Livia that he regrets the "foul bargain" he made with her and has no intention of forcing her into having sex, which in his view would have been as damnable an action as raping her. Since he believes Livia isn't brave enough to survive within the Black Kingdoms, Conan tells her he'll guide her to the Stygian borders where they will send her home to Ophir. Embarrassed by her grateful reaction, he tells Livia she's too soft to be "the proper woman for the war chief of the Bamulas".
Like "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," the plot is minimal and overshadowed by Howard's prose; nevertheless, the story is considered memorable. The entire story is told from Livia's point of view, and there is again a dream-like quality to much of it. Also, the creature from the stars which attacks Livia in the strange valley was intended to be from the Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft, an intellectual correspondent of Howard.
Marvel Comics' 1970s Conan the Barbarian comic spent a very long time detailing and adding to Conan's adventures on the Black Coast. Conan joins the Bamulas in #101, with the "Vale of Lost Women" finally adapted in #104.
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