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Thoth-Amon is a fictional character created by Robert E. Howard. He is an evil wizard in "The Phoenix on the Sword", the first of the Conan the Cimmerian stories. He is often used as Conan's arch-nemesis in derivative works, but the two characters never met in any of Howard's original stories.
Howard most likely derived the character's name from the Egyptian deities Thoth and Amon. Thoth-Amon was the foremost sorcerer of the Stygian culture, which Howard set up as the ancestors of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Thoth-Amon was a worshipper of a god he referred to as Father Set. While this must derive from the Egyptian deity Set, Howard transforms him into a serpent god. There is some intimation that Father Set may be one of the Great Old Ones created by H. P. Lovecraft. Howard and Lovecraft were both good friends who often drew inspiration from each other's work.
In his first, and only, appearance, Howard describes Thoth as "a somber giant, whose dusky skin revealed his Stygian blood."
The character is one of Howard's most memorable villains and has been used by other authors, notably L. Sprague de Camp. Thoth-Amon was a recurring villain in Marvel Comics' various Conan titles. Several of the sorcerer's accoutrements, The Scroll of Thoth and The Serpent Ring of Set, have also shown up in other stories by Richard Tierney and others. Though the villain in the film Conan the Barbarian is named Thulsa Doom, after an evil wizard in Howard's Kull stories, he more closely resembles Thoth-Amon.
The enduring popularity of Thoth-Amon may be because of his unusual characterization. Though a villain, the sorcerer has many heroic qualities. He is brave, physically strong, intelligent, and devoted to the advancement of his people. He is perhaps the best example of a noble villain.
Appearances in Howard's works
Thoth-Amon only ever appeared directly in one of Robert E. Howard's stories, "The Phoenix on the Sword", which was also the first appearance of Conan. In this story, he is temporarily powerless and the slave of an Aquilonian outlaw named Ascalante. It's revealed how Thoth-Amon used to be the greatest wizard of Stygia, until the Serpent Ring of Set was stolen and his powers were removed. The ring is described as "of a metal like copper, and was made in the form of a scaled serpent, coiled in three loops, with its tail in its mouth. Its eyes were yellow gems which glittered balefully." Thoth-Amon regains the ring and his power during the course of the story. His attack on Conan during the story is accidental, when he sends a demon to kill Ascalante and his conspirators who are at that time attempting to assassinate the Cimmerian.
Thoth-Amon is mentioned in two further Conan stories. First in "The God in the Bowl" (earlier in Conan's career than the first story) and then in The Hour of the Dragon (later than the first story). In both stories, he is feared as a major Stygian wizard. "The God in the Bowl" is the only one of the two in which his actions threaten Conan, although indirectly as in "The Phoenix on the Sword". In The Hour of the Dragon, Conan's actions aided Thoth when he destroys a cabal of rival Stygian priests plotting to use against him the Heart of Ahriman, which Conan required for his own ends.
Howard made one more reference to the character in a published work. Set in the modern 1930s, Thoth's Serpent Ring of Set again appears in the John Kirowan story "The Haunter of the Ring". This was one of Howard's direct contributions for the Cthulhu Mythos, which was created by his correspondent H. P. Lovecraft.
The ring is at first described physically: "Oh, a fantastic thing--copper, made like a scaly snake coiled three times, with its tail in its mouth and yellow jewels for eyes. I gather he picked it up somewhere in Hungary." Later in the story, it's directly named as the "accursed ring of Thoth-Amon, handed down by foul cults of sorcerers since the days of forgotten Stygia."
One further mention of Thoth-Amon exists in Howard's second draft of "Marchers of Valhalla", where Ishtar mentions, "Thoth-Amon, the sorceror of Stygia, hated my father, and to spite him, he put the curse on me of Life ever-lasting!" As the kingdoms of Lemuria and Stygia existed during different ages of Howard's universe, the explanation for this is unclear.
In non-Howard Conan books
Thoth-Amon frequently appears in various later books, added to the Conan saga by other authors.
In Sean A. Moore's Conan and the Grim Grey God, Thoth-Amon plays an important role - but is not so much interested in Conan, his attention being focused on a rival sorcerer, younger and even more vicious and ruthless than Thoth-Amon himself. Only in the final scene of the book's convoluted and many-sided plot are Conan and Thoth-Amon in the same place at the same time, and even then both of them are too busy with other opponents while having no attention to spare for each other.
Moore's book portrays Thoth-Amon acting positively and responsibly in a moment of supreme crisis. When Thoth-Amon's bumbling young rival nearly unleashes upon the world an ancient god of Chaos who was responsible for the sinking of Atlantis, Thoth-Amon momentarily lays aside his staunch, age-old enmity with the High Priest of Ibis - the two of them together making an invocation powerful enough to banish this grave threat from the world.
In Conan the Buccaneer, written in 1971 by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, Thoth-Amon plots to make himself the King of Zingara, suppress the worship of Mitra, and replace it with the human-sacrificing religion of Father Set. At the last moment, Conan succeeds in foiling the plot, partly due to Thoth-Amon having overreach himself by double-crossing his main Zingaran ally. In the end, Thoth-Amon flees while vowing to have his revenge on Conan.
De Camp and Carter followed this up with four linked stories, written between 1972 and 1975 and later collected in Conan of Aquilonia, which feature a final, all-out confrontation between Conan and Thoth-Amon. It begins with Thoth-Amon forging a worldwide alliance of evil sorcerers, and commencing hostilities by kidnapping Prince Conn, Conan's son and heir. Conn is taken into the witch-ruled region of Hyperborea, and his father journeys northward to find him. Soon, Conan rescues his son and massacres a coven of Hyperborean warlocks. Conan then takes the offensive, relentlessly pursuing Thoth-Amon to the sorcerer's native Stygia and from there to Zimbabwei, while destroying one by one all of Thoth-Amon's magical allies. Thoth-Amon grows weaker and his great age is increasingly evident - but even so, he's still formidable and powerful during the final showdown, on the desolate shore of what would once become the Indian Ocean. It's in fact the young Conn who finally kills his father's old foe - stabbing Thoth-Amon's physical body while the sorcerer was busy in an astral battle with Conan. Conan then throws Thoth-Amon's ring into the sea, crying: "So end all magical mummery! May it stay at the bottom of the sea for a hundred thousand years!".
In the aftermath, Conan muses: "He was the greatest of all the foes I have overcome. I shall miss the old scoundrel, in a way".
The Book of Thoth (Dark Horse Comics)
In Dark Horse's new comic series, Thoth-Amon was finally given an origin. Thoth-Amon, the dark wizard began life as young Thoth, a street thief in Memphia, stealing for his father to barely earn a living with perpetual beatings the only sign of affection his father gave. The only person Thoth cared for was his sister, whom he vowed to take away from the cruel city one day. As fate would have it, Thoth's only true friend, a street urchin named Amon, saved the life of Kharantus, priest of Ibis, the feathered god, by calling out a warning of assassins about to assault the priest's litter. Amon was given a boon by the priest and asked to train at the temple of Ibis, though believing himself unworthy to look the holy man in the eye, he kept his head down. That evening, Thoth's private trove of coins was discovered by thieves, who attacked him and stole his money when Amon arrived to tell Thoth the news.
Thoth proceeded to murder his friend and take his name, realizing Kharantus would be unable to tell the difference. Thoth became a priest of Ibis, studying alongside Kharantus's son Kalanthes, until he began to lust after more power. Deciding to harness the wisdom of ancient Acheron, Thoth set off on a journey where he entered an ancient tomb and was bitten nearly to death by snakes. There, the God Set came to him and sealed his fate with a dark bargain. Thoth returned to Memphia and began to murder members of Ibis's temple in sickening clandestine rituals, as well as engineering the death of the King and all his heirs to make certain that his and Kalanthes's friend, young Cstephon, would inherit the throne. Thoth's activities were discovered by Kharantus and the two engaged in battle.
Thoth defeated the old priest and forced him under mind control to confess to worship of Set, a great crime back then. Kharantus was, through the magic of Ibis, robbed of his mind and kept by Thoth as a servant. Now puppet master of the throne, Thoth set up a vicious dictatorship which fought against numerous rebels, including the barbarian hero 'Akkad of the Danu. Kalanthes soon realized what was happening, and with the remainders of Ibis's priesthood, set out to kill Thoth. Thoth's power proved greater than they realized and the priest were defeated. In response, Thoth convinced Cstephon to outlaw all worship of Ibis and turned Memphia to the worship of the serpent god Set. The people, disenchanted with Ibis by the apparent lack of help the feathered god provided them, welcomed it.
Thoth intended to have the assassins all killed, but Cstephon decided instead to banish them. Furious, Thoth exposed Cstephon to his dark magic in secret, destroying the young king's mind and making him a thrall. Kalanthes was crucified and left to die in the desert where he was rescued by Akkad of the Danu.
In an encounter with his past, Thoth recognized a thief brought before him as one of the men who had stolen his treasure horde so many years ago and demanded in return for his release eighteen coins, the exact amount that had been taken from Thoth. The thief was one coin short, so Thoth had him blinded and imprisoned for life. Thoth suddenly recalled the promise to his sister long ago and sent a servant to find his family. soon, Thoth begins to suffer from voices in his head, whispering to him, trying to dissuade him of the path he had chosen. He attempted to ignore them to no avail.
Thoth, attempting to unearth Acheron's secrets, accidentally resurrected the ancient sorcerer Xaltoun who brought about the fearsome serpent men on Stygia. Akkad, Kalanthes, and their forces arrived to aid Thoth in battling Xaltoun's army back into oblivion, but Akkad fell in the battle. The battle won, Thoth intended to establish his power even further as Stygia's savior, whereupon Kalanthes sarcastically asked Thoth if he was to go back to the tree now to be crucified again.
To Kalanthes's fury, Thoth took a moment to think of the question and Kalanthes delivered a savage blow that hurled Thoth to the ground, snarling "The question was not serious, liar priest, but I am sickened you had to think of the answer. I will take my poor father and leave the city. Perhaps you will learn something. Perhaps not."
Thoth-Amon was left shivering in a corner, his own weakness exposed.
Shortly thereafter, Thoth's servant arrived with the news his family had perished from a plague Thoth himself had unleashed upon the lands. Thoth, no longer caring, decided to use the plague to convert the rest of his citizens into worshiping Set, despite the pleas of the voices in his head, asking if he even cared any longer that he had been responsible for the death of his once-beloved sister.
The source of the voices was truly Amon, who had been the first of many to die for Thoth-Amon's ambitions. Sadly, Thoth no longer paid him heed, not for many years. Amon, however, still had hope, even for one lost in darkness as his most beloved friend.
What became of Thoth-Amon, no tales can truly tell, though he and Kalanthes remained great enemies for many, many years. Some claim he quietly faded into legend, far from fact, some tales claim that he was finally defeated in a savage battle with King Conan himself.
Whatever the truth, many ages after Conan's empire had faded into legend, the chronicles of the Barbarian King were uncovered by a prince and his Wazir... a mysterious Wazir dressed in Stygian clothing, with emerald, serpent-like eyes who was noticeably uncomfortable about the mention of Conan and was heard to remark "Always Barbarians, everywhere I turn... is there no end to them?"
In Age of Conan
Thoth-Amon plays the role as main antagonist in the MMORPG Age of Conan. Players start out marked and enslaved by Thoth-Amon, but are purged by ancient magic and are given the chance to break free from his control. Only a group of the strongest players are strong enough to confront him.
In Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer
A character heavily based on Thoth-Amon appears in the first film Conan the Barbarian, while a character with the name Thoth-Amon (though otherwise not based on the original character) appears in the second film Conan the Destroyer.
The villain in the film Conan the Barbarian, Thulsa Doom, is essentially the same character as Thoth-Amon from Howard's stories. Though the name Thulsa Doom is taken from another of Howard's characters, the film character is much more heavily based on Thoth-Amon and has little similarity to the original Thulsa Doom character.
Confusingly, a character with the name Thoth-Amon appears in the sequel film Conan the Destroyer. However, the name is the only link to the original character. This Thoth-Amon doesn't appear, in terms of character, clothing, or setting to be Stygian/Egyptian nor do his actions resemble anything in Howard's stories. The monster Conan faces in Thoth-Amon's fortress (an ape-like creature in a red cloak) does resemble the character Thak from the short story "Rogues in the House", but this story doesn't include Howard's Thoth-Amon.
In Conan the Adventurer
In Conan the Adventurer, the central villain Wrath-Amon is likely based on Thoth-Amon. However, unlike Thoth-Amon, Wrath-Amon is a Serpent Man who took the Black Ring and became Set's New High Priest, although he used to serve Ram-Amon. Ram-Amon also suspiciously resembled Thoth-Amon, suggesting a possible split of the character.
Alternatively, the Howard story, The Phoenix on the Sword, includes the line "Men spoke of Thoth-Amon as they spoke of Rammon". The similar name of another feared Stygian wizard may have been the inspiration for Ram-Amon instead.