Friday, April 08, 2011

Conan and the Damned Thing

Toward the end of his second run on Marvel Comics' Savage Sword of Conan magazine, writer Roy Thomas adapted several stories not written by Robert E. Howard into Conan stories. This wasn't exactly a new thing for Thomas, who had used stories and books by Norvell Page and Gardner Fox as fodder for his story mill during his original run on the Marvel Conan color series, but those tales had protagonists who were much like Conan (page's Wan Tengri) or even knock-offs of the big Cimmerian (Fox's Kothar) .
On his second turn at Conan, though, Thomas adapted some stories that had little or nothing to do with sword & sorcery, including a C.L. Moore Northwest Smith story and a Clark Ashton Smith horror yarn.
Thomas's strangest choice, to my mind at least, came in SSoC #227, when Roy adapted Ambrose Bierce's classic horror tale, The Damned Thing, into a Conan story.
You probably read The Damned Thing in school. Aside from An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge it is probably Bierce's most reprinted story. It begins in a courtroom where a man is giving testimony to a coroner's inquest about the mysterious death of another man. The two men were out hunting quail when they were attacked by a creature that they could not see. The invisible monster killed the man for whom the coroner's inquest was now assembled, tearing out his throat and breaking many of his bones. The survivor's theory that the "Damned Thing" as the dead man had called it, having apparently having run into the monster before, was a color that human eyes couldn't see.
The Conan story skips the inquest and moves right to the action as Conan comes across two poachers hunting in a forest. Just as in the Bierce story, the hunters are attacked by an invisible creature and one of them is killed. But of course, this being a Conan story, Conan has to get a shot at the monster and being Conan he finds a way to kill it. Thomas's version ends with Conan noting that the monster must have been a color that human eyes couldn't see.
Basically it's a good use of the story. Just strikes me as a bit odd that Thomas would use a famous bit of American literature as the basis for a Conan tale. If you haven't read Ambrose Bierce in a while, I recommend his tales of horror. I'm providing a link to an online text to The Damned Thing. If you want to read the Conan version, you're on your own.

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