Monday, February 24, 2014

Episode 17: A Witch Shall Be Born

Our story this week is A Witch Shall Be Born. Originally published in Weird Tales in December of 1934, you can check it out on Project Gutenberg here. Also, you can download our episode here

By the side of the caravan road a heavy cross had been planted, and on this grim tree a man hung, nailed there by iron spikes through his hands and feet. Naked but for a loin-cloth, the man was almost a giant in stature, and his muscles stood out in thick corded ridges on limbs and body, which the sun had long ago burned brown. The perspiration of agony beaded his face and his mighty breast, but from under the tangled black mane that fell over his low, broad forehead, his blue eyes blazed with an unquenched fire. Blood oozed sluggishly from the lacerations in his hands and feet.

What's that you say? This is the crazy story where Conan is crucified? Yup. This is one grisly tale. But surprisingly, Conan takes the backseat for much of the action. 

Our next story will be Jewels of Gwalhur, also known as The Servants of Bit-Yakin. We've heard it's kind of a stinker, but we don't care... We're gonna read it anyway! If you're inclined, you can access it in a number of formats here!

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Beginning theme: "Sudden Defeat" by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


  1. Every fortnight a Cromcast episode shall be born!

    Nice ep guys. Your discussions and analysis are getting better and more insightful by the episode. I'm having a blast listening.

    I like how this story displays Conan's physical and mental capabilities. He survives the crucifixion and uses his cunning to become the chief and trick the defenders in the siege of Khauran. It is also refreshing to see Conan beating his foe with his mind.

    Conan always aims to be the leader in tribal and outlaw groups and we see him approaching this in many different ways. In Iron Shadows in the Moon he invokes the Red Brotherhood tradition of challenging the leader, in this story he as second-in-command overthrows Olgerd in private, and in Pool of the Black One he has to resort to killing Zaporavo in secret. All this is in cool contrast to military setting like Black Colossus where Conan would probably have been the last man to be promoted by Amalric.

    Great discussion about the Crucifixion and Conan's role to fight evil. There is definitely a case to be that Conan is a powerful piece on the chess board in a conflict between “good and evil”. I myself don't have much to say how much of a Christ comparison the crucifixion scene is. Although, I've been wondering if the name of Constantius has some sort of connection to Constantine (the first Christian Roman emperor). The Christ parallels are stronger, I think, in Bran Mak Morn stories (there is a crucifixion scene in one of those too) and I'm hoping you get to do episodes about them some day. However, making your character survive crucifixion drives home the point that this guy is a bad ass.

    Thaug and Thog are usually considered to be spawn of Tsathoggua. Many consider it anti-climactic how the demon is just killed by arrows but I think it plays nicely into Howard's descriptions how the early humans fought off the demons of the Elder World (from Kull stories). It does not always require magical help or a heroic confrontation to kill the monster. Your take on the vanquishing of Thaug as goodbye to Lovecraft was a nice one.

    Khauran is not as far away to east as Vendhya etc. It is located south of Zamora and east of Koth.

    The next story is an interesting one. We go into the black kingdoms of the south. I've read some debate whether Conan acts uncharacteristically in that story or not. I wait to see your take on it.

    1. Ripa, I always learn something from your comments. Thanks again for all your feedback!

  2. What's with the De Camp hate? No De Camp and Carter and no one would know who Conan was. Without those Lancer/Ace books that De Camp edited there would have been no comics. Hate on the movies they deserve hate. De Camp did more good than harm.

    1. Hey No Way, Jon here. Hate is a strong word. It's kind of a running gag with us now because when we started we just assumed DeCamp was the Derleth of Howard's world. Then we started reading more and found he was a rather divisive character.
      As you mention he bore the torch for Conan for all those years but some disliked his edits to Howard's originals and his besmirching of Howard's good name.
      But anyway... we don't hate the guy at all. We're all about figuring out what his place in Howard history should be.

  3. Love the new mixer, your voices are very clear. However, I had to crank the volume all the way up to 11 to hear the podcast. Don't know if it's just my computer or what but I figured I'd let you know.

    1. Hey Mike! We clear up the low volume problem after this episode! Let us know what you think! -Josh

  4. Kind of related to the idea that Howard is symbolically killing Lovecraft's elder gods and making his writing his own, you should check out "The Challenge from Beyond" (available for free from wikisource), a round-robin story Howard and Lovecraft did with C.L. Moore, Abraham Merritt, and Frank Belknap Long. Howard's section of the story immediately follows Lovecrafts. It's honestly a pretty jarring transition (which to me makes it kind of funny), but I think it illustrates the differences in their writing and the way they each perceived the world. Here are the last few paragraphs of Lovecraft and the first few of Howard:

    "The actual nightmare element, though, was something more than this. It began with the living thing which presently entered through one of the slits, advancing deliberately toward him and bearing a metal box of bizarre proportions and glassy, mirror-like surfaces. For this thing was nothing human -- nothing of earth -- nothing even of man's myths and dreams. It was a gigantic, pale-grey worm or centipede, as large around as a man and twice as long, with a disc-like, apparently eyeless, cilia-fringed head bearing a purple central orifice. It glided on its rear pairs of legs, with its fore part raised vertically -- the legs, or at least two pairs of them, serving as arms. Along its spinal ridge was a curious purple comb, and a fan-shaped tail of some grey membrane ended its grotesque bulk. There was a ring of flexible red spikes around its neck, and from the twistings of these came clicking, twanging sounds in measured, deliberate rhythms.

    Here, indeed, was outré nightmare at its height -- capricious fantasy at its apex. But even this vision of delirium was not what caused George Campbell to lapse a third time into unconsciousness. It took one more thing -- one final, unbearable touch -- to do that. As the nameless worm advanced with its glistening box, the reclining man caught in the mirror-like surface a glimpse of what should have been his own body. Yet -- horribly verifying his disordered and unfamiliar sensations -- it was not his own body at all that he saw reflected in the burnished metal. It was, instead, the loathsome, pale-grey bulk of one of the great centipedes.

    [Robert E. Howard]

    From that final lap of senselessness, he emerged with a full understanding of his situation. His mind was imprisoned in the body of a frightful native of an alien planet, while, somewhere on the other side of the universe, his own body was housing the monster's personality.

    He fought down an unreasoning horror. Judged from a cosmic standpoint, why should his metamorphosis horrify him? Life and consciousness were the only realities in the universe. Form was unimportant. His present body was hideous only according to terrestrial standards. Fear and revulsion were drowned in the excitement of titanic adventure.

    What was his former body but a cloak, eventually to be cast off at death anyway? He had no sentimental illusions about the life from which he had been exiled. What had it ever given him save toil, poverty, continual frustration and repression? If this life before him offered no more, at least it offered no less. Intuition told him it offered more -- much more.

    With the honesty possible only when life is stripped to its naked fundamentals, he realized that he remembered with pleasure only the physical delights of his former life. But he had long ago exhausted all the physical possibilities contained in that earthly body. Earth held no new thrills. But in the possession of this new, alien body he felt promises of strange, exotic joys."