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The God in the Bowl

An illustration of a dramatic scene in The God in the Bowl as depicted by Mark Schultz in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Del Rey, 2003). The original short story was written by Robert E. Howard and first appeared in a 1952 issue of Space Science Fiction magazine.
"The God in the Bowl"
Author Robert E. Howard
Original title "The God in the Bowl"
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Space Science Fiction
Publication date 1952

"The God in the Bowl" is one of the original short stories featuring the sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard but not published during his lifetime. It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan robbing a temple museum only to be ensnared in bizarre events and be deemed the prime suspect in a murder mystery. The story first saw publication in September 1952 in Space Science Fiction and has been reprinted many times since.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Editing controversy 2
  • Reprint history 3
  • Adaptations 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Plot summary

One night in the Nemedian municipality of Numalia, the second largest Nemedian city, Conan enters a fantastic establishment: a great museum and antique house which laymen call the Temple of Kallian Publico.

In the midst of robbing this temple museum, Conan finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation when the strangled corpse of the temple's owner and curator, Kallian Publico, is found by a night watchman. Though the Cimmerian is the prime suspect, the investigating magistrate, Demetrio, and the prefect of police, Dionus, show remarkable forbearance, allowing Conan not only to remain free, but also to keep his unsheathed sword while their nervous men search the shadowy premises. It was a combination of Conan's massive physique, the fiery glare in his eyes and the insistence that he'd gut the first person who tried to apprehend him that kept the Watch members at bay.

As the on-scene investigation unfolds, the magistrate soon learns from Promero, Publico's clerk, that Publico had received from distant Stygia a strange bowl-like sarcophagus that now lies unsealed, open, and empty. This sarcophagus was said to be a priceless relic found among the darkened tombs far beneath the Stygian pyramids and sent to Caranthes of Hanumar, Priest of Ibis, 'because of the love which the sender bore the priest of Ibis'. Intercepting this rare item meant for Caranthes, Kallian Publico had believed the sarcophagus contained the fabled diadem of the giant-kings whose primordial kin dwelt in that dark southern land before the ancestors of the Stygians came there. However, clearly, the object contained within was not the diadem, but something of a more insidious nature.

While the magistrate and his men are baffled when uncovering this aforementioned information, the reader quickly begins to suspect the murderer may have been something other than entirely human and was contained within the now-opened sarcophagus.

A scream, a death, and the police retreat from the temple museum, leaving Conan to fend for himself with the roaming "murderer." Conan eventually locates the culprit whom he hesitantly dispatches with his long sword.

Editing controversy

The original version of the story was rejected by pulp magazine Weird Tales in Howard's lifetime and only rediscovered in 1951. It was then edited by L. Sprague de Camp for publication, and this edited version was the first version to see print. Several other differently-edited versions followed. The unedited, original version was only printed in 2002 with Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933).

Many of the changes made to the story by de Camp were slight. They have been characterized as technically correct and giving greater precision to the text, but as losing some of the richness and energy of Howard's original. One instance of the differences in texts follows:

Arus stood in a vast corridor, lighted by huge candles in nitches along the walls. These walls were hung with black velvet tapestries, and between the tapestries hung shields and crossed weapons of fantastic make.
— Robert E. Howard, Original version
The watchman stood in a vast corridor lighted by huge candles set in niches along the walls. Between the niches, these walls were covered with black velvet wall-hangings, and between the hangings hung shields and crossed weapons of fantastic make.
— L. Sprague de Camp, Edited version

De Camp's editorial work on both this and other Howard Conan stories, in which he reportedly substantially altered and rewrote whole sections, often to include references to his own work, have been decried by Howard purists.[1]

Everett F. Bleiler, commenting on the edited text, described "The God in the Bowl" as "a primitive detective story" and found it to be "not very good."[2]

Reprint history

Notable reprints of this story have appeared in the collections The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan (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). Recent versions have removed all alterations made by L. Sprague de Camp.


The story was adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian #7 and by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord in Dark Horse Comics' Conan #10 & 11.


  1. ^ The Barbarian Keep, retrieved 7th July 2007
  2. ^ Bleiler, The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, Kent State University Press, 1983, p.260

External links

  • Conan the Barbarian at
  • The Official Website
  • The Mystery of Pre-Human Stygia • Essay pertaining to the Giant-Kings by Dale Rippke
Preceded by
"The Hyborian Age"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Black Stranger"
Preceded by
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Tower of the Elephant"
Preceded by
Conan the Fearless
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Warlord
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