King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword
A little background: an idea I had was an anthology film that combines "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant," using "The Phoenix on the Sword" as a framing story. These are the first four stories Howard wrote, after all, and they show a pretty interesting spectrum of Conan's life: king, warrior, and thief.
"The Phoenix on the Sword" - 24 pages
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter" - 9 pages
"The God in the Bowl" - 19 pages
"The Tower of the Elephant" - 23 pages
Now, if we take the old "one page equals one minute" idea for a second, we can see that "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The Tower of the Elephant" have roughly equivalent length, while "The God in the Bowl" is shorter, and "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" shorter still. Obviously depending on the direction this could expand or contract, but I think on can justify "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" as a ten minute sequence, "The God in the Bowl" a twenty-minute one, and "The Tower of the Elephant" as a full half-hour. While "Phoenix" is only a page longer than "Tower," it's absolutely chock full of potential for expansion, or just plain spending more time on it.
Basically, "The Phoenix on the Sword" would be the main story, with natural breaks occurring at the end of each chapter. The film would start with the famous Nemedian Chronicles, which serve to introduce the audience to the Hyborian Age: something like my wee animation, with the credits accompanying the imagery and voiceover, though including more shots of Conan as king.
Aye, it's five years old and the seams are really starting to glare at me, but Crom dammit, I still think it's the best thing I've ever done.
Then "Phoenix" begins as with the story. At the end of Chapter II, when Prospero leaves, Conan looks at his map, absently stroking the scars on his face. He's looking at Asgard and Vanaheim, which fades to the field of Wolraven, and "The Frost-Giant's Daughter." The imagery of the gossamer wisp at the end of that story is carried over to the beginning of Chapter III, where the first shot is of the luxurious silks of Dion's garden divan. At the end of Chapter III, we see Thoth-Amon planning his revenge, and as the demon leaps into the night, the black fades from Dion's garden to Numalia, which segues to "The God in the Bowl."
"The God in the Bowl" ends with Conan running into the night, which cuts to the beginning of Chapter IV, with older Conan snapping his eyes open in the Tomb of Epemitreus. At the end of Chapter IV, Conan is dazed from his dream, pondering if it was real or imagined. As he gets ready for battle, the camera focuses on his shoulder, bearing the scars of the spider's venom, before cutting to the Maul, and "The Tower of the Elephant." After "The Tower of the Elephant," the jangling of the falling crystal of Yara's tower mingles with the clashing of the Black Dragons' armour, and we join the Rebel Four for the beginning of the final chapter.
So, a rough breakdown:
Start-10:00 "The Phoenix on the Sword" Chapters 1 & 2
10:00-20:00 "The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
20:00-25:00 "The Phoenix on the Sword" Chapter 3
25:00-45:00 "The God in the Bowl"
45:00-50:00 "The Phoenix on the Sword" Chapter 4
50:00-80:00 "The Tower of the Elephant"
80:00-100:00 "The Phoenix on the Sword" Chapter 5
In addition, one can see an evolution at play in the progression of the stories, on multiple levels:
- We see Conan travel from progressively more alien and foreign climes. In "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," Conan is in the cold, far north, and while obviously much colder than Cimmeria, the people of Nordheim are still barbarians, and the land is harsh and naked. In "The God in the Bowl," Conan first encounters a Hyborian kingdom, one not so different from the one he would later rule, and he aims to take what he wants from them without sacrificing his innate barbarism - now he takes a goblet, but in the coming decades, he will take a crown. In "The Tower of the Elephant," Conan is further than ever, and first encounters the exotic, balmy east which will be the setting of many adventures - and the most unlike his native homeland. All these elements are evoked in "The Phoenix on the Sword," with a mention of Asgard & Vanaheim from "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," the Hyborian setting of "The God in the Bowl," and references to Conan's adventures in the east from "The Tower of the Elephant."
- The world grows with each story, both in terms of setting and in background. In "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," Conan only knows Cimmeria and Nordheim (unless one is considering the hints in "Gods of the North," but for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that Rusty Burke's deductions are correct and that this is indeed the very first chronological Conan story), with the lands to the south being little more than his grandfather's stories. In addition, there are few references to any lands beyond the north. In "The God in the Bowl," he has encountered the Hyborian lands, but the lands south and east (Stygia and Zamora) are still mysteries to him, even though they're mentioned in the tale. In "The Tower of the Elephant," we find him in Zamora, with the mention of not only far Khitai, but other worlds introduces Conan to a cosmos vaster than he'd previously imagined. At the time of "The Phoenix on the Sword," Conan had travelled far, and his knowledge of the worlds beyond worlds is unthinkable to his younger self.
- Conan develops as a character over the course of the tales. In "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," he's a young barbarian who's nonetheless brash and over-confident. He boasts of how far he's travelled, but he has no idea what's in store from him at the hands of Atali's brothers. In "The God in the Bowl," he's a complete fish out of water, a near-feral young man far from home, somewhat antagonistic and completely naive to civilized ways. In "The Tower of the Elephant," he's still young and raw, and a bit self-conscious about being a stranger in a strange land, but eager to learn and explore this strange, vast new world. All this culminates in the seasoned, learned, erudite king of "The Phoenix on the Sword."
- The tone and nature of the supernatural progresses in intensity and danger. In "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," Conan is a foreigner, but he's still among barbarians, so Ymir and his kin are not alien to that of Crom and his dark race. In "The God in the Bowl," the Stygian horrors of Thoth-Amon are alien not only to Conan, but to the Nemedians, so at least Conan isn't alone. In "The Tower of the Elephant," Zamora itself is a land steeped in ancient evil and horror, but in Yogah, we see that not all sorcery is inherently evil, and the true grandeur of the cosmos is made apparent. All this leads up to a climax in "The Phoenix on the Sword": the barbarian mastering a foreign realm from "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," the ancient Stygian horror in a Hyborian land from "The God in the Bowl," and the benevolent cosmic forces from "The Tower of the Elephant" all combine.
Avenues of Expansion
Obviously there doesn't need to be a lot of expansion when you're combining four stories, but nonetheless, there are a few elements that might be interesting to work. There are already a few connections at work here:
- Thoth-Amon stars in "The Phoenix on the Sword," and is a vital offstage presence in "The God in the Bowl"
- Conan wished he could ride to Nemedia with Prospero in "The Phoenix on the Sword": Nemedia is the setting of "The God in the Bowl"
- Conan is referred to as a northern barbarian in "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant," thematically linking those story to "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," offering a contrast between Conan among barbarians and Conan among civilized men
- Conan refers to his time among the Aesir in "The Phoenix on the Sword," quite possibly being a direct reference to the events of "The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
- Ymir, the Frost-Giant, is directly referenced in "The Phoenix on the Sword" - he plays a much larger part in "The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
- Conan was "awed by the civilized mysteries" of Nemedia in times past in "The Tower of the Elephant" - could this be a reference to his time in Numalia, the setting of "The God in the Bowl"?
- Zamora's towers of spider-haunted mystery are mentioned in "The Phoenix on the Sword," and we see one such tower first hand in "The Tower of the Elephant"
- Conan's target in "The God in the Bowl" is a Zamorian diamond goblet - the kingdom of Zamora is the setting of "The Tower of the Elephant"
- The setting of "The God in the Bowl" is Nemedia; Taurus, the prince of thieves in "The Tower of the Elephant," was a Nemedian
- Aquilonian steel was said to be nigh unbreakable in "The God in the Bowl": Conan breaks his presumably-Aquilonian sword on the head of Thoth-Amon's demon, proving the breast's unnatural vitality
- The master of the caravan transporting the bowl wanted to go to Aquilonia in "The God in the Bowl" - Aquilonia is the setting of "The Phoenix on the Sword"
- Taurus stole the Black Lotus powder from a caravan borne for Stygia in "The Tower of the Elephant": the titular god of "The God in the Bowl" is sent from Stygia
One need only tease a few of those elements to tie the stories further together.
- Thoth-Amon loses his powers when his ring was stolen: could this have been at the behest of Kalanthes, the Priest of Ibis being the sorcerer who discovered the source of Thoth's power, and his only weakness?
- Could the hermit priest of the southern desert Ascalante threatens Thoth-Amon with be related to Kalanthes - or be Kalanthes himself?
- Is the Zamorian diamond goblet, truly a fine prize, somehow linked to Yara?
- Was the Black Lotus Taurus stole from the Khitan-Stygian caravan bound for Thoth-Amon?
- Why did the caravan leader in "The God in the Bowl" want to go straight to Aquilonia - could it be something which later figures in "The Phoenix on the Sword"?
- Yara captured Yogah using guile gained "from the dusky tombs of dark Stygia": is it possible Yara and Thoth-Amon have interacted at some point?
- Prospero went to Nemedia as part of Ascalante's plan, but was anything from "The God in the Bowl" linked somehow?
An entire secondary story could be written using the characters of each story somehow turning up to affect the main tale of "The Phoenix on the Sword": involving Kalanthes in the discovery of Thoth-Amon in Aquilonia, and working with Prospero to stop Ascalante; Dionus and Posthumo being involved in getting Prospero to come to Nemedia, and trying to stop them getting back; having Demetrio somehow get involved, either aiding the heroes or villains.
Finally, the seeds are sown for sequels. Say we skip "The Scarlet Citadel" for the moment, and jump into "Queen of the Black Coast":
- The hints and allusions to Stygia from "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The God in the Bowl" continue, as we finally see sight of that terrible land, as well as its people (well, the brazen hussies plying their trade, at least)
- The sack of Khemi by the Tigress leads me to wonder where Thoth-Amon was during all this excitement...
- The idea of a cosmic universe within the Conan tales established in "The Tower of the Elephant" is revisited in the Winged Ones
- The Black Lotus, so crucial in "The Tower of the Elephant," is seen once more
- Conan's Aquilonian broadsword reminds us of his weapon in "The God in the Bowl" and "The Phoenix on the Sword": the horned helm evokes his headgear in "The Frost-Giant's Daughter"; his youthful naivete connects him to "The Tower of the Elephant"
So, with that all said, here's my attempt at a trailer.
"There Was An Age Undreamed Of..."
Shot of Conan sitting at his writing desk, head bowed, chin propped on fist: the classic Conan pose
Conan: "When I was a fighting-man..."
Cut to Conan fighting
Conan: "the kettle-drums they beat;"
Cut to band celebrations at Tarantia, taken from the opening credits, which utilize The Nemedian Chronicles to show Conan's rise to kingship
Conan: "The people scattered gold-dust..."
Cut to crowd cheering for Conan
Conan: "... before my horse’s feet;"
Cut to Conan riding triumphantly at the head of the Black Dragons, Prospero riding beside him.
Conan: "But now I am a great king, the people hound my track"
Cut to Gromel looking enviously from behind Prospero, Rinaldo riling up an anti-Conan crowd, Dion and Volmana looking on suspiciously from the balcony
Conan: "With poison in my wine-cup..."
Cut to Thoth-Amon's hands preparing potions (face unseen)
Conan: "... and daggers at my back"
Cut to Rinaldo's hand unsheathing his dagger (face unseen)
Lionsgate/Nu Boyana/Millenium/Paradox logos.
Thoth-Amon: "Under the caverned pyramids..."
Cut to shot of Stygia, taken from the "Nemedian Chronicles" opening
Thoth-Amon: "... great Set coils asleep;"
Cut to the sculptures of Set in Epemitreus' tomb
Thoth-Amon: "Among the shadows of the tombs..."
Cut to the Rebel Four rushing furtively through the secret passages of the royal palace
Thoth-Amon: "... his dusky people creep."
Cut to Thoth-Amon from behind, crouching, then closeup of his eyes, from when he summons the Demon
Thoth-Amon: "I speak the Word from the hidden gulfs..."
Cut to Thoth-Amon rubbing the Serpent Ring's eyes with blood
Thoth-Amon: "... that never knew the sun – "
Cut to shadowy visions of the alien landscape of Yag
Thoth-Amon: "Send me a servant for my hate..."
Cut to Thoth-Amon's eyes again; quick cuts of the spider shooting through the shadows with speed, the vague menacing hulk of the Ice-Giants, and the Demon of the Ring loping through the night
Thoth-Amon: "... oh scaled and shining One!"
Cut to the shadowy coils of the Child of Set
Conan: "What do I know of cultured ways..."
Cut to Conan perched on the walls of a Zamorian philosopher's enclave
Conan: "... the gilt"
Cut to Prospero preening his gold-chased armour
Conan: "... the craft"
Cut to Conan studying the treasures of the Tower of the Elephant's first floor
Conan: "... and the lie?"
Cut to Aztrias Petanius arriving at the Temple
Conan: "I, who was born in a naked land...
Cut to Conan staggering through the snow
Conan: "... and bred in the open sky."
Cut to Conan walking across the landscape, the great Northern sky behind him
Conan: "The subtle tongue, the sophist guile..."
Cut to Rinaldo singing
Conan: "... they fail when the broadswords sing;"
Cut to Conan fighting
Conan: "Rush in and die, dogs..."
Cut to Conan holding his sword against the Numalian guards
Conan: "... I was a man before I was a king."
Cut to Conan in all his barbaric, bloodstained glory, taken from one of the earlier tales
Finish with various shots of Conan dealing death, the brawl in the Maul, exterior shots of Numalia, Tarantia and Zamora, Conan fighting the lion, interspersed with other characters and moments.
I thought that since "Phoenix" had that lovely poetry, it would make a great trailer different from the usual.