Red Nails by Robert E. Howard
is a short story by American pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard, featuring his iconic character Conan the Barbarian. The story was originally published in 1936 in the pages of the pulp magazine “Weird Tales.” It is notable for its graphic violence and sexual content, as well as its richly-detailed fantasy setting.
The story takes place in the fictional land of Xuchotl, a land of jungles, swamps, and ancient ruins. Conan, the wandering barbarian, stumbles upon the city of Xuchotl and finds himself caught up in a deadly power struggle between two factions: the Black Seers of Yimsha, a group of powerful sorcerers, and the Red Flower of Zingara, a fierce warrior-woman named Valeria and her band of mercenaries.
The story is told in Howard’s distinctive, muscular prose, full of vivid descriptions and colorful characters. The violence and action is graphic and intense, and the sexual tension between Conan and Valeria is palpable. The story’s climax is a bloody, frenzied battle that leaves few survivors.
One of the key themes of the story is the corrupting influence of power. The Black Seers and the Red Flower are both consumed with their lust for power, and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. This theme is embodied in the character of Yasmina, a former princess who is now a powerful sorceress and one of the Black Seers. Yasmina is both seductive and deadly, using her powers to manipulate those around her and to further her own ends.
Another important theme of the story is the conflict between civilization and barbarism. Conan, the archetypal barbarian, finds himself in the midst of a highly civilized society, full of intricate politics and complex social structures. He is both fascinated and repulsed by this society, and ultimately finds himself drawn back to his own simple, violent way of life.
The story is also notable for its treatment of women. Valeria is portrayed as a strong, capable warrior, and is one of the few characters in the story who is able to stand up to Conan. However, the story’s sexual content is often gratuitous and objectifying, and many of the female characters are portrayed as little more than sex objects.
Despite its flaws, “Red Nails” remains an important work of fantasy fiction. Howard’s writing is full of energy and verve, and his depiction of Xuchotl is both imaginative and evocative. The story’s themes of power and barbarism are still relevant today, and the character of Conan remains one of the most enduring figures in the fantasy genre. “Red Nails” is a thrilling, visceral tale that showcases Howard’s considerable talents as a writer and storyteller.