Conan’s Wizards: Thugra Khotan
This installment of my Conan’s Wizards series focuses on Thugra Khotan or Natohk, the main antagonist from the story “Black Colossus.” To give a brief summary, Khotan is a sorcerer from Stygia’s more prosperous past. To avoid being killed by invaders, he takes a magical poison to place himself in a death like sleep, and he is awakened thousands of years later by a hapless (though famous) thief. He promptly wants to take over the world, but gets side tracked by a beautiful Khorajan princess. I’ve read this story a few times and its not one of my favorites. Its okay, just not one of my favorites. Part of my problem with this story is Thugra Khotan himself.
In the past two installments, we encounter two possible career options for sorcerers: vizier or court mage and priest. Now, we meet a third, a king in one’s own right. He was, before his death, the king of the city of Kuthchemes, a Stygian tributary most likely. And after his resurrection, he gets back into the conquest business by assuming the guise of Natohk, the Veiled One. As Natohk, he acts as a religious leader/ prophet who unites the tribes, cities, a rebel Stygian prince, and sundry others under his banner. In his second incarnation, there is ambiguity as to whether he is going to be king or the sorcerer behind the throne, at least in the short term. In the long term, he clearly plans to be the sorcerer king of the world with Yasmela as his bride.
We do not know much of his background, save that he managed to cheat death for three thousand years before being impaled on Conan’s sword. It would be safe to assume that, as a Stygian, Khotan was a priest of Set (whose priests all seem to be sorcerers). That would be the most likely scenario for his education and that he acted as a sort of priest/ sorcerer king in Kuthchemes.
He is also one of the most powerful sorcerers seen to date (being of about equal power to Pelias but definitely stronger than Tsotha-lanti and Yara). He endures in a sleep for three thousand years with his tomb remaining perfectly preserved. He hides his army from view in a mist. He creates an early form of land mine. He turns a staff into a snake. He commands a winged camel and an enslaved demon. And he leaves his body to sexually harass Princess Yasmela in astral form. Despite all of his power, he still loses. Why?
For one thing, he does not make the greatest of military geniuses. Conan is a very competent military commander and he held the high ground. Also, Natohk’s army was not unified, but a rag-tag collection of nationalities formed together under a central dominating figure. And without him, they melted away in confusion. Despite Howard’s fondness for barbarian triumphalism, professional soldiers are more likely to win out over poorly trained hordes.
So that explains the military aspect of Khotan’s defeat. Although you can make the argument that Mitra played a hand in it, he just selected Conan. And Conan did the rest.
But what really defeated Khotan was his harassment of Yasmela. As I said in my Yara post, don’t do drugs!. Here it would be: don’t let your lust consume your better judgment (this is also true of my Khemsa and the Black Circle post).
Khotan allowed the situation to get out of hand because he was more focused on getting Yasmela rather than on actually winning the damn battle. Had Khotan been at the front, or even lobbing sorcerous attacks from the rear, I doubt that Conan could have won the day as handily as he did. But Khotan’s passion and sorcery are inexplicably targeted at Yasmela.
I’ll admit that I do not understand this. In part, it could be sexuality. As a gay man, I just don’t see the all empowering pull that these lovely Hyborian Age women exude. To be fair, Conan too has this reason devoiding magnetism. As an aside, I wonder how a gay sorcerer would approach fighting Conan. Could be interesting.
Anyway, getting back on topic, Khotan’s own demon slave abandons him because of his stupidity. Hell, I would too. But Khotan just seems too stupid (or maybe being “dead” for three thousand years creates a form of dementia) at the end. Once he has Yasmela, he plans to sacrifice her so that he could regain his focus and some of his power. But in the end, his death is rather pathetic.
And I think that has a bit of a point to it. Thugra Khotan is not what he once was. As Natohk, he is a pale shadow of his former glory. And his lust and thirst for power precipitously spells his doom.