Conan’s Wizards Finale: Xaltotun of Python
I had planned to get this written and posted later this week, but I decided to tackle this first before getting down to revisions for my short story. But I also plan of hitting The Hour of the Wolf and my review of X towards the end of the week or during the weekend.
This is it. The final wizard of my Conan’s Wizards project. And for this final installment, we have Howard’s strongest, most powerful sorcerer: Xaltotun of Python.
Xaltotun appears in the only Howard written Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon. Here, Xaltotun is resurrected by a conspiracy of four men who would see King Conan overthrown and Valerius, a relative of the deposed king, installed in his place. Haven’t we seen this before? To further their plans, they resurrect the ancient and mummified sorcerer Xaltotun using the Heart of Ahriman. After his resurrection, Xaltotun aids the conspiracy until he is strong enough to implement his own plan, the restoration of Acheron itself.
I asked, though, if we have seen this before. And we have. The Hour of the Dragon is the product of cannibalizing “The Phoenix on the Sword,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” and “Black Colossus.” Indeed, Xaltotun is a merger of Thoth-Amon, Tsotha-lanti, and Thugra Khotan. While combining all three sorcerers, there are a few things all his own.
Xaltotun is as feared as Thoth-Amon (and as unreliable an ally), the true power behind his erstwhile “masters” (like Tsotha-lanti), and is undead (like Thugra Khotan). But he is much more powerful than all of them. He was centuries old at his original death, and he had the power (or knowledge) to allegedly turn back time.
Xaltotun is of Acheron. Now if you know anything about the Hyborian Age, you should know Acheron. Acheron is the millenia fallen empire of wizards that dominated the lands that are (in Conan’s time) inhabited by Hyborians. The elite (if not the entire population) were wizards. The sole magocracy in Howard’s constructed pseudo-history (that I know of). And Xaltotun was the greatest of them, though he reigned at the very moment of Acheron’s fall.
I am certain that a case could be made that Xaltotun was infact the King of Acheron. While he is described as a great sorcerer and a high priest, those exalted positions likely position him as a noble. And likely a king given his image on ancient coinage. Beyond that, he know little of him save his greatest weakness is the Heart of Ahriman.
Xaltotun is clearly powerful. He easily bested Conan on their first encounter, he brings down a cliff, summons a flood (which failed), and planned to use a giant blood sacrifice to restore Acheron itself to life. He is clearly very powerful and does not seem to rely on a magical object to increase his powers (like Thoth-Amon). I am therefore tempted to say that Xaltotun may very well be of a similar status as Tsotha-lanti’s alleged parentage. He comes from a race of wizards, so who knows how much demonic genes are present?
Xaltotun is cool, but I also have a problem with him. When it is clear that he is now in charge of Nemedia and Aquilonia, why not press his advantage? Why does he go along with their attempt to crush Conan? Mind you, he did not know that he lacked the one thing that could defeat him. Or that Conan had it.
But that is my real complaint. I wanted to see the attempt to restore Acheron. After Orastes reveals Xaltotun’s objective, nothing more is said. It is dropped. And I feel that the Heart of Ahriman is a sort of Deus ex Machina in that it provides a too simple way of getting rid of a powerful sorcerer after an obligatory quest.
In this, my final comment on Howard’s wizards, I am a little disappointed. I don’t think Howard took his sorcerers as far as he could. But, it does lay the foundations for some great inspiration.