In a genre often dominated by towering warriors and mystical sorcerers, the feared pirate queen, Belit stands apart as a beacon of strength and complexity in a world fraught with danger and mystery. Her character is not merely a footnote in the sagas of the mighty Conan the Barbarian; she is a legend in her own right, a fierce female presence that has left an indelible mark on the fabric of fantasy literature.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of “Queen of the Black Coast,” the tale that introduced Belit to the world. Crafted by the masterful Robert E. Howard, this narrative is more than just a story; it is a testament to a character who defied the norms of her time. Belit is not just a character in a story; she is the story, a figure who embodies the raw essence of sword and sorcery. Her presence is a vibrant testament to the genre’s ability to evolve, to embrace characters who are as complex as the worlds they inhabit.
As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we invite you to delve into the world of Belit, to explore her journey, her impact, and her enduring legacy. This is not merely a remembrance of a character penned nine decades ago; it is an exploration of a figure who continues to resonate powerfully in our collective imagination. Join us as we voyage back to the mysterious shores of the Black Coast, to rediscover Belit – a character whose strength, passion, and indomitable spirit have stood the test of time.
Who is Belit?
Origin & Background
According to Howard’s original interpretation, Belit, the iconic “Queen of the Black Coast,” originates from Shem, where she was born the daughter of a Shemite trader. By her young adulthood, Belit had become a skilled sailor and a fierce warrior, ultimately commanding the pirate ship Tigress with a crew of loyal black corsairs. Her fearsome reputation along the coast and her name, possibly derived from the god Bel or the Akkadian “Bêlit” (meaning “lady, mistress”), further cemented her legendary status.
In Marvel’s adaptation, Belit’s background is notably expanded and interpolated against Howard’s original vision, revealing her as the daughter of King Atrahasis of Asgalun with a royal lineage. In Marvel’s version, she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that claimed her father’s life, orchestrated by her uncle Nim-Karak. Raised by N’Yaga in the Silver Isles, she was revered as a semi-divine figure due to her light skin, a trait attributed to her mother, the death goddess Derketa.
Personality & Leadership
Belit’s personality is a complex blend of fierceness and passion, originally described by Howard as a “wildly fierce yet strikingly attractive femme fatale.” Her strong sense of independence and ability to command respect are evident in her leadership of an all-male pirate crew. Despite her formidable character, she harbors a fondness for material wealth across adaptations. In her relationship with Conan, she is portrayed by Howard as deeply in love, showing a contrast between her commanding presence and personal vulnerability.
Marvel’s adaptation, interestingly and noticeably absent from Howard’s original work, highlights her intense hatred for Stygians, a sentiment rooted in her father’s assassination. In Marvel’s version, her leadership qualities and cunning are emphasized from a young age, further showcasing her capability and strategic mind.
Skills & Unique Qualities
No matter what adaptation you’re reading, Belit’s skills as an exceptional sailor and warrior are unmatched. She not only mastered these arts herself but also taught Conan the intricacies of sailing, transforming him into a skilled sailor and pirate over the course of “The Queen of the Black Coast”. Her ability to command intense loyalty from her crew is an even stronger testament to her leadership and charisma. Unique to her character, Belit was the first of Howard’s heroines to earn the “she-devil” nickname.
Looks & Appearance
In Howard’s original version, Belit’s striking appearance is characterized by her jet-black hair, dark eyes, and remarkably ivory-white skin, unaffected by the tropical sun. Her typical attire consists of a red silk girdle, sandals, and various jewelry pieces. However, her appearance has been adapted differently across various media. In Marvel’s adaptation, Belit is depicted in a fur loincloth and fur sling-bikini top. However, in the Dark Horse comics, Belit’s appearance returns closer to Howard’s original depiction, showing her in skimpy metal bikini tops and silk girdles.
Belit & Conan’s Relationship in “Queen of the Black Coast”
The saga of Belit and Conan in Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” is a stirring tale of fierce love, shared power, and profound loss. It begins with Conan’s escape from the law in Argos and his consequent leap aboard a departing galley, an act driven by desperation and the will to survive. This impulsive decision leads him directly into the path of Belit, the formidable and enigmatic “Queen of the Black Coast.”
Belit and Conan’s initial encounter is electrifying. Conan, amidst a chaotic battle where he emerges as the sole survivor of his ship, catches the eye of Belit, who is immediately captivated by his raw ferocity and indomitable spirit. This meeting is not just a clash of swords but of souls; two formidable forces recognizing a kindred spirit in the other. Belit, with her commanding presence and impassioned declaration, “I am Belit, queen of the black coast. Oh, tiger of the North… be thou my king!” offers Conan not just a partnership but an equal standing in her world of piracy and adventure.
Their relationship, as it unfolds, is a fascinating study of power dynamics, mutual respect, and deep emotional connection, all set against the backdrop of high-seas adventure and relentless action. Belit, a fiercely independent leader, commands her crew with an iron will, yet in Conan, she finds an equal. This equality is a testament to their relationship’s uniqueness, especially within a genre often dominated by male protagonists.
Their bond is further cemented through shared experiences of combat and plunder, with each adventure deepening their connection. This partnership is not just romantic; it’s a union of two powerful entities who find in each other a match for their own ferocity and passion for life. This is evident in their raids and battles, where they stand shoulder to shoulder, not just as lovers but as warriors and confidants.
However, this tale of passion and adventure takes a tragic turn with Belit’s untimely death. The impact of her loss on Conan is profound, revealing a rarely seen vulnerability in the Cimmerian warrior. His grief is palpable and leaps off the page thanks to the artists who understood the depth of suffering. His actions following her death – the savage avenging of her killers and the solemn, respectful funeral pyre he sets for her – especially speak volumes of his deep love and respect for her.
Belit’s influence on Conan extends beyond her life. Her spirit, defying death itself, returns to aid him in his darkest hour, fulfilling her vow that her love for him is stronger than death. This supernatural intervention not only underscores the depth of their bond but also adds a poignant, almost mythical quality to their story.
In the end, their relationship is not just one of love and adventure but also one that explores deeper themes of mortality, ambition, and the transient nature of power. In Belit, Conan finds not just a lover but a partner who challenges him, complements him, and ultimately, leaves an indelible mark on his life and legend.
The Impact of Belit on the Sword & Sorcery Genre
Belit, the formidable “Queen of the Black Coast,” has left an indelible mark on the sword and sorcery genre. Her role as a pioneering character for women in this field cannot be overstated. Unlike many female characters in early sword and sorcery tales who were relegated to passive or secondary roles, Belit emerged as a figure of strength and independence. She was not just a mere supporting character in Conan’s adventures; she commanded her own narrative as the leader of her pirate crew and ship.
This portrayal of Belit was groundbreaking. At a time when the genre often depicted women as damsels in distress, barmaids, or secondary characters, Belit shattered these stereotypes. Her character was neither a victim nor a passive participant in the unfolding events. Instead, she was a complex and powerful figure, demonstrating a level of autonomy and authority that was exceptionally rare for female characters during that era. Her passionate relationship with Conan, coupled with her tragic death, further cemented her as a character of substance and depth.
One of the most notable aspects of Belit’s character is her famous mating dance. Far from being a mere erotic display, this dance represented a powerful assertion of her sexuality and agency. It was an act of choosing her destiny and desires, symbolizing her control over her life and her relationship with Conan. This scene was a significant departure from the norm, showcasing a female character who was unapologetically in charge of her own sexual agency.
Belit’s influence on the genre can be seen in the comparison with other female characters from similar genres. Eowyn from “The Lord of the Rings,” for instance, shares some similarities with Belit in challenging traditional gender roles. However, Eowyn’s narrative arc concludes with her adopting a more traditional feminine role, a contrast to Belit’s consistently strong and independent character throughout her story.
In Charles R. Saunders’ creation, Dossouye, we see a continuation of the archetype that Belit helped establish. Dossouye, as a black woman warrior and a member of an elite fighting force, not only represents strength and independence but also brings diversity to the genre. Her character expands the representation of women in sword and sorcery, building upon the foundations laid by Belit.
However, while it’s clear that Belit’s impact on the sword and sorcery genre is profound and lasting. It is essential to address a problematic aspect that has plagued this beloved character since her inception: her portrayal as a ‘white goddess’ amidst her predominantly non-white crew. This trope, unfortunately, reflects a colonial mindset prevalent in the era of Howard’s writing, casting the white character as superior and more ‘civilized.’
While Howard’s portrayal of Belit was groundbreaking in many ways, this aspect of her character does not escape the racial stereotypes of its time. Modern adaptations of Belit, particularly in recent comic versions, have worked to evolve her character beyond these problematic elements, focusing more on her strength, independence, and complex personality, while being mindful of the racial implications of her portrayal.
Today, Belit remains a beacon of inspiration and relevance, rightfully throned as the most popular character in Conan’s universe beside the Cimmerian himself. In an age where the voices of strong, independent women are rising like a clarion call, Belit’s story echoes with a resonance that speaks to the heart of our times. She embodies the timeless struggle for autonomy, the unquenchable thirst for adventure, and the indomitable will to forge one’s path. Her tale is not just a fragment of a bygone era but a narrative that continues to inspire and empower.
Now, as we stand upon the threshold of the 90th anniversary of “Queen of the Black Coast,” the call to adventure resounds once more. To those who seek the thrill of ancient lands, where the roar of the seas melds with the clash of steel, to those who yearn to witness the tale of a pirate queen whose love and fury shaped the destiny of the mightiest of warriors, the time is nigh. Venture forth into the heart of Howard’s creation. Let the pages of “Queen of the Black Coast” unfold before you, and immerse yourself in the saga of Belit.
Answer the call of the wild seas and the untamed heart. Read “Queen of the Black Coast,” “Belit: Shipwrecked,” or the many comics featuring her and let the spirit of Belit, the indomitable Queen of the Black Coast, ignite the flame of adventure in your soul. For in her story lies a legacy that time cannot erode—a legacy of strength, passion, and the unbridled essence of sword and sorcery.