The Tower of the Elephant

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"The Tower of the Elephant"
Savagesword24 07.jpg
An interior panel of "The Tower of the Elephant" comic adaptation by Roy Thomas featuring the art of John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala. The original short story was written by Robert E. Howard and first appeared in a 1933 issue of Weird Tales magazine.
Author Robert E. Howard
Original title "The Tower of the Elephant"
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in Weird Tales
Publication type Pulp
Publisher Rural Publishing Corporation
Publication date March 1933
Preceded by "The Scarlet Citadel"
Followed by "Black Colossus"

"The Tower of the Elephant" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan infiltrating a perilous tower in order to steal a fabled gem from an evil sorcerer named Yara. Due to its unique insights into the Hyborian world and atypical science fiction elements, the story is considered a classic of Conan lore and is often cited by Howard scholars as one of his best tales.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is set in the Zamorian city of Arenjun,[2] also known as the City of Thieves.[3] A young Conan is drinking at a rowdy tavern, when he overhears a Kothic rogue describe a fabulous jewel called the "Heart of the Elephant". It's kept within a tower by an evil sorcerer named Yara. Long ago, Yara frightened the King of Zamora after he transformed a prince into a spider and crushed the boy with his foot. When Conan asks the rogue for more information, insults are traded and a fight ensues. A candle is knocked over, and the tavern is plunged into darkness. However, Conan's sword finds the Kothian in the dark, and he escapes into the moonlit streets. (The Kothian's death saves a damsel, his intended victim, from her eventual kidnapping and slavery.)

On the spur of the moment, the teenaged Conan ventures into Yara's garden to steal the jewel, and immediately encounters Taurus of Nemedia, known as the "Prince of Thieves", who has a similar plan. Taurus, who is wily, fat, but amazingly agile, is impressed by Conan's daring, and they agree to work together. After battling lions inside the tower gardens, the thieves scale across an immense spire. Upon reaching the top, Taurus enters a treasure vault and is killed by the venomous bite of a gigantic spider. After a desperate battle, Conan crushes the spider with a chest of gems. Conan hastens on to seek his greatest treasure, the Heart.

Continuing into the tower, he discovers a strange "trans-cosmic being" with the body of a man and the oversized head of an elephant. The creature, named Yag-kosha, is a blind, tortured prisoner of Yara.

Yag-kosha reveals to Conan the pre-cataclysmic saga of his alien people, their arrival on Earth, and how he taught Yara the art of magic, only to have his own apprentice betray him. At Yag-kosha's behest, Conan grabs the fabled jewel, mercifully kills the elephant-being, extracts the heart from his corpse, and, as instructed, drips its blood over the Heart of the Elephant. He uses the supernatural powers of his blood-infused relic to shrink Yara and draw him into the jewel. Inside the jewel appears a revived Yag-kosha, his limbs and wings restored, relentlessly pursuing Yara, and the Heart vanishes.

Obeying Yag-kosha's instructions, Conan leaves immediately, and emerges empty-handed from the tower at dawn, just as it collapses behind him. He has nothing after his night's work except for his sword, loin-cloth, and sandals.

Publication history[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

There is also a modular adventure based on this tale for Conan: The Roleplaying Game.

The Tower of the Elephant has been adapted into comic form three times: twice by Marvel and once by Dark Horse.

The first adaptation by Marvel appeared in Conan the Barbarian #4.[4] The story was adapted by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema.

The second adaptation by Marvel appeared in the Savage Sword of Conan #24[5] and was again written by Roy Thomas but this time drawn by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala.

The newest adaptation, in Dark Horse's Conan issues 20-22,[6][7] was written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Cary Nord, Dave Stewart and Mike Kaluta. Two of these have recently appeared in collections released by Dark Horse: the Conan the Barbarian adaptation in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The Tower of the Elephant and other stories, and the Dark Horse adaptation in Conan Volume 3: The Tower of the Elephant and other stories.

Episode 3 of the animated series Conan the Adventurer is adapted from "Tower of the Elephant", although the character of Taurus is replaced with Jezmine who becomes an ongoing character in the series rather than dies.

A variant on this story has been added into the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Wizard101, a dungeon called the "Tower of the Helephant". The thief Taurus is the only name that remains true to the original tale, however the parallels between the stories are evident to anyone that is familiar with the story. The players must scale a tower and descend into it, ultimately freeing the elephant-headed interstellar being by defeating the wizard that bound him and destroying the "Heart of the Helephant".

The story is the inspiration for a sequence in Conan the Barbarian, which includes Conan and his fellow thieves scaling a tower, battling a giant snake, and stealing a jewel.

In the 2011 film Conan the Barbarian a character extols Conan's past accomplishments and mentions his adventure in the Tower of the Elephant.

The story was adapted into a hack and slash video game for IOS by developer Chillingo, which was released as a tie-in for the 2011 film Conan the Barbarian.[8]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, pages 441 and 442, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.
  2. ^ The name added by L. Sprague de Camp in his introduction to Conan. (Lancer, 1967)
  3. ^ The name given by Howard in a letter to P. Schuyler Miller and John Drury Clark.
  4. ^ http://www.comics.org/issue/24164/
  5. ^ http://www.comics.org/issue/31657/
  6. ^ http://www.comics.org/issue/271430/
  7. ^ http://www.comics.org/issue/271432/
  8. ^ Bennett, Colette. "'Conan: Tower of the Elephant' Review- A Hack 'n Slash Fit for a Barbarian". Touch Arcade. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"The Scarlet Citadel"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"Black Colossus"
Preceded by
"The God in the Bowl"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Hall of the Dead"
Preceded by
Conan the Formidable
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan and the Sorcerer