The Tower of the Elephant

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"The Tower of the Elephant"
Weird tales mar1933.jpg
Cover of Weird Tales, March 1933.
Art by Margaret Brundage
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 is 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 "thief city", called by some Arenjun, or the City of Thieves. Howard's original text never called the city Arenjun – this was added by L. Sprague de Camp in his own introduction to the story.[2] Howard's only reference to the city was to call it the "thief city" in a letter to P. Schuyler Miller and John Drury Clark.[2]

Interior panel of "The Tower of the Elephant" comic adaptation by Roy Thomas featuring the art of John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan, November 1977

A young Conan is drinking in a rowdy tavern when he overhears a fat Kothic rogue describing a fabulous jewel called the "Heart of the Elephant." The jewel is kept in an eponymous tower by an evil sorcerer named Yara, of whom even the King of Zamora is afraid (he had transformed a Prince into a spider and then stepped on the spider). When Conan presses the rogue for more information, insults are traded and a fight ensues. As they begin to fight, a candle is knocked over by bewildered onlookers plunging the tavern into darkness. In the resulting confusion, Conan slays the Kothian and escapes into the nighted streets of the city. In this, Conan incidentally saves an aristocratic woman whom the Kothian intended to kidnap and sell into slavery.

After this tavern brawl, the Cimmerian sets out to steal the aforementioned jewel on a whim and encounters along the way Taurus of Nemedia, known as the "Prince of Thieves", who has similar designs. The two thieves agree to work together and, after battling lions in the tower gardens, scale the fabled spire. Upon reaching the top, Taurus is killed by the venomous bite of a gigantic spider that Conan in turn slays in a frenzied battle.

Conan's battle with the spider takes place in a hall full of untold wealth in gems; Conan uses one of the boxes full of gems as a weapon to kill the spider, but - focused on the one specific famous jewel he had come to steal - fails to grab any of these precious stones easily available for the taking. This means that in this night's work he would be a successful knight errant but a failed thief, and would get out of the tower empty-handed.

Undaunted, Conan continues on into the eldritch tower and discovers a strange "trans-cosmic being" having the body of a man but with the oversized head of an elephant, possibly inspired by the Hindu God Ganesh. The creature, named Yag-Kosha, is a blind, tortured prisoner of the sorcerer Yara.

Yag-kosha relates 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 apprentice turn against him. At Yag-kosha's behest, Conan takes the Heart of the Elephant; slays the elephant-being in a mercy killing; extracts the heart from the corpse and, as instructed, drips its blood over the Heart of the Elephant; and, finally, uses the supernatural powers of the blood-infused jewel to shrink Yara and draw him into the jewel. Inside the jewel there appears a revived Yag-kosha, his limbs and wings restored, relentlessly pursuing Yara.

Obviously, it is out of the question for Conan to take any such mundane act as bringing this jewel to a fence and getting at least a fraction of its market value. The only thing for him to do is get out alive, which he does in the nick of time - the whole tower collapses right behind him

Publication history[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.[3] 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[4] 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,[5][6] 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.[7]

Cthulhu Mythos[edit]

Many of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories were attempts at writing stories in H. P. Lovecraft's unique horror style. Howard eventually assimilated the artistic influence of Lovecraft, and was able to include Lovecraftian elements in his Conan stories without aping his Providence colleague. The Lovecraftian monster in "The Phoenix on the Sword" is a perfect example, as is the fact that the published version's discreet reference to the "Nameless Old Ones" replaced the first draft's "Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, and the Nameless Old Ones."[8]


  1. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, pages 441 and 442, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.
  2. ^ a b Conan (Lancer, 1967)
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bennett, Colette. "'Conan: Tower of the Elephant' Review- A Hack 'n Slash Fit for a Barbarian". Touch Arcade. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, pages 436, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.

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