“Guns of Khartum” is a thrilling narrative set during the historical siege of Khartum, where the protagonist, Emmett Corcoran, an American ivory hunter trapped in the conflict, finds himself embroiled in a series of daring and dangerous adventures amidst the city’s final days.

The story was never published and Howard wrote at least one draft of it. See 1st draft of “Guns of Khartum”.

“Guns of Khartum” weaves historical events with fictional heroism, exploring themes of love, betrayal, and the will to survive against all odds.

Story summary

The story begins with Corcoran navigating through the deserted, sun-scorched streets of besieged Khartum, reflecting on the dire situation as the Mahdi’s forces encroach. His encounter with a distressed white woman, Ruth Brenton, who is being attacked by her half-caste servant, Zelda, sets the stage for a tumultuous series of events. Corcoran’s intervention saves Ruth, and an immediate connection forms between them, sparked by his desire and her vulnerability.

The narrative quickly escalates as Khartum falls to the Mahdi’s forces, plunging Corcoran and Brenton into chaos. In a desperate bid for survival, they attempt to flee but are separated in the turmoil. Corcoran, believed dead, is saved and hidden by Zelda, who then reveals her own desire for him. Utilizing this to his advantage, Corcoran reluctantly engages with Zelda to stay alive and plot his next move.

Corcoran’s journey leads him to Omdurman, where he learns of Ruth’s capture by Gerard Latour, a French renegade and former suitor of Ruth’s, now aligned with the Mahdi. Corcoran’s rescue mission is daring and fraught with danger, climaxing in a confrontation with Latour, whom he kills in a duel. The narrative takes a turn when Corcoran decides to assassinate the Mahdi himself to rescue Ruth, leading to a tense and dramatic climax in the Mahdi’s palace.

The story concludes with a daring escape from Omdurman, facilitated by an emir blackmailed by Corcoran into aiding their flight. As they flee into the night, Corcoran and Ruth look forward to a future filled with hope, leaving behind the horrors of the siege.


  • Emmett Corcoran: The American protagonist, an ivory hunter turned defender of Khartum, whose bravery and determination drive the narrative.
  • Ruth Brenton: A British woman visiting Khartum, who becomes Corcoran’s love interest and the focal point of his rescue mission.
  • Zelda: A Somali-Arab half-caste and former servant of Ruth, who harbors her own desires for Corcoran.
  • Gerard Latour: A French renegade serving the Mahdi, obsessed with Ruth and an antagonist to Corcoran.
  • The Mahdi: The leader of the besieging forces, a distant but pivotal figure whose fall signifies the climax of the story.
  • An unnamed Emir: A disgraced emir blackmailed by Corcoran into aiding their escape, representing the complexities of power and survival.

Comparing the final story and the 1st draft

There are significant differences in the narrative details, character development, and overall tone between the first draft and the final version. Here are the key changes and their potential implications for the story’s themes and character arcs:

Narrative Structure and Pacing

  • First Draft: The initial draft is more verbose and descriptive, with longer paragraphs that delve deeper into the setting, character thoughts, and backgrounds. This approach provides a rich backdrop but can slow down the narrative pacing.
  • Final Version: The narrative is more streamlined, with tighter prose and a clearer focus on action and dialogue. This change likely aims to enhance the story’s pace, making it more engaging and dynamic for readers.

Character Development

  • Emmett Corcoran: In both versions, Corcoran is portrayed as a capable and determined figure, but the final version emphasizes his decisiveness and action-oriented nature more sharply. The removal of some internal monologues and reflections in the final version puts more focus on his interactions and decisions, which could make his character feel more immediate and impactful to readers.
  • Ruth Brenton: Ruth’s portrayal shifts slightly between drafts. The final version seems to streamline her backstory and focus more on her immediate reactions and resilience in the face of danger. This could make her character more relatable and sympathetic by highlighting her strength and adaptability.
  • Zelda: The Somali servant’s role is notably different in the tone and outcome between the two drafts. The final version simplifies her motivations and actions, which could make the narrative more straightforward but also reduces the complexity of her character and her relationship with Corcoran and Ruth.

Themes and Tone

  • Violence and Conflict: Both versions depict graphic violence and the brutal realities of the siege and its aftermath. However, the final version might tone down some of the more explicit descriptions found in the first draft, possibly to maintain a balance between depicting harsh realities and keeping the story accessible.
  • Cultural and Racial Dynamics: The initial draft includes more explicit commentary on racial and cultural tensions, which are somewhat streamlined in the final version. This could be an attempt to focus more on the individual characters’ experiences rather than broader social commentary.
  • Romantic and Sexual Elements: The final version seems to handle the romantic and sexual elements between characters with a bit more subtlety compared to the first draft. This change might aim to integrate these aspects more smoothly into the overall narrative, focusing on the emotional connections between characters rather than explicit details.


The evolution from the first draft to the final version of “Guns of Khartum” reflects a refinement in storytelling, focusing on pacing, action, and the core elements of character interaction and development. By streamlining descriptions and focusing more on direct action and dialogue, the final version likely aims to enhance the story’s appeal and accessibility, emphasizing the dramatic and emotional stakes of the narrative while maintaining the historical and cultural context that enriches the story.

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