“The Dragon of Kao Tsu,” a tale of adventure and intrigue by Robert E. Howard, encapsulates the atmosphere of the Far East with a blend of danger, deceit, and desire. Set in the shadowy corners of Singapore, it spins the narrative of Wild Bill Clanton and Marianne Allison in their pursuit of a legendary artifact.

Howard wrote some spicy adventure tales. For this one, he used the pseudonym, Sam Walser.

The story was sold by Binder to Trojan circa February 1936 for $26.50. It’s not known if Howard got paid since it was published after his death.

The narrative culminates in a blend of personal vendettas, historical intrigue, and moral ambiguity, highlighting Howard’s ability to weave a compelling tale that transcends the boundaries of time and place. The story, rich with the flavor of early 20th-century adventure pulp fiction, reflects the norms and expectations of its era, offering a window into the cultural and social dynamics of the time.

See information about the 1st draft.

Story summary

The story unfolds in the Purple Dragon Bar, where Marianne confronts Clanton, accusing him of deceit in their quest for Shareef Ahmed’s ivory dragon, a priceless relic from the Early Han Dynasty. Their tumultuous partnership, driven by Marianne’s ambition to outshine her social rivals and Clanton’s murky morals, propels them into the depths of Singapore’s underworld.

Their adventure leads them to a confrontation with a cast of characters, each with their own vested interest in the ivory dragon. As they navigate through treachery, violence, and betrayal, the true nature of their quest—and of each other—is revealed. Howard’s narrative delves into themes of greed, power, and the lengths to which individuals will go to attain what they desire, all while maintaining a fast-paced, action-packed storyline.


  • Wild Bill Clanton: The protagonist, a man of dubious morals and capabilities, navigates the criminal underbelly of Singapore to retrieve a valuable artifact.
  • Marianne Allison: A high-society woman with a penchant for danger and adventure, she hires Clanton to steal the ivory dragon, driven by her desire to surpass her social rivals.
  • Shareef Ahmed: The original owner of the ivory dragon, a powerful and dangerous figure whose wrath Clanton and Marianne must evade.
  • Ram Lal: A skilled thief hired by Clanton to steal the ivory dragon from Ahmed, whose murder sets off a chain of dangerous events.
  • Yakub: An old Jew with deep knowledge of the artifacts and the connections to verify the authenticity of the ivory dragon.
  • Bull Davies: A rival criminal also in search of the ivory dragon, representing another faction with interest in the artifact.
  • Jum Chin: A tall, gaunt Chinaman, faithful servant of Ahmed, who plays a pivotal role in the deception surrounding the dragon.
  • General Kai’s Agents: Representing another layer of interest in the dragon, they add to the complexity of the artifact’s importance.

Comparing the final story and the 1st draft

Comparing the first draft, “The Mogul Elephant,” with the final published story, “The Dragon of Kao Tsu,” reveals several intriguing changes and constants in Robert E. Howard’s storytelling. These adjustments not only refine the narrative flow but also alter character dynamics and thematic elements, illustrating Howard’s developmental process as a writer. Here’s a detailed comparison:

Setting and Artifacts

  • First Draft: Centers around the theft of the “Mogul Elephant,” a precious artifact with historical significance tied to Akbar and supposedly carved by a Persian in Alexander the Great’s army. The setting is primarily the Anglo-American Bar and a mysterious warehouse.
  • Final Story: Focus shifts to the “Kao Tsu dragon,” an artifact from the Early Han Dynasty, showcasing Howard’s shift from Indian to Chinese cultural heritage. The Purple Dragon Bar replaces the Anglo-American Bar, aligning the setting more closely with the artifact’s origins.

Characters and Motivation

  • Marianne’s Characterization: In both versions, Marianne is portrayed as a determined and affluent woman willing to navigate the criminal underworld to obtain a rare artifact. However, her motivation shifts from a competitive desire to outdo her social circle to a more personal and potentially financial or power-driven aim related to her father’s interests in the final version.
  • Wild Bill Clanton: Clanton remains a morally ambiguous character, a man of action with questionable ethics. His role as a facilitator in Marianne’s quest is constant, but the details of their partnership and his background adapt to the revised storyline.
  • Antagonists: The antagonistic forces shift from Gop Kang and Diego de Strozzo in the draft to Shareef Ahmed and Ram Lal in the published story, reflecting the changed cultural setting and artifact. This also affects the dynamics of the chase and confrontation scenes.

Plot and Resolution

  • Complexity and Depth: The final story introduces a more complex plot involving double-crosses, a broader array of characters (including Bull Davies and Jum Chin), and a deeper dive into the backstories and motivations, especially regarding the historical and cultural significance of the Kao Tsu dragon.
  • Ending: Both stories conclude with a confrontation in a warehouse, but the published version elaborates on the conflict, including a more dramatic rescue and a twist regarding the true nature of the artifact. The resolution ties back to the artifact’s cultural significance and personal stakes for Marianne.

Themes and Style

  • Cultural Elements: Howard’s shift from Indian to Chinese cultural references not only changes the artifact at the story’s heart but also affects the narrative’s thematic depth, exploring themes of legacy, power, and the lengths to which individuals will go to secure their desires.
  • Character Dynamics: The interaction between Marianne and Clanton evolves in complexity in the final story, showcasing a more nuanced exploration of trust, betrayal, and power dynamics within their partnership.

Narrative Technique

  • Pacing and Suspense: The final version tightens the narrative’s pacing, using the changed setting and artifact to create a more cohesive and suspenseful story. The introduction of additional characters and a more intricate plot enhances the story’s tension and engagement.
  • Descriptive Detail: Howard’s descriptive prowess is evident in both versions, but the final story benefits from refined imagery and a clearer focus on the atmospheric elements of the settings, characters, and cultural backdrop.

In summary, the evolution from “The Mogul Elephant” to “The Dragon of Kao Tsu” showcases Robert E. Howard’s skill in refining his narratives. By adjusting the cultural setting, deepening character motivations, and enhancing plot complexity, Howard transforms an intriguing draft into a compelling, published story that better captures the essence of adventure and the eternal allure of ancient artifacts.

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