“The Fire of Asshurbanipal” was originally written early in the 1930’s like a straight adventure story. There is no record of where this version of the story was submitted. REH later revised the story to have a supernatural ending. The version with the supernatural ending was submitted to WEIRD TALES after Howard’s death by his father. Glenn Lord discovered the original (straight adventure story) version of the story in a trunk and it was first published in THE HOWARD COLLECTOR #16, Spring 1972.

“The Fire of Asshurbanipal” was first published in Weird Tales in December 1936, almost six months after Howard’s death. It is one of three completed stories that the author’s father, Isaac Howard, submitted to Weird Tales after his son’s death (this is according to a letter he sent to Howard’s literary agent, Otis Adelbert Kline). The other two stories are “Dig Me No Grave,” and “The Black Hound of Death.” All saw print in the Weird Tales in late 1936 and early 1937. However, “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” may have been written earlier, possibly around the time of “The Black Stone” in late 1930 (both reference the name ‘Xuthltan’) when Howard was experimenting with H. P. Lovecraft’s themes and concepts. A second, non-fantasy version of the story exists, which suggests to me that Howard was considering selling it to Adventure or a similar magazine.

Considered part of the Cthulhu Mythos.

The story

“The Fire of Asshurbanipal” by Robert E. Howard unfolds as a gripping tale of adventure and horror set against the backdrop of a mysterious and ancient desert city. The story begins with two characters, Steve Clarney, an American, and Yar Ali, an Afghan, who stumble upon the ruins of a city while escaping hostile Bedouins in the desert. Their quest revolves around the legendary gem known as the Fire of Asshurbanipal, a relic rumored to be cursed and protected by supernatural forces.

As Clarney and Yar Ali navigate the dangers of the desert and the ruins, they encounter Nureddin El Mekru, a familiar foe with a personal vendetta against Clarney. The narrative builds tension as the trio confronts the legend of the gem firsthand, with Nureddin attempting to seize the Fire of Asshurbanipal, only to unleash a horrific entity that guards the treasure. The entity, a monstrous being from beyond human comprehension, claims Nureddin and terrifies the remaining adventurers into a desperate escape.

Howard masterfully blends elements of adventure, ancient mysteries, and cosmic horror, drawing the reader into a world where human greed and curiosity clash with unfathomable ancient powers. The setting, a lost city filled with remnants of a bygone civilization and the haunting presence of its supernatural guardian, serves as a perfect backdrop for this confrontation.

The story also explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and the insatiable human desire for wealth and power, as seen through the characters’ interactions and motivations. Clarney and Yar Ali’s bond, tested by the harsh desert and the terrors of the city, highlights the human capacity for resilience and camaraderie in the face of otherworldly threats.

Ultimately, “The Fire of Asshurbanipal” leaves readers with a sense of awe and dread, pondering the mysteries of the ancient world and the limits of human understanding. Howard’s vivid storytelling, rich in atmospheric detail and suspense, ensures that the tale of the cursed gem and its monstrous guardian lingers long after the final page is turned.


  • Steve Clarney: The main protagonist, an American adventurer and explorer who, alongside his companion Yar Ali, seeks the legendary gem known as the Fire of Asshurbanipal. His past encounters with Nureddin El Mekru add a personal dimension to the story’s conflict.
  • Yar Ali: A loyal and brave Afghan who accompanies Steve Clarney on his quest. Yar Ali’s knowledge of the region and his combat skills are crucial in navigating the dangers they face together.
  • Nureddin El Mekru: A former acquaintance of Steve Clarney turned adversary. Nureddin is a shaykh with a history of engaging in various illicit activities, including the slave trade. He seeks the Fire of Asshurbanipal for his own gain and serves as the primary human antagonist.
  • Bedouins/Arabs: A group of desert warriors who initially attack Steve and Yar Ali, and later, under Nureddin’s leadership, confront them in the ancient city. Their superstitious fear of the city and the gem adds to the story’s tension.
  • The Entity: A monstrous guardian of the Fire of Asshurbanipal, summoned by ancient magic to protect the gem. Its appearance and the horror it invokes embody the story’s elements of cosmic horror and the unknown.
  • Xuthltan: An Assyrian magician mentioned in the backstory, who originally stole the Fire of Asshurbanipal from a nameless cavern guarded by the entity. His actions set the curse in motion, although he never appears directly in the story.

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Sources and links:

The First time I met Robert E. Howard by Ryan Harvey published on Black Gate. Howard Works.