THE TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian. It was accepted by Weird Tales in April 1932 but was not published until almost a year later, in March 1933.

Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, it concerns Conan infiltrating a perilous tower to steal a fabled gem from an evil sorcerer named Yara. Its unique insights into the Hyborian world and atypical science fiction elements have led the story to be considered a classic of Conan lore and is often cited by Howard scholars as one of his best tales.

From the letters

We learn a little background information in a letter (#203) to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. April 1932:

P.S. Wright took another of the Conan the Cimmerian series, “The Tower of the Elephant”, the setting of which is among the spider-haunted jeweled towers of Zamora the Accursed, while Conan was still a thief by profession, before he came into the kingship.

The story is mentioned in a letter (#236) to Donald Wandrei on February 21, 1933:

I appreciate your kind comments regarding my Weird Tales stories; though I’m afraid “The Tower of the Elephant” won’t stack up very highly against Smith’s magnificent “Isle of Tortures.”

In the letter (#248) to Hugh G. Schonfield, dated June 15 1933 we learn:

Dear Sir:

As I promised, in answer to your letter of May 19th, I am sending, under separate cover, a representative collection of my weird stories. These include:

1. Wings in the Night
2. The Tower of the Elephant
3. Kings of the Night
4. The House of Arabu
5. The Valley of the Lost
6. The Scarlet Citadel
7. The Horror from the Mound
8. The Children of the Night

As I have no typed copies of “The Tower of the Elephant” or “Wings in the Night,” I am sending the printed pages of these stories in order to save time. If you wish, I will prepare manuscript copies of them.

“Wings in the Night,” “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Kings of the Night,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” “The Horror from the Mound,” and “The Children of the Night” were published in Weird Tales magazine. I own the British Empire rights. “The Valley of the Lost” was accepted by the Clayton Publishing Company, for their magazine Strange Tales, but that magazine was discontinued before the story was published, and it was returned to me. “The House of Arabu” has never been published.

We get more background information about Conan in a letter (#342) to P. Schuyler Miller, on March 10, 1936:

Your outline follows his career as I have visualized it pretty closely. The differences are minor. As you deduct, Conan was about seventeen when he was introduced to the public in “The Tower of the Elephant.” While not fully matured, he was riper than the average civilized youth at that age. He was born on a battle field, during a fight between his tribe and a horde of raiding Vanir. The country claimed by and roved over by his clan lay in the northwest of Cimmerian, but Conan was of mixed blood, although a pure-bred Cimmerian.

Howard was honored that Dr. John D. Clark and P. Schuyler Miller were so interested in Conan that they wanted to work out an outline of Conan’s career and a map of his environs. (letter #342 in the Collected Letters Volume 3).

Miller, a science fiction writer and fan, and Clark, another fan, had sent Howard an outline of Conan’s career and a map of his world which they had deduced from the published stories. With the information provided by Howard in this letter, they revised their work, and it was published as “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” in the fanzine The Hyborian Age in 1938

Plot summary

In the Zamorian city of Arenjun, also known as the “City of Thieves,” Conan drinks in a tavern. He overhears a Kothic rogue describing a fabulous jewel known as the “Heart of the Elephant,” which is kept in a tower by an evil sorcerer named Yara.

Conan ventures into Yara’s garden to steal the jewel and encounters Taurus of Nemedia, known as the “Prince of Thieves,” who has the same agenda. Taurus is wily and fat, but amazingly agile. Impressed by Conan’s daring, Taurus agrees to work together. After battling lions in the tower gardens, the thieves ascend Yara’s spire. Upon reaching the top, Taurus enters a treasure vault and is killed by the venomous bite of a giant spider. Conan crushes the spider with a chest of gems, then continues his search for the Heart of the Elephant.

He discovers a strange being with the body of a man and the head of an elephant. The creature, Yag-kosha, is a blind and tortured prisoner of Yara.

Yag-kosha reveals to Conan the pre-cataclysmic saga of his people, their arrival on Earth, and how he taught Yara the art of magic only to have his apprentice betray him. At Yag-kosha’s request, Conan grabs the fabled jewel, kills the being, extracts the heart from his corpse, and drips its blood over the Heart of the Elephant. When he sets the blood-infused relic in front of Yara in his sleeping chamber, the gem’s magic shrinks and draws the sorcerer into the jewel. Inside, a revived Yag-kosha, limbs and wings restored, pursues the screaming Yara, and the Heart vanishes.

Obeying Yag-kosha’s instructions, Conan leaves, emerging empty-handed from the tower at dawn as it collapses behind him. He has nothing after his night’s work except for his sword, loincloth, and sandals.

Published in:

L. Sprague de Camp edited the story and his version appears in: