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The Tower Of The Elephant


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#1 Kortoso

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 07:35 PM

This month, we can dicuss the story by Robert E. Howard, "The Tower of the Elephant", featuring Conan.

This is many reader's favorite, for many reasons. Conan is young and alone, but starting to figure out the intricacies of civilization, and the story itself is a clear, straight line, with a number of plot twists.

But first, before go any further I'd like to say that beyond here O reader there are:

* * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * * * *

Now that the spoiler alert's out of the way, we can continue. :)

#2 Taranaich

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 10:47 PM

Although not one of my absolute favourites, The Tower of the Elephant is definitely one of Howard's best and most finely written ones. Anyone who thinks a Conan story just features a meatheaded idiot killing sorcerers and rescuing damsels should read this story and be proven profoundly mistaken.

The thing I love most about the story is obviously the cosmic tragedy of Yag-Koshah: rather than being some monster Conan must overcome, which would be the obvious choice for a lesser author, Howard turns it on it's head and makes the titular being a touchingly vulnerable character, which is pretty innovative and phenomenal.

It also features the magnificent Taurus (a thief with a beer belly? Genius! ) and two of my favourite classic Howard lines:

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

He had squatted for hours in the courtyard of the philosophers, listening to the arguments of theologians and teachers, and come away in a haze of bewilderment, sure of only one thing, and that, that they were all touched in the head.

Robert E. Howard, 1906 - 2006

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#3 Buxom Sorceress

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 12:46 PM

THE TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT by Robert E. Howard
[ Weird Tales march 1933. my review of del rey 2003.]

This is 1 of the most vibrant fantastical sword & sorcery/sci-fi weird horror tales ever writ!
It's got almost everything you could want expertly packed into its exciting, fascinating and magical 20 thrilling pages of inspired Texan bardic type.

The pages seem to drip with thick juicy wondrous atmosphere: of grim ancient cultures; tension and mystery: and it tastes so good like the nectar of the gods mixed with fresh blood...[ ooh, i'm drooling again?? ]

Howard takes us from the lowest dark den of thieves and scum in the 'Maul'...to the highest sparkling den of the most powerful sorcerous thief and torturer in his legendary wondrous tower.
This tale will thrill and enthrall you with...daring thievery; deadly rare poisons; Conans exciting fighting prowess and cunning v monsters and beasts; ancient cosmic powers; cruelty and sadness; the most powerful supernatural bloody weird revenge...and lost fabulous treasures...

By the end Howard leaves us in very entertained wonder, and wanting much more Conan adventures. but he has also teased us into thoughts of ancient 'aliens' [observing all human history, and worshipped by jungle cults] : and we are still wondering about our human past and origins, to this day.

Rating = 10 /10 ! SUPERB weird fantasy/horror that makes you glow inside and think more deeply. 1 of the greatest original tales of the sword & sorcery genre. B)
[ and i enjoy it more and more each time i read it. :) ]
--
there are many things to note and celebrate in this story. here are some Conan notes...

Conan learns from the philosophers of Zamora. [ page 64]

Crom the grim Cimmerian god is explained. [ p64]

We are introduced to the powder from Black Lotus [ p68] ; and the dreaming fumes of the Yellow Lotus [ p80].
--
my THANKS to TARANAICH for his quotes and great comments about Yag-Kosha.
i will leave more things for other members to expand upon in their reviews and comments.
Please join in and have your say? i love reading lots more ratings and passionate views in these great review topics.
----
~~~ a couple of cheeky questions ~~~
..after the end...would the Zamorans have sifted through the rubble to find bits of gems and treasures? or would the magically created tower have soon dissolved into a dusty ivory-coloured powder which was worthless? [except perhaps to a clever alchemist? i prefer this powder option. perhaps it may inspire a fan-fiction tale, eh? ;) ]

..what if poor Yag-Kosha could see ok? but when he sees big scarey grim barbarian he has a shock heart attack and dies in his chair?? :D [that is Yara s fave version??]
----
Come on then you Zamoran rogues? :) Let's hear your shouts from the Maul...?

Edited by Buxom Sorceress, 26 December 2006 - 12:00 PM.


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#4 budgie

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 06:09 PM

Tower of the Elephant..

Not one of my favourite Howard stories. why? I think its a bit of a mixed bag really.

I love it from the start of the story, the tales within the Maul, the meeting with Taurus and the initial stealing into the tower.. My biggest problem comes with meeting the Towers captive prisoner - It was the description of Yog.. I could never get my head round that and its the part of the story why I dislike it slightly.. Almost all of Howards other-worldly/supernatural monsters range from ther Lovecraft inspired to the known horrific giant beasts but Yog always seemed to come across as something a little silly to me.

Its still a ripping read, heck, I even liked the Dark Horse adaptation too (never read the Marvel one).

Im gonna have to go with a 7/10 on this one..

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#5 Kortoso

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 07:24 PM

Howard takes us from the lowest dark den of thieves and scum in the 'Maul'...to the highest sparkling den of the most powerful sorcerous thief and torturer in his legendary wondrous tower.

From the lowest of the low to the highest of the high... Good catch, you. :)

Oh, you wanted a shout from the Maul? "Show us your kocapo!" ;)

#6 cimmerianbloke

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 06:44 PM

Definitely, as far as I am concerned, the best opening paragraph of the whole genre. The atmosphere is depicted in an awesome and still unrivalled way.

#7 Michael Miko

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Posted 05 December 2006 - 04:36 AM

I think "The Tower of the Elephant" is a 10/10 story. Its one of my favorite Conan tales simply for its weirdness.

With Conan thinking the philosophers in the courtyard were basically full of crap and then encountering the other-worthly Yag-Koshah, it had a dark humor about it. And gave Conan some insight, there were things in his world that gave reason for teachers and learned men to be touched in the head about.

The story amazed me the first time I read it, and it still does everytime I do.

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#8 Adam

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Posted 13 December 2006 - 09:26 PM

I'd rate this short story 8-9/10.

For the simple reason I'm not a great fan of Conan the THief, apart from House of rogues of course :)

What I enjoy in this short story is elephant-like creature and its sad story and the beginning in the tavern in degenerated city.

I am indifferent towards Taurus and evil wizard seems to me to be too much like Nabonidus from House of rogues.

It's a really good story, but I always read it with two or three other thievery Conan's adventures. :)

#9 nabonidus11

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Posted 24 December 2006 - 05:28 PM

This is one of my favorites. A 9 out of 10 for all of REH's works and a 10 out of 10 for the Conan stories. The flavor of this story is more "fantastic" than most Conan stories. There is a poetic or a dreamy quality that is different from the gritty more "realistic" feel of most of the other Conan stories. Only "The Frost Giant's Daughter" has a similar feeling to me. This dramy quality has more in common with the Kull series I think.

I enjoy the way Conan is defined. As someone said he was not a "stupid barbarian" but curious and intelligent. Violent, direct and in a fashion innocent. This is the only story where Conan can be called all of those things at once and that may be why the story stands out for me. The other characters are great but Yag Kosha steals the show.
'Men are fools, as always," grunted Conan. "If the plague struck all who sinned, then by Crom, there wouldn't be enough left to count the living!..."

#10 The Gneech

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 05:26 PM

I remember the first time I encountered information about Ganesha, my immediate reaction was "Yag-Kosha! One of your brethren survived!"

Seriously tho, "Tower" is one of my all-time favorite stories and is right up at the top of my favorites among the Conan lore. I always found Conan's line, "merely a thief ... I'll not harm you" to be a wonderfully understated way of indicating the otherwise-bloody-handed barbarian's capacity for empathy. Instead of being horrified or driven to xenocidal hatred, he sees Yag-Kosha as the sad remnant of what was once a being of greatness.

Terrific stuff. Moving, but subtle.

-The Gneech B)

#11 bdwilner

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 07:19 PM

I recently procured--and quickly devoured--the entirety of the Ballantine/Del Rey Howard series (six volumes) after having first encountered "Tower of the Elephant" in a "golden age of sci-fi" type anthology.

Well, I just reread Tower of the Elephant, and I'm left with a concern.

The tower was filled hip-deep with fabulous jewels. There were emeralds in the walls, rubies in the sinks, diamonds in the floors. Sapphires oozed from characters' orifices.

Why, then, did Conan ultimately emerge entirely empty-handed? Is this not rather unlike him? I know that he works on trust (e.g., accepting Devi Yasmina's word that he'd be paid rather than showing up Johnny-on-the-spot for hard cash), but there was nothing/nobody to trust in ye tower of ye elephant.

Any ideas--or is this an insoluble Conandrum :-) ?

#12 A.Oster

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 01:31 AM

I always like how fiction heros up and forget about such bounty and go on to other plots. I'm sorry, but, even if it took a whole caravan of camels, I would go back and get such hoards. Some say its a matter of the hero being more concerned with the greater good and not material wealth, but I say, "great wealth can always further the greater good". Though normaly followed by a silent" : me." :P
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#13 deuce

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 01:57 AM

Actually, Howard doesn't really say what the Cimmerian did after Yara's tower came crashing down. Perhaps he grabbed some handfuls of baubles and hauled a$$. The tower was in the "uptown" district of Zamora, so the king's men and other representatives of the Powers That Be would be crawling all over the disaster site soonest, I'd think. The king (who'd been under Yara's thumb) would definitely want to know the situation on the ground. Plus, as soon as the denizens of the Maul caught wind of riches lying about, they'd be swarming like locusts.

OTOH, perhaps Yara's jewels were akin to "faery gold": they turned to ashes in your hand.

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#14 Kortoso

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 02:07 AM

Maybe it would be an anticlimax to have him looting the ruins.

#15 Strom

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 02:10 AM

Mayhap the answer is in Howard's prose:

Into the waving green gardens came the Cimmerian, and as the dawn wind blew upon him with the cool fragrance of luxuriant growths, he started like a man waking from a dream.


Remember he was so "mazed" that Conan did not even consider exiting the way he had entered the Tower - I think after seeing what he saw, both with Yag-kosha and what transpired in Yara's chamber, sent Conan into a trance. He was acting instinctively on the words of Yag-kosha - and was surprised that indeed Yag's word was kept.

Was he bewitched and enchanted? Had he dreamed all that had seemed to have passed?


I think he was enchanted or bewitched - and who can blame him. HPL established that the human mind can see far less than what Conan witnessed and go insane. Plus, this is very early in Conan's career. He had not yet experienced supernatural or sorcerous power like this before.

As for the gold, after Conan was 'awakened' by the stirring breeze he turned back to the Tower. Maybe he realized the treasures he left behind or maybe he just wondered if what he experienced was real? Either way, the opportunity was lost as the Tower came crashing to the ground. Still, I guess he could've searched the rubble for a bauble or three!

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#16 deuce

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 02:18 AM

Maybe it would be an anticlimax to have him looting the ruins.


Right on, Kortoso! B) The closing sentence is great, finishing the story perfectly. What happens after is left up to the reader (and his/her particular predelictions).

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#17 bdwilner

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 03:50 AM

Maybe it would be an anticlimax to have him looting the ruins.


Right on, Kortoso! B) The closing sentence is great, finishing the story perfectly. What happens after is left up to the reader (and his/her particular predelictions).


Oh, I don't know: unless your version of the story is different from mine, the ending consists of the tower crashing into shards and splinters and folding into the earth *poof* such.

#18 deuce

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 06:14 AM

Maybe it would be an anticlimax to have him looting the ruins.


Right on, Kortoso! B) The closing sentence is great, finishing the story perfectly. What happens after is left up to the reader (and his/her particular predelictions).


Oh, I don't know: unless your version of the story is different from mine, the ending consists of the tower crashing into shards and splinters and folding into the earth *poof* such.


I dunno. It isn't just the description of a building collapse...

"As he looked he saw the the gleaming tower sway against the dawn, its jewel-crusted rim sparkling in the growing light, and crash into shining shards."

A metaphor. Like The Fall of the House of Usher. Darkness (embodied in Yara and his Tower) gives way to dawning light. All of Yara's sorcerous pride and arrogance is now lying in shards. As Strom pointed out so well, all of this happens to a youth straight out of Cimmeria, where jewels mean less than a strong arm and a good sword. Can you honestly say that you would've thought of "the money" first after going through what Conan had been through? Truly soul-shakin', mind-bendin' stuff (cool HPL reference by Strom, BTW). We might want to cut the young Conan some slack. Most teenagers can't remember to take out the trash.

I guess REH could've ended the yarn something like...

"Conan shook his head and banished all vaporous, bewitching thoughts. Who gave a Pict's curse if he had just seen the last son of a proud race gain eldritch vengeance against a sorcerous tormentor?
He turned back to the shambles of Yara's Tower. He burrowed and rooted about in the detritus, like a pig or a rodent, until he found some baubles to make the night's efforts worthwhile. Conan could hear the sound of tramping feet marching from the direction of the king's palace. Alarums and trumpets sounded in the distance. He turned his gaze southward. There was a sweet Brythunian ***** in the Maul who knew the value of hard-won jewels. The Cimmerian would make her earn every copper's worth."


Conan might have done such a thing. Very likely. Howard could have written it. I don't see The Tower of the Elephant ending with such sure notes of poetry, pathos and grandeur if he'd done so. REH is definitely a "fun" writer, but that isn't ALL he is.

My two lunas. :)

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#19 Ironhand

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 09:35 AM

Yara's tower was the home of eldritch, evil, unnatural sorcery. If he walked out of the tower in a trance and without loot, once it collapsed, and all the treasure and sorcery got mixed up, Conan might have been averse to rooting through the ruins.
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#20 Kortoso

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 06:26 PM

Conan didn't loot the "temple" of Kallian Publico either. If I recall correctly, he let his heels do the talking. ;)