Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Tower of the Elephant

Finally getting back to my literary tour of the Hyborian Age with one of the better Conan tales.  It is a good blend of both Howard's own personal theme of decadent civilization vs. natural or pure barbarism with Lovecraft's themes of cosmic horror man was not meant to know.

The Tower of the Elephant takes place in Conan's young thieving days.  He's in Zamora - the city is not explicitly named as Shadizar, but if I remember correctly, Shadizar is also said to have a Maul district where the thieves congregate, so it may be Shadizar the Wicked...or not. 

Conan being Conan, he decides to embark on the theft no other thief is willing to dare, the theft of the Heart of the Elephant, locked away in the tower of Yara the Wizard (if you've seen the original Conan movie, they borrowed some of the story elements for Thulsa Doom's Tower).  The tower is guarded by two walls, one patrolled by men, the other guarded by who knows what?  Conan meets another thief, Taurus, one of the most experienced thieves in the city, and they team up to try to beat the odds and steal the gem.

They face various challenges very much like a dungeon crawl adventure.  And if anyone ever complains about save or die or XP for gold, have them read this story (well, and the Lankhmar books for the XP for gold bit).

In the end, Conan discovers why the tower is named The Tower of the Elephant (he's never seen an elephant at this point in his career), gets a crash course in the planet's pre-history, and with an unlikely ally manages to come out ahead in his adventure.  Like I said above, I think this is one of the better Conan stories.  It's not so much the quality of the writing or pacing or characterization in the story (other Conan tales do each of those better).  I think it's just the atmosphere that Howard's prose evokes.  It's the right balance of gritty violence, derring-do, and weird horror that perfectly evokes the Hyborian Age for me.

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