Friday, December 8, 2023

Fabian's The Tower Of The Elephant!

Robert E. Howard's "The Tower of the Elephant" first published in Weird Tales in 1933 is often pointed to as possibly the single finest Conan story that REH ever composed. It's certainly high on the list if not at the top, a beautifully rendered tale of Conan's youthful days as a raw barbarian fresh to civilization and trying his hand at burglary to both find booty and prove his mettle among men. The magic and treachery he finds atop the jeweled tower evoke so many of the core notions that Howard seemed to want to suggest about the corrupt nature of society. Conan's response to that treachery suggests what Howard seemed to think man was capable of instead. Also, this is one of REH's weirdest stories, straddling the genres of action, horror and science fiction, it oozes mood and atmosphere.

Stephen Fabian illustrated the story in 1977 in this House of Fantasy folio of typically lush and beautiful images. Here are those exotic and vivid pictures matched with the passages from Howard's story which inspired them. To read the complete Robert E. Howard story "The Tower of the Elephant" check out this link

"The shimmering shaft of the tower rose frostily in the stars. In the sunlight it shone so dazzlingly that few could bear its glare, and men said it was built of silver. It was round, a slim perfect cylinder, a hundred and fifty feet in height, and its rim glittered in the starlight with the great jewels which crusted it. The tower stood among the waving exotic trees of a garden raised high above the general level of the city. A high wall enclosed this garden, and outside the wall was a lower level, likewise enclosed by a wall. No lights shone forth; there seemed to be no windows in the tower--at least not above the level of the inner wall. Only the gems high above sparkled frostily in the starlight."

 "Steel flashed and the throng surged wildly back out of the way. In their flight they knocked over the single candle and the den was plunged in darkness, broken by the crash of upset benches, drum of flying feet, shouts, oaths of people tumbling over one another, and a single strident yell of agony that cut the din like a knife. When a candle was relighted, most of the guests had gone out by doors and broken windows, and the rest huddled behind stacks of wine kegs and under tables. The barbarian was gone; the center of the room was deserted except for the gashed body of the Kothian. The Cimmerian, with the unerring instinct of the barbarian, had killed his man in the darkness and confusion."

"It was Conan's savage instinct which made him wheel suddenly; for the death that was upon them made no sound. A fleeting glimpse showed the Cimmerian the giant tawny shape, rearing upright against the stars, towering over him for the death-stroke. No civilized man could have moved half so quickly as the barbarian moved. His sword flashed frostily in the starlight with every ounce of desperate nerve and thew behind it, and man and beast went down together."

"Up and up they went, silently, the lights of the city spreading out further and further to their sight as they climbed, the stars above them more and more dimmed by the glitter of the jewels along the rim. Now Taurus reached up a hand and gripped the rim itself, pulling himself up and over. Conan paused a moment on the very edge, fascinated by the great frosty jewels whose gleams dazzled his eyes--diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, turquoises, moonstones, set thick as stars in the shimmering silver. At a distance their different gleams had seemed to merge into a pulsing white glare; but now, at close range, they shimmered with a million rainbow tints and lights, hypnotizing him with their scintillations."

"He was in the center of the room now, going stooped forward, head thrust out warily, sword advanced, when again death struck at him soundlessly. A flying shadow that swept across the gleaming floor was his only warning, and his instinctive sidelong leap all that saved his life. He had a flashing glimpse of a hairy black horror that swung past him with a clashing of frothing fangs, and something splashed on his bare shoulder that burned like drops of liquid hellfire. Springing back, sword high, he saw the horror strike the floor, wheel and scuttle toward him with appalling speed--a gigantic black spider, such as men see only in nightmare dreams."

"This then, was the reason for the name, the Tower of the Elephant, for the head of the thing was much like that of the beasts described by the Shemitish wanderer. This was Yara's god; where then should the gem be, but concealed in the idol, since the stone was called the Elephant's Heart? As Conan came forward, his eyes fixed on the motionless idol, the eyes of the thing opened suddenly! The Cimmerian froze in his tracks. It was no image--it was a living thing, and he was trapped in its chamber!"

"Uncertainly Conan approached, and Yag-kosha, or Yogah, as if sensing his uncertainty, indicated where he should strike. Conan set his teeth and drove the sword deep. Blood streamed over the blade and his hand, and the monster started convulsively, then lay back quite still. Sure that life had fled, at least life as he understood it, Conan set to work on his grisly task and quickly brought forth something that he felt must be the strange being's heart, though it differed curiously from any he had ever seen. Holding the pulsing organ over the blazing jewel, he pressed it with both hands, and a rain of blood fell on the stone. To his surprise, it did not run off, but soaked into the gem, as water is absorbed by a sponge."

"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. He turned back uncertainly, to stare at the cryptic tower he had just left. Was he bewitched and enchanted? Had he dreamed all that had seemed to have passed? As he looked he saw the gleaming tower sway against the crimson dawn, its jewel-crusted rim sparkling in the growing light, and crash into shining shards."

Beautiful stuff from two masters!

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  1. Have always loved his art. One of my favorite fantasy illustrators of all time. A modern-day Virgil Finlay.

    1. Indeed. I have some more of his stuff coming later this month.

  2. I first read The Tower of The Elephant via Marvel's adaptation drawn by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala but these illustrations are very nice too.

    1. I forgot that Buscema and Alcala reworked that classic for the black and white market. Thanks for the reminder.

    2. Buscema also reworked the first Marvel Conan story for the b&w mags. It can be found on my blog under the title of The (Second) Coming Of Conan!