At the beginning of ‘The Tower of the Elephant,’ Robert Howard introduces Conan the Cimmerian as a barbarian who is so far removed from civilization that he finds it impossible to understand the sense of humor and discourteous nature of the civilized men. Conan’s barbarism is especially depicted in his manner of dressing, whereby he walks around with just a loincloth and high-strapped sandals, which becomes his signature costume throughout the story. One would expect that as Conan the Cimmerian continues to interact with civilized people, his perception of civilization would change and that he too would want to embrace some of the civilized practices. However, Conan remains true to his character as a barbarian and resists any attempts to civilize him, meaning that his character does not evolve in the course of the story.
In the first chapter, Conan the Cimmerian is interested in carrying out a heist in the tower, but it is hard to gain information regarding the security of the tower because most people, even the most famous thieves are afraid of the forces that guard it. Conan’s barbarism is evident when he enquires about the tower and the gem therein, but the Kothian mocks him for insinuating that he can steal the gem from the top of the tower. When Conan replies that he has the desire and courage to carry out the robbery, the Kothian feels insulted and gives Conan a violent push prompting Conan to hit him back. A fight ensues during which the candle is knocked over, and the room is in darkness. However, when a new candle is lit, the Kothian is seen lying dead at the center of the room because Conan, being the barbarian he is, has managed to kill him amid all the darkness and confusion.
Conan’s barbarianism and disregard for civilization are also seen when he chooses to walk the streets almost naked, save for the loincloth and sandals. It is even more daring for Conan to be dressed in such a manner inside the part of the city that is reserved for temples. However, Conan Cimmerian is not bothered by the symbols of the gods because he does not believe in the religion of the civilized. According to Howard, Conan has even spent a significant amount of time in the courtyard listening to philosophers and theologians debating about religion, and he was convinced that there was something mentally wrong with them. Instead, Conan believes in the Cimmerian gods which are simple and understandable in that their sole purpose is to give man courage when he is born and empower him to kill his enemies.
In the second chapter, Howard introduces Taurus, the Prince of Thieves, who has years of experience in carrying out robberies. Taurus joins forces with Conan in a quest to overpower the defenders of the tower and gain access to the gem. Here, even though Taurus is more experienced in theft than Conan, it is Conan whose skills prove most valuable in conducting the heist at the tower and preventing them from being killed. For example, when Taurus is busy trying to throw the hook over the wall, Conan notices a charging lion, takes out his sword, and leaps to meet the lion, splitting its head and killing it in the process. According to Howard, no civilized man could have moved nearly as quickly as Conan had, meaning that it is his barbaric skills that spared the two from death.
By the end of the story in chapter three, even though Conan the Cimmerian is a bit petrified by the supernatural powers guarding the tower, especially because of their ability to carry out dire revenge on intruders, he still goes on with his mission to steal the gem. However, once inside the tower, Conan realizes that a High Priest has imprisoned the cosmic creature and instead of stealing the gem, Conan chooses to free the creature and bring the evils of religious civilization to an end. Here, Conan remains true to his barbarian roots by choosing to forgo the treasure in exchange for freeing a tortured creature and destroying the civilized use of magic to steal forbidden knowledge. In this case, Conan remains a barbarian throughout the story, and neither religion nor the acquisition of a gem can make him evolve into a civilized person.
Howard, Robert. The Tower of the Elephant. A Project Gutenberg of Australia ebook. Ebook no.: 0600831, 2006.