Conan’s Wizards: Yara
“The Tower of the Elephant” is one of my favorite Conan yarns. In the past few days, I have found many more favorites, but “The Tower of the Elephant” is still my favorite. For those who do not know, a young Conan is in Shadizar, Zamora just starting out as a thief. He is in a tavern when he hears of the Tower of the Elephant and the priest/ wizard Yara. Conan decides to steal the Heart of the Elephant and does not exactly accomplish his task.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Yara is: What exactly is he the priest of? Is he the high priest of an elephant cult (which would make some sense) or is he a priest of some other faith? I do not know and it is never stated exactly what he is the priest of. I’m thinking that Howard chose a “priest” as Yara’s profession because of the knowledge required (or believed to be required) to be a priest. A priest, like a vizier, is a wonderful position from which to be a sorcerer.
Besides the uncertainty of what exactly Yara is the priest of, there is quite a bit known about his background. All of this information is provided by Yag and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of his statements.
Yag first encountered a younger Yara a few centuries before the action of “The Tower of the Elephant” begins. Yara is a young sorcerer looking for a teacher, and he approaches Yag to teach him the elder being’s knowledge and wisdom. Now, Yag is a benevolent alien (although placed in the position of a spirit), and he refuses to teach Yara his darker knowledge. This darker knowledge is what Yara wants. So, he finds a way to bind Yag and enslave him. Yara then horrifically tortures Yag for centuries to gain his knowledge. This, of course, forces Yag to reveal his knowledge.
Yara’s powers derive from his possession of the Heart of the Elephant and his enslavement of Yag. Indeed, the Tower of the Elephant was built by Yag under Yara’s direction. And it is the usage of the Heart that fuels much of Yara’s sorceries. To be frank, Yara does not actually perform any act of sorcery in the narrative. It is told that he turned a prince into a spider and stepped on him. But this could have been at any time in the last several centuries. And to be honest, I’m thinking that Yara may very well be far past his prime.
Why do I think that Yara is past his prime? Because he is a Hyborian Age drug addict. When he is encountered at the end of the story, he is in a drug induced sleep. Now, he seems to be fully alert when Conan commands him to wake, but that could be Yag’s magic working through the Cimmerian. And then Yara is quite soundly dispatched by being drawn into the Heart.
Am I disappointed that Yara does not have much more of a role? No, because the real emotional impact of the narrative is Yag’s narrative of exile, enslavement, and eventual freedom. It is Yag’s revenge drama, not Conan’s. Conan only acts as the instrument of Yag’s revenge.
So to conclude: If you are a sorcerer and looking for a good cover- become a priest of some religion or other. And. . . Don’t do drugs!!