The Ebony Tower

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The Ebony Tower
First edition (UK)
Author John Fowles
Cover artist Pisanello, fragment of fresco in Ducal Palace, Mantua [1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Publisher Jonathan Cape (UK)
Little Brown (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint
ISBN 0-224-01045-X

The Ebony Tower (1974) by John Fowles is a collection of five novellas and short stories with interlacing themes, each built around a medieval myth: The Ebony Tower,Eliduc, Poor Koko, The Enigma and The Cloud.


Plot synopses

The Ebony Tower

Henry Breasley is an elderly painter whose secluded retirement is invaded by a brash young artist commissioned to write a biographical study of the great man. Breasley shares his home with two young English girls, both former art students, Diana and Anne. In this strange ménage, David is left in no doubt about his host's views on modern abstract art. However, he is puzzled by the old man's relationship with the girls, especially when he himself is attracted to Diana.


Eliduc, the shortest tale in the book, is a translation of a Breton lai by Marie de France, in which a hero goes into exile in England, leaving his wife behind. While in exile, he falls for the daughter of a local king. The story is deliberately placed after The Ebony Tower as a clear parallel of and influence on the title story.

Poor Koko

An elderly writer has borrowed a country cottage from friends in London. On the first night of his stay, the house is burgled. Poor Koko tells of his encounter with the burglar.

The Enigma

John Fielding, British Member of Parliament, disappears without trace. Was foul play involved, or did he fake his own disappearance? The case presents few clues for the police officer in charge.

The Cloud

A seemingly idyllic picnic in the south of France for a group of English family and friends hides deeper, troubled undercurrents.

Television adaptations

The Ebony Tower (1984)

The Ebony Tower
Directed by Robert Knights
Written by John Fowles (story) and John Mortimer (adaptation)
Starring Laurence Olivier
Roger Rees
Greta Scacchi
Release date
Running time
80 min

The Ebony Tower is a 1984 television film adaptation of the novelette by John Fowles. Directed by Robert Knights it stars Laurence Olivier in the role of the elderly painter.


The film was released on VHS during the 1990s. It has been released on DVD format and is included on the Laurence Olivier Presents Collection and The Laurence Olivier Centenary Collection.

The Enigma (1980)

The Enigma
Directed by Robert Knights
Written by Malcolm Bradbury (play, based on John Fowles story)
Release date

The Enigma is a 1980 television adaptation of the novelette by John Fowles, produced as part of BBC2's playhouse series. It was also directed by Robert Knights.


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