Monday, January 08, 2007

Yet Another Barbarian Post


Back in the late 1960s, early 1970s, fueled by Frank Frazetta's bravura cover paintings for the Lancer Conan series, the publishing industry experienced a boom in the sales of sword & sorcery paperbacks. Publishers rushed to fill the slots with anything that even remotely resembled Conan. Thus we had reprints and new adventures of Brak, Thongor, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the subject of today's book review, Kothar-Barbarian Swordsman.
Kothar is the creation of Gardner Fox. If you don't know who Gardner Fox is, he's the creator of such famous comic book heroes as the original Flash and Green Lantern plus the inventor of the world's first super hero team, The Justice Society of America. He also created comics first real sword & sorcery hero, Crom the Barbarian. Later he would be one of the most important writers of comics so called "silver age", penning The Justice League of America, Hawkman, The Atom, Adam Strange and any number of other characters. Without Gardner Fox, we'd have a lot fewer comics to read and the history of the industry would be much the poorer.
Anyway, Fox also wrote a lot of mass market paperbacks. Fox was sort of a hold over from the days of the pulp magazines. He was a professional writer and he could turn out a well plotted and fast paced book in pretty much whatever genre you could want. He wrote historical novels, spy thrillers, science fiction, westerns, horror. You name it.
When the Conan boom hit, Fox waded right in with not one, but two S&S heroes, Kothar and Kyric. We'll talk about Kyric another day. Kothar appeared in five novels all told. I can recall reading a couple of them when I was a teenager. That was probably all I ever saw. The books were put out by Leisure Books, a fourth rate publishing house, and distribution was spotty. I think I got my first one, Kothar of the Magic Sword, in a remainder bin in a drugstore in Florida, if memory serves.
Years later, when I began rebuilding my collection of sword & sorcery books, I picked up all of the Kothar paperbacks, figuring I'd get around to reading them eventually. It seems that time has come. I'm about halfway through the first novel in the series, Kothar-Barbarian Swordsman, and I'm having a fine old time. Keep in mind, I'm reading these with the mind of a 14 year old. War and Peace this ain't. There is virtually no characterization, theme, or anything of that sort. What there is, is a straight forward plot and lots and lots of action.
Within the first 50 pages Kothar has slain two dozen men, a giant sea-slug, a sea serpent, and a horde of demons. He's dallied with two beautiful women, six if you count a brief encounter with four serving wenches. Oh and he received a magic sword from the mummy of a long dead but surprisingly verbose sorcerer. All of this has something to do with protecting a kingdom from a bunch of nasty invaders. It doesn't really matter. It's all about the Derring do. Personally, I can't wait to see what happens in the second half of the book. Huzzah!

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