Monday, April 16, 2007

The Department of Lost Barbarians 3

Niall of the Far Travels is one of at least four barbarian swordsmen created by the prolific Gardner Fox. Oddly enough I just found out about his existence this weekend, though I've owned his only paperback appearance for many years. Falls out like this.
Back in the early 1970s Lin Carter was editing a yearly anthology for DAW books called The Year's Best Fantasy. Lin would pull short stories from all over the map and bring them together. I'd collected them primarily because four of the six volumes contain short stories featuring Lin's own barbarian hero, Thongor of Lemuria. Lin was never shy about anthologizing his own work.
Anyway, there's tons of other cool stories in these volumes by folks like Karl Edward Wagner, L. Sprague DeCamp, Tanith Lee, Fritz Lieber, and yes, in volume #3, Gardner F. Fox.
I've covered Fox's contributions to the comic book industry and mentioned his two better know Conan clones Kothar and Kyrik in an earlier post. Niall is cut from the same cloth as the other two. In fact he's pretty much Kothar under a different name, but Niall never made into a novel of his own. He appeared in ten short stories, all of them save one originally published in TSR's The Dragon magazine. The one that Lin Carter reprinted was Shadow of a Demon from the Dragon #5, August 1976.
I stumbled across it while researching a completely different second banana sword & sorcery hero who will appear soon here at the DoLB. I was reading the table of contents and saw Fox's name and suddenly wondered if this was a short about Kothar or Kyrik. Finding that it was a character named Niall, whom I'd never heard of, I first sat down and read the story, then jumped on line to see if Niall had made any other appearances.
The story was a lot of fun, as Niall encounters a woman who isn't what she appears to be, and then finds himself pitted against a dangerous mage who can summon demons to do his bidding. It's a fast moving story with Fox's usual strong plotting and clean prose. Fox has that sort of style which seems artless at first glance but becomes more impressive as you read if simply for the clear and direct way he tells a story. The guy was pro, and if he seldom turned any particularly fine bits of phrase, he never the less knew how to get a reader's attention and hold it. No small skill.
Anyway, I did like the story a lot and have done a bit of preliminary searching for the other Niall stories. One is in the mail heading my way even as we speak. The others may take a bit of digging since they appeared in various of the first 55 issues of The Dragon. But hey, I'm almost caught up with Savage Sword of Conan. I need a new quest...

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