Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse

Oddly enough, this is the one Kothar novel that I didn't own until just recently. There are a couple of reasons for that. First and most important is that I simply never ran across a copy. Of the five Kothar books by Gardner Fox, the two that seem to show up the most in used bookstores are Kothar of the Magic Sword and Kothar and the Wizard Slayer. See those all the time still. After that, in order of descending obscurity, are Kothar and the Demon Queen, and Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman. (Which sounds like what Kothar would have on business cards.)
And Conjurer's Curse? Never saw it in all my years of digging through used book stores. Now of course, I've long known I could order it from various internet sources, but I wasn't in any big hurry to get it because I knew I'd already read the story.
See, back in the day, when Roy Thomas was writing Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comic book, Roy adapted the plots of several non-Conan stories into Conan tales, changing the original protagonist into Conan. I've mentioned his use of Norvell Page's Prester John stories and a couple of others in earlier posts. Well he did the same thing with Fox's Conjurer's Curse, adapting the novel over a half dozen or so issues of Conan. Knowing Roy, I figured he'd stuck pretty close to the plot of the book, so that's why I said I'd already read the story.
But, since I am now attempting to amass the definitive collection of Sword & Sorcery books, with particular focus on the late 1960s early 1970s spate of Conan knock-offs, and because Curse has perhaps the best Jeff Jones cover in the series, and because I suddenly decided I wanted to compare the novel to the comic, I ordered a copy from Amazon.
I was right about the adaptation. Roy followed the plot almost exactly, mostly just changing the names of the places and things to fit the Hyborian Age and leaving everything else. He added a couple of bits of action and made a few changes to the ending, but for the most part, the Conan version is a very tight adaptation of the Kothar adventure.
The book itself is a lot of fun. Fox had a very straight forward narrative style. Nothing fancy, but he could tell a story clearly and the adventures, foes, and monsters he dreams up for Kothar are imaginative and interesting. Anyone who's read any of Fox's comic book stories knows that he was famous for his plots which move along quickly and logically and usually have nifty resolutions. Most of his Super Hero stories are sort of like mysteries in that there's usually one vital thing the hero has to figure out to solve a problem or defeat an enemy. This shows up again and again in his Justice League and Adam Strange stories, and it's there to a lesser degree in Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse. An amulet introduced in the first few pages will become very important to the resolution, but Kothar has to figure that out.
The only problem with the Kothar books is that a modern reader will find them to be almost completely devoid of characterization. The characters are extremely one dimensional so people raised on today's 'heart on the sleeve' writing style may find Kothar and crew to be a little flat. But that's how this sort of book was written in those days, so there's not much point in complaining about it. Best to just put your brain into neutral and ride with Kothar on a quest that includes a lost princess, a living mosaic, goblins, a woman who lives with wolves, three evil sorcerers, two demons from the outer gulfs, and a whole lot of sword slinging fights.

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