Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hanging with Druss

 A few years back, I was having dinner with some friends and they had brought along a visitor from the UK. The topic turned to books and when I mentioned that I read a good bit of fantasy fiction, the Brit turned to me and said, "Have you ever heard of David Gemmell?"
   "I'm a huge Gemmell fan," I said.
   The Brit laughed and said, "Oh I bet you like Druss the legend."
   "Why would you say that," I said.
   "Because,' he said. "You're like him."

   I took that as a compliment. Last night I was doing a partial re-read of David Gemmell's book, The Swords of Night and Day. Partial re-read means I skip the chapters that don't have the main characters in them. I've read the book like five times. I'm just here to hang with Druss. Of course this book doesn't have a lot of the real Druss in it. It takes place a thousand years after Druss died, but his body has been cloned by science and sorcery. The clone isn't Druss, but rather a young man named Harad who shares a lot of Druss's personality traits. However, late in the book, the spirit of Druss returns from the void to possess Harad's body for a while. It's complicated.
   There are characters who I never get tired of. Tarzan and Conan obviously. Fafhrd and the Mouser. Doc Savage. There are guys I like to hang out with, even if I just read bits and pieces of their adventures. Druss was a fairly late addition to the gang. I discovered him in 1999 in the book 'The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend.'
   What is it I like about Druss? Well, he's a big burly guy who doesn't take crap off of anyone, kind of like Conan. Druss is older than Conan in the book Legend. He's gray haired and grizzled but still kicking ass and taking names. Druss is a nicer guy than the big Cimmerian too. Druss lives by a code, taught to him by another warrior.

“Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil."

   Druss pays a high price sometimes by sticking to the letter of his code. But he still keeps getting up and going on. I've heard some critics rail against Gemmell, saying that his stories are repetitive and his characters simplistic. But I think they're missing the point. Gemmell's message was simple, not simplistic. Try and do the right thing, even though it will probably cost you. And sometimes you'll fail. That's part of being human.
   Druss's biggest failing is his short temper, which gets him into all kinds of trouble.
   Another thing I like about Gemmell is the directness of his plots. At one point he named his biggest influences as Akira Kurosawa, Louis L'amour, J.R.R. Tolkien. and Stan Lee. Hard to dislike a guy like that.
   It seems odd to me that seven year's after Gemmell's far too early death (he was 57) no other writer has stepped in to try and fill the gap left by his passing. I think there's still a place for the hard hitting, violent, sort of fantasy that Gemmell excelled at. My local Barnes & Noble still stocks all of his books, so somebody's reading him. May be time for me and some of my sword and sorcery brothers to step up to the plate.
   Anyway, I do live by a code, though mine isn't written down anywhere. My friend Beth finds this endearing, I think. What can I say? I'm an old fashioned guy. As the years pass I'm starting to look more like Druss. Maybe I should grow a beard...


Beth said...

I do indeed find it endearing. I also find it mystifying, as I have wildly different innards. But - mostly I find it very reassuring. Makes you reliable and trustworthy, all that good stuff. Druss Schmuss - you'll always be Chas to me.

Keith West said...

I met Gemmell once, at the 2000 WFC in Corpus Christi (and scored some signed copies). He and Jane Linskold discussed which of L'amour books were their favorites.

I think you're right. We need someone to step up and fill his shoes. Like the song says, "when you're on the road, you must have a code that you can live by."

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks Beth. Can I still have a big ax?

Keith, I envy you meeting Gemmell. Now let's get to writing!

Beth said...

You can have all the axes you like. You're all trustworthy and stuff, remember? :-)

James A. Moore said...

I knew there was a reason I liked Druss. Though, to be fair, I only met him because you were nice enough to share.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I've read Legend and one of the prequels. I have a ton of Gemmell on my bookcase - grabbed a lot used. Must read more of him, for certain.