Friday, September 18, 2009

Revisiting Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman

Back sometime around 2000 or early 2001, I came across a rumpled little paperback in a used bookstore here in Boston. The book was called "Kothar and the Magic Sword", and I almost gagged at the title and nearly passed it by. But, as I realized I was buying a lot of other crappy pulp fiction (and thus had little excuse to be snobbish), and the book would only cost me a buck or so, I picked it up and gave it a read a few months later.

I discovered that this was the third of a five-book series by Gardner F. Fox, who apparently made his real reputation writing and creating comic book characters. But Kothar was an entertaining creation, a B-grade Conan but different enough in both style and substance that it was its own creation, similar to Lin Carter's Thongor series; both appear to just be Conan rip-offs on the surface, and while Thongor does a better job of "falling further from the tree" so to speak, I can read both of them without feeling like I'm just reading a Conan pastiche.

I wound up buying all five Kothar books, reading them, and enjoying them so much that I started digging around the 'net to find more information about them. All I was able to find at the time (circa early 2002) was that the author was originally in comic books, but other than that, I found nothing. So, I am proud (in a weird way) to say that I created the first Kothar the Barbarian fan page off of my little University personal webspace account, and posted about the blonde barbarian and his whacky adventures. These days, with blogs and wikipedia and whatnot out there, that's no big deal, but pre-Web 2.0, that sort of information was a lot harder to come by.

Anyhow, long story short, I was digging through my pile of paperbacks last night after finishing my latest read, and the urge for some fluffy, non-serious fantasy fare came to me. Without thinking too much about it, I picked up Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman, in the plastic book sleeve I keep it in (the book is in a bit of a delicate state). In the sleeve was the packing slip from the used book store I ordered it from when I decided to pick up all the rest of the Kothar series, and lo and behold, I had ordered it on September 17th, 2001.

So, I began to read it again after (exactly!) eight years, and I have to say, it's pretty damn entertaining. It might not be the most eloquent prose, but it's a good measure better than a lot of media tie-in fiction that gets published these days, and certainly not bad for a paperback fantasy novel that sold for 60 cents in 1969. And, hey, how many pulp fantasy paperbacks at that time had an introduction from a Ph.D. (I have no idea who Donald MacIvers is, but apparently he wrote an introduction to the first Kothar book) about the need for super-heroic literary characters in mid-twentieth century fiction, jiving off of the writings of one Albert Kremnitz, an early 19th century German philosopher?

I'll definitely have a followup posting about Kothar again when I wrap up this first novel. All five of them are short reads, so it shouldn't take me all that long.


Anonymous said...

Well, now you've done it. I must peruse the shelves of my local and track these down. Great post. --Jeff T.

Anonymous said...

Frustratingly, I'm missing two of the five titles. If you want to read more of Fox's fantasy stories, he had a lot published in early issues of the Dragon magazine.

Matthew Slepin said...

Fox is a comics legend. He created and scripted the 1st super team ever, The Justice Society, then did it all again with the Justice League. He created and/or a good chunk of the major DC characters: the original Flash, Hawkman, and the Sandman.

I think the comparsion to Carter is good: like Carter, he was kind of a hack (certianly in later years), but so joyous that you have to enjoy it too.

I keep meaning to read Kothar andhis Kyrik books too.