Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fox’s Kothar of the Magic Sword: unmet promises and meaningless fetch quests quell potentially-good adventure

Kothar of the Magic Sword (Kothar, #2)Kothar of the Magic Sword by Gardner F. Fox
S.E. rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gardner F. Fox’s Kothar of the Magic Sword: unmet promises & meaningless fetch quests quell potentially-good adventure

The title and the author’s foreword to this second Kothar book (the first being Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman of five Kothar Series) promise conflict from two sources: (1) the magic sword “Frostfire” (cursed so that Kothar “can never be otherwise wealthy”, and (2) revenge from the sorceress Red Lori, whom Kothar contributed in arresting within a silver gibbet (in book-1 presumably). However, Frostfire’s powers are rarely demonstrated (arguably never shown), nor is its propensity to loose wealth featured. Worse, Red Lori, who at least does appear in the book, is presented so inconsistently that readers can only wonder: what is going? who cares?

Clonan Expectations: Gardner Fox’s Kothar is a clonan: a “clone” of REH’s 1930’s barbarian “Conan.” Kothar has all the expected traits: a wanderer with a broadsword, hails from northern cold climate (Cumberia), disdains civilization, and bears his open, uber-masculine muscular chest… and let us not forget… demonstrates unnecessary misogyny (I don’t remember REH being this over the top). Other notable clonans emerging ~1970 include John Jakes‘s Brak the Barbarian and Lin Carter’s Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria. Like Carter’s Thongor, Fox’s Kothar reads like poor fan fiction more than it does a unique tribute to the Sword & Sorcery genre. “Brak” is not ground-breaking fiction, but it may be the best of these three.

Like the others, a decent cover artist (Jeff Jones) promises emotive adventure. Four interior drawings (E. Robbins) is a nice addition, but the illustrations are not connected with the stories: for example, whereas the words indicate a wild bear is an enemy, the drawing shows a werewolf-like man wielding swords; later the text has Kothar fighting nomadic Mongols but the art has him fighting a dragon.

Monty Python and Fake Wrestling: I did not expect much, but was still disappointed. Plenty seeds-of-adventure are never developed, and plenty more scenes are silly: for example, Kothar dresses up like a sheep as bait for an airborne creature, and later he fights a bunch of naked, weaponless priests with his cat-like instinct, puffed out chest, and wrestling moves right of the World Wrestling Federation TV show (seriously, he does one of those moves in which he jumps & kicks both feet into the chest of a combatant…. obviously a go-to move when you have a magical weapon, are 2x the size of any normal man, and your opponent is a disarmed druid). Kothar of the Magic Sword was published in 1969, but subsequent history seemed destined to amplify the self-parody present. There is a scene that may have inspired the infamous “I’m not dead yet” encounter in the 1975 classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (a bad guy has all four limbs torn removed, manages to live, and is engaged in conversation with “What? Not dead yet?”).

Red Lori: Enemies have no longevity or depth, and conflict is ever shifting. That said, I was particular excited about the Red Lori character, who had lots of potential. She is introduced in the foreword as a remote antagonist; imprisoned with limited powers, she manages to haunt Kothar. Her involvement was quite effective for 66% of this until….

[SPOILER warning] 

She tricks Kothar into freeing her, ostensibly to save a maiden from being possessed (from a female demon that Kothar also seems to like). Kothar frees Red Lori nonchalantly without qualm (even though she has threatened him and tried to kill him via assassins). In fact, she instantly becomes a companion with little conflict. Kothar even saves her from danger and goes on a quest with her. It is a mess of faux-romance and faux-drama. 
"Red Lori had forgotten her hate for [Kothar], and her determination for revenge, or so it seemed…She was a learned sorceress, she had come close to destroying mighty Kazazael, long ago. It was by [Kothar’s] efforts that she had been overcome. 
Yet now she seemed to have forgotten her desire for revenge.
Kothar could not understand it."
Readers will not understand this change either. With the sudden shift, the only brewing potential in the story was utterly ruined.

More Fox:
Interested in Gardner F. Fox? Fans of Fox often recommend his Kyrik hero over Kothar.
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