Episode 13 – Gardner F. Fox’s “Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman”

J.R.R. Tolkien and perhaps Robert E. Howard aside, no Appendix N author has had as a large a pop culture footprint as Gardner F. Fox, but not for any of the works cited by Gary Gygax. Although hardly a household name today, Gardner Fox was among other things one of the most prolific comic book writers of the 20th Century. Fox was originally a practicing attorney in New York City, but still must have found it hard to make ends meet during the heart of the Great Depression–in 1937 he began writing for DC comics as well as contributing stories to many of the pulp magazines of the era. Over the course of his 30 year career with DC Comics Fox was responsible for such seminal creations as the Golden Age Flash, the Sandman, Doctor Fate, Hawkman, and the Justice Society of America. During the Silver Age of the 1960s, he would help re-vamp the Atom and Hawkman, create the Justice League of America, introduce Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and write his most famous story, “The Flash of Two Worlds!” (The Flash #123, 1961), which introduced the concept of the Multiverse to DC Comics.

Fox left or was cut loose from DC Comics in 1968 when the company shamefully declined to give health insurance and other employee benefits to its older writers and artists. He then turned to writing novels and short stories full-time, churning out tales of all genres both under his own name and under at least 15 pen names. Fox’s works included science fiction, fantasy, Westerns, historical fiction, and the sexploitation spy series Lady from L.U.S.T. (as Rod Gray) and Cherry Delight (as Glenn Chase).

Among the over 100 novels that Fox would pen over the next decade and half was the first of the Kothar series, Kothar Barbarian Swordsman (Belmont Books, 1969). Kothar Barbarian Swordsman was clearly meant to cash in on Conan/swords and sorcery boom of the era, but an old pro like Fox couldn’t resist having a little fun along the way, such as with the absurdly pompous introduction by “Donald MacIvers, Ph.D” which leaned heavily on the theories of the obscure German philosopher “Albert Kremnitz”. One can’t help but think that Fox was tweaking the likes of L. Sprague de Camp and other well-educated writers who were insecure about toiling in the vineyards of fantastic fiction. Fox by contrast wears his learning lightly, throwing in a myriad of historical but obscure terms such as “hacqueton”, “athanor”, and “cotehardie” more to amuse himself and because he may have liked their sound in a sentence than as a means to place himself above the material.

Jeffrey Catherine Jones’s painted covers are reliably moody, and her cover to Kothar Barbarian Swordsman is no exception:

BARBSWRD1969

Leisure Books picked up Kothar – Barbarian Swordsman for a second paperback printing in 1973. The even moodier second printing cover is uncredited, but also appears to be by Jeffrey Catherine Jones:

KTHRBRBRNS1973

Oddly though, it was a re-purposed piece for another Belmont Books fantasy novel, David Van Arnam’s Wizard of Storms (1970):

WZRDFSTRMS1970

Leisure Books did not end up re-issuing the rest of the Kothar series–perhaps sales were underwhelming. On the other hand, Leisure must not have been too displeased since they did publish Gardner Fox’s second stab at sword and sorcery, the Kyrik series, which ran to four books in 1975-1976.

The Kothar stories are presented with economy, craft, and imagination, so it’s not surprising that they stood out to Gary Gygax amidst all of the other derivative swords and sorcery in print at the time. The most well-known borrowing from Kothar in Dungeons & Dragons would be the lich, a powerful sorcerer who has prolonged his life into undeath–Gygax confirmed this borrowing here. Liches made their D&D debut in the Original edition’s Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz. The lich would then appear in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977) and as the demi-lich in the notorious deathtrap module S1: Tomb of Horrors (1978).

Gardner Fox and Gary Gygax became friends somewhere in this time period, paving the way for Fox to create the third of his swords and sorcery heroes, Niall of the Far Travels for Dragon magazine. Niall of the Far Travels premiered in issue two of The Dragon (1976) and would eventually appear in 10 stories over the next five years.

Gardner F. Fox was a man of many interests and it ultimately fitting that his presence is felt in a broad swath of pop culture from comic books to fantastic fiction to roleplaying games and all the media that have derived from them.

Reading Resources:

Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman book #1 (Sword & Sorcery) (Kindle ebook)

The first three books are also collected here (trade paperback/Kindle ebook):

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The Gardner F. Fox Library is a website and publishing venture dedicated to bringing Gardner Fox’s paperback works back into print as ebooks and trade paperbacks.

Further Reading:

Niall of the Far Travels Collected (Kindle ebook)

Niall of the Far Travels Collected (trade paperback)

Collects the ten Niall of the Far Travels stories originally commissioned for Dragon magazine and the one-off Dragontales fiction anthology magazine between 1976 and 1981.

Gaming Resources:

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk (0e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Monster Manual (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

S1 Tomb of Horrors (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Appendix E(rotica)!:

Cherry Delight cover gallery (somewhat NSFW)

The Lady from L.U.S.T. cover gallery (somewhat NSFW)

Cherry Delight: The Italian Connection (Sexecutioner Series Book 1) (Kindle ebook)

Lust, Be a Lady Tonight: The Lady from L.U.S.T. (Sexpionage Book 1) (Kindle ebook)

The Gardner F. Fox Library isn’t kidding about getting *all* of Fox’s output back into print….

 

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

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