Saturday, March 15, 2014

REVIEW: THE DRUID STONE (1967)



I first read THE DRUID STONE twenty or thirty years ago, and recalled it only as a rousing sword-and-sorcery throwaway.  Though the name on the cover is "Simon Majors" (as in the legendary occult seer "Simon Magus,") experts agree that the actual author was Gardner F. Fox, better known in this century for his comic book works (JUSTICE LEAGUE in particular) than for his novels.

Even in my younger days I recognized that Fox's novels were almost without exception simple and derivative, though in general they made for a good quick read.  THE DRUID STONE, though, isn't even good trash.  On the spine it reads "occult," and the first third of the book concerns a psychic experiment by three occult experts.  But it quickly veers into into sword-and-sorcery territory, as one of the three finds himself-- viewpoint character Brian Creoghan-- in a sorcerous world, "Dis" by name, and that he inhabits the body of a mighty-thewed warrior, given the unfortunate name of "Kalgorrn."  Both Brian and his alter ego are boring and their mutual struggle to save the world of Dis lacks the visual flourishes Fox often brought to his prose fiction.

For historians of paperback fiction DRUID STONE's only significance is that it was among the earliest original paperbacks that tried to capitalize on the Lancer Books reprints of Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" stories; reprints which were key to the revival of Howard's reputation and Conan's rise to iconic prominence.  Since "sword and sorcery" had not yet become established, DRUID STONE was marketed as an "occult thriller."  The early part of the novel presents something of a Cook's Tour of exotic locales, as Brian reminisces on his encounters with Mau Maus, Tuaregs, "ju ju priests of Kunasi," and "Dyaks of Borneo."  But most of this is just trivia, with one exception. At one point Brian remembers having a piece of art made for him "in Hong Kong by a one-eyed brute with the fingers of a Praxiteles."  While Fox was a great originator of comic-book myths-- his Golden Age "Hawkman" for instance-- in his prose fiction this seems to be the main outlet he found for his considerable myth-knowledge: taking the essentials of, in this

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