Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Swords and Sorcery - More

In 1961, Michael Moorcock wrote a letter published in the magazine Amra asking for a name for the sort of story written by Robert E. Howard. Fritz Leiber responded with the following:

"I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!"

That's as good a definition as any I could need. It covers a wide gamut of authors and styles but they're all alike in tending to the grittier side of things and a melancholic tone. I just want to put out a list of who and what I consider important or foundational to the genre and make a view comments where possible.

This is a preview of something I'd like to do in the near future. I'd plan to make (once I master Wordpress) a site about S&S with links, pictures, maps and everything. We'll see how that goes.

The Foundations - The Creators and their Characters/Milieus
Robert E. Howard - Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, etc.
Clifford Ball - Duar the Accursed
Henry Kuttner - Elak of Atlantis, Prince Raynor
C. L. Moore - Jirel of Joiry
Clark Ashton Smith - Hyperborea, Averoigne, and Zothique

The Second Generation
Fritz Leiber - Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Jack Vance - The Dying Earth
L. Sprague de Camp - Pusadian Tales
Poul Anderson - The Broken Sword, etc.

The Rebirth - Following the publication of the Conan books by Lancer in the sixties there was a market for new books. De Camp and Lin Carter led much of the way with their editing of these editions of Howard, their "completion" of his story fragments and their pastiches to fill in "gaps" in Conan's timeline. While more often mediocre or bad rather than good, these paved the way for the boom in S&S publishing that took place over the next decades.

For over ten years there was great new stuff by older authors as well as great new things by new authors. There were numerous story collections and even an association of S&S authors; SAGA

Michael Moorcock - Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Prince Corum, Erekose, etc., etc.
Fritz Leiber - A glorious return to the abandoned Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser saga
Lin Carter - numerous collections (Ballantine Adult Fantasy, Flashing Swords, Year's Best Fantasy), Thongor, etc. - Carter's novels tend to be poor pastiches of Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. His greatness lies solely with his enthusiasm for the genre and his tremendous editing efforts
John Jakes - Brak the Barbarian - unrepentant homage to Robert E. Howard
Andrew Offutt - editor (Swords Against Darkness) and numerous Howard pastiches
Karl Edward Wagner - Kane and several Howard pastiches - With Moorcock, the best of the newcomers. Succumbed to booze far too young and after having not written much for a decade prior to his death in 1994.
Charles Saunders - Imaro
Jessica Amanda Salmonson - editor (Amazons)

Newest Stuff - There's plenty of stuff that falls into the S&S genre being written nowadays. More often than not they like to call it "heroic fantasy". It's like science fiction being called speculative fiction in order to try and market it more upscale. It's all a little disingenuous and condescending. If you're already writing or reading about imaginary worlds with low levels of technology, wizards, dragons and treacherous viziers then you should be able to handle the words "Swords and Sorcery" (Note - I haven't read a lot of the newer stuff yet, but I'm working on it)

P.C. Hodgell - Jame
David Gemmell - Druss the Axe, etc.
Robert Jordan - Conan pastiches galore - I read one and it made me long for the duller works of Lin Carter
Brian Ruckley - Godless World

As I discover more I'll add them. Needless to say, there's plenty more authors to add to each of the sections above and I hope to do that on the full S&S site someday.

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