Sword and sorcery

Sword and sorcery

Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a fantasy subgenre generally characterized by swashbuckling heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. [Joseph A. McCullough V, " [http://www.blackgate.com/articles/S&S.htm The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery] "]

Defining S&S

The term was first coined in 1961 when the British author Michael Moorcock published a letter in the fanzine "Amra", demanding a name for the sort of fantasy-adventure story written by Robert E. Howard. He had initially proposed the term "epic fantasy". However, the celebrated American S&S author Fritz Leiber replied in the journal "Ancalagon" (6 April 1961) suggesting "sword-and-sorcery as a good popular catchphrase for the field". He expanded on this in the July 1961 issue of "Amra", commenting:

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! (Fritz Leiber, "Amra", July 1961)

Since its inception, many attempts have been made to redefine precisely what "sword and sorcery" is. Although many debate the finer points, the general consensus is that it is characterized by a strong bias toward fast-paced, action-rich tales set within a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework. Unlike high or epic fantasy, the stakes tend to be personal, the danger confined to the moment of telling. [Philip Martin, "The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest", p 35, ISBN 0-87116-195-8.]

Many sword and sorcery tales have been turned into lengthy series of adventures. Their lower stakes and less than world-threatening dangers make this more plausible than a repetition of the perils of epic fantasy. So too the nature of the heroes; most sword-and-sorcery protagonists, peripatetic by nature, find peace after adventure deathly dull. [Martin, "The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest", p 37.] At one extreme, the heroes of E. R. Eddison's "The Worm Ouroboros" grieve for the end of the war and that they have no more foes equal to those they defeated; in answer to their prayers, the gods restore the enemy city so that they can fight the same war over again. [L. Sprague de Camp, "Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy", p 116 ISBN 0-87054-076-9.]


The subgenre has old roots. Ultimately—like much fantasy—it draws from mythology and Classical epics such as Homer's Odyssey and the Norse sagas.

It is also influenced by historical fiction, begun by Sir Walter Scott, under the influence of Romantic collection of folklore and ballads. [Michael Moorcock, "Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy" p 79 ISBN 1-932265-07-4.] However,very few of his works contain fantastic elements; in most, the appearance of such is explained away, [John Grant and John Clute, "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy", "Scott, (Sir) Walter", p 845 ISBN 0-312-19869-8.] but in its themes of adventure in a strange society, this led to the adventures set in foreign lands, by H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. [Moorcock, "Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy", p 80–1.] Haggard's works included many fantastic elements. [Grant and Clute, "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy", "Haggard, H. Rider ", p 444–5.]

However, S&S's immediate progenitors are the swashbuckling tales of Alexandre Dumas, père ("The Three Musketeers" (1844), etc.) and Rafael Sabatini ("Scaramouche" (1921), etc.)—although these all lack the truly supernatural element (even though Dumas's fiction contained many fantasy tropes [Grant and Clute, "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy", "Dumas, Alexandre père", p 300.] )—and early fantasy fiction such as Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth" (1910). All of these authors influenced S&S for the plots, characters and landscapes used. [Moorcock, "Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy" p 82.]

In addition, many early S&S writers, such as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, were heavily influenced by the Middle Eastern tales of the Arabian Nights, whose stories of magical monsters and evil sorcerers were a major influence on the genre to be.

S&S proper only truly began in the pulp fantasy magazines, most notably "Weird Tales".

eminal S&S

The genre has been defined, strongly, by the work of Robert E. Howard, particularly his tales of Conan the Barbarian, mostly in "Weird Tales" from 1932. [Diana Waggoner, "The Hills of Faraway: A Guide to Fantasy", p 47–8, 0-689-10846-X.]

Other books and series that define the genre of sword-and-sorcery include:
*Michael Moorcock's Elric sequence, beginning with "The Dreaming City" (published in "Science Fantasy" 1961), notable for its adherence to counterstereotype.
*Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sequence, beginning with "Two Sought Adventure" (1939).
*Karl Edward Wagner's Kane novels, beginning with "Darkness Weaves" first published in 1970.
*C. L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry tales, beginning with "Black God's Kiss" (1934), which introduced the first notable S&S heroine.
*Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique tales, beginning with "The Empire of the Necromancers" (1932).
*Charles Saunders' Imaro novels, beginning with "Imaro" (1981), a collection of short stories first published in the seventies for "Dark Fantasy" fanzine.

Other pulp fantasy fiction—such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series and Leigh Brackett's Sea Kings of Mars—have a similar feel to S&S, but, because alien science replaces the supernatural, it is usually described as planetary romance or sword and planet, and considered to fall more in the area of science fiction. [Grant and Clute, "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy", "Burroughs, Edgar Rice", p 152 ISBN 0-312-19869-8.]

AGA and the revival of S&S

From the 1960s up till the 1980s, under the guiding force of Lin Carter, a select group of writers formed the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA) to promote and enlarge the Sword and Sorcery genre. From 1973 to 1981 five anthologies featuring short works by SAGA members were published: edited by Carter, these were collectively known as Flashing Swords!.

Despite such authors' best efforts, sword and sorcery has more colloquially come to be known as a catch-all phrase for low grade, derivative fantasy such as that which played a seminal role in influencing "Dungeons & Dragons"Fact|date=December 2007 and other fantasy role-playing games, as well as fiction written in such universes. During the 1980s, influenced by the success of the 1982 feature film "Conan the Barbarian" many cheaply made fantasy films were released that came to be derisively known as "Sword & Sorcery". The term is sometimes used in a derogatory manner by writers and readers of the fantasy genre. However, in recent years magazines such as "Black Gate" and "Flashing Swords" (not to be confused with the Lin Carter anthologies) are attempting to return the genre to the status it enjoyed during the pulp era of the twenties and thirties.

&S heroines

Despite the early work of C. L. Moore and others, S&S has had a strongly masculine bias. Female characters were generally distressed damsels to be rescued or protected. Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Sword and Sorceress" anthology series (1984 onwards) attempted the reverse. Bradley encouraged female writers and protagonists: the stories feature skillful swordswomen and powerful sorceresses. The series was immensely popular and Bradley was editing the final volume at the time of her death. Today, active female characters who participate equally with the male heroes in the stories are a regular feature in modern S&S stories, though they are also relied upon for sex appeal.

Introduced as a minor character in a non-fantasy historical story by Robert E. Howard, "The Shadow of the Vulture", Red Sonya of Rogatino would later inspire a fantasy heroine named Red Sonja, who first appeared in the comic book series "Conan the Barbarian" written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith. Red Sonja received her own comic book title and eventually a series of novels by David C. Smith and Richard Tierney, as well as Richard Fleischer's unsuccessful film adaptation in 1985.

ee also

* Heroic fantasy
* Low fantasy
* Sword and planet
* Sword and sandal
* High fantasy


External links

* [http://www.swordandsorcery.org Sword and Sorcery] , a website dedicated to the genre and its history.
* [http://flashingswords.sfreader.com Flashing Swords] , an Ezine dedicated to publishing sword and sorcery.
* [http://www.jessesword.com/sf/view/235 Oxford English Dictionary citations for Sword and Sorcery.]
* [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/swordandsorcerywriting/ swordandsorcerywriting] Yahoo! Group for current S&S writers to discuss their work.
* [http://www.redsonja.com/ Red Sonja Official Site]
* [http://werewolfking.blogspot.com Women Warrior Art, Stories, Links] Depicts women warriors from fantasy, myth, history.

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