Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramblings on Sword and Sorcery

Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of fantasy writing. Typically the protagonist in such stories is somewhat self-centered, though not necessarily selfish, and tends to use weapons and brawn and sometimes brains to accomplish daring feats to save the day. It's rare for S&S protagonists to use magic to much of a degree, and often the oppenent they face or obstacle they must overcome is one of magic. This is all very general, because there are S&S characters who break this mode and the rules (Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone being probably the most famous ... or infamous). In many respects, at their most basic core, S&S stories are often about the idiocies of civilization, and often how barbarism can overcome civilization and maybe is even preferable to civilization in some instances.

Again, all of that is very general. There really isn't one definitive definition of Sword and Sorcery.

Another thing about Sword and Sorcery is that, being a subgenre, there aren't that many authors associated with it. Here are the most well known:

Robert E. Howard
Michael Moorcock
Fritz Leiber
Karl Edward Wagner
Andrew J. Offutt
C. L. Moore
Charles Saunders
Clark Ashton Smith

There are a handful of writers with styles similar to that of Sword and Sorcery, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, but their work tends more toward science fantasy or what has been called Sword and Planet. Also, there are a handful of writers who have written S&S stories or even novels, but they are better known for other works and not considered godfathers of the genre (so to speak).

I'm writing all this is to give a very basic background on Sword and Sorcery. The reason I'm doing this is to discuss the subgenre a bit further.

Specifically, I've been reading a good bit of S&S of late (and I've read it off and on throughout my life), and one of the S&S topics I fairly frequently see on Internet discussion boards is "the death of the genre" or something akin to "why aren't more of today's readers reading this stuff."

After thinking about this for a few weeks, I've come to a conclusion. Sword and Sorcery isn't dying. Readers are crying out for more S&S stories. The problem isn't with the readers. It's with the hardcore fans of this subgenre.

I can hear all the arguments now. Yes, I know, S&S can be difficult to find on the shelves of your local bookstore.

But that's not true. If you have a bookstore of any size, there's probably plenty of S&S, you (the hardcore fan) just don't recognize it as S&S.

Why do I say this? Because S&S has changed. It's not the same subgenre it was 80 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. This little subgenre of ours has moved on, while many of us fans have not.

Don't believe me? Then you need to check out the following authors: Steven Erikson, Glenn Cook and David Gemmell (though Dave is no longer with us, having passed away a couple of years back). While these novelists aren't entirely writing in the true S&S tradition, they are using S&S character-types and traits and tropes.

So, I'm now arguing that modern S&S is there. You just have to look for it and keep an open mind. Conan may no longer swinging his heavy blade, but characters like Erikson's Karsa Orlong are more than filling that role.

Besides, if you want the more traditional stuff, check out my links at the left. Rogue Blades Entertainment and Flashing Swords are just a couple of modern publishers who put out S&S, the more traditional stuff and the modern. And there's always Black Gate magazine, a fine publication that keeps S&S alive.

Oh, and for anyone who is interested, I don't consider myself an S&S writer. I sometimes write an S&S story, but when it comes to my fantasy material, I tend to mix things up a bit ... some S&S, some heroic fantasy, some epic fantasy, etc. To my way of thinking (and writing), I see no problem in mixing these subgenres. Heck, who knows? Maybe it'll eventually even become a new subgenre, mixing all the old ones together.

1 comment:

von Darkmoor said...

Good post, Ty; my feelings exactly.