A bit about sword and sorcery

The Slushmaster talks about Sword and Sorcery here-

Where he repeats a cry I’ve heard off and on since I started hanging out with the different factions of genre online a few years ago. And that is basically- whatever happened to S&S? Of course, he avoids the usual nonsense about the lack of S&S causing the downfall of the short fiction market (mostly, I think, because he reads slush for an excellent magazine), which is a fallacy of logic I’ll just skip past here, for obv reasons*.

What I want to talk about here is an essence to it that I think is overlooked. I think the bare bone essence has nothing to do with a celebration of idiotic masculinity taken to violent, puerile extremes, nor is it primal, basal thing that I keep hearing of frequently.  If so, then Fahfred and the Grey Mouser shouldn’t be a large part of the cannon of S&S- there stories are as much about wit and comedy and the interaction between the two characters as they are about combat.  Some stories go almost completely without anyone getting slain by the two adventurers.

And I’m not sure I buy the whole “S&S is all about the outsider looking out for himself”.  While, the lone amoral hero is an interesting idea, at the same time it feels like it’s tacked on as an explanation ex post facto, to try and cobble together a definition.

No, I think that S&S was, at its time, the first true dark fantasy.  All good S&S is Cthulu influenced.  You have the Gods of Lahkmar (and not the gods in it), you have Conan scaling the Tower of the Elephant.  There is a touch from Lovecraft in all good S&S, his stories in Weird Tales crossing over and pollinating these minds, infecting them, tainting them.  Turning them inside out.  I think that, combined with a prehistorical (and by this I mean before written history, not Caveman land, but rather before the verbal history of the Greeks, probably post neolithic, but not by a lot, the birthstone of civilization, so to speak…).  These two concepts combined, I think, are really at the root of Sword and Sorcery.

And it makes me wonder- is it wholly possible to write a S&S story without any combat?  I think it is.

Anyway, the one problem I have with the people trying to revive S&S is that they’re not evolving it , and if they are, it’s not improving upon the genre but rather pushing it backwards stylistically speaking.  That’s one of the reasons I’m (hesitatingly) excited about Beneath Ceaseless Skies- it looks like its trying to evolve some of the other genres (like, epic and heroic fantasy, which is commonly tied to S&S) into a more modern frame of mind, with a more complex, literary way of looking at texts.

Just some musings.

*I find that usually when people complain loudly about something a product (like a magazine) is doing, and saying that if X magazine did Y, then it would sell more, these are usually the people who won’t buy it once it’s changed.  They like to complain, and give suggestions, but they never want to buy.


11 thoughts on “A bit about sword and sorcery

  1. I have to say that I have some problems keeping these sub-genres separate. I welcome the explanation. Now that I know what it is, I can try to write one.

    I have read some of Lovecraft, and if channeling him plus Conan type of person in an early Greek culture, that seems doable.

    What do you think of Thundar in relation to S+S. This is one of my fonder barbarians, though, I realize now, what did they mean by barbarian? Rome has come and gone by the time that cartoon got off the ground. Hell, the moon wasn’t even in good shape.

  2. Lol. A lot of people have problems keeping sub genres separate. I love the micro classification, but it’s not for everyone. People should just write what they like to read, and let the critics classify it for them. Makes it all easier.

    Thundar! I loved that show in my childhood. Not sure if it would hold up with hte test of time. Right, well the attitude of the show was similar to pre-history humanity- you have dinosaurs, the way people behave, society is barely existent. Even though it is post apocalyptic future, it still contain grains of pre history, if that makes sense.

    Conan type person in early greek culture? Easily doable! Sounds like it would be a cool story 🙂

  3. Pingback: Matt’s Bookosphere 8/19/08 « Enter the Octopus

  4. It just shows how far your influence extends.

    Anyway, my argument there was that S&S embraces existentialism (as did HPL) whereas trad fantasy is still essentially Christian, I tend to think S&S is a profoundly existentialist genre. I think what you may be seeing is a common philosophical source in common with HPL, rather than pure HPL influence.

  5. I’m not complaining! It’s cool.

    Oh, I know it’s a pure HPL influence. Howard wrote some Cthulu stories, there are some correspondences between the two, etc. Same with Lieber, I think. Although some pre-HPL writers, I would agree that it’s a similar existentialist way of looking at the universe 🙂

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