Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Black Gate and Sword-and-Sorcery

Black Gate magazine now has a blog and Howard Andrew Jones opens it up with a post on Sword-and-Sorcery. Of course, the genre interests me. I wrote up an entry about it at Encyclopedia Fantastica recently. In that entry I said:

Too often, the term Sword and Sorcery is used to describe epic or high fantasy,
those stories more influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's work. Sword and Sorcery's root
texts are the work of Robert E. Howard, especially those stories about the
characters Conan and Kull. (In fact, some consider the Kull story "The Shadow
Kingdoms" as the first example of true Sword and Sorcery.) Unlike Tolkien's
work, Howard's stories are tied to single characters and rarely feature a
clear-cut morality. In fact, Conan's tales stem from Howard's belief that
barbarism will triumph over civilization, which is inherently decadent. Conan,
himself, often does things that are less than heroic (see The Tao of Conan for
more details on that.)
It could be argued that the gray morality of much
Sword and Sorcery is a defining feature of the subgenre. It also puts the lie to
the phrase "heroic fantasy," often used as a synonym for Sword and Sorcery.

Jones offers a different view on how S&S differs from epic fantasy. He puts it down to pace. He sees epic fantasy as fantastical travelogues, while S&S is more about a "somber, headlong drive."
It's an interesting take and I think pace is certainly among the defining characteristics of S&S. I think, however, it's only one aspect of what makes up S&S. But Jones isn't advocating a one-note genre either. His whole post -- which also talks about the influence of role-playing games and offers some recommendations of S&S authors -- is a thoughtful take on the genre. I'm looking forward to what else he has to say. (Jones has also had a few things to say in the past at swordandsorcery.org, where he used to be editor.)

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