Sword and Sorcery

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Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a sub-genre of fantasy and historical fantasy, generally characterized by sword-wielding 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.

A genre closely related to this is sword-and-sandal, though its subjects tend to be less fantasy-oriented and more historical as they are set in historic time periods rather than entirely fictional worlds or cities, which are mostly the primary setting of this genre.

Seminal sword and sorcery

The genre has been defined, strongly, by the work of Robert E. Howard, particularly his tales of Conan the Barbarian and Kull of Atlantis, mostly in Weird Tales from 1932 and 1929 respectively.

Other books and series that define the genre of sword-and-sorcery include:

  • Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and Hyperborean tales, beginning with "The Empire of the Necromancers" and The Tale of Satampra Zeiros in 1932 and 1931 respectively.
  • C. L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry tales, beginning with "Black God's Kiss" (1934), which introduced the first notable sword and sorcery heroine.
  • Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sequence, beginning with "Two Sought Adventure" (1939).
  • Michael Moorcock's Elric sequence, beginning with The Dreaming City (published in Science Fantasy 1961), notable for its adherence to counterstereotype.
  • Sprague de Camp's Swords and Sorcery the first sword and sorcery anthology, Pyramid Books, December 1963.
  • Karl Edward Wagner's Kane novels, beginning with Darkness Weaves (1970), credited with reinvigorating the genre.
  • Charles Saunders' Imaro novels, beginning with Imaro (1981), a collection of short stories first published in the seventies for Dark Fantasy fanzine. Notable for being the first notable black sword and sorcery character.
  • David Gemmell's Druss stories, especially Legend

Other pulp fantasy fiction — such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series and Leigh Brackett's Sea Kings of Mars — have a similar feel to sword and sorcery, 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.

Sword and sorcery heroines

Despite the early work of C. L. Moore and others, sword and sorcery 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 her final volume at the time of her death (the series continued under other editors). Today, active female characters who participate equally with the male heroes in the stories are a regular feature in modern sword and sorcery 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 L. Tierney, as well as Richard Fleischer's unsuccessful film adaptation in 1985.

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More information on this topic is available at [ Wikipedia:Sword_and_Sorcery ]


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