Sword and Sorcery Questions
So, I’ve been enjoying the recent sword and sorcery podcast series over at SF Signal. As I listened to part two, I got the urge to write up a blog post dealing with my own views and questions about swords and sorcery.
Now, I’ve been interested in sword and sorcery for a long time now. It was the first form of fantasy I ever encountered. I still remember watching Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Beastmaster, and some movie with a giant spider. This was my first love as a fantasy fan, and I still have a soft spot for it. I don’t pretend that I am well read in the genre (hell, I won’t pretend I’m well read in any genre, even if most people would say that I am), but I have read a few works (just not as many as I would like).
Besides the podcast, two other events have caused me to start thinking about sword and sorcery more indepth. The first is a review over at Black Gate of Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders’ recent anthology Swords and Dark Magic that posited a slightly more conservative take on the genre ( there are a few stories in the anthology that I personally did not see as especially sword and sorcery, but I still liked most of the stories). The second catalyst is my own reading of sword and sorcery and its relationship to the weird genre.
So, I wonder, does sword and sorcery fiction have to be about the swords? What I mean by that is, does the story have to focus on the non sorcerous figure over the sorcerer? Can a sorcerer be the protagonist? If no, why not?
Another question, is there a set limit of when a sword and sorcery tale can be set (in relation to earth history)? Is a sword and sorcery tale no longer sword and sorcery when guns make better weapons than swords? Or what if the sorcery is so powerful that the swords are completely ineffective? If it is no longer a sword and sorcery tale, what is it? Gun and sorcery? A more fantasy oriented steampunk? Dungeonpunk?
Finally, does a sword and sorcery tale have to rehash the style, the feel, even the politics of the greats? I listened to the Skiffy and Fanty podcast today, and they mentioned Robert E. Howard’s Conan. The two hosts (and the guest) were unanimous in assuming that Conan, as he was, is not palatable for a modern fantasy audience. Are they right or are they showing themselves to be rather uninformed and foolish (given that a major topic of discussion was Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and the two hosts showed a deplorable lack of knowledge about the books, I would not be surprised)? But, the moderator of the sword and sorcery panel herself seemed troubled by the sexism (and other things). So, is there a valid point about the genre that disqualifies it? Or is it, as I think, the attention is payed almost exclusively to the beginnings of the genre and its golden age?
In the end, I don’t know the answers yet. These are just the questions. Maybe as I get my own stories in a more complete form, I’ll know the answers (or at least my answers).