a subgenre of fantasy n. 1 which describes the adventures of larger-than-life heroes or heroines in bronze-age or medieval settings, and especially their battles with magical or supernatural foes; = heroic fantasy n.
At any rate, I’ll use sword-and-sorcery as a good popular catchphrase for the field. It won’t interfere with the use of a more formal designation of the field (such as the ‘non-historical fantasy adventure’ which Sprague once suggested in a review of Smith’s Abominations of Yondro in AMRA) when one comes along or is finally settled on.
Ancalagon looks nice, especially the…article on fantasy-adventure—a field which I feel more certain than ever should be called the sword-and-sorcery story.
I feel more certain than ever [that this field] should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidently [sic] ) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!
I'd be grateful if they’d drop Fantastic a line to that effect… It’s a good idea that we boost the sword-and-sorcery story with them—since it really is something of a minor miracle that there is a current prozine that will publish such stuff.
Readers debating sword-and-sorcery fantasy tend to shed their heads as well as their shirts, as the recent Tolkien craze amply demonstrates.
Quite a few ideas came out, for an ethnological-conflict story of a sword-and-sorcery culture meeting a 1984 culture; but there was really no story brought out.
Fearsome menace would be conquered in epic sagas of the character of ‘Valley of the Worm’ by Robert E. Howard. Sword and sorcery would be encountered out of space and out of time in such tales as ‘The Sapphire Goddess’ by Nictzin Dyalhis.
Directly, Amra’s articles deal with what we call Heroic Fantasy, or sword-and-sorcery fiction—that kind of story in which heroes and villains may cast a spell or wield a blade with equal propriety, according to the terrain and the tactical situation: in a general sense, stories with pre-gunpowder technology in which magic works. In addition to their basic devotion, they touch on other heroes created by Howard; some other Conan-like heroic heroes written of by different authors; and people in sword-and-sorcery settings who are principal characters without being exactly heroic about it.
The first sword and sorcery story may have been the Odyssey of Homer, or it may have been a legend recited around the campfires of a nomadic tribe. Whichever, the tradition lives on stronger than ever, in the tales of Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and the writers included in this collection.
The kind of story Howard created with his Conan yarns, and which C. L. Moore imitated with her tales of Jirel, we call ‘Sword & Sorcery’ today. The term, however, was not coined until long after the new sub-branch of heroic fantasy appeared. It was, in fact, coined by Fritz Leiber (himself probably the finest living writer of Sword & Sorcery) as recently as 1961. The British writer Michael Moorcock had published an open letter in the amateur magazine Amra, asking for ideas on a name for the sub-genre, his own suggestion being ‘epic fantasy’. Leiber suggested ‘Sword & Sorcery’, an obvious derivation from such terms as ‘blood and thunder’ and ‘cloak and dagger’. His response first appeared in another ‘fanzine’—as amateur periodicals are called in the sub-world of fantasy and science fiction enthusiasts—a publication called Ancalagon, and was reprinted in the issue of Amra dated July 1961. Although some prefer ‘heroic fantasy’, as being more dignified and literary and a few employ a variant, ‘swordplay-and-sorcery,’ the term ‘Sword & Sorcery’ caught on and is now generally accepted.
The major tradition is the subgenre which may be called the planetary romance. This subgenre is distinguished from its close cousins, the space opera and the sword and sorcery fantasy, by its setting (an exotic, technologically primitive planet), although it shares with them the adventure-plot conventions of chases, escapes, and quests.
Keep such individuality in perspective by developing a unique and detailed world based on the rules of Advanced D&D. No two campaigns will ever be the same, but all will have the common ground necessary to maintaining the whole as a viable entity about which you and your players can communicate with the many thousands of others who also find swords& sorcery role playing gaming as an amusing and enjoyable pastime.
Heroic fantasy, often commercially applied to Sword and Sorcery tales featuring muscular barbarian heroes, but sometimes to any variety of Epic or Quest fantasy, particularly those that derive from specific heroic tradition, such as Arthurian tales.
Sword-and-sorcery fiction is to fantasy what the western is to the historical novel, or, perhaps more precisely, what the hardboiled-private-eye story is to mystery fiction. It is a subgenre based on a prefabricated image, without which it cannot be identified at all: the cowboy in the middle of the dusty street, ready to draw; the private eye in the trenchcoat; the brawny, scantily-clad swordsman, glaring defiantly at menaces supernatural and otherwise, with an even less-clad, shapely wench cowering somewhere in the background.
Sword and sorcery attempts to combine the vigor of the slam-bang adventure story with the heroic grandeur of the old epics: Beowulf, The Song of Roland, and the like.
Sci fi was applied to the most miserable sort of juvenile fiction, to stories about dragons on other planets, to Burroughs-type adventure fiction, to mundane fiction which the author insisted occurred in the near future, even to sword & sorcery fiction and alternate universe novels.
And although he experimented in poetry, as well as a variety of pulp formulas and series characters, Howard will always be remembered as the father of Conan, and, thereby, one of the founders of the sub-genre that would be called, variously, epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, and sword and sorcery.
Perhaps the most salient feature of the sword-and-sorcery genre—and the one element from which it can least afford to be separated, lest it lose something so fundamental it can no longer be recognized as such—is its adventure-seeking heroes.
Fritz Leiber in Ancalagon
Last modified 2021-10-18 12:28:59
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.