sword and sorcery n.

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.

SF Encyclopedia


SF Criticism


  • 1961 F. Leiber in Ancalagon Apr. 6 Fritz Leiber

    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.

  • 1961 F. Leiber in Ancalagon Apr. 6 Fritz Leiber

    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.

  • 1961 F. Leiber Letter in Amra early July 21 Fritz Leiber

    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!

  • 1961 G. H. Scithers in Amra July 22 George H. Scithers

    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.

  • 1964 ‘W. Atheling Jr.’ Issue at Hand 73 James Blish bibliography

    Readers debating sword-and-sorcery fantasy tend to shed their heads as well as their shirts, as the recent Tolkien craze amply demonstrates.

  • 1965 D. Hoylman in Twilight Zine 30 Apr. 16

    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.

  • 1965 S. Moskowitz in L. Margulies Worlds of Weird Introd. 12 Sam Moskowitz bibliography

    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.

  • 1969 R. H. Eney Swords & Sorcery in L. S. de Camp & G. H. Scithers Conan Swordbook (1969) x Dick Eney bibliography

    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.

  • 1970 R. Hoskins Swords against Tomorrow Introd. p. 9 Robert Hoskins bibliography

    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.

  • 1973 L. Carter Imaginary Worlds 66 Lin Carter bibliography

    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.

  • 1978 R. Letson in P. J. Farmer Green Odyssey Introd. p. v

    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.

  • 1979 G. Gygax Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Masters Guide (rev. ed) 8 Gary Gygax

    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.

  • 1986 G. K. Wolfe Critical Terms for Science Fiction & Fantasy 52 Gary K. Wolfe bibliography

    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.

  • 1987 J. N. Williamson How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction 77 J. N. Williamson bibliography

    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.

  • 1987 J. N. Williamson How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction 79 J. N. Williamson bibliography

    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.

  • 1990 Thrust Winter 30/3

    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.

  • 1997 K. Maio Films in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Aug. 93/1

    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.

  • 2020 B. Murphy Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery i. 10 Brian Murphy (I) bibliography

    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.

Research requirements

antedating 1961

Earliest cite

Fritz Leiber in Ancalagon

Research History
Cory Panshin submitted a 1965 cite for the form "sword-and-sorcery" from Doug Hoylman from the MIT SFS "Twilight Zine".
Michael Swanwick submitted a 1972 cite from the anthology "Swordsmen and Supermen".
Michael Swanwick submitted a 1970 cite from Robert Hoskins' introduction to Hoskins' anthology "Swords Against Tomorrow".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1994 cite from an article by Terri Windling in Windling and Datlow's "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror".
James A. Landau submitted a 1969 cite from Richard Eney's essay "Swords and Sorcery" from "The Conan Swordbook", edited by L. Sprague de Camp and George H. Scithers.
Cory Panshin submitted a 1964 cite from James Blish's "The Issue at Hand".
Michael Swanwick submitted cites from 1973 for the forms "Sword & Sorcery" and "swordplay-and-sorcery" from Lin Carter's "Imaginary Worlds". Lin Carter, in the cite submitted by Michael Swanwick, remarks that the term was coined by Fritz Leiber in a letter of comment published in "Ancalagon" and subsequently in the July 1961 issue of "Amra"; George Scithers submitted this cite from "Amra".
Michael Swanwick submitted a 1965 cite from Sam Moskowitz' introduction to Leo Margulies anthology "Worlds of Weird".
Jeff Prucher submitted cites from 1987 from Darrell Schweitzer for the forms "sword and sorcery" and "sword-and-sorcery".
Jeff Prucher submitted the original April 1961 cite from Ancalagon by Fritz Leiber.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2020 cite from Brian Murphy.

Last modified 2021-10-18 12:28:59
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.