heroic fantasy n.

= sword and sorcery n.

SF Encyclopedia

SF Criticism

  • 1961 L. S. de Camp Letter in Fantastic Oct. 124/1 page image L. Sprague de Camp bibliography

    Please, let us have some more of Leiber’s Fafhrd-Mouser stories! Leiber is the only man now writing heroic fantasy, and this is a genre which gives a number of readers, when well done, and including myself, the purest pleasure we get out of any kind of fiction printed.

  • 1963 L. S. de Camp Heroic Fantasy in Swords & Sorcery 7 L. Sprague de Camp bibliography

    ‘Heroic fantasy’ is the name of a class of stories laid, not in the world as it is or was or will be, but as it ought to have been to make a good story. The tales collected under this name are adventure-fantasies, laid in imaginary prehistoric or medieval worlds, when (it’s fun to imagine) all men were mighty, all women were beautiful, all problems were simple, and all life was adventurous.

  • 1969 ‘J. Merril’ in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July 47/1 Judith Merril

    It was in letters with Fischer that the characters and some of the background of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were first developed, and it was one of these that sold to Unknown and brought the author an immediate following among ‘heroic fantasy’ fans.

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

    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.

  • 1973 U. K. Le Guin From Elfland to Poughkeepsie in U. K. Le Guin & S. Wood Language of Night (1982) 75 Ursula K. Le Guin bibliography

    There would be no use at all in talking about what is generally passed off as ‘heroic fantasy’, all the endless Barbarians, with names like Barp and Klod.

  • 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.

  • 1979 G. Rahman in Dragon Magazine Nov. 27/1

    A player may portray either a Warrior, a Priest or a Magic User. This is irrespective of the fact that the typical adventurer of heroic fantasy is not precisely any of these three professions.

  • 1982 D. Hartwell The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve in Top of News (1982, issue number unknown) 14 David G. Hartwell

    This is a quick rundown of the main possibilities an omnivore might fix on: classic fantasy (ghost stories, legends, tales); supernatural horror (two categories: classic—from Le Fanu, Blackwood, and Machen to Stephen King and Rosemary’s Baby; and Lovecraftian, the school of H. P. Lovecraft and his followers); Tolkienesque fantasy (in the manner of Lord of the Rings—carefully constructed fantasy worlds as the setting for a heroic quest); heroic fantasy (barely repressed sex fantasy in which a muscular, sword-bearing male beats monsters, magicians, racial inferiors, and effete snobs by brute force, then services every willing woman in sight—and they are all willing); Burroughsian science fantasy (adventure on another planet or thinly rationalized SF setting in which fantasy and anachronism—sword fighting among the stars—are essentials); space opera (the Western in space); hard science fiction (the SF idea is the center of attention, usually involving chemistry or physics or astronomy); soft science fiction (two alternate types: one in which the character is more important than the SF idea; the other focusing on any science other than physics or chemistry).

  • 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.

  • 1990 Thrust Winter 29/3

    I too am a heroic fantasy reader who often complains that too many writers…aim for the lowest common denominator.

  • 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.

  • 2014 D. Jennings More Lands of Fantasy in N.Y. Times 15 June (Arts & Leisure section) 17/5 page image

    But for those blood-lusting after the adrenaline rush of straight-ahead heroic fantasy—for flagons ’n’ dragons, swords ’n’ sorcerers—here are four recommended fantasy series to tide you over until ‘Winds’ [sc. The Winds of Winter, the next Game of Thrones book] sees print or ‘Thrones’ returns on HBO.

Research requirements

antedating 1963

Earliest cite

L. Sprague de Camp, 'Sword and Sorcery'

Research History
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.
Michael Swanwick submitted a 1973 cite from Lin Carter's "Imaginary Worlds".
Enoch Forrester submitted a 1979 cite from Glenn Rahman in Dragon magazine.
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1986 cite from Gary Wolfe's "Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy".
Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from a 1992 reprint of Ursula Le Guin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie"; Mike Christie verified the cite in a 1982 reprint.
Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from Lester del Rey's book review column in the Winter 1970-71 issue of "Worlds of Fantasy".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1963 cite from L. Sprague de Camp's introduction to his anthology "Sword and Sorcery".
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2014 cite from the NY Times.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 1961 cite from L. Sprague de Camp.

Last modified 2021-10-17 20:16:53
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.