Cyclopaedia 13: Sword and Sorcery

Welcome to Cyclopaedia 13: Sword and SorceryCyclopaedia is a monthly article on the InnRoads Ministries website as part of the Resources series.  Number thirteen, the thirteenth article, unlucky thirteen, to some that does bode well. In a dark world full of sorcery and superstition, numbers can have meaning and perhaps foretell that which is yet to come. I love reading fantasy novels and watching fantasy cinema, from high fantasy to sword and sorcery. I find in my gaming, I tend to lean toward more barbaric and stalwart warrior types, which is likely why I enjoy sword and sorcery so much. There are elements of the genre that cause concern and conversation, such as the depiction of women, which more modern authors of the genre have confronted very well. Keep that in mind as you delve into the worlds of Sword and Sorcery. So, grab your sword and let’s crush our enemies!

If you have questions about this article or topics you would like me to consider researching for future Cyclopaedia articles, please leave a comment below.


Overview

The term “Sword and Sorcery” was coined by author Michael Moorcock in a letter to the fanzine Amra. He wanted a name for the unique fantasy stories written by Robert E. Howard, specifically his Conan and Kull series. Moorcock and author Fritz Leiber got into a bit of a debate on the topic leading to this comment by Fritz Leiber which sets the term solidly for years to come and is still looked at as a founding statement.

“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 incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!” (Source: Amra, July 1961)

Sword and Sorcery emerged and gained its popularity in the pulp fantasy magazines of the 1930s. Specifically, Weird Tales published Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian and Kull of Atlantis stories which strongly defined and embodies the genre to this day. Soon to follow were the famous Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from Fritz Leiber and the first notable sword and sorcery heroine, Jirel from C.L. Moore.

So what makes the sword and sorcery genre unique? Up until the 1930s when Howard started writing his stories, most heroic fantasy literature was mythology, swashbuckling, or fairy tales. Sword and sorcery was influenced by those as well as Middle Eastern tales such as Arabian Nights with its mix of the supernatural into the stories.

You can think of J.R.R. Tolkien defining one side of heroic fantasy (high fantasy) and Robert E. Howard defining the other (sword and sorcery). Where high fantasy is uplifting with reluctant heroes seeking truth, fighting for right, and working alongside others in their quests, sword and sorcery focuses on a single hero of action, self-motivated, defining their own morality, fighting against all odds in a world of gods, horrors, and the supernatural.

Elements that define Sword and Sorcery

With sword and sorcery a sub-genre of heroic fantasy, how does it stand out? What elements are core to a sword & sorcery story?

  • Destiny
  • Gods Are Real
  • Horror
  • Riddles
  • Romance
  • Solo Hero
  • Sorcery
  • Swords
  • Stalwart Warrior
  • Supernatural Evil

Following are sources of information pertaining to Sword and Sorcery to assist prospective game masters, game designers, writers, and storytellers in knowing where to start their research.

 

ARTICLES

 

The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery
By McCullough V, Joseph
Source: https://www.blackgate.com/the-demarcation-of-sword-and-sorcery/

The Irish-American Identities of Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian
By Dowd, Christopher
Source: New Hibernia Review, v20 n2 (2016): 15-34

A sheep in wolf’s clothing? The problematic representation of women and the female body in 1980s sword and sorcery cinema
By Wright, Andrea
Source: Journal of Gender Studies, v21 n4 (2012 12 01): 401-411

 

BOOKS

 

Black God’s Kiss
by Moore, C.L.

The Blade Itself
By Abercrombie, Joe

Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard
By Finn, Mark

Camber of Culdi
By Kurtz, Katherine

The Chronicles of Amber
By Zelazny, Roger

Chronicles of the Black Company
By Cook, Glen

The Coming of Conan
By Howard, Robert E. and de Camp, L. Sprague

Complete Book of Swords
By Saberhagen, Fred

Conan
By Howard, Robert E., de Camp, L. Sprague, and Carter, Lin

Conan – comic series
By Thomas, Roy and Smith, Barry

Darkness Weaves
By Wagner, Karl Edward

Dark Valley destiny: The life of Robert E. Howard
By de Camp, L. Sprague

The Dragon Lord
By Drake, David

The Dreaming City
By Moorcock, Michael

The Dying Earth
By Vance, Jack

The Empire of the Necromancers
By Smith, Clark Ashton

Foundation
By Lackey, Mercedes

Gods in the Darkness
By Wagner, Karl Edward

Imaro
By Saunders, Charles

Jared of Joiry
By Moore, C.L.

Kill: Exile of Atlantis
By Howard, Robert E.

Knights of Dark Renown
By Gemmell, David

Legend
By Gemmell, David

Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy
By de Camp, L. Sprague

Red Sonja – comic series
By Thomas, Roy

Return of Nevèrÿon
By Delany, Samuel R.

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
By Howard, Robert E.

Stormbringer
By Moorcock, Michael

The Storm Lord
By Lee, Tanith

Sword and Sorceress
By Bradley, Marion Zimmer

Sword and Sorcery
By de Camp, L. Sprague

The Sword Edged Blonde
By Bledsoe, Alex

The Swords of Lankhmar
By Leiber, Fritz

The Tale of Satampra Zeiros
By Smith, Clark Ashton

Tarnsman of Gor
By Norman, John

Thieves’ World
By Asprin, Robert Lynn

The Traveler in Black
By Brunner, John

Two Sought Adventure
By Leiber, Fritz

The Worm Ouroboros
By Eddison, E.R.

 

GAMES

Age of Conan: Unchained – Computer Game
Astounding Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea – RPG
Barbarians of Lemuria – RPG
Conan Exiles – Computer Game
Conan: Hyborian Quests – Tabletop Game
Conan: The Roleplaying Game – RPG
Dark Souls – Computer Game
Diablo – Computer Game
Elder Scrolls – Computer Game
Fable – Computer Game
Heavenly Sword – Computer Game
Kingdom Monster: Death – Tabletop Game
Lankhmar: City of Thieves – RPG
Mistborn: Birthright – Computer Game
Robert E. Howard’s Conan – RPG
Stormbringer – RPG
Sword & Sorcery – Tabletop Game
The Savage World of Solomon Kane – RPG
Warriors & Warlocks – RPG
The Witcher – Computer Game

 

CINEMA

Ator, the Fighting Eagle
The Barbarians
The Beastmaster
BeastMaster – TV
Berserk – Anime
The Black Cauldron
Clash of the Titans
Claymore – Anime
Conan the Adventurer – Cartoon
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
Conquest
Deathstalker
Dragonheart
Dragonslayer
The Dungeonmaster
Excalibur
Fire and Ice
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Gor
Hawk the Slayer
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – Cartoon
Hercules – The Legendary Journeys – TV
Historic World of Arslan – Anime
Kriemhild’s Revenge
Krull
Kull the Conqueror
Ladyhawke
Legend
Red Sonja
Solomon Kane
The Sword and the Sorcerer
Sword of the Valiant
Thunder the Barbarian – Cartoon
Wizards and Warriors – TV
Xena – Warrior Princes – TV
Yor, the Hunter from the Future

 

LOCATIONS

Barbarian Festival
http://barbarianfestival.net/

Frazetta Art Museum
http://www.frazettaartmuseum.com/

Robert E. Howard Home
http://crossplainstx.com/howard/museum.htm

Robert E. Howard Days
https://www.facebook.com/RobertEHowardDays/

World Fantasy Convention
http://www.worldfantasy.org/index.php/past-conventions/list-of-conventions/

 

PEOPLE

Robert Lynn Asprin
Leigh Brackett
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Lin Carter
Conan
L. Sprague de Camp
Elric of Melniboné
Frank Frazetta
Robert E. Howard
Fritz Leiber
Michael Moorcock
C.L. Moore
Andre Norton
Basil Poledouris
Clark Ashton Smith
Arnold Schwarzenegger


I hope you find these resources informative and inspiring for your adventures, storytelling, or game design.

Stay Creative!

T.R. Knight

( If you would like to save this list of resources as a convenient PDF for later reference, you can find that HERE )

 

Knight BusinessWHO IS T.R. KNIGHT?
He is a freelance editor, proofreader, and writer in the game industry. He is also a Husband and Caregiver to his wife Angie, Father of Twins Emily and Rachel, Foodie and Hobby Chef, and IT Director at Taylor University. You can learn more about T.R. at his blog http://www.freelanceknight.com.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply