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It is a sub-genre of fantasy and is characterized by its swashbuckling action, its focus on action and hand-to-hand combat and magic. The term "Sword and Sorcery" was coined by the science fiction and fantasy author Fritz Lieber in 1961.)
In modern times Swords and Sorcery has also inpired a whole genre of films commonly called "Swords and Sandals". Many of these films are taken from the actual books like the conan series.
So what makes swords and sorcery different from the typical and more common types of fantasy?
Well, the lines between the various types of fantasy are of course blurred and there is a lot of overlap. But typically the S&S fantasy will be more personal. The focus will be more on hand to hand combat and on personal struggles and adventures rather than all encompassing world adventures.
In a lot of fantasy the whole world is at stake and in swords and sorcery the struggles and tales are typically more along the lines of what are hero or heroine is undertaking.
So, swords, more hand to hand combat, sorcery and or magic and supernatural stuff and stories that tend to be more focused on the personal adventures and challenges.
Sword and Sorcery had its beginnings in the Pulp magazines of the 50's and 60's. In particular Weird Tales and the author Robert Howard are to be credited with forming the genre. Robert Howard's Conan character is considered to epitomize Sword and Sorcery. Another series of famous books in the genre is the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books by Fritz Leiber himself.
There are only a handful of masters of the Genre.
- Robert E. Howard- The Creator of Conan and Kull
- Fritz Lieber- . Another series of famous books in the genre is the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books
- Clark Ashton Smith - His S&S tales include the Zothique and Hyperborean tales. These begin with "The Empire of the Necromancers".
- C.L. Moore- Creator the first notable Swords & Sorcery Heroine "Jirel of Joiry".
- Henry Kuttner
Looking for some modern Swords & Sorcery?
You may want to read some David Gemmell. His Druss Stories and in particular "Legend" are a good example of modern S&S.
Legend (Drenai Tales, Book 1) Druss, Captain of the Axe, was the stuff of legends. But even as the stories grew in the telling, Druss himself grew older. He turned his back on his own legend and retreated to a mountain lair to await his old enemy, death. Meanwhile, barbarian hordes were on the march. Nothing could stand in their way. Druss reluctantly agreed to come out of retirement. But could even Druss live up to his own legends? .
Seminal and Classic works in the Genre
The Sword and Sorceress Series
The sword and sorcery novels and stories tended to have female characters that were just window dressing or damsels in distress. In the 1980's and 90's Marion Zimmer Bradley edited a series of anthologies that focused on the female character as the heroine. This series was called the Sword and Sorceress series. the first book was published in 1984. There were 21 books in the series and the book shown here is the 21st. If you want to read a bit more about this series here is a nice Wikipedia article about it.
The Elric Series by Michael Moorcock - This is a five book series. Elric of Melnibone 1 This is the first book in the series
The Elric Series by Michael Moorcock - This is a five book series.The Elric Saga
Elric of Melnibone 1 This is the first book in the series
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword and Sorcery Hero of All Time! Want to get the authentic Conan experience as Robert E. Howard wrote it? This is the perfect choice.
Before there was conan there was Kull. This is another character that was created by Robert E. Howard.
Fritz Leiber works
Clark Ashton Smith
Included in this volume are four tales by Clark Ashton Smith: "The Empire of the Necromancers," "The Enchantress of Sylaire," "The Invisible City," and "The Mother of Toads."
Resources and more
- Here is a Wikipedia article on Swords & Sorcery
- Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword And Sorceress XXI (Sword and Sorceress)
- Here is the first book in the series: Sword and Sorceress: An Anthology of Heroic Fantasy
- Here is a quick amazon link to a list of the books The Sword and Sorceress books at Amazon
- Lots More Conan Books