Subgenre Study: Sword and Sorcery

GUYS I got to touch an ALPACA.  Although it was fairly bad-tempered.  I may let you see when I finish photoshopping twisty evil moustaches on the pictures.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand.  Sword and Sorcery is perhaps the best known of all fantasy subgenres.  Some people will swear that it IS fantasy.  Swords, magic, romance, epicness, good vs evil, a world at stake!  The main thing that separates it from epic fantasy or high/low fantasy is the focus on the battles and the adventure as opposed to more overarching themes.  Often, if there is no battle to be fought, the protagonist will not know what to do with himself.  (This tends to be a theme in Sword and Sorcery; like Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings, the protagonist cannot return to a normal life.)

Sword and Sorcery almost always involves a fantastical world, whether it is author-created or an earlier version of our world where it is populated with gods, demons, and monsters, often built up from mythology.  It shares a lot of tropes with adventure stories and is often fast-pace, including many battles.  They include a brave, almost unnaturally strong hero, damsels in distress, and evil sorcerers with plans of world domination.  In Sword and Sorcery, magic is rarely used for good, compared to some other subgenres (most notably Fantasy Romance, where magic is almost always good).

Closely related genres include Sword and Sandal (similar tropes, but historical instead of fantastical) and Sword and Planet (science fiction related, obviously).

Edgar Rice Burroughs is generally considered the father of the subgenre.  Other authors that are generally considered Sword and Sorcery include Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, and Sprague de Camp.  It tends to be an extremely masculine-oriented subgenre, though some progress has been made to make it more gender-equal.  Marion Zimmer Bradley ran an anthology for many years called Sword and Sorceress, and most modern examples of the subgenre will feature both a male and a female protagonist.

The Conan the Barbarian books, which are generally considered Sword and Sorcery, led to a trend in the 80s in Hollywood for fantasy movies involving a lot of bloodshed and not much clothing.  These movies were also called Sword and Sorcery, which has led to some infamy for the genre in general.

How do you feel about Sword and Sorcery, Squiders?  Does it get your blood racing, your heart pumping?  Do you find it trite?  Any recommendations (books or movies)?


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jack Campbell, Jr. on 2011/09/16 at 3:50 PM

    I like Sword and Sorcery, but for some reason can’t write it. The irony of my writing has always been that I love Sci Fi and Fantasy but never get any original ideas for writing it.


  2. Posted by shannon on 2011/09/16 at 11:53 PM

    We’ve got alpacas down the road from us and some day we’ll have some of our own. I love alpacas. 🙂


  3. Muhahaha! Team Alpaca is EVERYWHERE! You cannot escape us! We are legion!


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