Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" discussion

The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura, #1)
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General Discussions > [Blor Re-post] "How Well Does The Cloud Roads Fit as Sword and Sorcery?"

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message 1: by Periklis, Fafhrd (new) - added it

Periklis (periklisbegzos) | 427 comments Mod
Martha Wells writes on Black Gate magazine:

" The books I read that I thought of as sword and sorcery usually had one (or two) loner characters, bumming along in a fantasy landscape as mercenaries, looking for treasure or opportunities to make a living. They had been outlaws in the past, or were fleeing accusations of something, or a past of slavery or powerlessness or something in their lives that they had to hide. [...] When I wrote The Cloud Roads, the first of the Books of the Raksura, I still felt it fell mostly under the category of sword and sorcery, despite there not being any swords, and the sorcery being internal and intrinsic to the characters."


Read the full post at Black Gate.


message 2: by Phil (new)

Phil Emery | 65 comments Not many swords, eh?
I tend to see the 'sword' of sword and sorcery as more a general metaphor for violence (the sorcery as any broad supernatural element) - so lack of physical blades in a story doesn't disqualify it from being s-&-s as far as I'm concerned.

Phil.


message 3: by Snarktastic Sonja (last edited Mar 15, 2013 07:06AM) (new)

Snarktastic Sonja (snownsew) Phil wrote: "Not many swords, eh?
I tend to see the 'sword' of sword and sorcery as more a general metaphor for violence (the sorcery as any broad supernatural element) - so lack of physical blades in a story ..."


I view it as 'not guns'. Too broad? =D

(ETA a big ole smile)


message 4: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2220 comments Mod
Sonja's broad definition (swords = not guns) sounds right to me. Alternatively, "Swords" = any medieval weapon (ax, spear, ...).


message 5: by Periklis, Fafhrd (new) - added it

Periklis (periklisbegzos) | 427 comments Mod
In Duke Elric, there is a short essay (Elric: A Personality at War by Adrian Snook - 2008), a psychoanalytic observation about Elric's relationship with his sword, "Strombringer", which the author sees as a symbol for the "id".
I'm actually intrigued by the outsider quality of most S&S heroes and heroines, which usually set those stories apart from Epic Fantasy.


message 6: by Phil (new)

Phil Emery | 65 comments On the 'swords not guns' point: traditionally gunpowder technology is the cutoff point for s-&-s, certainly - probably for any number of reasons. For one I think that introducing modernish tech damages the 'sorcery' part of the equation, i.e. compromises that primal feel the s-&-s thrives upon. But it can be done in my opinion. Hodgson's 'The Night Land' and Kane's 'Blackmark' perhaps?

Phil.


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Periklis (periklisbegzos) | 427 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "On the 'swords not guns' point: traditionally gunpowder technology is the cutoff point for s-&-s, certainly - probably for any number of reasons. For one I think that introducing modernish tech..."

Also, the recent Gonji: Red Blade from the East, where Katanas, Longbows and gunpowder-handguns coexist with supernatural and sorcerous adversaries.


message 8: by Joseph, Master Ultan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joseph | 1199 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "On the 'swords not guns' point: traditionally gunpowder technology is the cutoff point for s-&-s, certainly - probably for any number of reasons. For one I think that introducing modernish tech..."

And let's not forget the other Kane, i.e. Solomon, although his stories are probably borderline.


message 9: by Phil (new)

Phil (klarkashton) | 105 comments The Three *Musketeers* and other swashbuckling historicals have been a major influence on Howard and other S&S authors, so while gunpowder may not be frequently encountered I don't think it's in any way a disqualifying factor.


message 10: by T.C. (new)

T.C. Rypel (tedrypel) | 122 comments Periklis wrote: "Phil wrote: "On the 'swords not guns' point: traditionally gunpowder technology is the cutoff point for s-&-s, certainly - probably for any number of reasons. For one I think that introducing m..."


message 11: by T.C. (new)

T.C. Rypel (tedrypel) | 122 comments I see the GONJI series popping up in this discussion, so I felt compelled to weigh in, though this is precisely the sort of nitpicky "categorizing" argument I've largely spent my fantasy-writing career studiously avoiding.

I simply don't see the point, once you've labeled your story heroic FANTASY.

Yes, you might accurately place Gonji in the general time-frame of Solomon Kane (whom I revere), and even in some of the same locales. (His quest sees him trace Europe, back and forth, touching everywhere but the British Isles and Russia, except for a quick brush with the latter.) He also visits Africa at least twice, a continent Kane practically adopted .

But that's where the comparison ends. Though the two restoration-period Europes are technologically similar, their cosmic concerns and arenas are vastly different. Gonji's overweening narrative arc BEGINS in a 16th-century Europe the reader recognizes, but then it seductively weaves a monstrous tapestry NOBODY saw coming (least of all, Gonji).

The sorcery in Gonji runs far deeper than in Kane, and even, arguably, to the point of science-fiction, once the character becomes aware that his elusive "quest" involves multiple, parallel worlds under the heel of an ancient tyranny of self-styled demigod/manipulators, who have appropriated unto themselves mystical powers that were once the property of all sentient beings, for the common good.

This is heady and complex stuff, to be sure. Yet the stories themselves play out in traditional heroic-fantasy narratives---plenty of sword-clashing, violent mayhem---while the vaster landscape quietly unfolds, to the waxing awe of all the characters involved, not the least of which is, again, Gonji.

His revelation as a Chosen One, a "singularity" selected by Destiny itself, as a millennial "corrective measure" to the course of multiple-world events, is quite as surprising to him as it is the reader who has gone along for the ride.

But this is a discussion for elsewhere... For now, simply think of the cosmic scheme in the Gonji series as a sort of "Rubik's Sphere" of concentric worlds, with gateways, or "jetties," that cross each other irregularly, opening passage briefly, and only for the adepts---sorcerers, mystics, and even those who would embrace science---who understand the mad physics of the construct. This spatial anomaly is revealed gradually, over several books, as the true nature of Gonji's appointed task ominously unfolds. Rarely does a series character take such a leap into a larger understanding of his universe.

But to get back to the "gunpowder" issue, I find such assignments of hardware and levels of magical effects largely meaningless, at least to me, in the fantasy I write. Oh, I can understand the usefulness of affixing labels to books in order to establish what sort of fantasy sub-genre one is getting, if that's an individual's strict passion---fantasy containing a certain subset of story elements.

Yet I disdain to box myself into any such strictured definition of what sacred ground my fantasy characters dare not tread.

It's FANTASY, folks. That's the bottom(less) line.

Yes, there are some guns in the Gonji series. They're early firearms---wheel-locks, mainly. Sometimes they don't work, for various reasons. Sometimes they work TOO well, the more powerful factor of sorcery rendering an unexpected effect.

In the Gonji novella "Dark Venture," one of the tip-offs that the viciously in-fighting pirate crew has sailed into a hellish cell of sorcerous waters (less "waters" than a Sargasso Slime) is that guns begin to fizzle, then quit working altogether, failing to ignite in the ensorceled area's green fire.

In the next Gonji book (the sixth) that would follow the already published novel sequence---THE GODS, MY ENEMY---our samurai hero is thrust into an alternate sphere where Night and Day are different worlds, the same people he allies with in one being enemies in the other. (It leads to a lot of lost sleep...among other obvious problems.) The Day world is ruled by technology---guns work. The Night half operates under more magical principles---they're experimenting with gunpowder, but it produces weird and user-unfriendly effects. Technology and magic are incompatible bedfellows, for which the writer gives thanks...

So to me, gunpowder and firearms are of no consequence as determinants of what "brand" of adventure-fantasy I'm writing; merely more tools for me to manipulate from that exhilarating, godlike position where I work the strings of a marionette cosmos.

Over the years, many readers have remarked about the Gonji series that "there's nothing like it...it's hard to categorize or describe..."

Maybe what they're struggling to describe is my outside-Pandora's-box attitude toward adhering to recognizable sub-genres---?


message 12: by Periklis, Fafhrd (new) - added it

Periklis (periklisbegzos) | 427 comments Mod
T.c. wrote: "So to me, gunpowder and firearms are of no consequence as determinants of what "brand" of adventure-fantasy I'm writing; merely more tools for me to manipulate from that exhilarating, godlike position where I work the strings of a marionette cosmos.[...] Maybe what they're struggling to describe is my outside-Pandora's-box attitude toward adhering to recognizable sub-genres---? "

Thanks for taking the time to comment, and most importantly offering a behind-the-scenes look at Gonji. I refered to the use of different weapons along with sorcery, not in comparisson with Solomon Kane, but as another example of sword analogies.
I'm glad you teased the multiversal nature of the latter Gonji tales, as there may be a comparison between him and Elric. Perhaps both of them seem to be having the tapestry of their fate, weighing upon them, on their heroic journey of self-discovery...


message 13: by T.C. (new)

T.C. Rypel (tedrypel) | 122 comments Yes, parallels may be drawn between Elric and Gonji. (Mike Moorcock and I share an audio-books publisher at Audio Realms.) Both are questing after larger truths and more sublime cosmic connections than anything they could have envisioned when they began their lives of bold adventure and simple survival.

Both find themselves linked inextricably to external powers or entities they must learn to control, or to enlist, in order to fulfill their destinies.

In Gonji's case, he has been isolated by the anthropomorphized principle of destiny itself as a sort of wild card, or loose cannon, whose choices will affect Destiny's own skein of future events.

Gonji's choices...and those of the powerful, enigmatic being known as Simon Sardonis.


message 14: by Joe (new)

Joe Bonadonna | 49 comments I agree with Ted. The "magic" in the GONJI series is more involved and worked out, moree realistically workable than a lot of sword and sorcery -- it's very much in line with what epic and heroic fantasy would entail. It's not some guy or gal standing around waving a magic wand or muttering spells. I try to include metaphysical concepts, healing crystals and minerals, and even using info from The American Dowsing Society (yes -- there is such a thing) in my Dorgo the Dowser tales. Dave Smith and I just published our WATERS OF DARKNESS: 17th century high-seas pirate saga of swords and sorcery, and of course we use muskets and cannons. I have no problem using magic and technology -- it's been done many, many times -- and if you think about it, cell phones and jet planes would be considered "magic" to people even in the 19th century. And as ted has pounded into my head many a time -- the use of magic MUST have a price. A lot of old-school sword and sorcery had wizards casting spells and summoning demons with the ease of ordering and receiving a free lunch.


message 15: by Bruce (new)

Bruce | 76 comments My story Valley of Bones features very early muskets--the serpentine type that were so heavy they required a forked stake to rest on. I felt these were cutting edge in terms of technology for the time, but in no way interfered with the magic, myth and mystery of the era. These guns could easily be seen as magical devices. They didn't get in the way of what I feel differentiates Sword & Sorcery from Epic Fantasy, and that is man's goal to survive from one day to the next, as opposed to trying to save the world against overwhelming odds. Plus, Valley of Bones and Yaggoth-Voor both take place a few centuries after my Dalacroy stories in Flashing Swords, so I figured some technological advances were necessary. They are still S&S, as far as I'm concerned.


message 16: by Joe (new)

Joe Bonadonna | 49 comments I agree with Bruce. Stories featuring science and magic have been around as long as Edgar Rice Burroughs. We are dealing in fantasy here, and the use of magic and technology does not go against sword and sorcery -- it can enhance it. Many say that sword and sorcery is strictly Barbarian Solo tales, but as we all know, that's just one aspect of it. Sword and sorcery needs continuous shots in the arm. Human drama, characters with depth, romance --- these are ingredients as important to the growth and reaching a larger audience as traditional use of swords and magic.


message 17: by K.V. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.V. Johansen | 19 comments I really enjoyed The Cloud Roads, but I wouldn't have classed it as S&S, not because of the lack of swords, but because so much of the plot centres around politics and Moon's finding a place among his kin. Maybe I'm looking on S&S too narrowly when I think of it as defined by a peripatetic hero wandering through various communities and conflicts but neither part of them nor aiming to become part.


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Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy"

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Books mentioned in this topic

Duke Elric (other topics)
Gonji: Red Blade from the East (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Martha Wells (other topics)