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

Writing, Crafting Dark Fantasy > Revivifying the Ur-text: a reconstruction of sword-&-sorcery as a literary form

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message 1: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2095 comments Mod
Philip Emery, group member and author of some nice/weird fiction (in RBE;s Return of the Sword too) just submitted a graduate thesis on "Revivifying the Ur-text: a reconstruction of sword-&-sorcery as a literary form".


From the early 1980s until the late 1990s the genre or sub-genre known as sword-&-sorcery was largely moribund. The Tolkien-derived high fantasy novel, on the other hand, flourished and mutated into six, eight, ten volume, or open-ended series. Even though the terms high fantasy and sword-&-sorcery are sometimes used interchangeably, sword-&-sorcery came to be viewed as an inferior, cruder form: rougher in style, more limited structurally, stunted in terms of character development, even morally questionable (rather than ambiguous).

‘Revivifying the Ur-text’ aims to investigate if it is possible to subvert the genre, to
create a work that realizes the form’s potential to exist as ‘literature’.
In order to do this it attempts to both analyze and re-vision the form by rendering the
genre down to its pristine elements - exemplified but not monopolized by the widelyacknowledged creator of the sword-&-sorcery form, Robert E. Howard. The critical areas of the thesis thus concentrate on Howard, but extend backwards to Beowulf as proto-sword-&-sorcery and forwards to contemporary fantasy writers such as Joe Abercrombie and Steve Erikson. It begins by constructing an account of the creation of the form by Howard, hypothesizing that the conditions for its genesis are a result of the writer’s internal emotional and thought processes interacting with external circumstances.

This is followed by a study of a set of highly influential anthologies published in the
sixties edited by Lyon Sprague de Camp, interrogating de Camp’s introductions as well as his selections, sub-categorizing these into the variations on the Howardian model which evolved in the wake of his 1920/30s work, work from which other writers developed a commonly perceived genre.

From this the thesis proceeds to a consideration of related forms such as epic fantasy,
science fantasy, and grimdark, prefaced by a survey and analysis of what sword-&-sorcery was/is perceived to be by commentators such as de Camp, Brian Attebery and Peter Nicholls.

These sections are followed and augmented by a refocusing on Robert E. Howard. A
consideration of the crucial relationship between violence and the numinous in his fantasy is central to this thesis. This is done both through research into published texts, mainly fictional but also non-fictional, and is discussed both generally and through in-depth case studies of two stories, attempting to identify the particular elements of his writing which contributed to the birth and definition of sword-&-sorcery in order to establish Howard’s output as an ‘Urtext’.

The creative heart of this research is my sword-&-sorcery fiction, The Shadow Cycles.
Here I have attempted to write a narrative in the form which innovates narrative techniques, modifying or abandoning the generic scaffolding of situations, and methods of characterization, and developing a style of language appropriate to my aim of revisioning Howard’s Ur-text for the 21st century.

This is followed by a concluding ‘afterthesis’ which draws on all the preceding
sections to explicate the relationship between the critical and creative elements of the thesis.

As with earlier critical sections, these recruit a synthesis of literary history, influence studies, genre theory, narratology, and practical criticism. By so doing they touch on conceptions of the literary such as those of Bakhtin, Eagleton, Todorov, and Katherine Hume.

message 2: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2095 comments Mod
The thesis supports the context behind The Shadow Cycles

The Shadow Cycles by Philip Emery

message 3: by Jason M (new)

Jason M Waltz (worddancer) | 287 comments Good stuff!

message 4: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 679 comments I have to confess that the opening makes me mutter, "and they complain about 'eldritch' and 'chalcedony' and 'ichor'."

Though in this case you can't blame the writer.

message 5: by Melissa Bryan (new)

Melissa Bryan (53bryanm) | 6 comments I'm getting ready to read Bigfoot Bill by Doug TenNapel. I've been waiting for a while can't wait to dive into it.

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Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy"

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