Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forgotten Heroes of Swords & Sorcery

Getting into old school Sword & Sorcery today is easy. What with Paizo's Planet Stories, Del Rey's Robert E. Howard series, Night Shade Books' Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies library, and other assort small press publishers, its easier to come by many of the classics of the Sword & Sorcery genre than it has been since the end of the seventies.

Still, a great many interesting stories and characters languish in Out-of-Print Limbo. Here are a few of the characters I've encountered over the years that ought to have collections in print, but tragically, do not, or are just less known than they deserve:

Ryre: Ramsey Campbell's swordsman stars in four stories appearing in four volumes of Andrew J. Offutt's Swords Against Darkness anthology series. The Ryre stories are somewhat spare by the standards of oft-florid pulp prose, but this leanness lends them a unique atmosphere that reminds me (for some reason) of some seventies cinema. As befitting stories from a horror writer, there are outré monsters in most of the Ryre yarns, yet they're different from the usual Howardian-inspired monstrosities of Sword and Sorcery--and Campbell's understated style just adds to their strangeness. Probably my favorite of these tales is "The Sustenance of Hoak" from the first Swords Against Darkness volume (1977) which features a village under an unusual (and horrific) curse. The Ryre stories appeared in a collection in 1996, but not since.

Kardios of Atlantis: Kardios isn't my favorite Manly Wade Wellman character (that would be John the Balladeer) but he is a Sword & Sorcery character, and he was left out of Night Shade Books' five volume Wellman short story series. Kardios is a minstrel, and sole survivor of Atlantis--who sank his homeland with a kiss. There are at least four Kardios stories appearing in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies. Possibly there are more elsewhere. Wellman infuses Kardios with gentle humor and aplomb in face of danger, adding up to a personality atypical for Sword & Sorcery protagonists.

Simon of Gitta: Richard Tierney's Sword & Sorcery version of Simon Magus of New Testament fame. The Simon stories combine sword and sandal action with speculative Lovecraftiana, and historical fantasy. Chaosium released a collection of the Simon Magus stories, The Scroll of Thoth in 1997, which is now out of print. There are also a couple of novels featuring Simon, but only Drums of Chaos, a crossover novel with Tierney's Lovecraftian SF character, John Taggart--and special guest appearance by Jesus--is still in print.

Prince Raynor: Henry Kuttner's prince of doomed Sardopolis, greatest city of the lost civilization of the Gobi. There were only two Prince Raynor stories--"Cursed be the City," and "Citadel of Darkness"--but their well worth your time. Kuttner gives these stories a slightly darker tone than most Sword & Sorcery of their day. In this way, as Karl Edward Wagner points out in Echoes of Valor III, Prince Raynor seems to prefigure Elric. His civilization in the Gobi may be lost, but Prince Raynor is actually in print currently, appearing in Paizo's Elak of Atlantis collection.


Brian Murphy said...

Ramsey Campbell wrote swords and sorcery? I never knew, thanks for the tip-off. Until this post I thought he worked solely in horror.

I have a love/hate relationship with Campbell: After reading some of his stories I'm left scratching my head, wondering what exactly went on; on the other hand, stories like "The Brood" haunt you long after you've put them down. I think his strengt is building atmosphere and otherworldliness.

Trey said...

You're welcome.

I'd agree in finding Campbell's stories hit or miss. I think the chief virtues of the Ryre stories is the atmosphere and the monsters.

Glen Cram said...

I'm trolling the net drumming up interest for my novel in progress, The Acts of Simon Magus, and you looked like someone who may find it of interest. It's an epic historical fantasy which explores the roots of the original Gnosticism through the eyes of its notorious founder, while examining the events and characters responsible for the rise of Christianity from a unique (often Lovecraftian) perspective. Here is a draft for my upcoming Indiegogo campaign, including video and link to some readings. All comments welcome!

Unknown said...

I recommend a book by Jim West called Libellus de Numeros (The Book of Math) that my 11-year-old daughter just finished reading. The story is about Alex, a young precocious girl, who mysteriously gets transported to a strange world where Latin and Math combine in formulas and equations with magical effects. With a cruel council leading the only safe city of its kind in this world, she will have to prove her worth to stay as well as help this city as it is the target for two evil wizards who seek to destroy the city and its ruling council. To help the city and also get back home, she will need the help of the greatest mathematician of all time, Archimedes. In a world where math is magic, Alex wishes she paid more attention in math class.

A Goodread 5-star review said:

"The storyline inspires a hunger for knowledge and a 'can do' attitude - a strong message of empowerment for young readers. I’m sure that this book will be interesting to read for both, boys and girls, as well as adult readers. Libellus de Numeros means 'Book of Numbers' and it's a magical textbook in the story. Math and science are wonderfully incorporated into a captivating plot: Latin and math are presented as exciting tools to make 'magic' and while Latin is often used as a language of magic the addition of math is definitely a fresh approach.

"The main heroine Alex is a very relatable character for young people, especially girls. I love that she has her flaws and goes through struggles all too familiar to a lot of young people. Alex is an authentic female role model - a very courageous girl, who is not afraid to stand up for herself and others and who is able to learn fast how to use knowledge to her best advantage.

"She can definitely do everything that boys can and I find this to be a very powerful message that is needed in our modern society. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to read through the pages of a well-formatted eBook. Highly recommended!"