The State of Sword & Sorcery

A few years ago it seemed like a couple of people were making attempts to bring back Sword & Sorcery, with the release of a few new anthologies. Now it looks like nothing came of that, and I think in part that’s because those anthologies were not very good. I mostly hated them, really not being what was looking for and seeing in the old classics.

So I have come to the conclusion that Sword & Sorcery at this point is clearly dead. And it has been since the 80s. At least as new releases are concerned. Of course, the old classics are all still around and they are still great, and fans still love and reread them. Just like the skeleton of the king in his tomb that is discovered by Conan, Sword & Sorcery may be long dead, but it’s still magnificent in all it’s glory.

And of course, it does not have to stay dead. Fans waiting for someone to come along and bring us new Sword & Sorcery didn’t work out. Just saying that you want it does not make it happen. If Sword & Sorcery fans want to read new tales of the classic style, it is Sword & Sorcery fans who will have to write them. Who else could? Commercial writers who spot an abandoned niche and think there might be some money to make? They might produce something and declare it Sword & Sorcery, but it will only have the spirit of the old classics if the spirit of the classics is inside them. Sure, the first attempts will probably be pretty bad, but with practice and dedication results will improve with time.

My new writing space.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

Remember, remember, it’s again November

What better time to get off my bum (or rather on my bum) and actually start putting some words down again.

I’m not going to do the whole Nanowrimo game, but it seems like a good opportunity to finally get something done. And I very much doubt getting anywhere close to the 50,000 words. But we’ll see.

I am actually going to try tackling my Awesome Future Novel Idea #5: Scouts of the Eldritch Wilds. Though I don’t think it’s going to be a novel, but rather something more episodic like classic Sword & Sorcery series or the first two books of The Witcher.

Word Counts in Sword & Sorcery

I’ve been gone for a while and have to admit that I’ve been nothing related to writing fantasy in the meantime. But recently I’ve been feeling like trying to get back on this horse and with InaNoWriMo coming up it’s seems a good time to stretch my fingers again.

One of the first things that came up was what word count to aim for. Sword & Sorcery is my style anyway, and with the classic story format being relatively short compared to common fantasy novels it seems like a good reference point for what I might realistically be able to get written down.

Some years ago I hunted down the word count numbers for the great classics of Sword & Sorcery and some other of my favorites, and I just realized that I never put them on this site. So here they are:

Conan by Robert Howard:
  • The Phoenix on the Sword: 8,823
  • The Scarlet Citadel: 15,446
  • The Tower of the Elephant: 9,726
  • Black Colossus: 14,346
  • The Slithering Shadow: 12,897
  • The Pool of the Black One: 11,252
  • Rogues in the House: 9,676
  • The Frost Giant’s Daughter: 3,284
  • Iron Shadows in the Moon: 12,123
  • Queen of the Black Coast: 11,334
  • The Devil in Iron: 12,292
  • The People of the Black Circle: 30,890
  • A Witch Shall be Born: 16,337
  • Jewels of Gwahlur: 17,167
  • Beyond the Black River: 21,799
  • Shadows in Zamboula: 12,146
  • The Hour of the Dragon: 72,375
  • Red Nails: 30,946
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber:
  • The Jewels in the Forest: 14,215
  • The Bleak Shore: 4,272
  • The Howling Tower: 5,855
  • The Sunken Land: 6,900
  • Thieves’ House: 12,235
  • Adept’s Gambit: 31,901
  • Claws from the Night: 9,410
  • The Seven Black Priests: 9,523
  • Lean Times in Lankhmar: 15,400
  • When the Sea-King’s away: 9,806
  • The Cloud of Hate: 4,929
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: 9,653
  • Their Mistress, the Sea: 1,316
  • The Wrong Beach: 2,267
  • The Circle Curse: 3,596
  • The Price of Pain-Ease: 4,650
Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric of Melnibone: 48,000
  • The Sailor on the Seas of Fate: 24,000
  • The Weird of the White Wolf: 39,000
  • The Vanishing Tower: 48,000
  • The Bane of the Black Sword: 45,000
  • Stormbringer: 71,000
Hyperborea by Clark Ashton Smith
  • The Tale of Satampra Zeiros: 4,852
  • The Testament of Athammaus: 7,309
  • The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan: 3,203
  • The Door to Saturn: 7,056
  • The Ice-Demon: 6,135
  • Ubbo-Sathla: 2,975
  • The Seven Geases: 7,785
  • The White Sybil: 3,650
  • The Coming of the White Worm: 7,109
  • The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles: 3,901
Kane by Karl Wagner
  • Reflections for the Winter of My Soul: 26,205
  • Cold Light: 29,662
  • Mirage: 10,280
  • Untertow: 11,480
  • Two Suns Setting: 9,453
  • The Dark Muse: 16,654
  • Raven’s Eyrie: 21,922
  • Lynortis Reprise: 14,220
  • Sing a Last Song of Valdese: 5,964
The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • The Witcher: 10,213
  • A Grain of Truth: 10,418
  • The Lesser Evil: 12,764
  • A Question of Price: 13,105
  • The Edge of the World: 14,395
  • The Last Wish: 18,349
  • The Voice of Reason: 12,495
  • The Bounds of Reason: 25,538
  • A Shard of Ice: 13,572
  • Eternal Flame: 16,767
  • A Little Sacrifice: 19,557
  • Sword of Destiny: 19,995
  • Something More: 17,574
Various Tales by H.P. Lovecraft:
  • Dagon: 2,216
  • The Lurking Fear: 8,164
  • The Rats in the Walls: 7,974
  • The Shunned House: 10,742
  • The Call of Cthulhu: 11,905
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: 51,112
  • The Colour out of Space: 12,457
  • The Dunwhich Horror: 17,524
  • The Whisperer in Darkness: 26,624
  • At the Mountains of Madness: 40,881
  • The Shadow over Innsmouth: 27,026
  • The Thing on the Doorstep: 10,954

As an interesting fact, all the stories of Conan written by Howard combined are about as long as the average novel in the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire series, and only about two third the length of The Lord of the Rings.

You’ve taken your first step into a larger world

Twenty years ago, on this day, Baldur’s Gate was released for the first time. It was an immediate success and the first in a series of roleplaying games that made BioWare one of the biggest success stories in videogames for the next 15 years.

One saturday in the summer of 1999, I was absolutely, soul-crushingly bored. In my apathetic desperation, I got out my then small stack of game magazines to look for anything that looked halfway promising and that would get me through the weekend. The magazines all had one full page list of  all the reviews from the past 12 months, listed by rating. And they all had this game called Baldur’s Gate near the very top. I had one of the issues that was referenced and so for the first time I didn’t flip past the section that was labed “Rollenspiele”. At first, I was quite doubtful.

Up to that point, fantasy didn’t really exist in my life. I had encountered a good number of childrens’ stories that could reasonably be called fantasy, and I had read The Lord of the Rings a few years before. I thought it was neat, but it didn’t really stick with me after having finished it. My world consisted of Star Trek and Star Wars – which at that point I still considered science fiction becuase space – and my collection of games was mostly made up of space combat and strategy games, and just recently Half-Life. Fantasy held no interest to me and even though the game magazines at the time always had a dedicated section for it, I didn’t even know what an RPG is.

However, at the end of the review was a little box giving the game something like an 89% or 93%, which was what had first gotten my attention. And next to it were little one- or two-sentence statements from the two reviewers who praised the game as the most amazing thing ever. That was enough to make me read the whole 5 page review (which for such magazines was huge), and the more I read the more I got intrigued. So I grabbed my money, got on my bike, and went off to the department store in town where I always bought my games.

And the game really didn’t disappoint. I was hooked right from the start and since then I never wanted anything else. From there on, fantasy was it! I got lots  of other fantasy games over the following years, read piles of books, and got into tabletop games a year later. Baldur’s Gate was without any doubt the most important game in my entire life. At 15, I was probably highly susceptible to it, but there was more than that. I had already been getting into shoters and RTSs, but those never became a big part of my life. And I had been quite into science fiction, but that also faded away soon after.

But fantasy, that stayed with me. I can’t even imagine what person I would be today without my love for the fantastic. What would I be doing with all my creative energies? So I think it’s safe to say that encountering Baldur’s Gate was one of the most important events in my whole life. It was a turning point that set me on a completely different path from anything else I could have imagined.

Something I often wonder is whether this game is actually still that great? Of course it is for me, and always will be. But I have not played it in ages, and getting it running again these days can run into infuriating difficulties. And for anyone who doesn’t already love it, would it really be as fun as it was for us those decades ago? I don’t know. To anyone who has been wondering if the game is worth giving a try, I fully recommend doing so. But would I recommend it to people who aren’t already interested in it? Probably not.

But I am determined to give this game one more go. Quite possibly the last one. If it goes well, expect a proper any lengthy review of the game some point in the future. But don’t hold your breath, it’s a really long game.