Sword and sorcery

Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a subgenre of fantasy characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent adventures. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.[1] Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy.[2]

Origin

An island story; a child's history of England (1906).

The term "sword and sorcery" was coined in 1961 by the celebrated American author Fritz Leiber in response to a letter from British author Michael Moorcock in the fanzine Amra, demanding a name for the sort of fantasy-adventure story written by Robert E. Howard.[3] Moorcock had initially proposed the term "epic fantasy". Leiber replied in the journal Ancalagon (6 April 1961), suggesting "sword-and-sorcery as a good popular catchphrase for the field". He expanded on this in the July 1961 issue of Amra, commenting:

I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too![4]

Since its inception, many attempts have been made to provide a precise definition of "sword and sorcery". Although many have debated the finer points, the consensus characterizes it by a strong bias toward fast-paced, action-rich tales set within a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework. Unlike high fantasy, the stakes in sword and sorcery tend to be personal, the danger confined to the moment of telling.[5] Settings are typically exotic, and protagonists often morally compromised.[6]

Many sword and sorcery tales have been turned into a lengthy series of adventures. Their lower stakes and less-than world-threatening dangers make this more plausible than a repetition of the perils of epic fantasy. So too does the nature of the heroes; most sword-and-sorcery protagonists, travellers by nature, find peace after adventure deathly dull.[7] At one extreme, the heroes of E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros grieve for the end of the war and that they have no more foes equal to those they defeated; in answer to their prayers, the gods restore the enemy city so that they can fight the same war over again.[8]

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