I stumbled upon this article
, which in the second half is a review of a specific anthology, but starts with a quite elaborate discussion of "What is Sword & Sorcery". (I've read the book myself and it made me check each of the stories for their actual S&S-content as well.)
There are some very bold statements, but I find myself to very much agree with them. However, in the comments (and there's plenty of them), some people very much disagreed, which might make it worthy for discussion.
Another attempt at defining Sword & Sorcery is this older article
, which I had linked to in the first post of this thread.
Why does it matter? One of the commenters said:
[...] it’s marketers and publicists who create genre labels, NOT writers. And why create genre labels at all? To SELL BOOKS! I, for one, am so very glad that all “sword-and-sorcery” writers do not stick to such a narrow definition as the one given here.
I can understand the reasoning behind that oppinion, and in some contexts I very much disagree. Sword & Sorcery being one.
The term "Sword & Sorcery" was created by Fritz Leiber in a letter to Michael Moorcock as part of a discussion about how they might be able to identify stories that are similar to the special kind of Heroic Fantasy they were both writing. And Leiber also said that Robert Howard should also definitly also be included in this new category. It was not a lable created by publishers, but one created by the writers. Specifically two of the three people who are still regarded as the three giants and granddaddies of the genre. Also, as a reader, I want that lable as well. There are lots of Heroic Fantasy stories around, but I don't want just "Heroic Fantasy". I want a special kind of Heroic Fantasy. Both as reader and writer, I want to be able to say what I want and what I am offering to people.
Let's compare it to ice cream. I like chocolate ice cream, and I aknowledge the presence of other ice creams and that not all people like chocolate as much as I do. Nothing wrong with experimenting with other flavors. Also nothing wrong with experimenting with different kinds of chocolate. Trying out some new ingredients, changing the amounts of ingredients, experimenting with the procedure, and so on.
But when I want to have chocolate ice cream, I want it to be chocolate! Don't give me straciatella, or white chocolate, or mocca. Those are all also nice and have their fans, and sometimes I might want to have some of it to. But when I order chocolate, I want only chocolate and nothing else.
And you can't simply take elements of an established genre and change them and add new elements as you like and still call it Sword & Sorcery with the reasoning that genres evolve and writers need to spice things up and make changes with the time. If someone wants to take elements from Sword & Sorcery and do new things with them, that's no problem at all. But when it no longer captures the essence of the genre, it's no longer of the genre, but something else.
In the older article, Sword & Sorcery was condensed down to heroes who are "all self-motivated, outsiders, of heroic stature". Which I agree with, but these are just the most prominent building blocks. It may actually be much more important what kind of story you build from these blocks.
And interestingly, the review turns to the same quote I posted just a few days ago:
The most famous lines of description in all of sword and sorcery—
“sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet”
—describe far more than the character of Howard’s Conan. It is the epitome of S&S. Nothing that does not deliver these same foundational attributes has the right to the title. Nothing that is not hard, fast, action of might and mind, exaggerated, over-the-top mano-a-mano swashbuckling entertainment can be deemed sword and sorcery.
And the author goes even further:
Keeping the following Lin Carter description of sword and sorcery (Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery—for in the end there is no other kind) in mind, let us see.
That is a very big statement. But yet, I find myself agreeing.
When I pick up a story of Sword & Sorcery, I am doing that to see a big badass barbarian do something. I want to see someone larger than life doing spectacular action with passion and fury and fire in his eyes! Swashbuckling with monsters! Passion and action are the cacao and sugar of this genre. You can change and experiment with everything, but if you do not stick to these two key ingredients, it just won't be chocolate. Glorious, furious, and roaring chocolate!
Howard defined what the key ingredients are. Sure, everyone can experiment with it and do various different things with it. But without the spirit that was already in Howards stories, I think it just isn't Sword & Sorcery.
I am dabbling in writing Sword & Sorcery and I want to know what makes the genre tick. Not to pander to an audience and make the work more marketable, because I want to understand what is actually in those stories that I love. Just knowing what it looks like when you see it is not the same as knowing how to build it.