lemuriapress (lemuriapress) wrote,

Back on the Sword & Sorcery Vision Quest

Back in July of last year I engaged in an ambitious project I dubbed The Sword & Sorcery Vision Quest, in which I would read through all of my multi-author sword & sorcery anthologies in an effort to better understand the genre with an eye toward building an entertaining Planet Stories anthology on the subject.

I've always intended it to be an essentially open-ended project. I had 20 anthologies when I started, and since then I've acquired 14 more. It's a long haul sort of thing.

But I hadn't intended on it being quite this long of a haul. The truth is that I had composed about 5,000 words reviewing the first four stories in Lin Carter's 1969 Ballantine anthology The Young Magicians when I suffered the second complete data-loss hard drive crash in two years.

Since the first four stories of that anthology are boring and pedantic (and my commentary almost certainly of the same caliber, albeit in a clever sort of way), I couldn't get over the hump of re-writing it all and decided to focus on other reading, much of it of a far more "emergency" nature than a book that might maybe come out one of these days maybe.

As I said above, though, I've picked up 14 anthologies since then, and The Young Magicians no longer looms large on the immediate horizon. Why, before that I've got De Camp's Swords & Sorcery, acknowledged as the first S&S anthology. Then there's The Spell of Seven and the first edition Avon Fantasy Reader, all packed with red-blooded tales of adventure from the likes of Bob Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Vance.

You'll forgive me, I trust, if I take a bit longer to get back to the likes of William Morris and James Branch Cabell. There's great stuff in The Young Magicians, but I'm very pleased that it's no longer "next" on the list for the Vision Quest.

To this end I've started reading Swords & Sorcery, and I'm somewhat taken by the first story, "The Valor of Cappen Varra", by Poul Anderson.

It's easily the best thing I've yet read by Anderson, an author who has never really "clicked" with me. I'm intrigued by De Camp's choice of the story as the lead-in to the first acknowledged anthology of a new subgenre, because it is such a different story in a number of ways. The main character, a wimpy minstrel from the southern courts stuck in the company of savage barbarian Vikings, is about as far from Conan as you can get.

He's also, apparently, a Thieves' World character. Anderson ret-conned him into that shared world continuity in the first few anthologies, so despite the fact that Varra appeared in 1957 and Thieves' World appeared in 1979, there's a link.

And I think that's fitting. There's something honorable about the idea that the very first "Sword and Sorcery" hero presented in this anthology of S&S pioneers ended up bridging into a common-background fantasy series featuring modern practitioners like Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Lynn Asprin, Gordon Dickson, Philip Jose Farmer, Andrew Offutt, and more.

I read the Thieves' World books as a kid, and the pulp fantasy roots of that project mingled with Gary Gygax's vision of Greyhawk and Dungeons & Dragons to create an interest in sword and sorcery that leads me to today.

I'll need to read the Thieves' World books again, as an adult, to make a more lasting critical analysis, but I seem to remember all sorts of interesting magic and skulduggery, just the way I like it.

One thing's for sure: The books had GREAT covers.

Tags: books, planet stories, pulps, sword and sorcery
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