What is Sword and Sorcery?
Muscle-bound barbarians, heroic swordsmen, and villainous sorcerers wielding mysterious arcane power. The genre first emerging in the 1930s with Robert E Howard’s legendary characters Conan the barbarian and Kull the Conqueror.
Sword and Sorcery, sometimes called “Heroic Fantasy,” is a pulp genre that pulls no punches in its delivery. It generally depicts a single heroic protagonist in gritty fantasy settings where evil doers get vanquished, voluptuous maidens get bedded, and the only promise is an age of high adventure.
Sword and Sorcery is unapologetically masculine and completely incompatible with modern liberal sensibilities. Many would argue that it’s a continuation of the epic poetry and sagas of antiquity, wherein men of insurmountable will clash with the forces of chaos for glory, fame, and riches.
The men are always strong, the women are always beautiful, and problems are always easily solved with blade and fury. Unlike its cousin of Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery doesn’t have much exposition or explicit world-building. It’s a singular hero in a world that develops as his adventures unfold. It also tends to have “low magic,” meaning magic is very rare and usually only practiced by the most learned or the most wicked. S&S settings are not commonly the home of fantasy races like elves and dwarves but instead have extreme racial tension between neighboring ethnic groups.
While being simple by nature, S&S can challenge the reader’s worldview of modernity and its etiquettes. It absolutely maintains a theme of mythopoetics and sophisticated prose. It encapsulates questions of morality and man’s true nature.
But all in all, Sword and Sorcery is about fun and excitement, whether it’s swashbuckling pirates, treasure hunting rogues, or barbaric warlords conquering savage realms. Sword and Sorcery is possibly the most classic of pulp genres.
It’s violent, it’s manly, it’s sexy, and we’ve loved it for a very long time.