by Andy Beau
From the 1940s to the 1990s L. (Lyon) Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) wrote many works of and about fantasy and science fiction. In the 1950s he was involved with the collection of the Conan stories in hardcover form, and with Lin Carter brought Conan to paperback for the mass market in the 60s. In the 1960s and 1970, he edited four anthologies that collected both old and new sword and sorcery stories and related fantasy tales. I’d like to review the last anthology, Warlocks and Warriors (1970), because it contains a wide range of 10 authors from the 1900s - 1960s. This and other anthologies provide a sampling of tales and writers some readers may not have read and present fiction by authors from whom readers may want to read more. Although not every story in this collection is sword and sorcery, I’ll still review them, as most are likely to appeal to fans of the genre.
The first tale is titled Turutal. It was written by Raul “Ray” Capella (1933- ) and published in Amra in 1965. Amra was the fanzine of the Hyborian Legion, a loose group of sword and sorcery admirers from the late 1950s into the 1980s, which included de Camp, Lin Carter, and others. I myself had a subscription to Amra, which may have made me a de facto member of the Hyborian Legion at the time (which I didn’t realize), or at least a groupie. This story is one of a series about Arquel of Argos, an adventurer living in the world of Conan. I don’t recall this series ever seeing mass-market publication; there were only stories published here and there. The Arquel stories were eventually collected in The Leopard of Poitain by Celt Press in 1985, which seems virtually impossible to find nowadays.
In this story, Arquel is coerced into leading a small band of defeated soldiers out of the swamps around the eastern part of the Styx River. Warriors from the Black Kingdom of Punt, along with a priest of Set, are close on their heels. During the night, as Arquel’s band sails into the actual river, they are forced to enter into legendary Turutal, a now-deserted citadel built upon an island in the middle of the river. Not until daylight the next day are they able to see the strangeness of their weird abode:
The tale then develops into a three-way battle in this weird fortress among: the scheming Stygian Setian and his sinister sorceries; Arquel and his warriors; and the citadel’s ancient living-dead horde of returned pygmy inhabitants.
The next story is Lin Carter’s (1930-1988) The Gods Of Niom Parma. Carter and de Camp brought the Conan stories to the mass-market in the 60s, which helped birth the sword and sorcery enthusiasm that continues today. Carter went on to write many more pastiches of several authors, write other stories in his own style, edit many anthologies of different types of fantasy adventure, and critique different fantasy and horror works. For further information, please see Howard Jones’s excellent remarks about Carter in the editorial in the first edition of the e-zine Flashing Swords. Like the previous story, The Gods Of Niom Parma was also first published in an edition of Amra, under the title The Gods of Neol-Shendis in 1966. This is one of Carter’s Simrana series of pastiches of Lord Dunsany’s style of fantasy, and, as such, would not be considered a sword and sorcery tale, but one that sword and sorcery fans would probably still enjoy (see below for an actual Dunsany tale). It relates a story of Simrana, a world of swordplay, adventure, and magic. Niom Parma is a seaside city dedicated to several gods, but its residents are turning away from these gods and towards new ones. This has angered the original gods, who meet to decide the fate of Niom Parma.
They decide to destroy the city upon the advice of one of their minor brethren, Uzolba, the little god of fishermen. They will stay their wrath until Uzolba returns from visiting Niom Parma in human guise. The story then tells of Uzolba’s earthly visit and his first view of humankind through the eyes of a human, and the resulting fate of Niom Parma and, indeed, of Uzolba himself.
Robert E. Howard’s (1906-1936) The Hills Of The Dead is the next tale. It was first published in Weird Tales in 1930. No introduction is needed for Robert E. Howard, who created sword and sorcery during the pulp magazine era between the world wars. This is one of the stories in the Solomon Kane series that Howard wrote before he began writing his famous Conan stories. Kane is an English Puritan during the late 16th century. He has traveled Europe, the Mediterranean area, and West Africa, righting wrongs whenever he encounters them. This tale occurs during his third journey to West Africa. After having receiving a fetish walking stick from a native witch doctor, Kane is traveling in the bare hills of West Africa when he encounters a young native woman who has run away from her village. For her safety, he agrees to escort her back, but it will soon be too dark to continue. As dusk approaches and Kane and the young woman begin to make camp, they are attacked:
Kane learns that these two attackers are part of a large mass of vampires that kill the local natives and live off their souls. Kane resolves to exterminate this gruesome example of “Satan’s handiwork” from the face of the earth!
The following story is Thunder In The Dawn by Henry Kuttner (1914-58). Please see my review of this tale and the others in the Elak series in my first column.
Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) wrote the next tale, Thieves’ House, in Unknown Worlds in 1943. Leiber was a famous science fiction and fantasy writer for five decades, producing many stories that either were nominated or won both the Hugo or Nebula science fiction awards over the years. Leiber also coined the phrase “sword and sorcery” to describe the genre. He wanted a phrase with the ring and feel similar to “cloak and dagger” and “blood and thunder” that were used to describe other types of stories.
This is one of the tales that Leiber wrote early in his career of the large barbarian Fafhrd and the smaller and quick Gray Mouser, two roguish adventurers on his ancient world of Nehwon (“nowhen” spelled backwards, and often misspelled as “Newhon,” as is the case in de Camps’s introduction to this story. I’ll assume it’s the typesetter’s fault, not de Camp’s, though.). In the city of Lankhmar, Fafhrd and Mouser are involved with members of the Thieves’ Guild in the theft of a jeweled skull and its bony skeletal hands. The Guild, however, double-crosses them and takes the skull and hands back to their guild house without paying Fafhrd and Mouser for services rendered. The two decide to sneak into the guild’s den and rob the robbers of the skull. Here is the scene where they approach the guild house in the dead of night.
They enter the abode of the thieves and proceed to search for the skull. As they enter the room to steal the skull, a woman grabs it and escapes through a hidden doorway. As they try to open this door, the guild thieves enter the room. Fafhrd and Mouser quickly hide behind some curtains. Shortly thereafter, this ruse fails and the two are chased through a maze of hallways and rooms, eventually becoming separated. Mouser finally escapes but Fafhrd is captured. The guild thieves think that Mouser has the missing skull and threaten to kill Fafhrd if he doesn’t return it. Now Mouser has to get the skull from the woman who stole it AND rescue Fafhrd. The adventure that follows contains elements of humor, action, and horror. Mouser even appears in “hag drag” to fool everyone concerned! Also, the skull has sorcerous powers that come into play in a most horrifying way.
Black God’s Kiss is the next offering in the anthology. It was written by C. (Catherine) L. (Lucille) Moore (1911-1987) and published in Weird Tales in 1934. Jirel's stories are discussed in detail elsewhere on the site, in an excellent article by Ryan Harvey. Moore was the wife of another fantasy writer, Henry Kuttner, one of whose above-mentioned stories is also included in this anthology. They were probably one of the first married couples to collaborate on a number of science fiction and fantasy stories together. At this time, however, she had not yet met Kuttner.
This tale is part of a series about Jirel of Joiry, the redheaded female ruler of Joiry and commander of its medieval army. de Camp speculates that Joiry is in western France during the Hundred Years’ War, around the fourteenth century. Sort of a fantastical Joan of Arc, but one who survives to fight another day. In this story, her enemy, Guillaume, defeats and captures her in her castle. He adds insult to injury by holding her tight and forcibly kissing her lips.
She is then thrown into the dungeon. However, she escapes and vows to avenge herself appropriately against Guillaume. To do this, she plans to travel to what she believes is Hell, from a secret subterranean entrance down in the bowels of her castle. Instead of the fiery domain of the devil, this “Hell” actually appears to be a weird, starlit, other-dimensional world. After encountering a number of strange beings, she obtains what she needs to exact her revenge. The story’s ending is one that is a surprise to Jirel, as well as to the reader.
Lord Dunsany (rhymes with “un-rainy”) (1878-1958) wrote the next entry in the anthology, Chu-Bu and Sheemish. It was originally published in London in the Saturday Review and in 1912 was reprinted in the book, Tales of Wonder. While Dunsany's style, and pacing are different from sword and sorcery, he greatly influenced many writers who followed him: Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, and even the editor of this anthology, L. Sprague de Camp, among others. Dunsany was the first to take novel-length heroic fantasy and fashion it into the short and very short story form. He also wrote several fantasy novels, but is probably better known for his fantasy short stories.
This very short four-page tale is one of many about his self-created gods and their very human-like emotions, and the consequences of such. Chu-Bu is a very minor god whose idol has been worshipped in his own temple for over a hundred years. However, one day his priests brought in a newly made idol, that of Sheemish, and commenced to worship it also. This infuriated Chu-Bu to the extreme.
Thus begin the vindictive deeds and their dire consequences, albeit very localized, between these two jealous godlets.
Clark Ashton Smith’s (1893-1961) The Master Of The Crabs, published in Weird Tales in 1948, is the next offering in the anthology. Smith wrote many of his tales of weird horror/fantasy in ancient settings for Weird Tales magazine. See Ryan Harvey’s excellent series of reviews of Smith and his writings on the article page of this site. Smith had a number of settings for his stories. Among them Atlantis; Hyperborea; and the future world’s sole continent of Zothique, where civilization has reverted to ancient settings, and the old gods, demons, and sorcery have risen again. Zothique, Earth’s last continent, under a dying red sun, is the setting for this tale. This story may not technically be sword and sorcery, since it’s about a strictly sorcerous battle between two wizards. However, a sword does later make an important appearance.
This tale is told in the first person, by Manthar, the apprentice to the wizard Mior Lumivix. Another wizard, Sarcand, has procured a map to an ancient treasure buried on the deserted Island of Crabs, deserted of all human habitation, that is. Shortly after Sarcand sails for the island, Manthar and his wizard master give chase in their own boat. As they near the island:
The meeting between the two wizards results in a grisly ending, both for the story and a wizard.
This next short story in this collection, The Valley Of The Spiders, is from the pen of H. (Herbert) G. (George) Wells (1866-1946), Pearson's Magazine in 1903. This is probably the only tale he wrote that comes close to sword and sorcery. It’s actually more closer to a weird swashbuckler than anything else. Since the tale does not really explain when or where it takes place, de Camp believes it has a feeling of occurring in South America a little after the Spanish conquest.
Three men on horseback are riding into an unknown barren valley, tracking down a few people who ran away from one of these three men, the master who controls the city in the region. The other two men are his soldiers or servants helping with the hunt. Occasionally they spot signs of the fugitives in the distance and continue riding along the valley floor. However, they eventually spot something on the horizon rapidly coming closer that mystifies and later terrifies them.
Quickly an army of these white floating globs were descending upon the pursuers, which caused them to flee for their lives.
The Bells Of Shoredan by Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) brings this diverse collection of sword and sorcery and related tales to a close. It was first published in Fantastic in 1966. Zelazny wrote many science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, many of which were nominated for, and some of which won, the Hugo and Nebula awards. This particular tale is one in a series of sword and sorcery stories about his hero, Dilvish the Damned of Dilfar, who had returned from Hell to defend another country in his own world. His steed is a horse-shaped beast made of black steel and possessed of the spirit of a demon, whom he occasionally converses with.
In this tale he is now helping to defend his city of Dilfar from invaders, who appear likely to overpower the defenders in a few days. Reinforcements previously sent for will not arrive in time. The king of Dilfar requests Dilvish to ride to the Citadel of Rahoring to ring the Bells of Shoredan. Half an age ago, as the legend states, an enemy army from Shoredan was about to attack this Citadel, but a wizard created the Bells of Shoredan and rang them twice to suddenly cause the enemy soldiers to disappear. The legend further states that a descendant of the Citadel’s ruling house who now rings the Bells for the third time will cause this vanished army to re-appear and follow the ringer of the Bells.
As Dilvish approaches the Citadel of Rahoring, in the realm where nothing lives:
While at the Citadel, Dilvish encounters a priest on a holy mission, who accompanies him on his search inside. Dilvish walks through the Citadel, seeing ghostly images and scenes from the past, and meeting an “acquaintance” from Hell, with whom he has a rather physical “discussion”. Dilvish eventually reaches the Bells and attempts to conjure up the Army of Shoredan.
Many of the stories have accompanying maps which help with locating the sites mentioned by the authors. It’s interesting to note that this anthology contains two full or partial pastiches of other authors included in the book. Capella’s Turutal is what I’d call a partial pastiche in that, although the setting is in Robert E. Howard’s world of Conan, the style of writing does not appear to be an attempt to copy Howard’s. Howard’s own The Hills Of The Dead appears later in the book. Another example is Carter’s The Gods Of Niom Parma, which is a full pastiche of Dunsany’s world of the gods written in the same style as Dunsany. Dunsany’s own tale of the gods also follows its pastiche. Could de Camp have wanted readers to compare the originals with the pastiches?
This book can be found on Abebooks.com and other used book web sites for a few dollars.
Forgotten Stories of Fantastic Sword-fighters.
About the Author
Andy Beau has lived in San Diego, CA since he was 16. There were no computer degrees in the 1960s, so he graduated with a degree in math and worked in the computer programming field from 1969 until 2003, when he retired early at 57. Prior to these articles all of his writing has been technical--the composition of user manuals--and there wasn't much call for analysis of plot and character development in that. Andy's been a fan of sword and sorcery tales since college in 1966. This has lead him to other fantasy adventure genres: lost race, supernatural thrillers, Lovecraftian horror, and more. He shares his long-term love for and knowledge of sword and sorcery with his readers in these columns. SwordAndSorcery.org is proud to have him.