Saturday, September 12, 2009
posted by Al Harron
Nick Owchar has been on quite a roll lately. His latest adventure is an interview with Michael Moorcock, one of those great-bearded fantasy authors who are rarely shy to share their opinions on the state of the world and the genre in which they write.
Michael Moorcock is quite the controversial figure when it comes to his critical assessment of science fiction and fantasy. His infamous essay “Epic Pooh” scandalized the fantasy reader’s world with its savaging of The Lord of the Rings, just as “Starship Stormtroopers” outraged fans of Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers. Most pertinently to the site, his thoughts on Robert E. Howard are fraught with misreadings and downright inaccuracies. It’s been alleged that he’s somewhat “mellowed” in this later period in his life in regards to Howard, but one wouldn’t know that from recent thoughts on his part.
Moorcock’s study of fantastic literature Wizardry & Wild Romance is pretty effective at what it does: stir things up, and encourage people to look at fantasy differently. Back when I first read it as a lad, I was even taken in by some of his arguments: I suppose many fantasy fans go through a “rebel against Tolkien” phase, and I was certainly rather persuaded by it. However, looking back on the book slightly older, I cannot help but feel swindled. For one thing, Moorcock suffers the inability to fact-check–or at least, the refusal to let facts get in the way of opinion–that S.T. Joshi and Stephen King also suffer: things like the fact Cross Plains is a town, not a “remote village,” and that Howard was a financially successful writer, quite contrary to Moorcock’s assertions. Wizardry is riddled with such baffling factual errors, giving rise to ultimately skewed opinions: a more devastating analysis of the book, and Moorcock’s views on Howard in general can be found in “I Suppose We Must Respect Him,” Rob Roehm’s article in The Cimmerian V4N2.
However, any thoughts that Moorcock has acknowledged the latest developments in Howardian studies since Dark Valley Destiny are dispelled when reading the introduction to Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard, which makes Arnie Fenner’s introduction to …And Their Memory Was a Bitter Tree look well-considered and back-handed-criticism free. (Continue reading this post)
Monday, December 15, 2008
posted by Steve Tompkins
During the weapon’s dark nativity the clangor of coerced swordsmith-toil masked the muttering of murder-curses:
Sigrlami was the name of a king who ruled over Gardaríki; his daughter was Eyfura, most beautiful of all women. This king had obtained from dwarfs the sword called Tyrfing, the keenest of all blades; every time it was drawn a light shone from it like a ray of the sun. It could never be held unsheathed without being the death of a man, and it had always to be sheathed with blood still warm upon it. There was no living thing, neither man nor beast, that could live to see another day if it were wounded by Tyrfing, whether the wound were big or little; never had it failed in a stroke or been stayed before it plunged into the earth, and the man who bore it in battle would always be victorious, if blows were struck with it. This sword is renowned in all the ancient tales.
That’s the introduction of Tyrfing in Saga Heidreks Konungs ins Vitra, The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, translated, introduced, annotated, and backstopped with appendices by none other than Christopher Tolkien back in 1960, when he was a Lecturer in Old English at Oxford’s New College. Nor is this ominous glaive’s renown limited to ancient tales; let’s join Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword already in progress, as the eyeless, dragonskin-aproned Jötun-smith Bolverk is tasked to reforge “the banes of heroes,” which has been snapped in two by Thor himself:
Bolverk’s hands fumbled over the pieces. “Aye, ” he breathed,” Well I remember this blade. Me it was whose help Dyrin and Dvalin besought, when they must make such a sword as this to ransom themselves from Svafrlami but would also have it be their revenge on him. We forged ice and death and storm into it, mighty runes and spells, a living will to harm.” He grinned. “Many warriors have owned this sword, because it brings victory. Naught is there on which it does not bite, nor does it ever grow dull of edge. Venom is in the steel, and wounds it gives cannot be healed by leechcraft or magic or prayer. Yet this is the curse on it: that every time it is drawn it must drink blood, and in the end, somehow, it will be the bane of him who wields it.”
(Continue reading this post)
Friday, July 25, 2008
posted by Steve Tompkins
[When Howard Andrew Jones writes about sword-and-sorcery and the desirability of "putting a new edge on an old blade," it behooves those of us as protective of the subgenre as he is to pay attention, and perhaps pay him the compliment of trying to put our own thoughts in order. To that end, and with a bemused glance at a June 22 post by Gary Romeo, who never loses an opportunity to generalize about Howard purists even if he did lose the chance to celebrate the centennial of his nearest and dearest, I'm rolling out the following article, originally written in 2006 for an anthology that apparently could not be more snake-bitten were it to traipse barefoot through Stygia]
The subgenre of modern fantasy with which Robert E. Howard is nearly synonymous died down in the mid-1980s but did not die out. Far from it; sword-and-sorcery proved to be as difficult to kill as many of its protagonists. But before we can celebrate Howard’s legacy by following the subgenre’s fortunes for the last several decades, we need to establish what we mean by sword-and-sorcery. For starters, what is meant at least for the purposes of this article is an approach to heroic fantasy that became aware of itself when Howard decisively expanded on the promise and premise of Lord Dunsany’s 1908 story “The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth” with “The Shadow Kingdom” in 1929.
The verb “expanded” is chosen with no disrespect whatsoever intended toward Dunsany’s story; it is possible that during his much-debated involvement with sword-and-sorcery, L. Sprague de Camp never did the subgenre more of a favor than when he selected “The Fortress” for his anthology The Fantastic Swordsmen (1967).
(Here, on the other hand, Leo argues that the only place for poor old “Sacnoth” in an S & S muscle car is: the ejector seat)
(Continue reading this post)