FORGOTTEN BOOKS #442: SWORDS & SORCERY Edited By L. Sprague de Camp

Back in 1963, Pyramid Books published Swords & Sorcery, an anthology that celebrated the then neglected sub-genre in Fantasy. L. Sprague de Camp would go on to edit three more anthologies similar to this one. Over the next few months, I’ll be featuring them as FFBs. But this first volume is my favorite with the cover and interior artwork by the great Virgil Finlay. With these four collections, L. Sprague de Camp brought wonderful Sword & Sorcery stories to a reading public eager to read such adventures. Do you have a favorite Swords & Sorcery writer? GRADE: A
Poul Anderson – The Valor of Cappen Varra
Lord Dunsany – Distressing Tale of Thargobrind the Jeweller
Robert E Howard – Shadows in the Moonlight
Henry Kuttner – The Citadel of Darkness
Fritz Leiber – When The Sea-King’s Away
C.L. Moore – Hellsgarde
H.P. Lovecraft – The Doom that came to Sarnath
Clark Ashton Smith – The Testament of Athammaus

24 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #442: SWORDS & SORCERY Edited By L. Sprague de Camp

  1. wolf

    Though I’m not a fan of this kind of fantasy I really like authors like Leiber, Kuttner and C L Moore – especially the quirky (is that the right word?) humour of Fritz Leiber , he’s one of my favourites in SF!

    Is humour a part of these stories?

  2. Sergio (Tipping My Fedora)

    My favourite would probably remain Fritz Leiber, but I’m a bit stuck int he past as it has not been a genre I have gone back to. I thought the first volume of GAME OF THRONES was terrific but never got round to reading the next ones …

    1. george Post author

      Sergio, I loved “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” the first Fritz Leiber I ever read in FANTASTIC magazine back in the early 1960s. I sought out the other stories and became a huge Fritz Leiber fan!

  3. Steve Oerkfitz

    I had this book when it first came out. Leiber’s Fahrfd and the Grey Mouser series has always been a favorite of mine. Of current writers I am fond of K. J. Parker and Joe Abercrombie. Loved the first couple of G. R. R. Martin’s but they were coming out too far apart and I found myself losing track of the characters and storyline.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, I have a number of K. J. Parker books on the READ REAL SOON stack. I get annoyed with George R. R. Martin’s habit of killing off characters I’ve spend a 1000 pages reading about.

  4. Jerry House

    I grabbed each of these anthologies when they first came out and devoured them. The then little known genre knocked my socks off. Now, not so much.

    1. george Post author

      Prashant, you would love the stories in SWORDS & SORCERY. I’ll be reviewing the other three volumes that de Camp edited in the weeks ahead. They’re just as good!

  5. Todd Mason

    Fritz Leiber made up the term, “sword and sorcery” (all singular) just a couple/few years before, I think in a piece he published in AMRA, George Scithers’s heroic fantasy fanzine that was his major editorial gig before ASIMOV’S, and going from there to AMAZING and WEIRD TALES.

    Fritz Leiber still has the edge for me, as well, but Jack Vance and Karl Edward Wagner and Janet Fox and Joanna Russ (with Alyx) have always been close; Leiber’s most brilliant stories in this mode are impossible to beat, but the most tired exercises of F&GM, written when Leiber was finding his feet yet again after one or another alcohol-fueled block, are more useful than good. Of the progenitors, Dunsany and Cabell and C. L. Moore (Leigh Brackett approached it at times). H Warner Munn has been unfairly overlooked, I think, among no few others…and certainly epic fantasy and S&S/adventure fantasy have one of the most porous of literary boundaries, as the Martin series is arguably more the former.

    1. wolf

      Leigh Brackett is still one of my favourites – I remember being really astonished that a woman could write like that (sorry, girls :)) – she’s really one of the greatest!
      Of course later came others like Moore and Cherryh, but in those early days …

      PS and totally OT:

      I met Karl Edward Wagner once at a Eurocon/Eastercon in Brighton, England – must have been early 80s. I was invited to one of those room parties by my friend who worked at the Forbidden Planet store in London and I came prepared:
      Had about a hundred cans of German beer with me (50 liters was the duty free limit), came by ferry via Dover.

      The guys were really happy and I got many authors to sign my book list …

      Later someone mistook me for Wagner even – seems we looked similar: long blond hair and a beard, pity that he died so early …

      1. Todd Mason

        Sadly, yes…a bit too much beer and other things, including depression, in Wagner’s life. Glad you met him, and everyone was having a good time. You weren’t the only man to be surprised Leigh Brackett was a woman…so was film director/producer Howard Hawks when he hired her to help script the adaptation of THE BIG SLEEP, because of her hardboiled novel NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE, and that she’d scripted an indy horror movie. Brackett and Moore and not a few others were writing in essentially the same years…though Moore gave it up after Kuttner died…

      1. Todd Mason

        And, like Brackett, Anderson would frequently approach it in his space opera/planetary romance and science-fantasy work. Meanwhile, I won’t agree that Tolkien or the other epic fantasy writers at their best were more sophisticated nor substantial than Leiber, Vance, and the other geniuses of S&S when they wrote in that form…and, of course, Leiber and Russ (“My Boat” alone would be enough) and particularly Vance Also wrote a fair amount of epic fantasy…

      2. george Post author

        Todd, I agree. I’ve enjoyed Brackett’s S&S stories. But, to be honest with you, I’ve found Jack Vance’s S&S written in the 1980s a bit tedious.

      3. wolf

        George, but Vance’s Demon Princes is still one of the most remarkable series ever!

        I think we’ve discussed the series here already but it’s something I’ll always remember.

      4. george Post author

        Wolf, I’m tempted to reread THE DEMON PRINCES series by Jack Vance during the Winter months. I read them as they were published. My favorite is THE FACE.

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