FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #532: LITERARY SWORDSMEN AND SORCERERS: THE MAKERS OF HEROIC FANTASY By L. Sprague de Camp


Just by chance, I stumbled across this 1976 Arkham House edition of L. Sprague de Camp’s wonderful Literary Swordsman and Socerers at my local public library. I immediately took it out and read it. De Camp’s informational essays on these fantasy writers made me want to drop everything and reread some of the great books by these authors. I’m a big fan of Lord Dunsany, but I haven’t read more than a fraction of his oeuvre. I’ve read most of Lovecraft, but I can always pick up one of his collections and find delight in its pages.

I’ve read all of Robert E. Howard’s CONAN tales, but Howard wrote a lot of other stuff that I haven’t read yet. I have the Night Shade Books editions of Clark Ashton Smith’s short stories, but I haven’t read them all. I’ve read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but little else by this fantasy giant. I have books by Morris, Eddison, and White on my shelves, but I haven’t opened them yet.

De Camp’s essays display a familiarity with the works of all these writers. My only quibble is that Fritz Leiber–who wrote the marvelous Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales–only gets a few pages in “Conan’s Compeers” instead of an entire chapter which he deserves. The same for C. L. Moore who wrote the underrated Jirel of Joiry. Inexpensive reprints of LITERARY SWORDSMEN AND SORCERERS can be found online for reasonable prices. If you love heroic fantasy, you’ll love this book! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
“Introduction: Neomythology”, by Lin Carter xi
Chapter I. “The Swords of FaĆ«rie” 9
Chapter II “Jack of All Arts: William Morris” 31
Chapter III. “Two Men in One: Lord Dunsany” 48
Chapter IV. “Eldritch Yankee Gentleman: H. P. Lovecraft” 64
Chapter V. “Superman in a Bowler: E.R. Eddison” 114
Chapter VI. “The Miscast Barbarian: Robert E. Howard” 135
Chapter VII. “Parallel Worlds: Fletcher Pratt” 178
Chapter VIII. “Sierran Shaman: Clark Ashton Smith” 195
Chapter IX. “Merlin in Tweeds: J.R.R. Tolkien” 215
Chapter X. “The Architect of Camelot: T.H. White” 252
Chapter XI. “Conan’s Compeers” 270
Notes 291
Index 303

18 thoughts on “FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #532: LITERARY SWORDSMEN AND SORCERERS: THE MAKERS OF HEROIC FANTASY By L. Sprague de Camp

  1. Jeff Meyerson

    I agree with you about Lord Dunsany. I’ve read most of his Jorkens books, as well as some other collections.

    Reply
  2. Fred Blosser

    This was a patch-up of articles/essays that ran earlier in AMRA, Ted White-era FANTASTIC STORIES OF IMAGINATION, and in one case (the chapter on Howard) as a stand-alone booklet from Gerry de la Ree. George, I’d caveat the recommendation if, as I remember but maybe not accurately, the Howard chapter repeated many of deCamp’s assertions about REH’s mental state that infuriate readers who are sympathetic to Howard and who rightly condemn amateur psychoanalysis. The book is better than a similar one by Lin Carter from the same decade, IMAGINARY WORLDS.

    Reply
    1. george Post author

      Fred, LITERARY SWORDSMEN AND SORCERERS filled a void back in the 1970s. Lin Carter provides an “Introduction” that basically praises de Camp’s work.

      Reply
    2. Todd Mason

      FWIW, by the time Ted White was editing, FANTASTIC had long since lost the STORIES OF THE IMAGINATION subtitle and was FANTASTIC STORIES, FANTASTIC, or FANTASTIC SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY STORIES depending at what part of the package you looked at…for a period in the mid-’70s, it was FANTASTIC: SWORD AND SORCERY AD OTHER FANTASIES STORIES, as the sales of the magazine would spike whenever it would include a Conan pastiche by de Camp and others, including Lin Carter. The Howard essay also was the first to be published in FANTASTIC, in the June 1971 issue, the first I read (it was almost seven years old when my friend Steven Durost found it and it eventually ended up with me).

      Reply
      1. Todd Mason

        Nope, middle-aged moment: the front covers of mid-70s FANTASTICs read “Sword & Sorcery and Other Fantasy Stories” and the spines read “FANTASTIC STORIES Swords and Sorcery and Other Fantasies”

  3. Rick Robinson

    If, and I’m not saying I will, I had a copy of this, I’d start reading at Chapter 5, as I don’t much care about the material before that. Too bad about Leiber getting shortchanged.

    Reply
      1. wolf

        Absolutely!
        Moore’s Northwest Smith was wonderful and of course Leiber’s Change war – the Big Time was fantastic showing a different side of SF to me.
        And all the short stories they both wrote for the magazines …

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, I just picked up a copy of Fritz Leiber’s THE WANDERER, a very underrated novel that I read over 50 years ago. It goes on my Reread Real Soon stack of books!

      3. wolf

        George, of course!
        The Wanderer is great – however:
        So many books to read, so little time …

      4. Todd Mason

        THE WANDERER has stuck me as Leiber’s weakest novel, full of fan-service (and author-service), but I still didn’t resent going through it (and THE SILVER EGGHEADS is a strong contender for that discredit). My nomination for the most underrated Leiber novel would be A SPECTER IS HAUNTING TEXAS, which, all these years after LBJ, remains a witty and engaging novel…or did for me when I read it 30 years ago or so!

        How dare time flee so!

      5. george Post author

        Todd, I just happen to have copies of A SPECTER IS HAUNTING TEXAS and THE WANDERER so maybe I’ll reread both of them and do a double FFB. Something to think about…

    1. Todd Mason

      With the exception of his collaborator Fletcher Pratt, de Camp mostly chose to look at his progenitors rather than colleagues, even though Howard was also a contemporary…and “collaborator” of sorts…

      The book and the essays were controversial, but I liked them a lot better than the Panshins’ essay series in FANTASTIC issues at the same time, if not quite as much as Leiber’s FANTASY BOOKS columns.

      Book review columns in the 1970s fantasy magazines were one of their highlights, with Leiber, and occasionally Ted White, Richard Lupoff, and a few others supplementing him in FANTASTIC and, in F&SF, James Blish, Joanna Russ, Algis Budrys, Barry Malzberg, Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Richard Delap, John Clute, (and, unfortunately, the Panshins) and Gahan Wilson specializing in horror reviews…and a very few others. One can do worse.

      Reply
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