In the age of corporate epic fantasy has pulp-era sword and sorcery become more appealing than ever? Wondering where the genre stands as I discover a forgotten fantasy heroine from the Marvel vaults
Sword and Sorcery (or Heroic Fantasy) has long cast a spell over me as unbreakable as the riddle of steel. I love the absorbing worlds, powerplays and sagas of Epic Fantasy. But sometimes I just wanna see a barbarian dude shove a yard of rune-etched Cimmerian steel through a bad guy’s face.
The pleasures of Sword and Sorcery are primal and undeniable, their tales descended from those of Gilgamesh, Māui, Anansi and Odin, violent, pioneer ‘culture heroes’ who tamed the monster-filled wilderness of newly-forged creation before fading into legend. In the same sense, it’s the bulldozer heroes of Sword and Sorcery – Conan and Red Sonja – who pave the way for the ‘civilised’ epic worlds of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. But if you’ve read Robert E. Howard, the godfather of 20th century Sword and Sorcery, you’ll know he felt civilisation was just another – even worse – form of savagery.
My love for tales of swashbuckling and monster-bashing was rekindled in earnest with my writing Black Beth, a thoroughly obscure Sword and Sorcery heroine from British comics, whom I revived for Rebellion with the sensational Greek artist Dani. I wanted to write exactly the kind of continuity-free heroic tales I don’t see much of these days.
I harked back to my youth devouring Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and watching Hawk the Slayer on repeat. I grabbed missing back issues of vintage White Dwarf and Warlockon eBay, losing myself in those grimdark illustrations that had so hypnotised me as a kid. But nostalgia becomes poison when one drinks too deeply, and I want to see what the genre is doing right now...
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