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[GUEST POST] Seth Skorkowsky (MOUNTAIN OF DAGGERS) on Sword and Sorcery

sethRaised in the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, Seth Skorkowsky gravitated to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor.

His debut novel, Dämoren, was released in 2014 by Ragnarok Publications. Seth will also be releasing two sword and sorcery rogue collections, Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills.

When not writing, Seth enjoys tabletop role-playing games, shooting sports, and traveling the world with his wife.

Sword and Sorcery: A More Intimate Fantasy

by Seth Skorkowsky

Like many fantasy readers, my first real introduction to the genre began with Tolkien. I didn’t know what The Hobbit was really about, but my cousin told me I’d love it. She was right. I was instantly sucked into the quest for a dragon’s hoard, fighting trolls, and finding magic treasure. This immediately followed by Lord of the Rings, and then on to David Eddings with his tales of knights, wizards, and gods. I loved them all, but none of them really spoke to me the way The Hobbit did.

One day while perusing my local game shop I saw the cover to TSR’s Lankhmar, City of Adventure campaign as was entranced by it. I’d never heard of Fritz Leiber or his roguish heroes, but the imagery of that cover spoke to me. I read it, then all of the other D&D Lankhmar supplements, and eventually tracked down some copies of Leiber’s books. It was then that I realized that Sword and Sorcery was my preferred fantasy.

The adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser hit me in the same way that The Hobbit did. Instead of Epic Fantasy stories where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, those adventures were focused on the individual. The hero’s quest, whether to plunder a dragon’s treasure or to simply get home alive, is self-serving. Often times, the goal is secondary to the adventure itself.

Sword and Sorcery is driven by more primal emotions. Greed, love, revenge, and things that I, as the reader, can relate to. This also creates a lot of room for some moral ambiguity as the motivation isn’t exactly for the greater good. I can see myself in these moral dilemmas. I’ve been in some of them, myself. And while I’ve had some exciting adventures of my own, I can honestly say that the fate of the world or my country has never rested solely on my shoulders. I can’t relate to that.

Epic Fantasies usually involve sweeping landscapes and enormous casts of characters, following multiple groups simultaneously. Sword and Sorcery tends to follow a small group of heroes, often times only one or two characters, and the setting might only be a single city. We get to go down into the trenches with their hero and suffer along with them, instead of being held at arm’s length as the reader juggles half a dozen main characters. Yes, there are big battles, but rarely, and more often the hero is merely observing or just trying to get through it, rather than leading the charge.

Another thing that separates the two is how magic is treated. More often in Sword and Sorcery, the hero’s use of magic is restrained, if they have any magic at all. Bilbo eventually has the power to become invisible. The Gray Mouser uses magic every once in a while (usually with disastrous results), while Conan never uses it. Magic is usually the obstacle that the hero has to overcome with either wit, or physical skill. Meanwhile, Epic Fantasy is more apt to placing the magic directly into the hero’s hands. Both heroes from Eddings’ Belgariad, and Sanderson’s Mistborn quickly advance to a level of magical power far beyond what most of their opponents will ever achieve.

I’ve never known anyone in real-life that was just told one day that they were a Chosen One and could wield unimagined powers. However, I have known of people that with little to no advantage worked themselves to a point where they overcame the seemingly impossible. There’s always one of those in every Olympics. As a reader, I can sympathize with that underdog, and instead of merely wishing I could be like the hero of an Epic Fantasy, I feel that maybe I could become a Sword and Sorcery hero.

For me, that reliability with my hero and their motivation is what makes Sword and Sorcery my favorite of all the genres.

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