Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lost Genre Part I: Never Was

Swords and Sorcery. There has been some speculation as of late as to why this genre has almost disappeared from the fantasy landscape. Erik Mona editor of Paizo's fine Planet Stories line, Howard Andrew Jones, one of the editors of Black Gate and the folks over at The Cimmerian are all wondering why this has not been a viable genre. Among the speculation is what killed it, how things changed, etc. etc.

I propose this: There never was a Swords and Sorcery genre. Swords and Sorcery is a commercial phrase. It is made up to help us find stuff in the store and keep us buying more of what we like. If anything the quesiton we should be asking is "What happened to the Sub-Genre?"

We think of the golden age of the pulps as the 30's and 40's when that really was the beginning of the end of their time. Its like someone calling the days of Rome under Constantine a golden age and ignoring the days under Agustus. Pulp went back to the 1830's with the Penny Dreadfuls. Thats a whole 80 years before Howard wore the jeweled crown of Aquilonia on his troubled brow.

And looking at those stories we see that they were filled with swords and sorcerers just as much as any Howard or Leiber tale. Robin Hood as we know him largely came out of the same publishing tradition as Conan. And while Sherlock Holmes did have respectable dig on Baker Street and in a major publication, he was still serialised, a distant relative to Hood and the Cimmerian.

The genre I believe is not Swords and Sorcery, but the long tradition of Adventure Fiction of which Swords and Sorcery was a part of. And here were enter the debate of where genre starts and ends. Largely genre is driven by marketing. We see this with music all the time. Is it Techno, Trance, Ambient, Techstep, Hardcore, Jungle, Tribal, Breaks or whatever? Sword and Planet, Sword and Sorcery, Lost World, Weird Fiction, and a lot of Detective Stories all fall into this heading simply because if you change the tropes you don't really change the story.

I think that we would see more success in Swords and Sorcery if we focused not on Swords and Sorcery as a genre but as part of the larger and ailing Adventure Tales genre.

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