I think there might be something to this. You could certainly do S&S without the overt racial and sexist overtones. Conan and Red Sonja were essentially the same amount of clothing in traditional depictions of both, and you could easily modify most of the classic cultures found in S&S to be more egalitarian in depictions of race/skin tone. The only thing stopping it would be 60 years of cover-art conventions.Or embrace the camp with scantily clad good guys and swarthy heroes.
Not everyone is a central character in a story. Many men work from home.The worst thing I actually noticed myself was how the very few women in the early Elric stories could pretty much be replaced by an expensive vase. The hero and antagonists occasionally talk about them as having high value, but they are not actually characters with any discernible traits or ever do a single thing.
This was true of Asimov's early stories, too. It doesn't mean it is a necessary or defining feature of the genre (whether that genre is science fiction or sword and sorcery).The worst thing I actually noticed myself was how the very few women in the early Elric stories could pretty much be replaced by an expensive vase. The hero and antagonists occasionally talk about them as having high value, but they are not actually characters with any discernible traits or ever do a single thing.
I included excerpts from some of his letters and his girlfriend's Biography about it. It's on Page 1 of this thread.I read everything Howard wrote that I know exists and I can’t draw those conclusions. Lovecraft yes but Howard no. Maybe there’s some letters or other things he wrote.
Huh. I came back to this thread to ask, “What is a story with all the tropes of Sword and Sorcery except the pessimism?” And this was what I find!You are very right!
How we handle our existentialist crises is what makes our life go in whatever direction it winds up going after those points. Whether we collapse into a sense of abject despair knowing that all of our decisions are ultimately meaningless in a form of paralytic nihilism, or we turn our lives in a different direction, often inwardly to recognize the inherent worth of ourselves against the backdrop of our lives as a structure for personal meaning.
Others flock to religion, seeking an external source of positivity and meaning to the chaos of life and death. And in a fantasy world they can be be assured that that religion is accurate!
And in the case of the Queen of the Black Coast, as you just referenced, hedonism is a marvelous escape from existential crisis! People fling themselves into their lives, into foods when they wish, sex with whom they care for, and no further consideration given toward anything. Which when done on a societal level... hits Robert E Howard's existential corruption through civilization!
When you turn from the person that you were into the person that you will be and lose some important aspect of the true self in the rampant decay into decadence. Because even Conan, with the jeweled crown of Aquilonia weighing heavy upon a troubled brow, is not immune to losing himself and all that he was.
It's like that!Huh. I came back to this thread to ask, “What is a story with all the tropes of Sword and Sorcery except the pessimism?” And this was what I find!
Well now I want a whole album of that….It's like that!
Existentialism can lead to Nihilism. But Nihilism can be freaking -wild-. It's all dependent on which direction you walk from the crisis.
Also. "Crisis" in the sense of an Existential Crisis is less like... an emergency? More like a crisis of Faith. A crossroads. A time to question what is and isn't real, what matters and doesn't. To strip away that which doesn't matter and find your truth... Or become mired in self-doubt.
That's a great example. The sorcerer kings claim that they are divine and destined to rule, but Kalak getting killed by a slave with a spear is a conclusive practical argument that they are not.@Remathilis
Take Tyr, as an example. In Dark Sun you can try to eke out a living for another day, gather a tiny bit more wealth and pleasure for yourself. Or you can work with a Templar-Traitor and use the Heartwood Spear to kill one of the Sorcerer-Kings and free the city from his oppressive reign in order to open up the possibility of Democracy.
I meeeeeeeeeeean...The most interesting thing about King Conan in The Phoenix on the Sword is that he doesn't lament that the people don't love and respect him. He doesn't care about that, he didn't do it for his glory. What really frustrates him is that they start praising the old king they suffered under as their way to express their unhappiness with his rule.
That's a great example. The sorcerer kings claim that they are divine and destined to rule, but Kalak getting killed by a slave with a spear is a conclusive practical argument that they are not.
Nnnope... Same month, even.That must have been from the later sources then, I guess.
I always felt that most additions to the original box were steps in the wrong direction, drifting into Epic Fantasy.
So to me, the greater divide is between an optimistic view of the world (one rooted more in Christan views of grace, fall and redemption) and a pessimistic view (where no greater cause than oneself is possible, so people is free to live as good or as wickedly as they wish).
Oh for sure, people can still choose to be good, evil, or something in between. A person can fight to make his or her general surroundings a better place, but they do so in an attempt to hold back further entropy rather than restore what once was. I view it more as the cosmic forces of Good and Evil aren't on anyone's side. There is no Gods of Light aiding your quest, no force of Ultimate Darkness that stands in your way. You may kill cultists or sorcerers or even beings of unfathomable power, but in the end your actions don't shift the cosmic scales in any one direction. You aren't restoring the One True King, banishing the Lord of Darkness, or ushering in the New Age. You are staving off catastrophe for you and what you hold dear for a little while longer.Sword and Sorcery characters can be -Amoral- warriors who do good and evil in equal measure. Or Antiheroes who do terrible things for good causes. Or be outright heroes trying to heal the world, or at least their little corner of it.
And this is where the differences imho lie. Compare Conan to Aragorn. Aragorn comes from a noble line of kings, he is just and good, and his rule ushers in a new age of Man, he is all but handed what he needs to rule by the circumstances of the universe, he need only find it within himself to take that responsibility. Conan is given no such lineage, his rule ushers in no golden era, nothing is restored, and at best he holds back the darkness in his realm for a little while before again finding himself a vagabond and adventurer. Even though both begin their tales as wanderers and end them as kings, its very easy to say the Universe is rooting for Aragorn and is at best ambivalent about Conan.But even Conan, the Barbarian, The Cimmerian, the Destroyer, the Amoral Antihero so many people love and adore... Becomes the Liberator and King Conan of Aquilonia. And then gets bored out of his gourd by the tedium and minutiae of running a kingdom. But at least he saved it!
Yes! THIS! This is what I was fumbling to say.I would reckon that the optimism/pessimism in different grades of fantasy is not necessarily about the moral codes or behaviour of the characters in the setting, but, as you yourself pointed out, about the nature of the setting itself.
In an epic fantasy setting, provided the world/society is fallen or declined from a previous brighter age, there is the prospect of restoration. Perhaps not to the greatest heights of elder times - in Lord of the Rings, Aragorn's restoration of Gondor is clearly still not a restoration to the power of ancient Numenor, for instance - but nevertheless, an increase in peace and prosperity, and a ridding the world of great evil. In such a setting without a previous brighter age, the prospect is not of restoration, but instead progress, both in the material and metaphysical senses. That is the optimism of the setting.
In a sword & sorcery setting, whether or not the world/society is fallen or declined from a previous brighter age, there is no prospect of restoration or progress, except either in small areas, over brief time periods, or both. The world could be dying, à la Vance, or the eldritch horrors could be unfathomable, à la Lovecraft, or societies could exist in a more-or-less permanent cycle of rise and fall, with societies at each stage in the cycle clearly paying some price for whatever benefits they have - whether that's being forced to subsist in a harsh and unforgiving environment or in a state of decadence/corruption. That is the pessimism of the setting.
That difference also informs the cosmic forces at work in the setting. The cosmic forces of epic fantasy include ones that are, however hands-off, unabashedly benevolent. Such forces are feeble, ailing, or simply non-existent in swords & sorcery, and in their place are those that are indifferent or malevolent.