The Pledge of the Sword
The Pledge of the Sword
By Howard Andrew Jones
In my late twenties I decided that if I was serious about being a fantasy writer I really needed to understand the roots of fantasy fiction. That’s why, while most of the rest of the fantasy readers in North America were losing themselves in The Wheel of Time, I was working my way through a whole slew of fantasy classics. A lot of those books were the famed Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperbacks that Lin Carter edited, and thanks to them I got familiar with the work of a number of writers I’d long heard about, and a few of them, like Lord Dunsany, became new favorites.
But mostly I realized that of all fantasy flavors, sword-and-sorcery was the one I liked best. It made sense – I’d always loved a big chunk of the Lankhmar stories, and a number of Michael Moorcock’s stories, and Roger Zelazny’s Amber, and, of course Harold Lamb’s historical fiction, which, while not strictly sword-and-sorcery, was danged close. I’d just never really paid attention to the fact that those stories were different from the other kinds I’d been reading.
Owing to chance I’d never seen much of Robert E. Howard’s fiction, and as I explored more and more of his work I quickly realized that his were some of the finest adventure stories I’d ever read. One of my sisters had introduced me to Leigh Brackett’s Ginger Star series years before, but I’d never found her earlier short stories, which were a revelation.
I could go on and on about all the great stuff I read during that years-long exploration, but the point I’m after is to make clear that sword-and-sorcery holds a special place in my heart, over and above nearly every other kind of fiction. That’s not to say that I like all of it equally, because there are bad examples and good and sometimes it seems that the former far outnumber the latter. But at its best, there’s nothing I like better and almost nothing I like as well.
I’ve thought long and hard about what it is that makes sword-and-sorcery special to me, and that has an awful lot to do with the qualities I outlined while I was attempting to define the genre at the beginning of this Kickstarter. Great sword-and-sorcery is usually moving at a fast clip. It takes you somewhere interesting in the company of fascinating characters, exposing you along the way to scenes of dread and wonder. There are great action set pieces that actually count for something, entertaining side characters and villains, surprises and sometimes twists, and a conclusion that satisfies.
If a sword-and-sorcery tale has a message it doesn’t smack you over the head with it. Most times it may seem to lack a message entirely, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing redeeming in a story where characters are shown overcoming a terrible challenge with wit and brawn. Sword-and-sorcery is part and parcel of the mythic cycles we’ve been sharing around the campfire since the earliest days of our species. We’d hear how our ancestors chased down the elusive stag, or fended off the clawed thing in the dark, or guided the tribe to safety through a land of enemies. In listening, we were inspired to emulate courageous action and to not stand idle when times were dark and all hope seemed lost.
Lin Carter once wrote of sword-and-sorcery as “the sacred genre” and while he might have had a half-mocking smile on his face as he did so, he was serious all the same. I, too, can’t help but be a little amused and bemused that sword-and-sorcery has meant so much to me over the years, but it’s the well to which I constantly return. If you saw my shelves, you’d see that I’m surrounded by history books and hardboiled detective novels and westerns and space opera and other flavors of fantasy, not to mention swashbuckling historicals and a smattering of classics. At different times I’m in the mood for different things. But here’s the truth – if someone I trust were to hand me a new sword-and-sorcery novel or collection and tell me that it had the same kind of fire as the best old stuff, I’d set all the rest aside.
I realize that you, the readers of Tales From the Magician’s Skull, are placing trust in me, its editor, and I don’t mean to let you down. When you pick up an issue of our magazine, I want you to know that there are glories ahead that will live long in the halls of your memory. I pledge, with deepest sincerity, to present the finest modern sword-and-sorcery I can lay hands on so that we may together drink deeply and savor it.
It is folly to focus too hard upon the future, for no one may know what it holds. But it is my hope that this is only the beginning, and that I will have the opportunity to work with talented writers and be able to deliver their work into your hands for years to come. I’m heartened by the tremendous success of this Kickstarter, and I have high hopes that with your support we shall go on to attain greater and greater heights in the months and years ahead.