Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fantasy swords I have loved...

Back in my swords blog post, I said I'd post some favorite fantasy swords, so here goes.

These are two series that I read at an impressionable age -- as a teenager, since I predate the YA movement -- and loved, for better or for worse. I also read the fantasy classics that everyone talks about, such as Middle Earth, Narnia, and Wizard of Earthsea, and loved and was influenced by them. But these two are less well known, it seems. I don't hear them mentioned as often, so I'm going to do it because I will always have a soft spot for them.

Cover to Swords and Ice Magic by Michael Whelan
The definitive portrait of Fafhrd & Mouser, IMO
Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series

To tie this into the swords theme, Fafhrd's is named Greywand and Mouser's is named Scalpel. However, Leiber did say that neither of them were fussy and these were just what they called whatever sword was in their hand.

I read all of the original collections: Swords and Deviltry, Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, The Swords of Lankhmar, Swords and Ice Magic, and I bought the final Knight and Knave of Swords when it came out in 1988.

Looking back with a more analytical eye, the world-building is on the catch-as-catch-can side. There are some sequences that will feel contrived to modern readers because they're old hat now. I don't know how old some of these tropes were when he put his imprint on them, but they're still getting dragged out today. But I still love these stories and I'm sure that Leiber's take on swashbuckling, magic, and story twists has influenced me. These stories are the fun side of high fantasy. Sometimes we forget about that part in the midst of all the ring quests and end-of-the-world prophecies.

Cover of Stormbringer,
another Michael Whelan classic.
Michael Moorcock's Elric saga

Stormbringer, the soul-eating sword. It's a powerful ethical dilemma: Elric needed the sword desperately to keep him strong, at the cost of the souls of those he killed. Purposefully and accidentally.

Looking through Wikipedia's listing, I may not have read the whole thing after all. It gets a little confusing. I can say for sure that I read Elric of Melnibone, Sailor on the Seas of Fate. Weird of the White Wolf, The Vanishing Tower, Bane of the Black Sword and Stormbringer. The series has a defininte, unarguable ending. How effective any further stories would be is up for debate... but I will track them down at some point.

Elric's story is very much a saga, full of melodrama, adventure and tragedy. The hero is conflicted, flawed and sometimes reluctant, caught in a fate that he tries to escape. If you're interested in fantasy anti-heroes, this is one of the classics.

In hindsight, you could say it's over-wrought. Moorcock admits he wrote them at a breakneck pace using a formula. The ending's a downer. And the author went on the beat this horse into the ground by way of crossovers and tie-ins to other series.

As with anything, your mileage may vary. But I hope you enjoy them.


mooderino said...

Two of my favourite series as a teenager. Very influential and just very cool.


The Golden Eagle said...

I've never heard of these series--I'll have to check them out!

Daniel R. Marvello said...

I enjoyed both series as well.

I cite Fritz Leiber as one of my writing influences because the earlier stories were more "low fantasy" (or what I now think of as Fantasy Adventure) than "high fantasy" (the fate of the entire universe is at stake...again).

I enjoyed the Elric series because I was suffering from teenage hormone poisoning at the time and was able to relate to the tragedy that was Elric's life.

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