Ever wonder where the term “Sword and Sorcery” came from?


Term Hashed in Fanzine “Amra”

Have you ever wonder where the sub genre we call “sword and sorcery” got its name? Fantasy has become a very broad field in fiction and there became a need for a name of the particular type of fantasy that authors such as Robert E. Howard wrote. These gritty tales told of rugged swordsmen fighting against insurmountable odds confronting dark magic, evil sorcerers, conniving witches, and greedy rulers. This form of fantasy featured able heroes launching into a lot of action, wild adventures, and bizarre encounters where even his great might is tested. In sword and sorcery, you don’t get a lot of child heroes or nerdy protagonists. What you get is a self-made alpha male who isn’t afraid of anything setting out to fulfill his own desires.

Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

There have been many who have created some great tomes in this sub genre. You have Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock just to name a few. These men brought us sword slinging adventures of the likes of Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Elric. But when did this genre actually get its name and how did it occur? I think the answer is found in a 1961 fanzine after British author Michael Moorcock proposed the term “epic fantasy”.

“I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!” –Fritz Leiber, Amra, July 1961

So there you have it, the birth of the term “sword and sorcery”, a term that has inspired a lot of us to continue the saga of brooding heroes in search of Arcadia.


– by J.Wade Harrell, author of Shadows of Siernod

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About J. Wade Harrell

A native of rural SW Oklahoma, I currently write swords and sorcery fiction which I publish in electronic format on Amazon. My interests and hobbies include shooting, riding motorcycles, fishing, watching college football, playing games, and most of all, spending as much time as possible with my better half, Kathy. I hope you enjoy my blog and that it might lead you into my fantastic worlds of swords and magic. -J. Wade Harrell
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