Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weird Tales Books

Swords & Sorcery edited by L. Sprague de Camp

Weird Tales was a pioneer in the sub-genre of fantasy known as heroic fiction, or as in the title of a 1963 collection from Pyramid Books, sword and sorcery. The magazine's chief practitioner of heroic fiction--and arguably the inventor of the sub-genre as most know it today--was Robert E. Howard. His principal character was of course Conan the Cimmerian, that "dark-haired, sullen-eyed" swordsman from before the last glaciation. Other authors of heroic fiction included Clark Ashton Smith and C.L. Moore, creator of the first heroic female protagonist, Jirel of Joiry. The editor of Swords & Sorcery was that bur-under-the-blanket of all Howard and Lovecraft fans, L. Sprague de Camp. De Camp was known to have written a few sword and sorcery tales in his own time. He also authored a study of figures in the field, entitled--what else--Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Arkham House, 1976).

Swords & Sorcery collects eight stories, half of which are from Weird Tales. Those four weird tales are from the 1930s, what you might call the golden age (or perhaps the only age) of heroic fiction in the magazine of the same name. By 1940, Howard and Lovecraft were in their graves, while C.L. Moore had moved on to other markets. Only Clark Ashtom Smith remained, though he wrote considerably less for Weird Tales than he had in the '30s. I think I read that Dorothy McIlwraith didn't care for heroic fiction, hence Fritz Leiber was forced to look elsewhere for a publisher of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. Henry Kuttner, who had taken up the mantle after Howard's death (and infused a little Lovecraft into his stories) sold stories to Dorothy McIlwraith's Weird Tales, but like his new wife--that same C.L. Moore--found other markets during the 1940s.

De Camp wrote an introduction to Swords & Sorcery as a whole and to each story. Virgil Finlay's illustrations appear on the cover and in the interior.

Swords & Sorcery edited by L. Sprague de Camp
(Pyramid, 1963, 186 pp.)
"Introduction: Heroic Fantasy" by L. Sprague de Camp
"The Valor of Cappen Varra" by Poul Anderson (Fantastic Universe Science Fiction, Jan. 1957)
"Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweler" by Lord Dunsany (The Sketch, date unknown; The Book of Wonder, 1912)
"Shadows in the Moonlight" by Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, Apr. 1934)
"The Citadel of Darkness" by Henry Kuttner (Strange Stories, Aug. 1939)
"When the Sea King's Away" by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, May 1960)
"The Doom That Came to Sarnath" by H.P. Lovecraft (Marvel Tales, Mar.-Apr. 1935; reprinted in Weird Tales, June 1938)
"Hellesgarde" by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, Apr. 1939)
"The Testament of Athammaus" by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, Oct. 1932)

Swords & Sorcery (Pyramid Books R-950, 1963), with cover art and interior illustrations by Virgil Finlay.
Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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