Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book cover: "Swords & Sorcery" (Pyramid Books, 1963)

  • Title: Swords & Sorcery
  • Subtitle: Action, magic, enchantment — eight novelettes by masters of heroic fantasy
  • Editor: L. Sprague de Camp (1907-2000)
  • Cover and interior illustrator: Virgil Finlay (1914-1971)
  • Publisher: Pyramid Books (R-950)
  • Year: 1963 (First printing, December 1963)
  • Cover price: 50 cents
  • Pages: 186
  • Format: Paperback
  • Notes: This nifty paperback was published 53 years ago, the month after the assassination of JFK. ... Annoyingly (to me, anyway), the front cover states the title as Swords & Sorcery, with an ampersand, while the spine, back cover, title page and copyright page state it as Swords and Sorcery. ... The eight tales were penned by Poul Anderson, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, which is a great lineup. Four tales feature swordsmen — Conan, Fafhrd, Prince Raynor and Jirel of Joiry. And the other four tales feature sorcerers — Ghiar, Alaric, Knygathin Zhaum and Hlo-Hlo (an evil spider with a silly name, created by Dunsany). ... L. Sprague de Camp makes it abundantly clear in his introduction that these tales serve one primary purpose:
    "The purpose of these stories is neither to teach the problems of the steel industry, nor to expose the defects in our foreign-aid program, nor yet to air the problems of the housewife. It is to entertain. ... They furnish the purest fun to be found in fiction today."
    (De Camp like that last phrase. He used it at least once more, in the introduction to 1968's Conan of the Isles.) ... According to Fletcher Vredenburgh, writing on Black Gate, this 1963 volume was the first anthology that consisted purely of sword and sorcery tales. In his excellent post, Vredenburgh adds:
    "Swords & Sorcery is an excellent primer on the formative stage of heroic fiction, containing a sample by every major author of the field’s youth, from Lord Dunsany to Fritz Leiber. It’s not a perfect collection, but if you want to see where the genre comes from this is about as good an introduction as I know."
    The good news is that this book can be purchased very inexpensively, if you're interested. As of this writing, there are a couple one-penny copies on Amazon, waiting to be snatched up.

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