Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What Classic 'Sword & Sorcery' book should I read first?

It's another 'unspoken and unofficial New Year's Resolution' moment... :o) At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to read more books that I knew I'd get into quickly (life's too short sometimes and I want to read stuff that I know I'll enjoy) and 'Sword & Sorcery' is a subgenre that always comes up with the goods here. It's powerful, it's exciting and that's just what I'm after; a blast of a read that'll wake me up in the morning and give me enough energy to make it home, at the end of the day, without falling asleep on the train (I fell alseep on the train one time and ended up in Dartford instead of Lewisham, that had more to do with my being drunk than tired though...)

What to pick up first though? I've got three books that look like they could do the business but I've no idea which one to choose. I mean, they'll all be read eventually but I just need a little help to get going and that's where you all come in. Chose me a book to read from the following...


'Elric: Swords and Roses' (Michael Moorcock)

I've been enjoying these reissued editions of Elric's adventures as they've been a great way to fill in some of  the gaps in my reading (there are loads...) I haven't read 'The Revenge of the Rose' or 'Black Petals' and am looking forward to giving them a go. Should I pick this one up first or should I check out...


'The First Book of Lankhmar' (Fritz Leiber)

I might be making this up entirely but didn't Leiber coin the term 'Sword and Sorcery'? Whether he did or didn't, I haven't read this classic work and I've had a copy on the reading pile since before Christmas... It's about time I read this book but do I pick it up first or do I read...


'The Conan Chronicles Vol 1: The People of the Black Circle' (Robert E. Howard)

I've been enjoying the comics so it's more than about time I gave the original text a go. This is another book that's been sat on the pile since Christmas and I am resolved to actually read books that I buy this year dammit!

Which one do you think I should read first? Have I messed up entirely and chosen three books that aren't 'Sword and Sorcery' at all? Whatever it is, leave me a comment next to this post :o) The book that has the most votes by Saturday evening will be the book that I start reading (amongst others of course) on Sunday morning...

21 comments:

Jessica said...

Conan please.

Peter Andrew Leonard said...

Robert E. Howard :)

noothergods said...

I have to agree with the previous posters, when Conan is an option most everything else should take second seat.

Antonakis said...

I would also go for Conan. I have read the other two and they are certainly great classic sword & sorcery as you so aptly put it in the title. But since I haven't read any Conan tales or Howard in general, I would prefer that you read that one so I can read the review afterwards! :)

Salt-Man Z said...

According to the intro to Swords & Dark Magic, it was Moorcock who coined the term in 1961.

I haven't read the other guys yet, but Robert E. Howard's stuff is fantastic, and arguably more important. Go there first.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I'm for Fritz Lieber. I just found a couple of his used and I'm interesting to see your take first. :) You could let me know if I should go on, take one for the team, you know.

Kurt Busiek said...

Conan. But get the Del Rey editions for an even better reading experience.

Erin Hartshorn said...

I must disagree with everyone else -- go for Lieber. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser simply can't be topped.

redhead said...

I vote for the Moorcock. Just make sure you start at the beginning.

Vins said...

I read all three and I would also go for Conan, if what you're looking for is pulpy action for the train ride :) (not that there's not plenty of other good qualities to those stories but they are from the golden age of pulp fantsy and that's what they deliver the best).
Moorcock and Leiber come in significantly later (first Fafrd and Grey Mouser story was published in the '30s but most of the work is from '60s and '70s, as are most of the Elric stories) and they approach the genre a little bit differently, with more subtextual, and even metatextual, references and we could say even general thoughtfulness.
And Conan as a character is of course a little bit simpler and more straightforward the Elric or Leiber's heroes. But that is exactly why I would choose him :) While I love reading all three of the authors I find that both Moorcock and Leiber demand more attention and they also tend to leave a bit of a bitter, melancholy "aftertaste".

hippogriff said...

I nominate Elric. Conan stories are a bit repetitive. Lankhmar is ok, but a little too farcical for me (though that didn't stop me from reading the whole series).

B.T.
hippogriff.wordpress.com

martin said...

Lankhmar, Leiber is a better and more varied writer than Howard

Anonymous said...

Fritz all the way.

Harry Connolly said...

Yeah. REH is the one to start with, but the Leiber is fantastic.

Mimouille said...

I haven't read Conan. Moorcock is clearly my favorite of the other two...Elric is unlike anything else you will read...so dreamlike.

Leiber is a fantastic writer, beyond anything most modern writters are capable of. The Lankhmar series is enjoyable thanks to its characters, but is just a series of novellas / short stories and not all are very interesting in my opinion.

Taranaich said...

Conan, of course. You have the dual advantage of it being first chronologically, and also some of the best.

However, be very wary with the Fantasy Masterworks version, since it puts the stories in an artificial chronology. This means some of the more repetitive stories are lumped together, when there would've been months or even years between their initial publication.

If you can, get the Del Reys: they present the stories in written order, which fortuitously split the superior and inferior stories across the series. With Fantasy Masterworks, nearly all the mediocre Conan stories are in the first volume, with the second volume almost entirely consisting of the best stories.

After that, I'd go for Leiber, but as with the Conan volumes, they're arranged weirdly so that "The Snow-Women" is the first story. It's also one of the very worst, apparently, which is why I've been so slow getting to them.

Leave Elric for last, not due to perceived lack of quality, but because I believe one gets the most out of Elric when one has read the classics of Sword-and-Sorcery first. See it being built by Howard, then see it disintegrate by Moorcock, so to speak.

Oh, and Leiber is credited as the creator of the term "Swords-and-Sorcery."

David said...

Go for Fritz Lieber. I'm reading that one at the moment and I'm interested to know your take.

Anonymous said...

"According to the intro to Swords & Dark Magic, it was Moorcock who coined the term in 1961."

Not quite, here's from the Wikipedia entry for S&S:

"The term was first coined in 1961 when the British author Michael Moorcock published a letter in the fanzine Amra, demanding a name for the sort of fantasy-adventure story written by Robert E. Howard. He had initially proposed the term "epic fantasy". However, the celebrated American sword and sorcery author Fritz Leiber replied in the journal Ancalagon (6 April 1961) suggesting "sword-and-sorcery as a good popular catchphrase for the field". He expanded on this in the July 1961 issue of Amra, commenting:

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)"

C.B.

AuthorJack said...

I would have a hard time choosing between the Conan and the Lankhmar, but I think I'd lean toward Conan.

irradiated_pig said...

Fritz Leiber.

The Snow Women was just fine.

Heloise said...

They're all three of them great stuff, and you definitely should read them all. For starting out though, seeing as Conan is to Sword & Sorcery what Lord of the Rings is to High Fantasy, I'd recommend the Howard. He's the founding figure of the genre, and everything else measures up to him in one way or another.