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S&S Literary Sources

Started by Uncle Dark, January 08, 2002, 12:46:25 AM

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Uncle Dark

One of the things that (finally!) recieving &Sword did for me was get me reading Conan again.  I decided to revisit the stories that Ron picked as the best Conan stories (pg. 18).  I am inspired to comment:

"The Frost Giant's Daughter" is a perfect example of what "phantasmagoria" means.

"Rouges in the House" is my favorite for describing how a "typical" one-shot of Sorcerer and Sword might go.  Two kickers, one right after the other.  Bang! Murlino's bought guard is busted.  Bang! the killer dog and faithful servant are dead.  And so on.  Of course, the story came first, so my seeing the game "underneath" it is just a testament to how well &Sword models the genre.

"The Tower of the Elephant" is a good example of a non-sorcerer hero using sorcery.  It is also a good example of what can happen when you punish your demon too often.

"The Queen of the Black Coast" is good, but I must disagree with Ron where he gives this story as an example of Conan using sorcery (pg 41).  If sorcery must be consciously willed, and not accidental, then Conan did not summon Belit's ghost.  Read the bit where she intervenes in Conan's battle with the winged thing (pg 117 in my copy of Conan of Cimmeria).  He made no such effort.  

Rather, I'd say that Belit's swearing an oath that even death would not seperate them was a necromantic rite (enabling her to posthumously come to Conan's aid), though that is stretching it a bit.

More general commentary:
It occured to me that pulp fantasy (at least of the kind that inspired Ron) is existentialist fantasy.  Several things point to this:

[*]Themes of the hero having to make it without divine intervention,  as contrasted with (say) the Oddesey or Beowulf
[*]The absence or unconcern of the gods
[*]Emphasizing personal moral codes over societal codes, and critiquing moral codes which claim divine implementation or universal authority
[*]Focus of the heroes on the here-and-now, as opposed to worrying about some afterlife

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the horror elements (and the whole of Lovecraft's horror) are based in existential crisis.  What happens to the hero when faced with the meaninglessness and purposelessness of life?

Reality is what you can get away with.


Hey Lon,

I agree with you about the existentialist stuff.  Much of the pulp fantasy I've read - which admittedly is limited to Conan and Lovecraft (and the latter's many imitators) - is often about people searching for meaning in life.  Some find it (many of the fantasy heroes) and some don't (the horror protagonists).  I love that stuff, and all of the S&S stuff I can imagine (which has been alot lately) involves those sorts of themes.

- Moose

Ron Edwards

Hey guys,

You've nailed it on the existentialist issue, and in fact I think that Howard, Moore, and Leiber expressed a more interesting, vigorous, and grimly hopeful version of that philosophy through their stories than many of those who addressed it more overtly. [As for Lovecraft, I agree, but I'd put the real credit with Chambers thirty years before.]

The text in Sword alludes to this in the "aggressively modern fiction" phrase in Chapter Three, and it so happens that I just had some private email/phone conversations about it as well.

Necromancy in "Queen of the Black Coast" ... hmmm, OK, I'll buy that it's Belit who's the agent, not Conan. Love-as-sorcery works fine for me in that story, especially as directly opposed to the necromancy of the Winged One.

I'll say too, though, that the injunction in Sorcerer that sorcery must always be deliberate tends to break down in the sword-and-sorcery stories. I definitely play that concept a lot faster and looser, as compared to modern-world or other Sorcerer settings.


joshua neff

Having recently finished the first volume of White Wolf's Elric collection, I have to agree with Ron's giving Elric the "naive" flaw. Particularly in "Sailor on the Seas of Fate" & "When the Gods Laugh" (or whatever it's called), Elric comes off as very gullible, believing pretty much what anyone, not just those who claim to be in the cosmic know, says to him.

Which is great, because it gets him into all sorts of situations that need to be resolved. I love characters like that. I just found it somewhat amusing. "You're looking for this lost city? No, I don't believe it exists. But yeah, I'll come with you, even though I've only just met you."

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Ron Edwards

Hey Josh,

The Elric stories raise some interesting questions about "who" Elric is or how to address such a hero in role-playing.

The main problem is that, unlike Howard, Moorcock practiced revisionism and bowdlerization on himself in the span of the three decades of writing the character. As I described in a previous thread, we have three or four sets of stories:

1) The original glam-rock Hawkwind London drugs badass-nancy-boy stories - now published as Elric of Melnibone, some of the stories in The Weird of the White Wolf (notably the sacking of Melnibone, which is the first Elric story ever), and Stormbringer.

2) A whole bunch of filler written to connect the stories retroactively; most of this falls pretty flat to me, including the whole Theleb K'aarna sequence and the introduction of Zarozinia.

3) A whole bunch of stories and material injected into previously-written stories to hook Elric up to the Eternal Champion stuff, which Moorcock had now decided was his main thing. These are distinguished mainly by the tired convention of having Hero A in story 1 knowing Hero B because "they've met before," and then having Hero B being able to know Hero A the same way in story 2, because the heroes are not experiencing the stories in the same chronological order. Yawn. (He admits that this material crossed into self-parody along the way.)

4) All of the above comprise the first 6 books published by DAW in the late 70s, with those awesome Whelan covers. Much later, Moorcock wrote a few more Elric stories such as The Fortress of the Pearl, all of which seem very flat to me; Elric doesn't seem to do much except stand around and "be himself" for fan-appreciation purposes.

All this is foundational, as well, to the raft of pastiche written by fans, which has started cropping up about ten years ago.

So this brings me to Josh's comments. I agree about the naivete, obviously (it was my claim in the text), but the story in question is definitely in category #3. The naivete, in this case, is ramped up to the extent of Elric being, well, stupid, and it seems to me that the agenda of writing Eternal Champion stuff took over any agenda of writing an Elric story.


Gordon C. Landis

I haven't read Sword in depth yet, but I did read through the list of literary sources.  I wasn't sure whether to be amazed at how many I had read (Calagaich the Swordman!  I still have a copy somewhere . . .), or overwhelmed by how many I hadn't even heard of.  I have a somewhat mixed reaction to the works in general - Leiber is among my favorites, but I'd rather re-read one of the Eddings series (pick one, any one - they're interchangeable.  At least, so say my friends - having experienced this phenomena before, I read the one series - a reasonable read, nothing especially great or miserable, IMO - and haven't bothered with the others) than wade through "Jirel of Joiry" again.  Of course, I'm more likely to read a new Tim Powers or Gene Wolfe book anyway, but that's a different subject.

On Elric . . . good comments, and good guidance, IMO.  I'll just add that, even with the boring repetition of "don't I know you from somewhere?", I've always LOVED the "Eternal Champion" bits as an underlying theme in the various Moorcock stories.  Something about the grand metaphysical themes and allegories, the boat captain and the blind helmsman who are Man (or something like that . . . ) - even when it fails as literature, it succedes in intriguing me.  I've not yet suceded in creating that feel in an RPG - maybe Sword will provide pointers.

I've noticed a number of quoted works (the Skaith series comes to mind) that AREN'T listed in the sources section - intentional?  As in, I like the quote, but the book isn't "good" enough for the sources?  Or just a matter of a limited amount of space?  It's been a long time, but I think I remember enjoying those Skaith books immensely.

I guess that's what I have to say/ask about the sources in Sword . . .

Gordon (under construction)

Mike Holmes

I'm all about existentialism.

Quote from: hardcoremoose
Some find it (many of the fantasy heroes) and some don't (the horror protagonists).

Very true. Even when Conan is just wandering about from place to place, he isn't really lost. He's just wandering. He doesn't need a reason. For him wandering may be reason enough, or just being himself. That's why even being a King is only so interesting to him. After a while he just feels the need to go out and just be Conan again.

Lack of being able to come to grips with the existential nature of the universe is what gets the Lovecraftian protagonists in the end.

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Ron Edwards


A lot of ideas or concepts in Sword are illustrated nicely by other literature, and if I quoted from it, it's probably because I thought the work was good or interesting for some reason, just that the work wasn't precisely canonical to the source material. Thus The Reavers of Skaith isn't exactly a sorcerous type of story, but the quote in the main rules ("The hellish thing about the ritual is that it worked.") does provide a concept and an attitude that was perfect for the accompanying text.