Friday, October 21, 2011
Blood & Thunder Writing
Now, when I say “Old School” I am referring to a specific type of Sword & Sorcery writing that is slightly different than what is commonly seen these days. These stories were high on action and intrigue, with detailed descriptions of spilt entrails and split skulls. Typically, the protagonist is a warrior, often a barbarian or one with barbaric tendencies. Now this image should immediately draw in your mind Robert E. Howard’s Conan. And for good reason. REH is almost solely responsible for pulling this image from myths and legends (such as Beowulf) and planting him firmly in the minds of modern readers.
For decades, Conan was the archetype of this kind of hero, especially in the 60’s and 70’s after his resurgence in popularity thanks to the Lancer/Ace paperbacks. However, since Howard was long gone from this world, and unable to fill the need people suddenly had for more of this type of action-oriented fantasy, others were called upon. What ensued was a plethora of Conan knock-offs (some call them “Clonans”) seeing print. Gardner F. Fox’s Kyrik and Kothar, Lin Carter’s Thongor, and John Jakes’ Brak were some of the more noteworthy endeavors. Like the tales of Conan, these stories were filled with action, perpetrated by barbaric warriors. And they were wildly popular.
However, in recent times, the genre of S&S has undergone some changes. The plots have become more nuanced and detailed. The characters are often less brawny and more brainy. Many feel that the modern incarnation of S&S has more in common with High Fantasy (minus the elves and such). It could be argued that the older stories were able to support such linear plots and action-oriented characters due to their short lengths. The Clonans of the 70’s were often no more than 150 pages long, and usually much less. The novels of today generally range in the 300-350+ range. This gives the author a lot more room to explore various aspects of the characters, introduce subplots, and have more non-action storytelling.
The question becomes then, what do we call these quicker, more brutal stories? One term has been bandied about for some time, in various contexts, but is sometimes associated with S&S fiction. “Blood & Thunder.” According to Phrase Finder, the basic meaning is “An oath, alluding to mayhem and bloodshed.” Sounds pretty apt to me. And that may be why noted Robert E. Howard Scholar, Mark Finn used it as the title of his biography of the man.
There you go. In my mind, Blood & Thunder succinctly describes these stories of barbaric violence and mayhem. So, from now on, I will refer to such tales, including anything similar that I may write, as “Blood & Thunder Fiction.” No idea if it will catch on, but who cares? I know what I mean. And I’m sure that, in the context of any given conversation it comes up in, the listener/reader will probably know what I mean as well.
Now, the other question: Is there still a market for Blood & Thunder?