“Why sword and sorcery?”
That was the first question my editor, Wolfgang Bylsma, asked after I told him I wanted to do a series of four-page stories about a wily character named Talgard. Actually, if I’m honest, “where can we get a beer while we talk about this?” was his first question. But to be fair he had recently found out that his flight had been delayed four hours, and I was taking advantage of him being trapped in Brisbane.
These are the two best kinds of questions an editor can ask. One ends in beer. The other leads you to explore exactly what you’re trying to do with a story. Luckily for me, my subconscious had been exploring the reasons. All writers take what’s in their subconscious and put it on the page. Better writers understand what they’re doing and why. And like any good editor, Wolfgang was making me a better writer.
Everybody understands sword and sorcery. It’s a setting that people can’t help but have picked up an understanding of, just by virtue of being in society. Just like how everybody knows beer is better at an airport, where time-zones don’t exist. And when you’re trying to tell a story in four pages, you better be able to hit the ground running with your audience knowing the rules of your setting.
It’s a sandbox that lets you explore almost everything. From the epic to the intimate, from the ridiculous to the sublime. You can explore the savagery of a battle of muscle, sinew and blade, and then you can explore the emotional aftermath of the inevitable deaths. And then, when you’ve played in the sandbox to your hearts content, you can use sorcery to start thinking outside the box.
Sword and sorcery is a setting that lets you explore the fantastical elements of magic, and the very human elements of the people who wield it. The “what if”, and the “what is”.