Conan Poster Crop

The Sword and Sorcery Movies You Have to See

Okay, okay, I admit it – I’m a sword and sorcery nerd. I can’t help it. I was raised on a steady diet of Dungeons and Dragons, pulp sword and sorcery novels and old school 80s movies about muscle-bound heroes tracking down evil wizards.

Sure, it can be a little cliché from time to time, and the special effects on some of those older movies haven’t aged so well, but that’s where a lot of the charm comes from. As long as you don’t go in expecting a 2020 Hollywood blockbuster from a movie that’s potentially as old or older than you are, you should be fine.

I love sword and sorcery, but I’d forgotten just how much I loved it until I started re-watching all of my old favourites to write this article. As with most genres, as long as you go in with the right expectations, there’s a lot to love. You wouldn’t go into a western expecting serious questions about life and philosophy, and the same holds true with sword and sorcery. If you do get it, it’s an added bonus.

And so without further ado, let’s dive on in and take a look at just a few of the sword and sorcery movies that you’ll want to check out.

The Sword and Sorcery Movies You Have to See

1.      Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

This epic movie is arguably the fore-runner of sword and sorcery despite not technically being an example of the genre. Still, it’s a stunning take on Greek mythology and offers up everything from hydras and giant metal gods to the iconic stop-motion skeletons that pursue Jason’s crew towards the end of the movie. It still holds up nearly 60 years on and there’s a reason why it’s often cited as one of the greatest movies ever made.

2.      Hawk the Slayer (1980)

For some reason, when I think of sword and sorcery, I think of America. This one bucks the trend though, because the project was helmed by a British director. It follows the intertwined stories of two brothers who find themselves pitted against one another in a pretty standard sword and sorcery tale of revenge, betrayal and, of course, a magical sword.

3.      Excalibur (1981)

This American epic has managed to stand the test of time for nearly forty years and still remains a firm fan favourite, which is impressive considering it tackles the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which have been done to death. Plenty of other, similar movies have been made since then, but Excalibur is the closest to true sword and sorcery and it’s also responsible for launching the careers of Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne and Ciaran Hinds, amongst others.

4.      Conan the Barbarian (1982)

You can’t really talk about sword and sorcery movies without mentioning Conan the Barbarian, because as well as helping to establish Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Hollywood celebrity, it also singlehandedly ushered in the science fiction boom of the 1980s. Created by Robert E. Howard, Conan is arguably the most well-known and influential sword and sorcery character of all time, the benchmark that other characters are measured against.

5.      The Beastmaster (1982)

I grew up on this movie and so perhaps I’m a little biased because of its sentimental value. I also haven’t heard anyone else ever talk about it, which is a shame because it’s a cracker. Marc Singer plays a muscle-bound warrior called Dar who can communicate with animals – and who can also kick some butt when he’s wielding his sword. Also starring a fresh-faced Rip Torn who plays antagonist high priest Maax, it wasn’t a commercial success but gained a lot of notoriety after repeats on network and cable television.

6.      The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)

This one’s a classic and so the chances are that you’ve already seen it. Still, if you’ve missed this tale of a mercenary with a unique sword rediscovering his destiny, it’s not too late to make up for it and to see what the fuss is about. It’s probably the closest we’ve come on this list to pure, unadulterated sword and sorcery.

7.      Deathstalker (1983)

This movie is another strange one because it was produced in a sort of Pan-American partnership between Americans and Argentinians. That’s why you might have heard of this one under the title Cazador de Muerte. Whichever language you watch it in, you’re sure to enjoy the action sequences, and if you enjoy it you’re in luck because there are four other movies in the series.

8.      Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Basically everyone agrees that this movie was nowhere near as good as the first one, but I’m biased because it’s the first one that I saw and it reminds me of my childhood. Sure, there was more of a focus on the Hollywood side of things than on classic sword and sorcery, but it’s a Conan movie and so you also have no excuse to miss it. Even the 2011 remake is worth a watch, although it’s easily the worst of the lot.

9.      Red Sonja (1985)

You might be noticing a bit of a theme here. This Dutch-American sword and sorcery movie starred Brigitte Nielsen in the titular role as another of Robert E. Howard’s iconic creations. It takes place in the same fictitious universe as the Conan movies and featured Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role, and while it might not have been as commercially or critically well-received, it’s still well worth a watch.

10.  Masters of the Universe (1987)

This is the movie version of the iconic TV show in which He-Man goes up against the evil Skeletor. At its heart, it’s sword and sorcery at its purest, although it’s better for the nostalgia value these days than it is as an actual standalone movie. It’s worth a watch just to see Dolph Lundgren kicking some butt, and the sword and sorcery elements are an added bonus.

11.  The Princess Bride (1987)

This cult movie, along with the William Goldman novel that inspired it, has proved to be impossible to categorise. It’s a romantic comedy, a straight up fantasy, an epic tale of adventure and, yes, “a sly parody of sword and sorcery movies” according to film critic Roger Ebert. If you’re a sword and sorcery purist then it might not be for you, but if you have a sense of humour then give it a shot. Plus there’s that epic swordfight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black.

12.  Willow (1988)

Willow is often thought of as a straight up children’s fantasy movie, and it’s certainly true that there are elements of that. At the same time though, there’s plenty of sword fighting with a little magic sprinkled in, and it also cuts right to the heart of classic sword and sorcery with a storyline that follows an unlikely hero fighting against a tyrannical ruler. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a cult classic for a reason.

13.  Kull the Conqueror (1997)

This was originally supposed to be a third Conan movie, but Arnie didn’t fancy reprising his role and so the studio execs turned instead to another one of Robert E. Howard’s iconic characters. Honestly, there’s not a whole heap to say about this one and it could easily be forgotten, although it does star Kevin Sorbo, the actor who played Hercules, in his first big screen role.

14.  13th Warrior (1999)

Another one based on a novel?! This one was based on Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, which itself is a retelling of the legend of Beowulf. This one’s as close as you can get to classic sword and sorcery without just rewatching a Conan movie, so it’s definitely one to take a look at if you’ve missed it so far. It stars Omar Sharif and Antonio Banderas and has the dubious claim to fame of being one of the biggest box office flops in history, but I blame that on the marketing.

15.  Dungeons and Dragons (2000)

You can’t write a list like this without talking about this movie version of the iconic role playing game. This doesn’t do much to buck the trend of bad movies of video games and board games, but it’s far from the worst of them and it’s a notable entry into the sword and sorcery canon just by virtue of the name attached to it. Just don’t bother with the sequels.

16.  The Scorpion King (2002)

This movie’s a little unusual because despite it being a spin-off of the Mummy movies, it’s different in both tone and genre. Here, there’s a lot less humour and a lot more magic and mayhem, and you also get to see The Rock as a gigantic scorpion. It’s the kind of movie that’s best enjoyed for its spectacle and you might even enjoy it more if you keep your brain switched off, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

17.  Beowulf (2005)

This second retelling of Beowulf is probably my favourite of the two, mainly because it stars both Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgård, which virtually guarantees that it’ll be worth a watch. Produced in a joint effort between Canadians and Icelanders, it was filmed on location in Iceland, which gives it a truly epic feel that none of the other films in this list can compete with without the use of CGI.

18.  300 (2006)

Expect more swords than sorcery here and not a huge amount in the way of mythical creatures, but the battle scenes alone make this movie more than worth a watch. The epic tale of 300 Spartans taking on the might of the entire Persian army became an instant fan favourite as soon as it came out, and it also sparked a bunch of memes and cemented the phrase “this is Sparta!” in popular culture.

19.  Solomon Kane (2009)

This more modern instalment in the sword and sorcery canon got stuck in development hell, with filming starting eleven years after the rights were secured. Solomon Kane is another Robert E. Howard creation and so if you like Conan or Kull, you’ll like Solomon Kane. Planned as the first movie in a trilogy, this was a combined effort between French, Czech and British production companies. The main reason why this one is worth checking out is that it shows us what sword and sorcery can look like through a more modern lens.

20.  Black Death (2010)

Arguably more relevant now in the coronavirus era than it was when it was first released, this movie follows an outbreak of the bubonic plague in which there are reports that people are coming back to life. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean (no spoilers as to whether he dies or not here!), it’s got a bit of everything from sword and sorcery to historical fiction and flat-out horror. There’s something for everyone, though it’s not exactly family friendly.



Of course, these are just a few of my recommendations, and there are plenty more fantastic films out there for you to choose from. Use this list as a starting point and then build out from it, and start renting a few of the movies that have caught your eye in this post.

One of the beauties of today’s artificial intelligence era is that algorithms get better and better as they’re exposed to more and more data. In other words, a machine learning algorithm that recommends fantasy movies will quickly get better at recommending movies specifically for you than any human being could hope for.

That means that once you log into your streaming site of choice and start checking out some of the sword and sorcery movies that are on offer, they’ll be able to figure out what you like and what you don’t like and to make suggestions accordingly. They can also trawl through their archives to find obscure recommendations that you might have missed. 

But that doesn’t mean we mere humans can’t share recommendations and keep the discussion going, which is why I want to hear from you. Be sure to let me know in the comments what some of your sword and sorcery movies are. I can’t wait to get stuck in and to watch them.

First, though, I’m off to re-watch The Beastmaster.

Article Written by Dane Cobain for Epiphany Entertainment

Copyright ©Epiphany Entertainment 2020

Serpent Priest

Sword & Sorcery the link to Science Fiction

Science fiction and fantasy go hand-in-hand, to the point at which we often use the term SFF to refer to anything that has elements of either sci-fi or fantasy. In fact, before we go any further, we should probably take a quick look at what the two terms mean:

Science fiction is a type of exploratory fiction in which the emphasis is on exploring ideas that are made possible through the advancement of science. It often includes futuristic technologies or highly evolved versions of our own existing tech. Many people credit Mary Shelley with creating the science fiction genre by penning Frankenstein, and they have a point. At the very least, it’s a major influence.

Fantasy focusses more on magic, fantastic creatures, chosen ones and dark lords. If Frankenstein is the first sci-fi story, the first fantasy stories were the old legends that Greeks and Romans told around fireplaces. One of the easiest ways to tell whether a story is science fiction or fantasy is to look at what’s powering the world. If it’s magic, it’s fantasy, and if it’s technology, it’s science fiction. If it’s somewhere in between, it’s probably steampunk.

Steampunk is a type of hard science fiction which often taps into elements of Victorian England and the steam revolution. As opposed to traditional science fiction, steampunk is more grounded in older technology evolving down different paths, usually incorporating a certain level of historical fiction. It’s science fiction, but with a twist.

Perhaps the father of steampunk is Jules Verne, and indeed his forward-thinking science fiction novels are unlike anything else that was produced at the time. It’s possible that the reason that steampunk is so closely associated with Victorian society and steam power is that Verne was the pioneer and those were the times he was living in. It’s also fascinating to see that his work predated the arrival of more easily available global travel and submarines, amongst other things.

And then there’s sword and sorcery, which is a subset of fantasy which typically involves a rough-and-ready hero who’s skilled with a sword and who has some sort of personal journey to go on. In contrast to epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings, where the fate of the whole realm hangs in the balance, sword and sorcery heroes are often pursuing personal vengeance or some other vendetta.

And so at first, it might seem as though there isn’t much that sci-fi and sword and sorcery have in common. But bear with me! As you’ll come to see from the rest of this article, the two genres have a surprising number of similarities, and while they’ve evolved separately, they’ve followed a surprisingly similar path.

For example, steampunk and sword and sorcery are unlikely cousins of a sort. Both have evolved as offshoots of their primary genres, and both tend to be more character and world-driven then epic in scope with big questions about life and existence.

Epic fantasy tends to focus on the battle between good and evil. Steampunk is more likely to be a though experiment, a big “what if?” that shows us what could have been. A sword and sorcery novel will probably follow a buff guy with a sword who’s out for revenge.


Getting Gritty With It

One thing that much science fiction and sword and sorcery have in common is that they display a similar level of grittiness. They’re very much grounded in realism, even when it seems as though they’re taking place somewhere alien to our own world.

For example, science fiction places a heavy emphasis on our own scientific progress. Even the most futuristic spaceships need to adhere to what we know about gravity and physics, unless the author can think of a decent workaround. In fact, what makes science fiction great is its plausibility, and this comes from the attention to detail and the integration of known scientific concepts.

Sword and sorcery doesn’t really have to worry about physics too much, but because of its inherent grittiness, there are other factors to consider. For example, fictional monsters need to be grounded in reality if they’re to seem believable, and if you’re describing a centaur as it runs and you haven’t done your research, you can bet that a keen horseman somewhere will spot it.

The same holds true during combat. The author needs to get every single thrust and parry just right, but they also need to have a working knowledge of tactics and first aid. If a hero’s wound becomes infected, we need to see the consequences as they struggle to deal with it. It might not always be pleasant to write or to read about, but it’s real.  


Space Operas and Fantasy

Let’s take a moment here to talk about space operas, the subcategory of science fiction that deals with more complex political themes and the relationships between characters just as much as it deals with science fiction itself.

Perhaps the most famous example of the space opera is Frank Herbert’s Dune, a novel which is still growing in influence all these years later. I actually have a tattoo that reads “Fear is the mind-killer”, a quote from the Fear litany. Dune has been a major inspiration on everything from Star Wars to George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, and that alone is a great indication of the genre’s crossover appeal.

Sword and sorcery rarely has the same high politics, but it does still have the same focus on interpersonal relationships. In fact, our heroes can rarely go it alone, and they’ll typically have to rely on an ever-evolving cast of supporting characters, as well as their wits and diplomacy skills. The best sword and sorcery heroes often rely on their swords as a backup plan instead of immediately reaching for a blade as the solution to every situation.

If space operas are the science fiction equivalent of epic fantasy, steampunk is the science fiction equivalent or sword and sorcery. And there’s a good reason why the two of them evolved hand-in-hand: pulp.



Pulp magazines were a phenomenon of the early 20th century that were the time period’s equivalent to blogs and fanzines. Typically printed in cheap paper (hence the name), pulp books and magazines were designed to be as widely available as possible, cutting down on production costs to pass those savings on to the reader.

Arguably the largest and most iconic pulp brand was the long-running magazine Weird Tales, which was the first to publish H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories. Lovecraft himself was occasionally known to blur the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction, although he can hardly be credited as a traditional sword and sorcery writer. The first issue of Weird Tales was published in early 1922 and the magazine has been published on and off ever since, depending upon various licensing agreements.

Our very own Robert E. Howard was also a regular contributor, and his Conan and Kull stories have been true icons within the genre. It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance that Weird Tales has had within the development of both sword and sorcery and science fiction. It’s quite a remarkable achievement, considering that it’s believed that the magazine never exceeded a circulation of 50,000 copies.

For the purposes of this article, though, we’re interested in the way that Weird Tales and other publications of its ilk were able to act as a melting pot of influences. Where else would fantasy writers be exposed to important scientific concepts, and where else would science fiction be introduced to legends and mythology?

The popularity of pulp, which was more of an unconscious movement driven by necessity than anything else, is arguably the single biggest thing that cemented science fiction and fantasy together in the public consciousness. And if you think of literary genres as organisms which constantly evolve over time, the pulp publications were their habitats.

You could argue that without the convergence of sword and sorcery and science fiction, we wouldn’t have Star Wars. After all, Jedi knights are basically sword-wielding magicians with a little religion thrown in, and the alien life forms aren’t too dissimilar to fantasy creatures. True, most people would categorise it as a space opera as opposed to a sword and sorcery movie, but as we’ve seen, there’s often a lot of crossover.


Sci-Fi and Sword and Sorcery in the 21st Century

As for what’s next for both science fiction and sword and sorcery, it’s really anyone’s game. Arguably the biggest sci-fi success of the last few years has been The Martian, a novel by Andy Weir that was also turned into a successful Hollywood movie. As for sword and sorcery, it’s mostly gone underground, although elements of it have been repurposed and popularised by the more modern genre of grimdark fantasy.

This type of fantasy is characterised by darker, more brutally realistic writing, elements of which are most obvious in works like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the TV show that was based upon it. The interesting thing about grimdark fantasy is that despite having many of the elements of sword and sorcery, it also borrows from epic fantasy and other genres. And that includes science fiction, which is a clear influence on many of the “hard” magic systems that grimdark fantasy taps into.

So both sword and sorcery and science fiction have bright futures ahead of them, although not necessarily in the way that we might think. It’s fascinating to look at where sword and sorcery came from and where it is today, but that gives us no guarantees of what we can expect tomorrow.



As you’ve seen from this article, science fiction and sword and sorcery have a lot in common, but they also have their differences. That’s a good thing, because it means that while both genres are evolving independently, they’re also evolving in parallel. One genre can learn from another, and it’s us – the readers – who benefit.

So if you’re a die-hard science fiction reader who’s always steered clear of sword and sorcery, or even if you’re a sword and sorcery fan who’s never tried sci-fi, perhaps it’s time to give it a shot. As you can see, there’s a lot of crossover between the two, but there are also a bunch of new and exciting stories because what works for one genre won’t necessarily work for the other.

Are you a sword and sorcery and/or science fiction fan? What do you think about the crossover between the two genres? Be sure to leave us a comment to let us know what you think!

Article Written by Dane Cobain for Epiphany Entertainment

Copyright ©Epiphany Entertainment 2020

Cover of Beyond the Black Sea

The Sword and Sorcery Genre

Sword and sorcery has been a mainstay of the fantasy genre since… well, pretty much forever. Part of the reason for that is that it lends itself so well to the common trends and tropes that fantasy readers are used to, and in many ways it cuts right to the heart of what makes fantasy so great in the first place.

But what exactly is sword and sorcery? Well, as a general rule, the term is used to refer to the sub-genre of fantasy in which physical combat and magic play a defining role in the story. If the main character is a club-wielding barbarian and he has a wily magician friend who’s skilled in the arts of battle magic, it’s a good sign that you’re reading sword and sorcery.

Of course, there are elements of this in other types of fantasy, from grimdark and high fantasy to YA and even science fiction/fantasy hybrids. The difference tends to be that with sword and sorcery, a much higher emphasis is placed on the battles and the magic as opposed to politics or wider questions of society and morality.

In some circles, even this isn’t enough of a definition, and there are plenty of works out there that blur the boundaries between sword and sorcery and other genres. That’s why in today’s article, we’ll be clearing up a little confusion around the genre of sword and sorcery while giving you a few pointers of where to look if you want to dip your sandaled toes into the genre.


The Origins of Sword and Sorcery

Ever since its early days, sword and sorcery has been characterised by its fast-paced action and its fantastic, mythological framework. It differs from epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings in that in sword and sorcery, we’re usually following the fate of an individual as opposed to the fate of the world. In the Conan books, we follow the Cimmerian as he tries to regain his throne. In the Lord of the Rings, we follow a fellowship as it attempts to save Middle Earth. There’s a big – and important – difference.

The genre itself evolved from a mixture of Greek and Roman legends and the tales of epic bravery told by many Victorian writers, such as The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas and even the Brigadier Gerard tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And both Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith were said to have been inspired by the Arabian Nights.

Its early origins go hand-in-hand with the history of pulp magazines, which were the historical equivalents of blogs and fanzines. Printed cheaply on low-quality paper, pulp magazines helped counterculture authors to buck the literary mainstream. This helped sword and sorcery to develop as a niche genre, and it also helped to establish the success of other trends like the weird fiction movement spearheaded by H. G. Wells.

One of the interesting things about sword and sorcery is how often its characters inhabit morally grey areas. This is important, because it makes them much more fully-rounded and believable than some goody-two-shoes protagonist who never puts a step wrong. It also makes them more realistic.

In The Worm Ouroboros, which is named after the Greek symbol of a snake eating its own tail to represent infinity, E. R. Eddison’s flawed heroes echo the real-life figure of Alexander the Great, who wept when he realised that he had no more lands to conquer. Eddison investigates the nature of infinity by having the gods restore the heroes’ enemies so that they can endlessly fight the same war over and over again.

Beyond The Black Sea Art
This is an Artwork done for some of Beyond the Black Seas Saga covers.

Key Figures of Sword and Sorcery

You can’t talk about sword and sorcery without talking about Robard E. Howard. Howard is something of a tragic figure who committed suicide at the age of 30 and who experienced his greatest commercial success after his death. During his lifetime, most of his work was published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales. His first published novel, A Gent from Bear Creek, came out the year after his death. His most famous characters are Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conqueror.

Even the name “sword and sorcery” relates back to Howard, after authors Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock corresponded by letter in the pages of a science fiction fanzine to identify possible names for the genre of fantasy that Howard’s work characterises. This makes Howard’s work so archetypal that it doesn’t just fit into the genre – it helps to define it.

Another key figure is Gary Gygax, although he has a claim to fame that goes above and beyond his (actually not too bad) sword and sorcery novels. Gygax is the creator of Dungeons and Dragons, the iconic role-playing game, and there’s an argument to be made that most D&D campaigns can be classed as sword and sorcery too, as far as a game can have its genre compared to a style of literature.

Dungeons and Dragons gave birth to its own expanded universe called Forgotten Realms in which a number of interlinked stories are all set in the same world. If you ever played the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale video games, you’ve experienced the Forgotten Realms. One of the most well-known Forgotten Realms authors is R. A. Salvatore, and indeed he made his name with it before going on to achieve critical acclaim in his own right.

The genre has even been parodied, perhaps most notably by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series with Cohen the Barbarian. Pratchett took the idea of these muscle-bound, thick-skulled warriors and asked the question of what would happen when they started to get older. The result? A stereotypical sword and sorcery hero, except he’s also an old-age pensioner who likes his home comforts.

And we’ve still only scratched the surface! Other key sword and sorcery authors include:

  • L. Moore
  • Charles Saunders
  • Clark Ashton Smith
  • Darrell Schweitzer
  • R. Eddison
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Gardner Fox
  • Gary Gygax
  • Gene Wolfe
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Karl Edward Wagner
  • Sprague de Camp
  • Leigh Brackett
  • Michael Moorcock
  • A. Salvatore
  • Robert E. Howard
  • Robert Lynn Asprin
  • Samuel R. Delany
  • Scott Lynch
  • Stephen R. Donaldson
  • Steven Erikson
  • Tanith Lee
  • Terry Pratchett (sort of but not really, though he’s heavily influenced by it)

You’ll notice that several of these authors are also known for writing science fiction, as well as other genres. Science fiction and fantasy go hand-in-hand, and we’ll be taking a closer look at how science fiction has influenced sword and sorcery in a future article.

Sword and Sorcery’s Impact on Popular Culture

Despite being seen by many as a cult genre, sword and sorcery has had a huge impact on the field of literature and indeed on popular culture as a whole. It’s gone from being a niche interest for geeks and nerds to being something that the mainstream can laugh and joke about. You just have to look at the recent (ish) Conan remake to see that there’s a demand for it.

It’s also interesting to see how the genre has evolved over time to reflect wider societal concerns. Sure, there’s the stereotype of the buxom female protagonist who’s scantily clad in battle armour, but there are also some truly thoughtful takes on feminist sword and sorcery. Girls can kick butt in battle too, and there’s also a rising generation of female sword and sorcery authors who are boosting the genre today like Ursula Le Guin did for feminist science fiction back in the 70s.

The genre has even led to several spinoff genres, most notably Chinese wuxia. Meaning “martial heroes” in English, Wuxia is sword and sorcery mixed with martial arts, like if Conan was a kickboxer. The genre has taken on such popularity that it’s spread throughout the world amongst Chinese-speakers, and now there are even wuxia inspired video games. What’s interesting is that the protagonists are often called “swordsmen” even if they don’t actually wield a sword.

Unfortunately, there’s also a risk that sword and sorcery will become a self-parody. During the boom of the eighties, novelists and film-makers rushed to the genre in the hope of attaining commercial success. Unfortunately, not everything to come out of this period was worth reading – or watching. Because of that, sword and sorcery fell out of favour again.

The challenge for modern writers has been to work against the clichés and the public perception and to breathe fresh air into the genre. Fortunately for us, the readers, there’s a new breed of sword and sorcery writers as well as revised interest from across the board. There might not be many people out there who only write sword and sorcery, but there are plenty who dabble with it alongside other genres.

With that said, there are few modern authors who work exclusively with sword and sorcery. Instead, today’s fantasy writers are like chefs who mix different ingredients together to create new dishes. Sword and sorcery is a spice and just like any spice, it can form the basis of a dish but it can also be overused.

Which brings us to the present day, where sword and sorcery has evolved and been incorporated into so-called “grimdark” fantasy, of which George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is arguably the best example. Grimdark fantasy mixes sword and sorcery aspects with elements of high and epic fantasy to create something “darker” and “grimmer”.

This is sword and sorcery growing up. The end of the boom of the eighties was marked by sword and sorcery dumbing down and being repackaged into kids TV shows and cartoons. Its resurgence in the new millennium is accompanying a shift towards darker, more grown-up sword and sorcery. The genre has finally come of age.



What’s Next for Sword and Sorcery?

Some SFF pundits think that sword and sorcery is dead, or at the very least that it’s no longer relevant. These are the same people who use the term in a derogatory manner, as if to suggest that their taste in literary genres is somehow objectively better than everyone else’s.

This elitist approach isn’t good for anyone, but it’s also a shame because it can put readers off the genre before they even get a chance to explore it. Come to think of it, half of the critics haven’t explored it either, or at the very least they haven’t read a sword and sorcery novel that was published in the last ten years.

With that said, it’s certainly true that sword and sorcery witnessed a decline in the 1990s and 2000s after the hype and the heights of the 80s, which were helped out by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan films. Arnie also starred opposite Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja, another movie based upon a Robert E. Howard character.

But the genre has been experiencing another resurgence in recent years, perhaps partly because of the success of Game of Thrones. True, neither George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series nor the TV show that was based upon it can be classified as sword and sorcery, but fantasy is an ecosystem and if one subgenre does well, they normally all do.

There are also plenty of talented contemporary authors who are working to push the genre to new heights, whether that’s by experimenting by mixing it with new genres or whether they’re creating new stories that will endure for generations to come. People have been forecasting the death of science fiction and fantasy for as long as they’ve been popular, and they haven’t been right so far.

For our part, we think sword and sorcery will continue to be at least as popular in the years to come as it is today, if only because we live in trying times and people are looking for a distraction. In a world in which we’re under attack by pandemics that we can’t see and where nine different countries have access to nuclear weapons, it’s weirdly reassuring to read about a guy with a sword fighting a bad-tempered giant.

The future of sword and sorcery is looking bright indeed. Now, who’s ready to head off on an adventure?

Cover art of the Lost World Saga, an Ophidians Doom
Cover for the Lost World, the first Saga for Beyond the Black Sea

Article Written by Dane Cobain for Epiphany Entertainment

Copyright ©Epiphany Entertainment 2020