Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fantasy Heroes: Sword and Planet

The Sword and Planet hero lies somewhere between the extremes of Sword and Sorcery and High Fantasy. The archetype is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. The character of Ruenn MacLang from my Taleran books is meant to fall into this general category. Here are the characteristics of this type of hero as I see them.

1. They are bigger than life but not to the extreme of the Sword and Sorcery hero. They are fast and strong but not typically described as being as big or muscular as the Sword and Sorcery hero.

2. They also have an indomitable will to survive and can tolerate great pain and fight through serious wounds.

3. They typically do not face much sorcery. Their enemies are primarily physical enemies, although not always human.

4. They do not like violence and generally crave peace, but they are very good at violence when it is forced upon them.

5. They are much more likely than the Sword and Sorcery hero to enjoy philosophical debates and activities.

6. They are comfortable alone but are not loners. They usually make some good friends and they always have a love interest, who is usually a princess or noble of some type. They are immensely loyal to their friends and families.

7. Far from being an anti-hero, the Sword and Planet hero is always honorable and would typically be considered a gentleman.

8. The goal of the Sword and Planet hero generally lies between the extremes of Sword and Sorcery and High Fantasy. They are never out to enrich themselves, but they also are not as likely to be involved in saving the world. Instead, they must save their families, their loved ones, their home cities and home lands.

Note: In addition to John Carter of Mars, there is Dray Prescot of Kregen, a creation of Kenneth Bulmer, and such characters as Jandar of Callisto by Lin Carter and Harry Thorne of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline.

BTW, Miladysa has a very nice review of Swords of Talera on her blog. I very much appreciate her kind words. It's always such a pleasure to know that someone enjoyed my work.



the walking man said...

In the reading I have done in the fantasy genre i doubt I have ever seen quite this combination of characteristics in a "hero."

A thinking man, a philosopher prince ready to war yet at the march ready to talk before the battle is joined.

I will have to contemplate on these characteristics in a fantasy character.

BTW how are the book sales coming along?



Sidney said...

Love John Carter and Burroughs, though, you know I haven't read all the books in the Mars series. Need to get back to those and there are others in the Burroughs bibliography I need to get around to. Happily between a long ago gift from some friends and used book stores I do own most of the Burroughs titles. Good post!

Randy Johnson said...

Another entry would be Michael Moorcock's Michael Kane series, originally published under the nom de plume of Edward P. Bradbury.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, it's a bit of the Greek Ideal of the Philosopher king.

Sidney, the best of the later entries in the Barsoom series are "Chessmen of Mars" and "The Mastermind of Mars." I still have a few of ERB's westerns and his hollywood books to read but have read most everything else.

Randy, definitely, I have those books on my shelves. Gardner F. Fox also did a two book series set on the planet Llarn, and Mike Resnick did a series set on Ganymede. A fellow named Dowdell did an absolutely horrible Sword and planet book called "Warlord of Ghandor," the worst S & P book I've ever read.

Lisa said...

OK, now I'm not going to feel like such a total dumbass about my ignorance about the various nuances and flavors of fantasy and sci-fi. There's a lot to this genre!

cs harris said...

Interesting. Not being a reader of scifi or fantasy, I'd never appreciated these differences.

Monique said...

I'll bet that you watch heroes! I never finished Tolkien, only the hobbit which I liked very much.

Middle Ditch thirteen is posted for some more heroic adventures in a small village.


Mimi Lenox said...

I don't know much about swords and sorcery but I do enjoy philosophical bantering. Same thing, huh?

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW, Charles, I started reading Swords of Talera this afternoon. Yummy! I like that 'someone else wrote this' opener. Brings back The Green Star and a few other apparently sword and planet books I read in jr. high school.

Oh, and of course the writing is pretty great, lol.

Steve Malley said...

I like that you're focusing on the heroes. So often, enthusiasts focus on the world-building-- understandable, but not necessarily the best hook for those outside the genre...

david mcmahon said...

There's something so universal about this subject, Charles.

And yes, I loved your advice about the ice photos!!!

You must be an Aussie, deep down!

Donnetta said...

Superhero!I'll bet Lana sees a little bit of you in him. Watchyabet?

Lana Gramlich said...

I was a Dray Prescott fan 'til I read about Ruenn MacClang. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, it's like with anything, once you're on the inside you can see the subtleties. Otherwise no.

Candy, I'm sure there are many subtleties about the mystery genre that I don't know enough to appreciate.

Monique, I probably would enjoy that show but I've never had a chance to catch it. I watch so little TV. I'll check out the new entry.

Mimi, in some cases at least. :)

Writtenwyrd, I always liked that framing device too. I did that pretty much as an homage to the old days.

Steve Malley, yes, I could see that some folks responded pretty negatively to the description of the Sword and Sorcery hero but more positively to the others.

David, I'm a southerner at least.

Donnetta, Lana is the model for the character Ahrethane.

Lana, you are so cute.

Chris Eldin said...

Charles, I learned a huge amount reading these three posts. Thank you for taking the time to pull this together.

You asked why I don't like fantasy...Well, I think I'm judging too early. I've always been a science-fiction buff, and (ahem) thought fantasy writers took the easy way out rather than do some of the research that the sci-fi writers do. I have to explain that belief is one of ignorance since I only recently started reading fantasy (children's).

My current WIP has a High Fantasy characters. I'm reading down your entire list and checking off every single item because it applies to my WIP. Gave me goosebumps in a good way.

Miladysa said...

Another interesting post Charles and thank you for the mention


Bernita said...

Yes, this sort of hero doesn't lust after violence, though as you say he's very good at it when necessary.
He's alert and wary of its effects on his psyche.

laughingwolf said...

i'll be scouting around for your books, SHOULD find em, even in this backwater....

Charles Gramlich said...

Christine Eldin, I'm glad the posts had some helpful information. As for differences in fantasy and SF, I think there are probably good writers in both who don't take the easy way out, and bad writers who do. I think it's more the function of the writer than the genre.

Miladysa, thank 'you' for the review. Much appreciated.

Bernita, exactly. He doesn't want to become calloused or inured to violence.

Laughingwolf, Unfortunately, in a lot of places they're only available online, at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Wildside Press. I'm going to add you to my blog role today.

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

Rifts in Time are great aren't they!

Thanks Charles for your visit :-)

Shauna Roberts said...

another interesting post on fantasy heroes.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I think you've made a good definition. I am not as widely read in S & P., but I would also note that Leigh Brackett's Skaith trilogy is S& P.

I don't know about her earlier Eric John Stark tales, I haven't read Secret of Sinharat yet. I believe they are S & P, but you'd be better at determining that!

Patti said...

in my own life i can relate to #'s 2, 4 and 6....

ivan said...

Sounds like people from my tribe.

They can tolerate great pain and fight through serious wounds
can tolerate great pain and fight through serious wounds.

But they are too human to be Visigoths.
And Visigoths used to think they were too slow.
Ah well. There is always Gogol's Taras Bulba.

Sam said...

Maybe Luke Skywalker and Captain Hans Solo would fit in here?

Charles Gramlich said...

Rob, they're the best.

Shauna, thanks. I've about exhausted the topic for now, I think.

Paul, definitely the Skaith books are S & P. I have the secret of Sinharat on my shelves but haven't read it yet. I plan to do so this summer.

Patti, me too. Thanks for dropping by.

Ivan, I'm a fan of the Visigoths. They're my ancestors.

Sam, I think you could make that argument for Luke, certainly. Han is a bit different. GOnna have to give that some thought.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I would put Han & Luke under "space opera". Though, Luke might qualify as S & P because he uses the light saber more than a blaster, but Star Wars is really space opera, I think.

That's why I wasn't going to comment on Sinharat until I've read it. I don't know if the early E J Stark tales read like space opera or S & P.

So, I guess the next question is - Is S& P a fantasy sub-genre or a science-fiction/science-fantasy sub-genre? Does S & P come from S & S or from Space Opera?

I guess it is a melding of both...

laughingwolf said...

if the local does not have em, i can order, they are a national chain

thx bud, appreciate it

i have both of your sites linked....

Anonymous said...

Hi Charles -

I loved this genre when I was growing up in the seventies and its great that you and a couple of other authors are revisiting it. I particularly like the ERB homage where you present yourself as the editor of someone else's narrative.

But isn't there a danger that by classifying them so exactly you are just going to end up with a pastiche?

Your description fits John Carter exactly but aren't John Norman's Gor books (love them or loathe them) Sword and Planet with an anti-hero?

I've only read the first chapter of Swords of Talera online, but I'll definitely be buying a copy.

- Jon

Charles Gramlich said...

Paul, good points. That's kind of why I said that if you stretched the point with Luke Skywalker you could fit him into S&P. I do agree that Star Wars is mostly space opera, though. S&P seems kind of in between the two I think.

Laughingwolf, thankee.

Jon, I actually liked the first 4 or 5 Gor books and thought of them primarily as S & P. Definitely, though, Tarl Cabot doesn't fit the typical characteristics of the S & P field. I don't want my definitions to be set in stone but just to recognize some common characteristics. Good discussion. I hope you enjoy "Swords of Talera."