I have been asked to contribute to group blogs before, but had never seriously contemplated actually accepting an invitation to join one. I already have a perfectly fine blog, after all, and there’s not exactly a shortage of interesting discussions taking place on a regular basis in the comments there. However, I have long been a Black Gate subscriber and I very much admire John O’Neill’s determination to sustain the art of the adventure fantasy as well as the literary talent of certain writers he has published in the magazine. So, it was with no small degree of enthusiasm that I decided to unearth the olde leather armour and join this small, but intrepid band of adventure-bloggers.
One thing that five years of blogging has taught me is that the number of people interested in discussing fiction is surprisingly small given the obvious fact that everyone in the blogosphere is more or less literate. Non-fiction not only tends to outsell fiction, but discussions about current events, celebrities, politics, sports, and other forms of entertainment tend to draw far more readers than discussions of fiction, let alone fiction that is not in the form of a current, best-selling novel that is in the process of being made into a movie. A post reviewing a great novel won’t draw one-twentieth the comments of one criticizing the public statements of a media personage. And yet, for all that it is a sub-genre within a disreputable literary ghetto, adventure fantasy remains surprisingly influential outside of the historical book world.
In addition to being an author – my latest novel is Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controvesy – I am also a game designer. And I have to admit, I scoffed when two years ago, a friend of mine told me that he was involved in the development of an MMO based on Conan. I can remember telling him that while the IP was both well-known and chock full of content, I didn’t think it was much of a license upon which to build a very expensive game. I thought EA and Mythic had the right idea with Warhammer, since that was a brand that was still active, with which people were not only familiar, but which drove them to annually purchase millions of dollars worth of minis, books, and diverse other products. But Conan? Who cared about Conan? He was retired and governing California these days, he wasn’t lopping off Turanian heads while rescuing curvacious, sloe-eyed princesses anymore. One successful MMO launch and 750,000 Age of Conan subscribers later, my friend enjoyed a good laugh as I admitted that my pronouncement of inevitable doom had probably been just a bit misplaced. This is not to say that AoC did not eventually run into a few difficulties or that it cannot eventually go the way of Tabula Rasa, but these issues are totally unrelated to the fundamental level of interest in low fantasy in general and the Hyborean Age of Conan in particular.
Whilst I tend to favor high fantasy as a writer, I have long harbored a genuine affection for the grimmer and darker nature of low fantasy as well as the romantic swashbuckling of adventure fantasy. Nor am I alone in this; Umberto Eco’s very literary novel, La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina Loana, contains a long section of sentimental tribute to the favorites of his long-vanished youth, including Salgari, Dumas, Flash Gordon, and the Fascist adventure strips of Il Corriere dei Piccoli. Adventure fantasy may be dismissed as inherently childish by those who would rather read about the boring miseries of modern adults, but if that is the case, we who still take pleasure in a ripping good adventure should be thankful that some small portion of the innocent past has survived in our stained and jaded souls.