A Sword & Sorcery Christmas

A Sword & Sorcery Christmas

Flashing Swords-small

It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone in the O’Neill household is wrapping presents, munching Christmas cookies, and listening to music (so… much… loud… music…). Yesterday I gave up and turned off the portable Bose speaker next to my head, because the music coming out of the basement was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

Christmas break isn’t just about having our kids home, food, and taxing my eardrums. It’s also when I have time for more ambitious reading projects, and this year there’s one in particular I’m really looking forward to. Bob Byrne challenged me to read more Robert E. Howard, and suggested I started with The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1:Crimson Shadows from Del Rey. When I asked what was special about the stories in that book, Bob said:

You need to read a couple. The guy running Black Gate has to be a little more REH-read. Solomon Kane is good, but… Read “Worms of the Earth,” the Conan, and the el Borak. That book is where I read my first Solomon Kane. I bought the Kane book right after.

That seems like a good idea to me. I started investigating what others books I wanted to read over the 2019 Christmas break, and came across G. W. Thomas’s exhaustive survey of 44 S&S anthologies on his Dark Worlds blog on November 14. Sword & Sorcery Anthologies 1963-1985 was a handy resource, and helped inspire my reading project to grow into a deeper exploration of 20th Century Sword & Sorcery.

Here’s a snippet from Thomas’ introduction.

The Sword & Sorcery boom of the late 1960s was driven by the publication of The Lord of the Rings by Donald A. [Wollheim] at Ballantine Books. That happen in 1966. L. Sprague de Camp had been working hard three years before this to make sure S&S was not forgotten. He edited the first S&S anthology in 1963, appropriately calling it Sword & Sorcery. (The moniker “Sword & Sorcery” had been coined only two years earlier by Fritz leiber responding to Michael Moorcock’s suggestion in Amra…)

De Camp followed up his first book with The Spell of Seven in 1965 before Hans Stefan Santesson published the first of the Lancer collections, The Fantastic Swordsmen in 1967. The Sword & Sorcery [boom] was on!

Thomas covers all the classics you’d expect over the next two decades, including Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords, Andrew Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness, Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey’s Thieves World, Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Amazons, and many others.

The Year's Best Fantasy Lin Carter 2-small

The one I’m most interested in this winter, however, is Lin’s Carter and Arthur Saha’s The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories, published in 14 volumes between 1975 and 1989.

I neglected this one when it appeared, though I dutifully collected all the volumes over the years. There are far too many books to read over the next two weeks, but these slender volumes look perfect for dipping into during chilly evenings as 2019 draws to a close.

The Year's Best Fantasy Lin Carter-small

If all goes according to plan, the long nights of the next few days will be filled with Sword & Sorcery by Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, C. J. Cherryh, John Brunner, Tanith Lee, Craig Shaw Gardner, Janet Fox, Phyllis Eisenstein, and many other of the finest practitioners of the art in the late 70s and 80s. Should be fun. Thanks for the suggestion, Bob.

Anyone else have an end-of-year reading project they’ve been looking forward to? I’d love to hear about it. Shout out in the comments.

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Martin Christopher

I also just started rereading Conan. And also probably some Leiber, Moorcock, and Wagner as well. Been a few years since I read them and I think I’ve only now got enough understanding of these stories to truly appreciate them.
Worms of the Earth gets a full endorsement form me. But I would also add the hilariously titled Pigeons from Hell. It’s a great Howard story outside the familiar fantasy.


all of the issues of grimdark magazine are kindle unlimited, so i am working my way through them all in a semi-cheating way to complete my goodreads reading challenge for this year (though they do have a decent page count), hahaha.

what you are doing sounds like a blast though, i would love to have a lot of these digitally, but mostly i have to hit abebooks for them. jealous of your collection!

Joe H.

I love Flashing Swords!

I won’t get to it over the holidays (I’m still in early stages of reading P.C. Hodgell’s excellent Kencyrath series), but at some point early next year I’m planning to reread two of my favorite Lin Carter anthologies, Kingdoms of Sorcery and Realms of Wizardry. They were hardcover collections from 1976 or so that I found at the public library, and were my first introduction to H. Rider Haggard and A. Merritt, amongst many others.


John, I second Martin’s comment: I implore you to start with REH’s best short story, PIGEONS FROM HELL. Gut-punching horror that has lost none of its power to shock. I DARE you to read this story alone in the house past midnight. . . .


Those lin Carter Year’s Best Fantasy anthologies had a lasting influence on my tastes. I tried a Saha edited Year’s Best and didn’t care much for it.

Thomas Parker

“Pigeons From Hell” got a great adaptation on the old Boris Karloff Thriller television show. Steven King considered it the greatest hour of horror ever done on TV.


Those worth a shout out? hmm…

i finally took the dive into Mark Lawrence work based on the strength of the story “Bad Seed” in the first issue, after hearing good things about him. glad i did.

i also found Mike Brooks and the Keiko books series (so excerpts can and do work), they are good, the kind of space stuff i am looking for over the more seemingly popular military space stuff.

i LOVED the short story In Brazen Dreams by Matthew (matt) Ward, who i guess worked or works for Games Workshop. i want a whole series in this setting and even though i looked around, i dont think he has written much other fiction, but i hope he does. loved this.

i also enjoy the stories by T.R. Napper, but i am a sucker for anything cyberpunky. i also saw that grimdark will be publishing a collection of T.R. Napper stories soon, so i will most likely pick that up.


I’ve got Tales From the Magician’s Skull vol 3. Specifically the Hanuvar story. Really I need to go back and read everything from the previous volumes as well.

I’ve told myself the past three Halloween’s that I would read Pigeons From Hell.

But I’m way to much of a coward. Horror stuff tends to stick with me for too long afterwards.

Joe H.

John — I’d say there’s a non-zero chance that the someone who mentioned Kingdoms of Sorcery was me … I’m always banging on about those two volumes. 🙂


John, It has been a long time since I read the anthologies but about every issue had a Charles Saunders story in it which might be why I’m a fan today. I remember liking the Janet Fox and Pat McIntosh stories that were in most volumes.

What I remember most about the volumes was Lin’s commentary about the year in fantasy. He had such enthusiasm for the genre. He raved about newcomer! Tanith Lee’s The Birthgrave. He hated Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara. He thought it was a blatant rip off of The Lord of the Rings. Even at the time I thought that might be hypocritical of Lin since about everything he wrote was a pastiche of something.

Bob Byrne

At the every end of Carter’s ‘Year’s Best..4’, there is an extremely short but volatile rant about The Sword of Shanarra being the biggest rip-off (of Tolkien, of course) in the history of books.

Joe H.

He wasn’t wrong … And he did, in his rant, acknowledge that he himself did a lot of pastiche work, but the distinction he drew was that he wasn’t actually copying entire Howard or Burroughs stories beat-for-beat the way Shannara did with LotR. For whatever that’s worth.

James McGlothlin

That link to the G. W. Thomas Sword & Sorcery Anthologies post sent me on an AbeBooks run for S&S as well.
I immediately ordered the 1963 Sword & Sorcery anthology edited by de Camp and I also have de Camp’s 1965 The Spell of Seven and his 1967 The Fantastic Swordsmen on the way. I voraciously read the Sword & Sorcery anthology in just two days.
But my appetite for S&S was so whetted, and since I’m still waiting on the other two volumes, I began to pick through some other fantasy anthologies I own, such as Lin Carter’s The Young Magicians. Though not strictly S&S, there are a few S&S gems in there, including an REH tale that I hadn’t read in over twenty years: “The Valley of Worm”!
Thanks for setting me on to S&S again. I have to admit, at the end of the day, no matter how much I love Tolkienesque stuff, S&S is my true fantasy love.

Joe H.

It’s not just you, John — something screwy with that listing, it looks like.

John R. Fultz

I’m tackling Tanith Lee’s “lost” epic THE BLOOD OF ROSES (1990) right now. Love that YEAR’S BEST FANTASY series.


>I’m tackling Tanith Lee’s “lost” epic THE BLOOD OF ROSES (1990) right now. Love that YEAR’S BEST FANTASY series.

John, I’m about half way through Night’s Master right now. I read Delusion’s Master in the early 70’s but never read the other Flat Earth books. I’m remedying that.

I never even heard of The Blood of Roses. So lost seems apt.


er early 80’s

John R. Fultz

Charles: Those books are amazing!
John: You know it —the paperback set me back $50. I heard that Immanion may do a new printing of BLOOD, but there is no telling when it will happen.

John R. Fultz

Charles: DEATH’S MASTER is my personal fave.


This warms the heart. Sharing the post in the Goodreads S&S group, which has its annual Jan-Feb Anthology group read. All are welcome to recommend and share experiences on any collection, classic or contemporary. Many are reading the ones listed above, like Realms of Wizardry.


Martin Christopher

The world always needs more Sword & Sorcery. Always good to see the interest is still there.

Robert Adam Gilmour

Wish I could say I was fast enough to have a reading project I could do in the remaining days; but I’ve been totally dazzled by the Inquestor series (space opera) by the staggeringly underrated SP Somtow. He’s started publishing new written works recently and continuing some of his best loved series.

I tried to count the number of priority writers to read as soon as possible and ended up with a stupid number like 90. I wish I grew up reading this stuff. I still haven’t read a lot of the first books I bought.

“Pigeons From Hell” should be reprinted far more often, it’s one of my favorite horror stories.
Scott Hampton regretted not painting the climactic scenes in colour and fixed this in the reprint contained in Spookhouse 2.

I think Immanion has Blood of Roses planned for 2020. Their Tanith reprinting project has been going thick and fast, so I think it seems like a safe bet.
I bought an old copy in 2015 for £27. It had a ripped page I had to tape, but it’s readable.

Doesn’t Beneath Ceaseless Skies do sword & sorcery? Weirdbook?

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