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Rogue Blades Presents: Recalling a Fantasy Hero — Hanse Shadowspawn

Friday, September 18th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Thieves' World-Walter-VelezAs I’ve written before, my introduction to Sword and Sorcery literature came not through the more traditional routes of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc. I first delved into Sword and Sorcery almost by accident about 1979 when at the age of nine I picked up a collection of fantasy short stories titled Thieves’ World, the first in what eventually would become a long series of anthologies and novels and even gaming-related material.

At that point in my young life I had discovered Tolkien, and I had read what was then the first of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, but that was about the extent of my fantasy readings outside of comic books.

Thieves’ World opened my eyes to a much larger and somewhat darker potential for fantasy literature, one I had yet to envision at that time.

Yet my love for the series, and for Sword and Sorcery, would not come immediately upon opening the book. The introduction by series editor Robert Asprin proved interesting enough as did the first short story, “Sentences of Death” by John Brunner, and the following tales were also worthy reads.

Yet when I got to the fourth tale, “Shadowspawn” by Andrew Offutt, something … changed. Something opened within me.

This tale featured one Hanse Shadowspawn, a young, cocky thief who often wore bright garb by the day but dark garb by the night. And he also wore a dozen or so daggers about his body. Hanse showed himself to be a cocky, swaggering sort of fellow, though he also had a soft spot for those he loved.

Over the next forty or so years throughout multiple short stories and a few novels, Hanse Shadowspawn still remains one of my favorite fantasy characters. Despite his upbringing on the roughest streets of the city of Sanctuary, he became a friend to royalty, rescued a near-god from a fate worse than death, found love, grew old and learned his parentage consisted of … but that would be telling. I’ll try to leave more than a little mystery. Let’s just say, Hanse proved no mere thief, and he was the best at what he did for a reason, for several reasons.

Cover by Gary Ruddell

Cover by Gary Ruddell

In all fairness, to some Hanse might not sound like much of a hero. A swaggering thief isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that I understand. Still, all these years later, why is he a favorite of mine? I’ve read millions upon millions of words of fiction in my life, much of it fantasy literature, but Hanse remains my favorite fantasy character, my favorite fantasy hero.

Part of it might be that I discovered him at such an early age, an age in which I was somewhat enthralled with scoundrels (Han Solo comes to mind) and in which I loved a good quip from the good guy (Spider-Man comes to mind). Shadowspawn supplied many of these characteristics, plus he was actually a pretty nice fellow when it all got said and done.

I’m sure Hanse was inspired by that earlier thief, the Gray Mouser who was created by Fritz Leiber, but I’m also positive Hanse has inspired many another fantasy character since his introduction, even if some writers are not aware of such.

In the last forty-plus years since Hanse Shadowspawn first appeared, I’ve read of many other fantasy heroes, but he is still my favorite. Even before reading of Hanse, I’d read of Frodo and Bilbo and the like, but none of them struck my love of character as much as Shadowspawn, and few have since. And I’d be a fool not to admit that Hanse hasn’t influenced my own writings.

Who is your favorite fantasy character? Or better yet, your favorite Sword and Sorcery character? Is it someone familiar, such as Conan the Cimmerian, or someone more obscure?


Ty Johnston is vice president of the Ty JohnstonRogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. A former newspaper editor, he is the author of several fantasy trilogies and individual novels.

8 Comments »

  1. I salute your choice of Hanse Shadowspawn, who has more than earned his place among the heroes of S&S. I’m not sure if I have a favorite, but if I had to choose, it might be REH’s dark paladin: Solomon Kane.

    Comment by John E. Boyle - September 18, 2020 10:53 pm

  2. Ooooo, Solomon Kane is a good one.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - September 19, 2020 3:46 am

  3. Does Khlit the Cossack count…?

    I think this is a bit like asking who your favourite Rock and Roll star is: the first handful to articulate the form own it for all time – Chuck Berry, Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis?

    So, for me, Conan.

    Comment by M Harold Page - September 20, 2020 6:31 am

  4. MH Page speaks truly, narrowing it to a single favorite is nigh impossible, even unfair. However, I will say if the speed to need to read a new story is indication of favoritism, Steve Goble’s Calthus ranks quite highly for myself.

    Comment by Jason M Waltz @ Rogue Blades - September 20, 2020 12:16 pm

  5. I would say that Harold Lamb’s Khlit the Cossack DOES indeed count. Excellent choice.

    Comment by John E. Boyle - September 21, 2020 2:22 am

  6. I’m late to the part on this one.

    Does Enge’s Morlock the Maker count? I know he gets billed as S&S a lot and love so many of the stories. (If you read this James we need more collections of already published work)

    But if Morlock doesn’t pass I’d have to go with Kull.

    I think it has something to do with me only reading Kull because i found a cheap version of the Del Rey. I was expecting just a less polished Conan copy. To some extent thats what he is. But the handful of stories add up to more.

    Even the shorter tales like “The Striking of the Gong” have stuck with me years after i read it. And i prefer “By This Ax, I Rule” to “Phoenix on the Sword”

    Comment by Glenn - September 21, 2020 7:25 am

  7. Hanse is my favorite thief in all of fantasy. Many a gold box/Baldur’s Gate/Neverwinter Nights character was named Shadowspawn.

    I wasn’t happy with Lynn Abbey’s total destruction of Thieves World in her new TW stories. But I was pleased she didn’t feel the need to tear him down as well.

    I can see Shadowspawn (love) and Shadow of Sorcery (not so much) over on the shelves.

    Hanse Shadowspawn added great depth to Thieves World. A fantastic character.

    Poul Anderson’s Cappen Vera was the other character that captivated me, but he moved out of the center of things relatively quickly.

    Comment by Bob Byrne - September 21, 2020 9:28 am

  8. Favorite S&S characters are, for the most part, not too obscure: Leiber and Fischer’s Fafhrd and the Mouser, Jack Vance’s Cugel (if science-fantasy anti-heroes work), Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane, and Janet Fox’s Arcana (though that name sounds vaguely wrong to me). Another outlier would be Phyllis Eisenstein’s Alaric. And even more so, Avram Davidson’s Dr. Eszterhazy.

    Comment by Todd Mason - September 25, 2020 3:01 pm


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