Andrew Offutt’s Greatest Contribution to the Genre: Swords Against Darkness

Andrew Offutt’s Greatest Contribution to the Genre: Swords Against Darkness

The complete run of Swords Against Darkness (Zebra Book, 1977-1979).
Covers by Frank Frazetta, Larry Kresek, Greg Theakston, and Luis Bermejo

In my opinion, Andrew Offutt’s greatest contribution to literary history is the five book anthology series he edited called Swords Against Darkness. They were simply called I through V and published between 1977 and 1979, all by Zebra.

I’ve got them all and have read them all. They knocked my socks off. I was just beginning to write around the time the series ended and one of the first pie-in-the-sky goals I had for myself was to write something good enough to be included in the series. The series ended before I got close to making it, or even submitting.

[Click the images for greater contributions.]

Swords Against Darkness (Zebra Books, February 1977). Cover  by Frank Frazetta

The volumes are:

Swords Against Darkness (1977) — cover by Frazetta
Swords Against Darkness II (1977) — cover by Larry Kresek
Swords Against Darkness III (1978) — cover by Greg Theakston
Swords Against Darkness IV (1979) — cover by Luis Bermejo
Swords Against Darkness V (1979) — cover by Luis Bermejo

There are so many good stories in this series and I discovered several now-favorite writers in those pages. The first story in the first volume is “Nekht Semerkeht,” a story of Hernado de Guzman, a soldier who gets lost from Coronado’s army during that conquistador’s search for the seven cities of gold.

Howard was working on this story not long before his death but never finished, and Offutt put the final touches on it. I couldn’t tell where one writer ended and the other began.

Swords Against Darkness IV and V (1979). Covers  by Luis Bermejo

The first volume also contains an awesome Viking tale from Poul Anderson, and “Dragon’s Teeth” by David Drake, which is a masterpiece. Amazingly to me, the best tale in the story, though, was Ramsey Campbell’s “The Sustenance of Hoak.” I only knew Campbell from his horror fiction and had generally found him tough going. But his S&S tale of Ryre, the wandering swordsman, was beautifully told and made me an instant fan.

If I can keep this series going long enough I’ll likely return to the Swords Against Darkness series, but I’ll end this post with a partial list of some of the great authors in these books:

Andre Norton
Manly Wade Wellman
Tanith Lee
Richard Tierney
David C. Smith
Charles Saunders
Brian Lumley
Charles de Lint
Orson Scott Card
Diana Paxson,
and a lot more Ramsey Campbell,

as well as plenty of other talented wordsmiths.

Charles Gramlich administers The Swords & Planet League group at Facebook, where this post first appeared. His last article for Black Gate was a review of The Llarn Novels by Gardner F. Fox.

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David Montgomery

Swords Against Darkness were such a great anthologies. It would be great if it were resurrected.

Charles Gramlich

For sure. My top rated fantasy anthology of all time, even above the Flashing Swords series.

Joe H.

For whatever reason, although I did pick all of these up, I never quite got around to reading them. Really must rectify that sooner rather than later.

Charles Gramlich

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Ramsay Campbell stories. Very different than his usual tales.

Joe H.

Yeah, I’ve read those in the Far Away & Never collection and they’re great.

David C Smith

Excellent article, Charles, and timely, too, in light of the current resurgence in sword-and-sorcery fiction. Andy discovered my story in an issue of Gordon Linzner’s Space & Time. He became aware of Space & Time (a superb small-press zine that introduced so many writers who would go on to be published commercially) when the late David Madison sent him either a copy of S&T with one of his stories in it or the story itself. Andy was unaware of S&T and promptly ordered as many back issues as Gordon could send him. That’s where Andy discovered my “Descales’ Skull” for SAD III and I’m not sure how many other authors. I know he published a story by Charles Saunders in one of the volumes; I’d have to check now to see which one. But Andy and I corresponded for a while and he championed Oron when it came out, for which I was extremely grateful. Although not in the top tier as a writer, in retrospect we can see that he was as critical to the field as de Camp, Carter, and Karl Wagner–not to neglect Gordon himself, who as editor of Space & Time, *the* small-press zine of its day, introduced those writers who went on to professional status.

Charles Gramlich

Offutt really did a great job with these anthos. I’ve got an anthology around here that collected some of those Space & Time stories. Good stuff.

Neil Houlton

I remenber the series but like many things I didn’t have the money to buy all the books I wanted. The contents are a beautiful thing, prehaps we ask for a new print run, even by subscription it might be managed.

Charles Gramlich

Given the on demand printing of today, it should be possible to do.

Joe H.

I’d love to see these (and Flashing Swords, and any number of other anthologies) given reprints and/or eBook rereleases, but I’m guessing the rights issues are going to be almost insurmountable.

[…] (Black Gate): In my opinion, Andrew Offutt’s greatest contribution to literary history is the five book […]

Jim Pederson

I had read “Swords against Darkness II” because of its inclusion in Appendix N but looking through the contents of the others, I don’t think I have read them. I will have to look for them. I personally appreciate Offutt’s contribution to sword and sorcery in the form of the Cormac mac Art books.

Jeff Baker

I’m not the biggest fan of S & S but I have these books!

Charles Gramlich

there’s a decent range of stories in them

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