Sunday, January 16, 2022

Latest Rogues in the House podcast is up: Deathstalker 2, and Flame and Crimson too

The Ultimate Sword-and-Sorcery podcast
The latest episode of the Rogues in the House podcast is now available for your listening enjoyment. The cast and crew of Rogues were kind enough to ask me on the show, and I have to say I had a BLAST. I mean, I spent last Thursday evening drinking a couple beers and talking sword-and-sorcery, Deathstalker 2, and the zaniness of the 1980s in general. 

We had way more fun than we had any right to, but if you can't laugh watching Deathstalker 2 you were obviously born without a sense of humor.

Check out the episode here. We also talked Flame and Crimson quite a bit as well.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Rogues in the House: Deathstalker 2!

You won't find this level of beefcake ...
Any fans of this fun podcast, the only program wholly dedicated to sword-and-sorcery? I’m one of them, and tonight I get the pleasure of guesting on an episode.


The topic? Deathstalker 2: Duel of the Titans.


Somehow I had never watched Deathstalker 2. I look back upon my many years of renting the most exploitative videos I and my high school buddies could find, idle time spent scrolling YouTube, the additional (painful) video research I conducted for Flame and Crimson, and I wonder how this one eluded me. The only explanation I can come up with is that Deathstalker 1 is so outrageously awful, near irredeemable, that I wanted no further part of the series. 


In addition, I’ve consciously avoided the S&S films of the 80s. It got too depressing to see a subgenre that gave us Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, The Dying Earth, Conan and Kull, Elric, etc. handled so badly on the silver screen.


But, in recent years I’ve made peace with sword-and-sorcery films. I view them now as a cornball corner of pop culture history to enjoy as guilty pleasures. And, I’m already glad I got the opportunity to guest on Rogues because Deathstalker 2 is fun. Sword-and-sorcery fans will find their subgenre treated with about as much subtlety and reverence as Animal House did for undergraduate education. I would describe it as objectively a bad film, but subjectively awesome. It knows what it is, and while not a true parody like Men in Tights for example it is entirely a tongue-in-cheek take on S&S. 


Make no mistake, this is by any measure a bad movie. Really bad. The acting is below the level of a soap opera, the plot barely a thread, the script full of holes, and the sets and props are cheap and flimsy and entirely recycled. It lacks proof of having been backed by anything resembling a budget; in fact, there really wasn’t one. If there was, it was spent by the cast and crew in Argentinian dive bars. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s a poor man’s Army of Darkness.


You can currently find Deathstalker 1 and 2 on Tubi, a free movie service. My advice: Skip the first and head straight to the sequel. And look for our insights and analysis of this fine film on an upcoming episode of Rogues in the House.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Starting 2022 with Michael Moorcock’s The Swords Trilogy

My latest post, and first of the year for DMR Books in 2022, is now up: Starting 2022 with Michael Moorcock’s The Swords Trilogy.

I love The Book of Swords and think the Corum stories are perhaps on a par quality-wise with Elric. If you haven't read them do yourself a favor and get to it. And while you're at it, be thankful we still have Mr. Moorcock on the planet. I sent him an email a while back and he was kind enough to respond. 82 years old and 60 years of S&S is a pretty good run, and I suspect we'll see a few more stories from his pen.

This line made me sit up when I read it: “The nearest we ever come to knowing truth is when we are witnesses to a paradox.” Tanelorn, the city of equilibrium at the center of so many of Moorcock's stories and a refuge sought after by his Eternal Champions, is one such example. How can such a place exist; how can such a state exist in the heart of a species so divided and unreasoning and passionate as our own? How can fate and free will exist simultaneously and serve to explain our ultimate fate?

The answer is, they can. We are all Mabden, and Vadhagh, simultaneously.

Also, a castle made of blood? Yeah, it's in there too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

I, Black Sabbath (with incredible Conan imagery)

Metal Friday has come early this week because I just can't resist sharing this awesome video for Black Sabbath's "I," with the late, great Ronnie James Dio supplying the lyrics. This one is off the little regarded Dehumanizer (1992).

I don't know how much time went into the creation of this video, but Crom, is it awesome. A flood of great, classic Conan comics images, perfectly matched with the lyrical content and timed to the music. Well done, anonymous internet dude.

This might be the most sword-and-sorcery video I've encountered. Check it out, and be prepared to headbang, or behead someone with an axe.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Things That Are Undone and Ought Not To Be: A Sword-and-Sorcery Studies Wish List

My latest post is up on the blog of DMR Books. Check it out here.

I blasted this one out in a couple hours while reflecting on what still needs to be written about sword-and-sorcery and the impact it has had on popular culture. The list is long, and I don't pretend this is exhaustive. And I've already realized I inadvertently left off a proper history of all the rock and metal bands that have been influenced by S&S.

I'm not a collector, and even in the case of books I buy readers' copies, not rares or first editions. But I'm sorely tempted to drop a grand on Lost World, just to have and ogle. That artwork is sweet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

2021 in review

The end of the year is a time for reflection, and so here I offer up a look back on a swordly-and-sorcerous 2021.


2021 in hindsight felt a lot like 2020. The ongoing and seemingly eternal COVID-19 pandemic is probably the biggest culprit. As I noted in a previous post most of my waking productive hours are consumed by my day job, and ever since our company sent us home to work in March 2020 my days feel very similar, chained to a screen in the basement. Which explains the 22 months or so of relative sameness.


From a blogging/writing sword-and-sorcery standpoint I had a fairly busy and productive year. I wrote some original posts here on the blog, and a lot more besides between Tales from the Magician’s Skull and the blog of DMR Books. And, I contributed pieces for The Dark Man journal, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Whetstone. 


As always, I wish I had done more.


Most popular posts


From a page-view only perspective, here were my most popular posts on the Silver Key.


What sword-and-sorcery needs, 814 views. Weird because this was very much a throwaway/10 minutes of inspiration/no forethought or planning-type post. Anyways, it picked up a lot of steam on various platforms, some praise, some criticism, and much discussion. Which is what sword-and-sorcery needs.


The Dying Earth: A case for sword-and-sorcery, 626 views. This one picked up a lot of traction from the folks over at Goodman Games, as that fine outfit was launching a Dying Earth RPG around this time. Also it seems to be somewhat unique, and mildly controversial. Some don’t think Vance’s The Dying Earth is S&S, and so your mileage may vary.


Of Heady Topper and the craft brewery revolution, 402 views. People like good beer? I know I do, and plan to drink my share over the next 10 days. Viva New England IPAs and the craft beer scene.


Signs of a (modest) S&S revival, 388 views. Another spur of the moment post, I was seeing a lot of optimistic signs of an ongoing S&S resurgence, led by the new rotoscoped animated film The Spine of Night, and this one got a lot of traffic from Facebook and elsewhere. Make no mistake, S&S is still a very niche and somewhat tenuous subgenre, and apparently anathema to major publishers. But, there is SOMETHING going on, and I hope it continues to gain steam.


Sometimes you get lucky: An S&S haul, 349 views. I scored a major win this year when a dude from a Facebook S&S group I’m part of who happened to be local to my home state of Massachusetts announced he was moving across the country, and needed to unload his cache of S&S titles to someone who would appreciate them. Needless to say, I’m that guy. People love book porn and there you have it, the recipe for a popular post. Also, I am grateful that I have a proper home for these books and my growing collection, and can add a newly renovated office/man cave to my 2021 accomplishments.


What can we take from this? Talking about sword-and-sorcery sells, as does beer (put both together and you’ve got a great evening of entertainment. I know, I’ve done it). More broadly, “meta” posts about sword-and-sorcery/the state of the subgenre/etc. rather than individual authors or titles seem to resonate, and occasionally gain traction on the likes of Reddit and Twitter, which in turn drive the most page views. Sword-and-sorcery literature as a whole drives most of the traffic to this page. Back when I started the Silver Key in 2007 I was getting an overwhelming amount of traffic from roleplaying blogs, as somehow I got picked up by a few sites devoted to AD&D and the Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement. That largely seems to have died off, as has large volumes of blog traffic in general. I still like blogs and blogging and find it an infinitely superior medium to the ephemeral viral this second/gone in 10 seconds reality of social media. I know there are other options, but I don’t really know what a substack is and can’t be bothered to research it. So, I anticipate continuing here as long as the Blogger platform exists and Google doesn’t yank the plug.


A few other noteworthy items to cover.


Talking sword-and-sorcery

I was guest on three podcasts/panels in 2021, two of which are available (linked on the right of this blog). The other, an episode for Friends of the Merril Collection, I’m told will be published in the first quarter of 2022. I’m always on edge on these programs (thanks social anxiety) and much more comfortable behind the keyboard, but I love listening to podcasts, and I know they are great vehicles for learning and entertainment. And I’m getting more comfortable with them. I’m glad to be asked, and for the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. Therein lies personal growth.



Flame and Crimson won the Atlantean award from the Robert E. Howard Foundation. What an honor this was. I still don’t know who nominated my work but I’m eternally grateful. The plaque with Howard’s engraved visage is hanging on the wall of my sword-and-sorcery bar/mancave. F&C continues to generate very positive reviews and ratings on the likes of Goodreads and Amazon.


Vikings and S&S

Although it didn’t garner the most page hits I’m happy with this recent post for DMR Books, (Not) Lost in Translation: The influence of Old Norse Saga and myth on Robert E. Howard and sword-and-sorcery. I made this connection in Flame and Crimson but expanded on it over on DMR. I’m proud of this bit of original scholarship; I have not seen the link between S&S and Old Norse Saga and myth made so forthrightly anywhere else.



My reading slipped a bit from 2020, just 40 books and counting, which means I will finish well short of my goal of 52 books. Anything I offer up would be an excuse, so I’ll just say I want to waste less precious evening hours in 2022 when I could be reading instead. My reading was a mix of old and new, and I’ll post the list before the year is out, but I can say that the best new (to me) sword-and-sorcery author I read this year was Schuyler Hernstrom (his excellent The Eye of Sounnu). My review can be found here on the DMR blog.


The future

What will 2022 bring? Who can say. In the near future I will be attending a Whetstone Lantern Hour on Jan. 18 where Whetstone editor Jason Ray Carney and some other S&S fans will be gathering to discuss the first couple chapters of Flame and Crimson. Catch me there, or here on the blog, or at an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest concert near you. I’ll be seeing both bands in 2022, pandemic willing.


In summary, thanks for reading, and commenting, and following my meagre work here and elsewhere. I hope you all have an amazing Christmas and New Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

20 year anniversary of the Fellowship of the Ring/LOTR films

I was there, Gandalf. I was there 3,000--err 20--years ago.
20 years ago today New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson delivered unto the world the first of the three Lord of the Rings films, The Fellowship of the Ring (release date Dec. 19, 2001). I was there on opening night.

There was huge anticipation for these films. I was hoping against hope that they would be good, but I feared and expected the worst. The odds of them sucking were high. I could count on one hand the number of truly good fantasy films prior (Excalibur, Conan the Barbarian, Rankin Bass Hobbit, the original Star Wars trilogy should you count them as fantasy). And, my expectations were incredibly high. The Lord of the Rings is my favorite novel, across any genre. It is one of the greatest novels ever written, and stands alongside the best classic literature of the last two centuries, full stop. To put a work like this in the hands of a Hollywood studio was an invitation to butchery and disaster. Surely Jackson would not be able to meet the high standard I had set.

Nevertheless I had to see the films. They were getting a lot of hype and some advance praise from critics (which I largely avoided), and so made the trek to the theater on Dec. 19, 2001.

Opening night was pandemonium. There were people in line in elven cloaks and chain mail. Two dudes were swordfighting in front of the screen with boffer weapons. Most nerdy of all, a dude in the row in front of me watched the film with an LED headlamp on, following along with the book on his lap.

I kid you not. That's some hardcore nerdity right there. 

When the opening title sequence came on with Howard Shore's atmospheric score the audience broke into cheering and applause.

I will admit, I was rapidly swept away into the film. The Shire looked largely as it had in my imagination. The cast was spectacular. I was moved to tears with Boromir's death. Shockingly, against all my fears, it worked. I left the theater blown away, surprised by joy beyond anything I had hoped. Over the next two years, I repeated the pattern with The Two Towers and the Return of the King. I cried again, when Sam put Frodo on his back on Mount Doom, and Theoden led the ride of Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields.

I was sad to see it all come to an end.

So, twenty years later, how do they hold up?

Pretty darned great, in my opinion. Great does not mean flawlessly. When I watch them now there are a few parts that I actively dislike (collapsing bridge sequence in Moria, shield-surfing at Helm's Deep, and the green ghost army at Minas Tirith). The Paths of the Dead sequence is not particularly well-done. I don't miss Tom Bombadil and believe that was a smart cut, but I do miss the scouring of the Shire, and believe that its excision makes it a lesser film. The action is over-emphasized and some of the slapstick humor is out of place. Jackson would amplify these flaws a hundred fold in the absolutely abysmal adaption of The Hobbit a decade later.

Are the movies as good as the book? No, they're not, and they could not be, not even with 12 films and an unlimited budget. The world we see on screen is not as deep or wide as the one we encounter in Tolkien's text. Some of the themes and much of the complexity was removed.

All that said, I'm full of gratitude that we have these films. I think 20 years from now they will still be beloved. They hold up, quite well. I'd still love to see a proper Hobbit but I'm happy with the LOTR films. It might be time for a rewatch over the Christmas break.