Sword and sorcery is strongly masculine and appeals to men. We can see this same ethos in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies of the 1980s and early 90s. Take a look at this scene from Predator and ask yourself what it plays to.
|The most manly handshake ever, bar none.|
And then ask yourself, is this cool? Is it OK to like this? My answer is an emphatic hell yes. Men who read S&S tend to like fictional depictions of violence and strength. As I’ve said elsewhere, dynamism, power, and muscular strength are among the elements that draw me to the work of Frank Frazetta, for example.
Make no mistake: I love this stuff. I was drawn to it as a kid, and inspired to pick up weights to try to look like my heroes of the comics and silver screen. Today I continue to champion and defend it. I push back, hard, against censorious critics who want this type of fiction memory-holed. You can pry my sword-and-sorcery from my cold, dead fingers. There’s a reason I and if I daresay the broader “we” are drawn to tales featuring swordplay, bloodletting, and fast-paced action. These stories tap into the same psychological wellsprings and biological impulses that help explain our love for professional football, boxing, and strongman sports.
Sword-and-sorcery is loaded with beefcake and masculine heroes. Here is a typical description of Conan, from “The Devil in Iron”:
As the first tinge of dawn reddened the sea, a small boat with a solitary occupant approached the cliffs. The man in the boat was a picturesque figure. A crimson scarf was knotted about his head; his wide silk breeches, of flaming hue, were upheld by a broad sash which likewise supported a scimitar in a shagreen scabbard. His gilt-worked leather boots suggested the horseman rather than the seaman, but he handled his boat with skill. Through his widely open silk shirt showed his broad muscular breast, burned brown by the sun.
The muscles of his heavy bronzed arms rippled as he pulled the oars with an almost feline ease of motion. A fierce vitality that was evident in each feature and motion set him apart from common men; yet his expression was neither savage nor somber; though the smoldering blue eyes hinted at ferocity easily wakened.
I’ll stick my neck out a bit, risk the critical axe of politically correct criticism, and say that as a result of its emphasis on violence and power, sword-and-sorcery appeals to boys and men, in far larger quantities than women.
But like life, art, and politics, even sword-and-sorcery is not this simple.