Friday, May 8, 2009

Pulp Fantasy: Does it exist?

I just finished reading the highly entertaining new book, Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity (my review here). It's a classic adventure tale complete with cliffhangers galore and many feats of daring action. I haven't had that much fun with a book in a long time.

So, I started thinking about pulp adventure stories. You got the hard-boiled detective, you got the SF story where the dashing star captain rescues the damsel from the clutches of the vile, eight-legged monster. You have the horror version of pulp adventure with folks like H. P. Lovecraft. What about fantasy pulp adventures? I may be showing my ignorance here but are there books and authors who write fantasy stories in the vein of old-school pulp adventure?

The one person that comes to mind is Robert E. Howard, Conan's creator, but, since I've never read any of his stuff, I can't say.

There are some modern fantasy authors, like Joe Abercrombie, whose works get tagged with "noir fantasy," blending, I imagine, the tropes of fantasy with the nihilistic themes of noir fiction.

Fantasy is a genre I always have associated with Brave Deeds, Noble Acts, and other things you have to use initial caps to designate. Hero must prevail or the World Will End.

I guess what I'm asking is this: are the light (lite?) fantasy tales? Are there stories and books that make you chuckle one moment, as the hero and the heroine trade witty banter, yet hold your breath the next, as the hero must slay a Shakespeare-quoting dragon the next?

That, Dear Friends, is My Quest.


  1. I've never done any deep thinking on this but to my mind pulp fantasy means Sword and Sorcery. Action, adventure and some good dragon slaying.

    Abercrombie has given S&S a modern edge, but the well known ones are probably Howard, Fritz Leiber and his Swords series, Moorcock and his endless series, and Cook's early Black Company books which are as hard-boiled and world-weary as you'll get in any noir detective tale.

  2. Of course you should go read Howard immediately, but I'll echo Ian's recommendation of Fritz Leiber's stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I think they're exactly what you're looking for.

  3. Let me be the third to chime in on Fritz Leiber!

  4. Mr. Parker, ya gotta read Robert E. Howard. Poul Anderson and Roger Zelazny also had some very good fantasy books. Clark Ashton Smith is a taste worth acquiring, and Karl Edward Wagner was a huge talent. Even though she wrote mostly SF, Leigh Brackett's stories pretty much function as S&S. (Of the bunch, Anderson and Zelazny by far have the lightest touch.)

  5. [Just getting back to this post]

    I.J. - I've found Swords and Deviltry, the first Fafhrd/Mouser book. It's on the list for this summer

    James - I've found some free e-versions of Howard's stories and some library editions. He's also on the list.

    Randy - Three cheers for Lieber!

    Pericles - Ironically, the first Zelazny book I'm likely to read is his lost non-SFF story recently published by Hard Case Crime. I'm intrigued by Brackett.