G. W. Thomas
THE KINGS OF THE NIGHT
"I have high expectations of heroic fantasy. I don't believe it has to be the endless barrage of hastily written imitations whose themes, characters, plots, and even cover illustrations fade into each other without separate identity -- minor variations on a two chord theme, feeding incestuously on its own cliches. To witness stagnation such as that is saddening. Heroic fantasy has been trapped too long in the attitudes and styles of the Nineteen-thirties to fifties. Some fine stories were written then, yes -- but imagine if science fiction had grown so little since Doc Smith. Then imagine what heroic fantasy would be now if it had evolved as steadily as science fiction!"
-- AMAZONS! (1979)
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
is one of the stars of the 1980s, writing the classic Tomoe Gozen
trilogy and editing influential anthologies like Amazons! and Heroic
Visions. These days she works largely in the horror field as an editor,
writer and critic. She also sells rare edition books through her Violet
G. W. THOMAS: Do you consider your books such as Tomoe Gozen or The Swordwoman "Sword & Sorcery"?
JESSICA AMANDA SALMONSON: The three novels of the Tomoe Gozen saga are 1) Tomoe Gozen: The Disfavored Hero, 2) The Golden Naginata, and 3) Thousand Shrine Warrior. They are dead-on Sword & Sorcery as some swordfight or sorcerous event is happening in every chapter. Sometimes I prefer the term 'Heroic Fantasy' which doesn't have quite the "down market" associations of thud & blunder, but ultimately they're the very same thing, both terms were coined by Fritz Leiber with the sort of thing Robert Howard wrote in mind. I tried to invest these stories with depth, emotion, & intelligence, but at base, they are also thud & blunder.
GWT: In 1980 your collection Amazons! beat out Thieves' World for the World Fantasy Award. Both of those collections featured strong female heroes. Do you think these books created a change in heroic fantasy about that time?
JAS: Before Amazons!, if you looked
really hard, you might very occasionally find a sword & sorcery tale
with swordfighting women, & nine times out of ten she'd be more of
a sex goddess than heroic figure. But after
Amazons!, which was extremely well received & topped the Locus list & such like, a veritable floodgate opened, so that soon after Amazon heroic fantasies were practically the dominant form.
GWT: With the exception of the new Conan pastiches, does Sword & Sorcery as a sub-genre really exist any more? Has the larger umbrella of FANTASY changed it into something else?
JAS: A lot of it has deteriorated into
a more magical kind of bodice ripper romance novel. I suppose it's still
sword & sorcery, but it does seem to have "lost" something -- hard
to find any of it that's particularly
surprising, it's a conformist genre. It's better when its angst-ridden, naive, primitive, with real darkness & doom all around, in situations & environments wherein survival seems unlikely, but the heroic can prevail, or if not prevail, go down gloriously.
GWT: From 1979 to 1986 you wrote largely heroic fantasy. Why the change into horror and supernatural fiction after 1986? Are you planning to write more heroic fantasy?
JAS: I always wrote both but in the short form. S&S could mainly only be sold at novel length. I prefer the novelette and the short story. If someone would pay me decently, I'd write more S&S tales, I have a few manuscripts in various stages of completion. But all anyone ever asks me for, with a reasonable payment attached to the offer, is modern supernatural horror, and I do love that too.
GWT: S&S films are for the most part weak or badly done. With the release of The Lord of the Rings, things may improve. What S&S characters would you like to see on the big screen?
JAS: I'd love to see a gloomy moody epic
film treatment of the medieval tale of the Knight of the Panther Skin,
written in honor of the warlike Queen Tamar. Couldn't keep me away from
a film about Cugel the Clever either.
Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered could have episodes taken out of it and shaped as incredible sword & sorcery cinema, it'd practically resemble The Faery Queene.
GWT: Thanks for your time.