Hammering the Demons: Sword, Sorcery and Contemporary Society

  • John Strugnell


Lin Carter defines ‘sword and sorcery’ tales as essentially action tales in which heroes are particularly heroic and villains are particularly villainous (Carter xi), but such a definition tells us all too little about the cultural position of such fantasy stories. If we examine swordsmen and sorcerers rather more closely, we shall see that they are those who can still affect the destinies of their societies by their individual actions, and the means that they use, whether weapons or magical powers, are still under human control. Sword and sorcery, therefore, dramatises a world in which individuals are no longer overwhelmed by the forces arranged against them, whereas twentieth-century novelists have frequently portrayed individuals as being at the mercy of forces beyond their control. As Dreiser wrote in Jennie Gerhardt (1911), ‘we live in an age in which the impact of materialised forces is well-nigh irresistible; the spiritual nature is overwhelmed by the shock’. (132) Such sentiments were echoed by Saul Bellow in a lecture on American fiction: ‘Laboring to maintain himself, or perhaps an idea of himself…, (the individual) feels the pressure of a vast public life… All the while he is aware of his lack of power…’ (2)


Power Struggle Fictional World Magical Power Action Tale Spiritual Nature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Strugnell

There are no affiliations available

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