In my search for a workable definition of sword & sorcery (but it’s more complicated than that) I landed in what is, apparently, a pretty far-away place: David N. Meyer’s A Girl and a Gun: the complete guide to Film Noir on Video.
Published in 1998 by Avon Books, Meyer’s delightful book was essential in building my noir movie collection, and in helping me discover a lot of movies I would otherwise have missed.
And sure, books like The Encyclopedia of Film Noir by Alain Silver (and a lot of other books by Silver and his associates) are more in-depth and technical, but as a fast and easy gateway to noir, Meyer’s almost 20-years-old book remains unsurpassed.
Now, I thought of Meyer’s book because Meyer’s book defines noir through example – and that’s what I usually do with my friends and colleagues when we try and define sword & sorcery. We may start with a working definition or a bit of history (just as Meyer does), but then we end up listing movies and books.
Also, I am quite convinced that noir is not a genre, but rather a mode: there’s hard boiled noirs, western noirs (Johnny Guitar, High Noon), science fiction noirs (Blade Runner, Outlands) etcetera.
And I am growing more and more convinced that sword & sorcery is also a mode – it’s not just the story you tell, it’s how you tell it. I am also convinced that this mode is expressed in the way we build the story and the world in which it takes place, mostly due to time and word count constraints1.
And now, having spent one evening browsing my old copy of A Girl and a Gun, I think I have found in its opening chapters at least a structure I can use to try and put some order on my notions about sword & sorcery, worldbuilding and related matters.
I also thought that there is no book equivalent to Meyer’s where sword & sorcery is concerned: no fast and fun guide to the essential video collection of fine sword & sorcery movies.
At least that I am aware of2.
And it looks like a project for the long boring winter weekends.
Re-watch a lot of old sword & sorcery, sword & sandal, sword & planet and tits & sand movies, maybe do a few posts here on Karavansara, and then compile a giude to what’s out there.
It would be fun.
And part of the fun would be due to the fact that we could put together a movie list for such a project right now, even lacking a workable definition of sword & sorcery.
Because we know what it is when we see it, even if we can’t explain it.