East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Return to Joiry


They say we need to turn our negative experiences into opportunities for good – and I have found that it’s an excellent advice.
So, having just wasted eight minutes of my short life watching one of the most asinine “video essays” I ever saw, what can I take away from it and turn into an opportunity?

Well, the tragically inadequate “nerd expert” that wasted eight minutes of my life explaining to me what sword & sorcery is, said

sword & sorcery deals with rough, uncouth, muscular barbarian heroes wielding big swords

And I thought of Jirel of Joiry.
And thinking of Jirel and C.L. Moore is always a good thing.

I think Jirel was the second sword & sorcery character I met, after Bob Howard’s Conan. The series had been translated in Italian and printed in a nice hardback by the Fantacollana Nord (probably the publishing imprint that most influenced my tastes in fantasy fiction when I was a teenager) and it had a beautiful cover by Boris Vallejo. I had heard about C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, also the subject of a nice hardback in the same line, and so I spent my lunch money and bought both volumes.
I skipped a lot of lunches when I was in high school.

Jirel appeared in six stories, between 1934 and 1939 – all of them published in Weird Tales. It was one of the first – if not the first – sword & sorcery character to show stylistical influences from Howard, but Moore’s writing is subtler than Howard, and her character is not just “Conan with boobs”.
There is more than a hint of C.A. Smith’s imagination in the description of the dark nether-realms in which the determined redhead gets entangled in the course of her adventures.

Oh, and just in case – despite Boris and Caza’s covers, she was not notorious for going topless. And yes, that Boris cover caused some problems when I used to read the book during recess in school.

While Jirel certainly shows the mix of pride and arrogance that characterized a lot of Howard women, her stories are more nuanced, and are indeed closer to the original Kull stories than to Conan, in terms of imagery and mood. Jirel is more thoughtful and smart than Conan (that generally reacts with cunning rather than plan with intelligence), and she is no musclebound barbarian.
Her ferocity is tempered by finesse, and she’s an aristocrat, and the ruler of her land (somewhere in France, probably a few leagues north of Poictesme).

And I find it particularly interesting that the first s&s character to appear after Conan shows us so clearly how wide and varied the palette of sword & sorcery can be.
And yes, of course Howard’s own Solomon Kane is another good example that breaks the “muscular barbarian blunderer” that some seem to sum up the essence of sword & sorcery, and that has more to do with comic books, probably, than with literature.

The stories of Jirel have been widely reprinted – and are required reading as they contributed to set the pace for the genre in the decades to come. Jirel of Joiry, the first of the feisty redheads of sword & sorcery (now that’s a cliche!), was indeed as influential on the genre as were, say, The Gray Mouser or Elric… two other heroes somewhat distant from the “muscular barbarian” cliche.

C.L. Moore was an incredibly sophisticated writer (strike out another cliche – the one about sword & sorcery being written by rough-hewed hacks) and one of the women that were at the very core of the genre from the beginning (another cliche – that sword & sorcery was a man’s business).

So yes, I wasted eight minutes nobody will give me back listening to the ramblings of an illiterate goon, but now I’ll have the opportunity to re-read Jirel’s stories. It’s a good day.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Return to Joiry

  1. Damn and blast all such illiterate goons!
    Who think they know everything about a genre, or a subject, they likely only discovered yesterday.
    C.L. Moore was a superb fantasy writer. Ignore, if possible, Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith for a moment. She wrote “No Woman Born,” a distinction in itself, and “Vintage Season” and the less well known “Daemon”, which I find heart-melting if not heart-rending, narrated by a mistreated Brazilian orphan of subnormal intelligence who has a strange gift, the gift of seeing the shapes that walk behind most people during their lives, their daemons. Luis doesn’t have one. He wonders if it’s because, being a simpleton, he has no soul, but read the story and you’ll conclude, like me, that yes he did.
    As for Jirel, the first story about her, “Black God’s Kiss,” was an emotional and imaginative tour de force, and the sequel, “Black God’s Shadow” had the uncommon quality of being as good as the original. The first Northwest Smith story, “Shambleau,” has become a classic, and as a smuggling, hijacking rogue of the spaceways, Smith is a long way superior to Han Solo.
    Reading Moore again was definitely worthwhile!


    • I have to agree – Moore was incredbly good and modern in her approach to fantasy and science fiction. I think I read “Daemon”, a long time ago.I think it was in one of The Best of books by Ballantine.
      It is really a pity that she’s been somehow removed from our shelves – especially in my country, where I don’t think she’s been reprinted in ages (the book whose cover I posted above came out in the early ’80s).


  2. Thank you for bringing C.L. Moore to my attention! I’m a huge fan of speculative fiction but I’ve not heard of her before.


  3. I searched for Editrice Nord’s book for ages and finally I founded it on ebay (with Northwest Smith, of course). This was two years ago. What I can say? I appreciated “Black Good’s Kiss” and in general all the stories for what they are: good weird tales.
    What I really miss in our days is the “flexible quality” of weird literature, that is mix of genre or maybe the absence of it.
    But in the end, I prefer Northwest Smith over Jirel.


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