Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sword and Sorcery influences of Chris Kelly author of Matilda Raleigh: Invictus

Tracy graciously invited me here to write about my sword and sorcery influences, so I’d just like to say thanks, Tracy.

I’ve been struggling with this post for a while now. It has been giving me some trouble. I know which books influenced me, sure, but what I’ve been struggling with is a definition of sword and sorcery. I consider David Gemmell’s Deathwalker to have been my introduction to the genre, but that book is considered by publishers and booksellers to be “heroic fantasy.”

As opposed to un-heroic fantasy, presumably.

Conan, another great influence of mine, is sword and sorcery, of that there can be no doubt. Again, with Lankhmar, or the Hawk and Fisher series, there is no doubt. With Stormbringer things get unclear, however. This is not about a strong hero facing a strong-minded sorcerer villain, and the question arises: at what point is a new sub-genre created. Elric turns sword-and-sorcery so much on its head that the question must be asked. Is it still sword and sorcery?

I asked the modern world’s Gandalf (Wikipedia) for a definition of sword and sorcery and was given this answer. Epic fantasy is about the world being in peril, and sword and sorcery is where the hero battles for more personal reasons. To save his skin, usually.

This isn’t a perfect definition, but it works for The Legend of Deathwalker.

When I was younger I had an insatiable appetite for fantasy books. My dad used to keep it stoked with second-hand fiction, and one day he brought Deathwalker home. I wasn’t impressed with the cover, and the whole thing looked naff. I mean, a quest for magic crystals? Come on.

A few days later I ran out of reading material, and sat down to my first sword and sorcery romp. Within a week I’d read every Gemmell book the library stocked. I was hooked. Even now, about seventeen years later, David Gemmell’s books have had an awesome effect on me. If you consider his first, best, and most famous novel: Legend - it is not hard to draw parallels between that book and mine.

Druss is an old man. He knows if he goes on this last “adventure” he will die. He is famous, the greatest hero of any age. His allies are dead or now stand against him. New allies must be made.

Matilda is an old woman. She knows if she goes on this “adventure” she will die. She did a lot of evil in her youth, and became a hero by default, searching for redemption. She was once famous, but is now forgotten. Her allies have betrayed her. Her enemies now stand beside her.

Clearly, Druss made a lasting impression. There are similarities (and differences, I wasn’t writing a gender-swap novel) between the two. Another lasting impression was made on me by Conan. My very first introduction to Conan was the Robert Jordan novels. I don’t know if the novels were based on the films, or the films were based on the novels. However it was, neither was particularly good.

And then I discovered the Robert E. Howard version, and loved it. Here was a Conan who I could relate to. A strong man who lived by the sword and took what he wanted; despite his many faults (self-centred, arrogant, sexist, possibly abusive) he never came across as evil, or even as an anti-hero. He was Conan the Cimmerian.

Of all the Conan stories, there were two that influenced me the most. The first was the Frost Giant’s Daughter, a beautifully mythic story that doesn’t show Conan in a good light at all. The sole survivor of a battle in the frozen north, Conan is approached by an almost naked woman called Atali. She is wearing a diaphanous veil, and he lusts after her. He chases her, his mind set to rape. Her father saves her with a lightning bolt that knocks Conan unconscious. When Conan awakens, he thinks it was all a dream, until he realises that he still holds her veil.

The second was Red Nails. I’m not going to sum it up here, since Tracy did a fantastic job of that recently ( )

These two stories are completely different; one is a myth, the other is as sword and sorcerous as it is possible to get. What I took from the first one was that a battle can be against nature – in Invictus, Matilda rides an ornithopter (a pedal-powered flying machine) in a storm, and I described that as I would describe any fight. What I took from Red Nails... well, the story is told from the POV of one of sword and sorcery’s most kick-ass females, Valeria the pirate. Matilda might be 72 years old, but in Invictus she goes up against clock-powered robot assassins, vampires, demons, Germans, golems, an unstoppable, immortal monster and more. So she’s pretty bad ass.

I have the omnibus volume of Stormbringer, the 12th omnibus in the Eternal Champion series. It holds six different Elric novels. It took me a while to get into Elric, but now I’m a big fan.

Can I deny the effects of the Melnibonéan prince on my fiction? Possibly, but this wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I did. And he’s had an effect – in a sense, Matilda’s demonically possessed revolvers are Elric’s sword, Stormbringer. In another sense, they’re not. Nothing’s that easy.

Consider again the definition of sword and sorcery. It might fit every book described above, yet according to that definition Invictus is epic fantasy. Except it’s not. I’ve read enough sword and sorcery to know when I’m writing it, and Invictus is certainly sword and sorcery, as were most of the books that influenced it. At some point, the question of genre becomes meaningless. It really is little more than a marketing device. In my opinion, Invictus is as every bit a sword and sorcery book as Red Nails, and who cares if there’s not a single sword in it? It doesn’t matter that Invictus is set in Edwardian England, less than a hundred years ago (but in an alternate reality of Britain).

I think it’s sword and sorcery, and I wrote it. If you want to make your own mind up about it, you’ll find it here:

I’m doing a three week blog tour, and at the same time I’ve let guest bloggers run riot through my blog. Tomorrow I’ll be interviewed at Jess C Scott’s blog, whilst today Rachel Thompson is on my blog as is a constantly updated guide to my blog tour.

The blog tour is going to be great, and the only valid reason for missing it is that you opened Invictus, and couldn’t switch it off.


Thank you so much for the great guest post, Chris. Welcome to the addictive world of fantasy writing and publishing. Anyone with at least one functioning eye and an internet connection can start reading the generous sample of Invictus at Smashwords.