I finished reading the Anthology " Swords and Dark Magic " today. At the beginning of the book, there is a small introduction from the editors, it briefly explains what Sword and Sorcery is and where it came from. Upon re-reading it, I've had an epiphany.
I've mentioned here before that I don't care for the ambiguous morals of a lot of modern day Fantasy stories. I wondered why, especially after having been repeatedly asked how I feel Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey mouser are different.
The Difference is length, and the plot.
It seems simple now, looking at it, but it really didn't before. I can deal with morally ambiguous characters so long as the fate of the world dosen't rest on their actions.
The average Conan story, is less than 100 pages long. It gives Conan enough time to do his thing, and then go back to whatever it is he does between stories. He does some thieving maybe, pilfering some candle stick from an open window in Shadizar then slipping back to the Maul for a tankard or three. But had he been written by one of these modern writers. He would have slipped in, raped the dog while the owner watched in horror, slit the persons throat then peed on the rug for good measure. But Howard didn't have space as a luxury with which to dwell on all the possible anti social things Conan could have hypothetically engaged in. Space was a premium. He got paid by the word, and the magazines were crunched by the depression. He had to get on with it. But the longest, though not the only Conan story where the fate of the many rests on his shoulders, Hour of the Dragon, he makes the right choice and proves he is a better king than his predecessor.
But I came to this conclusion after reading Joe Abercrombie's short story in this anthology. I'd said before on my review of the first 300 pages of The Blade Itself, that I didn't think he was a bad writer, merely a writer who created characters I didn't like. And thats what got me thinking about the length issue. In The Blade Itself, big things are clearly afoot. But if it was my world, I wouldn't have wanted any of his protagonists to be the ones it was left too to fix. All the characters except Logan Ninefingers. I didn't feel I could trust any of them to do the right thing.
Logan was the closest thing to a "Hero" the book could boast, and it was made clear upon the introduction of his cronies when they murder a child, that he wasn't really all that Heroic. If only by virtue of associating with people of their ilk, it marred him. And thats the whole point, Abercrombie had essentially limitless space to expound on all these reprobates. Had he been limited to 50-100 pages to tell the story of "The Blade Itself", or maybe a single 300 page novel for the entire story, instead of closer to 1000 pages.. I may have liked it better.
Since the late 1980's a fantasy novel isn't really a fantasy novel without at least 400 pages.. On the one hand, it gives writers the luxury of endlessly illustrate details. This itself can turn into monotony like what Robert Jordan did with the Wheel of Time. He minutely details the dress of his characters, of their mannerisms and quirks, what the furnishings of a room are like. Or it can give you lots of time to flesh out the History of your world beyond what is immediately needed for the story.
But, on the other it allows for the kicking over as many rotten logs as they want. Forcing you to see all the creepy crawlers that skitter away when the light hits them. Stuff that would normally be left quietly along the roadside due to having more pressing concerns.. are now gleefully dragged into the street and rolled in like dogs.