If as I did when growing up you read works by Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melniboné), Fritz Lieber (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser), C.L. Moore (Black God’s Kiss) and a myriad of other great sword and sorcery series then Brian Murphey’s Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword and Sorcery is a must. It provides much-needed definitions and critical rigor to this misunderstood fantasy subgenre. It traces its origins in the likes of historical fiction, to its birth in the pages of Weird Tales, to its flowering in the Frank Frazetta-illustrated Lancer Conan Saga series in the 1960s. It covers its “barbarian bust” beneath a heap of second-rate pastiche, a pack of colorful and wildly entertaining and awful sword-and-sorcery films, and popular culture second life in the likes of Dungeons & Dragons and the harsh gritty rhythms of heavy metal music.
It covers Robert E. Howard’s life and work, his relations with horror master H.P. Lovecraft, and his social, political, and historical views of modern and ancient worlds. I’ve been reading it for a couple days (about half-way through it!), and find it to be personal and non-academic in a good way (i.e., it’s free of all the literary bric-a-bac terminology and current focus of gender and race – which is not a good or bad thing! – which is off-putting if you’re just a basic fan wanting a avid and thorough grasp of the territory and it’s major players.
Get it on amazon: here.