Saturday, 20 November 2010

Sword & Sorcery cultural archetypes

A while ago I was thinking about how S&S fiction is really just about one axis. I was considering calling it Epicurean-Decadent, Life-Death, etc. I never quite found the right words.

Here's a blog post about S&S cultural archetypes that line up with my S&S "alignment" axis: World of Xoth. Starting with the inherent noble savagery of Conan, and advancing on the staircase of civilisation, across nomads, city dwellers, high civilisations, decadent civilisations and finally fallen civilisations, this progress almost completes a circle, but not quite. It differs from my axis in that it starts to bend backwards towards the end, mine is a lot more black and white.

The basis is the same however, on one hand you have the vitalistic natural moralism of "savage nobility", pure, untained by culture and civilisation, spontaneous and true, acting on concepts of honour and life-affirming ethics.

On the other hand you have the corrupt, two-faced, wicked, hedonistic and anti-life. They are governed by lifeless rules and structures, laws replacing honour and morals. If they have morals, they are twisted. Civilised men, separate from their bodies, separate from nature. Their enjoyment of the flesh is not life-affirming but rather an oblivious, artificial practice. They dabble in sciences and magic, they are closer to death than life.

The final stage the Xoth post suggests is ambiguous. In Lovecraft, especially, it can also be read as the first step instead of the last: preceding man as such, a primordial, unfinished creature, tainted by antiquity, not yet human.

Cool stuff. What's kinda scary is how these things could be read as horribly racist, given the context in which they were created, but I find it very interesting to observe as a stereotype or trope. There's a lot in here reflecting the enlightenment and romantic philosophies of the 18-19th centuries.

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