Nonhuman characters in Sword & Sorcery

When talking about Sword & Sorcery and the essential traits and themes of the genre, there is almost always at least someone making the claim that the absence of nonhuman character is outright essential and that a work can not be Sword & Sorcery if it has any nonhumans that are not monsters. Yesterday someone made the commendable effort to provide a reason and supporting evidence why nonhumans are not a thing in the genre, by stating that there are pretty much no works of Sword & Sorcery which have nonhumans as counter evidence. Now obviously that gets us to a True Scottsmen argument. If your definition of Sword & Sorcery includes “no nonhumans”, then of course there are no works that have them. You could also say that Sword & Sorcery doesn’t have guns. But Salomon Kane has guns and I haven’t seen anyone claiming that he isn’t Sword & Sorcery. Guns are just uncommon, but not conflicting with essential traits of the genre.

However, I want to argue that there are in fact many works that have all the relevant traits of Sword & Sorcery and also nonhumans, and in which the inclusion of nonhumans doesn’t in any way conflict with with those essential elements and themes.

  • Atlantis: The Second Age (rpg)
  • Bound by Flame (videogame)
  • Dark Sun (rpg setting)
  • Dragon Age II
  • The first three Drizzt novels.
  • Elric
  • Primeval Thule (rpg setting)
  • Rune Soldier (anime)
  • The Witcher

I admit, most of these are fairly recent. But just because something is not found in the oldest works doesn’t automatically make it incompatible with a genre. It still walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks as a duck.

2 thoughts on “Nonhuman characters in Sword & Sorcery”

  1. Dark Sun is, in my mind, pretty obviously inspired by the John Carter stories, which are usually labeled as “Sword and Planet” to distinguish them from traditional sword and sorcery.

    The only other works on your list I am really familiar with are Dragon Age and Elric, and I think both of those have too large a scope and emphasis on world spanning Good vs. Evil (or Law vs. Chaos) conflicts to really count as Sword and Sorcery.

    But ultimately, yes, genre definition almost always come down to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    Personally I think genre labels just get in the way and serve little purpose except to keep writers second guessing themselves and to allow readers to act extra snobbish.

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