February 17, 2005

On Thud, Blunder, and Poorly Spilled Ink

Ian (whose blog is not the only one I read, though for some reason it's one of the few I regularly link to) today posted an excerpt from L. Sprague de Camp's beautiful essay "On Thud and Blunder", which de Camp has made available on-line at the SFWA website. I've got a copy of it in an old de Camp anthology, but I hadn't read it in years.

The essay is a call for authors of heroic fantasy, aka "swords and sorcery", to spend more time getting the details right, with lots of examples of things authors and would-be authors get wrong. For example: nobody rides stallions; it's dangerous and unnecessary. You can't ride a horse at a gallup all day long; you must alternate gaits, and probably you'll need to bring some remounts with you, and there are lots of other things you'd better do or your beast is likely to drop dead. It's extremely dark in a city at night when there are no electric lights, much darker than in an open field, and there are just as many interesting things to step in. Swords will not, in general, cut through either mail or plate armor no matter how much you'd like them to. Like that. It's a fun article, and it makes me want to go out and read some more period history so's I can set fiction in it.

Better than that, it's just one entry on the SFWA's Writing page. There are quite a few other essays there; many concern practical matters like how to find an agent, how to submit a manuscript, and so forth, but many concern the craft of writing fiction itself. If you have any desire to write fiction, I suggest you hie yourself over there immediately, as it may save you trouble in the long run.

Update: Speaking of blunders, I attributed the essay to L. Sprague de Camp when in fact it's by Poul Anderson--no small mistake. The odd thing is that I distinctly remember reading this essay in an anthology of de Camp stories I've got. I don't have time to check it now, but of course it won't be there. Which leaves the question, where did I read it? I don't believe I have any corresponding Anderson anthology that it could be lurking in. Might it have been in one of the Flashing Swords anthologies? (Chuck, do you remember where the heck we read this? I remember you pointing it out to me....)

Update: My brother Charles assures me that I did read "On Thud and Blunder" in one of the Flashing Swords anthologies, except that the series wasn't entitled Flashing Swords, but rather Swords Against Darkness. In fact, it was in Swords Against Darkness #3, published in 1973, which he still has.

Do you ever have the feeling that sometime in the last decade you've stepped into an alternate time stream? I was sure the series was entitled Flashing Swords, and I'd have been willing to bet money that Swords Against Darkness was one of Fritz Leiber's Fahrd and Gray Mouser novels. I'm mistaken, of course, convicted in the court of Google and Amazon. Ah, well.

Posted by Will Duquette at February 17, 2005 06:22 PM