Note: This is the first in an occasional series which will look at the literary figures who influenced the creators of sword and sorcery. The focus will be upon the writers who influenced the "first wave" of S&S authors (such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and CL Moore).
Harold Lamb died on this date in 1962. He left behind a staggering amount of quality fiction and nonfiction. He was one of the very top contributors to one of the premiere pulps, Adventure, and went on to become a popular and award-winning historian.
What we're concerned with today is his impact on sword and sorcery fiction. There are a lot of things we don't know in that regard. We don't know whether CL Moore or Henry Kuttner were fans. Clark Ashton Smith appears to have never read Lamb, though Smith actually wrote a novel as a teen that wouldn't be that out of place in Lamb's oeuvre. We know nothing about Fritz Leiber's feelings when it came to Lamb.
What we are sure of is that Robert E. Howard was a huge fan of Harold Lamb and that Lamb exerted an outsized influence on the fiction of REH. When Howard began reading Adventure around 1921, Lamb was being published in its pages almost constantly and young Bob took an immediate liking to Lamb's stories. Those tales--usually set in centuries past somewhere in Asia--were nonstop examples of high adventure, with plenty of swordplay, plot twists and protagonists of varied personalities and backgrounds. Here's a bit from The Grand Cham, which features a Breton sea captain making his way across the Caucasus:
Nothing like fighting Tatars by firelight beside a tower of skulls!
Robert E. Howard didn't just take some pointers from Lamb in regard to pacing and word-choice. He also seems to have been inspired by several of Lamb's plots. In my reviews of Swords From the West and Swords From the Desert, I examine several Lamb stories that seem to have influenced REH to one extent or another. Those are just two collections. There are tales in other collections of Lamb's fiction that warrant a look in regard to influence on Howard's plots. That will have to wait for another day.
When we come to the "second wave" of sword and sorcery authors, good evidence of Lamb's influence becomes more apparent. We know Manly Wade Wellman was a fan. I would wager that John Jakes--an admitted fan of Edison Marshall and REH--was also an admirer of Lamb. Jakes novels like King's Crusader and I, Barbarian certainly read like it. However, the biggest admirer of Lamb from amongst the post-World War II cohort would probably have to be L. Sprague de Camp. Here's what Sprague had to say about Lamb in an introduction to Lamb's lost race novel, Marching Sands:
Taking into account the fact that LSdC created what I consider to be the third stream/branch/thread of sword and sorcery fiction--"de Campian S&S," as it were--then Lamb can be said to have influenced two of the three founders of the separate schools of sword and sorcery.
Since the Howard Boom of the 1970's, we see even more S&S authors who claim Lamb as an influence. Some of them originally came to Lamb's writings by way of his nonfiction historical works like Genghis Khan and Hannibal, since almost all of Harold Lamb's fiction went out of print in the '60s while his historical nonfiction kept being reprinted. Among those Harold Lamb fans would be Keith Taylor, David Drake, Scott Oden, Bill Ward and Howard Andrew Jones.
Lamb's nonfiction crackles like his fiction. Here's his epic description of Baibars the Mameluke, which could've been written by REH:
Well, that about wraps it up for this first installment of "Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery." Get out there and read some Harold Lamb. You won't regret it.