Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery: A. Merritt


A. Merritt passed on seventy-five years ago today. He died a very successful man--albeit, overworked and highly stressed--being at the top of his game in the fields of weekly periodical publishing and in the realm of popular literature. He had also left an indelible mark on the formation of the newborn sword and sorcery genre. His influence continues right up to the Current Year.

While, in my opinion, most of Merritt's work has had some influence on the S&S genre, there are two novels that stand out. One is The Ship of IshtarClark Ashton Smith loved that book. I have strong reasons to believe that Robert E. Howard read it at some point before he wrote "The Shadow Kingdom" and he most definitely read it by the time he wrote "Queen of the Black Coast." I would also speculate that there is a bit of Merritt's Sharane in Moore's Jirel


By a fair margin, The Ship of Ishtar is the closest thing to actual sword and sorcery to see print before the publication of "Red Shadows" and "The Shadow Kingdom." If Merritt's Kenton had been a tenth century Byzantine or a sixteenth century Englishman, then TSoI would have been the first S&S novel ever published. As it is, it is most often placed, awkwardly, in the "Lost Race/Lost World" genre.

While The Ship of Ishtar remains my favorite Merritt novel, I have to say that when it comes to the history of sword and sorcery, Dwellers in the Mirage is the most important non-S&S novel ever published. It is absolutely no coincidence that REH created Conan less than two months after DitM appeared in Argosy or that Moore created Jirel less than two years later. Jirel is not "a female Conan," as has been flippantly asserted in the past. No, Jirel is Moore's take on Merritt's Lur the Wolf-Witch. REH's Belit also shares demonstrable DNA with Lur.

The influence of Dwellers in the Mirage doesn't end there. Not by a long shot. It and "Ishtar" both deserve their own posts tracing the myriad webs of influence that they have cast over almost a century of fantasy literature. For now, I'll just say that y'all should go read Dwellers in the Mirage. Then, read Brackett's Sword of Rhiannon or The Dark World from Kuttner and Moore or Wagner's Bloodstone. I think you'll see what I mean.


I'll finish this post with a listing of the S&S authors--that I know of--who were/are Merritt fans: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, CL Moore, Henry Kuttner, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, Gardner F. Fox, Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, Ray Capella, Karl Edward Wagner, Gary Gygax, Keith Taylor, Ardath Mayhar, Ed Gorman, Charles R. Rutledge, John C. Hocking, Adrian Cole, Dave Hardy, Ryan Harvey, Christopher Chupik and William Meikle.

Not too shabby. As ever, nearly all of A. Merritt's fiction can be found at Roy Glashan's excellent pulp fiction archive. Ol' Abe was known to be fond of bourbon and other spirits. Feel free to raise a glass to his shade on this seventy-fifth anniversary. The world was richer for his being here and poorer for his loss.