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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SAGA Entry 1 - 'The Door into Fire' by Diane Duane

Sword and sorcery fiction has had a rough time of it since its rise to prominence in the pulp magazines of the 20s and 30s. The works of the likes of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner fell into obscurity as the pulp magazine vanished due to wartime paper shortages. After the war, the 1950s obsession with flying saucers, martian invaders and radioactive annihilation put paid to any hopes for a sword and sorcery revival.

But then, in the early 60s, a small but talented group of writers founded an informal gathering called SAGA (The Swordsmen and Sorcerer's Guild of America). Including such genre giants as Lin Carter, Poul Anderson, L. Sprague De Camp, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock, the group was largely responsible for redefining sword and sorcery fiction (Leiber in fact coined the term in 1961) and bringing it back to the public eye.

Each member was admitted to the group based solely on their sword and sorcery output. Moorcock was in for his 'Elric' tales for example and Fritz Leiber for his 'Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser' yarns. Several other authors were admitted in the late 60s and 70s, one of them being Diane Duane for 'The Door into Fire'.

Published in 1979, 'The Door into Fire' was the first novel of the New York-born author. It tells the tale of Herwiss, a man with the potential to become a great sorcerer, possessing the power of 'the flame'. Desperate to harness this power and focus it into the blade of a sword, Herwiss decides to seek a castle in the wastelands which contains many doors to other worlds.

Making the main character of a sword and sorcery novel bisexual and spending a good deal of time focusing on his homoerotic relationship with his best friend was a pretty bold choice for a genre that is famous for being about as heterosexual as possible. I mean, look at that cover. The classic dominant male pose instantly recognisable on a glut of sword and sorcery covers.

But the book itself is far from orthodox. Mixing Celtic mythology (the concept of the triple Goddess is used here expertly) with Germanic cultures, and the divided loyalties of the protagonist (would he rather continue in his quest for power or sacrifice it to aid his lover in reclaiming his crown?), the book reaches a much higher place than the more generic entries in the genre.


Anonymous said...

Whoa, wait just a sec.

Are you telling me that I was made a member of SAGA?? Cite, please! -- because I don't remember being told. (Though when you have a group with organization as loose as SAGA's, and rules like "All members are expected to buckle their swashes at regular intervals", this doesn't necessarily come as a surprise.)

...Then again, I could always have missed the issue of AMRA where the announcement was made. But a cite would be helpful...

At any rate, this is an honor I would wear with pride.    :)

'77 - '80 Collector said...

Wow, thanks for dropping by dduane!
I have to admit that my research was a little poor here (unfortunately resources on this genre are a little slim). However, that wealth of information (however accurate), Wikipedia clearly lists you as an additional member of SAGA:

If you did indeed have any dealings with this esteemed group, than please let me know!

Thanks again for commenting.