The Fantastic Swordsmen is the third entry in L. Sprague de Camp’s swords-and-sorcery anthology series. De Camp’s introduction is solid, but after a few of these apologias for S&S they all begin to read much the same. Don’t worry, the stories are better.
Fletcher Pratt, or more precisely, Murray Fletcher Pratt, lived an intriguing life. Seriously, look him up. The man moved in the right circles. Over there, Isaac Asimov, over here, Rex Stout. A true man of letters, making his living as much with non-fiction as with fiction. History, reviews, short stories, novels. Pratt was a man of accomplishment. And I’m sure Gary Gygax was familiar with Pratt’s development of rules for wargaming naval combat, using the tiles of his kitchen floor for grid squares.
There is a tendency to think the military comprises dour, unimaginative people of the sort who’d have no use for science fiction, fantasy, or other such frivolous nonsense. A lot of films depict soldiers as robotic, linear thinkers, programmed to follow orders without deviation.
I think most of us know better than that, right? The military has long been home to devotees of speculative fiction. Pick any large military base in the United States, then travel to the nearest town. In addition to the inevitable military supply stores, sewing shops (never short of customers needing new patches sewn on uniforms), tattoo parlors, barbershops, and bars, you will find a well-stocked game store, a comic book shop, and a used bookstore with an excellent selection of science fiction and fantasy.
I come to praise L. Sprague de Camp; let others bury him in undeserved, virulent dudgeon.
The man’s fingerprints are all over science fiction and fantasy from the Golden Age of science fiction up until the end of the Twentieth Century. He more than earned his place in Appendix N. He was prolific, fighting in the Isaac Asimov weight category (though, let’s face it, Asimov remains undefeated for sheer volume of publication.) De Camp’s writing was urbane, learned, witty, and full of clever innuendo. I, for one, love it.
The writing savants instruct that we not employ a ten-dollar word when a nickel’s worth will suffice. You will lose the reader if he is forced to consult a dictionary. You risk appearing pretentious.
This is no doubt sound advice. And yet I struggle with it. I like archaic terms, obscure, little-used words and expressions. I enjoy encountering a new word, even if it means heaving open my brobdingnagian 1920’s era dictionary, or hopping onto the web for a quick search. I loved it even as a kid. A new word was a precious find. I hoarded them like gems. Reading L. Sprague de Camp was like a treasure hunt. I’d roll “yclept” about like a shining jewel. An archaism that I valued precisely due to its rarity.
I like the baroque stylings of a Jack Vance, or the dense, lush lyricism of E.R. Eddings just as much as the more approachable, breezy prose of Elmore Leonard.
So I find myself torn. I do err on the side of caution, many of my jewels not surviving the culling of the first draft. Of course infrequency causes the remainder to stand out, and a word that stands out can lead to the very problems the wise and experienced writing gurus warn about. Thus I weed out even more – the story itself being more important than one of my beloved treasures.
But sometimes the nature of the story allows me to indulge. And I do.
What are your thoughts? Does it diminish your enjoyment of a story to stumble across an unfamiliar word?