(Image swiped from Sword & Sorcery because my copy is too yellowed to scan.)
If there is anything, anything, that defines sword and sorcery more than, well, swords and sorceries, it is that the hero must be incredibly, indubitably, unbelievably awesome! If he is a flawed hero, his flaw must be that he is too awesome–like maybe he’s flawed because if he gets too frustrated at losing a game of Parcheesi he’ll obliterate a village of amazons while dual-wielding battleaxes. Or something.
Like how the main character of a modern day “literary” novel is flawed because he just sleeps with too many beautiful women. (This is never shown as a flaw in sword and sorcery.)
Oron the Nevgan is no exception. At 56 pages into the book, I think it would be safe for me to say that at least 63% of all dialogue spoken by characters who aren’t Oron is at least partly about how fucking bad-ass Oron is. Certainly, all the soldiers who fight under Amrik THE BULL MAN love the northern barbarian in their ranks, and when Amrik THE BULL MAN’S creepy sidekick Sidoum tells what he’s learned of Oron from the other soldiers, he has to point out that the ex warlord
[F]led the mountains only because his enemies set aside their differences and attacked him as a common threat.
– Page 35
You see? Oron brings people together.
So you see what I mean about Oron’s flaws. He did turn tail and run from his Nevgan homeland… because he was so fucking awesome.
Another of Oron’s flaws? He is too much of a bad-ass, straightforward man’s man to understand or approve of the back alley political dealings of his boss Amrik THE BULL MAN, who is so incredibly obviously evil that only someone as straight shootin’ and blunt as Oron wouldn’t see it. It is because he is too awesome to see it.
While Amrik [ed: THE BULL MAN] and Sidoum plotted their intrigues in the palace, Oron spent time with the soldiers of Amrik’s [THE BULL MAN’s] army. He visited the taverns and whorehouses and talked with the men, and they soon saw that they were misled in thinking of him as being arrogant or prideful on his sudden leap in the ranks. Oron remained one of the men, in spirit. He loved to contest on the practice fields outside Shemsan’s walls. He rode and shot bow with the best of the men, cast javelin and stone, wrestled and boxed them. Few bested him, and when they did, Oron came back for more and gave them a a good show. The old slaves and crusty veterans who sat around the fields talked in tones of admiration and swore that Oron was a man for them.
– Pages 45-46
We all know that crusty veterans are the best judges of character. See, no matter how evil Amrik THE BULL MAN clearly is, Oron remains a man of the people, and everybody who meets him (and isn’t killed by him) loves him. When asked to spar by the strangely-named Heroes, Oron says,
“You’re going to pester me till you finally get a chance to shave my beard, aren’t you?”
– Page 46
After this, the other soldiers continue to force out uncomfortable laughter at Oron’s jokes. They must want to stay on his good side, the side where everybody loves him and doesn’t get killed.
It was much to my surprise when, while reading another section of our first big, bloody battle scene, I came across this sentence:
Oron caught glimpses of Amrik who, like the Mad Bull he was, was swording and slaying on every side…
– Page 29
Swording. Swording! Mr. David C. Smith made “sword” into a gerund! What is more pulpy sword and sorcery than that?
Nothing. Nothing in the world.
This was, of course, a little surprising. Can something be a gerund when there is no verb? Does that work? Well, no worries, because Oron’s got it all figured out:
Some few Salasans had gained Dugur’s retainers and were swording it out with them…
– Pages 29-30
Ah ha! So “to sword” is a verb! Meaning, I assume, to fight, kill, thrash about with a sword. (No “and” in our list, Oron doesn’t like lists that have “and” start the last clause!) So then, that means we’re dealing with the most bad-ass new verb ever!
- I sword
- you sword
- thou art swording
- he/she/it swords
- we sword
- you (plural) sword
- they sword
Too bad English verb conjugations are so boring. However, the existence of such a verb opens up so many possibilities! For example…
épéer (to sword)
- tu épées
- il/elle épée
- nous épéeyons
- vous épéez
- ils/elles épéent
Much better. Or if French isn’t goofy sounding enough for you, there’s always Yiddish (which I am entirely guessing at, since I only know how to insult people and refer to genitals in that classiest of languages).
shverd (to sword):
- ikh shverd
- du shverdst
- er/zi/es shverdt
- mir shverden
- ir shverdt
- zey shverden
Whee! Fun with conjugation! Anyone wanna take a try at Latin (which I took half a semester of a decade ago) or Hebrew (which I haven’t studied since I was 13, guess why!) for me?
Part I – The Warrior
Everywhere high shrieks pierced the air, and blood and limbs spouted above the heads of the working warriors. Men collapsed, grabbing their dripping guts. Open-mouthed heads, eyes full of surprise, arced in the air across shooting crimson fonts. And through it all Oron galloped fiercely, feathering men with sudden death.
– Page 28
And this is just a sample of what the first ten or so pages of the first chapter are like. It’s almost like some wonderful parody–some wonderful parody that is awesome. It goes blood, death, Oron is bad-ass, Oron pontificates on his bad-assery, blood, death, Oron is bad-ass, blood, Oron pontificates, death, etc.
But soon… soon we meet who the back cover calls Amrik THE BULL MAN.
I am a sucker for any book with a map inside (because I am a nerd, surprise!), and not only does Oron not disappoint in that regard, but the map is followed by a 10 page prologue that goes into more depth than I ever thought I would need… need to read Oron.
The faux-Frazetta cover never gave me the impression that I would require a serious lesson on the history and political workings of Attluma (Atlantis, but without super technology, and big enough to have analogues to most major cultures and every kind of climate) to appreciate the book. Naturally, I have yet to see if the information is pertinent, but it’s nice to see that Smith, who is so ensconced in the blood-and-guts bluntness of sword and sorcery, is willing to take a few minutes to get his Tolkien on. I am impressed, and when I get to the 10 pages of gore and repetitions of the name “Oron” that start the first chapter, I will know that there’s a little something extra to look forward to. Maybe.
It’s hard to get an audience interested in your world before they’re given anything or anyone to care about in it, and maybe the prologue shouldn’t work… but I get the feeling that if you’re reading Oron at all–even if you’re not taking it seriously–this kinda shit is your bread and butter (not “bread and butter” as in the way you make your living, but as in the thing you love uncontrollably, because bread and butter is awesome).
Yes, friends, Oron! The greatest of all the great progeny of Conan the Barbarian! Oron the Nevgan, whose mighty sword (and, on this cover, axe) heaved a bloody swath through the purple prose of yesteryear! Oron, whose cover stared at me from a $2 book rack, promising things unknown, promising stories unheard, promising… Oron! Yes, Oron, he of the name that cannot grace a paragraph enough, he whose book my girlfriend bought me for those two dollars, almost the same price that he was upon his first appearance in 1978!
So, if you’re wondering why I would dedicate an entire blog (or at least, a few posts before I get bored) to an obscure David C. Smith character (Smith is best known for more specific Howard pastiches), you need only gaze upon the first paragraph of the backmatter to Oron, the first book in the Oron series:
Oron the Nevgan walked among his fallen comrades, mercifully slashing throats and breaking open brains. He was a young man, this Oron, a young warrior, but his mien was that of a slayer of men. His young man’s face was scarred and hardened with lines; his full beard was matted and coarse. The knotted hands that held so well the rough steel were stained and calloused; his eyes under the somber brows were shadowed with a hundred crimson conflicts..
What really got me, however, was the number of times that Oron’s name comes up within a page, paragraph, or sentence, as a wonderful example:
But memories came to Oron, old thoughts of a time in the Nevgan hills when he fought not for wealth or women, but because he was Oron, a warrior.
And so forth. So, upon reading just the first 30 or 40 pages of Oron I decided that it was too wonderful to keep to myself, too great a thing to be relegated to only its original printings–a book that treads its line so perfectly that I don’t even know if I’m making fun of it or just enjoying it, because who cares? It’s Oron. Oron!
I will be writing down my impressions as I make my way through Oron (the title that should have had an exclamation point), and possibly the rest of the four book series. (That’s right, four books, don’t trust Wikipedia or the book covers themselves, as I learned right here.)
So enjoy… enjoy Oron!