I have been asked to write an article on the works that have inspired and influenced me the most and I’m delighted to, because if there’s one thing I dearly love above all else, it’s talking about my favorite books and movies.
I dedicated the first of the Seven Forges novels to Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. When it comes to naming the greats in Sword & Sorcery, you don’t have to look much further. Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I dedicated the book to them because they were inspirations from the very first. They were my first discoveries in the world of Sword & Sorcery and they were a very hard act to follow.
Honestly, I can’t begin to imagine a better foundation. You can factor in later authors, like Michael Moorcock, who gave us the Eternal Champion in all of his myriad incarnations, and far more recently Joe Abercrombie, whose prose stuns me every time I read it. They have definitely left their mark in the field, but they are hardly the only ones. If you want to get picky you can go all the way back to Greek and Norse mythology for tales of heroes who fought against often overwhelming odds and took chances no sane person would consider. The thing about it is, there have been as many influences on what I’ve written as there have been books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. Oh, and lest I forget, there are the comic books to consider, too.
Roy Thomas was one of the strongest influences in the comics for me. He was one of the only writers regularly working with Conan and delving into the realms where for a few coins a barbarian might be convinced to fight on your side of the war. Get a Cimmerian into the mix and I would likely grab that title just as quickly as I could, especially with artists like Barry Windsor-Smith providing the illustrations. I was addicted to the stuff for a very long time, until, suddenly, I wasn’t.
I have said more than once that the problem I ran into was that I kept coming across the exact same story, give or take a little camouflage.
Let me explain that. Once upon a time there was a gentleman named J.R.R. Tolkien. He wrote a novel I loved called The Hobbit. He also wrote The Silmarillion and The Lord Of The Rings. You might have heard of him. I ate remember Rankin Bass, the folks who made nearly every Christmas movie made for kids, gave us the first movie adaptation of The Hobbit and I watched it when it first aired, utterly mesmerized. I was stunned by that story. So stunned, in fact, that I actually read the novel. I also read everything else I could find by Tolkien. Some of it I liked, some of it was too complex for me as a child—I started reading them when I was around ten. The complexity of The Lord Of The Rings hurt my brain, though, oddly, I devoured The Silmarillion. From there it was like, well, like I had tried a gateway drug. I dabbled in everyone. I read the whole Elric of Melnibone series voraciously and raged at the ending, which seemed so damnably unfair. I had friends who pointed out Leiber and Moorcock and Howard. I dabbled in Clark Ashton Smith, and read the entire War of the Wizards series of books by Andrew J. Offut and Richard Lyon. I feasted on more comics, like Red Sonja (Not to be confused with Howard’s Red Sonya), and I discovered the Chronicles Of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander, possibly the most staggering coming of age story I ever ran across.
I devoured everything for a very long time and with the exceptions I mention above I started to discover, slowly, and with a truly unsettling trepidation, that most of the stories I was grabbing were, well, a bit derivative, really.
In the series of books (sometimes stand alone but often a trilogy) an orphan boy dreams of being a great hero. He daydreams of it while enduring his mundane life. He revels in tales of the glory that was there for the taking when the Good Guys of Kingdom Awesome took on and defeated the Bad Guys from The Land of Terrible Armies.
He was stuck and dealing with the mundane world and then, one day, the Evil Overlord of The Land of Terrible Armies, who has been defeated and ALMOST destroyed, would start his comeback.
And before you know it, out adventurous youth was out in the woods (or in a cave, possibly just kicking pebbles in the field instead of picking the harvest, you get the idea) where he would A) meet a girl who was unlikeable but somehow irresistible, and B) find a magic Totem of Power. Said totem could be a sword, a shield, possibly even a ring, but whatever the case that totem was the thing that would, or just possible could defeat the returning Evil Overlord.
I’m the first to admit that my memories are colored by decades of disdain. The simple fact really comes down to me feeling that everything had already been done. To Death. Repeatedly. Again.
I moved on. I stopped reading fantasy completely. Not interested, thank you. I’d watch an occasional movie. Star Wars (say what you will, it’s a fantasy with a sci-fi setting and I love it); The Sword and The Sorcerer; the animated Ralph Bakshi Lord Of The Rings (which was pretty, but absolutely impossible to follow); Excalibur… Take your pick, but I was far too burned out on bad fantasy novels to every read one again.
Did you catch the operative word? “Bad” fantasy novels.
While I was away, for a very long time, the most amazing thing happened. People kept writing good fantasy novels. People like David Gemmell, George R.R. Martin, Robert Aspirin (Thieves World!) and others kept on writing. I made an exception for Thieves World, by the way. I had no trouble at all with short stories, especially when they weren’t about a boy and his magic ring.
I dabbled now and then, but had convinced myself that there was nothing new.
Then that Stephen King follow decided to write something that wasn’t horror. It was a dystopian, world-trotting, steampunky, horrifying, quest that had more in common with sword and sorcery or high fantasy than horror, and where, weird as it sounded, the knights of the realm sported six shooters instead of swords. It was fantasy, but like nothing I had ever read before. The Dark Tower series drew me back into the old neighborhood. I was willing to look around at least, even if I wasn’t really shopping for a place to live right then. And then Tim Lebbon, a writer I knew and admired ( Still do, by the way) came along and wrote a series of novels set in Noreela, a fictitious world where things had gone very badly in the past. Only this time, there was no spunky boy, spunky girlfriend or Object of Power to save the day.
And I finally allowed that , maybe, just maybe, fantasy wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
And the ideas started in the back of my head. Instead of writing a horror novel, my brain kept telling me to try something really different. It told me to write the fantasy story I always wanted to read.
Throughout this ramble yu wills ee that I’ve mentioned many names. They are all my influences. They are all my inspiration. There are more. Stan lee and Jack Kirby recreated the legends of Asgard in comic book form. They always fascinated me. Those same gentlemen also revitalized comic books in general along the way and I devoured their works. I can’t hope to cover all of the books I’ve read over the years. I can mention a few names. Stephen King and Peter Straub banded together to write an epic fantasy called The Talisman. Some people would call it horror, but I know better. It’s a fantasy wrapped in some horrific moments or scintillating terror and I can never recommend it enough. Charles de Lint came along and threw fantasy into a modern setting. There were probably others before him, but he’s the one I noticed first and the one I most often come back to. Roger Zelazny blew my mind with the Chronicles of Amber, and I was delighted.
T.H. White, the unbelievable Gene Wolfe (Seriously! Read his stuff!), Marion Zimmer Bradley, Karl Edward Wagner, Roald Dahl, Mercedes Lackey, Joel Rosenberg, Madeline L’Engle, Manly Wade Wellman, Larry Niven, Clark Ashton Smith, Avram Davidson, Raymond E. Feist, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Golden, David Eddings, Nancy Springer, Fred Saberhagen, the incomparable Andre Norton, Piers Anthony, Elizabeth Moon, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Elizabeth Hand, Philip Jose Farmer, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Patricia McKillup, Ursula K. Leguin, Katherine Kurtz, William Hope Hodgson, Gary Gygax, Terry Goodkind, Diane Duane, Glen Cook, Stephen R. Donaldson, Lynn Abbey, my god, the list could go on for pages. They have all influenced me. They have all inspired me. They have all, at one time or another, taken me to new worlds that I would have never imagined without their help. There are more, of course, but I couldn’t hope to name them all.
James A. Moore’s Seven Forges series is published by Angry Robot Books, and includes: Seven Forges, The Blasted Lands, City of Wonders and the upcoming The Silent Army (April 2016). Here’s the synopsis for the first in the series:
The people of Fellein have lived with legends for many centuries. To their far north, the Blasted Lands, a legacy of an ancient time of cataclysm, are vast, desolate and impassable, but that doesn’t stop the occasional expedition into their fringes in search of any trace of the ancients who once lived there… and oft-rumoured riches.
Captain Merros Dulver is the first in many lifetimes to find a path beyond the great mountains known as the Seven Forges and encounter, at last, the half‐forgotten race who live there. And it would appear that they were expecting him.
As he returns home, bringing an entourage of the strangers with him, he starts to wonder whether his discovery has been such a good thing. For the gods of this lost race are the gods of war, and their memories of that far-off cataclysm have not faded.