Sunday, November 18, 2007

Towering Adventure

Yesterday I was re-reading Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, The Howling Tower, and I started wondering why so many Sword & Sorcery stories have to do with towers. In addition to Lieber's tale there is Robert E. Howard's seminal S&S story featuring Conan, The Tower of the Elephant, and a mysterious tower also figures in Howard's non-Conan story, The Garden of Fear.
Michael Moorcock weighs in with the Elric novella, The Vanishing Tower and L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter send Conan to yet another tower in their pastiche, The Gem in the Tower, then each man writes his own tower centered novel, de Camp's The Goblin Tower, and Carter's The Tower at the Edge of Time.
Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas gets into the act with The Strange High Tower in the Mist in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian comic. Of that story, Thomas says, “Issue #56 was a potboiler. It had elements of a typical Conan story, including a monster and a tower.”
So what is it about towers? Well avoiding the obvious Freudian symbolism, I think that towers are somehow linked in our minds with magic. Most wizards in fairy tales live in towers. Rapunzel was imprisoned in a tower and so was sleeping beauty. Think of the Disney castle and you see soaring towers with banners fluttering in the breeze. The image is romantic and evocative of adventures 'beyond the fields we know'. Towers are just plain cool. I think I need to write a story with a tower in it.


Steve said...

I think towers show up a lot in sword-and-sorcery because they present such challenges to the protagonist trying to break into one. There is the height, and the climb, and the danger of falling, and the potential for archery or hot-oil attacks from above.

And towers are fun to describe, too, often jabbing skyward like a raised dagger or some such thing.

Yep. Gotta love a good tower.

-- Steve

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Very good points, Steve. I'm sure we'll be seeing more S&S towers in the future.