Sword and Sorcery Week: The Sorcerers of Sword and Sorcery

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

[This originally appeared on Silvia’s blog, September 18, 2012.]

Poor sorcerers. They’re always the bad guys and the swords always seem to take center front. Despite a few magic users in prime roles, like Elric, sorcerers without swords seem to be out of the adventure loop. They may work as assistants to the hero or, in the case of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, patrons, but they are seldom the heroes.

No, sorcerers are just plain evil. Their shtick is to conquer the world and destroy the good guys. Today, I’m looking at my favourite sorcerers. They’re bad, they’re mad and they’re…usually defeated.

First off, Xaltotun is just plain cool. This is not only an evil wizard but an ancient, resurrected evil wizard who appears in The Hour of the Dragon. Unlike some other wizards, who went to the School of Stupid, Xaltotun kind of knows what he’s doing. He’s probably the most devious sorcerer Conan ever encounters.

The most recent Conan adaptation lacked on several fronts, but I did enjoy the look and feel of the evil witch Marique. I actually liked her better than her father and wished she would have been the main baddie. Actually, I really like evil witches. The latest Snow White flick’s only redeeming quality was the fabulous attitude and dresses of the evil witch.

Before departing the realm of Robert E. Howard, it’s worth mentioning Thulsa Doom, who faces off against Kull on paper and was used for Conan on the big screen. His eyes are like fire and his face is a skull. So, yeah. This is Skeletor before Skeletor. In the Conan movie, he transforms into a big snake.

Theleb K’aarna is the constant foe of Elric. He is a sorceror of Pan Tang who first appears in The Stealer of Souls. He gets into a beef with Elric when his lover trades him for Elric and gives him the boot. Elric, obsessive compulsive as he is, finds his perfect enemy in the equally compulsive Theleb K’aarna.

Clark Ashton Smith had a bevy of evil sorcerers in all his stories. One of them stands out due to his Mythos connection. Eibon is the author of The Book of Eibon and a priest of Zhothaqquah – Tsathoggua for you and me. He has a cool place – living on a five-sided tower overseeing the ocean. He escaped to Saturn through a magical door to avoid capture. Does that count as a happy ending?

From the land of the small screen, it’s worth mentioning Mumm-Ra, the antagonist of the Thundercats. In his natural state, Mumm-Ra is a decrepit mummy. However, when he calls upon the powers of what look like evil Egyptian gods, he becomes a beefy dude. He is capable of sorcerous tricks, including impersonating others.

She may not qualify as a sword and sorcery villain (’cause who knows if she’s bad and she’s inhabiting an epic fantasy), but I just want to pause and point out Melisandre, the fiery red-headed priestess of the Song of Ice and fire series. I’ll bet my poster of Krull she is not as young or pretty as we think. Shades of Xaltotun, I’d say.

Who are your favourite sorcerers of sword and sorcery books and films? Are they all evil?

Submissions for our Sword and Mythos anthology open on January 15, 2013.