A few thoughts on Jirel

My recent posts over at Castalia House have focused on women in SFF; more specifically the fact that they’re nothing new! Contra one of the sub-bullets of The Narrative, great women writers and characters have been present in fantasy and scifi for ages. My latest example is C.L. Moore, who’s gotten a fair amount of recognition in the OSR/pulp scene all along and has seen a little burst of mentions over the past week or two in particular.

Finding a starting point with a writer as prolific as Burroughs or Brackett or Vance or Moore can prove a challenge. Luckily for me, I had stored away in my mindbox a review of Cirsova’s from last year. Jirel of Joiry just sounded both fascinating and different. For those of us who grew up on endless iterations and derivations of Dragonlance and Gary Stu the Emo Elf and a small, merciful injection of the Hobbit, this stuff continues to be mind-blowing:

A fiery barbarian-woman lordess who journeys to hell and blackens her soul to gain a weapon with which to vanquish her conqueror, only to realize too late her love for him.

Holy crap, that’s a weird tale.


Anyway, here are a few thoughts and takeaways from reading the five Jirel stories written exclusively by Moore (there was one additional one penned in collaboration with her husband, which wasn’t included in the collection I read).

1. I mentioned this in my CH post, but it bears repeating – the Jirel stories aren’t primarily fantasy in the way the genre is understood today. This is probably because the genres didn’t used to be so rigid. Sure, Jirel of Joiry has fantasy elements. But it’s a weird tale; it’s horror.

2. Related – Jirel of Joiry is widely considered by critics to be a foundational, if underrated, member of the sword and sorcery sub-genre. This isn’t something I really care enough about to make an impassioned argument over, but I honestly don’t really see it. “Jirel Meets Magic” could fall into that basket, but the other tales contained very little if any physical combat. That is, she cuts up a few unseen horrors in the first tale, and she shanks a guard through a door in the last (which was admitedly pretty cool), but most of her conflicts are overcome by virtue of her spiritual and emotional strength, her prodigious courage, and her indominable will. There is certainly plenty of magic and an abundance of the strange and supernatural, but not a whole lot of “sword” going on at all.


3. Howard and Vance are still my favorite writers. What I mean is that Howard’s prose is just beautiful and flowing and demonstrates a clear understanding of economy of words. As Kaiju noted, it’s “lean and mean.” And it’s poetic.

Vance, on the other hand, knew how to both wield and craft words and build worlds like a true grandmaster. Some people may find it befuddling or pretentious, it’s true, but I absolutely love it.

That’s to say nothing of their titantic imaginations.

Well, Brackett impressed me to a similar, though not quite (yet) matching degree. Moore has, as well. I found the writing in “Black God’s Kiss” to be a little uneven in a purely technical sense, but I think that is most likely because it was written early on in her career and was perhaps less polished than her succeeding works.

Like with Howard, there is a poetic flow to Moore’s writing that not many authors achieve. The Jirel stories are lean, well-crafted, and wonderfully creative.

4. Moore would have fit right in if she were included in Appendix N.

Edit: After arguing on Twitter with some nerd-friends, I’m going to revise this statement. Personally, I found the Jirel stories to have much the same feel, in terms of content, setting, imagination, and characters, as some of the other beloved Appendix N authors. Compelling arguments have been put forth as to why Jirel is not “D&D,” and so I will concede that point. But the more important statement I wanted to make still stands – if you like the Appendix N stuff, you will like Moore.

Not only did she associate with and befriend writers like Brackett, Lovecraft, and Howard, but the way they inspired one another is pretty clear when you read their stuff.

That’s it for now. Go find some C.L. Moore to read.



15 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Jirel

  1. Also, it’s funny to see art of Jirel in boob-armor. Cuz like, you take the full face helmet off a person wearing boob-armor, you’re not going to be all “Gasp, there was a lady under there!” Unless you live in a fantasy world where everyone wears boob-armor that is so not *tchk tchk*.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, yeah, that had occurred to me, too. Though some of the stories do describe her curves (repeatedly) and the fact that she’s got a fair amount of skin showing between her pieces of armor. So maybe she’s got different outfits for sieges and adventurers? ;)


      1. Yeah, when you’re fighting in a siege, you’re prolly not going anywhere. When you’re out adventuring, it’s probably in your best interest to sacrifice a bit of protection in favor of something that’s not going to completely bog you down and exhaust you.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read any Kuttner yet, but having encounter Moore’s name so often among the OSR crowd, I have had to remind myself of her omission from AppN, too!


  2. Horror elements play a much more prominent role in sword and sorcery than in epic fantasy.

    Now that I’ve read some Howard and some de Camp/Lin Carter and some 80s Conan pastiches, there seem to be some pretty clear eras of sword and sorcery. The proto-sword and sorcery (at least the Howard Conan tales) seem to lean a little heavier on the horror, to keep the supernatural elements limited and strange, and even to be a little lighter on the action, relatively speaking. It will be interesting to read the Jirel stories in light of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you’re right. Howard’s fantasy had plenty of horror elements.

      It could be that I just haven’t read enough sword and sorcery, but comparing the Jirel stories to Howard’s Kull, Conan, Kane, etc, or to Leiber’s duo…it just seems to me that she falls into a different sub-genre, if any.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m from the Far Side of the Appendix N divide, and I find that I couldn’t care less about genre, sub or otherwise.

    C.L. Moore was one of the greats and she influenced a large number of writers who were/are better than I’ll ever be.

    Read more C.L. Moore; you won’t regret it.

    Yes, that pun was intended.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, of course – genre isn’t really of any substantive import. But part of human nature is the compulsion to categorize things, if only for ease of communication. That’s more or less the extent of my interest in genre.

      That’s right – I remember Jim mentioning one of your books on Twitter or his blog once! I had no idea before that you were a writer, John. What have you written? Feel free to plug your stuff in the comments!


  4. “Feel free to plug your stuff in the comments!”

    Let me see if I can make you regret that…

    Most of my work is short, RPG-related and written a long time ago (late 70’s to mid-80s)
    I wrote a number of articles for The Wyrm’s Footnotes (Chaosium Inc. in-house magazine) and for RuneQuest Adventures by the great John Castelluci.
    I also contributed to a number of supplements for Chaosium’s RuneQuest and Stormbringer games, including the RQ Borderlands boxed set. This received a number of impressive reviews in 1982 and more recently on Black Gate.

    More recently, I have self-published my novel Queen’s Heir, which is set at the end of the Bronze Age (1500 BC) among the Hittites. This is the first in The Children of Khetar series, set in an alternate Earth where dragons and magic are real, the races of Faerie exist, and the Thousand Gods of the Hittites dabble in the affairs of Men with bright and bloody hands.

    Jim Fear138 is currently working on the audiobook for Queen’s Heir while I’m at work on the sequel Raven’s Blood. If you or anyone you know reads or listens to Queen’s Heir, please visit Amazon.com and writeup a review. I need as many reviews as I can get.

    You can point and laugh. I don’t mind.

    John E. Boyle

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “lordess” ?! Lady you mean! Lady! :)

    Seriously, tho’ thanks for this post. I picked up “The best of CL Moore” a while while ago and I notice that it has a Jirel of Joiry story in it (The Black Gods Kiss). I recently reread some Northwest Smith stories from it; now I’ll have to check out Jirel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha yeah, was just taking a little license. She acts like and assumes the masculine role of a lord in most ways, except that she is a woman.

      I hope you enjoy the story and that you’ll share your thoughts when you get to it!


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