Green Ronin Publishing, best known for publishing tabletop roleplaying games like Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana, Dungeons and Dragons: Out of the Abyss, the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and the Dragon Age RPG.
But their latest release, by authors Scott Alan Woodard and Arnold T. Blumberg, is a history of fantasy films! Not only that, but Cinema and Sorcery toes the line of RPG and history by translating something from each film into the language of gaming. Covering 50 films from the dawn of filmmaking to the present day, beginning with The Thief of Baghdad and concluding with the first Peter Jackson Hobbit film. Cinema and Sorcery is true to its byline—it is the Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film, and should not be missed.
Coauthor Scott Alan Woodard describes the book as “an all-in-one go-to source for any sword and sorcery fan that wanted a fun and informative guide to their favorite genre that they could keep on their coffee table and reference whenever they rewatched a film or discovered a new one.”
Within its pages are detailed, chapter-long looks into the cast, music, creation, and legacy of 50 films, “across the whole range of quality from legendary to lackluster…[so] be aware that the 50 films are in no way a ‘best of’ list. We have included a few of the absolute worst examples of sword and sorcery cinema that we could find!” On top of that, the back of the book has an impressively-detailed index of nearly every “sword and sorcery” film ever made, some 400 titles, with a short blurb of information on each. Coauthor Arnold T. Blumberg proudly attributes the index’s existence to “our ‘secret weapon,’ third author Rochelle Blumberg.”
Green Ronin Publishing is no stranger to releasing non-RPG books—Scott helpfully notes “they had already published two fantastic books that weren’t RPG books (Family Games: The 100 Best and Hobby Games: The 100 Best)—but there’s actually some hidden gaming material secreted away in Cinema and Sorcery’s pages. Scott insisted from the outset that the book contain gaming content.
“For every one of the 50 films that has a full chapter, there’s a section titled ‘Take Up Thy Sword’ which offers game masters table-ready material from each of the featured films (things like the Tri-Bladed Sword from The Sword and the Sorcerer, the Eyeball Guardian from Big Trouble in Little China, and the Witch’s Blackhouse Cottage from Brave). Then there’s ‘This Year in Gaming,’ which details a host of game industry-related events that happened during the year of each film’s release. For example, did you know that the famous “red box” edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released the same year that the films Hercules (starring Lou Ferrigno) and Krull were gracing movie screens?
Also, as someone who often plays background music during my own gaming sessions, I really wanted to include a section about the various movie soundtracks to help fans track down these scores to enjoy during their own games; we called this section ‘Music of the Minstrels.'”
Arnold adds, “And [the music section] had to be in there, since it was a film soundtrack for Deathstalker II that actually started the conversation where we came up with the idea for doing the book in the first place!”
And of course, the book is packed with some of the best fantasy geek trivia around. Arnold enigmatically hints at witnessing a forgotten kernel of film history when he and Scott watched Lucio Fulci’s Conquest, and slyly leaves the rest for you to discover when you read the book. Other bits of trivia were gleaned from primary sources: “Chris Walas in particular helped to clarify his role in the making of Dragonslayer, and he was one of many that answered questions and offered insight where we needed it.” But in Scott’s mind, “some of the best material came from folks attached to lesser-known and even low-budget films.” Many geeks raucously enjoy the campy insanity of so-bad-it’s-good films like the Red Sonja and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules, and Cinema and Sorcery is stuffed with “warts and all” descriptions of its subjects.
“Alas,” Scott said, “not all the news was good; we did notice a fair number of unfortunate passings during the writing of the book. This also had us frequently going back into the manuscript. We saw the deaths of such luminaries as stop motion animator and director Ray Harryhausen (to whom the book is dedicated); fight coordinator Bob Anderson; Excalibur’s Merlin, Nicol Williamson; and Saruman himself, the great Christopher Lee.”
“It was a sad job to keep updating our section on the casts of the various films to add the dates of their deaths,” Arnold replied. “Just another byproduct of working on such a sprawling project for so long, but we were eager to wrap up lest the book itself was somehow responsible for magically influencing the loss of so many luminaries!”
On a happier note, Scott and Arnold both believe that we are entering a great new age of fantasy filmmaking. From someone living in the 21st century, fantasy film seems to be something maligned as a low-art summer blockbuster, with the notable exception of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. But as Cinema and Sorcery’s first few chapters show, that was not always the case, and it seems like it may soon change again.
Scott fondly remembers “during the late ’70s and early to mid-’80s, sword-and-sorcery films experienced a resurgence thanks in part to things like Dungeons & Dragons, popular fantasy novels, heavy metal music, and the proliferation of fantasy imagery from artists like Boris Vallejo and the late Frank Frazetta. Sword-wielding warriors doing battle with mighty dragons were appearing on the sides of vans, on album covers, and in Saturday morning cartoons. They were also showing up on VHS box art on the shelves of your local video stores as smaller studios, at the hands of people like Roger Corman, began to realize that you didn’t need an enormous budget to tell a cinematic tale of swords and sorcerers, and that as long as you delivered some sexy stars (and a healthy dose of skin) you would see great return in the home video market.
He also has “high hopes for the [upcoming] Dungeons & Dragons film. The last few years, especially since the release of the game’s 5th edition, have shown that there is definitely interest in the property, and in the hands of those who understand what makes it so appealing, a new motion picture could well prove to be a success. I look forward to it!”
That attitude of optimism is something that geekdom is sorely lacking. Vitriol and negativity is all too prevalent in our nerdy world right now. But at least Scott and Arnold’s historical masterwork, Cinema and Sorcery, gives us a chance to marvel at the heights of fantasy film greatness and cackle madly at stories of the genre’s absolute lowest points.
UPDATE: Cinema and Sorcery can be ordered from the Green Ronin Publishing online store as a physical volume or as an eBook. Scott adds, “If you’re going to be at Gen Con this week, you’ll be able to grab a copy directly from Green Ronin’s booth AND get it signed by Arnold and me on Saturday at 2pm!”
Are you interested in the history of fantasy? Cinema and Sorcery is the comprehensive history for you! Let us know about some of your favorite fantasy films in the comments, or tweet to us at @GeekandSundry!
Featured Image Credit: Green Ronin Publishing