L. Sprague de Camp (1907 – 2000) was a prolific writer and popularizer of the fantasy genre, an engineer by trade, and something of a self-taught history and Classics scholar. (I just read his excellent, still relevant debunking of the Atlantis myth, Lost Continents). He edited the very first heroic fantasy or sword and sorcery anthology called Swords & Sorcery (Pyramid, 1963), which I’ll talk about in a later post. The phrase `heroic fantasy’ was coined by de Camp in 1963 (OED citation here); ‘sword and sorcery’ was coined by Fritz Leiber in 1961 (OED citation here).
His unsentimental grounding of the genre is right on, I think—from a traditional male perspective, anyway:
Heroic fantasy is alive and flourishing. The more complex, cerebral, and restrained the civilization, the more men’s minds return to a dream of earlier times, when issues of good and evil were clear-cut and a man could venture out with his sword, conquer his enemies, and win a kingdom and a beautiful woman. The idea is compelling, even though such an age probably never existed.
Here’s de Camp’s slightly less sexist description from the 1967 Ace edition of Conan:
Such a story combines the color and dash of the historical costume romance with the atavistic supernatural thrills of the weird, occult, or ghost story. When well done, it provides the purest fun of fiction of any kind. It is escape fiction wherein one escapes clear out of the real world into one where all men are strong, all women beautiful, all life adventurous, and all problems simple, and nobody even mentions the income tax or the dropout problem or socialized medicine.
He doesn’t mention D&D, but, to prove the point of his short piece, there’s an ad near the back of the same issue (page 153 of 194).
What’s interesting is that the ad itself wants to be complex and cerebral, and tries to appeal to a more “sophisticated” audience. (The translation is “Play Dungeons & Dragons… Always ahead of the game.”) I’ve been going through a long run of Omni and will post all the D&D ads (and other interesting material). Archive.org has a large catalog of Omni for viewing, but the ads have been left out. That’s to be expected, considering the length of the magazine.