by Bill Ward
The world of adventure fantasy and sword & sorcery has grown a little dimmer with the passing of Charles Saunders in May of this year at the age of 74. Though best known among genre fans for his Imaro saga, Saunders worked diligently as a journalist and historian, with much of his focus over the years devoted to the Black Canadian experience, most especially as it pertains to Nova Scotia, which Saunders called home for 35 years.
But it is the Imaro tales that have brought Saunders international acclaim, a growing fanbase, and recognition as the Father of Sword & Soul – a burgeoning sub-genre of African inspired fantastic fiction. About the genesis of those stories, Saunders said:
I started reading more about the history and culture of Africa. And I began to realize that in the SF and fantasy genre, blacks were, with only few exceptions, either left out or depicted in racist and stereotypic ways. I had a choice: I could either stop reading SF and fantasy, or try to do something about my dissatisfaction with it by writing my own stories and trying to get them published. I chose the latter course.
And we are all the richer for that choice. Though sadly unheralded at the time and fraught with publication difficulties, the entirety of Saunders’ Imaro saga did finally see print a decade ago, and much more besides: a pair of books on the female hero Dossouye, a collection of short stories taking place in Imaro’s world, a pulp novel set in 1930s Harlem, the initial volume in a new epic fantasy…a wealth of riches pouring forth in a late-career renaissance. In the coming months, we here at Tales From the Magician’s Skull will be honoring Charles Saunders’ legacy by more fully exploring these new classics of the genre. While it is natural to wish that we had yet more of his work, it is in gratitude to Charles Saunders that we end our brief tribute: gratitude for giving so much of himself, gratitude for not giving up on fantasy fiction when perhaps he had every reason to do so, gratitude for expanding the horizons of our little corner of literature.
Thank you, Charles.