One of the earliest modern incarnations of adventure fantasy can be found from the pen of Lord Dunsany, a prolific and talented author of fairy tales, adventure fantasy, and other tales more difficult to classify. Dunsany is one of the great stylists of fantasy literature, his prose very near to poetry. He is enjoyable in both his long and short works, which can be found in a variety of good collections. Two of his longer novels include The King of Elfland's Daughter and The Charwoman's Shadow.
The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth is one of Dunsany's most beloved short tales (along with the Sword of Welleran) and stands as a flawless example of adventure fantasy. Here, Leothric seeks to free his people from the enslaving dreams of the otherworldly sorcerer Gaznak:
And still the dreams came flitting through the forest, and led men's souls into the plains of Hell. Then the magician knew that the dreams were from Gaznak. Therefore he gathered the people of the village, and told them that he had uttered his mightiest spell--a spell having power over all that were human or of the tribes of the beasts; and that since it had not availed the dreams must come from Gaznak, the greatest magician among the spaces of the stars. And he read to the people out of the Book of Magicians, which tells the comings of the comet and foretells his coming again. And he told them how Gaznak rides upon the comet, and how he visits Earth once in every two hundred and thirty years, and makes for himself a vast, invincible fortress and sends out dreams to feed on the minds of men, and may never be vanquished but by the sword Sacnoth.Leothric undertakes the dangerous task of seizing Sacnoth; then, with the might afforded him by the sword Sacnoth, he faces Gaznak and his fell minions in the Fortress Unvanquishable. For fans of fairy tale, adventure fantasy, or anyone seeking some of the most beautiful prose in the fantasy genre, this is one that must not be missed. (Full text of short story can be found here).
And a cold fear fell on the hearts of the villagers when they found that their magician had failed them.
Then spake Leothric, son of the Lord Lorendiac, and twenty years old was he: "Good Master, what of the sword Sacnoth?"
And the village magician answered: "Fair Lord, no such sword as yet is wrought, for it lies as yet in the hide of Tharagavverug, protecting his spine."
Then said Leothric: "Who is Tharagavverug, and where may he be encountered?"
And the magician of Allathurion answered: "He is the dragon-crocodile who haunts the Northern marshes and ravages the homesteads by their marge. And the hide of his back is of steel, and his under parts are of iron; but along the midst of his back, over his spine, there lies a narrow strip of unearthly steel. This strip of steel is Sacnoth, and it may be neither cleft nor molten, and there is nothing in the world that may avail to break it, nor even leave a scratch upon its surface. It is of the length of a good sword, and of the breadth thereof. Shouldst thou prevail against Tharagavverug, his hide may be melted away from Sacnoth in a furnace; but there is only one thing that may sharpen Sacnoth's edge, and this is one of Tharagavverug's own steel eyes; and the other eye thou must fasten to Sacnoth's hilt, and it will watch for thee. But it is a hard task to vanquish Tharagavverug, for no sword can pierce his hide; his back cannot be broken, and he can neither burn nor drown. In one way only can Tharagavverug die, and that is by starving."
Cross-posted to Fantastic Fictions.