Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Narrowing of Fantasy Didn’t Just Happen.

There’s an epic post up by Ron Edwards about what fantasy used to be like:

Along came what can only be called sudden national hysteria. It had a lot to do with the emergence of the Moral Majority in the run-up to Ronald Reagan’s nomination, but it penetrated deeply into the mainstream. Strangely, it managed to subsume and include what had been anti-establishment activism as well. Tipper Gore kept us all safe with warning labels on Frank Zappa albums. Mothers everywhere threw their kids’ stacks of comics into the trash in a replay of the late 1950s. Much of this activity was the direct sequel to the Zap Comix obscenity case, exposing a split between pro-sex women’s libbers and puritanic second-wave feminists, and paralleled the run-up to the Meese Commission Report in 1986.

The other day, Sarah Hoyt mentioned offhand how reverberations from this cultural movement are still being felt today:

In the same way, we’ve been told ad nauseum that we needed more women heroes in books, so that girls could aspire to being heroic. No one is saying anything about the complete dearth of male anything in books these days. Instead they say “boys don’t read.”

This recalls also that Ray Bradbury interview that I mentioned:

The need for romance is constant, and again, it’s pooh-poohed by intellectuals. As a result they’re going to stunt their kids. You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance.

This in turn is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

And that leads us to today’s Appendix N installment:

RETROSPECTIVE: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

These are good stories. And more than that, Conan is the personification of decency, an amalgam of Texas men that Robert E. Howard knew in Depression-era Texas: “various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen.” And yet this sort of thing was subjected to multiple waves of hysteria. I’ll tell you one thing, though. You will not see Robert E. Howard on your son’s reading lists. His teachers will not be recommending Conan. You’ll probably have a hard time finding Conan stories at the library. The tales will not turn up in stuff like Willam J. Bennet’s “The Book of Virtues.” And I’m telling you that’s weird. It’s wrong, even. At the very least, it is a missed opportunity.

At lot more than just the bathwater gets thrown out when these nudniks have their way…!

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5 responses to “The Narrowing of Fantasy Didn’t Just Happen.

  1. Dwight Grosso September 23, 2014 at 8:41 am

    All too true. I raised myself on Howard, Leiber, Tolkien, and others while school and society did it’s best to destroy my imagination. These days I have two girls and I find it refreshing they love heroes, male or female.

  2. Jeff Eppenbach September 23, 2014 at 10:29 am

    A big part of this is the publishing cycle. Publishers want authors that can pump out book after book, or franchises that do likewise. Conan was at his most popular during the 80s, when new novels came out like clockwork. But, when the franchise ran out of steam, it got dropped like a hot rock. Then, the group in control of Conan became hostile to anything but Howard’s original stories. You can tell this from the commentaries in the anthology mentioned above, as well as the second one. Purests, they sought to remake Conan without the other author’s works. That didn’t last, because to continue to generate money, the franchise had to produce more stuff to sell.

    The point is, many of the works you have been highlighting were big at the beginning of RPGs, because new works from the authors or franchises, which promoted back catalog. When those authors and franchises died, so did sales of their books.

  3. JSpace September 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Early science fiction and fantasy has a lot in common with westerns, both in print and film. I could almost imagine Sam Peckinpaugh directing a Conan adaption (Ride the High Country… of Cimmeria?).

    Anyways, it seems like westerns, which are often just as fantastical as sci-fi/ fantasy have been given a pass in some ways. That might be changing though. I have talked to people lately who think that most westerns are racist for some reason or another. Which of course invalidates all other content of them. It would be nice to hear these thoroughly researched opinions after they’ve actually bothered to read or watch some westerns, but who has time for that anymore?

    • jeffro September 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      I see that with Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. These authors come up in conversation and there is always someone who has to announce that these guys were racist. This is intoned as if the authors have been read out of the Quaker meeting or something.

      This is just boorish behavior if you ask me.

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