There are more than a few people in that scene that would like to talk books and games and I’m happy to boost the signal on that. I’d like to see more of this go on in fandom, after all.
A fan with the handle of “andyl” writes:
On Appendix N,
It is always surprising when I look over the list and see what is on the list and what isn’t. There are a number of writers / books which I wouldn’t have chosen (either then or now). There are a number of books which I would have done – the Jirel Of Joiry stories for example, or Earthsea, or Forgotten Beasts of Eld, or ER Eddison’s work, even Avram Davidson. I would be interested in seeing an article (but not on Castalia) on what you would have chosen (and which would have been possible at the time)
Also are you going to compare and contrast the Appendix N stuff with Page B62 in Moldvay Basic D&D (which also gave an inspirational reading list)?
Finally what do you think about Appendix E (the D&D 5e equivalent)?
Lots of questions from me – but I hope you will find them of enough interest to consider them and reply.
I do not plan to stop once I complete the initial run of 42 retrospectives– there is much more to explore. I can tell you that there is a consensus within the game blogging community (that is old school role-playing, not pick up artistry, by the way) that C. L. Moore and Ursala K. Le Guin are not only done a disservice by being left of the list, but that people have actually improved their tabletop gaming with Earthsea. They are high on my priority list to look into. However… I have to say that I will not be easily distracted from my pursuit of more fiction by Leigh Brackett. She is easily among my favorite Appendix N authors and I really would like to track down more of her stuff. Finally, (yes, there’s a theme here), I do want to investigate more Andre Norton to see how applicable her work is to Traveller gaming. (Although I admit, Piper and Tubb probably had more influence on the game rules than she did… nevertheless, she is still a big deal.)
As to your other questions, James Maliszewski’s post on Appendix N and Moldvay B52 is probably better than anything I could write on that topic. And Wayne Rossi has written an excellent post on Appendix E that I think you would enjoy.
Thank you so much asking me about this. This sort of discussion is something I get a great deal of enjoyment from.
Brian Z writes:
Thanks for coming back – I was away on mundane business or I would have joined in earlier. I haven’t finished your whole N-Series but so far they are great reads. I admire your chutzpah given the sheer number of books out there that we haven’t read. (I’ve made what I thought was a pretty good effort, but was recently shamed to discover I’ve only read two books from a year as recent as 1995 – the stellar The Diamond Age and Greg Bear’s awful-in-retrospect Legacy.) Thanks for what you are doing and for your willingness to record your impressions as you go along.
Earlier you wrote:
Yes, I could go deeper. I am at the point where I have questions that would require me to do “real” research and/or read every single thing by a given author. I would like to read the full Amber series, get a copy of Amber Diceless and run it for a few months and then write about Zelazny. I would like to go to Brown University and read all of Lovecraft’s letters that they have there. I would not be writing at all if I stopped to do this.
Personally, I’d be glad if you sometimes took a systematic approach even without going “full academic” on us. Not changing your style of writing about the individual entries, even, but maybe taking a break once in a while to discuss larger questions.
The seven decades from, say, A Princess of Mars to The Courts of Chaos saw the world turned upside down, and the novel itself was gutted, set on fire, and then haphazardly re-stitched from the scraps found among the ashes. Even though you are not reading in chronological order, it would be great to hear more from you about how you think they are in conversation with one another and their own time as well as with Gygax and with us.
There are also thematic questions. Several people have talked about diversity, and certainly how those various authors have handled race is a post in itself. Maybe I’m just another nihilistic kid but I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on spiritual or existential dimensions. Also, GG had reasons for the presentation of that Appendix, like a desire to draw on their gravitas and imprimatur to help spread the good news of gaming, and he left some things out. Why skip straight past Hans Christian Andersen or Kenneth Grahame except that GG considered that stuff for children? Wasn’t he inspired by wider literary trends as well, and assuming that’s the case, where’s, say, William Burroughs? That GG choose not to emphasize the dystopianism that crashed over the 60s/70s doesn’t mean he wasn’t responding to it. And even without going post-1980 (I admire that you drew a line to limit the project), what other literature should have been there that wasn’t, and were there missed opportunities as a result? Those are all things I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you get the chance.
There’s a lot of things I either drop to ball on or fail to see. Then the next book comes along and it’s the perfect vehicle to explore that particular topic. (My Lovecraft post does not include a mention of Derleth. But that’s okay, because I have a post about Derleth in the queue.)
As far as works that should have been included by GG but that weren’t, I can tell you that Earthsea is at the top of the list– several rpg hobbyists have indicated that they felt that way. 5th edition actually “corrected” that omission.
Finally, I would not characterize my pieces as essays. I like essays, but I’m trying to write for a wide audience, and like you indicate… people seem to next things that have an academic tone.
However… I believe that my piece on Lord Dunsany (and yes, I have to read more of him) comes close to what you’re asking for, especially when combined with my others on Poul Anderson. Dunsany, Tolkien, Lewis, and Anderson wrote works from a perspective that wasn’t yet post-Christian. Today, a great many churches will tell you straight up that they themselves are post-Christian. This sort of transition has an impact on the very axioms of our fantasy.
Another aspect of this is that fantasy as a hard and fast genre didn’t really exist before about 1980 or so. (Someone up thread remarked that there was next to nothing before then and massive amounts of it since then.) Yes, there was some kind of crystallization process where one view of fantasy became dominate. Before that… it is wild and whooly. It’s difficult even to describe to people that haven’t seen the old stuff.
I can’t speak for everyone, though. And I do get excited when I see that people like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet have had some of the exact same reactions that I have and paid obvious homages to some of the strangely obscure writers that I dig into for this series. No, I am not a lone voice crying in the wilderness! Yes, I am excited about being able to see stuff that just went right past me before. Yes, my observations will not be news to a lot of hard core fans.
But here’s the thing: I’m out in the trenches bringing this stuff to the attention of a wider audience. It’s expanding people’s reading lists. It’s getting people back into reading more sff. It’s giving them inspiration for their own game mastering and world building projects.
But yes, it’s difficult to pin a lot of this down because there are so many books and so many overlapping trends. But each installment gets me closer to presenting a more comprehensive picture.
Brian responded to my note with this:
The year 1980 divides the two eras of world civilization, Before The Shadow of the Torturer and After The Shadow of the Torturer.
Your post-Christian topic is fascinating and it would be great to hear more in any format you want to write in.
Should you do “what GG missed” posts, Earthsea is clearly a key addition to N-Canon. Also, if the complete works of R. A. Lafferty aren’t in print soon, I’m going to have to start feeling disappointed in today’s SFF publishers.