Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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Appendix N Survey Complete

So it’s all up now.

With this piece on Tolkien going up, I’ve done forty-three posts on Appendix N now. I read every book Gygax mentioned by name, at least the first book of each series, and I picked out one representative work for each of the entries that consisted of an author’s name alone. I also wrote about two thousand words on each book.

What’s it like doing something like this…?

Well, it’s a stunt, really. It’s sort of like that guy that spent a year living biblically… or the people that try to give up reading white men for a year. And you know, I had no idea going in what I would really find out, really. (Tolkien was the only author on the entire list that I was even familiar with when I started!)

So what did I discover?

  • Tolkien’s ascendancy was not inevitable. It’s really a fluke that he even became the template for the modern fantasy epic.
  • A half dozen authors would have easily been considered on par with Tolkien in the seventies.
  • Our concept of “Tolkienesque” fantasy has little to do with Tolkien’s actual work. Likewise, the “Lovecraftian” stories and games of today have little to do with what Lovecraft actually wrote. Our concepts of swords and sorcery have had the “weird” elements removed from them for the most part. Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.
  • Entire genres have been all but eliminated. The majority of the Appendix N list falls under either planetary romance, science fantasy, or weird fiction. Most people’s readings of AD&D and OD&D are done without a familiarity of these genres.
  • Science fiction and fantasy were much more related up through the seventies. Several Appendix N authors did top notch work in both genres. Some did work that could be classified as neither.
  • It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.
  • Modern fandom is now divorced from its past in a way that would be completely alien to game designers in the seventies. They had no problem synthesizing elements from classics, grandmasters of the thirties, and new wave authors.
  • Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly homogenistic in comparison to them.
  • The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.
  • Nerdy protagonists like Harry Potter or Barry Allen from the new Flash TV series are an extremely recent phenomenon. Even a new wave proto-goth like Elric was a ladies’ man.
  • “Nice guys” like Harry Dresden were pretty well absent from the science fiction and fantasy scene from 1910 to 1977.
  • The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.
  • Tolkien and Lewis were not outliers. Writers ranging from Poul Anderson to Lord Dunsany and C. L. Moore wrote fantasy from a more or less Christian viewpoint. The shift to a largely post-Christian culture has marked an end of their approach to science fiction and fantasy.

You know, I look over that list of observations and I have to say that it’s all pretty danged obvious now. But it wasn’t obvious before I started this thing. Take all of these trends together, and you are assuredly going to have your mind blown by reading these old books.

Oh, and even better… if you read these authors a great many of the oddities of classic D&D will start to make sense to you, too.

Good reading to you! And good gaming…!

63 responses to “Appendix N Survey Complete

  1. jccarlton October 12, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    A great piece on how things have changed since the 1970’s in SF and fantasy. Maybe because I came of age then, and thanks to forsighted editors like Jim Baen, was able to buy and read the titles in “Appendix N” before D&D even existed, I don’t really appreciate what a SFF golden age it was.

  2. Gyrus October 12, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Congratulations! Thanks for the observations. Some of the observations may seem obvious to you, but not to me (and I suspect many others, especially my peers). For a long time I thought DND == Tolkien. I was wrong, and am now glad to be. Thanks to you I’m rediscovering the game and hobby I enjoy, seeing it thorough new eyes. You reminded me what a diverse field SFF used to be. I’ve started reading some of these titles, admitted after “leaving” the field yaers ago. Thank you for this.

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  5. roylofquist October 13, 2015 at 3:50 am

    So, where are Doc Smith and Murray Leinster? And Van Vogt?

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 5:42 am

      Those authors are outside of the scope of this particular project. If they have even the slightest connection to seventies era rpg design, then I’m glad to take a look.

  6. Bill Adams October 13, 2015 at 4:04 am

    Good beginning to a list, and good attitude toward it. But to pick a nit, Anderson, Lovecraft, and Moore wrote for a _readership_ that was grounded in what was then the mainstream Christian culture, but you make them sound like Christian writers. Lovecraft was most emphatically not, Anderson was a hard scientist with a tragic view of life that almost certainly didn’t mesh with any Christian church, and I’ve never read anything by C.L. Moore to make me doubt she was another SF freethinker (but perhaps you have). It is as you said, the Golden and Silver Agers of SF were never a homogenous crew.

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 5:36 am

      This is what I said: “fantasy from a more or less Christian viewpoint”. I’m talking about works that contrast to the sort of fantasy that is chock full of medieval elements but which has somehow had all of the Christian associations airbrushed out of it.

      • Bill Adams October 13, 2015 at 5:46 am

        That clarifies a lot, thanks. The wording you chose didn’t seem likely to be what you meant.

      • Rich Rostrom October 14, 2015 at 1:37 am

        You mean in contrast to Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” stories? Or Leiber’s “Fafhrd and Grey Mouser” stories?

  7. Bill Adams October 13, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Oh, and the nerd hero isn’t a completely new phenomenon, though it was certainly a change of pace in the old days. I see Sprague de Camp, who liked them, even left a notable one on your list.

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 5:38 am

      The archetypal L. Sprague de Camp hero from these selections is more akin to Richard Feynman than Matt Taylor.

      • Bill Adams October 13, 2015 at 5:58 am

        I think you’re just not seeing how the indicators translate to 1940. I don’t have a copy of the Incompleat Enchanter ready to hand, but I’m pretty sure that in the first chapter alone Shea (1) quotes a seventeenth century poem without naming it because all his friends would know it or should (2) while explaining why (unlike a Feynman) he has no girlfriend (3); cosplays in riding boots (a half-century before cosplay); (4) evinces LARP or SCA hobbies long before either of those things came into existence; (5) makes casual fun of (Russell’s?) definition of a number, and (6) invents the term “syllogismobile.” Not as twee as some of our modern nerds, but a nerd’s nerd just the same.

        He just doesn’t have the same pop culture to refer to.

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 6:23 am

      The de Camp and Pratt heroes might have their “Poindexter” type aspects, but they are generally aware of female psychology and how to navigate it. If you look at Martin Padway’s interactions with Mathaswentha in Lest Darkness Fall, Arthur Cleveland Finch’s encounters with the women of the various parallel worlds of The Carnelian Cube, and Harold Shea’s journey to the world of The Fairy Queen and subsequent marriage to Belphebe, then you’re talking about an entirely different class of nerd here.

      • Bill Adams October 13, 2015 at 6:30 am

        I would never had said that _all_ de Camp’s heroes are nerds. I stand behind what I’ve said about Shea, though. Sure, he eventually mans up and gets the girl. Contemporary nerd heroes frequently wind up doing the same.

  8. Michael W. Perry October 13, 2015 at 6:26 am

    Those who’d like to enjoy the classic science fiction and fantasy classic that Jeffro discusses might want to visit:

    Both have many hundreds of free audiobooks. Here are some of the more popular scifi:

    If you don’t already have an audiobook player, both Librivox and Loyal Books also have free iOS (and I assume Android) apps to download and play their books. Listen why you’re out and about or working around the house. It’s great fun.

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  10. Thomas Hazlewood October 13, 2015 at 9:06 am

    I’m going to mention 4 books that never seem to get mentioned but should be. I hope you can find them now.

    In the Face of my Enemy
    Anvil of the Heart
    War Birds
    The White Wing

  11. Sky October 13, 2015 at 9:41 am

    You know if you expanded the conclusion and compiled all the entries and formatted them I think you would have a kick ass little ebook to throw up on Amazon. I would buy it.

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 9:45 am

      You are the fifth person to suggest that. (Yeah, I do keep count.) Thank you!

      • Daddy Warpig October 13, 2015 at 10:24 am

        I came here to explicitly suggest the same. Compile, editing, ePub, Amazon.

        I’d buy it. And the work done so far is a sunk cost, so you wouldn’t be out anything: any money you got would be pure gravy.

        Market it to the Old School Renaissance crowd and you could have beer money, “buying new game” money, or maybe even more.

  12. Alan S. October 13, 2015 at 11:12 am

    If you really want your mind blown, back up another fifty years.

    “The Harvard Classics” as a reading list has a fair number of works with fantasy elements – fairy tales, epic sagas, fables, utopias, genesis stories, and wherever-you-categorize-Faust.

    The ‘Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs’, for instance, passes the silly Bechdel Test … and would cause a year’s worth of flamewars if produced in a fashion faithful to the text.

  13. Pingback: Appendix N: conclusions | Neoreactive

  14. Harry_the_Horrible October 13, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Is there a book attached to this appendix? I’d like to read it!

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      As far as I know, there has not been a book written on the subject of Appendix N. Just eyeballing them, my posts over at Castalia House amount to maybe 75% of a draft for such a thing.

      • Tex Albritton March 18, 2016 at 11:58 am

        The Jeffro said…
        “As far as I know, there has not been a book written on the subject of Appendix N. Just eyeballing them, my posts over at Castalia House amount to maybe 75% of a draft for such a thing.”


        I want a hardcover of it, and will mail it to you with return postage to get it inscribed.

        (because it’s THAT important)

  15. mikemonaco October 13, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Well one more comment to say: edit it together into a book. Sounds really interesting.
    But also,
    >>The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.<>The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.<<
    That's an interesting statement and I'd like to know how you see the traditional notions of those things, versus what they've been reprogrammed into, and where the various sides of the "culture wars" were pushing. Some of the so-called traditionalists were pushing just as extreme an agenda as some of the so-called reformers. Still are, really. Would you say your reading of this canon is more objective than say a Harold Bloom's or a Roxanne Gay's?
    Ultimately I suspect that the "canon" for a lot of current fans — the younger ones I guess — is more comics, movies, and TV since those media just have more dominance now. But also there are SO MANY sci-fi/fantasy/fantastic fiction books now; many more than there were in the "golden age" whenever you define it to be, that the issue is information glut too.
    I'm glad you took the time to do this series and will be coming back to read more. Thanks!

    • jeffro October 13, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Hey, great question there.

      My takeaway from the Appendix N books is that I really really REALLY like the range and the depth and the diversity of tone, style, belief, conviction, and approach. To the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, there was nothing off the table in terms of what could be challenged. Now I obviously lean toward some the more traditional type writers that I didn’t even know existed. But the energy of their challengers certainly has its appeal as well.

      Now… my opinion about which side was right… I don’t actually care. Nobody else does, either. What I really like that there was even a conversation… all these contrasting voices holding forth at once. It’s just kind of exciting that it was going on while A. Merritt was still on the racks as if he were a contemporary author and while the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series was digging up all kinds of other stuff to feed the increasing demand for fantasy,

      But the thing is… the overwhelming popularity of Sword of Shannara put an end to ALL of that. Things have been more homogeneous, more derivative, and more politically correct ever since and it drives me nuts. Mostly I feel betrayed. I missed out on so much by not being exposed to these books sooner. I mean I was always kind of a fan of the eighties, but lately I’ve become more and more angry with the decade that defined my youth…!

      The quality of many of the works is way better than I would have expected just based (for example) on the way that people invoke pulp covers as a synonym for the tacky, the tasteless, and the predictable. I mean… the United States had its own counterpart to J. R. R. Tolkien and the guy was astoundingly good and I didn’t even have a clue that he was anything like that good. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg. I mean I’ve had a good half dozen “why didn’t anyone tell me” type moments and it just plain flabbergasts me.

      Okay, kind of a rambly answer. Hopefully I hit something relevant to your question there…!

      • mikemonaco October 14, 2015 at 8:59 am

        OK, maybe the “politically correct” was a red herring then. If you’re saying that the rush to imitate Tolkien — both in terms of “Fantasy United Nations vs. Tyrant” and “gotta be a trilogy+” — if you mean that homogenized fantasy, no argument there. I have reached the point where I usually won’t read anything in a “series.” Though Joe Abercrombie can make me break that rule, and to a lesser extent William King and John Hines, but generally the idea that a book forms part of a trilogy or series is a big turn-off.
        I don’t particularly see “political correctness” (as I understand it –treating people with respect) as making much of an impact on fantasy, anyway. Maybe it’s different with sci-fi. But the recent dust-up about the Hugo awards tells me there are plenty of authors all over the political spectrum.

    • jeffro October 14, 2015 at 9:10 am

      You know, it’s possible to craft a narrative where political correctness played no part in the overturning of the sff canon and lapse into obscurity of these authors. But I’ve read most of the reviews for these books that are on the internet. The number of people that feel they have to alert people to the fact that these authors lived in a world that does not conform to modern day progressive values is really quite astounding. No small number of them pivot from low grade pearl clutching and veer into making declarations of “leper! unclean!”

      If it doesn’t bug you, hey… more power to you. But this is a trend and it’s an unavoidable issue to anyone that’s going to bring up these books in mixed company today.

      • mikemonaco October 14, 2015 at 9:40 am

        Aha! Now I’m getting you. I guess I just don’t read a lot of recent reviews of older works or something. I definitely see the issue raised regarding Howard and Lovecraft, and to a lesser extent Tolkien. Not so much the others, but I tend to look at reviews in a limited range of sites (Goodreads, certain OSR blogs, etc.)
        I don’t let other people’s opinions about stuff impair my enjoyment of them.

  16. Malcolm Edwards October 14, 2015 at 4:14 am

    I don’t think it’s right to say that half-a-dozen other authors would have been considered on a par with Tolkien in the 1970s, or that his ascendancy was a fluke. LotR was a giant presence even when I first became aware of it in the early 1960s, and of course it became a massive bestseller later in the decade all over the English speaking world when it appeared in paperback. But nobody thought about trying to emulate it. If you were to envision the fantasy field back then as the Alps (or, if you prefer, the Rockies), LotR was Everest — huge, distant, unconquerable. Genre fantasy was then a subset of sf publishing. Howard (or more specifically Conan) had had his own revival in the mid 1960s, powered by the Frazetta-covered Lancer reprints. Other authors such as Anderson, Brackett, de Camp, Leiber, Moorcock, Vance were from the sf camp.

    The fundamental change came in the second half of the 1970s with the arrival of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Sword of Shannara. What had seemed impossible — writing a fantasy trilogy on a similar scale, and (in the second case) publishing a novel completely modelled on Tolkien — was not only possible, but yielded bestsellers on a scale undreamed of in the sf world. That truly changed everything.

    • jeffro October 14, 2015 at 5:17 am

      Tolkien’s ascendance is not in evidence in the rpg design work of the seventies. In that area, he is just one approach and is far from being dominant. Gary Gygax and Ken St. Andre had a half dozen authors that they would have placed on par with Tolkien in terms of their capacity to define how fantasy ought to work. Now that I’ve surveyed the Appendix N list, I agree with their take on fantasy and believe it’s far superior to the Covenant/Shannara type stuff that replaced the old stuff.

    • Gaiseric December 4, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Hardly anyone has the capability to truly rival Tolkien as a writer. That’s why I think vaguely Tolkienesque pastiches are a bad idea. It tends to make your work look pretty pathetic in comparison. Better to strike out in another direction where there’s a better chance of making a legitimate mark.

      That said; I certainly went through a phase were every map I drew, every campaign I ran, and every story I started was a pretty clear homage to Tolkien too.

  17. Malcolm Edwards October 14, 2015 at 5:38 am

    Ah. It wasn’t clear that your first two points referred only to rpgs, about which I know nothing.

    • jeffro October 14, 2015 at 5:57 am

      Well, I wouldn’t say “only”. But within the realm of seventies game design, this is a rather clear cut matter. The transition to “Tolkieneque” fantasy in the eighties is more pronounced there– and still relevant given that classic D&D preserves the older view(s) of fantasy in a rather surprising way. It’s easier to make the point in that context, but that doesn’t mean the point doesn’t hold elsewhere.

      Tabletop games aside, it’s my opinion that Robert E. Howard is Tolkien’s equal. And I much prefer fantasy where Tolkien is just one author among many. His dominance over peoples’ imaginations has more to do with an artifact of publishing history than it does actual merit. The fact that Tolkien would likely have detested his imitators only adds insult to injury.

  18. Malcolm Edwards October 14, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Tolkien vs Howard is a matter of taste. I’d certainly agree that Howard wrote better Conan stories, while Tolkien was stronger on hobbits.

    The whole shift in publishing is much too complex to deal with in a comment on a blog post. I’d argue that Lin Carter performed an inadvertent disservice by trying to enlarge the market which Tolkien’s success had exposed by reviving a number of fantasists, notably James Branch Cabell and William Morris, who were never going to have mass appeal in the 1970s. I’m now going to go and read through your blog series, which I’ve only just discovered.

  19. Cirsova October 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

    I guess what I find most interesting regarding the negative responses to your series is blindness (either intentional or not) to the context in which these works are being viewed as a body. Sure, it’ll look like a random list of books if you ignore the fact that someone specifically said “this thing I made was a synthesis of these works” and that thing is something was a huge money-making cultural phenomenon. So my question is, why are some people so intent on reducing it to a random list of books and denying the explicit context into which they’ve been placed?

    I mean, I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen variations on someone saying “I’m not a gamer, but this just seems like a random list of books that are hardly representative of anything!”

  20. somercet October 17, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    I am reading your reviews and enjoying them. Thanks for the work.

  21. WVR Spence (WestVirginiaRebel) October 18, 2015 at 2:41 am

    I don’t read that much fantasy but it seems Tolkein stands the test of time because he’s just that good. And I don’t see Bradbury (at least when he was at his peak) as unreadable to today’s readers. Many of the older SF writers were liberals although they weren’t politically correct. The problem of political correctness in modern SF seems greater than it is in fantasy and horror.

    • jeffro October 18, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Tolkien is awesome. Several other people were being awesome there between 1911 and 1977. That they are now obscure is not due to them merely not having “stood the test of time.” The problem with political correctness is that it comes up with so many stupid reasons to overthrow the canon in every venue that it touches.

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  29. Atlemar April 26, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    I’m just coming here because I saw your work on the Hugo list (congratulations on the nomination) and I was interested, especially as I’m setting out on my own Appendix N-reading journey (although different from yours, and I won’t be documenting and analyzing it with the depth you’re bringing).

    You make the observation here that “It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.” I’ve looked at your other entries, and unless I’m missing something, this isn’t a well-supported point. Gygax read these, and it could be his personal canon, and St. Andre read these, but the rest of fandom? I’m not saying you’re wrong, only that I don’t think you present enough evidence that these books mattered to the rest of geek society as they did to Gygax.

    • mikemonaco April 27, 2016 at 6:23 am

      I’d also add that Gygax after all was born in 1938, so if he became interested in genre stuff as a kid he was reading contemporary stuff and stuff from his father’s generation — Burroughs and Howard etc. For a middle aged gamer now, born in the late 60s/early 70s, that’s equivalent to reading stuff from the 80s and 90s onward, and stuff from his father’s generation — Tolkien and Bradbury etc. So those kids on Jeffro’s lawn, if they’re reading stuff from the 2000s onward, and maybe rediscover the classics from 80s as they get older, it’s kind of equivalent. :)
      Ken St. Andre was a librarian…librarians tend to have access to and knowledge of older stuff.
      The appendix N “canon” was mostly less than 50 years old when Gygax was reading it, and recommending it.

    • jeffro April 27, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Hey, I’m putting answering this down on the to-do list. Thanks for asking. I think it deserves a more in depth response than I can afford just at the moment.

    • jeffro May 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm

      Hey, I did get around to answering this. You can check it out here. Thanks!

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  32. Robert Eaglestone May 16, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I could be wrong, but I think Howard’s Conan, Burroughs’ Mars series, and Herbert’s Dune series was more or less on par with Tolkien for popularity in the 70s. I don’t know if Zelazny’s Amber series was quite up to that level, but I certainly liked it better than Dune.

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