Appendix N Survey Complete
October 12, 2015
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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…!