G. K. Chesterton once quipped that there is only one thing that requires real courage to say, and that is a truism. Based on the blowback I got from last week’s post, I’m beginning to see what he meant!
Not that I set out to be provocative or challenging or even insulting. I just rattled off a few observations about the implications of a set of forty-three selections from classic science fiction and fantasy. It was all the sort of thing that would be taken as being self-evident to anyone that’s read even a fraction of them. Or so I thought. But in some quarters of the internet, not only did my remarks not go over well, but they somehow induced all manner of pearl-clutching and hyperventilation.
This commenter, for example, went the full Skywalker:
Particularly, I take exception to his assertion that there were a handful of fantasists considered on par with Tolkien in the 70s. I think he’s getting the relationship exactly backwards. The 70s was when Tolkien was at the height of ‘unchallenged king of epic fantasy’ and we started to see the rise of big-name Tolkien IMITATORS, such as The Sword of Shannara — published in 1977 and (according to Peter S. Beagle) Judy-Lynn Del Rey gave him the manuscript for a blurb, saying ‘This one’s for people who’ve read the Tolkien book forty times, and can’t quite get it up for the forty-first.’
It’s positively gobsmacking; isn’t it? I mean it’s genuinely difficult for some people today to wrap their heads around the fact that a very short time ago, Tolkien pastiche was far from being the dominant style of fantasy. In fact, if you try to explain what really captured peoples’ imaginations in the early and mid-seventies, it’s very difficult to convey just what it was that was displaced by the impending revolution in publishing. You can’t even get into it, though, because as soon as you get started, they go the full Skywalker on you:
No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Of course, it’s ironic that this person is surrounded by the sort of people that keep saying “I read that” over and over and that insist that Appendix N is not obscure, that fandom is still up on this stuff, and that “anyone who’s anyone” is hip to these writers. (Except the people that think that these books deserve to be obscure and that fandom has rightly moved on– we’ll get to them in a second here.) These old books have been around for a while, certainly. Nevertheless to a whole bunch of people that act like they know better, they are practically an undiscovered country. And this person is a prime example.
But maybe I’m being hard on her, eh? Well, she’s not alone. This guy also appears to be suffering from a severe Appendix N deficiency:
I’d be hard-pressed to think of more than one or two fantasies that didn’t adhere to the ‘Mediaeval-ish world’ trope in the 1960s and 1970s. The group thing was pretty common too.
Here, let me help with that. If you’d like to see how wild things were before the Tolkien imitators took over, try reading Jack Vance, Margret St. Claire, Roger Zelazny, Lin Carter, and Michael Moorcock. None their works called out in Appendix N were particularly Mediaeval-ish. Fritz Leiber’s stories were about a duo, not a party. Also, much of the derivative swords and sorcery of the time was about a lone Conan clone, not a party. Elric had a sidekick named Moonglum, not an diverse coalition of demi-humans. Cugel and Jack of Shadows were loners. And so on.
The only parties that come to mind from the Appendix N list are in A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool and in Linn Carter’s The Warrior of World’s End. The former are more along the lines of The A-Team than the fellowship of the ring. The latter are more akin to the iconic characters of GURPS Fourth Edition than anything like a D&D party.
It’s almost like this guy is taking assumptions about fantasy that have been formed in the wake of the ascendancy of Tolkien’s imitators and is projecting them backwards. And he is completely unconscious of this, too. But anyone that’s read even a minimal selection of works from 1911 to 1977 would recognize that this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about…!
This person took exception to my statement that “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.” Here’s her response.
Really? All but unreadable because of PC? Some of what he considers classic maybe unread – some because it just isn’t up to today’s standards, others because they do not correspond today’s society where women are more than housewives, and black and ethnic people exist on the same playing field, and LGBT people exist.
You know, that comes off at first like they’re contradicting me… but it sounds like they are explaining just why the Appendix N books are… uh… all but unreadable to an entire generation. And what’s more, it sounds like she has a set of litmus tests she’d use to pretty well prune the canon of most anything that was published before 1980 or so. Did I get that right?
C. L. Moore is unreadable because of political correctness…?! Of course people don’t read her. Her works are politically incorrect now!
Keep talking, sister. I mean, if you go on long enough… you might give away the game.
This guy has another angle on why these books are now unaccountably obscure:
But he doesn’t understand how time works. People tend to read things written recently. Although we read back, the further back you go the less we read. Things from the last 20 years are read more than things 50 years old are read less than things a century old. When Gygax chose the works in Appendix N, many of them were recent authors for him. Few were more than 40 years old. But everything on that list is more than 40 years old for us. The idea that the pulp fiction of the last century is a canon we must be familiar with is silly.
Edgar Rice Burroughs started writing in 1911. Merritt, Lovecraft, Howard, and Weinbaum were writing in the thirties, a solid forty years before Gygax engineered AD&D. That is a significant chunk of Appendix N. All of these guys were still major players in the seventies. But never mind that. When I ran my post last week, one of my points was that “there was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.” And just like the previous commenter, this guy is hellbent on making my points for me.
What can I say, really, except, thank you. These people make my case for me far more forcefully than I would choose to do so myself.