When John C. Wright wrote an essay about some points I raised in my Appendix N series, the folks at File770 had a field day. The overall effect was not unlike raw meet being dropped into a piranha pool.
The part where I got drug into it begins with Jim Henley praising a truly excellent book:
I’ll speak up for the elves in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword too. (Broken Sword may well be an Appendix N book; I forget.) They are deeply amoral and also alien; however, physically they’re not dissimilar to Tolkien’s.
Aaron agrees, and then (hopefully inadvertently) introduces a lie into the discussion:
Yes. Yes it is.
One might note that of the Poul Anderson selections contained in Appendix N,The Broken Sword is the one that Johnson did not read or review.
Jim Henley is stunned:
What?! How the hell do you not read The Broken Sword when it’s right there? Just for one’s own personal enrichment? It is one hell of a book.
Because Jeffro’s much ballyhooed tour through Appendix N is a woefully incomplete sampling that consists of reading one (and maybe two) works by each author mentioned in the list. He read The High Crusade and Three Hearts and Three Lions from Poul Anderson. Based on that, he apparently decided he was sufficiently well-versed in Anderson’s fiction.
Incuriosity seems to be a defining personal characteristic of most Pups in general, and Johnson specifically.
(Note that this “Aaron” guy is so ignorant of Appendix N literature, he declared that he’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.” Yep… it’s that guy.)
Paul Weimer answers as well:
Not a clue. And it is one of Anderson’s best, IMO.
Joe H. promotes what must be a much better Appendix N series:
Y’know who did a good Appendix N reread? Mordicai Knode and Tim Callahan over at tor.com
But Jon Meltzer pities the fool that doesn’t know which Poul Anderson books to review:
I think we may be a bit hard on Jeffro here – how was he to know that The Broken Sword was (as people are saying, and as I agree) the Anderson book to read, out of the three?
Oneiros piles on:
Also, surely someone doing a reading of the Appendix N books would be better off reading all of the Appendix N books instead of taking wild stabs in the dark at all the authors with more than one book listed. Right?
And Aaron continues to hammer away at his point:
My issue isn’t that he skipped the one book. It is that he essentially did little more than a cursory sample of most of the authors on the list and has made sweeping pronouncements based on that incomplete knowledge. Appendix N only lists three Anderson novels, all of which are fairly short, and Johnson couldn’t even be bothered to read all three.
Who knows how long this would have gone on?! It could have been pages upon pages of righteous indignation, but Brian Z. spoiled the fun shortly after this by pointing out that I had actually covered the book…. The entire discussion gets tabled, with only Jim Henley even acknowledging the link.
Given how fast a misconception like this can travel, I feel like I ought to clear up some of the confusion here. For the record, here are my posts on that novel:
In fact… this concept of explicitly Christian fantasy that so struck John C. Wright when he took the time to write an essay about Appendix N is derived from my discussions of Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, and C. L. Moore’s “Daemon”.
The thing that’s really embarrassing here, though, is that the Tor.com Appendix N series that is being recommend there…? They chose to cover only Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. And if my googling is correct, there are no reviews on the internet about The Broken Sword by either Mordicai Knode or Tim Callahan. Also note that they don’t cover The Roaring Trumpet by de Camp and Pratt. They don’t cover The Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Claire. They don’t cover de Camp’s Fallible Fiend. They don’t cover A. Merritt’s Creep, Shadow! or Dwellers in the Mirage. They don’t cover Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar stories or his Venus stories. They don’t cover Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows or Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld.
The reason that Mordicai Knode or Tim Callahan skipped all of those really essential books is because they chose to cover just one representative work for each author on the list. And they had a perfectly good reason for doing that, too: not very many people are going to want to hunker down and dedicate three separate retrospectives for each of Poul Anderson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt. It’s a daunting amount of work to dig into that kind of project!
But that’s exactly what I did. I’d go into the third post for one of those guys (or Moorcock or de Camp) and wonder how in the world I was going to have anything else to say. Somehow I managed to find something each time, but it was a grueling process. In the end, I think it was good for me because it pushed me to go beyond the usual observations– to dig deeper, reach higher… and to go after new angles that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise. The fact that my series is so much more comprehensive than anything else on the topic is a big part of why you read stuff in it that you just don’t see anyone else writing about.
Now, I don’t have a problem with the Tor.com Appendix N series. They really made my own expeditions into classic fantasy literature more interesting. I would do my pieces and then cruise over to both Tor and Grognardia each week to compare my reaction with theirs. It was great fun. Sure, I got a real charge if I’d stumbled onto something that the other reviewers missed. Sometimes I got schooled on things that would end up saving me grief later on. And yeah, the perspective you get at Castalia House is going to be the Earth-3 version of anything you read at Tor.com, that goes without saying. But the fact that they’re so different makes it that much more interesting when they line up, as we did in the case of Fritz Leiber’s work and its relationship to classic D&D.
If people prefer one series to the other, hey… more power to them. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they appeal to different audiences. But if you’re going to come down on me for doing a “woefully incomplete sampling that consists of reading one (and maybe two) works by each author mentioned in the list”, well hey… you’ve got the wrong guy. Oh I know, though. Facts don’t matter at File770 as long as people are going after the right sort of targets. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to get this straight.