Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Inaccurate, Facile, and Misleading

Okay, anyone following Appendix N this year would know that this post over at Dreaming About Other Worlds wouldn’t sit well with me. And let me be perfectly clear here: when I say that most people have no idea of what they’re looking at when the see the Appendix N list, this would be a prime example of what I’m talking about.

This is so important, I am going to micro-fisk the relevant passage. (Stand back!) The federal attorney’s text are in bold. Mine are in italics!

This list was not a comprehensive array of fantasy fiction as it stood at the time the book was published:

This is a red herring, completely irrelevant to what the list was and what it meant. It’s a list of the books that inspired tabletop role-playing games. That’s what’s important about it.

That is readily apparent when one considers the rather notable omissions from the list, such as Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks, Patricia McKillip, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Terry Brooks produced shameless Tolkien pastiche, a.k.a. pink slime. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy is not just ho-hum, it practically anti-heroic. The second book even passes the Bechdel test… and that’s a bad thing in this context. Maybe the task that works on the list were being applied to had some impact on whether or not they were included? Maybe the works on the list tend to have a certain cut or “stamp” that is lacking from the works that people think are missing…? I think anyone that is familiar with them would recognize that “stamp” when handed a potential addition for the list, and however you describe it, Brooks and Le Guin don’t have it!

The list was, instead, a collection of works that were personal favorites of Gary Gygax…

No, it was more than that. Oh, they were his favorites, sure. They were the books that most inspired him, yes. But they also constitute a fair approximation of a de facto canon of fantasy literature for the time. The fantasy fans that would have made up the audience of the first role-playing games could have been counted on as being familiar with the authors on Gygax’s list. Literary science fiction and fantasy was a primary inspiration of the early role-playing games and the overlap between the influences of designers of the time is striking. There is a unity here that is not consistent with an arbitrary list of “personal favorites.”

and from all indications were the books that he had grown up loving, as the original list was heavy on pulp fiction that had been published prior to 1970, and quite light on any other fiction.

This is not accurate. Whole swaths of the old pulp fiction would have been in print. Just as one example, Avon published Zelazny’s Amber stories, Azimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage in the seventies. The classics and the new wave were side by side on spinner racks with nothing significant about the covers to differentiate them. Gygax, his peers, and his fellow fantasy fans would have devoured them all without much thought of what decade they were originally published. The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series would have dug even further back and into odder corners. The pulps and the classics were present and central to the fans’ assumptions about how fantasy should work. This is exemplified most clearly in the surprising scope of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s influence even at this late stage. His work was practically the model for how to do fantasy right up until the Tolkien pastiche replaced both Burroughs and derivative swords and sorcery as the dominant form.

I know this is very hard for people to get right, but that’s no reason not to try.

Seriously, get with it, yall!

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7 responses to “Inaccurate, Facile, and Misleading

  1. Gaiseric December 18, 2015 at 10:19 am

    It’s also important to remember; and whomever that guy is that you’re fisking clearly does not, that much of the pulp stories of the 30s and 40s, after having been out of print for 20 years or so, became quite popular in reprints during the mid to late 60s. Burroughs and Howard and many, many more (some that are not on the Appendix N, like Kline, for instance) went back into print in book form. That’s when, among other things, the famous Frazetta covers were done (on purpose, to cater to the perhaps faddish interest in rediscovering them. This lasted up into the 70s as well; if you trawl through Amazon’s back catalog of used books for pulp authors, there’s a very good chance that what you’ll end up with is a late 60s or early 70s reprint.

    It’s also curious that because of this popularity, a second wave of neo-pulp pastiches came out; this is when Lin Carter wrote his Callisto series that riffed off Barsoom, his Thongor series that riffed of Conan, his Gondwane series that riffed off of Dying Earth, his Zanthodon series that riffed off of Pellucidar, etc. And he wasn’t alone: new authors like Robert Adams with his Horse-clans series were all over the place, or John Norman with his Gor series, Gardner Fox wrote a Barsoom rip-off; heck, even Michael Moorcock wrote a Barsoom rip-off! It’s very unlikely that these were books that Gygax “grew up loving” rather than, as you propose, they were part of the temporal zeitgeist of the time.

    • Cirsova December 18, 2015 at 11:36 am

      One of the coolest parts of reading the old Planet Stories from the 40s is seeing names like Lin Carter and Algis Budrys show up in the letters pages raving about how great this or that issue was.

      • Gaiseric December 18, 2015 at 12:20 pm

        I’d love to see Kindle archives of the entire 70-some off issues of Planet Stories, or the entire almost 300 issue Weird Tales run. Maybe toss in a few other pulps that I’m not remembering off-hand right now (Argosy? Amazing Stories? Tales of Wonder?—and probably a bunch of short-lived ones, too.)

      • Cirsova December 18, 2015 at 12:22 pm

        I think the rights issue would be insurmountable. Paizo tried to resurrect the Planet Stories imprint but used it mostly to reprint a few classics and some new stuff with new artwork.

        You can find scans of a few stories here and there, like on Archive.org, but no complete issues. There were some reprints of full issues at some point, but I don’t know anything about them other than that they exist.

  2. Pingback: Divine Right and Appendix N – castaliahouse.com

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