Okay, a lot going on right now. But here are a few highlights.
First up, the latest rave review on Amazon:
On one level, this book provides some fantastic insight into the stories that influenced the development of the granddaddy of all role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons. If you are a gamer, it succeeds on that level alone. Jeffro Johnson provides plenty of advice for gamers based on the ideas from these stories. This was fascinating to me as a gamer, because I always believed that Appendix N of the Dungeon Master’s Guide was there more as cover for Gary Gygax as his company drew fire from the Tolkien Estate’s Lawyers. As it turns out, a lot of the criticisms leveled against D&D for how poorly it simulates Tolkienesque fantasy (which, after around 1980 or so, became something of the definition of the fantasy genre) is probably because it was never intended to do that. The game drew from a wealth of source material, I now believe, and as Johnson illustrates in great detail here.
But the book succeeds spectacularly on a completely different level, and that is shining a light on the wealth of fantasy stories of the early-to-mid 20th century which was largely forgotten about, hidden by Tolkien’s shadow. In the 1950s, it was unimaginable that some of these classic stories could be forgotten, and yet a couple of decades later, these pulp classics (and, admittedly, some less-than-classics) have been largely forgotten and lost in an era of the new. We’ve forgotten our roots as fans of fantasy stories, and Johnson helps us rediscover them. While I was familiar with some of them, especially the awesome Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (and others), Burrough’s Barsoom series, and Leigh Brackett’s space opera, there’s a lot more to be discovered here.
You’d think a book consisting mainly of book reviews wouldn’t be all that great, but I was thoroughly intrigued.
Next… a truly epic interview with Schuyler Hernstrom has this nugget:
I found out about it from Jeffro Johnson’s blog . That was a piece of luck right there. I’ve never gotten in on the ground floor of anything. We’ve been talking about my writing but nothing ever happens without guys like Jeffro and Alex of Cirsova doing the hard stuff. Jeffro has been pounding the pavement, hunting for stuff and boosting signals for years. And it has culminated in the Appendix N book. What a great story that is. And Alex just wakes up and decides to make a magazine. I’m happy if I make it to the gym. A couple other high energy guys, Jon Mollison, Jasyn Jones, big brains like The Frisky Pagan and Nathan Housely, other writers and bloggers, and something exists which didn’t before. When I started writing it was purely for me. I doubted I would find an audience. Now I find myself involved in a whole movement. It is a beautiful thing.
Finally, a couple of questions from Havard, a respected name in the old school game blog scene if there ever was one:
I always find it interesting when people are making a serious effort to research the early influences of our hobby. I might check this book out. It does look like this person (whom I have never heard of?) has take his time to do the research.
I do find the title somewhat problematic for two reasons:
1) If you are going to look into the origins of D&D, you need to investigate both D&D co-creators and probably some of the other people involved as well.
2) To what extent was really literature the most important influence of D&D? My impression is that Gary was a gamer much more than a literate. Elements found in books surely appear in D&D, but based on some of his statements, it also seems that Gary had a tendency of evaluating literature based on what would be useful in a game or not.
Many of Gary’s later statements about fantasy literature are clearly influenced by the commercial interests of TSR, including his negative opinion on Tolkien (TSR was involved in a legal battle with the Tolkien estate at the time) and his high praise of Fritz Leiber (Leiber was Gary’s friend and allowed him to use the Lankhmar stuff in D&D). I wonder if one of the primary functions of Appendix N might not have been to send the Tolkien Estate a message?
I wonder if this book goes into any of these issues at all, or whether it simply takes the appendix and investigates the novels listed there?
This is a big book focused entirely on the stories that inspired the game. Nothing like it has ever been done before. Meanwhile there are more than a few books that dig into the game’s co-creators. If I’d covered that ground again, I would not have done as good a job as some of the other historians and biographers out there… and I probably would not have brought much of anything new to the table.
As to the question of how much the literature influenced D&D and how much of that was a smokescreen to throw off the Tolkien estate… well, my book is the most comprehensive treatment of that subject you’ll find anywhere. The fact that this is even a question is really why this book even needed to be written in the first place.
People that don’t look into source material of D&D just see something that is “hardly original” and that “lifts liberally from Tolkien.” There’s so much more to the genesis of the game and the history of fantasy and science fiction than that!
And yes, it did take an entire book to break the story that was bound up into all of this.