Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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Category Archives: Appendix N

The Mummy (1932) Is Awesome

If you haven’t seen the original Mummy film, you’re missing out.

  • It has a plot that could have come straight out of an A. Merritt story.
  • The opening vignette has a guy that goes insane Miskatonic University style.
  • Best of all, it features an actress that looks like she walked straight off of a Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover.

If you were thinking it would be about some dude in bandages wandering around killing people, you’ve got the wrong movie. The real thing embodies all of the elements that made the pulp masters of the twenties and thirties so appealing: Romance! Thrills! Wonder!

It’s epic. Recommended.

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Kirkus Review on “Tharn, Dawn Warrior”

Via Spencer Hart, we have a rare look into how the fine folks at Kirkus Review react to classic red-blooded, all-American adventure fiction:

This is typical pulp magazine stuff in book form. It is a story of Cro-Magnon man, packed with violence, suspense, brutality, horror and incredible speed. It certainly keeps you reading. But plot, dialogue and characters show amazing disregard for even the little knowledge we have of prehistoric life. The author thinks nothing of introducing a sent of Roman palace and social life into the midst of this prehistoric jungle, or a twentieth century love motif like “”He could not help but compare that fine, healthy well-rounded figure with the pallid, artificial women of his acquaintance!”” But the major outrage of the book — and it is outrageous — is the positively lustful “”love interest””. If this is a book intended for young people, and the jacket suggests it is, then the numerous “”hot”” passages are utterly unsuitable. That is putting it mildly. This is certainly something new in juvenile writing and highly offensive. The author evidently thinks he is creating another Tarsan series, for he ends with a promise of more to come. I devoutly hope someone will stop him before an outraged public opinion steps in to bar the sale of such a book for the young.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

White Feminist’s Burden

The indefatigable Jane Sand returns to contend with me over the literary merits of Ursula Le Guin’s Playboy appearance:

The character Alvaro is not just mentioned as dark-skinned and no other significant individual trait. He uses both his patrilineal and matrilineal family names to introduce himself, which shows the discerning reader that that old Spanish custom still exists in the far off future. He is bilingual, speaking English and ‘Argentinean,’ defined in the story as a future descendant of Spanish. Most importantly, his friend, Owen Pugh, the Welsh commander of the mission, has learned that language and speaks it with him at times for reasons of friendship, and later to speak confidentially to him without danger of eavesdropping from the third main character. This tells POC readers that not only is their darker skin acceptable in the future, their cultural differences are also appreciated and useful. This may not seem like much to you, but to POCs who have been discriminated against for those traits in the present, seeing people like themselves represented as equals in the far-off future by this author can mean a hell of a lot, especially seeing so few similar characters in the SF of the time.

Spoken like a person that has no experience whatsoever with non-white people in the real world. I mean it sounds all tender and sweet in theory, sure. But people tend not to be flattered when their bosses adopt the vernacular of their subordinates. Heck, people have to be so careful working with people from different cultures that corporate diversity training of today instructs people to not even ask other people where they are from.

Ursula Le Guin could be forgiven for not knowing anything about this. She hails from not just a time when America was much whiter. But she also comes from a region of that country that is notoriously white to this day. Truly, Portland is ground zero of Stuff White People Like™. But her science fictional “It’s a Small World” moment is not near as effective when it’s placed side by side with her hatred for not just the millions of Irish people, but the billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Le Guin is one visionary that could stand to expand her horizons just a touch.

Meanwhile, Alexandru Constantin of Barbarian Book Club puts in his two cents on all this:

That has always been my question when seeing a bunch of middle-class white chubbsters patting each other’s backs over diversity. Who the [heck] are you writing for? Do you know any “diverse” people?

As a Romanian born immigrant, I don’t want or need somebody else to tell my story, my peoples story, or anything. I would be pissed if anybody turns my life experience into a fantasy tale.

Sort of like how China is not going to be one whit more interested in Star Wars just because some white feminist in America does them favor of incorporating a southeast Asian woman as protagonist. Kathleen Kennedy is nobody to them. Yet she acts like she’s some sort of plantation grandee doling out favors to the poor and benighted. Which is ridiculous when everyone from Bollywood to Hong Kong has their own means of culture production.

Normal people care nothing about this diversity stuff. What do they care about? Stuff that Ursula Le Guin despises and repudiates. Not the least of which would be heroism.

Watch the video below and see for yourself. People of all races, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes are outraged when the sort of “politics” Ursula Le Guin advocated for turns up in their epic fantasy. Really, it doesn’t matter if you do something “nice” for a supposedly helpless brown person if you’re simultaneously taking a great big dump on what it means to be human.

Appendix N Still Matters

Over at the premier fantasy blog of the internet, fellow pulp fantasy junkie and all around cool cat Fletcher Vredenburgh has made Appendix N a significant element of his manifesto:

I hadn’t really thought about Appendix N until James Maleszewski started blogging about it at his old and much-missed site, Grognardia. While he wasn’t a newcomer to the books on Gygax’s list, a lot of the people commenting were, and it was fun to read new takes on old works. They were totally sold on books which had either created the tropes that have come to dominate mass-market fantasy, or that were defiantly original, yet with roots proudly tracing back to the pulp tradition. It was the first intimation that so many of the books I grew up with were finding a new audience.

Later, Jeffro Johnson at Castalia House began a long series of posts examining the books and authors of Appendix N. The pieces were all collected and released as Appendix N: A Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a strongly opinioned and valuable take on a varied and idiosyncratic assortment of books. His commenters’ excitement over discovering a whole wealth of new-to-them fantasy writing definitely warmed this critic’s heart.

I’m not sure if Fletcher knows just how gracious he’s being here. For anyone that’s spent any amount of effort attempting to explain vintage role-playing games on a blog, being compared to James Maliszewski is about as good as it gets.

As to the books of Appendix N, according to Fletcher they are not just “a quirky list of fantasy and sci-fi books that inspired Gary Gygax”, but are also “worth reading because they are among the very best the genre has to offer.” He remarks on the contrast between how these books seemed to lapse into obscurity… but the people exposed to them today just can’t get over how good they are.

What’s up with that?

Well, Black Gate is far too reputable of a site to delve into to that particular question, but recent events make this far, far easier for people to wrap their heads around. Comics were infiltrated, subverted, and pushed to the very edge of destruction over the past decade or so. And Star Wars has been turned upside down and inside out very quickly just in the past few years by the same sort of people.

These are the same sort of people became responsible for both universities and journalism at some point. They wage a nonstop war on not just the past, but also anyone that dares to spoil their narrative. The ideological diversity and the freedom of expression that was taken for granted in the states before 1980 is offensive to them. But it goes further than that. These people use their influence to rewrite the literary canon however they please, reading people out for purely political reasons while inducting others for their utility in forwarding the aims of their cultural revolution.

And this stuff works, too. Accusing A. Merritt of having a Madonna-Whore complex, talking about how Lovecraft used the “N” word, and calling Robert E. Howard a mamma’s boy doesn’t do a whole lot to expand the reader base for their stories. And for anyone paying attention, there is a not-so-subtle cue in all that that you need to perform public self-flagellation rituals if your’re going to admit to liking such authors in mixed company.

It’s humiliating to even think about. Most people most of the time are going to steer clear of such unpleasantness.

But I see it happen all the time: people hear about these books, go read them for themselves, and then they are just plain blown away by them. It’s not just that they have been betrayed by the broader commentariat that they unconsciously depend on to keep them informed of such things. It’s that there are things packed into these stories that have very nearly been wiped out of the broader culture. And there’s something there that people desperately crave even though they can’t really imagine what could be there in the first place.

Wonder. Thrills. Romance. Heroism. Virtue.

We are hard wired for this. And we will have it.

A Mythology for No One and a Future for Anybody But You

Ursula Le Guin didn’t want to hurt anyone. She just, as reader Michael points out, “an influential writer who created beloved works of fantasy and science fiction; who didn’t like Lovecraft’s work (and possibly the man himself); and was interested in a little representation in her stories.” Is that so wrong…?

Well to be sure, she was dead wrong about Lovecraft. He was a first rate writer who mentored a surprisingly large number of people that would go on to define fantasy, science fiction, and horror for a generation. He wrote pieces that could pass for work written by Lord Dunsany. If anything gave his homage away, it was not his command of the cadence and motifs of the King James bible. It’s the downright disturbing aspects of the payoff that remind the reader of just who it really is that’s penned the work.

Le Guin manages to be disturbing in an entirely different way, and her approach to representation is a central element to that. In her story “Nine Lives” for instance, you wouldn’t really know there was a non-white character in the story. She has to tell you he’s there with an explicit reference to his “Hershey-bar-colored face.” There’s a blandness about her non-white characters… as if their skin color is just painted on. I couldn’t tell you why that is, exactly. It’s self evident that people from different regions and different cultures vary from one another. And as it happens, Lovecraft was expert at conveying just this aspect of rural New England.

Who is she writing for exactly…? I can’t see it. Are there really non-white people out there that are honestly embracing her work, praising her, and thanking her profusely for creating visions of the future and mythologies of the past that include them…? I doubt it. Other nations seem to have a handle on providing that for themselves just fine. At any rate, the Irish aren’t sitting on the hands waiting for a Japanese person to finally tell their story.

And that’s the thing about authors who go ahead and accept their own people and work from that rather than things they know very little about. They provide a way for people in other places and times to encounter something very specific. Something almost alien. Something infused with a nuance that people elsewhere could only guess at.

From what I’ve read of her, Le Guin seems to be in revolt against that very thing. As if her most likely audience deserves neither a past nor a future. As if she herself were a product of a post-cultural society. I really can’t see the appeal of this. Maybe you do. Either way, her work cannot be considered to be part of the same literary canon as that of Lord Dunsany and H. P. Lovecraft.