Monday, August 12, 2013

Appendix N in negative

As I was going through Appendix N over the weekend, some of the lacunae present in Gygax's list of fantasy  (and science fiction) works are almost as interesting as the things he does actually include.

The author Gary just plain missed was Clark Ashton Smith, the one member of the trio of great early American fantasists to survive the '30s (the others being H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard). CAS's stories are probably those of most benefit to those stuck in the rut of "vanilla" fantasy, as they are dense with both flavor and a semi-Theosophical bent that will mash things up straightaway. His stories are available online at Eldritch Dark. For those wanting print editions, the University of Nebraska Press's Bison Frontiers of Imagination series reprinted the old Arkham House collections Out of Space and Time and Lost Worlds which contain the meat of this work.

A major pioneer of heroic fantasy was left out. E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (full text at Wikisource) had been reprinted by Ballantine a few years before their famous Adult Fantasy line set the standard for fantasy literature. Eddison's work was missed when first written but quickly gained popularity after The Lord of the Rings and was quite relevant in the period when AD&D was published.

Gygax included several women in his list but missed Ursula K. LeGuin, whose work is consciously different from much of contemporary fantasy. Her Earthsea cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu) is exemplary, particularly because Ged often has to use the kind of lateral thinking that best marks old-school RPG play. It's also a good source for dragons (in A Wizard of Earthsea) and literary tombs similar to D&D dungeons (in The Tombs of Atuan). And if you like island adventure it's a great source of inspiration on that front.

The appendix is also focused, to a fault, on swords & sorcery and fantasy literature. Except for Three Hearts and Three Lions it never touches on chivalric romances, for all of D&D's medieval pretensions. There is no Arthurian literature at all, which seems strange to me because I grew up thinking of Arthur as a very central figure in fantastic precursors. The Once and Future King would have been relevant, as would Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (Penguin: Volume 1, Volume 2; free Kindle ebook: Volume 1, Volume 2; Project Gutenberg: Volume 1, Volume 2). Arthur of course features in Deities & Demigods and especially in OD&D there is a strong argument for a bit of Arthurian flavor in knightly jousts.

Finally, as has come up repeatedly in the discussion about Arneson, you can't really say that D&D was not inspired by John Norman's Gor series. This was a sword & planet adventure series that gets into some controversy over its idea of sexual slavery, but was a big influence on how Arneson ran Blackmoor. So if you want some of that flavor (it apparently starts out a good deal better than the later volumes), start with Tarnsman of Gor and go as far as you're interested in going.

There are other things we could add to the list all day, but I'm interested in talking about other works that were generally available in the late 1970s, had a fantasy or sci-fi flavor, and especially the ones that had an influence on early D&D players or a clear potential for in-game influence.


  1. Some years back on EN World, when Gygax was frequently participating in message board threads, I had the happy luck to recommend Gene Wolfe's duology The Knight and The Wizard (or The Wizard Knight). Gygax actually read them, and enjoyed The Knight enough to say that had it been in print when 1e was being created, it would have ended up on Appendix N. As I recall, he enjoyed the way it portrayed a warrior learning the ropes of adventuring. He didn't enjoy The Wizard as much, and seemed to dislike the portrayal of what, in D&D terms would be frost giants, which were major antagonists in the book.

  2. Interestingly, Moldvay included nearly all of these items in his reading list for Red Book Basic.

    1. True. That's also four times as long as Appendix N and has a lot of chaff along with the wheat. I mean, Piers Anthony? Ugh.

    2. I dunno: Piers Anthony in 1981 was not the Piers Anthony of 2013. There were only three Xanth books at that point (with the series not set to go off the rails until really 1986 and Golem in the Gears), so Anthony was as well known at that point for Cthon and the Cluster books and the Battle Circle books as anything else. And I think a defense of pre-1986 Anthony is not an impossibility.

  3. Excellent stuff here.

    Dave Hargrave lists CAS as "the true progenitor" of Arduin in his own Appendix N:

  4. There's also the "skip to the list" factor. A lot of people who read Appendix N only look at the list itself, which is explicitly fantasy authors. They skip over the intro, which includes this paragraph:

    "Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples."

    So, Arthurian romance isn't named directly, but certainly the last sentence suggests that Gygax read that as well as other myth and legend resources. And he explicitly names the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang, something I never see anyone mention when discussing Appendix N reading. There's actually quite a bit of watered-down Arthurian setting info in European fairy tales (princes on quests to rescue princesses from towers, etc.)

  5. C. L. Moore is not bad. I read the story collection Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams and I enjoyed it a lot more than A Wizard of Earthsea. Although I would recommend reading only one story at a time, rather than reading the whole thing from start to finish (I think I would appreciate Howard, Leiber and Lovecraft more in small doses too).

    I should really re-read A Wizard of Earthsea, since it's so highly regarded.

    As a boy, I really liked The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Neverending Story, and the Narnia books (especially Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair). But what I really loved was gamebooks - Fighting Fantasy, Sorcery, Lone Wolf and Grailquest. The illustrations in these books inspired me as much as the writing.

    Regarding the Gor books, I would recommend reading Tarnsman of Gor (1), Priest Kings of Gor (3) and Nomads of Gor (4). And stopping there, unless you have a slave-girl fetish. Outlaw of Gor, the second book in the series, isn't very exciting and the plot isn't connected with that of the other three books, which form a sort of trilogy.

    I've recently read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie and I think they give a good idea of what everyday life might be like in the borderlands of a pre-industrial civilisation (minus orcs and dragons).

    By the way, I've started reading this blog from the beginning. Your posts on Alarums and Excursions are very interesting. I wish the early issues of A&E were available as a pdf.

  6. Regarding works that were generally available in the late 1970s - I haven't read either and I don't know how popular they would have been among D&D players but perhaps Glory Road by Heinlein (1963), Dune (1965) and The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams (1975)? Hmm - now I feel like I'm just repeating titles that must have already have been written about on Grognardia . . .

  7. Seriously. DON QUIXOTE. No joke. If you view it from the perspective of a Dungeon Master and Alonso as a somewhat crazed LARPer, things just fall into place. It also serves as somewhat of an excellent CLIFF'S NOTES on all the various tropes that had already (by the 16th century) become cliche in chivalric romances. The book is a goldmine of ideas, despite the fact that Cervantes is lampshading just about everything.

    Which leads me to another point--Gygax was not a very literate person in that he wasn't widely-read. He focused all of his reading into a specific niche. In numerous interviews he basically said that he had absolutely no interest in any fantasy produced after 1977 or so (the year Thomas Covenant and Shannara were birthed). Sad, because he missed out on Midkemia, the Malazan Empire, and a whole host of other good settings and ideas.

    This narrowness of vision is why THE ILIAD, THE ODYSSEY, THE AENEID, and DON QUIXOTE basically fly under the radar. I have a feeling that Arneson was the more literate of the two, and the cleric class really does scream LE CHANSON DE ROLAND and other works from THE MATTER OF FRANCE.

  8. Nice choices for addenda to Appendix N. I have to say, though, that as a 13 year old that list was a nice starting place, and I discovered a lot of the omission like Smith, Eddison, and LeGuin by osmosis from there. I wish more modern game books came with bibliographies like that, not just to encourage young readers but to help old guys like me fill in gaps for authors I may have missed.


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