Sunday, December 13, 2015

Appendix N and the Solar System

Much more of Appendix N occurs within the Solar System than people commonly think.

A significant chunk of the Appendix is what I would call antediluvian fiction. This is works that occur ostensibly on Earth, but in an age before known history. Presumably the future of these settings is some cataclysm that results in the modern positions of the landmasses. This may not be the flood of Genesis, but it may as well be; and "antediluvian" generally fits the world view of these works. These include significant influences on D&D such as R.E. Howard's Conan series and J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, all works that were meant to happen on our earth. Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana also fits in this category.

Following this is historical fantasy. There are elements of this in Anderson's work, Lest Darkness Fall, the earliest Fafhrd & Gray Mouser story ("Adept's Gambit" is set in Tyre, not Lankhmar), some of Norton's fantasy work and most of the Swords Against Darkness stories. There are also elements of historical fantasy in Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar. Howard wrote historical fantasy as well.

Then there is modern fantasy. Burroughs (Tarzan and Pellucidar), Merritt, and the Lovecraft stories not set in the Dreamlands are all contemporary. So are Wellman's Silver John stories, or some of Howard's writing such as the El-Borak series.

Following this are the two flavors of future fantasy set on our earth. Post-apocalyptic works cover entries such as Norton's Daybreak 2250 AD, Lanier's Hiero's Journey, and St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys. Were that not enough, dying-earth works such as, well, The Dying Earth and World's End are set far, far in the future. This motif recurs in the Hawkmoon series by Moorcock and the Book of Swords by Saberhagen.

The next ring is the planetary stories, which any reader will know are dear to my heart. Burroughs and Brackett and Weinbaum all wrote compellingly of Mars. By a weird coincidence, neither the planetary work of Lin Carter (Jandar of Callisto) nor of R.E. Howard (Almuric), both set outside the Solar System, are mentioned in the Appendix.

The last group are set in worlds explicitly connected to our Earth. The fantasy world of Three Hearts and Three Lions, that of The Compleat Enchanter, the Elfland of The King of Elfland's Daughter, Leiber's Nehwon, Moorcock's Eternal Champion multiverse, the world of Blue Star are all at one time or another either sending people or ideas to our world.

Almost none of Appendix N is set in a "proper" separate fantasy world like those often seen in D&D. Yet the default assumption of so many games is exactly that, of a world disconnected from ours but somehow similar in major ways. At best there are hints that it is either a far-future post-apocalypse of our world or an antediluvian version of it.

This is a thing that bugs me the most about great chunks of D&D and similar fantasy. I don't think it's an accident that so much of this work keeps ties to our earth, whether for reasons of myth, or details, or a touch of irony. It's deeply weird that a game where, for instance, The Moon Pool is meant to be a significant influence, we so rarely see PCs like those in The Moon Pool, who are closer to Call of Cthulhu investigators than D&D PCs.


  1. I only recently read one of the Callisto series, but I assumed that Callisto and the Jupiter it circles were our Jupiter and its Callisto. Or, when you say “outside the Solar System” do you mean something other than outside our nine planets?

    1. You're correct, my memory was wrong on Callisto.


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