Episode 6 – Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “At the Earth’s Core”

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first Pellucidar book At the Earth’s Core was written during the supernova period at the beginning of his writing career, wherein he managed to pen 25 novels between 1911-1915! The serialization of At the Earth’s Core in All-Story Weekly magazine in 1914 represents Burroughs’ extraordinary feat of launching three major literary franchises in a mere three years, following on the Mars/Barsoom series and the Tarzan series. Pellucidar’s Hollow Earth setting with its weird timeless eternal day and its menagerie of threats from the chillingly alien Mahars, the brutish Sagoths, and various pre-historic megafauna remains one of the most sustained acts of invention in fantastic fiction to this day.

Although At the Earth’s Core was popular enough to be published in hardcover starting in 1922 and to be re-serialized in 1929, it doesn’t seem to have been in print after 1940. Certainly, David Innes is a likeable protagonist, but he lacks the larger-than-life qualities of John Carter of Mars or Tarzan of the Apes. Other suspects for At the Earth’s Core’s lapse into relative obscurity would be the World War II paper shortage, followed by Burroughs’ death in 1950.

At the Earth’s Core was first published in paperback by Ace Books in 1962, making it an early factor in the great Edgar Rice Burroughs revival of the 1960s. The lush and colorful cover by Roy Krenkel would certainly have helped it stand out on the racks:

ATEC1962

The Frank Frazetta cover that graced the later Ace Books printings of At the Earth’s Core from the early 1970s through the 1980s depicts the horrible anticipation of the Mahar temple sequence:

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The Pellucidar series is terrific worldbuilding but it did not leave as obvious an imprint on early Dungeons & Dragons as Burroughs’ Mars/Barsoom series, other than in its pulp ethos and sense of high adventure. The general pulp ethos was certainly present in Dave Cook and Tom Moldvay’s X1 – The Isle of Dread module which was included in 1981’s Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set. The Isle of Dread would pave the way for TSR’s Known World/Mystara setting and its undeniably pulpy/Burroughsian Hollow World sub-setting.

Reading Resources:

At the Earth’s Core (Dover Juvenile Classics) (paperback)

At the Earth’s Core (Bison Frontiers of Imagination) (trade paperback)

http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/ERBurroughs/Pellucidar/EarthsCore.html is an online public domain repository of the entire Pellucidar series

Further Reading:

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar: At the Earth’s Core collects the 1970s DC Comics adaptation of At the Earth’s Core and Pellucidar that ran in Weird Worlds and other titles.

 

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 5 – J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”

The Hobbit first came to Oxford University professor J.R.R. Tolkien when he was grading papers in the early 1930s. Coming upon a blank page in an exam book, he suddenly wrote “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Tolkien worked on The Hobbit for the next several years before submitting it for publication in 1936 as a children’s book to George Allen & Unwin, then known mainly as an academic publishing house. The publisher Stanley Unwin paid his ten-year-old son Rayner a shilling to review the manuscript, which he reported on as follows:

“Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

Young Rayner Unwin’s recommendation convinced his father to publish The Hobbit in hardcover in 1937, to strong sales and critical acclaim. Stanley Unwin asked Tolkien for a sequel to The Hobbit as early as December 1937, a request that would take over 15 years to come to fruition as The Lord of the Rings. During that long process, Tolkien would revise The Hobbit for the first time to bring it into closer agreement with developments in The Lord of the Rings, especially in the depiction of Gollum and the One Ring.

Although The Hobbit had been available in the U.S. from 1938 in hardcover, it had not been published in U.S. paperback by the mid 1960s, partly because of Tolkien’s distaste for the “degenerate” paperback format. This all changed when Ace Books put out an unauthorized U.S. paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings in 1965 after finding what they perceived to be a copyright loophole. Ballantine Books rushed to put out authorized U.S. paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in 1965. Tolkien made additional revisions to both works both for his own satisfaction and to cement their U.S. copyright status, with The Hobbit’s third edition appearing in 1966.

The most common version of The Hobbit available during the Appendix N era would have been the 45th printing and onwards of the Ballantine Books revised paperback, featuring a lovely watercolor cover illustration by Tolkien himself of Bilbo’s escape from Mirkwood astride a barrel:

THHBBTRTHR1976

Gary Gygax denied that Tolkien’s works were a particular influence on the development of Dungeons & Dragons, but he certainly would have been conscious of the desire of prospective players to experience the trappings of Middle-earth. Many denizens of Middle-earth including Hobbits, Ents, Orcs, and Balrogs were present in the “Fantasy Supplement” of Chainmail (1971), Gary Gygax’s medieval miniatures wargame that was the immediate predecessor to Dungeons & Dragons.

The Tolkienian references continued in Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set until the Tolkien estate caught wind of this. To avoid copyright and trademark violations, TSR modified or removed Tolkienian references from Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons in 1977, with Hobbits becoming Halflings, Ents becoming Treants, and Balrogs becoming Type VI Demons, etc.

In time, Dungeons & Dragons in its various versions and editions became successful enough in its own terms that any Tolkien-derived aspects drifted further and further from their inspirations and started to become largely self-referential. Gamers desiring to adventure in Middle-earth would have to turn to the Iron Crown Enterprises’ Tolkien estate-approved Middle-earth Role Playing (1984), derived from ICE’s Rolemaster system and commonly referred to as MERP. The MERP line was one of the most popular fantasy roleplaying games throughout the 1980s and 1990s, until the license was revoked by the Tolkien estate in 1999 in rather convoluted circumstances. Decipher, Inc. briefly published The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game at the time of the Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, but Cubicle 7 has held the Middle-earth RPG license since 2011, producing The One Ring Roleplaying Game. Cubicle 7 also brought Middle-earth full circle back to D&D in 2016 by producing Adventures in Middle-earth, a D&D Fifth edition compatible version of The One Ring.

Reading Resources:

The Hobbit TPB (trade paperback)

The Hobbit (Kindle ebook)

Gaming Resources:

The Adventures in Middle-earth RPG line is available here.

The One Ring Roleplaying Game line is available here.

Bonus Section!

Attercop is a Middle English (via Old English) term for spider or peevish or ill-natured person, from the roots atter (“poison/venom”) and cop (“head”). The D&D Ettercap was originally submitted for “The Fiend Factory” column in White Dwarf magazine before being collected in the Fiend Folio (1981). Although they’ve always been evil creatures with an affinity for spiders, they were initially depicted as humanoid and became progressively more arachnid-like throughout later editions of D&D.

 

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 4 – Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” with special guest Gavin Norman

Special guest Gavin Norman (author of The Complete Vivimancer and Theorems & Thaumaturgy) joins us to discuss Jack Vance‘s The Dying Earth!

Jack Vance originally wrote the loosely connected stories that comprise The Dying Earth while serving in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II. Vance’s fiction had started appearing in pulp magazines as early as 1945, and The Dying Earth marked his first book publication when it was released in digest-sized paperback in 1950 by Hillman Periodicals, best known as a comic book and magazine publisher.

The Dying Earth appears not to have been particularly successful at first, as it was not reprinted even as Vance’s career went on an upswing in the late 1950s & early 1960s. Hillman ceased publishing in 1961 and Lancer Books snapped up The Dying Earth, reprinting it in paperback in 1962 with a cover by the ever-versatile Ed Emshwiller depicting the denouement of the story “Ulan Dhor”:

DYNGE1962.jpg

The Dying Earth did well enough that Lancer kept it in print until they went bankrupt in 1973, by which time its reputation was such that it has remained in print to this day through a series of different publishers. No doubt the continued success of The Dying Earth led Jack Vance to revisit the setting starting in the mid 1960s. These new stories that would eventually be published as The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), followed by the post-Appendix N books Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984).

Gary Gygax wrote in issue 2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that he first became a fan of Jack Vance after reading The Big Planet (1957) in the pulps in the early 1950s and then was “absolutely enthralled…as no work of fantasy had done for a long time” with the publication of The Eyes of the Overworld in 1966. The Dying Earth further cemented Gygax’s love of the setting.

When it came time to devise a magic system for Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax felt that a “Vancian” system of memorized spells that are expended when cast and that then must be re-learned before casting again was the best way to provide flavor and balance the magic-user against other classes. The Enchanter series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt would provide the situational pre-conditions for spellcasting in D&D, but these spell components were often glossed-over, as Gygax laments as early as 1976 in issue 6 of The Strategic Review, the predecessor to Dragon magazine.

Oddly, D&D’s publisher TSR appears never to have tried to license the Dying Earth setting even though Gary Gygax remained a huge fan of Jack Vance and actually had significant contact with him after Dungeons & Dragons took the world by storm. The first time gamers would get to officially adventure in the Dying Earth was with the publication of Pelgrane Press’ The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game in 2001. Goodman Games has since licensed the Dying Earth setting for its Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, with a target release date of late 2017.

Reading Resources:

Tales of the Dying Earth collects all four books in the Dying Earth series and is available here:

Tales of the Dying Earth TPB (trade paperback)

Tales of the Dying Earth (Kindle ebook)

Gaming Resources:

Gavin Norman’s The Complete Vivimancer reads as if David Cronenberg had decided to create a D&D magic-user class, please check it out if you’re looking to add some mad scientist/body horror flavor to your games.

Theorems & Thaumaturgy is a broader treatment of alternative magic-user classes, including the Elementalist, the Necromancer, and a pared-down version of the Vivimancer. A free, no-art version is available here.

Gavin Norman’s The City of Iron gaming blog is very much worth your time as well.

Greg Gorgonmilk’s excellent Vancian Magic Supplement compiles many of Gary Gygax’s writings on the origins of the Dungeons & Dragons magic system from Dragon magazine and other sources. Definitely check it out as well as the rest of his terrific OSR blog.

Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games is one of the first “retro-clone” D&D emulations published under the Open Game License (OGL). It closely models the 1981 Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert  (“B/X”) rules sets by Tom Moldvay and Dave Cook. A free no-art version is available here.

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 3 – Fritz Leiber’s “Swords and Deviltry”

Swords and Deviltry (Ace Books, 1970) by Fritz Leiber was originally published in paperback as part of Ace Books’ complete seven volume saga of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Although Swords and Deviltry is first in the series chronology, it was actually the fourth book published.

Leiber and his lifelong friend Harry Otto Fischer created Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in an exchange of letters in 1934, basing the pair loosely on their own friendship, with Fischer as the diminutive Mouser and Leiber as the towering Fafhrd. The first story featuring the Twain (as they are often called) to appear in print was “Two Sought Adventure” AKA “The Jewels in the Forest” in 1939 in Unknown magazine. A handful of further Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories trickled out over the next two decades until Cele Goldsmith commissioned brand-new stories for Fantastic magazine starting in 1959, which lead to the Ace paperback collections of the late 1960s.

Other than the continued interest in Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, this new appreciation of Leiber’s fantasy fiction was one of the biggest contributors to the sword and sorcery renaissance of the 1960s. In fact, Leiber is credited with coining the term “sword and sorcery” in 1961 when Michael Moorcock called for a name for the type of fantasy fiction that Howard, Leiber and others were coming to exemplify.

By the time Swords and Deviltry was published Leiber had been writing tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for over 30 years, but it is only in this book that he revealed their full origins in the stories “Induction” (1957), “The Snow Women” (1970), “The Unholy Grail” (1962), and “Ill-Met in Lankhmar” (1970).

Swords and Deviltry featured a typically moody Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover, although the effect is compromised by the trade dress of later printings:

SWRDSNDDVL1970.jpgSWRDSNDDVC1973.jpg

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s gaming history actually predates their first publication, as Leiber and Fischer created a complex three-dimensional board game in 1937 to amuse themselves and help them visualize the Twain’s stomping grounds of the city of Lankhmar and the world of Nehwon. This game was later re-developed and published by TSR as Lankhmar in 1976.

Leiber and Fischer weren’t mere hands-off IP licensors, however. Leiber would contribute a witty conversation with Fafhrd and the Mouser about wargaming in the very first issue of The Dragon (1976), followed by the short story “Sea Magic” in issue 11 (1977). Fischer’s short story “The Childhood and Youth of The Gray Mouser” then appeared in issue 18 (1978).

Lawrence Shick and Tom Moldvay gave Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser their first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons write-up in issue 27 of The Dragon (1979). The Twain and various other denizens of Nehwon were given a whole chapter in James M. Ward’s and Robert J. Kuntz’s Deities & Demigods (1980), with memorably gritty illustrations by Jennell Jaquays.

Future notes on the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series will cover later TSR Lankhmar publications, post-TSR licensees and other games that have been directly influenced by the city of Lankhmar. Stay tuned!

Reading Resources:

Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Book 1) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser publication order reading list – Some cognoscenti feel that Swords and Deviltry is not the ideal introduction to the Twain and recommend that their stories be read in original publication order instead. Michael Curtis and the Goodman Games crew have compiled just such a reading list for the DCC Lankhmar Kickstarter, helpfully highlighting stories they consider “essential reading”.

Further Reading:

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories collects the 1973 DC Comics series Sword of Sorcery, featuring adaptations and original tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by comics legends Denny O’Neil, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, and Jim Starlin.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (Dark Horse, 2007)

This is a trade paperback collection of the 1991 Epic Comics series scripted by Howard Chaykin with pencils by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. In the mid 1990s Mignola would also go on to provide the cover art and interior illustrations for White Wolf Publishing’s four-volume collected edition of The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan”

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N….

Downloadable episode available here.

Conan (Lancer Books, 1967) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter was part of first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan was the fifth volume published, although it is first in the internal chronology–later printings of the series numbered the books in chronological order. When Lancer went out of business in 1973, Ace Books picked up and completed the series, keeping it in print until the mid 1990s.

In a now controversial move, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories, thus jump-starting the Conan pastiche era.

For the purist, the Howard-only stories in this collection are “The Hyborian Age, Part 1” (1936), “The Tower of the Elephant” (1933), “The God in the Bowl” (1952, Howard’s original version first published 1975), and “Rogues in the House” (1934).

Regardless of the editorial controversies, the Lancer/Ace series was the only widely available source of Howard-penned Conan stories for nearly three decades, sustaining the sword and sorcery boom from the late ‘60s to the mid ‘90s. Robert E. Howard’s furious prose and the now-iconic Frank Frazetta cover illustrations on many of the volumes have cemented Conan the Cimmerian in popular culture. Frazetta had clearly read and internalized the dynamism of the Conan stories, as shown by his cover painting of Conan’s epic struggle with Thak the apeman from “Rogues in the House”:

CNNDSNBXMD1973

As Dungeons & Dragons was created in the era of peak Conan, it is natural that Conan’s presence would be felt, starting with a write-up in Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward’s OD&D supplement Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976). Gary Gygax himself would write up Conan as he appeared in various stages of his career in Dragon magazine issue 36 (1980)–a treatment that presaged the eventual AD&D Barbarian class in Dragon issue 62 (1982) and Unearthed Arcana (1985).

Conan the Cimmerian has since remained a perennial roleplaying game property, both with TSR and other publishers, but that’s a story for another day….

Reading Resources:

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria Book 1) (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2003) is the first of a 3-book trade paperback series collecting the Conan stories in the order they were written by Robert E. Howard, often going back to his original typescripts. Also included are many of Howard’s Conan story drafts, note, and fragments, but none of the posthumous revisions and new stories by de Camp, Carter, et al. This volume also features numerous evocative interior illustrations by Mark Schultz.

http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/RobertEHoward/REH-Conan/@Conan.html is an online public domain repository of all of the Conan stories that were published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime and several posthumously published works that are out of copyright.

Gaming Resources:

Daniel J. Bishop’s terrific write-up of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is here.

Update 07/16/2017 – I mentioned Talbot Mundy and Howard Fast as adventure fiction predecessors to Robert E. Howard, but I was thinking of Mundy and Harold Lamb. This won’t be the last time that I’m wrong on the internet:-) – Hoi

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 1 – L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt’s “The Compleat Enchanter”

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N….

Downloadable episode available here.

The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is a compilation of the first three novellas in the Harold Shea/Enchanter series, “The Roaring Trumpet” (1940), “The Mathematics of Magic” (1940), and “The Castle of Iron” (1941, revised 1950). The Compleat Enchanter was first published as a Nelson Doubleday/Science Fiction Book Club hardcover in 1975 before being released as a Del Rey paperback in 1976, featuring a charming Brothers Hildebrandt cover painting:

CMPLTENC1975

The three adventures in this book take place in the worlds of Norse Mythology, Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso.

De Camp and Pratt would later team up for two more Harold Shea stories, “The Wall of Serpents” (1953), and “The Green Magician” (1954). These stories fall outside of the Appendix N Book Club reading list since they were not collected in paperback until 1979, but Gary Gygax and Tim Kask must have been big fans since “The Green Magician” made its first reappearance in print since 1960 in issues 15 and 16 of The Dragon (1978)!

In any case, the Harold Shea series undoubtedly left its mark on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, most obviously in the magical spell component requirements in The Players Handbook and the Against the Giants series of modules.

Reading Resources:

The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of de Camp and Pratt is a hardcover omnibus of the de Camp and Pratt Harold Shea stories, along with the solo stories written by de Camp after Pratt’s death.

Further Reading:

The Enchanter Reborn (Baen Books, 1992)

The Exotic Enchanter (Baen Books, 1995)

These anthologies from the 1990s feature de Camp’s solo Enchanter stories along with new contributions from other writers including former TSR game designer Tom Wham of Snit’s Revenge and The Awful Green Things from Outer Space fame.

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.

Episode 0 – The Appendix N (and why we care)

It’s time to pull the divan by the fire (or to turn on the lava lamp inside your wizard van), crack open an old paperback, and join us as we explore the fiction of the Appendix N.

In this episode, the hosts introduce themselves and discuss what the Appendix N is, and why they care.

Downloadable episode available here.

If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.

The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.

And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.