Episode 17 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan of Cimmeria”

(Please also see the Episode 2 show notes for additional details about the Lancer/Ace Conan books.)

Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer Books, 1969) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter was part of first comprehensive paperback edition of the Conan saga. Conan of Cimmeria  was the seventh volume published, although it is second in the internal chronology–later printings of the series numbered the books in chronological order. When Lancer when out of business in 1973, Ace Books picked up and completed the series, keeping it in print until the mid 1990s.

As with Conan, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories. For the purist, the Howard-only stories in Conan of Cimmeria are “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” (written in 1934, first published 1953, definitive version published 1976), “Queen of the Black Coast” (1934), and “The Vale of Lost Women” (first published in The Magazine of Horror, 1967).

The de Camp and Carter originals in Conan of Cimmeria are “The Curse of the Monolith” (first published in the magazine Worlds of Fantasy in 1968 as “Conan and the Cenotaph”), “The Lair of the Ice Worm”, and “The Castle of Terror”. “The Blood-Stained God” is a de Camp rewrite of a then unpublished Howard story “The Curse of the Crimson God”, with de Camp changing the setting from early 20th century Afghanistan and adding the fantastic elements to turn it into a Conan tale. “The Blood-Stained God” first saw print in the hardcover collection Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955). The final story in this volume “The Snout in the Dark” was completed by de Camp and Carter from synopsis and story fragment found in Howard’s notes. For the curious, the untitled synopsis and fragment can be found in the appendices of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2003).

Frank Frazetta once again contributes an unforgettable cover painting, this time of Conan’s battle with Atali’s brothers from “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”:

2 - Conan_Cimmeria_Lancer_1970

In addition to the Conan influences on Dungeons & Dragons cited in Episode 2, Conan of Cimmeria was the probable source of the Monster Manual’s remorhaz, a sort of ice centipede inverse of the remora from “The Lair of the Ice Worm”. “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” probably deserves equal credit along with the first Harold Shea story “The Roaring Trumpet” for the Dungeons & Dragons treatment of frost giants, which first appeared in the original 1974 edition and were fully detailed in the Monster Manual (1977). Frost giants would become iconic D&D foes with the publication of TSR’s second D&D module, 1978’s G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the middle module of the Against the Giants trilogy.

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:

G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Monster Manual (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

 
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 16 – L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall”

L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall first saw light as a short story in the December 1939 issue of Unknown magazine before being expanded into a full novel for hardcover publication by Henry Holt & Company in 1941. Unknown was the companion magazine to Astounding, both of which were edited by John W. Campbell, the godfather of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction”. Campbell had taken the reins of Astounding in 1937 and had almost immediately turned it away from its freewheeling high adventure origins towards more scientifically plausible and therefore “realistic” stories. In 1939, Campbell launched Unknown with a very similar mandate towards fantasy fiction; his direction to writers was “For Astounding I want stories which are good and logical and possible. For Unknown, I want stories which are good and logical.”

As an aeronautical engineer by training and a paleontologist, historian and educator by inclination, L. Sprague de Camp was an exemplar of the new breed of scientifically savvy writer that Campbell was cultivating. De Camp’s essentially rationalist worldview seems to have given him trouble in depicting the truly impossible, at least in his nominally science fiction works. It makes sense then that he’d quickly gloss over the mechanics and metaphysics of time travel in Lest Darkness Fall in favor of playing to his strengths, in this case a deep knowledge of Late Antiquity, specifically the Gothic War (535-554) that devastated the Italian peninsula and sent it into a state of decline that was only reversed with the coming of the Italian Renaissance.

Lest Darkness Fall was de Camp’s first solo novel, but even then some of his tropes were in evidence, such as the highly educated and rational protagonist making his way in a strange new world, both aided and opposed by often comical or even buffoonish locals. De Camp’s writing can be compromised at times by the feeling that he’s holding himself above the material or at least failing to fully embrace it, but thankfully that’s not the case with Lest Darkness Fall. Padway’s dry wit rarely devolves into snark, and his 20th century education and native intelligence aren’t always enough to carry the day–ultimately Padway relies on persuasion as much as intellect.

Lest Darkness Fall’s balance of well-developed characters and careful extrapolation of history made it a cornerstone of the Alternate history sub-genre of fantastic fiction to this day as witnessed by its frequent reprintings over the last 80 years. It has also drawn reponses in the form of the short stories “The Man Who Came Early” (1956) by Poul Anderson, “The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass” (1962) by Frederik Pohl, “To Bring the Light” (1996) by David Drake, and “The Apotheosis of Martin Padway” (2005) by S.M. StirlingThe current king of alternate history fiction Harry Turtledove recently tweeted that the book changed his life: “ L. Sprague de Camp’s LEST DARKNESS FALL. Without It, I wouldn’t have studied Byzantium, and my whole life would be, well, an alternate history.”

The Ballantine Books 2nd paperback printing (1975) feature a Darrell K. Sweet cover illustration, but the groovy typography steals the show:

LSTDRKNSSF1975

Gary Gygax prided himself on being an amateur medievalist, so it’s not surprising that he cited Lest Darkness Fall in Appendix N despite the only overtly fantastic element being the lightning bolt that sends Martin Padway back in time. Padway’s efforts to keep the light of civilization burning are not dissimilar from the “domain game” aspect of Dungeons & Dragons. Aside from that, Padway’s depiction as the lone rational man in an uncouth world echoes is the essence of nerd self-image, and de Camp and Gygax are essentially proto-nerds made good….

Reading Resources:

Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Additional Reading:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (public domain ebook) – Mark Twain’s 1889 novel is the most obvious antecedent to Lest Darkness Fall, although it is overtly satirical rather than an exercise in alternate history.

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 15 – Lin Carter’s “Giant of World’s End”

Lin Carter has a multi-faceted reputation in the world of fantastic fiction. As an editor and critic, he is virtually indispensable, most notably for his role in editing the landmark Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (BAFS), as well as the subsequent Flashing Swords!, The Year’s Best Fantasy, and Weird Tales anthologies. Carter’s legacy as a writer is considerably more muddied by his “posthumous collaborations” with Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, which often consisted of creating entirely new stories from unfinished drafts and story fragments. These stories were presented as newly rediscovered works, with Carter carrying the torch for Howard and Smith. Lin Carter was hardly alone in his “posthumous collaborations” however, as he was following a precedent set in the 1950s by August Derleth and L. Sprague de Camp. It can be argued that this practice is distasteful or outright literary defacement, but it could equally well be seen as a precursor to today’s “remix” culture.

What about Lin Carter’s solo fiction then? His breakthrough Thongor series, starting with The Wizard of Lemuria (Ace Books, 1965) has been characterized as heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Carter was incredibly prolific over the next four years, knocking out roughly 25 more books along with his editorial work and scripting episodes of the Spider-Man animated series. Carter’s work on the BAF series starting in 1969 may have re-awakened his interest in the denser, more allusive prose styles of the likes of Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, and William Morris. This interest would come to the fore in Carter’s Giant of World’s End (Belmont Books, 1969), set 700 million years in the future in The Eon of the Falling Moon. In the far future Earth of Giant of World’s End, the continents have drifted back together into the supercontinent of Gondwane and the Moon has fallen in its orbit to the point where it will soon collide with and destroy the world. The warrior construct Ganelon Silvermane and his companions Zelobion the Magician and Arzeela the War Maid must traverse this vast continent in an attempt to find a “counter-lunary agent” that will prevent the Moon’s fall and the end of the world.

In Carter’s introduction to Giant of World’s End he considers his book in the same End of Time tradition as Clark Ashton Smith’s “Zothique” cycle and A.E. van Vogt’s The Book of Ptath (1947), but curiously he omits any mention of Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” books. Smith and van Vogt’s works were far enough in the past to be safely acknowledged, but it’s likely that Vance’s The Dying Earth (Lancer Books reissue, 1962) and The Eyes of the Overworld (Ace Books, 1965) were too recent to cite comfortably as open influences. In any case, Giant of World’s End is undeniably Vancian, from the odd customs of the various cultures that the protagonists encounter, to the strangely petty ancient powers of the world such as The Seven Brains of Karchoy. The attempts at quirky humor and deliberately formal dialogue also owe a lot to Vance, but can seem a bit forced.

Another perhaps less obvious influence on Giant at World’s End is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with Ganelon Silvermane’s amnesia and inability to love echoing the Scarecrow’s missing brain and Tin Woodman’s missing heart respectively. Also the band of adventurers’ disappointment at the reveal of the senile Last Technarch of Vandalex calls back to Dorothy’s peek behind the screen at the “humbug” Wizard of Oz. Carter’s nods to the Oz books are less surprising when you consider that he wrote five Oz novels that were published posthumously as The Tired Tailor of Oz (2001) and the collection The Merry Mountaineer of Oz (2004).

Nothing in the text of Giant of World’s End indicates that it was originally intended to be part of a series, especially considering its downbeat ending. Nevertheless, Lin Carter must have felt that the supercontinent of Gondwane remained rife with story possibilities as a prequel, Warrior of World’s End was published in 1974 by DAW Books. Four more books in the “Gondwane Epic” would appear through 1978. Supposedly there were to have been nine books in the Gondwane Epic, bringing the story around full circle to Giant of World’s End but the series was cancelled because of low sales. It’s interesting to note that the five prequels were reissued by Wildside Press in the early 2000s, but that Giant of World’s End has never been reprinted aside from a U.K. paperback edition in 1972–perhaps the reissues did poorly too or there’s an obscure publishing rights issue involved.

Giant of World’s End features a Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover that doesn’t depict any scene in the text, but may be conveying Arzeela’s despair over her unrequited love for Ganelon Silvermane. It’s a literal “brown study”:

GNTFWRLDSB1969

Out of Lin Carter’s quite large body of work, only the “World’s End” books are cited by Gary Gygax as influences on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the works in Appendix N are superior on their literary merits, but Giant of World’s End doesn’t lack for memorable creations such as the Talking Ship Mannanan MacLear, the Myriapod at the arena of the Piomazians, Zelobion’s magical system of Phonemic Thaumaturgy, and the ruined city of Grand Phesion. The somewhat cobbled together nature of Carter’s book makes it easier pull out the eminently gameable bits that would be harder to extract from more original, dramatically unified works. And gamers, from Gary Gygax down to present day DIYers are nothing if not tinkerers….

 

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 14 – Sterling E. Lanier’s “Hiero’s Journey”

There’s surprisingly little reliable biographical information about Sterling E. Lanier, but like many Appendix N authors he does seem to have been a man of many parts. Most accounts of Lanier’s life have him studying archaeology and anthropology at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania before working as a researcher and historian for most of the 1950s. His other interests included sculpture, natural history, and cryptozoology, all of which would bear on his creative endeavors.

In 1961 Lanier began his literary career with the publication of his first short story in Analog magazine and by landing an editor’s position at Chilton Books, best known then and now as a publisher of automotive repair manuals. Lanier cemented his place in science fiction history in 1965 by convincing Chilton to publish Frank Herbert’s Dune in hardcover after it had already been rejected by over 20 publishers. Lanier’s strong interest in ecology must have made the Dune stories jump out at him as they were being serialized in Analog magazine. Unfortunately a prophet is never honored in his own land and Lanier was let go from Chilton the following year when Dune initially failed to live up to sales expectations.

Lanier’s creative output was jumpstarted by his dismissal from Chilton and he began working in earnest as a sculptor, jeweler, and writer in the late 1960s. Among his notable works from this period were miniature portrait sculptures of characters from The Lord of the Rings that were supposedly admired by J.R.R. Tolkien himself and that may have served as character models for Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.

During this time Lanier also began writing his Brigadier Ffellowes short stories, which were inspired in equal part by Lord Dunsany’s Jorkens “club tales” and his enthusiasm for cryptozoology. Lanier’s interest in ecology and weird creatures would come into full bloom in his first novel for adults, Hiero’s Journey, which his old employer Chilton published in hardcover in 1973. A Bantam Books paperback edition followed in 1974–the cover artist is uncredited, but Black Gate editor/publisher John O’Neill says it’s a piece by Vincent Di Fate:

HRSJRNGXBR1974

Hiero’s Journey was popular enough to merit a second paperback printing in 1983 to coincide with the publication of the sequel The Unforsaken Hiero. The second printing features a more placid but textually accurate cover by Darrell K. Sweet featuring Hiero, Klootz the Morse, and Gorm the telepathic bear:

HRSJRNGNXP1983

Hiero’s Journey is clearly the main literary inspiration for James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet’s Gamma World (TSR, 1978), the archetypal post-apocalyptic role-playing game. Gamma World and its spiritual descendants such as Mutant Future (Goblinoid Games, 2008) and Mutant Crawl Classics (Goodman Games, 2018) form the weird, kitchen-sink, far-future branch of post-apocalyptic role-playing games as opposed to the more gloomy and “realistic” near-future post-apocalypse RPGs typified by The Morrow Project (TimeLine Ltd., 1980) or Aftermath! (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1981).

Gary Gygax cited Hiero’s Journey as an influence on Dungeons & Dragons and it’s easy to see why. For example, from the original 1974 rules we have the various jelly, mold, ooze, pudding, and slime monsters that echo the outgrowths of the House; they were later fully fleshed (sprouted?) out in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1978). Psionic powers were first introduced in Dungeons & Dragons Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976) and have appeared in many subsequent editions of Dungeons & Dragons, although they’ve never co-existed easily with the magic system. As for the protagonists, Hiero provides one model for how the cleric class could be roleplayed as warrior-priests as opposed to the typical healer/protective spellcaster; of course, Hiero Desteen* could also be modeled as a ranger with the same effect in play. In a similar vein, Brother Aldo provides a slightly different take on the druid as cheerful and kind-hearted, yet resolutely dedicated to preserving the balance of nature.

A third book in the Hiero saga was planned but never materialized, but it’s said that Hiero’s Journey is very popular in Russia and that as many as 20 unauthorized works set in Hiero’s world were published in Russian around 2002-2004–apparently, a Hiero never dies….

* Incidentally, Lanier insisted that Hiero is pronounced “Hee-eh-ro” and not “Hero” or “Hyro”, but he was also tweaking his final publisher Donald M. Grant at the time.

Reading Resources:

Hiero’s Journey (Kindle ebook) – Beware, there are reported quality issues with this ebook, so you may want to seek out a used print copy instead.

Additional Reading:

The Unforsaken Hiero (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1983) – Gary Gygax specifically mentioned on EN World that he would have added the second Hiero book to any updated Appendix N.

Gaming Resources:

Mutant Crawl Classics (Goodman Games pre-order link for the standard hardcover edition)

Mutant Future: Revised Edition (RPGNow affiliate link) – this is probably the first Gamma World emulation of the OSR (Old School Renaissance) era, although it’s not an exact retroclone. Mutant Future is also available in a free, no-art version.

 
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 13 – Gardner F. Fox’s “Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman”

J.R.R. Tolkien and perhaps Robert E. Howard aside, no Appendix N author has had as a large a pop culture footprint as Gardner F. Fox, but not for any of the works cited by Gary Gygax. Although hardly a household name today, Gardner Fox was among other things one of the most prolific comic book writers of the 20th Century. Fox was originally a practicing attorney in New York City, but still must have found it hard to make ends meet during the heart of the Great Depression–in 1937 he began writing for DC comics as well as contributing stories to many of the pulp magazines of the era. Over the course of his 30 year career with DC Comics Fox was responsible for such seminal creations as the Golden Age Flash, the Sandman, Doctor Fate, Hawkman, and the Justice Society of America. During the Silver Age of the 1960s, he would help re-vamp the Atom and Hawkman, create the Justice League of America, introduce Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and write his most famous story, “The Flash of Two Worlds!” (The Flash #123, 1961), which introduced the concept of the Multiverse to DC Comics.

Fox left or was cut loose from DC Comics in 1968 when the company shamefully declined to give health insurance and other employee benefits to its older writers and artists. He then turned to writing novels and short stories full-time, churning out tales of all genres both under his own name and under at least 15 pen names. Fox’s works included science fiction, fantasy, Westerns, historical fiction, and the sexploitation spy series Lady from L.U.S.T. (as Rod Gray) and Cherry Delight (as Glenn Chase).

Among the over 100 novels that Fox would pen over the next decade and half was the first of the Kothar series, Kothar Barbarian Swordsman (Belmont Books, 1969). Kothar Barbarian Swordsman was clearly meant to cash in on Conan/swords and sorcery boom of the era, but an old pro like Fox couldn’t resist having a little fun along the way, such as with the absurdly pompous introduction by “Donald MacIvers, Ph.D” which leaned heavily on the theories of the obscure German philosopher “Albert Kremnitz”. One can’t help but think that Fox was tweaking the likes of L. Sprague de Camp and other well-educated writers who were insecure about toiling in the vineyards of fantastic fiction. Fox by contrast wears his learning lightly, throwing in a myriad of historical but obscure terms such as “hacqueton”, “athanor”, and “cotehardie” more to amuse himself and because he may have liked their sound in a sentence than as a means to place himself above the material.

Jeffrey Catherine Jones’s painted covers are reliably moody, and her cover to Kothar Barbarian Swordsman is no exception:

BARBSWRD1969

Leisure Books picked up Kothar – Barbarian Swordsman for a second paperback printing in 1973. The even moodier second printing cover is uncredited, but also appears to be by Jeffrey Catherine Jones:

KTHRBRBRNS1973

Oddly though, it was a re-purposed piece for another Belmont Books fantasy novel, David Van Arnam’s Wizard of Storms (1970):

WZRDFSTRMS1970

Leisure Books did not end up re-issuing the rest of the Kothar series–perhaps sales were underwhelming. On the other hand, Leisure must not have been too displeased since they did publish Gardner Fox’s second stab at sword and sorcery, the Kyrik series, which ran to four books in 1975-1976.

The Kothar stories are presented with economy, craft, and imagination, so it’s not surprising that they stood out to Gary Gygax amidst all of the other derivative swords and sorcery in print at the time. The most well-known borrowing from Kothar in Dungeons & Dragons would be the lich, a powerful sorcerer who has prolonged his life into undeath–Gygax confirmed this borrowing here. Liches made their D&D debut in the Original edition’s Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz. The lich would then appear in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977) and as the demi-lich in the notorious deathtrap module S1: Tomb of Horrors (1978).

Gardner Fox and Gary Gygax became friends somewhere in this time period, paving the way for Fox to create the third of his swords and sorcery heroes, Niall of the Far Travels for Dragon magazine. Niall of the Far Travels premiered in issue two of The Dragon (1976) and would eventually appear in 10 stories over the next five years.

Gardner F. Fox was a man of many interests and it ultimately fitting that his presence is felt in a broad swath of pop culture from comic books to fantastic fiction to roleplaying games and all the media that have derived from them.

Reading Resources:

Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman book #1 (Sword & Sorcery) (Kindle ebook)

The first three books are also collected here (trade paperback/Kindle ebook):

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The Gardner F. Fox Library is a website and publishing venture dedicated to bringing Gardner Fox’s paperback works back into print as ebooks and trade paperbacks.

Further Reading:

Niall of the Far Travels Collected (Kindle ebook)

Niall of the Far Travels Collected (trade paperback)

Collects the ten Niall of the Far Travels stories originally commissioned for Dragon magazine and the one-off Dragontales fiction anthology magazine between 1976 and 1981.

Gaming Resources:

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk (0e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Monster Manual (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

S1 Tomb of Horrors (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

Appendix E(rotica)!:

Cherry Delight cover gallery (somewhat NSFW)

The Lady from L.U.S.T. cover gallery (somewhat NSFW)

Cherry Delight: The Italian Connection (Sexecutioner Series Book 1) (Kindle ebook)

Lust, Be a Lady Tonight: The Lady from L.U.S.T. (Sexpionage Book 1) (Kindle ebook)

The Gardner F. Fox Library isn’t kidding about getting *all* of Fox’s output back into print….

 

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 12 – Michael Moorcock’s “The Stealer of Souls”

Michael Moorcock’s first five Elric of Melniboné stories appeared in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1962 and were collected in hardcover the next year as The Stealer of Souls, followed by a U.S. paperback edition from Lancer Books in 1967. Savage and sardonic, the Elric stories must have seemed like a fantasy off-shoot of Great Britain’s “Angry Young Man” movement of that era.

At first glance, Elric of Melniboné appears to be the very antithesis of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian: a physically weak sorcerer, addicted to drugs, symbiotically linked to the malignant black sword Stormbringer, and the rightful emperor of a cruel and decadent pre-human civilization. Moorcock and Elric are often characterized as a negation or rejection of Howardian swords & sorcery, but that’s a drastic oversimplification of Moorcock’s relationship to pulp fantasy.

Moorcock was precocious fantasy talent, creating fanzines as a schoolboy and becoming editor of the professional magazine Tarzan Adventures by the age 17 in 1957. Moorcock was a notable contributor to AMRA, a fanzine that was a hotbed of discussion about fantasy fiction and counted among its many notable correspondents Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and Roger Zelazny. As mentioned here, the term “swords and sorcery” was coined by Fritz Leiber in dialogue with Moorcock, although Moorcock has always preferred the term “epic fantasy”. Moorcock has at times minimized but never totally denied his appreciation for Howard, most likely hoping to let the Elric saga stand on its own two feet. He’s also held up his deep regard for the works of Leigh Brackett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and Fletcher Pratt among others and was later a founding member of the Swordsmen and Sorceror’s Guild of America, none of which indicates someone contemptuous or indifferent to fantasy fiction.

Moorcock has cited Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions and The Broken Sword as influences on the Elric saga, especially in the former’s depiction of the struggle between Law and Chaos and the latter’s savagery, sense of doom, and titular accursed sword. Another lesser-known antecedent to Elric is Sexton Blake’s nemesis, the opium-addicted master criminal and anti-hero Monsieur Zenith the Albino:

albino1

Moorcock not only borrowed Monsieur Zenith’s appearance and sardonic demeanor for Elric, he would later concretely link the two as incarnations of each other in The Metatemporal Detective (Pyr, 2007), although it can be hard to tell at times whether Moorcock is merely amusing himself or playing it straight.

There have been countless visual interpretations of Elric over the years, but the Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover for the Lancer Books second printing of The Stealer of Souls (1973) is the first distinctly modern depiction of the albino swordsman and sorceror:

TSTLRSLS1973

Moorcock continued to write Elric stories in the late 1960s and the 1970s that were set prior to the events of Stormbringer. DAW Books republished the Elric Saga in 1977, arranging the stories by internal chronology, splitting the stories from The Stealer of Souls between The Weird of the White Wolf and The Bane of the Black Sword, the third and fifth books of Elric’s saga respectively. With Moorcock’s approval, Del Rey/Ballantine began publishing the “definitive” version of Elric’s saga in 2008, once again collecting the stories in publication order.

Elric’s saga clearly had an impact on Gary Gygax as he specifically mentions Elric as a playable figure in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971). The Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Chainmail and original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) may have originated with Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, but there’s a distinct Moorcockian flavor in practice, although that would obviously vary from gaming group to gaming group.

Rob Kuntz and James Ward wrote up Elric and the Melnibonéan mythos in the fourth Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes (1976). Four years later, Kuntz and Ward would detail the Melnibonéan mythos for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Deities & Demigods (1980). Although TSR had permission from Moorcock to use Elric for D&D, their West Coast rivals Chaosium secured the official Elric license in 1981, leading TSR to remove the Melnibonéan section (and Cthulhu Mythos section) from the third printing onwards of Deities & Demigods. As a result, the first two printings of Deities & Demigods are now highly sought after collector’s items. In the meantime, Elric’s gaming presence has remained tightly bound up in the RuneQuest/Basic Role-Playing system for over 25 years, with the exception of Chaosium’s D20 System adaptation Dragon Lords of Melniboné (2001). There is currently no gaming license for any of Michael Moorcock’s works, so it remains to be seen if Elric will ever make an official reappearance at the gaming table….

Reading Resources:

Elric: The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 1) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) – includes Moorcock’s preferred texts of The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer and supplemental materials, all presented in publication order.

Moorcock’s Miscellany – The official website of Michael Moorcock & friends.

Further Reading:

Monsieur Zenith the Albino (Savoy Books, 2001) – a reprinting of the only novel of Monsieur Zenith, which had been out of print since 1936. Features a foreword from Michael Moorcock himself.

Gaming Resources:

Stormbringer! – a website dedicated to all Moorcockian roleplaying games.

 

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 11 – John Bellairs’s “The Face in the Frost”

At first glance John Bellairs’s The Face in the Frost is a bit of an anomaly, both in his own body of work and in Appendix N. It is the only Bellairs work cited by Gary Gygax in Appendix N, and ended up being Bellairs’s first and only fantasy novel directed at adults. Bellairs began work on The Face in the Frost in the late 1960s after reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He created his protagonist Prospero as a reaction to the might and nobility of Gandalf, rendering Prospero and his fellow wizard Roger Bacon as more down to earth, crotchety, and occasionally downright fearful of their circumstances.

The Face in the Frost was published in hardcover by Macmillan in 1969, with quirky pen-and-ink illustrations by his friend Marilyn Fitschen that reinforced the alternating whimsy and dread of the story. The book did well enough for Bellairs to turn to full-time writing, with his next work The House with a Clock in its Walls was also a dark fantasy, although set in the late 1940s. Supposedly Bellairs had difficulty selling The House with a Clock in its Walls until a publisher suggested rewriting it as a young adult (YA) book. The House with a Clock in its Walls proved to be a huge critical and sales success, so much so that Bellairs would remain best known as a YA author for the rest of his career, completing a total of 15 books for young readers.

It’s interesting that The Face in the Frost did not differ dramatically in mood and tone from Bellairs’s gothic mysteries for young readers, yet it was never re-marketed as a YA work. Ace Books published The Face in the Frost in paperback in 1978, but its odd man out status as Bellairs’s only substantial adult work may have contributed to it going out out of print after Bellairs’s death in 1991. It was then only available only in specialty press editions until it was finally republished in 2014 by Open Road Media, although unfortunately without Marilyn Fitschen’s illustrations.

The Ace Books paperback cover by Carl Lundgren (also the cover artist of Dragon magazine issues 50 & 68) renders Prospero as an archetypal high fantasy wizard and captures some of the eeriness but none of the whimsy of The Face in the Frost:

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It’s unclear when Gary Gygax first encountered The Face in the Frost, but it may have been fresh on his mind as he was writing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In The Players Handbook Gygax explicitly states that magic-users must consult their spellbooks in order to memorize their spells, which echoes Prospero’s habit of studying his spellbook at night before the next day’s journey and adventures. In contrast the Original Dungeons & Dragons box set merely states that a given spell (slot) may only be used once a day–no mention is made of memorization or spell preparation.

It appears that Gary Gygax wanted to provide a narrative and theoretical underpinning to what may have originally been a game balance decision. He found much of his answer in Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, but The Face in the Frost may have helped to reinforce his design choice. To the dominant Vancian strain and the acknowledged influence of de Camp and Pratt’s Enchanter books may we now add The Face in the Frost as a direct influence on the AD&D magic system?

Reading Resources:

The Face in the Frost (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Bellairsia – Celebrating John Bellairs – The website of all things Bellairs.

Further Reading:

Magic Mirrors (NESFA’s Choice) (hardcover) – features the illustrated version of The Face in the Frost as well as Bellairs’s rather obscure works for adults, St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies (1966) and The Pedant and the Shuffly (1968). The real treasure here though is the manuscript fragment for The Dolphin Cross (circa 1980), which was to have been a sequel to The Face in the Frost. Bellairs’s young adult writing must have been too demanding and lucrative however, as The Dolphin Cross remained uncompleted at the time of his death.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt) (paperback/Kindle ebook) – this is Bellairs’s breakthrough YA book from 1973 and is actually quite similar in style and mood to The Face in the Frost, albeit the protagonist is a young boy in Michigan in the late 1940s. The House with a Clock in its Walls was the first Bellairs book to be illustrated by the great Edward Gorey, who would go on to provide artwork for 12 out of 15 of Bellairs’s YA novels.

Gaming Resources:

Players Handbook (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

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.