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:

THFCNTHFRS1981

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?

Update 04/29/2019 – Daniel Collins of Delta’s D&D Hotspot points out that Gary Gygax specifically cited The Face in the Frost as an influence of the AD&D magic system on p.40 of the Dungeon Masters Guide: “If your players inquire as to how spells work, or fail to do so, you can explain, without difficulty, the precepts of the AD&D magic spell systems. (For background reading you can direct campaign participants to Vance’s THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD and THE DYING EARTH as well as to Bellairs’ THE FACE IN THE FROST.)”

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)

Dungeon Master’s Guide (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 10 – Roger Zelazny’s “Jack of Shadows”

Roger Zelazny stated that he wrote Jack of Shadows as a “first draft, no rewrite”, which might account for the occasionally elliptical nature of the narrative. Any lack of cohesion in the plotting is compensated for by the dark majesty of Jack AKA Shadowjack’s world. Zelazny is clearly echoing Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories here, at least in the weirdness of the creatures and landscapes of the darkside if not in the playful ornateness of Vance’s prose. Jack of Shadows also emphasizes the interplay and conflict between magic and science, and the borderline immortality/superhumanity of its protagonist, themes that would play out in many of Zelazny’s other works such as The Lord of Light and The Chronicles of Amber.

Jack of Shadows was originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1971 and was immediately reprinted in hardcover by Walker & Company, followed by a paperback edition from Signet in 1972. That first Signet paperback edition features Bob Pepper’s semi-abstract and moody gouache cover, which succeeds in capturing many of the story elements of Jack of Shadows such as the Great Machine and the bound dark angel/devil Morningstar that a more literal treatment might have glossed over:

JCKFSHDWSK1972

Jack of Shadows was well-received from first release, garnering Hugo and Locus Award nominations in 1972–it did not achieve the lasting popularity of The Chronicles of Amber or many of Zelazny’s other books however, and was out of print for over 25 years until it was recently reprinted by the Chicago Review Press in 2016.

Gary Gygax wrote in issue #2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever and Zelazny’s Shadowjack were the greatest influences on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thief class as described in the The Players Handbook (1978). The thief’s abilities as written though are rather mundane and have a low probability of success for beginning characters. If the thief’s skills are re-imagined as being a quasi-mystical version of Jack’s powers, then even a 10% chance of utterly disappearing into shadows becomes a very powerful ability indeed! Of course, Jack as he appears in Jack of Shadows is not a mere skulking footpad but a magician of unsurpassed power, so it makes sense that he was written up as such in Wizards (1983), part of Mayfair Games’ Role Aids line of unofficial Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplements.

It’s worth noting that although a thief-type class is considered core to Dungeons & Dragons today, the class was not included in the original 1974 box set and only made its first appearance in the first D&D supplement Greyhawk (1975). In some gaming circles this has kicked off a 40+ year debate over whether the thief deserves to be its own character class or if being a thief is properly a role that all adventurers play….

Reading Resources:

Jack of Shadows (Rediscovered Classics) (trade paperback/Kindle ebook)

Further Reading:

Last Exit to Babylon – Volume 4: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (hardcover) includes a prequel short story “Shadowjack” (1978). Also reprinted is Zelazny’s character outline for Shadowjack from the Wizards supplement from Mayfair Games.

The Road to Amber – Volume 6: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny (hardcover) includes “Shadowland”, an outline of the origins of Jack’s world, ruled half by magic, half by science.

Gaming Resources:

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

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.

Episode 9 – Poul Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions”

Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions was originally serialized in 1953 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–eight years later a revised and expanded version of the tale would see print in hardcover from Doubleday, followed by an Avon paperback in 1962. It has remained sporadically in print ever since, largely overshadowed by Anderson’s more famous science fiction works.

Although Anderson was best known during the first half of his writing career as a science fiction author, Three Hearts and Three Lions and his following fantasy work The Broken Sword (1954) had a strong impact on knowledgeable fans and fellow writers, perhaps most clearly with Michael Moorcock’s adoption and reinterpretation of the cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos in the Elric of Melniboné stories, which began appearing in 1961.

It’s interesting to speculate how much of himself Anderson put into Holger Carlsen, the hero of Three Hearts and Three Lions–they are both Danish-Americans, trained in science and engineering, and apparently wholly rational and pragmatic. Holger rises to adventure though, rediscovering and embracing his true identity as Ogier the Dane, paladin of Charlemagne and one the great heroes of medieval European literature. In a similar vein, perhaps Anderson’s romantic side led him to become a founding member of both the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Swordsmen and Sorceror’s Guild of America.

Throughout its publishing history Three Hearts and Three Lions never had an iconic cover, and the Appendix N-era 1978 Berkley Medallion paperback is no exception, featuring a serviceable cover by Wayne Barlowe, who would later become more well-known for his anatomically realistic depictions of fantastic creatures and truly alien life:

THRHRTSNDT1978

That Three Hearts and Three Lions is one of the most significant influences on early Dungeons & Dragons is undeniable. For example, Gary Gygax specifically cites the book in the listing for the “True Troll” in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971), although a full description of the Andersonian troll (and the nixie) would have to wait for the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set. The original 1974 rules would also feature the most famous borrowing from Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Law vs. Chaos alignment system, although perhaps filtered through Michael Moorcock’s interpretation in the Elric books.

Certain Lawful fighters could elect to achieve Holger Carlsen-esque paladin status with the publication of the first D&D supplement, Greyhawk (1975). Paladins would evolve into their quintessential D&D form as a fighter sub-class in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978)

The troll and the nixie would receive much more detailed write-ups in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977), with the Swanmay finally making her first D&D appearance in the Monster Manual II  (1983). A close reading of Three Hearts and Three Lions and the various early Dungeons & Dragons would undoubtedly reveal more direct influences on the game as we know it today.

Update 10/08/2017: Holger Carlsen and Hugi the Dwarf were written up for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Dragon magazine #49 (1981) by TSR stalwart Roger E. Moore. Hugi was depicted as an AD&D gnome fighter though–evidently the AD&D dwarf was seen as sufficiently Tolkienian by then as to be a poor model for poor Hugi. 

Reading Resources:

Three Hearts and Three Lions (Kindle ebook)

Further Reading:

A Midsummer Tempest (Kindle ebook) – Holger Carlsen makes a cameo in Poul Anderson’s 1974 fantasy set in a 17th century England where all of Shakespeare’s characters are real.

Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) is a Poul Anderson tribute anthology featuring original stories set in Anderson’s many fictional worlds, including one each from Harry Turtledove and Tad Williams in the universe of Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Gaming Resources:

Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures (0e)

OD&D Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e)

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk (0e)

Players Handbook (1e)

Monster Manual (1e)

Monster Manual II (1e)

(all of the above are RPGNow affiliate links)

 

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 8 – Philip José Farmer’s “The Maker of Universes”

In retrospect, the publication of Philip José Farmer’s The Maker of Universes (Ace Books, 1965) marks the beginning of the most productive and rewarding phase of Farmer’s writing career. It can hardly have seemed that way at the time, as Farmer was toiling away as a technical writer in Scottsdale, Arizona to support himself and his family. Even though Farmer had been a published writer as of 1946 and had even won his first Hugo Award in 1953 (as “Best New SF Author or Artist”), commercial success had eluded him so far. Robert Wolff, the initially aged, paunchy, and disillusioned protagonist of The Maker of Universes is obviously a stand-in for Farmer at that point in his life—fortunately Farmer and his wife Bette appear to have been very happy together in real life, as their marriage lasted over 67 years until his death in 2009.

The Maker of Universes is one of Farmer’s most personal works, with callbacks to the whole range of his youthful enthusiasms, from Ancient Greek and Native American myths and legends, Edgar Rice Burroughs-style pulp, and Lord Dunsany’s sense of mystery and wonder among others. Interestingly, in Farmer’s introduction to the 1980 Phantasia Press special edition of The Maker of Universes he cites Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass as stronger influences on the book than the more obvious high adventure of Burroughs. Farmer would later write in his introduction to the THOAN, Les Faiseurs d’Univers RPG, that he had first received “impressions” of the World of Tiers while he was laid low with a fever at the age of 18 and believed them to be actual visions from an alternate universe. One has to wonder if Farmer is being utterly serious or so drily tongue-in-cheek as to make no difference….

The cover of the original Ace Books paperback features a wonderfully composed if not entirely accurate depiction of Podarge the Harpy by the versatile and prolific Jack Gaughan:

MKROFUN1965

The Ace Books reprints from 1977 onward featured Boris Vallejo’s unmistakably beefcakey rendition of Robert Wolff along with an accurately wing-armed Podarge:

MKROFUN1977

Given The Maker of Universes’ galloping pace and mad invention, it’s no wonder that Gary Gygax found it a particular inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons. Like many other Appendix N works, The Maker of Universes makes no particular distinction between science fiction and heroic fantasy, much to its benefit. The motley crew that eventually assembles around Robert Wolff and Kickaha the Trickster is recognizable as a proto-adventuring party and the World of Tiers itself is the classic dungeon writ (very) large, with each successive level an environment of greater threat and adventure.

Reading Resources:

The World of Tiers: Volume One (trade paperback/Kindle ebook) – includes The Maker of Universes, The Gates of Creation, and A Private Cosmos.

The Official Philip José Farmer Web Page is a “Brobdingnagian collection of all things Farmerian”.

Gaming Resources:

THOAN, Les Faiseurs d’Univers (Jeux Descartes, 1995) is a French RPG based on The World of Tiers series. Unfortunately it has never been translated into English, but more information can be found 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 7 – Fletcher Pratt’s “The Blue Star”

Fletcher Pratt’s The Blue Star first saw print in the hardcover anthology Witches Three (Twayne Publishers, 1952), which also included Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife and James Blish’s “There Shall be No Darkness”. Pratt himself was the uncredited editor of the Witches Three, which ended up being the second and final volume in the short-lived “Twayne Triplets” series of themed hardcover fantastic fiction anthologies. Witches Three and The Blue Star in particular were positively reviewed at the time by The New York Times and The Washington Post among others. The Blue Star was not republished for the mass market however and soon slipped into obscurity, perhaps partly as a result of Pratt’s death in 1956.

The Blue Star would likely remain forgotten to this day had Lin Carter not picked it to be the inaugural work in 1969 of the now seminal Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (BAFS) was launched largely to follow up on the massive success of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works for Ballantine Books. Carter was tasked with bringing “fantasy novels of adult calibre” to the mass market paperback format, from original works to reprinting many rare or unjustly obscure “fantastic romances of adventure and ideas”. Although Carter did call The Blue Star “thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly accomplished”, it’s still a bit of a mystery why he thought this rather dense and allusive book was a particularly good choice to launch the series. It is worth noting that one of Carter’s literary mentors and frequent collaborators was L. Sprague de Camp, who was also Fletcher Pratt’s most frequent fiction writing partner.

The BAFS edition of The Blue Star features a striking and psychedelic wraparound cover by Ron Walotsky which has almost no bearing on the story contents:

BLUESTAR1969

After the cancellation of the BAF series The Blue Star remained sufficiently popular to be reprinted twice more by Ballantine Books in 1975 and 1981, although now with a more mundane (if accurate to the text) cover by Darrell K. Sweet:

Blue_Star_1975

It’s hard to map any direct textual influence from The Blue Star to Dungeons and Dragons, especially given the overall passivity of The Blue Star’s protagonists Lalette Asterhax and Rodvard Bergelin. The Blue Star’s magic system, societies, religions and mores are quite well-developed though and may have appealed to the worldbuilder in Gary Gygax. Gygax the history buff and wargamer may also have felt a special affinity for Fletcher Pratt, who was even more well known during his lifetime as a popular military and naval historian (and naval wargame creator!) than as a writer of fantastic fiction.

Reading Resources:

The Blue Star (trade paperback)

Gaming Resources:

Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame 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 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:

TTHRTHSCRQ1981

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 (trade paperback)

The Hobbit (Kindle ebook)

Gaming Resources:

The Adventures in Middle-earth RPG line is available here(RPGNow affiliate link)

The One Ring Roleplaying Game line is available here(RPGNow affiliate link)

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 (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. (RPGNow affiliate link)

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(RPGNow affiliate links)

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(RPGNow affiliate links)

 

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.