Episode 19 – Jack Vance’s “The Eyes of the Overworld” with special guest David Hoskins

(Please also see the Episode 4 show notes for additional information about the Dying Earth saga)

Special guest David Hoskins (artist/writer of Acceptable Material and SVMMONING SICKNESS) joins us to discuss Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld! David also went above and beyond to provide an original illustration depicting Cugel the Clever, Firx and many other story elements:

Hoskins Cugel art

The Eyes of the Overworld (Ace Books, 1966) marks Jack Vance’s return to the Dying Earth setting after a break of 15 years. The book is a fix-up of the stories “The Overworld”, “The Mountains of Magnatz”, “The Sorceror Pharesm”, “The Pilgrims” and “The Manse of Iucounu” all of which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction between December 1965 and August 1966. To these stories Vance added a second chapter “Cil” to expand the book to novel length. The Eyes of the Overworld is contains many elements of the picaresque novel, from its episodic structure, generally satirical nature, and most importantly its roguish or even outright villainous protagonist Cugel, a man of no particular standing who ultimately never learns anything or changes his essential nature, despite his world-spanning journey and many travails.

Jack Gaughan’s marvellously weird and humorously phallic cover for the first paperback edition features Cugel contemplating the edibility of TOTALITY in the chapter “The Sorcerer Pharesm” :


After The Eyes of the Overworld Vance once more took a long hiatus from the Dying Earth before returning again to the setting in the mid-1980s with Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984). The Dying Earth books remain Vance’s most recognizable works, even lending their name to an entire subgenre of science fantasy, although the evolution of the subgenre can be traced back at least through Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).

The “Vancian Magic System” is usually cited as the Dying Earth series’ most important influence on Dungeons & Dragons, but in the case of The Eyes of the Overworld the outstanding contribution to gaming is probably the depiction of Cugel himself. As Gary Gygax wrote in issue #2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001), Vance’s Cugel the Clever was one of the greatest influences on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thief class as described in the The Players Handbook (1978). Certainly the following section from the thief class description could only have come from Cugel’s misadventures:

At 10th Level (Master Thief), thieves are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature. However, the fact that thieves do not fully comprehend magic means that there is a 25% chance that writings will be misunderstood. Furthermore, magic spells from scrolls can be mispronounced when uttered, so that there is an increasing chance per level of the spell that it will be the reverse of its intent.

Talislanta (1987) is another roleplaying game and setting that is inspired by the Dying Earth series to the extent that every edition since the first has been dedicated to Jack Vance. In 2001 Pelgrane Press began publishing the officially licensed The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game and a supporting magazine The Excellent Prismatic Spray. Goodman Games has since licensed the Dying Earth setting for its Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, with development ongoing as of the end of 2017.

Reading Resources:

Tales of the Dying Earth (Orb Books, 2000) 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)

Additional Reading:

A Quest for Simbilis (DAW Books, 1974) is Michael Shea’s authorized continuation of Cugel’s story, although it has since been rendered non-canonical by Jack Vance’s official sequel Cugel’s Saga (Timescape Books, 1983).

SVMMONING SICKNESS is David Hoskins’ fully illustrated zine/encyclopedia of black magic and the occult. The horribly beautiful art and the evocative text are sure to provide inspiration for your horror or fantasy RPGs.

Gaming Resources:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1e) (RPGNow affiliate link)

The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game (RPGNow affiliate link)

The Perilous Wilds (RPGNow affiliate link) is a Dungeon World supplement by comic creator Jason Lutes that can easily be used with most fantasy RPGs. It is geared towards collaborative world-building and map-making and is well-suited for creating the weird landscapes a la the Dying Earth.

Talislanta.com – all the Talislanta material from the 1st through 5th editions of the game are available here for free under a Creative Commons license.


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.