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 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.

Update 10/09/2017: Harold Shea was written up for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Dragon magazine #59 (1982) by David “Zeb” Cook, the designer of the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set (1981). Oddly, Shea was written up as a 7th level fighter with special spell abilities as his spellcasting powers were too free-form for the very magic system he helped to inspire….

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.

Gaming Resources:

G1-3 Against the Giants (1e) (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.