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As with Conan, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories.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 “The Blood-Stained God” is a de Camp rewrite of a then unpublished Howard story “The Curse of the Crimson God”, with de Camp changing the setting from early 20th century Afghanistan and adding the fantastic elements to turn it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 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter’s “Conan”

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

Downloadable episode available here.

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

In a now controversial move, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories, thus jump-starting the Conan pastiche era.

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

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

CNNDSNBXMD1973

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

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

Reading Resources:

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

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

Gaming Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downloadable episode available here.

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

CMPLTENC1975

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

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

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

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.