I come at last to Jack Vance. Arguably he should be first, to the devil with alphabetical order. Look, there isn’t a lot I need to say about Jack Vance. There are encomiums a plenty to the man, and rightly so. His urbane, genteel command of the language, smoothly integrating an archaic lexicon with slang and invented words is nonpareil. Of course, in context of Appendix N and Dungeons and Dragons every commentary on Vance must refer to The Dying Earth, Vancian Magic, and such iconic spells as Phantasmal Spray.
Writing about J.R.R. Tolkien is challenging unless one cares nothing for originality. Oceans of ink have been used discussing the man and his work. Merely reiterating what has been written before would prove easy enough.
Therein lies the problem. Originality may be illusory, but I still like to strive for it.
I’ve been reluctant to write this one. You know the ubiquitous maternal aphorism “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. “ And I dislike offering particularly critical opinions of other writers. After all, who am I to judge.
But I’d read positive comments regarding Sign of the the Labrys. With my prior experience in mind, I had the library find a copy for me through inter-library loan instead of shelling out cash from my own pocket to procure a copy. I began it with somewhat higher hopes. Now, unfortunately, I have to offer an opinion. That makes me a bit uneasy.
What I’m going to do is provide my opinion in two sections. First, Sign of the Labrys as literature. Second, Sign of the Labrys as an Appendix N contributor to the development of Dungeons and Dragons.
I’ve reached Fred Saberhagen in my Appendix N irregular series of posts. And I’m extremely pleased by that since it afforded me an excuse to re-read Empire of the East. True, one cannot do Saberhagen justice by concentrating on Empire of the East alone, but that’s what I’m going to do anyway.
Fletcher Pratt, or more precisely, Murray Fletcher Pratt, lived an intriguing life. Seriously, look him up. The man moved in the right circles. Over there, Isaac Asimov, over here, Rex Stout. A true man of letters, making his living as much with non-fiction as with fiction. History, reviews, short stories, novels. Pratt was a man of accomplishment. And I’m sure Gary Gygax was familiar with Pratt’s development of rules for wargaming naval combat, using the tiles of his kitchen floor for grid squares.
I think, as far as reading sensibilities went, Gary Gygax shared the most with Andrew J. Offutt out of all the Appendix N authors. They were contemporaries and from the available evidence enjoyed similar tastes in fiction. Andrew Offutt was a prolific writer and editor. (And an interesting fellow, as one can discover from reading his son Christopher’s memoir. But such biographical details are beyond the scope of this web log.)
I come at last to Andre Norton, long a gap in my Appendix N reading. While she has always floated within my awareness as a reader, I remained unfamiliar with her works. I did pick up Quag Keep a few years back. My distaste for gaming fiction remains, but I think I can give Quag Keep a pass as it is evident that Andre Norton had only the most cursory knowledge of D&D and made little effort to stick within any established rules. The book is moderately entertaining if you’re not expecting much. That’s about all I can say for it. And I have read her story The Toads of Grimmerdale a couple of times and consider it an atmospheric delight. Recommended.
I’m about two-thirds of the way through my haphazardly completed reviews of Appendix N authors. Andre Norton is in the batter’s box. I’ve not read much of her output, so I’m taking in a few of her Witch World novels before writing up my assessment. But this seems a good time to look back on what I’ve covered so far.
I’m comfortable in saying that I can understand why each of the authors made the list. I can either point to a specific instance in a novel (an item, monster, concept, etc.) that filtered into the rules of D&D or I can see how the tenor or flavor of the writing influenced the style of play Gary Gygax was attempting to encourage and the archetypes he was attempting to emulate through the character classes.
Most of the tales are adventure stories, sitting in varying positions along the pulp-to-literary stylistic spectrum. Importantly, most were entertaining. I can see the influence of a few of these writers in my own output (for better or worse, depending on how you perceive my work.) These are deep-seated influences. I’ve been reading this stuff for a long time. I’ve only rarely had to hunt up a book or two in order to familiarize myself with an Appendix N notable. Most of the authors have had works sitting on my shelves for years.
Now, if someone were to ask for three authors one must read from the first two-thirds of the list in order to get a handle on what D&D is all about, I’d suggest (in alphabetical order) Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. This is not intended to slight any of the others (in fact, most of the others are, in my opinion, better writers than Moorcock) but to single these writers out as having the greatest influence on the game. Of course the final third will include some heavyweights. Might Jack Vance knock one of these off the podium?* You’ll have to wait.
* What about Tolkien, you ask? J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence on D&D is a matter of some controversy. I’m not sure I want to weigh in on that one. Not yet anyway.