For many, the 1980’s were years shadowed by the specter of nuclear war. I never worried about it. But nuclear war — the chances, the scenarios, the aftermath — fueled the creations of filmmakers, writers, musicians, etc. It was the decade that brought Kris Kristofferson’s seamed, craggy face to our TV screens for the mini-series Amerika. It brought us Phil Collins caterwauling with puppet Thatcher and Reagan on MTV. And it brought us Sterling Lanier’s post-apocalyptic novels Hiero’s Journey and Unforsaken Hiero.
I approach this entry with some trepidation. I knew I’d need to write about Robert Ervin Howard at some point. But I’ve been reluctant to do so because, really, what more is there to say about the man? More ink has been spilled critiquing REH than any other Appendix N author save J.R.R. Tolkien. There are dedicated Howard scholars contributing to journals. The late, lamented blog “The Cimmerian” curated years worth of commentary. The annual Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, offers panel discussions. The topic of Robert E. Howard has been covered.
But, I’ve taken on this labor of Appendix N commentary, and by Crom’s beard, I’m going to write about REH. Adding a few more drops of digital ink to the ocean.
Today I’m turning my attention once again to Appendix N. The writer in the spotlight this time is Gardner Fox. Not exactly a household name, not even among aficionados of sword-and-sorcery fiction. He’s probably better known to comic book fans as a prolific comics scripter, writing from the 1930s into the 1980s. His claim to Appendix N membership is predicated on his Kothar sword-and-sorcery novels.
Here is another entry in my irregular series on Appendix N. Today I’m considering Lin Carter.
Those of us who enjoy fantasy of a bygone era, pulp or otherwise, owe a debt to Lin Carter. Many consider his great contribution to the field to be his collating and editing of past masters, either in anthologies (e.g. “Flashing Swords”) or in reprints from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. I doubt I would have encountered James Branch Cabell so early had it not been for Lin Carter championing the great writer.
As a writer himself – well, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Right? I certainly am not going to cast the first stone, despite sitting through more than one Thongor of Lemuria story. I haven’t got around to any of the Callisto books. I’m not in any particular hurry to do so.
But what I think of when the name Lin Carter flashes across my mental radar is “Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings.” I picked up a copy of the paperback at a yard sale when I was a kid. A pristine copy. I must have read it through cover to cover three or four times. It is still in pristine condition – I was a fastidious custodian of my paperbacks back then, less so now. But what a great book. I’ve since heard rumblings about the accuracy of his scholarship, but at the time that book opened up new literary vistas for me. I’ll be forever grateful to Mr. Carter for it.
That’s all for today. Still dealing with the aftermath of water damage, so back to manual labor.
I’ve written before about Avram Davidson. Might he not have graced the list of an alternate Appendix N? If I recall correctly, Gary Gygax was a Christian. Whether observant or not. But it is possible that he might find Avram Davidson’s rather acid and frequent criticism of religion distasteful and thus did not consider him an influence upon D&D. Pure speculation on my part.
The point is, I’m writing about Avram Davidson again. I just finished “Peregrine: Primus,” a short novel by Davidson, published in 1971. It is an interesting and entertaining read. It is in part a bildungsroman and in part a picaresque. A picaresque as composed by James Branch Cabell and John Myers Myers writing in tandem, if that gives you an idea of the style and quality. Funny stuff, droll, learned, rife with wordplay and bawdy innuendo.
Today’s post comes rather late. I don’t apologize. I was busy desecrating the game of golf with some old friends, too seldom seen. Later the day involved overcooking meat on the grill and sweating off a pound or two adjusting the crib so that my hyperactive offspring doesn’t crawl out of it in the night.
Tonight, after scrubbing burnt barbeque sauce from the grill, I’m reviewing Ursus of Ultima Thule by Avram Davidson. In previous posts I’ve commented on some of the authors and titles from Appendix N of the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. It’s not a bad list, Appendix N. Sometimes I read something I think ought to be in some sort of Appendix N supplement, a few loose leaves of paper distributed periodically to those of us with a DMG that we can fold in between the covers, appending Appendix N. Avram Davidson is one of those authors I think fits.
Davidson is perhaps less well known than his talents deserve. I know him primarily for a historical fantasy character, a hardcase sort of character from the sword-and-sorcery school whose adventures are set around the turn of the millenium Mediterranean. I picked up Ursus on the strength of Davidson’s short story writing.
I wasn’t disappointed. He’s written an early iron age fantasy, in the lost civilization tradition of stories set in Atlantis or Mu. He employs a highly stylized narrative voice. I can see that being off-putting for some readers, but it worked for me. Ursus is a short novel, far from the expected massive word count of today’s books. Probably for the best, the poetic style might have worn out its welcome had the book ran on much longer.
Ursus is tbe coming-of-age story of a man who – Conan fashion – becomes a king. The eponymous Ursus is a boy by the name of Arn who discovers his heritage as a shape-shifter, a were-bear. He lives during a time when wooly mammoths still roam the far north, a time during which non-human races still exist. A dying king is dealing with ‘iron-sickness,’ a sort of chronic plague of rust. Arn finds himself caught up in the matter, meeting his father, learning something of his heritage, questing for a cure to the iron-sickness, and becoming a man.
I can see the book serving as inspiration for a game involving late ice age characters and/or shapeshifters. I can also, as I said, see readers putting the book down after the first chapter, unwilling to engage with the voice the author chose for the story. Me, I liked it and I’ll keep my eye out for more of Avram Davidson’s fiction.
I come to praise L. Sprague de Camp; let others bury him in undeserved, virulent dudgeon.
The man’s fingerprints are all over science fiction and fantasy from the Golden Age of science fiction up until the end of the Twentieth Century. He more than earned his place in Appendix N. He was prolific, fighting in the Isaac Asimov weight category (though, let’s face it, Asimov remains undefeated for sheer volume of publication.) De Camp’s writing was urbane, learned, witty, and full of clever innuendo. I, for one, love it.
Continuing my infrequent looks at the authors mentioned by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of the DMG, today I consider Fredric Brown. Fredric Brown is one of the forgotten authors of the mid-twentieth century. He was popular enough, by all accounts. He made a living with his writing alone, quitting his job as a proofreader. And he was influential, a couple of his novels were adapted for film, and one of his stories famously inspired an episode of “Star Trek.”
But we don’t read him now and I think we are missing out. I’ve read only a single collection of his short stories. But now I’m going to keep him in mind whenever I forage through a used book store.
You can check out her screenwriting credits if you like, it is an impressive body of work. But her admission to the ranks of Appendix N luminaries is due to her Sword and Planet novels, stories owing a lot, I think, to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” and “Carson of Venus” stories, and sharing the same branch of the literary family tree as C.L. Moore’s “Northwest Smith.”
Continuing here the sporadic series discussing the works of Appendix N. Well, sort of. The entry for Edgar Rice Burroughs lists Tarzan, the John Carter books, the Carson of Venus books, and the Pelucidar books. I’m not going to discuss those. I doubt they need much more digital ink spilled on them. Instead I’m going to discuss one of ERB’s lesser known books, “The Mucker.”
“The Mucker” features a bona fide anti-hero. The main character is utterly unlike the standard ERB lead: a virtuously noble paladin. Instead we have Billy Byrne, the eponymous Mucker, a term apparently describing a certain class of criminal lowlife with no redeeming characteristics. And ERB writes Billy Byrne as living up – or down – to that label. He’s a thief, a drunk, and an overall bounder. For the first third or so of the novel. It’s kind of refreshing.