Archives: elves

Monsters

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Monsters are not indispensable to a fantasy story, but they do seem just shy of ubiquitous. If you count other than human races (elves, dwarves, dragera) as monsters then few fantasy works remain without a monster or two. Without a monster, fantasy is a step removed from an alternate history tale.

And that’s fine. I’d hate for the genre to reduce itself to a cut-and-paste exercise, pulling the requisite ingredients from columns A through G. Many swords-and-sorcery tales succeed brilliantly without monsters, relying on some magical or mysterious opposition for the fantastical element. But the point is monsters are a common ingredient.

Why?

Probably a great number of reasons. Perhaps the primary reason is to establish that the story is not set in the mundane world. You know you’re not reading a Clive Cussler novel when a troll makes an appearance. Monsters provide an intense injection of the exocitc, they are a flashy component of world building.

Monsters allow for villains without human motivations. A monster’s reasons for behavior can be alien, animalistic, reflexive. Whatever the story needs. The motives can be as complex or simplistic as the writer desires.

At the other extreme, monsters can serve as metaphors writ large. The dragon as a symbol of greed. The zombie as – apparently whatever the writer feels like oversimplifying that day. Frankenstein’s Monster as the outcast, the surrogate for the alienated reader, misunderstood and ostracized.

They can be terrific opponents. Beowulf might be a badass, you can describe how he slew a dozen men in battle. But describe him ripping Grendel’s arm off at the shoulder and suddenly you get a clearer measure of his prowess.

So let’s hear it for the monsters, for all the giants, ogres, orcs, wyverns, and yet to be revealed exotic baddies.

Appendix N Part 1.

Appendix N Part 1.

This is the first in an irregular series of posts on the books of Appendix N. To illuminate those not in the know, Appendix N appeared in the appendices of “The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons “Dungeon Master’s Guide.” It is a partial listing of the books and authors that influenced Gary Gygax’s contribution to the creation of the game. It is a solid, if incomplete, source of recommended works of pulp fiction.

In this installment I’ll consider the first entry of Appendix N: Poul Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions,” “The Broken Sword,” and “The High Crusade.”

Poul Anderson’s fingerprints smudge all components of D&D. “Three Hearts and Three Lions” directly informed the D&D version of the Troll and the Paladin character class, to provide a couple examples. The book describes the adventures of Holger Carlsen, a World War II solider who finds himself in a quasi-medieval fantasy realm of dwarfs and faeries and magicians and monsters along with knights, Christians, and Saracens.

“The Broken Sword” is Nordic rather than high medieval fantasy. Think elves and vikings. It features the doomed adventures of Skafloc, a changeling raised in the halls of Imric the elf. Where “Three Hearts” is light in tone and swashbuckling “The Broken Sword” is grim and lyrical, full of the ‘northern thing,’ fatalistic and tragic.

Arguably these two books were more directly influential to D&D’s conception of elves than Professor Tolkien’s writings. Anderson’s faerie-folk were soulless, distinctly non-Christian; amoral when not actively malevolent; seductive and sexual creatures. Tolkien acknowledged this folkloric tradition in”Smith of Wooton Major” and to some extent in “The Silmarillion” but the elves of Middle Earth must necessarily be perceived in a more heroic light than Anderson’s.

“The High Crusade” is a romp. An alien space ship lands near the castle of an English baron. The baron, Sir Roger, captures the ship, commandeering it for transport to France, but is instead taken to the stars where he begins a campaign of interstellar conquest. There are players of Dungeons & Dragons who grumble at the intrusion of science fiction elements into ‘pure’ fantasy. But the pulp literature predating the game did this as a matter of course. If one is to make the not unreasonable assumption that the books listed in Appendix N inspired not only the game itself but also the manner and type of scenarios the game’s creators played, then the sort of hybrid represented by “The High Crusade” is encoded in the very DNA of D&D.

I give all three books a high recommendation, allowing a slight personal preference for “Three Hearts and Three Lions.”