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.
Today I continue considering the authors of Appendix N. August Derleth managed to escape my voracious reading attention for a very long time. That is surprising, considering the volume of material he produced. Derleth wasn’t an Asimov-class churner of words, but with over 100 published books to his credit, he was respectably prolific. And, like Asimov, he covered a lot of subject territory in both fiction and non-fiction.
What August Derleth is best known for is his championing of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos. He published collections of Lovecraft’s stories and even wrote a biography of HPL. Additionally, he dove into the Mythos himself, writing several stories of Elder Gods, forbidden books, and the questionable inhabitants of New England.
Philip Jose Farmer (or P.J., as Appendix N has him) was a prolific author of pulp adventure. (By the way, I don’t need to keep spelling out what Appendix N is, do I? If you’re reading this web log you’re probably hip to the reference.) I’d call him an acolyte of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He mined the same story veins, and even wrote in Burroughs’ worlds, including some straight-up Tarzan books, as well as spin-offs. Check out his Opar novels, fantastic pre-history, lost-civilization adventures spun off from Tarzan’s adventures in Burroughs’ fictional Opar.
Farmer is noted in Appendix N for his “World of Tiers” novels. I’ve not read them all. Something I should, perhaps, remedy. What I think of when I consider Farmer is his “Riverworld” series. I picked up “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” when I was twelve or thirteen. And I proceeded to devour the entire series. Those books started a fascination with Richard Francis Burton that lasted until I learned a lot more about the famed explorer’s true character and actions. I like Farmer’s Burton much more than the original.
The conceit of “Riverworld” is that everyone who has ever lived on Earth wakes after death upon the banks of a world-encircling river. The reader is tossed into the story in the point of view of Burton, and learns the mysteries of “Riverworld” along with him. There’s a lot of great action as well as spot-the-historical-figure fun. These latter include Alice Liddell and Samuel Clemens. At least, I think so. It has been decades since I read these books, but they did leave an impression.
Farmer was an obvious fan of genre fiction. His oeuvre is replete with pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, and Tarzan. (Yes, I did just serve up the phrase “oeuvre is replete.” Deal with it.) I doubt I presume too much suggesting that Farmer’s taste in stories aligned closely with that of Gary Gygax. It’s hard to imagine Farmer not appearing in Appendix N. (Though I imagine “J.C. on the Dude Ranch” was less to Gygax’s liking. I recall reading that story with appalled fascination as a kid.)
The man was a pro, a solid entertainer. He’s not going to knock your socks off with his prose stylings, but he wrote competent, engaging fiction. If you pick up one of his books you’re practically guaranteed a fun read.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett – now there’s a moniker to drag along behind you like an anchor. It is probably for the best we know him simply as Lord Dunsany. Lord Dunsany belongs among the stylists immortalized in the Dungeons & Dragons recommended reading list, Appendix N. I’d say he’s their standard bearer, along with Jack Vance. The others on the list fit at varying points along the spectrum from serviceable pulp journeymen to bona fide literary greats.
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 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.
This another of my erratically spaced web log posts concerning the books of Appendix N. Today I consider “The Face in the Frost” by John Bellairs, a delightfully charming short novel.
Bellairs is known for children’s books and at first glance “The Face in the Frost” seems to fit that categorization. It begins whimsically. And a certain sense of whimsy suffuses the entire narrative. But the story soon turns onto increasingly dark pathways. This is not a children’s book. Real dread prevents the comical adventures of Prospero (“not the one you are thinking of”) and Roger Bacon from becoming too light to take seriously.