Archives: Poul Anderson

2019 Retrospective

So, 2019 is pretty much a wrap. I have few complaints, it was a good year for YoursTruly, MBW, and the HA. I have another book out, and three in the can waiting to be unleashed in 2020. I traveled a bit, hit a few conventions to dispense what (if looked at cross-eyed, in a certain light) passes as wisdom, successfully achieved the half-century mark of my life (pro-tip: don’t die), completed my web log series on Appendix N, and brewed a few batches of beer.

Andrew Offutt, Gary Gygax’s Guiding Genius?

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.)

Appendix N, Past Mid-Way

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.

Top Five Novels I’d Like to See Filmed

For every film made based on a novel there are a hundred books optioned but not green-lit. For every book optioned but not filmed there a hundred thousand not optioned. Many of the latter two categories read as pretty cinematic to me. So here is a list of novels I’d like to see turned into films. Or a series of films. Or a television mini-series. Or a television ongoing series. Whatever. This doesn’t include books I know to be optioned or have heard rumors to that effect.

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.”