Archives: World War II

Soldiers and Science Fiction

 

There is a tendency to think the military comprises dour, unimaginative people of the sort who’d have no use for science fiction, fantasy, or other such frivolous nonsense. A lot of films depict soldiers as robotic, linear thinkers, programmed to follow orders without deviation.

I think most of us know better than that, right? The military has long been home to devotees of speculative fiction. Pick any large military base in the United States, then travel to the nearest town. In addition to the inevitable military supply stores, sewing shops (never short of customers needing new patches sewn on uniforms), tattoo parlors, barbershops, and bars, you will find a well-stocked game store, a comic book shop, and a used bookstore with an excellent selection of science fiction and fantasy.

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.”

Memorial Day

It is that time of year when Americans commemorate those who fell in the service of their country. That, at least, is the reason for the holiday. In practice, for any number of reasons few actually engage the day as intended. The holiday is more associated with backyard barbecues than with memorializing those who died in uniform.

I’m not casting any aspersions. It’s just an observation, not a condemnation. And I’m not about to chuck the first stone. I’ve not visited grave sites or watched parades. You’ll find me at the grill with a beer in my hand.

I do not come from a military family. My grandfather was a medic in WWII. On D-Day he was laid up with dysentery When he tried to join his platoon, his captain told him “Go back to bed, Lizzi.” So he did not storm the beaches of Normandy. It’s hardly a romantic concept, but my existence could well be attributed to dysentery How’s that for an ennobling thought?

My dad was a conscientious objector and had a student deferral. So he wasn’t drafted. An uncle, by marriage, served during the Vietnam era, but he was stationed in Korea. A medic. Another uncle, also by marriage and also a medic, did serve in Vietnam. He shared some interesting stories.

My sister served. Met my brother in law that way. I joined up as well, though my military career was hardly illustrious. My “There I was” stories are hardly the heroic stuff of legends.

The point is, I have only a passing acquaintance with the ultimate sacrifice. My appreciation for those who lost their lives in war is mostly abstract. The deaths are at a ‘friend of a friend’ remove. I don’t have a direct family connection that allows me to feel the sacrifice viscerally.

But I’ll try.

And I’ll try to keep in mind those still serving.  With that in mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGClrsAN2aY