Friday, July 14, 2017

Poul Anderson's Troll

So, pursuient to refreshing my memory about where some iconic things in the D&D game came from, I went back and re-read Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, which I remembered liking well enough when I first read it in the early '80s (along with what else I cd find at the time of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series).

At first I thought this was a false trail, especially when I found a giant that turned to stone in daylight (clearly derived from either THE HOBBIT or Norse folklore or both) in Chapter 19 (of 24), towards the end of Anderson's book.

But I was wrong: in Chapter 22 came the troll encounter, and it's very clearly the inspiration for the D&D troll as it emerged a decade or so later. The key detail is its regeneration, something that so far as I know was Anderson's own invention, as well as the fact that only fire-damage can stop this (as our heroes discover by chance).

Chapter XXII.

The troll shambled closer. He was perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more. His forward stoop, with arms dangling past thick claw-footed legs to the ground, made it hard to tell. The hairless green skin moved upon his body. His head was a gash of a mouth, a yard-long nose, and two eyes which were black pools, without pupil or white, eyes which drank the feeble torchlight and never gave back a gleam.

Ho-o-o . . . 

Like a huge green spider, the troll's severed hand ran on its fingers. Across the mounded floor, up onto a log with one taloned forefinger to hook it over the bark, down again it scrambled, until it found the cut wrist. And there it grew fast. The troll's smashed head seethed and knit together. He clambered back on his feet and grinned at them. The waning faggot cast red light over his fangs . . .

The torso remained. Worst was that task, when Holger and Carahue rolled a thing as heavy as the world toward the furnace heart of the cave, while it fought them with snakes of guts. Afterward he could not remember clearly what had happened. But they burned it.

Its description even matches the late great Dave Sutherland's art:

Sutherland's troll #1 (see upper right)

Sutherland's troll #2 (see lower left)
--he even got the green color right.

While I'm mentioning Poul Anderson, I might note another possible element inspired by his work and incorporated into D&D --in this case, the alignment system.  I'd always assumed that D&D's alignment system, Law vs. Chaos, came from Moorcock's ELRIC stories. Now I see it appeared in a more D&D-ish form in Anderson: not just THREE HEARTS but OPERATION CHAOS as well. I suppose a case cd be made for Roger Zelazny as well, but his Courts of Chaos seem to me to be genuinely chaotic, as opposed to just a synonym for 'bad'.

As for Anderson himself, I remember rather liking THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS when I first read it aside from his shabby treatment of Morgana le Fay. Re-reading it now (and his version of HROLF KRAKI a decade or so back), I think his work has not aged well; de Camp & Pratt had done this sort of thing before, and done it better. The same goes for OPERATION CHAOS (I'd read the short story years ago and thought it fun; the book he's made it into is a good example of more being less) and A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST, which I've had for years but never been able to make myself read before (the hook: the heroes help the bad guys win the English Civil War, and we're supposed to be happy about that).

Time to go read the new Clark Ashton Smith collection instead, methinks.

--John R.
--current viewing: KADO (an anime 'first-contact' story; looks to be a story of ideas, not action).


Paul Stormberg said...

Howdy John,

The physical aspect of the AD&D troll is due in part to the dime store Indians Gary used to model them on the Chainmail battlefield. Indeed Gary cites the troll as the first to make an appearance in a Chainmail game. You'll note that some aspects of the Anderson troll are not carried through, i.e., the yard-long nose and height of 8 feet.

If one reads Gary's accounts of how the Chainmail figure of a troll (and the ogre) came to be you will realize that they are scaled to the 54mm to 60mm figures they were modeled from.

Comparing the figures it is clear that Sutherland drew them directly from Gary's sand table monsters.

Futures Bright,


Paul W said...

The troll looks very clearly to have been drawn from Poul Anderson, I don't see how it resembles Indian figures even remotely. :( No weapons, for example... or clothing at all.

I thought that Anderson's troll rather resembled Grendel, as did the later D&D trolls... but Grendel is, IIRC, never described as a troll in Germanic or Norse mythology?

I really enjoyed 3 Hearts and 3 Lions, I thought Moorcock stole the Law/Chaos dichotomy from Anderson (who predates LOTR's publication, IIRC by a year or so).

I also thought Anderson's work was somewhat influential on Warhammer's early incarnations, it had that flavor IMO. Including the Law/Chaos focus (is that a Brit thing?)

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Paul and Paul.

Paul W: there's clearly a lot of Grendel in P.A.'s troll, just as there's a good deal of Grendel in Gollum, but the regeneration bit is distinct and, so far as I know, unique to Anderson.

Paul S: the information about the plastic figures is interesting. We tend to forget how much the circumstances of what was readily available shaped the game. I've always suspected that there were so many big bugs in the early game because the local dime store was probably well-stocked with creepy crawlies: rubber spiders, plastic bugs, and the like.

re. the nose, de Camp and Pratt's long-nosed troll SNOGG, featured in the first of the INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER stories, no doubt had some influence.

--John R.