Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Inspirational Reading' (5th ed D&D PH)

So, one of the things that immediately drew my eye in the new PLAYER'S HANDBOOK is its update of the classic APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING from the original 1st ed. DMG, a brief listing of some twenty-nine authors whose work had, according to Gygax,* helped inspire the AD&D game. Given that I'm both a fantasy scholar, with a special interest in the history of fantasy,** and an avid gamer, it's obviously a list I've found of great interest

Now, thirty-five years later, we get a new, expanded APPENDIX E: INSPIRATIONAL READING (PH.312) featuring some fifty-seven authors.  So far as I can tell on a quick skim, everyone who appeared in the original list has been grandfathered in, however little some of them (e.g., Lin Carter, Andrew Offutt, Gardner Fox) deserve it. It's thus the new additions who are the most interesting things here. WotC has chosen to celebrate some of their own through the inclusion of TSR authors Hickman & Weis (The Dragonlance Chronicles***) and Salvatore (the Drizzt series). There are some worthy new entries (Lady Gregory's GODS AND FIGHTING MEN, the superb Clark Ashton Smith, McKillip's brilliant FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD), and some not so worthy (Terry Brooks, Glen Cook, Robert Jordan). There are even a few new names of authors I don't know (N. K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson) -- which just goes to show how I'm getting behind the times****

Of course, with any list what's left out is also revealing. The most serious omission is E. R. Eddison's THE WORM OUROBOROS, a much-admired classic. I'm surprised that Elizabeth Moon's making-of-a-paladin trilogy THE DEED OF PAKSENARRION didn't make it; similarly C. J. Cherryh's four-book Morgaine series, a compelling depiction of someone geased to endlessly pursue a quest, however doomed it might seem. Hughart's THE BRIDGE OF BIRDS, Mirrlees' LUD-IN-THE-MIST, and Briggs' HOBBERTY DICK can all hardly be bettered, quite aside from serving as examples of dramatically different kinds of fantasy, while M. R. James's short stories, although ghost stories, are not only wonderful reading but filled with ideas for any number of adventures centered around hauntings and the unquiet dead. And as for new talent, how about Jonathan Howard's JOHANNES CABAL books, whose antihero protagonist (a brilliant but amoral necromancer) is a fine example of how evil doesn't have to be stupid (and is far more effective, and unsettling, when it thinks to include a contingency plan).

All complants aside,***** it's good to see that the core books that most heavily influenced D&D are here, although a little lost in the crowd: Rbt. E. Howard, Tolkien, and Vance, w. Leiber not far behind. I wdn't recommend reading all the works on this new list (or the original either, for that matter), but trying out the ones that sound interesting is definitely a good idea: there are some real gems here, and plenty more that can inspire a lot of good gaming. And that, after all, is what such lists are all about.

--John R.
current reading: A STING IN THE TALE: MY ADVENTURES WITH BUMBLEBEES by Dave Goulson [2013]

*assuming he and not editor Mike Carr put this list together

**at one time I had an online monthly column on the WotC website called CLASSICS OF FANTASY, each entry in which was devoted to a particular fantasy work or author, highlighting his or her contribution to fantasy and, of course, D&D.

***though for some reason they're careful not to use the word 'Dragonlance' in this entry

****I blame Tad Wms, whose MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN series (800 pages worth of story drowning in 3200 pages of verbiage) was so grueling to get through that it put me off fantasy for the better part of a decade thereafter.

*****I do have to point out that in the entry for de Camp and Pratt's THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER "and the rest of the Harold Shea series" is redundant, since as the name indicates this book contains the whole five-book series; they're thinking of THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER (an old collection of just the first two stories).

Also, their Dunsany entry is badly messed up; bizarrely enough it includes two e-book knock-offs ('The Essential Lord Dunsany Collection', 'Lord Dunsany Compendium'), both with random selections from among his early books and both leaving out major works such as THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER.

My own recommendation, as someone who wrote his dissertation on Dunsany, would be his eight books of fantasy short stories (THE GODS OF PEGANA, TIME AND THE GODS, THE SWORD OF WELLERAN, A DREAMER'S TALES, THE BOOK OF WONDER, FIFTY-ONE TALES, THE LAST BOOK OF WONDER, TALES OF THREE HEMISPHERES) plus one or two of his plays (A NIGHT AT AN INN, perhaps THE GODS OF THE MOUNTAINS); those who prefer novels shd try THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER.



Zenopus Archives said...

For a post-D&D addition, they'd should've included Robert Holdstock's "Mythago Wood". The them of the environment interacting with a human's mind to bring myths to life seems appropriate to the whole process of creating adventures in D&D. Plus it's a great story.

Paul W said...

I'm glad to hear about this. I do have to disagree regarding Andrew Offut. I believe his Swords against Darkness anthology series had a fair impact on the early development of D&D - at the least, all of those involved had read them and they informed that shared atmosphere of what an adventure should be like (D&D has always drawn more from short stories then novels, IMO). And Offut's Thieves World character, Hanse aka Shadowspawn, certainly was THE prototype theif for many gameers in the 1980s. I tried to review all of the Appendix N authors back when I had the 'Off the Shelf' column in KODT, and I did get through most of them. I discovered your legends of fantasy blog but the entries are all hard to find and often missing from WOTC's website. If you still have them, and could get permission to repost or publish them, I would love to read them all.

grodog said...

For reference, John, Gary first published the Appendix N list in TD#4 (Dec 1976, page 29), and he was credited as the author of that article, too :D

The lists are basically the same, although one author not in Appendix N appears in TD#4 (Algernon Blackwood, and, Gygax seems to have read less (or at least not recommended ones he'd read) in 1976: Anderson just lists Three Hears & Three Lions; MM just lists Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer, for example.


John D. Rateliff said...

Zenopus: Holdstock doesn't do much for me, I'm afraid, aside from the opening section of LAVONDYSS (before she goes into the woods), which I thought brilliant. I much prefer Hughart's BRIDGE OF BIRDS.

Paul: I'm glad you like Offutt, but my own opinion of him, admittedly based on relatively few stories, is of someone who wrote R. E. Howard pastiche, and not that well, either. I much prefer the real thing.

Yes, it's annoying that Wizards deleted the links to those CLASSICS OF FANTASY pieces. However people occasionally rediscover them online and post links, such as the following. Enjoy!

Allan: thanks for the information. I don't have that issue, and my copy of the DRAGON CD-Rom seems to have gone walkabout, but I did sort through some photocopies I made of items of interest from THE DRAGON's early issues back early on in my time at TSR (from the file copies kindly loaned me by the DRAGON's editor at the time), and sure enough there it is. Since others might want to see this earliest version of the list as well, think I'll put it up as a separate post. Thanks for drawing this to my attention.


Paul W said...

Offutt was simply incredibly prolific, and Swords Against darkness was a very successful S&S anthology series in the 1970s. The whole series is very AD&D like, but I suspect SAD III is on the list because it includes Poul Anderson's seminal essay, "Thud and Blunder" which also appeared in Chaosium's Thieves World boxed set. He did do three Conan pastiche novels, but that barely touches his corpus of work. I highly recommend the Hanse stories, and especially the first novel, it's very different.