Appendix N Survey Complete

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

In the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, Gary Gygax included an Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, and old-school gamer Jeffro has gone back and read everything in it — and drawn some odd conclusions:

Tolkien’s ascendancy was not inevitable. It’s really a fluke that he even became the template for the modern fantasy epic.

A half dozen authors would have easily been considered on par with Tolkien in the seventies.

On the one hand, Tolkien’s work is peerless; nothing else compares. On the other hand, I am a bit surprised that it took off with a semi-popular audience.

Of course, what really took off was Tolkienesque fantasy:

Our concept of “Tolkienesque” fantasy has little to do with Tolkien’s actual work. Likewise, the “Lovecraftian” stories and games of today have little to do with what Lovecraft actually wrote. Our concepts of swords and sorcery have had the “weird” elements removed from them for the most part. Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.

Modern fantasy writers have read a lot of modern fantasy. The early fantasy writers read history and legends.

Times have changed:

Entire genres have been all but eliminated. The majority of the Appendix N list falls under either planetary romance, science fantasy, or weird fiction. Most people’s readings of AD&D and OD&D are done without a familiarity of these genres.

Science fiction and fantasy were much more related up through the seventies. Several Appendix N authors did top notch work in both genres. Some did work that could be classified as neither.

It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.

Modern fandom is now divorced from its past in a way that would be completely alien to game designers in the seventies. They had no problem synthesizing elements from classics, grandmasters of the thirties, and new wave authors.

Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly [homogenized] in comparison to them.

The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.

Nerdy protagonists like Harry Potter or Barry Allen from the new Flash TV series are an extremely recent phenomenon. Even a new wave proto-goth like Elric was a ladies’ man.

“Nice guys” like Harry Dresden were pretty well absent from the science fiction and fantasy scene from 1910 to 1977.

The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.

Tolkien and Lewis were not outliers. Writers ranging from Poul Anderson to Lord Dunsany and C. L. Moore wrote fantasy from a more or less Christian viewpoint. The shift to a largely post-Christian culture has marked an end of their approach to science fiction and fantasy.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    People may have read both sci fi and fantasy in the 70′s (I didn’t, except for Tolkein), but they were clearly distinguished genres and were shelved in different sections.

  2. bomag says:

    This was a prominent magazine back in the ”70s.

    The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes…

    Sounds more like a religious war, with the winner pulling down and dynamiting the old icons, and driving the heretics underground.

  3. Bruce says:

    Until the sixties, colleges expected students with some high school or grade school latin. Edgar Rice Burroughs or even Robert E Howard reflected that. Today’s fantasy is by and for the less educated.

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