So, a while ago, I realized that I wasn’t reading as many books as I had in the past. I was reading more blogs and web pages, but not as many books–and especially not as many science-fiction or fantasy books. When you find yourself lacking, it’s time to go on a quest, so I created two quests for myself. One was to revisit American history by reading a biography of every President. I finished His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph Ellis, and have started my John Adams book (although the title eludes me right now). And to get me back into reading my genre fiction, I decided to go back to the roots. I am reading through the infamous Appendix N.
While Appendix N offers a wide selection of books that were inspirational to the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, it’s not always very specific about which books to read from a certain author. Here are my rules:
- If a specific title is listed, read it.
- If no particular titles are listed, read whatever I find first in my local used book stores.
- Read at least one thing per author.
- Read as many titles as I can that are specifically mentioned.
I hope to get a better sense of the roots of AD&D. I mean, I’ve been playing D&D in some incarnation since around 1980, but I’ve never really read anything because it was listed as an inspiration for the creation of the game.
My first book of choice was Lin Carter’s The Warrior of World’s End (the first book of the Gondwane Epic). And . . . wow. This was not what I was expecting. If I had not realized this book was a precursor to AD&D, I would have thought it was born from the notes of a crazy, pre-teen Dungeon Master. Now, to be fair, I was entertained throughout the book–sometimes by the plot, sometimes by the characters, but mostly by the writing style. Carter is praised on the back of the book as the “master of sword and sorcery,” and my only response is that we’ve come a long way.
The plot of the book centers around the adventures of Ganelon Silvermane’s adventures in the world of Gondwane, which is Earth in the year 700,000,000 AD (okay, 699,999,930 AD to be precise). Yes, you read that right. 700 million AD… That was my first clue that Carter’s style of fantasy might border on the silly. (In fact, through a large portion of the book, I felt like it might be a parody of fantasy novels, but I wasn’t sure exactly what novels it would be parodying.) The main character, Ganelon, is a construct, built by a race that built lots of constructs and would release one whenever the world seemed to be in need of saving. Of course, Ganelon doesn’t actually remember why he’s been awakened. So he basically follows the orders of a number of father-figures throughout the book, rarely having any initiative of his own. His adventuring party is rounded out by the Illusionist (one of the father figures), Fryx (a “tomb-dwelling, grave-robbing, soul-devouring lobster-ghoul” who should’ve been named Deus ex Machina), and Xarda (a female knight who is about as stereotypical as a 1970’s middle-schooler’s idea of a woman knight–at one point she needs to take a long shopping trip for armor and weapons. I can only imagine the delight at such high humor: “Ha! She’s a warrior, but she still shops like a woman!”). The group eventually saves the world from an evil school-chum of the Illusionist’s by swinging their swords a lot. (Did I mention that Ganelon is pretty much impervious to injury, so there’s never any real fear of them failing?)
While the book is amusing in its nostalgic quaintness, it’s pretty flat everywhere else. The only other truly entertaining quality was the names of places and characters–which were often just silly. Places like YamaYamaLand (no spaces) and the Mountains of the Death Dwarfs were inhabited by races like the Phlygul (“It had no nose, for example, and the lack of this familiar facial feature lent its visage an unfinished look . . . . It also lacked nipples and navel . . . . However it did possess the organs of gender, which were repulsively huge and unquestionably male.”) There are also Tigermen, the Bazonga bird, and the Indigons. There seems to be no rational explanation for why there are so many radically different intelligent species, and each land seems to immediately shift into a new terrain type as soon as the heroes cross the border.
The whole time I read this book, I felt like I might have enjoyed it more in middle-school (Unstoppable heroic embodiment of everything lacking in my own pubescence? Check. A bird named after boobs? Check. Flying bats with huge penises? Check. Woman warrior who kills things, but still needs to shop and look pretty, thus allowing me to idolize her and keep her understandable to my untested views of what it meant to be a woman? Check.)
Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel.