Friday, November 26, 2010

Appendix N: Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword"

Published in 1954, the same year as Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring saw publication, it is tempting to compare Anderson's novel to the Ring Trilogy. Both works are influenced by Norse mythology, shades of the Poetic Edda are obvious in The Broken Sword; however, while Tolkien took Norse Mythology and molded it to fit his vision of Middleearth, Poul Anderson took a more literal approach with The Broken Sword. Perhaps a weakness of Sword is that it reads as if written by a writer trying too hard to emulate a story form he obviously holds in high regard.

There were moments while reading passages of the novel that I found myself doing an inward eye roll. That aside, it is a delightful read and is without a doubt a true classic of Sword and Sorcery literature. I am careful to not say Fantasy in the generic sense. While it is a novel that would fall under the large banner of Fantasy in the genre sense, I would consider it more in the vein of Sword and Sorcery. Not quite in the vein of the works of Robert E. Howard or Fritz Lieber, but more similar to that of Lord Dunsany or even William Morris.

I only make this distinction as Poul Anderson does not attempt to create his own world here; while Tolkien took his Norse influences and created his own world clearly outside of the boundaries of reality, Anderson's tale takes place in a fictionalized England during the period of Viking incursions. Populace superstitions of the realm of Faerie are real and can be sensed from time to time upon the margins of society. Anderson's Faerie realm is perhaps a dimension which shares our own. As are the realm of Jottenheim and the Norse Gods.

Anderson's elves are not Tolkien's elves. They are, in Dungeons & Dragons terminology, Chaotic. The affairs of mankind not only do not interest them, they are perhaps beneath them. Here is perhaps the first influence which can be seen upon the development of Dungeons & Dragons. Comparing this novel to Anderson's novel Three Hearts and Three Lions, in which a definite alignment system is developed by Anderson, the rudimentary beginnings of on alignment system may be viewed in The Broken Sword, although it is not clearly as drawn out. Perhaps also an early influence upon what would become the standard Troll in D&D is here as well:

...arms like tree boughs that hung to their knees...Their skin was green and cold and slippery...few of them had hair...eyes set far into bone-ridged sockets, were like skulls.
The realm of Fae as presented by Anderson in his novel is in tune with that of Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter or the many works of William Morris. In my own personal vision of Dungeons & Dragons, this vision of the realm of Faerie would have more heavily influenced the game.
I've read that Anderson was inspired by H. Rider Haggard's The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, but having not read it myself I can not speak to that. I have also read that the broken sword of Anderson's novel inspired Michael Moorecock to create Stormbringer the famous sword of his Elric stories. Having read those, I can see the influence.
My copy of The Broken Sword came from a local used book store. A quick search of Abe Books coughed up several copies ranging from .69 to 20 plus dollars. It should be noted that an earlier version of the novel appeared in 1954. The work was rediscovered by Lin Carter and printed as the twenty-fourth volume of his Ballentine Adult Fantasy Series in 1971. My copy is a fourth printing from Del Rey this is the same as the version printed by Lin Carter, but missing his introduction. Anderson says this:
...without changing the story, I did allow myself a number of textual emendations...I did not rewrite end to end...I have trimmed away a lot of adjectives and wordbrush, corrected certain errors and inconsistencies, and substituted one Person (in one brief though important scene) for another who didn't really belong there.
Also in Anderson's forward, he openly admits that this novel could not be written by the same author who would later write Three Hearts and Three Lions:
This young, in many ways naive lad who bore my name could, all unwittingly, give readers a wrong impression of my work and me.
As I stated earlier, this is not Poul Anderson's strongest work, but time spent reading it is time well spent for lovers of Fantasy and/or Dungeons & Dragons.
As a note for the purists out there, an edition by Gollancz was published in 2002 titled The Broken Sword (Fantasy Masterworks). I have not seen this edition, but from what I understand it is exactly as the story appeared in 1954 prior to the 1971 Ballentine edition. For myself, I enjoyed the novel enough that I am seeking out the Gollancz copy so I may compare the two; however, the Gollancz edition is no longer in print either. Amazon lists new copies from $48.67 and used versions (some in hardcover) from $5.62.
I encourage you buy local and buy often.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Appendix N: Poul Anderson to Roger Zelazny

I've tackled the task of reading the works listed in Appendix N of the AD&D 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide. In the cases that Gygax has listed specific works, I am reading those. For those authors he has listed as all their works, I am selecting those works I feel would have most likely influenced Gary Gygax.

In some cases, this intersects with three other reading lists that I am working my way through: The Ballentine Adult Fantasy Series, The Planet Stories Library and Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Literature.

I am reading each work and assessing each work in two regards. The first is how well the novel stands as a Fantasy Classic (or Science Fiction/Horror/whatever the case may be). Does it feel dated? Is it well written? Entertaining. Of course I am measuring it against my personal prejudice.

Secondly, what was its influence upon the development of Dungeons & Dragons as a game? What elements of the work in question would I like to see adopted into my own games? The later of the two is more important to me.

I will also give an indication of the availability of each work. I'm finding that many of the works listed in Appendix N are out of print. I will state how I came across my copy, how much I paid, and where others might come across their own copies.

I would like to make two statements related to my last paragraph: First, don't ignore the public library system. Too often, the library is ignored in favor of the big box stores. Support your library, be a patron if you can.

Second, I implore you to buy from your locally owned and operated book stores, not to include Barnes & Noble or Borders. I have nothing against either stores and I occasionally buy from them myself; however, as much as possible my dollars go to my favorite locally owned non-chain stores. I heavily believe in investing in my community.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Still no Session 9

I'm a stuck record, but still no gaming. We were to game tonight, but I am stuck at home trying to fix an oven that won't lite and doing laundry to pack for my way too early flight tomorrow morning. I'll have to keep getting my "geek-fix" from reading and movies. Ah well. Here is hoping for the 16th of November.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Planet Stories Library

I've been plugging away at my reading list; lately, I've been concentrating on the few volumes I own from Paizio's Planet Stories line.

In short, I'm yet to be disappointed; however, I only own a few titles: Black God's Kiss, Northwest of Earth: the Complete Northwest Smith, both by C.L. Moore; Elak of Atlantis, The Dark World and Robots have No Tails by Henry Kuttner; Who Fears the Devil by Manly Wade Wellman and Before They Were Giants, edited by James L. Sutter.

Elak of Atlantis was the first book I dived into and the one that made me decide to get a subscription with Paizo. I expected a Clone-an story, they were much more than that.

I dove into Who Fears the Devil next. Wow, is the simplest way to explain how much I enjoyed these stories.

Northwest Smith was the third title I read, and while the stories were not what I expected (most reviewers lead you to believe that Northwest Smith is a proto-Han Solo and that these stories are Space Opera in their ray gun blazing best -- both statements are untrue and misleading), they were entertaining. I do recommend not reading them all in one sitting. I enjoyed Black God's Kiss by Miss Moore much more (no pun intended).

I have not yet read The Dark World, Robots have no Tails or Before they Were Giants as of yet, but will soon.

Many of these (Moore, Kutner and Wellman) fall into my pre-Tolkien reading list. Surprisingly, only Manly Wade Wellman is included in Gygax's Appendix N. It must be remembered though that Gygax stated in Appendix N that the authors listed were just some of many that inspired him. It is possible that he either never read Moore or Kuttner, or that he simply forgot to list them. Northwest Smith, Black God's Kiss and Elak of Atlantis are all three full of stories that would and should spark the imaginations of any fantasy gamer. I will give further thoughts on all of these books later, as each deserves more in-depth discussion.

I'm currently making my way through Appendix N from A to Z. I'm starting with Poul Anderson's Three Heart's and Three Lions.