A few years back when I started down the dark path of book blogging, one of the first things I did was to slap a copy of Appendix N on the site. The appendix, as you may already know, was Gary Gygax’s reading and inspiration list in the back of ye olde Dungeon Master’s Guide, the pulp literature that inspired him to start building up medieval fantasy roleplaying games.
Originally I was going to try and read all the books on the list; I’ll still probably try, but I’ve only read a handful of them in three years and the rest just aren’t things I want to pick up and read, say, tomorrow. Maybe after a few more books, I’ll be ready to read them tomorrow; maybe after another few hundred. Who knows. There’s some good stuff on there, and a lot of it would be yet another re-read for me—I feel like I’ve read the Lankhmar tales to death, and while I want to read them again, and know I’ll read them at least another half-dozen more times in my life, there’s just so much else out there to read.
To bulk up the word count I threw in a few paragraphs of analysis—nothing particularly deep, just codifying some thoughts I’ve had over the years, and some thoughts that came to mind while posting.
As a gamer and speculative fiction enthusiast, I’m intrigued by the legendary Appendix N found at the back of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. Gary Gygax was a voracious reader, and his reading preferences impacted the directions where his fantasy-based wargame went. Namely, its ascendency from a traditional medieval wargame with orcs into nerddom’s greatest and most enduring hobby.
Probably the most obvious influences include how magic works in Vance’s Dying Earth world, magic items and historical scope from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the gritty pseudo-historic peoples of Howard’s Hyborian Age. Put Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in Hyboria, populate it with Lord of the Rings-inspired elves, orcs, and dwarves, and you’ve got the basics of D&D.
It’s also worth looking at what’s included and what isn’t. Clark Ashton Smith, for one; granted, his reputation is largely a part of the pulp revival starting in the ’70s (and again in the ’90s),but he’s the vital third leg of the Weird Tales trifecta. Why mention Frederic Browne, who as far as I’ve read has mostly done (admittedly superb) science-fiction mystery tales, without mentioning C.L. Moore or Edmond Hamilton? Why Bellairs’ Face in the Frost and not LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea? And where the hell is H. Rider Haggard?
Seeing Fred Saberhagan and Gardner Fox on the list is mystifying to me; it’s like Gygax went to the local bookstore to see what was popular, and just wrote some applicable things down. Saberhagan’s entry (Changeling Earth) is post-apocalyptic sword-and-socery, so popular that it hasn’t been printed since the ’70s. Fox wrote what can favorably be called “Conan pastiches” and unfavorably called “sloppy Conan clones.” Several, like Fletcher Pratt and Stanley Weinbaum, have since faded into relative obscurity.
After making some friendly jabs at Conan clones—really, Fox wrote some passable to decent to surprisingly good historical fiction, adventure, and fantasy, even if I dislike Kyrik—I dug at what Appendix N would look like in the modern age:
Also interesting: consider the influences on the game since Gygax stopped being the influential factor. Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, for sure; Frank Herbert’s Dune, arguably; Glen Cook’s Black Company; Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire; Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun; Terry Pratchett; Anne Rice (Vampire: the Masquerade); William Gibson (Cyberpunk 2020); Neil Gaiman (Scion); China Mieville, in an interesting case of the inspired inspiring the original. Star Wars and Monty Python. Fallout, Doctor Who, westerns, Mike Mignola, Heavy Metal. (The magazine.) Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden.
Which, along with my earlier complaint that LeGuin and Clark Ashton Smith and some others had been neglected, actually compares pretty well to the new Appendix E:
5th Edition has worked hard to bring the feeling of D&D nostalgia, and out of all the bits designed to evoke the D&D feeling players have felt between, what, six editions now?, seeing Gygax’s list intact with additions is one of my favorite touches.
Most of it isn’t a huge stretch. Several of the new authors are admitted gamers, including Mieville, Martin, Saladin Ahmed, and Patrick Rothfuss (man I still can’t believe I didn’t mention him in the original); I don’t know if Glen Cook and Gene Wolfe were gamers but they write like it. Leaving Mervyn Peake, Ursula LeGuin, and Clark Ashton Smith off the original list always felt a crime, like it betrayed the limits of the creators’ libraries. Prattchet is a nice touch. And there’s a bit more diversity there, with more than three woman—Leigh Brackett, Margaret St. Clair, and Andre Norton are joined by Margaret Weis, LeGuin, Elizabeth Bear, and Patricia McKillip.
I used to roll my eyes at arguments that gaming gave you math skills, taught you cooperation, helped promote reading, things like that, but now I look back and see that yep it was true. Fiction, be it books or movies, ends up driving so many of the tropes and concepts RPGs live off; it’s a prime resource for the average gamer. For reading in specific, gaming works on two fronts: it not only promotes an interest in reading and creativity for those who may have needed some prodding to pick up a book, but it also gives the creative, reader-types another way to implement and use that creativity. Maybe there’s a reason you can point to famous authors and actors who’ve played RPGs.
It’s not a perfect list—Anne McCaffrey or Marion Zimmer Bradley would have been a welcome eighth female author; I find Karl Edward Wagner superior to most of the ’70s swords-and-sorcery Gygax listed; J.K. Rowling would be the perfect addition, great for giving the younger-ish reader some more age-appropriate material. Why only Golgotha Dancers for Manly Wade Wellman? etc. And there’s the issue of personal taste, and that not everyone will like every book on every list.
But Appendix E keeps the spirit alive, and is perhaps the most complete and balanced list you can find that fits on one page, that will appeals to a wide audience, and covers the last sixty-four years or so of fantasy (with some science fiction). For heroic dungeon fantasy gaming, you can’t go wrong with these titles.