Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Carrot Noses and Holy Avengers

I came upon Poul Anderson quite late in the game compared my reading of other authors that were big influences on the DnD game. Anderson’s books Three Hearts and Three Lions and the Broken Sword both pop up in the reading list in the 1st Ed DMG, but it was one of those books that never seemed to populate UK book stores.

Being a classic of its type (modern man transported into fantasy alternate world a la everything from Mark Twain to CS Lewis) it was re-published as part of the awesome Fantasy Masterworks series, some of which have now drifted onto Kindle.

The book tells the tale of Holger Carlson, a Danish agent in WW2 who is flipped into a fantasy world by an explosion. He finds he has taken the role of a holy knight, who is known in the world, and whose recollection slowly returns. Along his journey he meets dwarves, faeries, cannibals, witches and trolls. Ultimately he finds that he has been previously involved with Morgan Le Fey, and she plays a key part in the latter part and the conclusion to the book.

The book is a cracking read—although the plot is linear (and given it was a serialised novella, that’s not too surprising) and some of the dialogue grates (especially the pseudo-Glaswegian of Hugi the dwarf). It is a surprisingly energetic and contemporary feeling fantasy, which given it was released just prior to JRR Tolkein’s work, is surprising.

The influences on the DnD game are numerous, perhaps almost as many as Tolkien and Lieber’s work, considering it was only a single novel. The most significant, and this was further extended by Moorcock in Elric, was the alignment system: Anderson describes Law and Chaos in his book (which was later modified in AD&D to include the –good and –evil suffixes). Gygax cited Anderson and Moorcock in his creation of the system. By all accounts, and Gary Vanucci is the man to ask here, the 4th Ed has merged them all together to create a sort of spectrum from lawful good, to good, to neutral (couldn’t give a monkeys) to evil, to chaotic evil (proper naughty).

Anderson’s book gave us two more icons of the DnD world—the Paladin and the Troll. The Paladin character class was majorly influenced by Holger and his knightly values, which in turn was a representation of classic virtuous knights from the Arthurian legends (Gawain, Lancelot, Galahad). For my own part I really liked the Paladin characters for all the awkward situations you could toss them into. And the fact they could walk amongst scrofula-ridden peasants with little fear of infection. And laugh at mummies.

And the troll. Oh, the troll. Not the bulky boulder headed ‘oh, they have a cave troll’ type-troll, but the authentic 100% genuine carrot-nose rubber flesh variety. The inspiration of the seminal Tunnels and Trolls (OK, I made that up) and the unbeatable basis of many a horror film-style trap in DnD. We all did it—troll fingers frozen in a chest, thaw out when opened, grow new troll. I think it was even in some of the modules! And the punk new wave haircut... genius

A perfect note to end on (as if I get going about AD&D artwork I’ll be here all night).

Next time, got to be Fritz Leiber, and the Grey Mouser.

No comments:

Post a Comment