Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Origin of the Druid?


The Druid whispered, "Come. I know the forests. Follow me -- and they'll never find us. You too, Lycon."

Velia's hand was warm in Elak's as they silently trailed Dalan. Like a shadow for all his gross bulk the Druid slipped from tree to tree, taking advantage of every bush and shrub, till at last the noise of pursuit died in the distance. Only then did he pause to wipe the sweat from his ugly face.

"No enemy can find a Druid in the forests," he informed the others. "If necessary, our magic can send the trees marching against those who follow."

--Henry Kuttner, "Thunder in the Dawn" (1938)
I've always wondered about the origins of the druid class in Dungeons & Dragons, which first appeared in Supplement III to OD&D, Eldritch Wizardry. Many people took Gary Gygax at his word when he claimed that the class was based on the Gallic priests described by Caesar in his De Bello Gallico. I know asked him about this a few months before his death and that was the answer he gave me, although, to be fair, he didn't invest his answer with pontifical authority.

What's interesting is that is that Gary shared a co-author credit on Supplement III, with Brian Blume. Blume, along with his brother Kevin and their father Melvin, often play the role of snakes in the Garden in romanticized portrayals of the early history of TSR. It was the Blumes, after all, who sold their controlling shares in the company to Lorraine Williams in 1986 and ushered in what some consider a dark age for TSR.

The ins and outs of TSR's financial history are well known and are discussed better elsewhere. Whatever else Brian Blume was, it's frequently been stated that he was as avid a fan of pulp fantasy as Gygax. Likewise, I have heard the claim that Eldritch Wizardry was the most strongly "swords & sorcery" product sold for OD&D. Taken together and combined with my recent reading of Henry Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis (also available from Paizo's Planet Stories line -- no, I am not being paid to shill for them; I do it willingly), I have to wonder if perhaps the D&D druid owes its origin to the character of Dalan from the quote above. In the short story, he demonstrates numerous magical abilities that are close to those of the character class. Likewise, the druids seem to be a secret order whose hierarchy operates outside the control of civilized society, complete hidden rites and the like.

The resemblance isn't perfect, of course, but it's striking nonetheless. All the more reason to keep reading this stuff and yet another reason to tip my hat at Paizo for making it so readily available.

22 comments:

  1. I've read through all the Planet Stories line, recently, and am awaiting more of them. I'm not interested in Paizo's Pathfinder efforts, but I'm a HUGE fan of Planet Stories.

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  2. As I read Elak of Atlantis I had the exact same thought. The OD&D Druid had to have come from these stories. I'm a proud Planet Stories subscriber!

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  3. Does Kuttner provide anything in the way of inspirational sources? I could imagine the origin of the idea being easily conflated in that way.

    Poor old Blooms; I do feel sorry for them sometimes.

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  4. James, this is off topic to the post, but it should interest you. I've just posted the draft of a White-Box (plus some supplements) retro-clone. Here's the link to the DF announcement, which has the link to the pdf. Only the players' section is out - monsters and treasure will be posted in a week or so.

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  5. The link got missed, apparently. Here's the link to the "announcement:" http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=29704

    And here's the link to where the file is: http://mythmere.keepandshare.com

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  6. Interesting post. I am also interested in Brian Blume's vision about OD&D; it is quite a shame he is only seen as an adversarial figure. Someone should do an interview with him some day to hear what he has to say. He seems to have come up with the Eye and Hand of Vecna, too.

    WRT the Planet Stories line, I am also a fan. Do check out the Skaith trilogy (The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, The Reavers of Skaith) when they are released.

    Melan

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  7. Although not from Paizo, the short story collection Two-Handed Engine from Centipede Press (also available from SFBC) contains most of C. L. Moore's and Henry Kuttner's collaborative fiction (a dizzyingly prodigious output by any standard), which was originally published under a variety of pen-names after they were married.

    David H

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  8. I'm not interested in Paizo's Pathfinder efforts, but I'm a HUGE fan of Planet Stories.

    Pathfinder is an interesting thing. I gave up following it some time ago; there were simply too many people trying to pull it in directions I have no interest in. That said, I think, by and large, the Paizo crew get it when it comes to the literary origins of D&D. Granted, their RPG is built off of v.3.5, which is too rules-heavy by far, but it'll be intriguing to see how they square the circle, so to speak, by designing a game that's mechanically baroque yet informed by the earliest traditions of the game.

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  9. Does Kuttner provide anything in the way of inspirational sources? I could imagine the origin of the idea being easily conflated in that way.

    Kuttner was the mentor of Ray Bradbury. I don't recall much about druids in Bradbury, though. Beyond that, Kuttner seems to have been largely forgotten, at least on the swords & sorcery front.

    Poor old Blooms; I do feel sorry for them sometimes.

    I do as well. I know little of them as people beyond what Gary and others have said about them. My feeling is that they were almost certainly not the monsters they've been made out to be, even if they were sometimes too "business-like" and thus laid the inadvertent foundation for a lot of what I so dislike in the hobby nowadays.

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  10. Matt,

    Thanks for giving me the heads-up. I'll make a post about this later today so I can help spread the word. I'll certainly be reading your work with great interest.

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  11. Someone should do an interview with him some day to hear what he has to say. He seems to have come up with the Eye and Hand of Vecna, too.

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that Brian Blume occasionally appears at conventions but only as "a civilian." I think, like a lot of guys from that time period, he's mostly content just to enjoy gaming as a hobby again and tries to keep a low profile. I can hardly blame him, given how badly he's typically portrayed in many versions of TSR's history.

    WRT the Planet Stories line, I am also a fan. Do check out the Skaith trilogy (The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, The Reavers of Skaith) when they are released.

    I plan on acquiring the whole series and probably subscribing over the next few months. I'm very impressed with the line as a whole and am immensely grateful to Paizo for having all these stories back in print.

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  12. Although not from Paizo, the short story collection Two-Handed Engine from Centipede Press (also available from SFBC) contains most of C. L. Moore's and Henry Kuttner's collaborative fiction (a dizzyingly prodigious output by any standard), which was originally published under a variety of pen-names after they were married.

    Neat! Thanks for the heads-up.

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  13. Let me preface this by saying that I have not yet read the work I am about to mention, but from what I know of its content I wonder if it might have also served as inspiration for the Druid class.

    I'm referring to the book _Tros of Samothrace_ by Talbot Mundy, first published in 1934. It's a pulp pseudo-historical fantasy whose main protagonist is the freedom fighter Tros from the Greek Island of Samothrace who travels to the British Isles to help form a resistance against Caesar and the Roman invasion. I believe it was chock full of druids of some variety, though how closely they hew to the picture presented in D&D I can't say.

    The Roman/British connection might also lend credence to Gygax's claim that he modelled them on the Celts from Caesar's De Bello Gallico, however loosely.

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  14. My guess is that Gygax got his "information" independent of Kuttner's or other fictional interpretations, as Caesar's Gallic Wars was likely more readily available than Kuttner's (or others) work from the '30s, in the '50s and '60s. There are a number of other classical accounts (Strabo and Tacitus come to mind) of the druids, most pretty unflattering (propaganda). Caesar's account is pretty accessible (in translation, of course), written in a very matter-of-fact, unadorned style. This is just idle speculation, of course.

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  15. Re: Tros of Samothrace

    I never recall Gary mentioning Talbot Mundy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had read his stuff. He's not listed in the AD&D DMG's bibliography, but Mundy (specifically the Tros stories) is in the more extensive bibliography of the Moldvay Basic Set, so I'd be amazed if there wasn't some influence.

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  16. Thanks for all the Planet Stories love, folks. While we're still getting the line established every single sale is a contribution to the line continuing for a long time to come.

    I don't know if Kuttner's Dalan was an inspiration for D&D. The stories, while incredibly rare (until our edition) by today's standards, were actually fairly available to fantasy hounds in the 60s and 70s, being collected in anthologies like "The Mighty Swordsmen" and similar volumes. It's certainly possible that the OD&D authors read one or more of the Elak stories, and they wouldn't have had to time travel back to the 1930s to do it.

    That said, Tros of Samothrace is also a very good candidate, as it was MUCH more widely published than Elak and has seen numerous editions, one right in the sweet spot of the early 1970s that would have made it ripe pickings for the authors of OD&D. I haven't read it yet, myself, but it's on the Big Pile for eventual consideration for Planet Stories.

    Again, I thank all of you guys so much for discussing Planet Stories on your blogs and spreading the word with your friends. We have a ton of awesome adventures in the months to come!

    --Erik Mona

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  17. Thanks for stopping by, Erik. It's always a pleasure to hear you talk about pulp fantasy authors and the Planet Stories line. Once I've finished reading through the volumes I have, I'll give them full reviews here, because I think they deserve to be well known and widely read. I think you've done an immense service to people who are interested in the literary origins of the hobby.

    As I think I said on the Paizo boards once upon a time, I'd love to see you reprint some Fletcher Pratt or Abraham Merritt, both of whom Gary frequently cited as huge influences on the game. Heck, the entirety of Appendix N makes a good laundry list of authors worth including in the line, if possible.

    Keep up the amazing work.

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  18. A. Merritt would be a very worthy addition. (I'd also like to see the Robert Adams Horseclans books in the line.)

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  19. Terry L. and Erik - Tros of Samothrace is very good reading, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Its portrayal of Tros, who is a very Odyssian hero (someone who usually succeeds by wit over force) is masterful, but even more so for the character of Caesar, who is at one time loathsome, decadent and thoroughly evil (Mundy himself drew parallels with the likes of Lenin, Mussolini and later Hitler), yet also charming, likable and almost godlike. And how Tros ends up averting the Roman invasion of Britain is one of those plot twists that stay with you forever (no spoilers here).

    However, don't go in expecting something about the literary origins of the D&D druid; while they are depicted as members of a spiritual brotherhood, they are kept in the role of advisors and behind the scenes conciliators vs. the enchanters of other sources.

    Last but not least,Tros is said to be an inspiration for the character of Conan the Barbarian. I am not sure if this is accurate (there are strong differences), but it can't be denied that Howard drew heavily from Mundy for his Conan stories -- some from Tros and some from King -- of the Khyber Rifles, just like how he assimilated the Cossack stories of Harold Lamb.

    Melan

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  20. I asked Gary once, and here is the origin of the druid-

    Me: (on asking about the druid) a priest; but not just any priest, a Celtic priest. Clerics were soldiers and evangelists of gods of free-thinking races, while druids were about being spiritual priests.

    Gary: Sorta... Dennis Sustare spurred me on to develop the druid from an evil NPC monster to a neutral PC class. They are no more spiritual than are clerics, but their spirituality is centered on nature.

    Me: Bard - Uber warrior druid??

    Gary: Just so, but I left out an Ovate class because who needs lawyers in an RPG?

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  21. The playtesters tell very divergent stories about the origins of classes.

    A playtester -- possibly Matthew Morford, but let me check on that before you quote me -- said that Clerics started from the playtesting in which a vampire was imbalancing the game. The good guys demanded a vampire-killing class, with power to heal and to drive off the undead, and thus the Cleric class (allegedly) was invented.

    The Druid was featured in some early Dragon magazines, and I have to find it again, but clearly someone at Lake Geneva had a Druid fixation.

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  22. A playtester -- possibly Matthew Morford, but let me check on that before you quote me -- said that Clerics started from the playtesting in which a vampire was imbalancing the game. The good guys demanded a vampire-killing class, with power to heal and to drive off the undead, and thus the Cleric class (allegedly) was invented.

    The cleric was first introduced into Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign as a foil for Sir Fang, a vampire. The class is at least partially based on Peter Cushing's portrayal of Dr. Van Helsing from the Hammer horror films.

    The Druid was featured in some early Dragon magazines, and I have to find it again, but clearly someone at Lake Geneva had a Druid fixation.

    The druid first appears in Supplement III to OD&D so far as I am aware. I don't recall its being in The Dragon beforehand.

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