Monday, October 20, 2008

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: The Face in the Frost

While the influence of both The Dying Earth series and the Harold Shea stories is widely acknowledged as important inspirations on the creation of the D&D magic system, much less frequently mentioned is John Bellairs' 1969 historical fantasy The Face in the Frost. This book adds the detail of wizards studying their spells in advance of casting them. I couldn't find a large image of the original 1969 cover, so instead I present the cover from the 1981 reprint.

10 comments:

  1. It's an excellent book. Not at all pulpy - it's more like a comedy of manners. Vancian, only less so, if that makes sense.

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  2. True, it's not "pulpy" by any reasonable definition of the word, but it was an influence on D&D, so I'm willing to cut it some slack. :)

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  3. I enjoyed this one (I have the exact edition pictured). I remember being struck by a sense of lurking menace which made an interesting combination with the lighthearted elements.

    Prospero's house is cool, too.

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  4. Fantastic book. Full of great atmosphere and descriptions, scary without being horrific, kid-friendly without being a "kids' book." Probably a better book to give to a casual D&D fan wanting to know what's the deal with the magic system than the full-on Vance.

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  5. I agree: a very enjoyable read. I found several elements in it that suggested D&D magic items, monsters, locations, etc. immediately.

    It felt like there could be a sequel to the plotline: did Bellairs write another novel in this setting??

    Allan.

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  6. If there were a sequel to the book, I am unaware of it.

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  7. A minor quibble, but the idea of memorizing spells in advance was already in "Turjan of Miir" from The Dying Earth. Did this book add something to make magic even more like the D&D system?

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  8. It's been years since I read the book, so I can't recall the specifics, but Gygax once claimed that this book, along with The Dying Earth and the Harold Shea stories were the biggest influences on the way he envisaged the D&D magic system. I don't think it added anything so much as reinforced an idea Gary already had.

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  9. I read this in the past year or so, and there were definitely elements of it that reminded me of the Drowic Underworld, and the two main characters are wizards, battling another wizard throughout the book, so that's interesting too. I don't recall a lot of spell-system stuff, though, offhand.

    Mostly it struck me as a fun read with good characterization on the protagonists, with a fun world background and some interesting and quirky monsters/magic items vs. the spells system/methodology.

    Perhaps I should read it again....

    Allan.

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  10. This is also a good example of fantasy characters coming into our world, as used to happen in many OD&D games. Roger and Prospero finally defeat their foe with the help of a Kabbalist living in modern Michigan.

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