Monday, December 15, 2008

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Three Hearts and Three Lions

First published in 1953, Three Hearts and Three Lions is sort of the "older brother" to The Broken Sword. The two books share a medieval northern European setting and draw heavily from the mythologies of those lands, but the 1953 book is the one that more heavily influenced Dungeons & Dragons. The paladin class, the troll, the swanmay, and the struggle between Law and Chaos (from which Michael Moorcock drew inspiration as well), among others, all first appear here, making this one of the most important books for anyone interested in the pre-history of D&D. It's also worth noting that this book predates the appearance of The Lord of the Rings in 1954, so it's another bit of evidence for the fundamentally non-Tolkienian origins of the game.

Three Hearts and Three Lions is also useful in understanding D&D for other reasons. Firstly, its story of a Danish soldier during World War II being flung into a fantasy world is one more example of a "lost world" tale, one of many that lurks beneath the surface of the game. Secondly, the novel's equation of Law with the forces of civilization and the Church and Chaos with paganism and Faerie is clearly present in OD&D and is often overlooked in discussions of what alignment is and where it came from. Finally, because Three Hearts and Thre Lions draws on the romantic "Matter of France,"
it's a very clear case of a non-pulp fantasy influence on D&D (yes, I am aware of the irony of discussing it in this series of posts) and that alone makes it a worthy subject of study. That it's also a well-written and enjoyable book only adds to its significance.

4 comments:

  1. I'm starting to question the Tolkien vs. pulp rivalry. Despite Tolkien's reverence for *Rings*, I don't know that he'd be read today if it weren't for *The Hobbit* and that work seems to show many pulp elements. Bilbo might be called "a hobbit," but he resembles my stereotypes of an early 20th century Englishman out of an Merchant & Ivory movie. (tea, pipeweed, pocket handkerchiefs, going on "walks", pretentious relatives with double-barreled names). And he gets thrown into what amounts to another world with the stated objective of stealing a dragon's treasure! The way that this novel is followed by the epic high fantasy of the *Rings* trilogy mirrors the way the low-level PCs have low-level motivations while higher level PCs do get mixed up in things like saving the world. But for me, even in *Rings*, what's most compelling are the Hobbits. They are somehow more human than the humans, without all the baggage of "destiny".

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  2. I have never been a big subscriber to the notion that LotR wasn't a major influence on D&D. It is certainly true that several other things were also big influences, and perhaps more important ones. I think if we pin it down to a 'big three' that the biggest influences were pretty clearly Anderson, Tolkien and Vance, maybe with Moorcock in 4th place.

    I know that Gary always downplayed the influence of LoTR on the design. Maybe that's true and maybe not; authors are often not the right people to ask about interpreting their work, and anything really creative allows people to find their own meanings in it. In this case, where LotR's influence on the design might well have been superficial, as Gygax maintained, its influence on how the game actually got played is, I think, pretty clear.

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  3. I think if we pin it down to a 'big three' that the biggest influences were pretty clearly Anderson, Tolkien and Vance, maybe with Moorcock in 4th place.

    By Gygax's own account, the biggest influences on D&D were in fact De Camp & Pratt (the Harold Shea books), Howard (Conan), Leiber (Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser), Jack Vance (Dying Earth, etc.), Lovecaft, and Merritt. Tolkien is rarely mentioned, even in the time before the legal unpleasantness, and Moorcock barely registers.

    In this case, where LotR's influence on the design might well have been superficial, as Gygax maintained, its influence on how the game actually got played is, I think, pretty clear.

    I think it's true that many people who played D&D, then and now, came to it from Tolkien, but that's a very different thing than claiming, as some do, that Tolkien was a huge influence on Gary Gygax. The evidence against such a position is quite large in my opinion.

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  4. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. At any rate, I don't disagree with your point, which is (I think) that Tolkien was not the overwhelming influence of AD&D's design that people assume it to be due to several features that happen to be fairly superficial.

    But an author's intent exists separately from a reader's (or a player's in this case,) interpretation, and I'm not sure I'm prepared to say that the author's is more important.

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