I make no secret of my deep abiding love for the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft. I consider each of them, in their own ways, literarily significant authors whose works transcend the limited venues in which their writings first appeared. But my purpose in this entry isn't to laud their lasting value as writers. Instead, I want to briefly touch upon the things each brings to bear when considering "pulp fantasy D&D," which is to say, an interpretation of the game that eschews both the high fantasy of Tolkien and (especially) his imitators and the "cinematic" approach so in fashion these days.
Robert E. Howard: It's easy to discern the influence the creator of Conan might have over Dungeons & Dragons. Howard is the only one of the Big Three mentioned by name in OD&D, which places him among a select few authors (along with Burroughs, De Camp, Leiber, and Pratt) whose acknowledged influence is there from the very beginning. REH brings not only a certain "blood and thunder" mindset to the game, but, more importantly, an emphasis on broadly adventure broadly defined. He's a reminder that D&D is, at its base, a game of action and exploration, about overcoming challenges and profiting -- and dying -- from doing so.
That's absolutely essential to any notion of what a pulp fantasy D&D needs to be and Howard offers that in spades, not just in his Conan stories but in all of his major story cycles. That's not to suggest that the game can't be more than that by any means, but it's nevertheless vital that we not lose sight of the fact that any "meaning" D&D has is an emergent property that arises through play rather than being some a priori property of it.
H.P. Lovecraft: The Old Gent isn't mentioned in OD&D, but he does make an appearance in Appendix N, making him a natural fit for a pulp fantasy D&D. HPL brings a lot to the table, first and foremost a counterpoint to exaggerated devotion to Howard. In Lovecraft's worldview, human beings are small and insignificant, beneath the notice the true lords of the universe. Left to its own, Lovecraftianism tends toward bleakness and that's not a good feel for a pulp fantasy D&D. but neither is excessive confidence in the capacity of the average man to achieve anything of lasting worth.
More than that, Lovecraft acknowledges that there's a wider world beyond the petty concerns of mortal men. His awesome cosmicism is, I think, an important element often overlooked. He makes plain the idea that there is more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy and, worse yet, those things are utterly alien and, in many cases, functionally malign. Lovecraftian entities make terrific opponents and his cosmicism, ironically, helps buttress a powerful humanism when placed within a larger pulp fantasy context.
Clark Ashton Smith: The Bard of Auburn isn't mentioned in either OD&D or AD&D explicitly and, by most accounts, his direct influence over Gygax and Arneson was minimal. I think that's a shame, because what CAS brings to the table is something D&D desperately needs and has always needed: a sense of exoticism and mysticism. By this I mean that all too often even D&D's most outré elements quickly become banal, reduced to a series of game stats that fail to convey the eldritch beauty of the Other Side or the exhilirating danger posed by meddling with the forces of magic.
Despite this, Smith grounds his fantasies in reality. By that I don't mean to say that he was a Gygaxian naturalist avant le fait. Rather, it's that his descriptions are luxuriously sensual and bodily. Unlike Lovecraft, very few things in Smith's writings are "ineffable" or otherwise defy description. The result is a strange literary alchemy that doesn't reduce magic to a formula while simultaneously investing it with reality. That's something D&D could benefit from immensely.
These then are three threads from which I've been trying to weave my Dwimmermount campaign. They're all the three threads about which I'll be talking more in the coming weeks, with lots of examples of just what I mean and how others can do the same in their own adventures and campaigns.