Friday, January 20, 2012

Open Friday: Forgotten Authors

Today is the 128th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Merritt, the early 20th century pulp writer admired by both H.P. Lovecraft and Gary Gygax. I've written about Merritt on the occasion of his birth twice before on this date, in addition to numerous other posts about his life and works. In re-reading those earlier posts, what I immediately noticed (aside from the fact that I keep quoting from Lovecraft's letter to R. H. Barlow concerning his meeting with the man) is that their theme is almost always the obscurity of Merritt in contemporary culture. During his lifetime, he was a highly successful and well-paid journalist and editor and several of his stories (Seven Footsteps to Satan and Burn Witch Burn!) were made into motion pictures. Nowadays, though, his name is barely known, let alone lauded, which is frankly a pity, as Merritt's best work is indeed worthy.

So, for today's Open Friday question, I offer the following: what one writer do you believe deserves greater recognition as a source inspiration for fantasy, horror, or science fiction RPGs? Merritt is my answer to this question. Who is yours?

63 comments:

  1. Edgar Rice Burroughs

    But, Greyhawk Knight I do love me some Roy Thomas comics.

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  2. Eric Rücker Eddison for The Worm Ouroboros. That particular work has been read and appriciated by many more successful fantasy authors whose works have influenced many baseline assumptions in RPG's, I can't help to wonder what effect would have been if let's say instead of Tolkiens influence it would have been that of Eddison.

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    1. Every female character would have been really the same female character because all females are part of the goddess hivemind, every game session would start over at the beginning of the campaign, and we'd all have to read a lot more James Branch Cabell and Elizabethan/Jacobean poetry and songs.

      But I do love Eddison, when he's not messing with me, and he is a good gaming source. I did a public domain audiobook of Ouroboros, even, and enjoyed it even more.

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    2. The Worm Ouroboros was a good one, though for the life of me, I've not read it in many long years!

      Otherwise, I don't rightly think any one author that interests me is obscure enough or stands out enough as such.

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  3. Alan Garner. The Weirdstone of Brisangamen is a classic children's fantasy.

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  4. I'd vote for William Hope Hodgson. I've got the complete hardcover series Nightshade did of his fiction. It is awesome!

    As a second place I'd have to go with David Lindsey whose Voyage to Arcturus remains criminally obscure.

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  5. Snorri Sturluson, the famous medieval Icelandic author. He compiled the Prose Edda, the Heimskringla, the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason and Harald Hadrada, and possibly Egil's Saga.

    IIRC, one of his more obscure works, the Skaldskaparmal is the source of the name "Gandalf", as an example.

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  6. Zelazny! I just re-read the Amber series. Brilliant. Anytime my characters open a door and find, say, an astral sea or a strange vista of another plane, the influence of Zelazny is upon us.

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    1. Agreed! And not just the Amber books, but Jack of Shadows and the Dilvish stories, too.

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  7. Replies
    1. Pardon my ignorance -- Riverworld is one of those ideas that always excited me, but I've never read any PJF -- do the stories live up to the grandness of Riverworld's fantastic one-line elevator pitch? Where would I start reading him?

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    2. I think Riverworld is a good series, but I like the World of Tiers better. Farmer has numerous one-off novellas, novels, and numerous collections of short stories as well, and many of them pushed the boundaries of SF in terms of how it dealt with politics, sex, religion, etc.

      Allan.

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  8. Alfred Bester and Manly Wade Wellman

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    1. I'm reading The Stars My Destination and I see the influence on e.g. cyberpunk, no question -- but where is Wellman's influence to be seen?

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    2. I have the Paizo Silver John Wellman comp but haven't had a chance to read it. But Gygax listed Wellman in Appendix N of the DMG. Perhaps for the bard?

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    3. If I recall correctly, The Silver John stories served as the basis for a proto-horror RPG by Sandy Petersen and indirectly helped form Call of Cthulhu when he was given the task of designing that game.

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  9. H. Rider Haggard is my first choice. I feel a great swell of pity for those who haven't read his novel, She.

    My second choice is David Lindsay for his mind-blowing A Voyage to Arcturus.

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    1. Adam Roberts recently blogged about this, er, absolutely terrible-sounding novel (She) a few weeks ago. It's the 8th bestselling novel of all time. Jesus.

      There's a dissertation to be written about the 'no no the pleasure of these stories has nothing at all to do with their misogyny and racism' line, which gets pulled out by fans any time authors like Haggard and (!!!!) Lovecraft are criticized.

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    2. That's because it's incredibly easy to take out the misogyny and racism, and simply go with the pure "Immortal Mary Sue with amazing magical powers and disquieting relationship issues, in a reverse-Gothic romance with a nobleminded, strong, passive Larry Stu, told by a character who's the Biggest Fan Ever of both of them. But with sf and history decorations." But mostly it's Immortal Mary Sue, which is why she got tons of prequels and the male characters didn't.

      The moral of the story is that guys like Gothics also, but their controlling Gothic hero is the Mysterious Femme Fatale who usually dies or goes to prison instead of marrying him.

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  10. Honestly, any of them. I get the impression that most gamers know about Gary Gygax and Tolkien and that's about it.

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    1. This. Until just a few years ago I fell into the 'Tolkien is the wellspring of all modern fantasy' trap. This blog is in no small part responsible for my re-education on that score, for which I am grateful! Learning about new rubbish is often preferable to rereading the old rubbish. ;v)

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    2. A lot of gamers never actually read Tolkien, either.

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  11. Props to Zelazny too. But I think a lot of mt choices would be too personal to me and what i grew up reading in terms of their personal impact (but probably not so broad an impact beyond me!)

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  12. Karl Edward Wagner — his Kane series inspired the campaigns of many of my friends.

    [Only one! Well this was the first that sprung to mind ahead of the rest. <sigh>]

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    1. Seconded. I reffed a Dragonquest adventure ripped off from "Reflections for the Winter of My Soul". Scared the heck out of the players.

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    2. Yup, got to cast my vote for Karl Edward Wagner too. I've yet to run an adventure based on any of his works, but I'd love to unleash the Scylredi on my players' characters one of these days. And serve calamari on the same day.

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  13. Haggard is seconded. Or Robert E. Howard, who most gamers pretend to know but have never actually read.

    I use a lot of Robert Chambers (both the King in Yellow mythos and his weird natural history bits) in my games, but I'm a Chambers fanboy.

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  14. The question: what one writer do you believe deserves greater recognition as a source inspiration for fantasy, horror, or science fiction RPGs?

    Some of the fine authors mentioned have already received their props, haven't they?

    My one answer: Seabury Quinn, Seabury Quinn, Seabury Quinn, the name so nice I say it thrice. You like modern horror; Seabury Quinn. You like CoC-ish horror: Seabury Quinn. You lke pulp, weirdo fiction: Seabury Quinn.

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    1. Yes, yes, and yes. I came across a collection of his short stories in a second-hand bookstore when I was in high school, and literally read the book to rags.

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  15. Firstly every SF&F gamer should read
    Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars. Few know his inspiration Edwin Lester Arnold's Gullivar of Mars

    I also heartily recommend a trio of extraordinary women.
    Andre Norton
    C.L. Moore
    Leigh Brackett

    A lot of the tropes we explore today in our SF&F gaming appeared in their fiction 40 or 50 years ago!

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  16. For post-D&D, non-Tolkien fantasy, the late Robert Holdstock, particularly Mythago Wood (1984). It's a gem.

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    1. I'll second that, Zach. I was turned on to Holdstock by Moorcock years ago at a Nomads of the Time Streams meeting at DragonCon.

      His _Where Time Winds Blow_ was pretty good, too.

      Allan.

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  17. I would push both William Morris and James Branch Cabell. I'd love to run a campaign as good as the lands described in The well At The World's End and The Sundering Flood.

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  18. The Right Honourable Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany

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  19. I just watched Burn Witch Burn and it seems to be a straight ahead adaptation of Leiber's Conjure Wife.

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    1. It is an adaptation of Conjure Wife. Leiber is credited, unless you saw a rather sloppily-edited version. Great flick, too!

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  20. Tanith Lee (various) and Andre Norton (at least the first few of her Witch World novels.)

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  21. Fritz Leiber, his Fafhrd and Greymouser stories are far closer to how I play RPGs than Tolkien. Andre Norton's Quag Keep is a given of course though more a reflection of RPGs than an influence. Haggard is brilliant though in my mind, generally more pulp than fantasy. John Norman's Gor books while they are - disturbing - have had an undeniable influence on figure makers. Jack Vance's Cugel's Saga books are also entertaining.

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  22. I think very little credit is given to fantasy novels most of us read as children - Oz, Narnia, Zilpha Keatley Snyder ... all of those were early formative influences. Comics, too (c.f. Greyhawk Knight's comment - though personally I'd call for Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Oh and Steve Ditko, too).

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  23. To clarify: the film based on Merritt's Burn Witch Burn! is called The Devil-Doll. The 1962 film called Burn Witch Burn! is, as people as noted, based on Leiber.

    Weird but true.

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    1. I just remembered that J. Eric Holmes reviewed Burn Witch Burn/Creep Shadow Creep on Amazon in 2002. It's his only fantasy review there, and just about the last thing I've found that he wrote in public. He gets the movie right as Barrymore is in The Devil-Doll (1936).

      Holmes' review of BWB/CSC on Amazon

      "Merrit wrote spooky fantasy for Argosy Magazine in the 1920-1930s. Fans argue endlessly about which is his best. These stories are pretty good. (Shadow is a sort of sequel to Burn Witch Burn.) The evil old witch makes lifelike dolls that come to life and kill people. She is brought down by a rational doctor and a superstitious Mafia boss. Made into a movie with Lionel Barrymore as the witch (really!). Strong stuff for the time it was written."

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  24. Seconding James Branch Cabell -- for D&D purposes, especially Jurgen, Figures of Earth and The High Place.

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  25. aycorn makes great points. Jack Kirby and Lloyd Alexander were two of my top choices here...

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  26. William Hope Hodgson: his works are the a primary influence in modern horror, weird fantasy and science fiction. Heck, two words: Night Land.

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  27. A big ditto for Zelazny and I'll throw in a Fletcher Pratt for good measure!

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  28. I'll stick with Robert E. Howard. The movies have almost nothing to do with his stories and L. Sprague deCamp -- and others -- were somewhat "lacking" in their attempts to continue Howard's Conan stories.

    In addition to Conan, he wrote Kull and Bran Mac Morn, two other Sword and Sorcery "heroes."

    Howard wrote other stories as well, but we're talking "fantasy" here.

    And Allan, Farmer and his World of Tiers is a good one for me too. ;)

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  29. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He may be older, and a less direct influence, but The Coming Race was basically about a race of subterranean psionics-users. How much more D&D can you get?

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  30. I often have the impression that, in the french gaming community, Poul Anderson doesn't get the credit he deserves.
    Sometimes, I feel like having a "you're not allowed to debate over alignment and paladins if you haven't read Anderson" policy...

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  31. Hmmm...out of those not listed?

    L. Frank Baum. He invented a persistent universe which lacked the "tied up" feel at the end of a major adventure, and filled his narratives with small jaunts that were almost unrelated to the main story.

    In a word, the man was king of the Side-quest.

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  32. Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

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  33. How about John Bellairs? The Face in the Frost is listed in Appendix N and is an excellent novel - a truly strange mix of humour and horror. It lulls you into a false sense of security with the gentle humour and then hits you with some of the most effective horror sequences in modern fantasy. Plus, the way that Prospero studys his book of spells the night before he intends to cast them may have influenced the way that magic-users prepare spells in D&D (It's likely that Gygax combined this idea with the Vancian notion that spells are forgotten when you cast them). Plus some of his young adult fiction can be raided for ideas - I recommend The House with a Clock in Its Walls and The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb in particular.

    While we're on the subject of Abraham Merrit, it should be pointed out that LibriVox has released free audio adaptations of some of his works that have fallen into the public domain. For example:

    http://librivox.org/the-moon-pool-by-abraham-merritt/

    They also have a very nice audio adaptation of the short story "The People of the Pit" here:

    http://www.archive.org/download/ghostandhorror10_1008_librivox/15ghohor010_peopleofthepit_merritt_mn_64kb.mp3

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    1. So glad someone put Bellairs here. He is definitely one of my top answers.

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  34. Fantasy:
    Poul Anderson - you're right porphyre77! Not only paladins in 3 Hearts & 3 Lions, but cosmic Law vs Chaos conflict a decade before Moorcock.

    Fritz Leiber - ok, I guess his name isn't an unfamiliar one to most readers of this blog, but until one has actually read his Fafrhd & the Mouser yarns, one can hardly imagine how much D&D-type fantasy is going on there.

    C.S. Smith - for his Zothique cycle, especially

    Science Fiction:
    Poul Anderson (again!) - Traveller, anybody?

    Jack Vance - here again, his influence on fanatasy RPGs is unquestioned, but a much larger portion of the Vance corpus is made up of his "Gaean Reach" sci-fi. The Reach is setting which carries over into many, unrelated books, like a campaign setting, of sorts.

    Horror:
    Storm Constantine: I've seen it asserted that hers was an influence on Vampire: the Masquerade - maybe not as great as Anne Rice's - but I cannot confirm it. Since my knowledge of Ms Constantine's work and V:tM is limited and superficial (at best), can anyone else confirm or deny?

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  35. Teofilo Folengo, originator(?) of the multiracial adventuring party; http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=43135&p=916190#p916190 :) (site with the pics gone, sorry)

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  36. Philip Jose Farmer for his Opar stories. Wonderful and evocative picture of antediluvian Africa.

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  37. Some excellent suggestions here. My vote would have to go to Hope Mirlees for her solitary volume Lud in the Mist, which is one of the finest examples of obscure yet influential high fantasy. Reprint has a foreword by Neil Gaiman who states 'Hope Mirrlees only wrote one fantasy novel, but it is one of the finest in the English language'. I'd agree.

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  38. I see no one mentioned Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett (a.k.a. Lord Dunsany.) His "The King of Elfland's Daughter" must be one of the best tales I ever read.

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