Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Forest of Enchantment

Look on my works, ye grognards, and despair!
I mark the end of D&D's Golden Age at 1983 for a number of reasons, but one of them is that '83 is when the vast majority of weird licensed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons products begin to flood the market. (It's probably not a coincidence that, during this same period, Gary Gygax was in the midst of his exile to Hollywood, as well as in the midst of a rancorous divorce from his first wife.) By comparison to beach towels, wood-burning sets, and needlepoint patterns, AD&D-branded storybooks seem positively benign. Only a heartless curmudgeon like me could hate this stuff, right?
Take a look at the credits. It's published by Marvel, illustrated by Earl Norem (best known for painting the covers of men's adventure magazines in the '50s and '60s, though he also did plenty of work for Marvel, including The Savage Sword of Conan), and written by Bob Stine – known to a later generation of children under the name R.L. Stine. 

The book tells the story of Caruso the elf bard and his fellow elf Filaree the druid as they attempt to foil the machinations of the sorcerer Kellek, his master Warduke, and their army of lizard men, who are using the titular forest as a staging ground for ambushing Princess Mirra so as to steal the magical Ruby of the Seven Stars from her. I've read fantasy novels with worse plots than this, but that's hardly a vote in favor of The Forest of Enchantment. 
No doubt there were many children whose first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons was through this book. No doubt some of them eventually went on to buy and play the RPG. If so, that's great! But I hope I can be forgiven for finding the whole thing faintly ridiculous and even a little embarrassing. I fortunately never came across this book at the time. If I had, I imagine I'd have had even stronger words to say about it.


  1. Earl Norem (1923-2015) is is one of my favorite fantasy artists. His talents were sadly underserved here.

    I've grown jaded with regard to comics, but if Marvel & Hasbro teamed up to put out a SAVAGE SWORD OF WARDUKE magazine done in the style of '70s Conan, only a little more Moorcockian and a lot more anti-heroic, I would buy that in a heartbeat.

  2. I remember reading this when it appeared. I knew it wasn't quite the D&D I was used to, but I did enjoy it.

  3. It's always struck me as bizarre that TSR developed two different sets of "D&D IP for kids" in the 80s - the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" line (as seen in this book, the LJN toys, module AC1 and XL1, etc.), and the "Dungeons & Dragons" cartoon characters on the other - and that there was very little crossover between them (IIRC Strongheart the Paladin and maybe one or two of the other LJN characters showed up in one or two episodes of the cartoon show, but that's it).

    It's especially weird since the game-line separation that might have explained it wasn't observed on either side - all of the game products that included the "AD&D" LJN characters were for the D&D game (which required some dubious conversions - "Zarak the Evil Half-Orc Assassin" becoming "Zarak the Chaotic Thief") while 4 of the 6 "D&D" cartoon characters were based on AD&D classes (acrobat, barbarian, cavalier, and ranger).

    MAYBE the idea was that the cartoon show was geared at slightly younger kids than the toys (like 7-8 vs 9-10) but subdividing the "pre-D&D" audience so finely seems dubious, especially since TSR also had the Endless Quest choose-your-own-books that also served that "pre-D&D" audience (and included its own distinct sets of characters).

    And then on top of that when TSR started publishing novels they introduced new sets of characters (Dragonlance and Gord) and the D&D movie they were trying to sell (both the first version by James Goldman and the later one by Gygax and Dille) had yet another set of new, disconnected characters.

    I suppose the case could be made that having so many different sets of characters helped emphasize that D&D wasn't just a single story or set of characters but was effectively an entire genre, but in practice it just seems scattered and confusing and at cross purposes with itself, and seems to underline the fact that the people at TSR really didn't know what they were doing and the meteoric success they had in 1980-82 was almost totally accidental and when they tried to build on and expand it to make the leap from hobbyist semi-pros into the big leagues that they botched it and shot themselves in the feet over and over and over.

    And yet, for all the hindsight judgment and teeth-gnashing about how they didn't handle things differently, the notion of 80s-era TSR as a bunch of unprofessional hobbyist game-players in WAY over their heads trying (and mostly failing) to control a runaway train is very charming and romantic and so much more appealing and interesting to me than the current Hasbro corporate model where everything is done by teams and committees and market-tested and is totally commodified and soulless product. Gary Gygax was "one of us" who struck gold. The current staff at WotC is mostly former Microsoft, EA, and Amazon guys who might as well be manufacturing widgets.

    1. I completely agree with the sentiments of your last paragraph. That sums up my feelings on the matter quite closely.

  4. I remember Kelek from the D&D cartoon, which also featured Warduke. I know Warduke went on to appear many times in various products; did Kelek appear anywhere else other than the cartoon and this book?

    1. There's a second storybook, in which he also appears. I'll probably post some pictures of that later.