Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Appendix N Madness Day 22: Tolkien vs Leiber

Despite some late tightening, Edgar Rice Burroughs defeated Lord Dunsany and will continue to take on H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos in Round 3.

Day 22 of Appendix N Madness is one of the match-ups I have anticipated ever since I set up the bracket: J.R.R. Tolkien versus Fritz Leiber.

J.R.R. Tolkien

The "party line" about the development of Dungeons & Dragons is that J.R.R. Tolkien is less important than other influences on the game. Which sounds very nice, but it wasn't just an accident that OD&D had dwarves, elves, hobbits, orcs, goblins, ents, Nazgûl, and Balrogs. Gary Gygax was said prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, which is totally fair and valid, but Tolkien was a huge influence on the players, especially once D&D got out of the narrow circles around Dave and Gary. I also think the cease & desist letters of the late 1970s caused some of this to be political.

Tolkien's reputation is solidly on his world-building. Middle-Earth has a deep history built up over a lifetime, and it really shows through in The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately the 1977 Silmarillion is possibly the worst way to package to the backstory; it is literally an annalistic history overlaid on top of a written summary, and comes off resembling the writing of the Bible in a negative way. The earliest drafts in The Book of Lost Tales are in rough form but make much more entertaining reads. The recent fix-up books, The Children of Húrin, and with any luck the forthcoming Beren & Lúthien, are far more accessible forms of the great stories Tolkien invented.

It is remarkable that you can actually learn enough Quenya or Sindarin to write some poetry in the languages. This was Tolkien's great passion, and the languages of Middle-Earth are quite beautiful creations in their own. "Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen, yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron!" (Namarië, written in Quenya) or "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, silivren penna míriel, o menel aglar elenath!" (A Elbereth Gilthoniel, written in Sindarin)

Fritz Leiber

Like his father, Fritz Leiber was a Shakespearean actor. This shows through in his lucid and evocative prose, and his rapier-quick wit. Among Appendix N authors, only Jack Vance had a similar knack for sentences that you could read for pleasure on their own.

Leiber created two exceptional things. One was the pair of friends that he envisioned, tall barbarian Fafhrd and small swarthy Mouser. Their partnership and work together is legendary. Over the years Leiber created a full lifetime of their adventures, and clearly reflected a partnership that changed and grew. Even when they were rivals like in "Lean Times in Lankhmar" they still looked out for one another in a way. It's quite touching that their friendship was based on Leiber and Harry Otto Fischer's real-world friendship.

But even more impressive is the city that was a constant hub for their adventures. Lankhmar, the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes, with its Thieves Guild and the Silver Eel and Plaza of Dark Delights and the Street of the Gods and the Gods of Lankhmar. The city is a character in itself, one of the greatest cities in fantasy literature. Both of D&D's biggest cities, Greyhawk and Waterdeep, are clearly reflections (or if you prefer, cheap knockoffs) of Lankhmar through their individual creators. Some places in Nehwon are interesting, such as the underground city of Quarmall (a great mega-dungeon inspiration), but Lankhmar looms over all of them.

You can vote in the poll here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on posts older than two days will not appear until approved.