2017/07/20

Appendix N vs The Great Books

D&D 1st ed DMG

Just for fun, I've decided to post excerpts from the plot synopses of three books from the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest British Novels and three books from Appendix N. I made my selections at random by rolling d%.

Now, if you'll indulge my decidedly un-scientific methods, let's begin the experiment. Can you tell which books excite modernist literary critics and which inspired Dungeons & Dragons?
1) a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard gets drunk on rum-laced furmity and argues with his wife, Susan. He decides to auction off his wife and baby daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, to a sailor, Mr. Newson, for five guineas. Sober the next day, he is too late to recover his family. When he realises that his wife and daughter are gone, he swears not to touch liquor again for as many years as he has lived so far.
2) The eponymous hero is born as a male nobleman in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. He undergoes a mysterious change of sex at the age of about 30 and lives on for more than 300 years into modern times without aging perceptibly.
3) Holger Carlsen is an American-trained Danish engineer who joins the Danish Resistance to the Nazis. At the shore near Elsinore he is among the group of resistance fighters trying to cover the escape to Sweden of an important scientist (evidently, the nuclear physicist Niels Bohr). With a German force closing in, Carlsen is shot - and suddenly finds himself carried to a parallel universe, a world where Northern European legend concerning Charlemagne ("The Matter of France") is real.
4) Dorothea Brooke appears set for a comfortable and idle life as the wife of neighbouring landowner Sir James Chettam, but to the dismay of her sister Celia and her uncle Mr Brooke, she marries The Reverend Edward Casaubon. Expecting fulfilment by sharing in his intellectual life, Dorothea discovers his animosity towards her ambitions during an unhappy honeymoon in Rome. Realising his great project is doomed to failure, her feelings change to pity. Dorothea forms a warm friendship with a young cousin of Casaubon's, Will Ladislaw, but her husband's antipathy towards him is clear and he is forbidden to visit. In poor health, Casaubon attempts to extract from Dorothea a promise that, should he die, she will "avoid doing what I should deprecate and apply yourself to do what I desire". He dies before she is able to reply, and she later learns of a provision to his will that, if she marries Ladislaw, she will lose her inheritance.
5) The novel concerns American Leif Langdon who discovers a warm valley in Alaska. Two races inhabit the valley, the Little People and a branch of an ancient Mongolian race; they worship the evil Kraken named Khalk'ru which they summon from another dimension to offer human sacrifice. The inhabitants recognize Langdon as the reincarnation of their long dead hero, Dwayanu. Dwayanu's spirit possesses Langdon and starts a war with the Little People. Langdon eventually fights off the presence of Dwayanu and destroys the Kraken.
6) Forced to flee his city of Melnibone, Elric and his sorcerous blade Stormbringer journey through barren hills to the edge of a black sea. Elric finds a dark ship and begins a voyage that will bring him face-to-face with all the champions Time can summon--and more.
OK, that last one especially is a no-brainer. Scanning those synopses, I'm reminded of something that John C. Wright said: "Science fiction is about an ordinary man having extraordinary adventures in a strange new world. Literary fiction is about an ordinary man doing nothing in his own back yard."

Here's one more book blurb you might be interested in:
Do you love classics like Frank Herbert or HP Lovecraft? Get this.Do you have fond memories of Pen/Pencil games? Get this.Do you just want to have a hell of a ride? Get this.

15 comments:

  1. For a literary fiction list, that one is actually somewhat readable. Still it seems to lack some major players in British literature. The lack of a single work of either Chesterton and Kipling is rather noticeable, as it the over inclusion of 20th and even 21st century works that nobody reads but everyone praises to look smart.

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    1. Nice catch re: Chesterton and Kipling.

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  2. ‘“Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is – what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is – what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of ‘The Dragon's Grandmother’, in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, defy another kind, ‘parcere subjectis et debellare’, etc. Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and giants had two heads. But your modern literature takes insanity as its centre. Therefore, it loses the interest even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious; that is what makes him a lunatic. A man who thinks he is a piece of glass is to himself as dull as a piece of glass. A man who thinks he is a chicken is to himself as common as a chicken. It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. Therefore, these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extraordinary and the tale ordinary – so ordinary – oh, so very ordinary.”’ —G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

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    1. That explains why the BBC barred Chesterton from their list.

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  3. "I made my selections at random by rolling d%."

    Old School. This is it.

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    1. You'll be interested to know that the Soul Cycle RPG I'm working on is percentile-based.

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  4. Synopses 1, 2, and 4 yield a Zero-Action State in the reader's brain, and give no hint of future action or any promised FUN. Non-pulp.

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  5. "When he realises that his wife and daughter are gone, he swears not to touch liquor again for as many years as he has lived so far."

    Because that's a protagonist I can get behind. Someone who sold his family away and just lets it go. Truly a man made of sturdy stuff.

    Pulp would be him trying to get them back by any means, while fighting against his vices.

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    1. It gets worse. Much worse.

      That book is one of the three responsible for nearly killing my love of reading in high school.

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    2. I don't think I can stomach modern books anymore. When I got back into reading a few years back I read through The Idiot, and A Tale of Two Cities, but utterly died on Middlemarch.

      Just couldn't do it.

      The first two had spiritual, moral, and mortal concerns to keep me engaged. I lost interest in Middlemarch on page 2. Since then I see a description like those and I just wonder why anyone would waste their time with books like that.

      Real classics are Prisoner of Zenda, the 39 Steps, Dumas, and the Man Who Was Thursday. Once you go adventure, you don't go back.

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    3. So true that once you get into adventure everything else is just bland oatmeal. I read some of Romans (a little bit of the grates de Roland and Reynard me regard stories and 5hwy're so much fun to read

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    4. It's almost like the lit-fic crowd wants people to hate books.

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    5. If plummeting tradpub SF sales are any indication, they've succeeded.

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    6. JD
      It's one of the reason I don't read in English that much. Unless it's the latest Tom Clancy or Brad Thor. Or the stuff that you guys publish. I finished reading Aye Robot and and enjoyed it very much. I want to read Brian's Soul cycle ( I have books 1 and 3 but not )I also want to set some time to read the Wrongthink set of books I received.
      Even if some of the books I read I won't be a fan at least I'll appreciate the effort and not being lectured at for being a deplorable

      xavier

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