Monday, December 1, 2008

Zagyg's gate to Barsoom

In E. Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, I noticed that part of one of the room descriptions reads as follows:

If the CK desires, this cave can serve as a gateway to a SMALL RED PLANET (not unlike Mars), where a lesser gravity is in effect and where 4-armed green giants, blue men resembling plants, huge albino apes, and six-legged riding beasts dwell; the world by and large ruled by the green giants and various colors of humanoids. The Castle Keeper can either develop such a setting whole cloth, utilizing any and all appropriate fictional resources as inspiration (such as the novel John Carter of Mars by E.R. Burroughs) or wait until such a supplementary adventure to the Castle Zagyg pruduct line is released.

Did Gary loose his marbles in his final days when he wrote this? Absolutely not. In fact, it's entirely consistent. And very deliberate. Furthermore, the Peter Bradley cover illustration of the Mouths of Madness booklet included in Upper Works is a scene depicting the cave that connects to said gate to Barsoom.

James Maliszewski, in many of his recent blog entries over at Grognardia, has been discussing the various literary influences upon the work of Gygax. As James has pointed out, Gary was not influenced by Tolkien when he created his fantasy role-playing game. Instead, he was very much influenced by pulp fantasy writers such a Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, and many others. Edgar Rice Burroughs is also one of the authors that Gygax cited as inspiration in the appendex of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Many gamers assume that Tolkien's popularity in the 1960s and '70s was the impetus for D&D's invention. I confess that I made this assumption for a long time. Several years ago I discovered that this was not the case at all.

I've read Tolkien, of course. And I've read a few other fantasy novels. But not many of them. It's about time I took that dive into Gary's reading list. For me, it's long overdue.


PatrickWR said...

Barsoom....or Carcosa.

AccidentalFraser said...

Gygax not inspired by Tolkien? I think you need to read this:

M.gunnerQuist said...

Gygax not inspired by Tolkien?

You are right. I should have said that he "was not entirely influenced by Tolkien."

Yes, Gygax did list The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a source of inspirational reading. But those four books were not the only ones on that list. And they were far from being the most important.

I see little evidence in Gygax's writings that he was very interested in the dogma of Tolkien's theories regarding fairy-stories. Nor do I see any indication that Gygax envisioned for player-characters a Judeo-Christian template of the Hero's Journey as presented by Tolkien in the The Lord of the Rings.

Instead, what I see is a game that is built around the concept of gaining wealth and might through adventure and battle. Not epic quests that test the moral strength of the heroes.

AccidentalFraser said...

Thanks for addressing my comment.

Just out of interest, which books would you consider more important to D&D? I ask because I see a huge footprint of Tolkien on D&D which isn't matched by any other single source. Aspects of D&D are touched by Leiber, REH and Vance, but those contributions, in my opinion, are to specific areas whereas Tolkien's influence seems much more widespread.

I agree that EGG was not following Tolkien's literary theories on fantasy and its roles. As for the theme of the adventuring party, the interesting thing is the multi-racial aspect of the D&D adventuring party, which is not found in any of the formative fantasy literature which I have read. It may be there, I just haven't seen it. As to the Campbellian aspects of LotR, I honestly don't agree with much of that thesis, though I think it is an interesting literary exercise.

As for the purpose of parties, while the experience system does reward combat and treasure accumulation, I do not recall anything indicating that the game concept precludes the type of quest as found in the Hobbit (which does have a lot of gaining wealth and might through adventure and battle) or LotR (which might have some moral quandaries but also has plenty of adventure and battle, including in an underground complex). Perhaps the initial releases had a clearer mission statement.

It just seems to me that much of the discussion of Gygax and Tolkien includes a fair amount of revisionism. That is based on the information I have at hand, which is nothing that is not available in the public domain. I have no special knowledge, and I stand ready to be corrected.


M.gunnerQuist said...

I recommend that you read Grognardia and what James has to say about this subject.

Robert Fisher said...

TSR published miniature rules for Barsoom.

The original D&D booklets reference Mars.

Indeed, there are tales of Ernie Gygax’s PC journeying to Barsoom in the original Greyhawk campaign.

This gateway is as much authentic Greyhawk as anything.