Oh Precious, My Precious: Venerating Appendix N

Thursday , 11, August 2016 13 Comments

I want to point out a very common criticism I get. There’s something off about it and I’ve answered parts of this before… but I find it curious that it crops up from people in entirely different domains and from people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Here are the two latest examples if it:

“He seems to treat the Appendix as an authoritative, sacred canon that defines which books of the period are worth taking a look at instead of just a list of titles that Gygax happened to read and enjoy.” — Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens

“We knew, just as with every other ‘recommended reading list’ in every other RPG book ever, that it was just a list one guy made of books he liked, and was mostly a waste of space. I never saw anyone back then treating it as a list of vital importance, much less venerating as a cultlike object of sacred scripture like some idiots in the modern OSR do.” — RpgPundit

Now… I have to say, these are particularly weak arguments. In the first place, we know now that Appendix was not in fact just Gary’s list. It was also compiled very intentionally to achieve a particular purpose. That purpose has a lot to do with why so many people take the time to go back and revisit the works on it today. So if you’re going to claim it’s a “list of titles that Gygax happened to read and enjoy” or “just a list one guy made of books he liked”, you are simply wrong.

Note also that this type of argument doesn’t address any of my claims or generalizations about the seven decades of science fiction and fantasy which it covers. I’ve made scads of them, some stronger than others. But rather than dig into where exactly I might have gone off the rails, it goes the route of insisting that the subject matter is not worth the effort to dig into in the first place. Then comes the corollary: I must have a cult-like obsession causing me to venerate the list and the books on it. Put it another way they’re saying that (a) there’s nothing to see here and (b) there’s something wrong with you if you investigate this.

The thing about this type of argument is that it’s really, really easy to make. It doesn’t require any knowledge of the subject matter. It doesn’t even require the person to hold and defend the correct perspective on the subject matter. What I wonder about is what kind of audacity it takes to make it. It is really this factor that, above all else, tells you everything you need to know about the person that is most attracted to this sort of thing.

The get some perspective on this, consider this short video about the making of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues”:

Man, I love that stuff.

I like how when you get that kind of analysis, you pay attention to things on the track that you were never really conscious of before. I like how knowing some of the details actually changes my opinion of the song, too. Is it mind blowing? Well, not necessarily. I guess if you had no idea that these guys had sung songs referencing somebody named “Thelonious” and some group called “Parker’s Band”, then you might be thrown for a loop. If you weren’t aware of the connection between Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father” and Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose This Number”, then yeah… this could potentially open up a huge voyage of discovery for you.

And maybe most people don’t know about any of this, don’t want to know about any of this, and are perfectly happy listening to Steely Dan (if they do at all) without giving one iota of thought to this sort of thing. But can you imagine, though, someone inserting themselves into that particular conversation in order to convey the message that the musicians and songs that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were referencing in their work were just from a few albums that they happened to enjoy and there’s nothing particularly significant about them…?

It would take someone that is particularly ignorant, incurious, and boorish to really pull it off.

I don’t think you see that sort of behavior in the music scene so much. Anyway, I’ve never seen someone get accused of starting a jazz cult, Church of St. John Coltrane notwithstanding. But that sort of thing is practically de rigueur in fantasy, science fiction, and gaming for some reason. These people act as if this type of investigation is threatening somehow– that the field is their personal safe space and people reading and discussing the wrong things will ruin it for them somehow.

It’s weird. It really is. Normal, healthy people simply don’t behave that way.

13 Comments
  • PCBushi says:

    I get that some people don’t think much of Appendix N. But I don’t get why they feel the need to tear down those who find it a fascinating topic of study. I mean it’s a great body of works and there’s a lot to unpack, be you a bibliophile or a gamer.

    • Jeffro says:

      Castalia House actually has a book on this. This is a behavior pattern common to anyone that is 100% committed to maintaining a narrative.

      Given that Appendix N destroys a good dozen narratives, I would look for this odd line of attack to crop up again.

    • Jeffro says:

      It’s SJW’s Always Lie.

      The chapter on Rhetoric and Dialectic really goes a long way towards explaining what’s happening– and most importantly, how to adapt to it.

      • pcbushi says:

        Ahhh, Vox Day. I thought that title sounded familiar. I know he’s Castalia House and I used to follow him a bit, but the whole alt-right thing turned me off. I’ll give it another look, though, at your recommendation.

  • Tom says:

    Blogger number one lacks all taste — the Tor.com reading was really least effort and refereed scientific measurements, which we all love, show that you came out of it less informed, uglier, and with a reduced IQ compared to when you went started — while blogger two displayed the aggressive stupidity that I’m afraid only certain Americans can properly do. “Nobody’s gonna tell me to read those books by high-falutin egg heads who think they’re so smart!” I’ve never seen that line of argument applied to pulp fiction though, so it seems you can always plumb new depths.

    • Nathan says:

      Having run across the blogger in other forums, it is more likely that he(?) is reflexively anti-Puppy than actually anti-Appendix N.

  • Jon M says:

    Tom, that’s the stupidity of zero-sum thinking. The underlying assumption is that there’s only so much attention to go around, and if Jeffro wasn’t writing about Appendix N books, then he’d be writing about the latest Marxist Tract Dressed in Sci-Fi drag book or Magic Girl struggles with her relationships novel. Those people have a petty, jealous, and spiteful view of the world that they project onto everyone around them. Jeffro has to be silenced because his generosity with his time and love of adventure and truly original stories reminds them of all that they wish they could be, and aren’t.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    I think RPGpundit is in a precarious position in regards to OSR (Old School Roleplaying)

    His career is dependant on selling supplements for OSR play but as Jeffro and many many others have pointed out that OSR play is anathema to supplements. Gygax and other original designers made their games with the intent that DMs would make their own settings and dungeons and monsters even rules. In fact appendix N is intended to supply DMs with a resource for ideas settings and adventures in lue of suppliants.

    The books listed in Appendix N are front and centre in direct competition with sales of RPGpundit’s products for the OSR market especially.

    A person jumping into RPGs and OSR today could easily download some free rule set, read some old books perhaps even a blog post or two from an OSR reviewer **cough jeffro cough** and simply play the game never once sending a dime RPGpundits way.

    He must (at least in his mind) attack it to preserve his position and income. The fact that his attacks on segments of OSR, his literal audience, are similar in tactics used by SJWs is gobsmacking. Using Ghostbusters(2016) as a cautionary tale of what happens when you attack your audience I am wondering if he will double down.

    • Alex says:

      Like I said; I’ve found that a bunch of the best short fiction I’ve read can easily be run as one-off adventures with nothing more than a couple stat-blocs, and that poses a serious danger to the idea of a product-driven OSR.

      What would a gaming group get more use out of? Dark Albion or an 8 page story where, to impress a beautiful lady, young Arthur Pendragon fights a monstrous knight (that turns out to be a shoggoth) plaguing the countryside?

      • T. Everett says:

        In all honesty probably Dark Albion, but that sounds like an amazing story that I would be thrilled to find out actually exists somewhere.

        • cirsova says:

          It’s gonna be the cover story of our winter issue, “The Lady of the Amorous City” by Edward Erdelac.

          (in fairness, I’m working on the assumption that most gaming groups don’t actually ever use settings materials but that most DMs have a lotta fiction on their shelves.)

  • […] here that I want to address. First up, this phrase “books Gygax loved” is really dumb. I’ve been over this before. People from all over the political spectrum reach for this sort of thing when they comment on […]

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