Tales of Fantasy: The Fantasy Canon Coloring Book

Friday , 8, January 2016 14 Comments

Gaiseric over at The Dark Heritage blog has a great post that sheds some light on the relationship between Appendix N and the fantasy canon as it stood during the mid-seventies:

One point that Jeffro has made repeatedly, but which still seems to bypass the thought processes of many, is that the Appendix N is not meant to be a generic survey of the fantasy genre as it existed in the early 70s—it’s meant to be a specific catalog of works that influenced the design of D&D. This can be seen in the perennial debates about why such and such work was “missing” from the Appendix, such as the aforementioned Clark Ashton Smith, or more infamously, Ursula Le Guin.

To sort this sort of thing out, it sure would be nice if we had similar lists from about the same time period in order to compare them. I’m partial to the fantasy works that were imported to Italy back then. But Gaiseric points out, oddly enough, a coloring book…!

For another take on what the “corpus” of fantasy fiction could have been, to fans of the genre, my own interpretation was heavily influenced by Troubador Press’ Tales of Fantasy. This was published in 1975 completely independently of anything going on in D&D, was meant to be exactly that—a brief take on what the canon was of the fantasy genre. Not that it was meant to be comprehensive, of course, but it was meant to be an initial survey; a list of the ground-breaking works that established the genre, by and large.

Now that’s a nice list there. Pretty cool seeing Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lord Dunsany side by side with the classics!

The thing that strikes me is that Atlantis is a major entry there. A lot of the pulp writers would tie their stuff to that mythical place one way or another. Although H. P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Philip José Farmer, and Edgar Rice Burroughs all treated it as a first class world building element, referencing it seems to have dropped off quite a bit in the past few decades. I think the reason for that is that fantasy used to be much more grounded in history and myth… but today it tends to take place in a distinct Never Never Land with not even a passing connection to the real world.

14 Comments
  • Aeoli Pera says:

    John C. Wright would be an exception to this rule, probably because of all the reading he’s done.

    • Jeffro says:

      The guy was practically marinated in Appendix N and is one of the few authors today that I would say is genuinely in conversation with the classics of sff.

  • Gaiseric says:

    Interesting that it kind of comes full circle; Troubador Press later, in collaboration with Gygax (who wrote the text) published the official AD&D Coloring Album a few years later.

    They were an interesting bunch. I don’t know if there’s a market anymore for “artisan” coloring books printed on heavy cardstock, with fairly serious artists doing the work, and text that isn’t really meant for children. When I discovered those old Troubador Press books at about 11-12 years old, they were a gold mine of awesomeness

    • For the last month or so, at least, there certainly has been – Adult Coloring Books were actually something of a trendy gift this past Christmas. Many appeared to be geometric or floral designs marketed as meditation or relaxation aids, but I’ve seen others that are tie-ins to modern media – fantasy media, even, as the Official Game of Thrones Coloring Book is definitely a thing.

  • Alex says:

    I think that the mounting evidence that at best Atlantis was a historical allegory based on Crete to warn the Athenians about the risks facing maritime powers hurt it as being considered “silly” and “unserious”. It may be similar to what happened to planetary adventure stories when people started complaining about how unscientific it was for assorted moons of Saturn to be full of dames.

    • Ostar says:

      Well, what else should the moons of Saturn be full of? Damn kids and their newfangled scientific realism! Get off my Saturn lawn….

  • Your last line is spot on, and for me at the heart of the problem of so much modern fantasy. It exists in its own little self-referential bubble with no connection to any other realms, real or fictional.

  • Eric Ashley says:

    I think Atlantis existed. Immediately after Babel’s Dispersion, it was founded below Spain back when the Great Ice covered most of Europe.

    The Great Ice melted at the end of the Bronze Age, and the seas rose, and the Movement of the Sea Peoples kicked in as Atlantaens and a bunch of other coast dwellers went looking for new homes.

    Another good time for historically rooted fantasy would be Pre-Flood… Madeline L’Engle did one of her Swiftly Tilting Planet sequels in that time.

    She seemed to think that the orginal humans were Pygmy or so tall, but breeding with fallen angels created the Nephilim, and introduced into the general human genome, the taller, more brutal tendencies of the Nephilim.

  • Blue SFF Reader says:

    Only tangentially related, but check out the writers for a number of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” episodes from 1969/1970-1972. No small number of Appendix N authors there.

    (Episodes by Season Links)

    Ray Bradbury showed up with writing credits in several “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episodes. Might be interesting to look over the original “Twilight Zone”, “Outer Limits”, and other space opera & horror radio and TV credits to see what is there to highlight the flavor of the late 50s to early 70s that influenced Gygax and others in game development.

  • Daniel says:

    In a hole in the ground there lived a snobbit. A nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, or else a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it but a broken sofa to sit down and Doritos to eat: it was a snobbit-hole, and that means post-modern.

    Unless a current fantasy is derided by our modern Mentat Masters of Assassins as “out of touch” and “tired” it is little more than the ghost of an abortion.

    Give me out of touch and tired every day of the week. The most exhausted and addled of all at the moment is Wright, although Wolfe is still punching, so of course he’s #1 alive.

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