The Truth About Gary Gygax’s “Personal Favorites”

Friday , 6, January 2017 11 Comments

People that have no idea what Appendix N really is are quick to leap to conclusions about it. Rather than reading the stories singled out on it, they instead start making up their own:

The list was, instead, a collection of works that were personal favorites of Gary Gygax, and from all indications were the books that he had grown up loving, as the original list was heavy on pulp fiction that had been published prior to 1970, and quite light on any other fiction.

Never mind that it’s not just Gary’s list. Other gaming luminaries had a say in what went on it. Never mind the fact that the old pulp stories were printed and reprinted alongside contemporary works during the sixties and seventies. Never mind that this is the stuff that everybody was reading back when fantasy role-playing was hitting tabletops for the first time.

The thing about those books that’s most striking…? They’re just so danged good! So many authors, so many classic tales…! It’s some of the best stuff ever written. You don’t just read these books to find out why Dungeons & Dragons was designed the way it was. You don’t just read them to see what fantasy and science fiction was like before they became a mass market phenomenon. No, you read these books… and then you are shocked that nobody ever told you to read them!

But don’t just take my word for it. Suzannah Rowntree read 113 books this year. She’s got impeccable taste. She’s a top book blogger writing some of the best reviews you’ll find anywhere. Which piece of fiction took the prize for being the best of the best…? Why… an obscure little title that few of us would have even heard of had not Gary Gygax and company created such a fascinating time capsule for us to stumble across!

As you know, I’ve been living and breathing Crusader history for the last two years, and The High Crusade (see my full review!) probably did better than any other book I read this year (with the sole exception of actual original source materials like Letters from the East or The Song of Roland) at expressing the delightful quirks and contradictions of the medieval character.

Also, knights versus aliens. How could anything be better?

It’s awesome. It really is. And it held up against not just a bunch of trashy drug store paperbacks. It’s superior to the vast majority of stuff that came after.

How can that be…?

The sort of people that put together the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game had a firm grasp of what constituted the science fiction and fantasy canon. They had such voracious appetites for books, they really were familiar with the best works that came out between 1912 and 1977. Appendix N was the canon then… and it still is today.

11 Comments
  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    No, you read these books… and then you are shocked that nobody ever told you to read them!

    I wish I had read those growing up! At least I had the Redwall series, which was pretty darn good.

  • HP says:

    I would have devoured these as a kid, but hardly anything from Appendix N would have been on the shelves at the local mall Waldenbooks.

  • PCBushi says:

    I was also pleasantly surprised to see the High Crusade as her top pick for the year. I hope she gets into more of the classic stuff in 2017.

  • Alex says:

    Over 90% of my Appendix N reading has come in the form of old paperbacks and pulp mags. The only things I have off the top of my head that was published since the 80s is a B&N edition John Carter omnibus and a couple Del Ray Lovecraft collections I had before I got the 6 volume ArkhamHouse hardback run.

    Rawle’s right: if you were growing up in the 90s, you just didn’t see a lot of this stuff, but you’d better believe that there was an entire shelf devoted to Dragonlance, Shannara, and Wheel of Time.

  • Ostar says:

    I can confirm this – I was a teen in the 70’s and I read much of Appendix N before Appendix N even existed. As did my father, brothers, cousins, uncles, friends…

  • Jeff says:

    Maybe some enterprising publishing house should investigate the possibility of publishing the Appendix N books and stories. Would be great to have these a e-books and/or a collector’s series.

    • Dadfy Warpig says:

      Much of them are in the Public Domain, so there’s no legal obstacle to reprinting them.

    • Alex says:

      Like Warpig says, a lot of them are public domain. The biggest problem with those are the mercenary editions that will just throw whatever txt file contents into an ebook or a barely formatted paperback.

      For the project i’ve been working on the last couple months to put together a 70th anniversary edition of Brackett’s Stark novellas, the first major step has been to go back and correct the available digital texts against the original PS scans to try to fix stuff introduced by whatever process used to get them. While there are less errors than you’d think, it’s something I want to be very careful about.

  • Jon Mollison says:

    Oddly enough, I read a chunk of these in high school because it was all I could afford. You could get paperbacks for a quarter at the used book sales. All those shelves were loaded with 70s anthologies and reprints.

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