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.