For Appendix N Fans

As regular readers may recall, I am something of the fan of the books and authors listed in Appendix N of Gary Gygax’s Appendix to the old rulebook for Dungeons and Dragons. You may also recall that Jeffro Johnson did a series of articles about the Appendix N books, and wrote with such verve and insight that he netted himself a Hugo nomination.

I was fascinated by some of his observations, particularly about Christianity and Elves and the difference between these staples of 1960-1970 science fantasy, and the current generation of rather more bland books.

In what might be the beginning of an entire literary movement, or a rite of passage, one Rawle Nyanzi has vowed a mighty vow to read one or more books from each of the authors or series mentioned by Gary Gygax, and review the books one by one.

It should prove an interest window into an era of the not long past, when science fantasy and fairy stories were more rare and more robust creatures.

I noticed something different right away: the book strongly emphasizes Christianity, though it does not try to convert the reader in any way. Christianity was central to the culture of the Middle Ages, and Anderson has it seep into everything in the setting; holy icons are especially effective against fairy folk, for example, and prayers protect against some forms of magic. Even the conflict between Christianity and Islam plays a role in the plot, though it is not the main focus.

The characters prove to be simple, but distinct — the dwarf Hugi is blunt and practical, while the swan-may Alianora is helpful and devoted. Holger encounters the legendary witch Morgan Le Fay, who opposes him not through fights, but through seduction and cunning; Holger has to conquer himself as much as he had to conquer his enemies.

Anderson also shows that he knows the old folktales on a very deep level, interweaving them into crucial plot points throughout the entire novel — it made the tale feel deep and full. It was nothing at all like the fantasy stuff I was used to, where a legendary figure’s name would be used without capturing any of that character’s substance. It did not treat European folklore as a grab-bag of powers and names to use simply because they sounded cool; I could tell that this story came from the pen of someone who truly loved these tales.


Read the whole thing. The review, and by all means the Poul Anderson book.