Little Lost, and Much Gained, In Translation


Arma virumque cano…Robert Fagles, who unleashed what some of us consider the supremely Howardian gifts of intensity and immediacy on The Iliad (1990), The Odyssey (1996), and The Aeneid (2006), died this week. Died, save for the imperishable legacy that yet lives and will keep right on flying out of bookstores like the winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (er, that is, if they were noble and tragic).

The classicist Oliver Taplin wrote of the Fagles Iliad that “his narrative has real pace, it presses onward, leading the reader forward with an irresistible flow.” The speed of a cheetah, the spring of a leopard, the strength of a tiger, all in one translator/poet package. A fellow member of the Princeton faculty, Paul Muldoon, remembers Fagles as “a quiet man, diligent and decorous, yet one who was unexpectedly equal to the swagger and savagery of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in a way no one had managed before him. It was as if two key texts of Western literature had been adapted by a director of Westerns like Leone or Peckinpah.” That, O Prince, is high praise indeed.

(Continue reading this post)

Some Rare REHupas on eBay


I haven’t gotten around to auctioning off the rest of my REHupa collection yet — confound it! — but Mark Corrinet is now getting rid of the numerous extra copies he was forced to purchase when building his own collection. Up on eBay right now are four really hard-to-find issues, numbers 63, 64, 83, and 94, all dating back over twenty years. If you’ve ever wanted to acquire some of these, now is a rare chance to do so. My own earliest copies are in the #90s and #100s, so there’s no overlap with Mark’s first batch here. Get ’em while you can, or you may never have another opportunity. You’ve been warned.

Wired does Gygax


Wired has long been the best place to go to on the Internet for extraordinarily deep, well-written essays on issues important to my generation (I still consider one of their pieces, “The Doomslayer” by Ed Regis, the single most devastating essay against modern wacko-environmentalism I’ve ever read). Now Scott Oden has alerted me to their latest triumph, “Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax.” Written by David Kushner, it is far and away the most in-depth and fascinating look at the creator of Dungeons & Dragons we’re ever likely to read, at least until the first full-on biography gets done. (Although not as spot-on about Gygax’s ingenuity as Kushner, Paul La Farge wrote a very fine article in 2006 for The Believer that covers some interesting areas of the story that Kushner glosses over, such as Gygax’s foray into Hollyweird decadence: living in King Vidor’s house in Beverly Hills, striking million-dollar deals, negotiating with a receptive Orson Welles to star in a D&D movie, and cavorting with beauty contestants in his jacuzzi. Who says D&D guys don’t have real-life fun?)

I discovered D&D as a sixth grader while on a week-long Boy Scout camping trip. How wonderful, then, to learn twenty-five years later via this article that D&D was created by men with ingrained sensibilities as patriotically American as apple pie. Witness the moving photo of Gygax the child saluting the flag, and the charming dedication to our country on the reproduced gaming program, which when you think about it was bravely written in the very face of the insane, take-no-prisoners counterculture movement of the late 1960s. And the whole story is infused with a heroic, Horatio Alger-like entrepreneurship — Alger’s pederasty aside, of course — that in its own way is as American as you can get. I marveled at the vast number of serendipitous discoveries Gygax made, the clever ways he seized on and integrated things from all aspects of his life into his imaginative dreamscape: wargames whose history dates back to H. G. Wells and beyond, the otherwise boring insurance company calculations used at his day job, stumbling on a catalogue containing “Platonic solids” such as icosahedrons — transformed by Gygax into twenty-sided dice. And of course, lurking in the background, fueling his drive towards merging fantasy with reality, there was the unforgettable and inspiring stories of Robert E. Howard:

In other war games, each miniature represented a unit — say, 10 or 20 men — and could be destroyed with a single successful attack. Gygax decided to make some of the miniatures in Chainmail represent a single character, designated “hero” or “superhero,” who could only be killed by several attacks. For the hell of it, Gygax included a supplemental set of rules that featured magical fantasy trappings: dragons, elves, wizards, and fireballs. He was a fan of the Conan the Barbarian books by Robert E. Howard and wanted to try to capture that sort of swashbuckling action in a war game.

Best of all, Kushner describes Gygax’s relentless, heroic struggle to let his imagination fly unfettered. He had to organize and fund conventions, endure ostracizing by his wargaming friends (who disdained the heresy of adding fantasy and magic to what they saw as realistic war simulations), and continually invest time, money, and ego on risky ventures with seemingly no chance of ever paying off. Nobody save Dave Arneson seemed to understand what he had — most of his fellow gaming friends didn’t get it, nor did the creative talent at gaming companies like Avalon Hill. My God, to think that Gygax was savvy enough to give the most famous RPG of all time the catchy, evocative, alluring name Dungeons & Dragons based on his gut trust in the effusions of a four-year-old girl! This is true genius at work — one man and a dream changing the world against all odds, step-by-perilous-step. It’s a great American success story, and Wired deserves immense credit for bringing it to light in such a magisterial essay.

Compare Wired‘s intelligent, learned, heartfelt coverage to the tripe Slate published on Gygax, and Kushner and Wired‘s achievement becomes all the more impressive. I’ve long seen online news magazines such as Slate and Salon as sort of anti-Wired, publications that veer all over the map in terms of quality, combining decent articles and opinion peices with monstrosities that cover their subjects in shallow, self-refuting ways. Too often the editors run essays that reek of ignorance and have absolutely nothing to recommend them, items penned by angry, bitter writers who take anarchistic delight in blithely pissing on things that millions of others consider sacred cultural touchstones. From The Searchers to to H. P. Lovecraft, the modus operandi of such authors entails stringing together as many derogatory, disdainful phrasings as they can muster into short attack pieces dripping with hate and scorn for their subjects.

And so it is with Gygax. To offset a decent if rather lackluster obituary by Johnathan Rubin, Slate has published a truly vile, thermonuclear philippic by Eric Sofge that dismisses Dungeons & Dragons as “sociopathic storytelling,” a “collective fantasy of massacre and greed” where poor defenseless Third World minorities like Orcs and Hobgoblins are mercilessly slaughtered by the fantasy equivalent of American imperialists in the name of treasure and experience points. To Sofge, Gygax’s primary contribution to popular culture is his “reprehensible moral universe,” a “small-minded, ignorant fantasy of rage.” Like liberal playwright H. R. Hays’ 1946 New York Times review of Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face and Others that was titled “Superman on a Psychotic Bender,” this peice says far more about the politics and predjudices of the writer than about the worth of the subject. This is Gygax as nothing less than a pony-tailed Josef Mengele, a purveyor of “an endless hobgoblin holocaust.” There is no reason to ask if Sofge possesses any capacity for shame or decorum — just remember his name, and never trust anything he writes ever again.

But do go and read the Wired piece by David Kushner. If you have any interest at all in Gygax or the enormously successful and influential hobby he created, you’ll be touched and charmed by this lengthy, continually absorbing tale. And at the beginning of the article, Wired announces that they have lots more Gygax and D&D material set to be published soon, so keep a lookout for that stuff at their site. And here’s one more column in praise of Gary, this one from game designer Monte Cook, whose thoughts largely mirror my own.

Gygax in The Independent


Here’s a nice article in London’s Independent on the recently deceased co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m not just saying that because I get name-checked in it. Money quote:

D&D, in the popular imagination, is for geeks, the nerds, the unpopular kids at school, the ones whose mothers fed them in their bedrooms, otherwise they wouldn’t eat: losers, fit only to be sneered at by the cool kids.

But the geeks are now running the world, while the cool kids are sitting in vast fluorescent hangars in post-industrial hardship zones, calling you on behalf of Capital One in connection with your account; or wondering if you’d like fries with that.

Back in the 1970s, before PCs, Gygax was the uncool kids’ saviour.

World Fantasy Award Judges Announced


And they are: Peter Coleborn, Robert Hoge, Dennis L. McKiernan, Mark Morris, and Steve Pasechnick.

Full details here.

If you attended or supported the 2006 Austin Convention, this is the last year you are eligible to vote under that membership. You’ll either receive a ballot in the mail, or else you can email your choices to Rodger Turner. Granted, the chances of anything about REH winning are nil — it was McKiernan, after all, who sat on the REH panel in 2006 with David Drake, where the two of them blackjacked REH as a “parochial” and “pedestrian” writer, a mere “child’s author” (thankfully, as described in TC V3n11, the other two panelists were [redacted] and Howard Andrew Jones, who rose to the occassion.) But getting nominated is its own reward.

You can nominate up to five people in each category, and one caveat is that while you don’t have to nominate for every category, you at least have to do so for more than one. Another is that you can only nominate living persons (so no votes for REH himself, alas.)

Let’s once again get out the vote for Howard fandom. Leo Grin for The Cimmerian will be running in the Special Award — Non Professional category if you are so inclined, and other possibilities I can think of include:

Life Achievement — Glenn Lord for fifty years of Robert E. Howard research, scholarship, and editing.
Artist — Jim and Ruth Keegan for their work illustrating 2007’s Best of Robert E. Howard volumes from Del Rey.
Special Award Professional — Rusty Burke, for editing Del Rey’s 2007 Best of Robert E. Howard volumes.
(part of the nominating process includes mailing samples of your work to the judges, so let’s hope Jim and Rusty get on the stick and do that for themselves.)

So take a few minutes to email Rodger Turner your ballot, and do your part to ensure that REH is well-represented at the fantasy field’s premier awards show. Voting deadline is June 8.

The Dungeonmaster Has Died


Gary Gygax, 1938–2008

(hat tip: Jonah Goldberg and John J. Miller at NRO and Will Greenwald at Crave)

One of the seminal influences in fantasy in the twentieth century has left us for Valhalla. Gygax was a giant, a man whose enthusiasm and sense of adult play took a weird cerebral offshoot of board and strategy games and turned it into an accessible, endlessly stimulating, life-changing mythology for the Star Wars/Lancer Conan/”Frodo Lives!” generation of the 1970s and 80s. Those of us who risked life, limb, and reputation carrying our Player’s Handbooks and Monster Manuals cover-out through the hallways of Catholic school owe to him a large part of our imagination and happiness during those years.

As expressed in Bill Cavalier’s Gygax-heavy “The Other REH Days” in The Cimmerian V4n5, Gary created his game out of a host of fantasy influences, many of them writers long since forgotten in modern circles, and as a result D&D had the effect of introducing a whole new generation to the likes of REH, Leiber, Vance, and (despite Gygax’s protestations) Tolkien. I discovered D&D on the same Boy Scout camping trip that introduced me to The Two Towers, and life has never been the same since. And although I haven’t played the game since high school over twenty years ago, in terms of cultural and imaginative influence it has never been far from my mind. It was D&D that led me to fantasy as a genre, D&D that lured me to films like Conan the Barbarian and Excalibur and then to Robert E. Howard and classic mythology, D&D that forged for me the best friendships of my youth, D&D that spurred me to want to write and create in the realms of the magical and fantastic. For better or worse — let us be charitable and say mostly for the better — D&D is responsible for many of the tropes of modern fantasy literature. The open-ended nature of role-playing campaigns surely trained readers to crave longer and more numerous books than Tolkien’s trilogy, and the mashing together of various styles within a D&D game had much to do with the way later authors developed their fictional worlds. More than a few writers began their successful book series not as short stories or outlines but as D&D campaigns, with worlds and heroes built up over many years of gaming before ever being set into prose.

I met Gygax just once, at Gen Con in 1987. At the time he was on the outs in the industry, having been effectively shit-canned from his own company, TSR, and forced to eke out his role-playing living developing new, ultimately unsuccessful games on his own, trying vainly to make cultural lightening strike twice. Painfully shy but I suppose somewhat less so than many in the Milwaukee Convention Center on that day, I walked up to him and proffered a copy of his novel Sea of Death for autographing, mumbling something about how much I liked it. He was warm and gracious, and if I had possessed any social skills in those days I may have struck up a conversation about any number of subjects. But I didn’t — I ran back to my Mom and walked away, leaving him sitting there alone in a Hawaiian shirt, just another booth guy watching the teeming hordes of teenaged boys and older ex-hippies walk by, a king invisible in the kingdom he built. Things got better for him in his later years, as TSR was rescued from its suicidally bad post-Gygax management, and both it and Gen Con fell into the arms of people — Peter Adkison prime among them — who understood the peculiar imaginative alchemy which lies at the heart of D&D’s appeal, and who greatly respected the mind of the man who had conjured it into a post-Vietnam America, an America that in hindsight desperately needed it.

There doubtless will be memorials galore for Gygax throughout this year, culminating at Gen Con in August, but I had to get this little paean out as soon as I heard the news. William Buckley, the founder of National Review, died last week. It’s not out of line to say that Gygax was the WFB of fantasy, a guy who never ran for president or fought a world war, but whose vision and philosophy made a movement out of vast groups of scattered and disheartened peoples, one gamer–one author–one visionary at a time. “The material is herein,” Gygax wrote in his Introduction to the first edition of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, “but only you can construct the masterpiece from it.” Ever enticing, ever encouraging, ever dreaming the boldest and bravest dreams. That is the legacy of Gary Gygax, and it lives in the hearts of millions of people around the world.

UPDATE: If you’d like to send your regards and well wishes to the Gygax family, their friends have set up an email account at (hat tip: Scott Oden)

UPDATE II: The New York Times ran a good obit that was smart enough to mention Robert E. Howard in the same breath with Tolkien as the major precursors to D&D.

UPDATE III: John J. Miller at National Review Online calls this Gygax post “a wonderful tribute,” Tigerhawk says it’s “a very evocative remembrance,” the AOL Political Machine’s Justin Paulette considers it “a notable obituary,” and Howard Jones, managing editor of the best fantasy fiction magazine publishing these days, Black Gate, has picked it up as part of a Gygax symposium due to run on their website this Sunday. It’s nice to see that so many others share my thoughts and feelings about one of the greatest proselytizers of imagination in my lifetime.

UPDATE IV: For those in the Wisconsin area, here are the funeral arrangements, courtesy of RPG.Net (hat tip: Scott Oden):

Visitation is on Saturday, March 8 at 11 AM at:

Haase Derrick Lockwood Funeral Home
800 Park Drive
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(282) 248-2031

A Funeral Service will follow at 2:00 PM, also at the Haase Derrick Lockwood Funeral Home.

In the evening, there will be an informal gathering to remember Gary with food and beverages. Time and location to be determined.

UPDATE V: This bit from Ansible #248, which hints at why David Langford has won nineteen Best Fan Writer Hugos in a row: “E. Gary Gygax (1938-2008), US game designer and fantasy novelist best known for his creation (with Dave Arneson) of the original, enormously influential Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, died on 4 March aged 69. I liked the on-line suggestion that fans should club together to build him a vast tomb full of the deadliest imaginable traps.” (hat tip: Don Herron)

V5n1 erratum


Just a quick note to those of you digging into the new issue: on page 18 of Steve’s essay appears the following quote from the REH story “Wild Water”:

Now he could see the headlights glinting through the trees like a pair of angry eyes. The eyes of the Law, he thought sardonically, and hugged himself with venomous glee.

Unfortunately Steve’s follow-up line, “The throwback has been thrown forward, into a dispiriting present that barely masks a dystopian future,” was inadvertently formatted to look like a part of the REH quote rather than separate from it. So when you hit that line, make the necessary mental adjustment. “The throwback…” is Steve talking, not REH.