Romanticise Your Walks, by Eva McLean

[On 24 February the Centre held an event we called ‘The Immanent Grove’, in celebration of the achievements of the University of Glasgow’s Fantasy graduates. The event focused on the close relationship between fantasy and trees, with special reference to the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia McKillip, Doctor Seuss, John Keats and Terry Brooks, among many others.

This week we feature an illustration by current Fantasy MLitt student Eva McLean, which describes how she resorted to drawing trees as a means of getting through lockdown.]

Inspired by her surroundings during lockdown walks, Eva turned the concept of these daily walks into a fairy tale-esque illustration. The hand-drawn piece kept her busy over the lockdown months. There is something inherently fantastical about forests. Eva is drawn to creating imagery that has an enchanted feel to it like the illustrations paired with Grimms’ fairy tales. Eva decided to turn the illustration into the shape of a book as she loves artwork that incorporates narrative. When Eva doesn’t have her head stuck in a book, she can be found writing reviews and posting more doodles on her bookstagram: evacat_reads.

Tolkien Reading Day 2021

The University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic is very proud to announce that we have partnered with the Tolkien Society (TS) to host this year’s Tolkien Reading Day! 

Each year, Tolkien Reading Day is held on the 25th of March. The purpose of the event is to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages.  

The theme of this year’s Tolkien Reading Day is Hope and Courage. What will you be reading? 

We are working with the Tolkien Society to create engaging and interactive social media throughout March. Then, we will come together on the 25th of March, when the Centre will be hosting three Zoom meetings for readers around the world to share their favourite passages and react to the passages shared by others. 

Does this sound like fun? Do you want to be involved? Here are the best ways to join in the fun: 

Follow the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube and the Tolkien Society on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube. Watch out for posts throughout the month! 

Share your stories, comments, and photos on any social media platform and use the hashtag #TolkienReadingDay2021. Most of all, we’d love to see videos of you reading! 

If you want to attend a Zoom session on March 25th, we have three opportunities. With sessions in the morning, midday, and evening (UK time), we hope that we can find a time that matches everyone’s time zone. Please use these Eventbrite links to register for your preferred session! (Please note that the times shown on the Eventbrite pages automatically sync to your time zone.) 

Register for the Morning Session 

Register for the Midday Session 

Register for the Evening Session 

For more information about Tolkien Reading Day, you can visit the Tolkien Society Website

The Immanent Grove: Memorialising the achievements of the University of Glasgow’s Fantasy graduates

2020 was a year for reflection. In the course of her reflections, PhD student Lucy Holdsworth came up with the idea of memorialising the achievements of the University of Glasgow’s Fantasy graduates: students like herself who had taken the bold step of enrolling on the University’s MLitt in Fantasy, regardless of the puzzlement, amusement and even disapproval such a step might bring about. Since the foundation of the MLitt (formally the MLitt English Literature: Fantasy) in September 2015, many students from all over the world have joined the programme, united in their love of the mode or genre called Fantasy, a genre that permeates the creative arts in the twenty-first century but whose study is as yet in its infancy. Many of those students have gone on to work with Fantasy in other capacities, whether as PhD students, like Lucy, or as teachers, publishers, videogame professionals, novelists, entertainers and vocal advocates. Their passion is infectious, their imagination boundless, their thinking innovative and courageous. Their work and mutual support deserves some form of recognition.

How better to celebrate these graduates, Lucy thought, than with the gift of trees? Trees permeate Fantasy literature, from the walking trees and their tree-like shepherds, the Ents, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, to the trees that populate the slopes of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Mountain; from the village trees of the Douen in Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber to the mysterious branch-like lettering that obsesses a young librarian in Patricia McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn. Forests are everywhere in fairy tales, myths and chivalric romances, and have a tendency to fill our dreams. As Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, ‘We all have forests in our minds. Forests unexplored, unending. Each of us gets lost in the forest, every night, alone’. Fantasy pays tribute to these mental forests and explores their depths.

In the twenty-first century, forests also hold the key to the future. Without extensive reforestation it is hard to imagine a way to counter the destructive effects of human dominance of the planet. For all these reasons, Lucy found her thoughts turning to a project called Trees for Life, which aims to rewild the ancient Caledonian forest by planting saplings at remote sites in the Highlands of Scotland. Planting trees for the MLitt students seemed like the perfect way to salute their achievements and to celebrate the community they have formed. No one knows where each of the Trees for Life will be; we only know that each will make a small contribution to enriching a larger whole. In this way each tree is like a student of fantasy, each of whom makes a small but vital contribution to a new but rapidly expanding field of study with its roots in the past, just as the trees we plant in their honour have their roots in soil that has been enriched by ancient leaves and branches.

Lucy explained her thinking to her supervisor, Matt Sangster, one of the founding members of Glasgow’s recently-launched Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic. Matt at once set about the process of putting her vision into practice, consulting fellow members of the Centre and obtaining funding from a generous donor to plant the first set of trees. This blog post marks the launch of Lucy’s memorial, and will be followed by an informal launch event on 24 February.

We have named our widely-scattered Grove the Immanent Grove after a wood on the Island of Roke in Ursula Le Guin’s classic fantasy series, the Books of Earthsea. Many people think that this wood ‘moves about in a mystifying manner’; but in this they are mistaken, Le Guin informs us, ‘for the Grove does not move. Its roots are the roots of being. It is all the rest that moves’. May our wood, planted in the name of our graduates who are moving on, help to move the world on, too, in a better direction.

Rob Maslen, Co-Director, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow

There is always smoke rising from Glasgow these days.

My walk to university had always been a pleasant one—under the shade of young trees by the canal, down past a dim and mysterious grove, and on towards the west end. I knew where to look for foxes and deer, made friends with the squirrels, and even tempted a bird or two to say hello.

Pleasant, that is, until the grove vanished, broken stumps torn up and turned over, all trace of the vibrant ecosystem scraped away to make room for construction.

Not long after, I moved, this time to a flat surrounded by trees almost as tall as my building—old, majestic, strong. They have been torn down too; a carpark covers their grave.

While I understood the reason—people need homes, people need schools, and they have to go somewhere—still it felt like a betrayal, and unbidden, the voice of Treebeard began to echo in my mind: ‘there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves. I have been idle. I have let things slip. It must stop!’

I don’t have any power over Glasgow’s dwindling green spaces, but what I do have is an imagination and a community of people who, like me, were raised on stories of the beauty and magic of forests, and so the seed (sorry) of an idea began to grow.

Fantasy is often dismissed as mere escapism, but Le Guin reminds us that ‘escape is the direction of freedom’. Freedom from tyranny, freedom from oppression, freedom from our own abuse of power—once we have imagined a world in which we are free from these things, we begin to see a path towards it. Fantasy is the first step of all activism, and as such, it has an incredible power to change the world for the better. The Centre has used this power to imagine and create a world in which academia and environmentalism can go hand in hand, but it is my hope that the Immanent Grove will act as a catalyst for wider action in this vein. Tolkien said of escapism that, ‘if we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and take as many people with us as we can.’ I look forward to escaping into a better world with you all and creating a future we can be proud of.

Lucinda Holdsworth, PhD student, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow

Because we wouldn’t want to plant trees for our graduates without their permission, we’ve begun the Grove by inviting our most recent graduating cohort, the Owls, who finished their degrees amidst the complexities of lockdown and pandemic. Their names and their messages can now be seen on the website that logs the Grove’s progress. Their trees will be planted in the Highlands in the spring.

We’re keen to expand the Grove to include all our MLitt Fantasy graduates who’d like to be included: Canaries, Phoenixes, Ravens and Merlins. If you’re a member of one of these cohorts and would like a tree added to the Grove in your name, please fill out this form to let us know how you’d like to be named and whether you’d like to add a message.

Please return the completed form to the Fantasy Centre e-mail address (arts-fantasy@glasgow.ac.uk), using ‘Immanent Grove’ in the subject line.

Moving forward, we’ll also be planting trees for the current MLitt cohort (the Nightingales) and for those who’ve yet to join us. We also look forward to adding our PhD students to the Grove as they successfully defend their theses.

Matt Sangster, Senior Lecturer and Core Team Member, Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow

Join us on the 24th of February for an evening of magic and nature to celebrate the brilliance of our students and the wonderful work done by Lucy Holdsworth and Matt Sangster, who made this project possible. Let’s talk about trees, fantasy, and the Glasgow Fantasy program.

Click here to get your ticket.

A celebration of collaborative fantasy storytelling: a report and reading list from the Centre’s Fantasy and D&D event

It was great to see so many people from all over the world join us for a talk and discussion on Fantasy and D&D, co-organized by our Centre and the Games and Gaming Lab. Our main speaker, John D. Rateliff, has very kindly offered us his talk for publication on our blog, which you can read here.

We are also delighted to share a report on our event by our Fantasy MLitt student Hannah Burton, accompanied by a list of titles mentioned in the event compiled by our PhD student Grace Worm.

A report from the Centre’s Fantasy and D&D event, by Hannah Burton

Like many of you, I have travelled to the lands of Middle-earth, Azeroth or the Forgotten Realms. These worlds have allowed us to escape, create agency within our own world, or in the case of Dungeons and Dragons, become a part of a world created by collaborative storytelling. In a time dominated by isolation and computer screens, Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, has become a social outlet for many, lessening the feelings of separation and isolation with role-playing adventure parties. Sometimes you just need to escape reality, even for an hour, so you can live your dream of being a bard who makes beautiful music with a priceless lute.

During lockdown, the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, co-presented with the Games and Gaming Labs, held the event “D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth” to discuss the literary inspirations and history behind D&D. Discussions began with Grace A.T. Worm, a 2nd-year PhD student, engaging the audience as the ‘Dungeon Master’ for the evening to discuss how D&D gave role-playing games their continued success in popular culture. D&D is unique in its ability to create diverse worlds that players can create through what Worm described as “collective storytelling.” This collaboration is key in navigating the game as it concerns both the absorption of D&D’s vast world-building while also creating a place for players to develop teamwork through adventuring parties. D&D’s popularity in the past decade has also been affected by Critical Role and The Adventure Zone through their visual storytelling. Worm utilised this interactive aspect of the game in her discussion, giving the audience a chance to create their own characters via simplified character sheets provided in her presentation. This small ‘one-shot’ gave the audience a glimpse into the experience of playing D&D, and how it can spark one’s imagination by simply picking a character.

After this, Tolkien scholar, John D. Rateliff, began his talk about the movement of fantasy fiction to D&D into game-inspired fiction. Rateliff contends that fantasy has always been a part of D&D as seen in the original Dungeon Master’s guide in 1979, as its core structure is heavily affected by the works of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. A memorable moment from Rateliff’s paper was his statement that D&D is heavily influenced by fantasy literature because of how permeable the borders are between the two. For Rateliff, it is these permeable borders that develop the imagination of world-building of future games and players. The last part of Rateliff’s paper leaves viewers with early images of a signpost that features Gygax’s world, Greyhawk, and Middle-earth on the same post, proving that Gygax himself created D&D with fantasy worlds like Tolkien’s in mind.

The session then moved into the Q&A, moderated by 1st year PhD student, Emma French. Topics began with Rateliff’s first involvement in D&D, to the role of violence as a driving force in D&D. As D&D was originally a war game, Rateliff notes that the game has slowly moved away from this mentality. The questions then moved onto a more heated topic in the recent months: the changing attitudes of race and diversity within D&D. This movement, according to Rateliff, will have a tremendous impact on the future of both D&D and Fantasy literature. Another notable question for Rateliff was why fantasy has been the dominant force in RPGs. For Rateliff, this has to do with fantasy being united under Tolkien as he was such a dominating force on 20th-century Fantasy: “Tolkien is such a big light in the room that it dims other lights.” This continued with other topics such as Dunsany’s influence on Fantasy, editorial work for RPG publications, and if fantasy functions differently in a game setting. The entire Q&A session with Rateliff was diverse and displayed the audience’s wide interests in learning more about the connection between Fantasy literature and D&D. 

Overall, this event provided solace and fellowship both on and off-screen. I want to end this post with a final quote from John. D. Rateliff as I feel it expresses the overall tone of the talk: “D&D starts local and small and then the world gets bigger each time you explore it.” The exploration of worlds should not only be read through characters like Bilbo Baggins and his adventure into Middle-earth, it should also be shared in games like D&D through storytelling, especially during a time that seems more detached than ever.

A list of authors, texts, game books, and games mentioned during the Fantasy and D&D event, compiled by Grace Worm

Authors:

  • Johannes Cabal
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
    • The History of the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
  • Lord Dunsany
    • The Book of Wonder, The Charwoman’s Shadow, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley, The Dreamer’s Tale, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, The Last Book of Wonder

Texts:

  • Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
  • Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation by Mark Wolf
  • The CRPG Book: A Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games By Felipe Pepe
  • Dave Areneson’s True Genius by Robert J. Kuntz
  • “Demonizing the Enemy, Literally: Tolkien, Orcs, and the Sense of the World Wars” by Robert T. Tally, Jr.
  • The Elusive Shift by Jon Peterson
    • History of RPGs and their relationship to wargames
  • The Gentleman’s Bastard series by Scott Lynch
  • H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos by Robert Price
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
  • A Land Fit for Heroes series by Richard K. Morgan
  • Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin (or Catherine Webb or Claire North)
  • Pendragon: Journal of an Adventure through Time and Space series by D.J. MacHale
  • The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  • The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • “Sturgeon’s Law” by James Gunn
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • White Wolf Magazine
  • Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

Official DnD Wizards of the Coast Books:

Games:

  • Age of Heroes
  • Angband
  • Ars Magica
  • Call of Cthulhu 
  • Dragon Warriors
  • The Dungeons of Moria
  • FATE
  • Fiasco
  • Legend of the Five Rings
  • Mage: the Ascension
  • Magic the Gathering
  • Rolemaster
  • Shadow of the Demon Lord
  • Shadowrun
  • Vampire: the Masquerade

If you missed this event, our YouTube recording is available here:

John D. Rateliff – D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth

We are delighted to host John D. Rateliff’s talk given during our public event on D&D and Fantasy on 28 January 2021. The event was recorded and can be watched via our YouTube channel here.

D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth

By John D. Rateliff

Dungeons & Dragons was heavily influenced by fantasy literature, as is testified by the famous ‘Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading’ found in the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979).1 What is perhaps more interesting is that D&D quickly generated fantasy fiction in turn. This reciprocity dates back to the very early days of the game. In this talk I’d like to briefly trace the movement from fantasy fiction to D&D to game-inspired fiction.

I. The Roots of the Mountain

That fantasy fiction played a role in the creation of D&D I take to be self-evident. Particularly crucial elements were taken from or inspired by the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, and Poul Anderson. From Tolkien came the demihuman player character races: elves, dwarves, and hobbits, later supplemented by the half-elf and half-orc (both extrapolated from Tolkien); the non-Tolkienian gnome was added later and perhaps for that reason has always seemed an odd man out.

The very idea of a player character party is Tolkien’s innovation. In stark contrast with the solitary hero or hero-with-a-sidekick (or damsel in distress with benefits) of Howard and his followers, Tolkien provides the paradigm for characters of different races and differing abilities (or classes) who join together to form an adventuring party. In the game this takes the form of having their success depend on the degree to which the player characters can bring into play the varied abilities of the different members of the party. That no one character has all the abilities needed to survive and succeed is thus an essential part of the design.

Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D and dominant force behind its development, later denied that Tolkien had played any significant role in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons 2. Personally I ascribe this distancing less to historical fact and more to cease-and-desist orders he had gotten from Saul Zaentz’s Tolkien Enterprises shortly after D&D debuted. At any rate, a Tolkien-minimalist position is hard to maintain when even a quick skim of the earliest edition’s rulebooks reveals hobbits, dwarves, elves, ents, orcs, wights, giant eagles, Nazgul, and balrogs. Indeed, early printings of the rulebooks explicitly attribute some of these creatures to Tolkien (consistently mis-spelled ‘Tolkein’), such as the orc (Bk II.7), wight (II.9), giant eagle (II.17), and Nazgul or spectre (ibid).

If Tolkien contributed the player character races and player character party, then Howard’s Conan stories and Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser series provided a blueprint of what player characters actually do in the game: exploring, fighting, encountering traps, discovering riches, interacting with non-player characters, running for their lives, and the like. From Vance (and also perhaps John Bellairs) comes D&D’s highly characteristic ‘fire and forget’ magic system, a highly distinctive approach to spellcasting that requires planning ahead (and is thus disparaged by those who demand all options be open to them at all times). And then there’s the alignment system, another distinctive feature of D&D that derives from either Poul Anderson or Michael Moorcock or, more likely, both. 3

If this inherent evidence were not enough, we have Gygax, at the time of the game’s debut, deliberately stressing the game’s roots in, and deep affinities with, fantasy fiction:

These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries [—those gamers] will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers. [We] invite you to read on and enjoy a “world” where the fantastic is fact and magic really works!

—E. Gary Gygax, November 1973
Foreword to D&D 1st edition (Bk I, page [3])

Despite Gygax’s reverse phrasing in this passage it is clear that here he is saying that if you love to read Burroughs and Howard and Leiber at al., then this is the game for you.

II. Fantasy Fiction’s Influence on Gaming

This fantasy-to-game indebtedness was emphasized by TSR reaching out in its early days to contemporary fantasy writers whose work Gygax admired. The Dragon, TSR’s house organ launched in June 1976, in its early issues published stories by Harry Fischer (Fritz Leiber’s silent partner in the creation of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser and, like Leiber, a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s) 4. Fischer was also Guest of Honor at GenCon X in 1977. Leiber himself had been a Guest in 1976 at GenCon IX and, in what must have been a bit of a coup for TSR, allowed what seems to have been the first publication of a new F&GM story, ‘Sea Magic’, in the December 1977 issue of The Dragon 5. Similarly L. Sprague de Camp authorized a reprint of one of the famed Harold Shea ‘Incomplete Enchanter’ stories he had cowritten twenty years earlier with the late Fletcher Pratt. The Dragon even ran serials by hack pulp writer Gardner Fox (‘Naill of the Far Journeys’) 6 and by Gygax himself, who under the fairly transparent pseudonym ‘Garrison Ernst’ essentially self-published a serial called The Gnome Cache (1976–1977). Debuting in the very first issue of The Dragon, Gygax’s picaresque tale ran in installments for six of the next seven issues 7 until it quietly disappeared in mid-story after the June 1977 issue. Despite its lack of any literary merit it is historically significant in that had it been finished this would have been the first D&D novel. And before moving on I feel that I should note that this tale’s final sentence is surely a contender for the oddest of Gygax’s many odd constructions:

‘Great Gods!’ expostulated the startled errant. ‘It is a dwarf being pursued by a pack of giant toads and weirdly hopping men!’ 8

III. Full Circle: D&D-inspired Fiction

Things came full circle —fiction inspiring gaming which in turn inspired gaming fiction— with the 1978 publication of a fantasy novel inspired by D&D but written by a highly regarded professional writer: Andre Norton’s Quag Keep. This was published by Donald Wollheim’s DAW Books with a cover illustration by Jack Gaughan—best remembered for having provided the covers for the unauthorized Ace paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings. Despite Norton’s somewhat shaky grasp on D&D’s rules and tropes,9 her book takes pains to emphasize its affinities with gaming, as is testified by the Acknowledgement:

The author [e.g. Norton] wishes to express appreciation for the invaluable aid of E. Gary Gygax of TSR, expert player and creator of the war game DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, on which the background of QUAG KEEP is based . . .

Examination of the book confirms Gygax’s influence, which mainly falls in the realm of world-building. Thus the first chapter is titled ‘Greyhawk’ and set in Gygax’s great city (and hence game world) of the same name. The plot includes D&D game elements such as polyhedral dice and the D&D alignment system depicting a vast struggle between Order and Chaos, as well as some recognizably specific geographical names, such as Blackmoor, Urnst, Geoff (here spelled ‘Geofp’) Yeocumby (probably an earlier version of The Yeomanry), Keoland (‘Koeland’; probably just a typo), the Sea of Dust, and the Temple of the Frog. All of these had appeared in the first two follow-up releases to the original D&D rulebooks, Greyhawk and Blackmoor (February and September 1975 respectively), describing Gygax’s and Arneson’s fantasy worlds.

Quag Keep seems not to have made much of a splash at the time. So far as I can tell it was treated as just another fantasy novel. But Gygax did not give up. By 1982 TSR had a book department, working on Endless Quest pick-a-path books. Not until 1984 did they release their first novel: Dragons of the Autumn Twilight, conceived as a joint effort between TSR’s book department (represented by Margaret Weis) and game department (in the person of Tracy Hickman). So successful was this that some two hundred DRAGONLANCE books followed, with a new trilogy in the series by the original authors currently in the works. Even more successful—by my rough count running to over three hundred novels and short story collections —has been TSR’s FORGOTTEN REALMS line, especially the Dritzt series by R. A. Salvatore. So successful was the TSR book line that by the mid 1990s virtually every TSR game world was accompanied by associated shared world novels, which typically far outsold their associated game line: DARK SUN, RAVENLOFT, GREYHAWK (two separate series), SPELLJAMMER, MYSTARA, the later EBERRON novels, and even Buck Rogers books.

IV. A Permeable Border: ‘Giants in the Earth’

I said at the beginning of this talk that D&D ‘was heavily influenced by fantasy literature.’ And it’s clear from texts like Gygax’s Foreword to the game’s earliest edition that this is not happenstance but by design. D&D is an Open System: it does not just invite borrowing from fantasy fiction and film but depends upon it. To put it another way: D&D is a way to quantify the imagination.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the long-running column that appeared in Dragon Magazine,
starting around issue #26 (June 1979) and winding down around issue #61 (May 1982).

‘Giants in the Earth’ was originally written primarily by the late great Tom Moldvay with Lawrence Schick and later revived by Roger E. Moore. A typical installment featured two or three characters from famous works of fantasy or legend: Vance’s Cugel the Clever (#26), Burroughs’ John Carter (#27), Homer’s Circe (#52), the four lords of Demonland in Eddison’s Worm Ouroboros (#54), and many others, including (controversially) Tarl Cabot from John Norman’s Gor series (#61).10

In each case the character had been translated into D&D terms, fully stat’d out like a pre-gen character, ready to drop into your ongoing campaign as an ally, rival, foe, love interest, or PC. Jon Peterson has written (in his new book, The Elusive Shift) of how from its earliest days D&D has appealed to two disparate groups, wargamers and sci-fi fandom, both of which predate the creation of D&D and each of which had their own apas, fanzines, conventions, awards, &c.

And part of that appeal is due to the ease with which works of fantasy like those listed in Appendix N could serve as templates for adventures, suggesting interesting monsters, quirky characters, intriguing plots, unusual magic, elements of worldbuilding, challenging traps and puzzles, extraordinary treasures, and more. Thus in a given campaign the adventure’s ultimate foe might derive from the villain in a novel the DM just read, while one PC may be inspired by a movie that player likes (I have a hunch there was a significant up-tick in the number of people playing elves about the time Peter Jackson’s Legolas debuted). One player might prefer the comfort of a traditional template, like a halfling thief. Yet another PC may be rules-driven and derive from a player’s urge to play an unusual race/class/alignment combination; the setting might be a generic Tolkienesque fantasy world with pockets of the weirdly exotic. 11

So permeable a system, capable of absorbing material from such disparate sources, results in an eclectic game world. It wd be wrong to say ‘plagiarism is our friend’, but that phrase does capture something of the process of creative borrowing that, if done well, serve as departure points for future games and systems.

Coda: A Little Signpost

Finally, I’d like to share an image from the past that I think offers a glimpse into the mindset of those in charge of D&D in its distant early days This picture comes in the last issue of The Strategic Review, TSR’s first house organ—the magazine which preceded, and morphed into, The Dragon. In the middle spread of this last issue (SR VII, [page 13], from April 1976, only a little over two years after D&D had first debuted) are displayed photographs of The Dungeon (later known as The Mail Order Hobby Shop). In the center top we see Gygax working at his desk. Below him his partner Brian Blume works on a hex-grid map. I’d like to draw your attention to the little piece of art directly to the right of Blume: a signpost pointing the way to various fantasy locations.

Greyhawk, Gygax’s game world, and Blackmoor, Dave Arneson’s game world, are at the top and bottom, respectively. In the middle tier lies the sign for Tekumel, the weird world of M. A. R. Barker published by TSR as EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE. But what’s really interesting are the two remaining worlds: Lankhmar (second from top), the setting for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories, and Middle Earth (second from bottom), which is of course Tolkien’s world.

This little sketch thus suggests that Gygax & company drew no distinction between the literary worlds created by the likes of Tolkien and Leiber, and TSR’s fantasy game worlds, created as a place for D&D adventures to take place in. These in turn would serve as sources and inspiration for the fiction TSR authors would create in the years to come.

—John D. Rateliff, January 2021

Notes

D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth

Calling all aspiring adventurers! Join us on our quest to uncover the literary history behind Dungeons & Dragons with scholar and RPG editor John D. Rateliff, in this event co-hosted by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and the Games and Gaming Lab at the University of Glasgow!

How has fantasy literature influenced and inspired the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons? How has the relationship between the two fantasy media developed over time? Join us on 28th January 2021 at 6pm (GMT) for an event discussing the history of this much beloved game. Tolkien scholar and RPG designer/editor John D. Rateliff will discuss its early roots in the works of twentieth-century fantasy authors, including J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. His talk will be followed by a Q&A.

The event will also include a short introduction to contemporary Dungeons & Dragons by Grace A. Worm – with a brief, but fun, dip into how to play!

To participate in the Zoom webinar, book your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dd-and-fantasy-fiction-giants-in-the-oerth-tickets-135728980033

We are also planning to stream this event via our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv3mkKQUDyZ_OcP-uLqJTMA/

Celebrating the Centenary of A Voyage to Arcturus – Report and Video Recording

Many thanks to everyone who attended our event to celebrate the centenary of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus on 19th November. We are pleased to share the opening remarks by our panelists Douglas A. Anderson and Nina Allan, who have both kindly made them available in their respective blogs:

Douglas A. Anderson – Arcturus centenary opening remarks

Nina Allan – Arcturus centenary opening remarks

We are also delighted to share a report on our event by English and Scottish Literature Honours student (and President of the University’s Scottish Literature Society) Domenico Di Rosa (who tweets at https://twitter.com/_domenico98).


A Voyage to Arcturus: David Lindsay’s legacy across a century

By Domenico Di Rosa

On the occasion of the 100th year since the first publication of Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, the Centre For Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow held a commemoration and discussion of this science fiction novel in partnership with the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national celebration of the humanities (beinghumanfestival.org). Delving into several philosophical and spiritual interrogations, the novel follows Maskull’s interstellar journey from an observatory situated in Scotland to an unknown world across space, where the protagonist creates an extensively comprehensive imaginary planet.

The event’s host, Dr Dimitra Fimi, started the discussion with an introductory presentation of the novel’s several editions, remarking how, although the book’s initial publication in 1920 was unsuccessful in capturing the readers’ attention, Lindsay still managed to emerge as a tremendous influence to renowned authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman.

American scholar Douglas A. Anderson, who has worked first-hand with Lindsay’s materials, offered a brief account of the writer’s life as well as some aspects about the origins and inspirations behind A Voyage to Arcturus. It was particularly the imaginative powers of Lindsay’s worldbuilding that influenced C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, as well as the novel’s treatment of philosophy and religion which pushed Tolkien to read it ‘with avidity’. Ultimately, Anderson pins down the novel’s leitmotiv, namely that ‘Our visible primary world is a sham, and the real spiritual world, occasionally visible or recognised, lies underneath the sham’. It is arguably the universality of such search for answers to convoluted existential questions around spirituality which allowed Lindsay’s novel to gradually become more recognised towards the late twentieth-century. Moreover, in conjunction with the flourishing of science-fiction literature, A Voyage to Arcturus also starts to be acknowledged as a classic of Scottish fantasy and, in many ways, as a precursor of many science-fiction trends.

The second panellist, Robert Davis, Professor of Religious and Cultural Education at Glasgow University, focused his discussion around the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of the novel. In particular, Gnosticism seems to have had a relevant influence on Lindsay’s writing, even though the only references to it until 1945 were found in some citations of works written by the early Church. A Voyage to Arcturus might be considered as a ‘gnostic romance’ as Davis depicts gnostic theology as ‘confused, fragmentary, sometimes impenetrable’. Overall a revision of Judeo-Christian religious orthodoxy, Gnosticism depicts the God of the Old Testament as a demonic impostor whose disastrous work of creation is deliberately malevolent. The book is imprinted with these notions that were, similarly, perennial themes in the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, whom Lindsay knew well. Evident is, for Davis, the link with Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, a ‘deeply antichristian work’ that follows the lines of Milton, Shelley and Blake in its gnostic rebellion against authority.

The final panellist, award-winning British author Nina Allan, centred her discussion around Lindsay’s novel in contemporary science fiction. She notes some of the aspects that link Arcturus to her novel The Rift (2017), particularly the ‘poetic synchronicity’ between the two stories and the ambiguity or lack of closure around the narrated events which makes it a frustrating yet rewarding experience for the reader. She also mentions those elements that relate Lindsay’s work to current waves of SF writing as well as those aspects which make it distant from it. On the one hand, A Voyage to Arcturus may be one of the first science-fiction voyages in interspace, highly imaginative in its description of alien landscapes that seem almost ‘incandescent’, which could have been shockingly outlandish for the readers of the time. On the other hand, the novel takes inspiration from older influences such as Stevenson and Verne, and takes its philosophical underpinnings from universal questions such as ‘What makes human existence meaningful?’ and ‘How do we bear the existential nihilism of our world where death and suffering are all around?’. Ultimately, Allan suggests the novel is about a transcendent experience that invites us to connect with the universe, thereby setting our spirit free and exhibiting the best side of ourselves.

Overall, the event reached its purpose in remembering the legacy of A Voyage to Arcturus and in determining David Lindsay as one of the forefathers of Scottish fantasy. Tracing a quest for knowledge and higher learning while providing an unparalleled vision of imaginary worlds, Lindsay’s novel certainly proves to be worthy of further investigation.

If you missed this event, our YouTube recording is available here:

Christmas Hauntings: Ghost Stories for Midwinter

An evening of chilling tales of ghosts and hauntings. 

Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.  

— Jerome K. Jerome 


As the year settles firmly into winter, we are delighted to invite you to celebrate these long, dark nights with some bone-chilling tales of ghosts and hauntings at our midwinter event!  

Join us on the 16th of December at 5 PM GMT for an evening of Christmas chills and winter wonder. We will enjoy an introduction to the tradition of the Christmas ghost story by Dr Derek Johnston of Queens University Belfast.  We will explore midwinter’s association with gothic and occult in our discussion panel with Dr Tiffany Angus (Anglia Ruskin University), Professor Christine Ferguson (University of Stirling) and Dr Derek Johnson (QUB). 

About our presenters: 

Dr Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (UK) and the General Director of the Anglia Centre for Science Fiction & Fantasy. A graduate of Clarion, she’s also published short fiction in a variety of genres and her debut novel Threading the Labyrinth (about 400 years in a haunted garden) came out in mid-2020. Her research interests include apocalyptic fiction, horticultural history, and time travel narratives.  

Prof. Christine Ferguson is a Professor in English studies at the University of Stirling. Her research focuses on the entwined histories of the literary gothic and the British occult revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is on the board of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism and the editorial boards for the Journal of Victorian CultureVictorian ReviewVictoriographies, the Cambridge Elements in Magic, and the Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism series. Her major publications include Determined Spirits: Eugenics, Heredity, and Racial Regeneration in Anglo-American Spiritualist Writing 1848-1930 (2012) and Language, Science, and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin de Siècle (2006). She is at work on a new project on the popular fiction networks and periodical culture of the Victorian occult revival. 

Dr Derek Johnston is a Lecturer in Broadcast at Queen’s University Belfast, where he teaches the history and analysis of broadcast media. His research engages with fantastic genres such as science fiction and horror, typically placing media texts in their cultural and social context, and frequently considering their connections to issues of national identity. His monograph on broadcast seasonal horror traditions is titled Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween. He is also author of a number of articles and book chapters, including the ‘Ghosts and Television’ chapter for The Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story, and the chapter on ‘Gothic Television’ for the forthcoming Cambridge History of the Gothic Volume 3

The event is free but ticketed. Please book your ticket here.

This event is presented by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic via the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow.

A Voyage to Arcturus: An Illustration Gallery

We are really excited for our event to celebrate the centenary of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus later on this week. In anticipation of a rich discussion on this extraordinary Scottish SFF novel, we have put together a gallery of illustrations by various artists! Enjoy!

First of all, here are the two images most readers will know: the iconic cover of the Ballantine edition of A Voyage to Arcturus (third printing, 1973) and Dorothea Breby’s bespoke illustration for Radio Times, published on 22 June 1956, two days before the radio serialization of the novel begun.

By kind permission, we are delighted to share this spectacular illustration of Maskull and Oceaxe riding the shrowk, a favourite scene for illustrators (the Ballantine 1973 cover depicts the same scene), by Joel Fletcher:

Maskull and Oceaxe riding the shrowk, Joel Fletcher, 1975.

Fletcher has really captured very well Lindsay’s vivid description of colour. The shrowks are described in this way:

They were not birds, but creatures with long, snakelike bodies, and ten reptilian legs apiece, terminating in fins which acted as wings. The bodies were of bright blue, the legs and fins were yellow. They were flying, without haste, but in a somewhat ominous fashion, straight toward them. [Maskull] could make out a long, thin spike projecting from each of the heads.

(David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus, Chapter 9: Oceaxe)

Artist Nicolas Geffroy has completed a number of illustrations for A Voyage to Arcturus (you can find the entire series here) and we are delighted to share two of them:

Starkness Observatory, somewhere “on the north-east coast of Scotland” (Chapter 2: In the Street), from where Maskull, Nightspore, and Krag set off for Arcturus:

Starkness Observatory by Nicolas Geffroy

And Leehallfae and Maskull in Threal:

Leehallfae and Maskull in Threal, by Nicolas Geffroy

Last but certainly not least, this illustration pictures the startled Maskull as he awakes on Tormance and finds out that he has grown “fleshy protuberances” on his forehead and neck, and, perhaps more memorably, a “breve”, a tentacle which has budded “from the region of his heart” which is described “as long as his arm, but thin, like whipcord, and soft and flexible” . Later on Joiwind tells him that “by means of it we read one another’s thoughts” (Chapter 6: Joiwind). This illustration is by Monica Burns, a comic artist from Scotland, and was first published in issue 3 of Scottish SF magazine Shoreline of Infinity:

Maskull in Tormance, by Monica Burns

Join us on 19th November to celebrate the 100th anniversary if this influential book! For details about our guests and to book a (free) ticket, see here: https://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk/index.php/2020/10/15/celebrating-the-centenary-of-a-voyage-to-arcturus/

And here is our “trailer” for the event!

Celebrating the Centenary of A Voyage to Arcturus

2020 marks 100 years since the publication of A Voyage to Arcturus, a science fiction (or perhaps science fantasy) novel by Scottish author David Lindsay. We will celebrate the centenary of this Scottish cult classic on 19 November, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm via Zoom webinar.

Join the conversation as Lindsay specialists and enthusiasts celebrate the novel and its major influence on key fantasy authors of our time, including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman. A Voyage to Arcturus takes its protagonist from an observatory in Scotland to a new world across space, and explores philosophical and spiritual questions while creating a fully-fledged imaginary planet.

We will be joined by:

Douglas A. Anderson, a Lindsay and Tolkien scholar, who has worked extensively with Lindsay’s manuscripts and is currently preparing a new edition of A Voyage to Arcturus. He blogs at: http://tolkienandfantasy.blogspot.com/.

Nina Allan, award-winning speculative fiction author, whose recent novel The Rift won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel and references A Voyage to Arcturus.

Professor Robert Davis, Professor of Religious and Cultural Education, who has written extensively on speculative fiction and has corresponded with Philip Pullman on A Voyage to Arcturus.

The event is free but ticketed. Please book your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/celebrating-the-centenary-of-a-voyage-to-arcturus-tickets-117744000475

This event is presented by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic via the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow as part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 12–22 November. For further information please see beinghumanfestival.org.