Conference: Dissenting Beliefs: Heresy and Heterodoxy in Fantasy

The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and the University of Glasgow are happy to announce Dissenting Beliefs, an early career researcher conference on religious heresy and heterodoxy in fantasy literature and media. The conference is free to attend and will be held online via Zoom webinars on 11 December 2021.

Our keynote lecture for the conference will be delivered by Prof. Alana M. Vincent, Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester.

You can find the conference CFP here and find our full programme below.

Registration is already open – here is the link to book your free ticket.

Keep up with our latest updates by following Dissenting Beliefs on Facebook and Twitter.

Organising Committee:

Dr Taylor Driggers
Lucinda Holdsworth
Meg MacDonald
Luise Rössel

Contact Email: Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com

Programme:

9:30-10:00: Welcome and Opening Words


10:00-11:30: Panel 1: Feminist Mythic Counter Readings
Chloe Campbell — “Hell’s Under New Management Now”: Heresy, Patriarchy and Religious Subversion in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Eilidh Harrower — “Pharmakis”: Feminist Paganism in Circe by Madeline Miller

Grace Worm — In the Hands of the Goddess: Feminist Religion, Religious Piety, and Mistaken Interpretations in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Other Lands

10:00-11:30: Panel 2: Good Omens and its Descendants
Alex Booer— A Theology from the Margins: The Demon Crowley in TV’s Good Omens

Luise Roessel— Mirroring “sacred” textuality only to break it: the liberating power of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens

Matthew Konerth— The Demon Ascendant Narrative

11:30-11:45: Break


11:45-13:15: Panel 3: Fantastic Queer Heterodoxies
Marita Arvanti — God Has An Asshole?: Queer Heterodoxies in Elizabeth Bear’s Stratford Man duology

Koh Hui Ling Carina — Postmodern Fantasy and Queer Theology in Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree

Da Eun Kun — Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Blakean Fantasies for a Lesbian Feminist Subject


11:45-13:15: Panel 4: Interwar Paganism and Occultism
Andrew Korah — “To Pray to the Stars”: The Nonmoral Devotion to Beauty in Dunsany’s Fantasy

Georgia Van Raalte — “The Ass that Carries the Ark”: Fantasy, Initiation and Goddess Theology in Dion Fortune’s Occult Novels

Sean Martin — Gnostic and Pagan Archetypes in David Lindsay’s The Violet Apple, Devil’s Tor and The Witch


13:15-14:00: Lunch Break


14:00-15:40: Panel 5: Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue
Anna Milon — The High Church of the Goddess: Religious Syncretism in Live Action Role Play.

Smita Dhantal — A Socio-Psychological Analysis of Interreligious Dialogue in A Song of Ice and Fire

Snigdha Basu — Theological subversion of the indigenous and trails of Womanist theology in Joanne Harris’s Chocolat

Venetta Octavia — Fantasy or History: Religion vs. Magic


15:40-17:10: Keynote with Prof. Alana Vincent

CFP: Dissenting Beliefs: Heresy and Heterodoxy in Fantasy

Online Conference to be held on 11 December 2021, supported by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow.

Deadline for Submissions: 7th September 2021

Organising Committee:

Dr Taylor Driggers
Lucinda Holdsworth
Meg MacDonald
Luise Rössel

Contact Email: Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DissentCon/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DissentCon/

Keynote

Alana M. Vincent is the Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester. Her published work engages a wide range of topics relating to religion, memory, and cultural imaginaries, from commemorations of mass killing to the afterlives of biblical texts. She has published several monographs, including Culture, Communion and Recovery: Tolkienian Fairy-Story and Inter-Religious Exchange (2014), and is currently researching the way that popular narratives, such as comic books and superhero movies, shape public perceptions of post-genocide reconciliation. Born in Canada, she currently resides in Liverpool with her partner and two cats.

Call for Papers

Religious fantasy, for a great many readers, is synonymous with Christian fantasy; more specifically, it is understood as literature overtly reproducing biblical narratives within a fantasy world, such as C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Concurrently, fantasy texts engaging with theology through non-allegorical means that challenge mainstream Christian doctrine are all too often dismissed as disingenuous, offensive or deliberately antagonistic. While this is sometimes the case, such a narrow view of religious fantasy excludes all but the least innovative texts from the genre and leaves little room for authors of other faiths. Furthermore, the dominance of texts affirming orthodoxy in religious fantasy discourse threatens to blind us to another side of belief: that radical, sometimes even heretical, literary reconfigurations of religion can also be acts of devotion.

If religious fantasy is instead allowed to encompass heterodoxy and heresy, theological subversions and expressions of misotheism, then the affordances of religious fantasy expand far beyond the didacticism popularly attributed to it. Understood in these terms, religious fantasy can be used: to affirm one’s identity and spiritual worth in opposition to official doctrines which may deny it, as a tool of protest against unjust systems of power, to explore complex spiritual responses to historical instances of religious complicity in atrocities, or to express lived spiritual experiences which do not conform to orthodox teachings.

This online conference, supported by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow, aims to explore the wide ranging affordances of heterodoxy and heresy in fantasy texts across a wide range of faiths. We welcome 20-minute papers from postgraduate students and early career researchers working in any area of fantasy or theology. These papers might address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Queer, feminist and womanist theology in fantasy
  • Non-Western, post-colonial or anti-colonial heresies and fantasy
  • Misotheism, ‘New’ Atheism and Death of God theology in fantasy
  • Fantasy and interreligious dialogue
  • The affordances of fantasy in theologies of protest
  • New Media’s interactions with fantasy and theology, and how this might differ from traditional media

Please submit a 300 word abstract and a short bio (maximum 150 words) to Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Abstract Submission’ by 31st August. Only applications from graduate students and early career researchers will be considered for this conference. We are particularly keen to highlight the contributions of underrepresented authors within the fantasy genre at this conference, therefore we will also not be accepting submissions on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling or Philip Pullman.

This event will take place online on 11th December 2021 and will be made accessible to the public via both zoom and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic’s YouTube channel.

CFP: Tolkien and Fantasy sessions at ICMS, Kalamazoo

We are seeking abstracts for two sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien and Young Adult Fantasy, sponsored by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, for the 57th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University), to be held online on 9-14 May 2022.

Tolkien and the Medieval Animal

Organised by Kris Swank

The emerging field of “animal studies” shifts critical thought away from an assumption of human supremacy and instead explores the web of interdependence that enmeshes humans with all other forms of life (Crane 2015: 1). As Anna Tsing puts it, “Human nature is an interspecies relationship” (2012: 144). But these conceptions are not new. Susan Crane writes, “The people of medieval Britain lived in daily contact with domestic and wild animals. Forest and wasteland loomed over settlements, and even city streets teemed with all kinds of creatures” (2012: 1).

The medieval animal is explored in a number of recent monographs, e.g. Animals in the Middle Ages by Nona C. Flores (2000), The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed., by Joyce E. Salisbury (2010), Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain by Susan Crane (2012), and Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle (2021), among others. Animals mattered to J.R.R. Tolkien, too, and his writings frequently engage with medieval conceptions of the interspecies relationships between humans and non-human animals. A few examples include Farmer Giles and his dog, Garm, Gandalf and Shadowfax, and bestiary animals Fastitocalon, the Oliphaunt, and dragons. Lists of animals found in Middle-earth are available online (e.g. here and here).

We welcome proposals for this paper session on “Tolkien and the Medieval Animal.” Interdisciplinary topics are welcome, and scholars might engage with a number of diverse fields, such as anthropology, art history, biology, communication, geography, history, literary studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. Panelists may also employ various theoretical perspectives.

For any questions on this session please contact Kris Swank at 2464732s@student.gla.ac.uk.

The Global Middle Ages in Young Adult Fantasy

Organised by Grace Ann Thomas Worm

Contemporary trends in Young Adult fantasy literature demonstrate a close relationship between young adult stories and a global medieval settings. Young Adult fantasies often use medieval settings to position arguments around identity, race, culture, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, violence, environmentalism, technology, folklore, and magic. We want to open a conversation about the turn toward a Global Middle Ages in Young Adult fantasy and its opportunities and challenges for new voices, groups, cultures, and readers.

Since the days of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, settings for fantasy novels have largely been modelled upon the medieval North: the British Isles and Scandinavia. In the last decade, a wave of emerging voices in the field of Young Adult fantasy have turned to the rich variety of cultural models, mythologies, and folklore traditions of the “Global Middle Ages,” that is pre-modern Africa, Asia, the Americas, Austronesia, even eastern and southern Europe. Among this wave of authors who write on global medievalism are Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, P. Djèlí Clark, Hafsah Faizal, Julie Kagawa, Nnedi Okrafor, Rebecca Roanhorse, Nghi Vo, Neon Yang, and many others.

We want to reveal not only cultures which have previously been silenced, but also groups which have been silenced, including women, the enslaved, indigenous peoples, queer, or disabled groups.

For any questions on this session please contact Grace Worm at g.worm.1@research.gla.ac.uk.

How to submit your abstract

All proposals must be submitted through the International Congress on Medieval Studies site: https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress/call

The proposal deadline is 15 September 2021

References

Crane, S. (2012). Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Tsing, A. (2012). Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species: for Donna Haraway. Environmental Humanities 1, available at: https://read.dukeupress.edu/environmental-humanities/article/1/1/141/8082/Unruly-Edges-Mushrooms-as-Companion-SpeciesFor

Crane, S. (2015). ‘Medieval Animal Studies: Dogs at Work’. Oxford Handbooks Online, available at: https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935338.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935338-e-103

Image Credits

Man with hunting dogs. Marginal drawing from Luttrell Psalter. Originally published in England East Anglia; circa 1325-1335. Photograph from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest, 2 Mar 2017.

Medieval Cosplaying. @ Grace Worm

Call for British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships candidates on fantasy

The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow is inviting expressions of interest from candidates who are considering applying for a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship focusing on research projects on fantasy/the fantastic.

Given the highly competitive nature of this scheme, the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow has put in place an internal process to select, and then closely support, potential candidates to be put forward with the University of Glasgow.  The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic is keen to support excellent research projects on fantasy that might attract funding from the BA scheme. Therefore we are seeking to identify, at an early stage, candidates whom we would be keen to mentor. We will offer them tailored support in preparing an application for the College selection process.

The British Academy application process is in two stages: The deadline for Outline applications is anticipated to be in mid-October 2021 (date tbc by the British Academy). The deadline for the second stage (by invitation only) is usually mid-February. The College of Arts internal deadline for UofG candidates is going to be towards the end of August 2021 (date tbc by College of Arts).

If you are interested in applying with a research project that focuses on fantasy/the fantastic, please send a CV and a draft of the research proposal part of the BA application by Thursday 15th July 2021 to arts-fantasy@glasgow.ac.uk.

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: A Journey to Narnia with Katherine Langrish

Join us for a journey to Narnia! In her just-published book From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine-Year-Old Self, celebrated children’s and young adult fantasy author Katherine Langrish has revisited her childhood reading of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series to explore what enchanted her in the books as a young reader, and ask whether they still have the power to do so. Hand in hand with her nine year-old self, Katherine traces many paths through Lewis’s thick forest of allusions not only to Christianity, but to Plato, fairy tales, myths, legends, medieval romances, renaissance poetry and indeed to other children’s books. She juxtaposes two very different ways of reading the Narnia stories: the adult, informed, rational way and the passionate childish way.

Join Katherine and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic co-directors Dr Robert Maslen and Dr Dimitra Fimi, on Thursday 17th June at 5pm BST via Zoom webinar. Rob and Dimitra will interview Katherine about the book and all things Narnia, before giving attendees the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with Katherine.

Click here to book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

More information about the book here.

You can access Katherine Langrish’s website here.

To join the Centre’s mailing list to receive newsletters about our events, activities, and opportunities, please click here.

Mapping the Impossible: Journal for Fantasy Research

by Oliver Langmead

Mapping the Impossible is a brand new open-access student journal publishing peer-reviewed research into fantasy and the fantastic. The editorial board and reviewers are composed of current students and recent graduates from institutions across the world, and we are so pleased to be opening for submissions this month. If you’d like to get involved, we are currently looking for reviewers and we would love to hear from you.

We currently have two issues lined up. Our first issue, to be published in October 2021, will be a special issue for papers submitted from this year’s GIFCon. Our second issue, to be published in March 2022, will be a general issue. We operate with a rolling submissions window, and if you’re interested in submitting to us, we would love to see your paper no matter when it’s ready! Check out our submissions page for the details and guidelines.

Mapping the Impossible has been developed specifically with early-career research into fantasy and the fantastic in mind. We exclusively publish papers by current students and recent graduates, and we define “fantasy” very broadly. Our aim is to highlight the brilliant work being done by undergraduates, postgraduates and student researchers looking into fantasy, and give them a new avenue to publication.

We are affiliated with and supported by the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic along with the annual fantasy research conference GIFCon, and are generously hosted by the University of Glasgow. It’s wonderful to be a part of such a vibrant community of fantasts, and we strongly encourage checking out the Centre, GIFCon, and the University of Glasgow’s Masters in Fantasy if the research we’re publishing inspires you.

On a personal note – putting together this journal, along with my colleagues Katarina O’Dette and Emma French, has been a real work of love, and we have a lot of people to thank for helping us get it off the ground. In the first instance, we have to highlight the wonderful work being done over at our sister publication, Press Start, who are publishing early career research in Game Studies and were the inspiration for Mapping the Impossible. The Press Start team have provided us with brilliant support in setting up, and without Matt Barr it’s likely we would have never got off the ground. Everyone at the Centre for Fantasy has been so enthusiastic and helpful, and their guidance has helped us work out the fine details of what you see today. And a special thanks must go to my brilliant sister, Lois Langmead, who was generous enough to donate some really wonderful illustrations to the site.

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

Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic Launch: Report and Reactions

It’s already been almost two weeks since the launch event for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, and we’re still receiving so many messages welcoming this new development at the University of Glasgow, and reactions in mainstream and social media. We are listing links to press reports on the Centre further below, but we’d like to share with all of our members and followers a wonderful report from the launch event by our PhD student Grace Worm. Grace is working on the YA fantasy novels of Tamora Pierce, and is in the second year of the PhD. She tweets at https://twitter.com/dressandsword.

Fantasy and the Fantastic

By Grace Worm


On good days as a research student, it feels exciting to know that you’re contributing to something new within your field. But then days go by in front of a computer, working on the same introduction sentence for four hours, and no matter how helpful your supervisors are, it can feel like you’re all alone in a race to an impossible feat of writing.

This last year was my first as a research student. I came in so excited – seeking opportunities all over campus to discuss and evolve my research and status as an emerging scholar. Then of course COVID and lockdown happened, which left me feeling alone and questioning why my research on gender and social equality in fantasy worlds was important in a global climate of panic, fear, and a growing distrust in science and research—how could my seemingly esoteric research be meaningful now?

This last week, I attended the UofG’s launch for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and for the first time in months, I felt that I and my research were important. At the event, I got to listen to authors Dr Brian Attebery, Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, and our own professors Dr Dimitra Fimi, Dr Matthew Sangster, Dr Rhys Williams, Dr Robert Maslen, Dr Laura Martin, Dr Maureen Farrell, and Dr Matthew Barr discussing fantasy and our university on the forefront of something that has never been done before.

In my research field and the general public, these people are legends, celebrities, people who built the building blocks of the research we’re all following now and they were talking about my university, my research, and a new age for Fantasy studies at the University of Glasgow.

In online fan communities unrelated to the university, I saw people posting about the event beforehand with captions like “Don’t you wish you were in Glasgow now?” or “A real-life place for magic” and I felt a bubbling sense of excitement and pride that we were changing the future of my field forever.

The event was for the University of Glasgow to become the first dedicated centre for fantasy studies throughout the world but it was also a declaration that we will not stop or slow down, no matter how separated we may be.

In the event chat, academics and fans alike posted where they were attending from – all over the UK and US, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia etc. If this had happened in a world without COVID, how many people could have travelled to attend the event? Would it have been recorded or published? Now it was an event for anyone who was dedicated to the fantastic.

Before lockdown, I would have been happy my university was leading the world, but now, as I watched these people discuss the future of fantasy through a Zoom call, it filled me with hope and a sense of comradery, as we, the unshown audience, shared our outfits on twitter, told others where we joined from, and asked questions from distinguished speakers.

We were together, despite everything, and in these uncertain times. We were full of life, ideas, and hope for a future we were making happen. We were celebrating Glasgow becoming the leader in fantasy studies, but now we were also leaders in how to navigate meaningful.


Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic – Video and Media reactions

Our launch event was recorded and is available to watch via our YouTube channel:

Press stories about the Centre launch:

STV News: University to launch world’s first fantasy research centre

The Herald: Scottish university which featured in TV show Outlander to officially launch fantasy centre with author Ellen Kushner

The Sunday Post: Game of Thrones and The Hobbit worlds researched by academics in new specialist centre

INews: University of Glasgow launches world’s first ‘centre for fantasy’

MuggleNet: University of Glasgow Launches Brand-New Groundbreaking Fantasy Research Center

Lonely Planet: Why the University of Glasgow is the new hotspot for fantasy fans