Appendix N Review

This is a review of Appendix N, … or, Jeffro Johnson’s big book of SFF, and the start of the pulp revolution.

My first experience with RPGs is thinking “Well, I might want to play with a rocket propelled grenade, but I don’t think they’d let me in my neighborhood. New York isn’t any fun.”

My first experience with actual Role Playing Games can boil down to video games. I don’t even mean an extensive look at Final Fantasy (I’ve only played VI and XII). But this includes but Dragon Age: Origins, the complete Neverwinter Nights, and the first Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (which inspired my system for vampires).

Actual RPGs I barely knew about. I got some of the jokes in The Order of the Stick comic. I knew of Gary Gygax. I had vague recollections of the great D&D scare of the 80s. I knew very little about Dungeons & Dragons, and I have no idea of the differences between version one, version two, and version nine (Is there even a version nine?).

I essentially I went into Appendix N cold, with no idea what the title referred to.

For the record, the title refers to the Appendix N of the original D&D dungeon master’s manual, wherein Gygax highlighted and cited all of the various and sundry works that inspired the facets of the world of D&D.

It’s a reading list.

APPENDIX N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of SF/F’s past that will fascinate any serious role-playing gamer or fan of classic science fiction and fantasy.

Author Jeffro Johnson, an expert role-playing gamer, accomplished Dungeon Master and three-time Hugo Award Finalist, critically reviews all 43 works and authors listed by Gygax in the famous appendix. In doing so, he draws a series of intelligent conclusions about the literary gap between past and present that are surprisingly relevant to current events, not only in the fantastic world of role-playing, but the real world in which the players live.

And this spans …. everybody, really. Fred Saberhagen, Robert E. Howard. Edgar Rice Burrows, Lord Dunsany, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown …. I’m not listing all of them here. Many of them I had barely heard of, and some I had never heard of. The end result of a series of critical essays into a — by and large — literary world of pre-Tolkein fantasy.

This not only provides the footnotes for Gary Gygax’s world, but a meticulous study of each element thereof.

At the end of the day, this is also a study of what has been lost, buried alive under a mountain of grimdark, postmodern feces claiming to be “edgy” fantasy, while they are merely just wallowing in the miserable. George RR Martin, I’m looking at you.

Appendix N shows just how fantastic fantasy can be when not bogged down by the arbitrary and capricious rules of “reality,” where “the real” does not equal “the true and the beautiful,” but equals the miserable to such an extent that it thus becomes unreal.

Imagine the epic rap battle of history between Tolkein and Martin, only imagine it done across an entire genre.

This is an impressive work of literary history. In fact, the only problem this work has is in its footnotes. Yes, just the footnotes. You can tell that this is based off of a series of blogs, since some of the footnotes refer to works covered in other months instead of other chapters. And …. that’s it. Considering the effort it takes to make a book out of blogs posts — and trust me, I know — this is quite impressive. There will be some people who have some issues with some of Jeffro’s likes and dislikes of worls such as Star Wars and Tolkien, but we can all survive a difference of opinion.

Five stars all the way. For anyone who wants to see the entire history of a genre at a glance, you need to own this one. Buy it now.

Afterwards, you can go out and buy the books he covers.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.