Rank #1: An Interview with Michael Moorcock
Dec 02 2019
Rank #2: Episode 2 – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, & Lin Carter's "Conan"
In a now controversial move, series editors de Camp and Carter filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories, thus jump-starting the Conan pastiche era.
For the purist, the Howard-only stories in this collection are “The Hyborian Age, Part 1” (1936), “The Tower of the Elephant” (1933), “The God in the Bowl” (1952, Howard’s original version first published 1975), and “Rogues in the House” (1934).
Regardless of the editorial controversies, the Lancer/Ace series was the only widely available source of Howard-penned Conan stories for nearly three decades, sustaining the sword and sorcery boom from the late ‘60s to the mid ‘90s. Robert E. Howard’s furious prose and the now-iconic Frank Frazetta cover illustrations on many of the volumes have cemented Conan the Cimmerian in popular culture. Frazetta had clearly read and internalized the dynamism of the Conan stories, as shown by his cover painting of Conan’s epic struggle with Thak the apeman from “Rogues in the House”.
As Dungeons & Dragons was created in the era of peak Conan, it is natural that Conan’s presence would be felt, starting with a write-up in Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward’s OD&D supplement Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976). Gary Gygax himself would write up Conan as he appeared in various stages of his career in Dragon magazine issue 36 (1980)--a treatment that presaged the eventual AD&D Barbarian class in Dragon issue 62 (1982) and Unearthed Arcana (1985).
Conan the Cimmerian has since remained a perennial roleplaying game property, both with TSR and other publishers, but that’s a story for another day….
Jul 14 2017
Rank #3: Episode 58 - Michael Moorcock's "The Singing Citadel" with special guest Dirk the Dice
Nov 18 2019
Rank #4: Episode 36 - Manly Wade Wellman's "Who Fears the Devil?" with special guest Michael Curtis
Dec 31 2018
Rank #5: Episode 12 - Michael Moorcock's "The Stealer of Souls"
At first glance, Elric of Melniboné appears to be the very antithesis of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian: a physically weak sorcerer, addicted to drugs, symbiotically linked to the malignant black sword Stormbringer, and the rightful emperor of a cruel and decadent pre-human civilization. Moorcock and Elric are often characterized as a negation or rejection of Howardian swords & sorcery, but that’s a drastic oversimplification of Moorcock’s relationship to pulp fantasy.
Moorcock was precocious fantasy talent, creating fanzines as a schoolboy and becoming editor of the professional magazine Tarzan Adventures by the age 17 in 1957. Moorcock was a notable contributor to AMRA, a fanzine that was a hotbed of discussion about fantasy fiction and counted among its many notable correspondents Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and Roger Zelazny. As mentioned here, the term “swords and sorcery” was coined by Fritz Leiber in dialogue with Moorcock, although Moorcock has always preferred the term “epic fantasy”. Moorcock has at times minimized but never totally denied his appreciation for Howard, most likely hoping to let the Elric saga stand on its own two feet. He’s also held up his deep regard for the works of Leigh Brackett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and Fletcher Pratt among others and was later a founding member of the Swordsmen and Sorceror's Guild of America, none of which indicates someone contemptuous or indifferent to fantasy fiction.
Moorcock continued to write Elric stories in the late 1960s and the 1970s that were set prior to the events of Stormbringer. DAW Books republished the Elric Saga in 1977, arranging the stories by internal chronology, splitting the stories from The Stealer of Souls between The Weird of the White Wolf and The Bane of the Black Sword, the third and fifth books of Elric’s saga respectively. With Moorcock’s approval, Del Rey/Ballantine began publishing the “definitive” version of Elric’s saga in 2008, once again collecting the stories in publication order.
Elric’s saga clearly had an impact on Gary Gygax as he specifically mentions Elric as a playable figure in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971). The Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Chainmail and original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) may have originated with Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, but there’s a distinct Moorcockian flavor in practice, although that would obviously vary from gaming group to gaming group.
Rob Kuntz and James Ward wrote up Elric and the Melnibonéan mythos in the fourth Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes (1976). Four years later, Kuntz and Ward would detail the Melnibonéan mythos for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in Deities & Demigods (1980). Although TSR had permission from Moorcock to use Elric for D&D, their West Coast rivals Chaosium secured the official Elric license in 1981, leading TSR to remove the Melnibonéan section (and Cthulhu Mythos section) from the third printing onwards of Deities & Demigods. As a result, the first two printings of Deities & Demigods are now highly sought after collector’s items. In the meantime, Elric’s gaming presence has remained tightly bound up in the RuneQuest/Basic Role-Playing system for over 25 years, with the exception of Chaosium’s D20 System adaptation Dragon Lords of Melniboné (2001). There is currently no gaming license for any of Michael Moorcock’s works, so it remains to be seen if Elric will ever make an official reappearance at the gaming table….
Oct 30 2017
Rank #6: Episode 28 - Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Freebooter" with special guest Diogo Nogueira
As with the other Lancer/Ace Conan books, series editor de Camp filled in gaps in Conan’s timeline by expanding Howard’s unpublished notes and fragments, re-writing non-Conan stories, and writing entirely new stories. For the purist, the Howard-only stories in Conan the Freebooter are “Black Colossus” (1933), “Shadows in the Moonlight” (AKA “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, 1934), and “A Witch Shall be Born” (1934).
In 1955, L. Sprague de Camp rewrote the then unpublished Howard story “Hawks over Egypt” as “Hawks over Shem”, changing the setting from Cairo in AD 1021 and adding the fantastic elements to turn it into a Conan tale. “The Road of the Kings” received the same treatment, being transferred to the Hyborian Age from the Ottoman Empire in AD 1595. Both of the original Howard stories were suppressed after de Camp’s rewrites and would not see print until they were collected in the small-press hardcover The Road of Azrael (Donald M. Grant, 1979).
John Duilo contributed possibly the worst Conan cover ever, an anatomically nonsensical depiction of Conan’s battle with the great gray man-ape from “Shadows in the Moonlight”:
The sad thing is that Duilo was normally an exceptional illustrator, as evidenced by the moody romanticism of his Western art and the sleazy verve of his men’s magazine covers.
The later Boris Vallejo cover interpreting the climax of “A Witch Shall be Born” is much better, but static in comparison to the furious energy of Frank Frazetta:
In both “Black Colossus” and “A Witch Shall be Born” we see Conan as a cunning strategist who leads thousand of men into battle. It’s easy to imagine Gary Gygax and company playing out these Hyborian Age conflicts in the pre-Dungeons & Dragons miniatures wargame Chainmail (1971) or in the later Swords & Spells (1976) ruleset. Other story elements from Conan the Freebooter that stand out as being proto-D&D include Shevatas the “thief among thieves” from the prologue to “Black Colossus” and gray man-ape of “Shadows in the Moonlight” is certainly the “APE, Carnivorous” of the AD&D Monster Manual (1977). As always, Robert E. Howard’s stories remain the motherlode of swords & sorcery inspiration….
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria Book 1)
The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria Book 2) TPB (trade paperback)
The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan of Cimmeria Book 2) (Kindle ebook)
These books are part of the Del Rey/Ballantine 3-book trade paperback series collecting the Conan stories in the order they were written by Robert E. Howard, often going back to his original typescripts. Also included are many of Howard’s Conan story drafts, note, and fragments, but none of the posthumous revisions and new stories by de Camp, Carter, et al. “Black Colossus” and “Iron Shadows in the Moon” both appear in the first volume and “A Witch Shall be Born” appears in the second volume.
http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/RobertEHoward/REH-Conan/@Conan.html is an online public domain repository of all of the Conan stories that were published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime and several posthumously published works that are out of copyright.
Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures collects Robert E. Howard’s original versions of “Hawks over Egypt” and “The Road of the Eagles”, untouched by L. Sprague de Camp.
Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (PWYW RPGNow affiliate link)
Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum (PWYW RPGNow affiliate link)
Jun 11 2018
Rank #7: Episode 23 - H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" with special guest Bob Brinkman
Given H.P. Lovecraft’s omnipresence today, it’s easy to forget that he had largely faded out of reading public’s mind within a few years of his death in 1937. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei did their best to keep Lovecraft in print by founding the small press Arkham House in 1939, but the publishing house’s output for its first 20 years was mostly limited to high quality hardcovers in short print runs.
Arkham House was often on tenuous financial footing from its very founding, but the snowballing revival of interest in Lovecraft’s Weird Tales compatriot Robert E. Howard in the 1960s seems to have also raised Lovecraft’s visibility. Arkham House seized the opportunity by releasing three newly re-edited omnibus volumes of Lovecraft’s fiction, The Dunwich Horror & Others (1963, revised 1985), At the Mountains of Madness & Other Novels (1964, revised 1986), and Dagon & Other Macabre Tales (1965, revised 1986) and then licensing the stories for paperback publication.
At the Mountains of Madness & Other Tales of Terror (Beagle/Ballantine Books, 1971) was a slimmed-down version of the Arkham House hardcover and featured the novel At the Mountains of Madness and the short stories “The Shunned House”, “Dreams in the Witch-House”, and “The Statement of Randolph Carter”.
Mar 05 2018
Rank #8: Episode 19 - Jack Vance's "The Eyes of the Overworld" with special guest David Hoskins
After The Eyes of the Overworld Vance once more took a long hiatus from the Dying Earth before returning again to the setting in the mid-1980s with Cugel’s Saga (1983) and Rhialto the Marvellous (1984). The Dying Earth books remain Vance’s most recognizable works, even lending their name to an entire subgenre of science fantasy, although the evolution of the subgenre can be traced back at least through Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).
Dec 25 2017
Rank #9: Episode 35 - Michael Moorcock's "Stormbringer" with special guest Terry Olson
Dec 17 2018
Rank #10: Episode 25 - Andre Norton's "Witch World" with special guest Fletcher Vredenburgh
Apr 02 2018
Rank #11: Episode 22 – Extra Credit - Clark Ashton Smith's "Zothique" with special guest Andy Markham
Feb 12 2018
Rank #12: Episode 18 - Fritz Leiber's "Swords Against Death" with special guest Jen Brinkman
The stories is this volume are “The Circle Curse” (1970), “The Jewels in the Forest” (1939), “Thieves’ House” (1943), “The Bleak Shore” (1940), “The Howling Tower” (1941), “The Sunken Land” (1942), “The Seven Black Priests” (1953), “Claws from the Night” (1951), “The Price of Pain-Ease” (1970), and “Bazaar of the Bizarre” (1963). “The Jewels in the Forest” was the very first Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story to appear in print, under its original title “Two Sought Adventure” in Unknown magazine in 1939. The subsequent four stories also appeared in Unknown, which was cancelled in 1943 due to wartime paper shortages.
A further handful of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories including “Claws from the Night” and “The Seven Black Priests” trickled out over the next two decades. In 1957 all of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories to date except “Adept’s Gambit” (1936/1947) were collected in the Gnome Press hardcover Two Sought Adventure. This collection was later expanded to provide the spine of Swords Against Death.
Dec 18 2017
Rank #13: Episode 9 - Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions
Although Anderson was best known during the first half of his writing career as a science fiction author, Three Hearts and Three Lions and his following fantasy work The Broken Sword (1954) had a strong impact on knowledgeable fans and fellow writers, perhaps most clearly with Michael Moorcock’s adoption and reinterpretation of the cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos in the Elric of Melniboné stories, which began appearing in 1961.
It’s interesting to speculate how much of himself Anderson put into Holger Carlsen, the hero of Three Hearts and Three Lions--they are both Danish-Americans, trained in science and engineering, and apparently wholly rational and pragmatic. Holger rises to adventure though, rediscovering and embracing his true identity as Ogier the Dane, paladin of Charlemagne and one the great heroes of medieval European literature. In a similar vein, perhaps Anderson’s romantic side led him to become a founding member of both the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Swordsmen and Sorceror's Guild of America.
Throughout its publishing history Three Hearts and Three Lions never had an iconic cover, and the Appendix N-era 1978 Berkley Medallion paperback is no exception, featuring a serviceable cover by Wayne Barlowe, who would later become more well-known for his anatomically realistic depictions of fantastic creatures and truly alien life.
That Three Hearts and Three Lions is one of the most significant influences on early Dungeons & Dragons is undeniable. For example, Gary Gygax specifically cites the book in the listing for the “True Troll” in the “Fantasy Supplement” to Chainmail (1971), although a full description of the Andersonian troll (and the nixie) would have to wait for the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set. The original 1974 rules would also feature the most famous borrowing from Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Law vs. Chaos alignment system, although perhaps filtered through Michael Moorcock’s interpretation in the Elric books.
Certain Lawful fighters could elect to achieve Holger Carlsen-esque paladin status with the publication of the first D&D supplement, Greyhawk (1975). Paladins would evolve into their quintessential D&D form as a fighter sub-class in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (1978)
The troll and the nixie would receive much more detailed write-ups in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977), with the Swanmay finally making her first D&D appearance in the Monster Manual II (1983). A close reading of Three Hearts and Three Lions and the various early Dungeons & Dragons would undoubtedly reveal more direct influences on the game as we know it today.
Sep 25 2017
Rank #14: Episode 42 - Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Wanderer” with special guest Jon from the Cromcast
Mar 25 2019
Rank #15: Episode 24 - J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring" with special guest Daniel J. Bishop
Mar 19 2018
Rank #16: Episode 54 - Fletcher Pratt's "The Well of the Unicorn" with special guest Strix Beltrán
Sep 23 2019
Rank #17: Episode 45 - A. Merritt's "The Moon Pool" with special guest Joseph Goodman
May 06 2019
Rank #18: Episode 10 - Roger Zelazny's "Jack of Shadows"
Jack of Shadows was originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1971 and was immediately reprinted in hardcover by Walker & Company, followed by a paperback edition from Signet in 1972. Jack of Shadows was well-received from first release, garnering Hugo and Locus Award nominations in 1972--it did not achieve the lasting popularity of The Chronicles of Amber or many of Zelazny’s other books however, and was out of print for over 25 years until it was recently reprinted by the Chicago Review Press in 2016.
Gary Gygax wrote in issue #2 of The Excellent Prismatic Spray (2001) that Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever and Zelazny’s Shadowjack were the greatest influences on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thief class as described in the The Players Handbook (1978). The thief’s abilities as written though are rather mundane and have a low probability of success for beginning characters. If the thief’s skills are re-imagined as being a quasi-mystical version of Jack’s powers, then even a 10% chance of utterly disappearing into shadows becomes a very powerful ability indeed! Of course, Jack as he appears in Jack of Shadows is not a mere skulking footpad but a magician of unsurpassed power, so it makes sense that he was written up as such in Wizards (1983), part of Mayfair Games’ Role Aids line of unofficial Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplements.
It’s worth noting that although a thief-type class is considered core to Dungeons & Dragons today, the class was not included in the original 1974 box set and only made its first appearance in the first D&D supplement Greyhawk (1975). In some gaming circles this has kicked off a 40+ year debate over whether the thief deserves to be its own character class or if being a thief is properly a role that all adventurers play….
Oct 02 2017
Rank #19: Episode 27 - Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Pellucidar" with special guest Harley Stroh
May 28 2018
Rank #20: Episode 34 - Roger Zelazny's "Nine Princes in Amber" with special guest Marc Bruner
Nov 05 2018