Monday, December 5, 2011

Holme Boys

The Sources of Holmes in Fantastical Fiction

Wymondham: Where the Holme Boys Are?
I continue my ruminating on the Holmes rulebook and have begun reading the novel, Maze of Peril.  For the first in my series of Holmesian Meditations, I wanted to draw attention to the literary source material that he explicitly mentions as the notional horizon of his fantasy.  In the section on Dungeon Mastering, we find the following:
The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The D&D universe also impinges on the fantasy worlds of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Gardner F. Fox, classical mythology and any other source of inspiration the Dungeon Master wants to use (41).

Maze of Peril is given a threefold dedication by Holmes:
  1. Gary Gygax (singly credited as the game's creator, unlike the rulebook)
  2. His sons (and their fellow unnamed players) who invented the characters, and
  3. (in order) J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and L. Sprague de Camp
I first note the congruity between the two: Tolkien is named first among the inspirational luminaries in both works.  For a full exploration of Tolkien in Holmes, see the work of Zenopus Archives. I like to think that Holmes and Tollers have already met in the original, heavenly Green Dragon Inn and hoisted a pint to those of us mythopoets still on our earthly rambles.  (Interestingly enough, Holmes' fiction is much more Lewisian than Tolkienesque in at least one important sense: Crom, Dagon, Mithra, Ammon, Christ, and other figures all inhabit the same story world.  I'm not aware of Holmes ever mentioning Lewis, but maybe Jack would need to sit between them to keep Tolkien from being to annoyed by this approach.)

While Holmes does not name Lovecraft in his edition of the rules, Lovecraft comes to the fore in MoP.  This is not surprising, given Holmes' Lovecraftian enthusiasm which bore fruit in both Dragon Magazine and Deities & Demigods (for which, again, see ZA.  Seriously, the guy is amazing: his blog and his website are major -- as far as I can tell, unequaled -- repositories of JEH scholarship and game aids).  In particular, Dagon and his cultists provide the main antagonists in the Underworld of MoP, introducing the possibility that the local town (Porttown, but not named?) could have been in danger of becoming another Innsmouth, someday.

By the way, assumption of Christian clerics and the Christian religion operating in a pagan fantasy setting is everywhere in MoP.  (Though I cannot find that Fr. Dave of the Blood of Prokopius blog treats the novel anywhere, it is full of material for his religion & RPG reflections.)  Christian names, the sign of the cross, and the invocation of St. Swithin (an alternative spelling for St. Swithun -- an alternative to St. Cuthbert?) abound.

St. Swithun of Winchester - from here.
I can't say much of anything about his naming L. Sprague de Camp, as I believe I have only read his S&S anthology and his Compleat Enchanter.  Others may have more to offer here, although, an obvious connection to be made is that both men were avid fans of Howard and Lovecraft.  Perhaps there is something about de Camp's attempts to combine the zany and the scholarly in his work that attracted Dr. Holmes?  Further, they have in common the effort to keep dead authors' universes alive by penning new (or finishing incomplete) works set within them.

I hope this glimpse into Holmes' inspirations will spur further rambles on my readers' parts, and highlight one direction the D&D pastiche takes in one of its practitioners: in particular, the desire to mash Lovecraft and Tolkien, different as they are, is far from new. That's the installment for this Mythopoeic Monday.  Don't be confused, however: I will produce these Holmesian meditations as they come, so don't look for them to be the regular Monday feature.


    1. Thank you for the compliments and pointers to my site/blog!

      There are a few connections between de Camp and Holmes. When I get a chance I'll write a blog post to summarize them.