Friday, January 28, 2022

TFMS - mid-end Jan 2022 Blog Roundup

Tales from the Magician's Skull Blog Roundup, mid to end-Jan 2022


Skull Champion of the Fifth Order, Bill Ward, continues to marshal his army of articles! Here is the latest headlines (linked) with blurbs:

JAN 26 Adventures in Fiction: Philip Jose Farmer by Jeff Goad
Today we are celebrating the birthday of Philip José Farmer. While he isn’t around to celebrate this day with us, his books are still here inspiring writers and game designers as they have for decades past.
Farmer found early acclaim in the pulps, winning the Hugo in 1953 for Best New SF Author only a year after the publication of his first tale in Startling Stories. He continued writing for Startling Stories where his work would be found beside that of other Appendix N luminaries like Jack Vance and Fletcher Pratt. Other early works can be found in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a publication that features a letter to the editor from Gary Gygax himself in the August 1963 issue.
Farmer’s first novel, The Green Odyssey, was published by Ballantine Books in 1957 and was the start of a prolific output of novels for Ballantine Books, Ace Paperbacks, and other publishing houses. He released 15 novels in the 1960s then topped that with another 23 in the 1970s!

JAN 25 Classic Covers: The Savage Sword of Conan
How do you skirt a restrictive comics code and make visual Conan stories with the requisite blood-pumping grittiness that is integral to Howard’s adventures? You make a magazine of course! Already popular in his initial comic book incarnation of Conan the Barbarian, Marvel introduced the more adult-oriented The Savage Sword of Conan in 1974, quickly achieving a wide circulation and, thanks to writer and editor Roy Thomas’ legendary first 60 issue run, eventual cult classic status. Savage Sword featured straight Howard adaptations, pastiche, and original stories, and included more than just Conan tales but adventures from other popular Howard characters such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and King Kull.

JAN 23 The Best Of The Conan Pastiche Novels by Howard Andrew Jones
If I didn’t love the writing of Robert E. Howard I would probably never have bothered with any Conan pastiche. As a matter of fact, those Conan novels on store shelves in the ’70s and ’80s made me so skeptical of Conan that I didn’t try Robert E. Howard’s fiction until years later. I wrongly assumed that because the series looked cheap and mass-produced that Howard’s writing would sound that way. (Robert E. Howard, of course, had nothing to do with the mass marketing of his character, having been dead for decades before that marketing was carried out by other hands.)
You can fit the sum total of all the Conan that Howard wrote (including some fragments and rejected stories) into one large hardback. That’s not a lot of fiction about such a great character, and so for decades, people have been trying to create new tales of adventure starring Conan, mostly because they wanted MORE!

JAN 22 Adventures in Fiction: Robert E. Howard
There may not be a more iconic character in fantasy—and particularly sword and sorcery—fiction than Conan the Barbarian. From his first appearance in Weird Tales back in 1932, the character has influenced how we see any iconic sword-wielding hero. And for that, we can thank Robert E. Howard.
Over the years a number of posts on our site have been focused on Mr. Howard and his impact not just on literature, but also on the world of role-playing games. All of those posts can be found under our Adventures in Fiction banner, but we want to give you direct links to a trio of our favorites, as well as the post included here. So, after reading below, be sure to go give a look at Films of High Adventure: Robert E. Howard, Real Life Adventures – The Robert E. Howard House, and Gen Con Videos, Part 1: Gaming in the Spirit of Robert E. Howard.

JAN 21 It Was a Dark and Silly Night – A Look at John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost
Whimsy and suspense don’t generally mesh all that well together, for they tend to swing toward opposite poles of reader engagement. Whimsy tickles the intellect, relying on novel juxtapositions and a great deal of textual playfulness – it’s cute, it’s precise, and most often it resides in a place of certainty and safety. Suspense – or more accurately in the case of John Bellairs’ 1969 debut novel The Face in the Frost, dread – is instead the assassin slipping past the intellect to knife that deepest part of the hind-brain, or perhaps its better to say its the cold, rhythmic pounding of subtle waves of suggestion that periodically climax in the massive erosive collapse of the shoreline of a reader’s composure. This horror effect absolutely requires a sort of visceral engagement with the material, a thorough Secondary Belief just like with fantasy – the kind of thing that jokey anachronisms, deliberate wordplay, and humorous allusions would seem to undermine at every turn. But Bellairs manages the trick of juggling these disparate elements with the sure confidence of a natural storyteller in a concise, captivating way that rarely places a foot wrong and never comes close to overstaying its welcome.

JAN 20 Adventures in Fiction: Abraham Merritt by James Maliszewski
Of all the literary influences on D&D and DCC RPG, Abraham Merritt is perhaps the “most-influential of the least-known.” His work is rarely read in this modern time, yet he is named by Gary Gygax as one of “the most immediate influences on AD&D. Today, on January 20, 2020, the 136th anniversary of his birth, we provide a little more insight into this little-read but well-deserving author. You can also learn about all the Appendix N authors by listening to the Appendix N Book Club. For Merritt in particular, his most famous work, The Moon Pool, was recently covered in a special session on the Appendix N Podcast in which Joseph Goodman participated.

JAN 19 Appendix N Archaeology: Edgar Allan Poe by Bradley K McDevitt
Ok, class, before we start… let’s have a show of hands. Who here thinks about reading Edgar Allan Poe and gets traumatic flashbacks to seventh-grade English?
I thought so. Having the father of the modern horror story force-fed us tends to have that effect, as opposed to other lesser writers like Lovecraft, Howard, or Tolkien, all of whom we had to discover on our own.
Poe was the first successful writer to pen stories intended with no purpose but to ensure the reader would not have pleasant dreams that night. I dare anyone suffering from claustrophobia to go back and read A Cask of Amontillado or The Black Cat and then sleep with the lights off. Go ahead, I double-dog dare you.

JAN 18 Adventures in Fiction: John Bellairs by Ngo Vinh-Hoi
John Anthony Bellairs was born on January 17th, 1938 in Marshall, Michigan, which he described as “full of strange and enormous old houses, and the place must have worked on [his] imagination.” A shy and overweight child, he “would walk back and forth between [his] home and Catholic school and have medieval fantasies featuring [himself] as the hero.” He found refuge in books, excelling in college as an English major and even appearing on an episode of the TV quiz show G.E. College Bowl in 1959, where he recited the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in fluent Middle English. After getting his Master’s degree Bellairs taught English at several colleges across the midwest before taking time off in 1967 when he moved to Bristol, England, for a year to concentrate on his fiction writing. Many years later a fan asked Bellairs about his time in England only to have him reply “I lived for a year in Bristol [England], and it was the most miserable year of my life.” Bellairs’s misery was everyone else’s good fortune though, as this is when he wrote The Face in the Frost.

JAN 14 Where to Start With Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was a giant and a father to giants, his literary creations so potent that they have informed popular culture and permeated mass consciousness down to the present day. But their very ubiquity can obscure and deceive – if two people strike up a conversation about Conan, are they actually talking about the same Conan? What’s going on with all of these other writers penning stories of Howard’s heroes, and do they need to be read in order? Out of the dozens of reprints and collections over the years, just where do you actually start?