Monday, March 2, 2015

Moorcock on D&D

I'm reading Michael Moorcock's critical work Wizardry and Wild Romance (1987) and I've been really taken by it. It's partly hot polemic (even hysterical in places), but the lovely thing is in how dense it is, that he probably references and introduces you to a half-dozen new authors on any given page on the book. The copy in my hands right now is from our school library, but I plan to buy a copy for my personal bookshelf.

In the last few pages of the work he writes this:
One of the peculiar developments in the past ten years or so has been the rise of the "Dungeons and Dragons" industry. These role-playing games are derived directly from epic fantasy. They owe everything to the original writers like Howard or Tolkien. Thousands of people -- mostly teenagers -- live out large parts of their lives questing for treasures, outwitting wizards and doing in dragons. I must admit that these games are too complex for me and, while they hold no attraction, I am fascinated by the elaborate pains people take in playing them. What is more, people are now frequently buying books because they are curious to discover the origins of their favorite game. [*] This industry has led to writers producing books which are essentially templates for role-playing games. It is a subject I'm not qualified to discuss and I am sure there must be a number of books which deal with the phenomenon itself. The kid you see in the street who appears to be the village idiot might well have a huge IQ. He also happens to "be" Gorijor the Thief, on a dangerous mission to the City of Slithering Salamanders. And that bulge in his pocket could well be a selection of toy models, each one of which is a character in a complicated drama being enacted across a district, sometimes an entire country! Together with the rise of the computer game, the fantasy-role-playing game is having an impact on children which is extremely hard to gauge. What was virtually a formless ambience in my eleven-year-old head is probably a highly codified and fully understood structure in the head of today's eleven-year-old. The impulses are the same, but there are now huge industries (like those which produce all kinds of movie "spin-offs") ready to tap into them, to exploit them commercially, to supply them with rules. (For once I find myself incapable of drawing a moral lesson from this!)

Commercial interests, of course, are always in the process of "taking away" from the people, formalizing and sanitizing something and selling it back to them, just as commercial interests successfully institutionalized so much rock music...

[*] That being the exact reason I'm reading these words from Moorcock right now, obviously.


5 comments:

  1. That's a great book. It shaped my thinking on fantasy fiction since I found in a used book store in Saratoga during my high school years. I think Moorcock is a very perceptive critic (tbh, I think he's a better critic than a writer of fiction).

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    1. I could totally get on board with that. As I've said before, I love the early (and very brief) Elric stuff, but his later works have the most precipitous dropoff of any writer I know.

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  2. that's a good book. I wish he'd write a book about his Elric work, since Wizardry and Wild Romance does not talk about it at all, if I remember right.

    Off topic, Delta did you see that WOTC has released their Mass Combat system for 5e?
    http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/unearthed-arcana-when-armies-clash

    Its only 9 pages long but you might find it interesting. I've found it confusing so far... :D

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    1. Hey, thanks for that link -- I've more than one question recently but I wasn't clear that they'd just released something. I'll try to find time this weekend to read that (caveat: I'm not really following 5e in the first place).

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