Mon
Sep 16 2013 2:00pm

Advanced Readings in D&D: Lin Carter

Lin Carter The Warrior of World's EndIn “Advanced Readings in D&D,” Tor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode take a look at Gary Gygax’s favorite authors and reread one per week, in an effort to explore the origins of Dungeons and Dragons and see which of these sometimes-famous, sometimes-obscure authors are worth rereading today. Sometimes the posts will be conversations, while other times they will be solo reflections, but one thing is guaranteed: Appendix N will be written about, along with dungeons, and maybe dragons, and probably wizards, and sometimes robots, and, if you’re up for it, even more.

Welcome to the fifteenth post in the series, featuring a look at The Warrior of World’s End by Lin Carter!

Tim Callahan: I don’t know that I’d say that Lin Carter hammered a home run with the ending of The Warrior of World’s End—if you will allow me a baseball metaphor for no good reason—but this was a jam-packed book, even at only 150 pages.

I fell in love with the insanity of this book pretty early on, and my enthusiasm rarely waned, even with its relatively abrupt climax-and-conclusion. Many of the books we’ve been reading for this Gygax project have sequels or are part of multi-book series, and though I haven’t rushed out for more Lin Carter and World’s End yet, I’m tempted to in a way that I haven’t been tempted by anything else recently.

This “First Book of the Gondwain Epic,” or so it says in my copy, which I believe is the first (and only?) edition from 1974, tells the story of the rise and super-crazy-rise and super-super-wonderfully-mad-action-packed-rise-even-higher-on-a-flying-metal-bird of Ganelon Silvermane, who is kind of like a...how do I put this...advanced clone of Jesus and He-Man or something? His name is Ganelon Silvermane, and he’s all-around awesome.

And then there’s the writing.

Sometimes this book reads like a barely-controlled stream of fake science and unrestrained fantasy, and other times it reads like Lin Carter was using William Burrough’s cut-up technique on a bunch of old pulps and science textbooks he had floating around his office. The prose features sentences like this:

“The Tigermen fiercely resented this form of blackmail, and soon found means of rejecting the demands of the so-called Airmasters (as the Sky Islanders had taken to calling themselves). For the comet’s head, a giant mass of frozen oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium, was buried beneath the roots of the Thazarian Mountains...”

And it goes on, and that’s no early-story exposition, that’s two-thirds of the way through the book, because Lin Carter does not establish a world and then set his plot in motion. He constantly builds this world as he goes, amplifying the strange landscape and weird cultures and alien races and setting Ganelon Silvermane to work as the one who will unite them all, mostly with his rad fighting skills.

Mordicai Knode: I’m so glad this book came around when it did; I was starting to sour on the Appendices but then, BAM! Like lightning, Warrior of World’s End started laying down the sick beats. It reads sort of...well, to use the lingo of the Appendices, it reads like one of Jack Vance’s wizards is in a tutelary role like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s patrons, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face to a John Carter-esque protagonist. There are a lot of influences going into this, is what I’m saying, making a rich stew. Hearty fare for a weary traveller!

As Tim mentions, this book just immediately goes madcap, and for the best. The crazyquilt of ideas actually gets stitched into a rather cohesive—if surreal—whole. At this risk of bringing up another comparison, it sort of reminds me of Jack Kirby, where each crazy thing thrown into the mix stays in the mix; it isn’t scrubbed out or forgotten but rather lingers, remaining a vibrant part of the story. A lot of fiction throws in big ideas and then walks away from them without exploring their ramifications, but if Warrior of World’s End says there is a giant metal flying robot-bird then doggone it, that robot-bird is going to stick around and become a major character!

And there certainly are a lot of big ideas, just scattered around, helter-skelter. Heck, things kick off with a “godmaker” and a “pseudowoman” as the Joseph and Mary of the story, and that is in the comparatively tame establishing bits. Some of the rest of the trivia you get in exposition, but some of it is happily and lovingly rendered in footnotes. “The zodiacal signs recognized in this era..” starts one, going on to list things like Manticore, Bazonga, Minimal, Merwoman, and Spurge. I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I’m a sucker for worldbuilding, so tiny asides like that really get to me, you know?

TC: Yeah, the kind of worldbuilding I love isn’t in the pseudo-historical details and lengthy chronicles of lands that never were (I’m looking at you Silmarillion), but in the evocative names tossed around and the implied depth of the world. I like the suggestion of the enormity, and weirdness, of a fantasy world, but I don’t like to know all of the scientific and economic details about it. Lin Carter doesn’t give us that stuff. He jumps right into the madness and explains just enough to give us a foundation to make some kind of sense out of everything. But it’s not the explanations that matter—it’s the non-stop acceleration through increasingly epic events.

It’s absolutely Jack Kirbyish, and I love it for that.

MK: Well, I am a Silmarillion nerd— I know it is basically just “biblical begats” but it is my jam— but I don’t want to go off-topic here on that rant. You’re right though, “evocative” is the term: The Warrior of World’s End tosses out entire ideas, just a kernel that your imagination waters and tends to till it sprouts into something personal and unique, filling in the corners of the world off the map. At the same time, what gets me is that, after dangling all these story hooks around, Carter actually grabs some of them, and takes the story off in that direction. We both mentioned the giant robotic bird—well, whatever you want to call a magical superscience automaton, maybe robot is the wrong word for it—but the multi-dimension, soul-eating lobster demon who speaks in a charming pidgin is pretty great, too. Not to mention that the novel remembers that a multi-dimensional demon and a metal bird exists outside of the scenes establishing them. It is Chekhov’s Gun—a simple narrative tool, but in the gonzo context, it really shines.

TC: Oh yeah, I totally agree. This is a book that builds its mythology as it goes, like some kind of genius tesseract of narrative. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds like it would fit The Warrior of World’s End.

And, in the larger context of this Gary Gygax Appendix N stuff, this Lin Carter novel reminds us of the unrestrained promise of early D&D. As the game evolved and kind of solidified into what most people play as a relatively traditional fantasy setting, D&D lost some of the anything-goes bravado of its early incarnations. Gygax’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books had pages devoted to converting characters from D&D to the western rules of Boot Hill or the post-apocalypse of Gamma World. Reports of the adventures he used to run—as evidenced by modules like Dungeonland—show that Gygax’s game wasn’t a straightforward dudes-in-armor-exploring-ruins kind of thing. He had his characters teleported to insane worlds where parodies of Alice in Wonderland characters appeared. He wasn’t afraid to amplify the mythology-building in his games.

The Warrior of World’s End reminds me of that. Anything can happen, but in the end it makes sense in its own way. And that’s only after reading one book in the series. I have no idea how much more madness Lin Carter packs in to Ganelon Silvermane’s story in later volumes.

MN: That is a really smart point. Gygax’s games had people transported to other planets where their primary class didn’t work, or sent mysteriously into the Wild West. Where, you know, they would pick up stuff that would not only stay with them (Muryland’s “magic wands” which are just six-shooters) but bleed over into the game (Melf’s planetary adventures are the reason that AD&D’s multi-classing rules—or is it dual classing?—are so bizarre). Heck, you can still see those wacky ideas enshrined in the magic items; Vance’s IOUN stones, the Apparatus of Kwalish, Elric’s Stormbri... I mean, Blackrazor, just these little snake-hands, artifacts of a wilder, untamed D&D.

You’re right that the assumptions of the game have condensed into a sort of high fantasy setting, but that is the genius of campaign settings. Spelljammer may not be supported these days, but it remains one of my fondest Dungeons & Dragons milieus. Travelling through the Ptolemaic heavens in spaceships designed to look like nautiluses and manta rays, encountering squidheaded aliens and hippo-headed aliens...that attitude of pushing the envelope shows up time & again. If reading Lin Carter inspires anything, it should be to steal from the odder corners of the game, and to turn the Weird Dial up to 11 for a session or two.

TC: To the Phlogiston, and beyond!


Tim Callahan usually writes about comics and Mordicai Knode usually writes about games. They both play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons.

29 comments
Walker White
2. Walker
I still think of Lin Carter as more of an editor than a writer. The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was incredibly influential (and contemporaneous to Appendix N). For a while, it was the only way to get many of the Clark Ashton Smith stories.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
I mostly know Carter's writing through his contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, and those tend to be a tad unsinspired. As Walker notes @2, his role as an editor in the BAF is very important, though largely overwhelmed by the Tolkien-mania of the later 70s. Carter is responsible for bringing things like Gormenghast and ER Eddison's work to American audiences. The series is a tremendous glimpse into what adult fantasy looked like upto around mid-century or a little later and a sad reminder of what the field could look like if the publishers hadn't forced Tolkien imitators to the fore.

Tim wrote:
the evocative names tossed around and the implied depth of the world.
Oh man, are going to love Dunsany.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
4. hoopmanjh
Yep, Carter was much more important as an editor & anthologist than as an author. Having said that, of the series he wrote, I think World's End is my favorite just because of the setting and the kind of anything-goes tone.

"...advanced clone of Jesus and He-Man..." Love it!
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
3. DemetriosX

I never have read Gormenghast. I meant to, I even bought the book...but it was the wrong book. That is my bad, my bad! Anyhow, Dunsany was read & discussed but...spoilers!
Alan Brown
6. AlanBrown
I never read this particular book, but I always remembered Carter's work being fun, if somewhat derivative. As I remember it, there was always a bit of wish fulfillment involved, with heros being larger than life. Like said above, I think his biggest contribution to the field was probably in his contributions to other people's worlds (like Conan and Chuluthu), and his editing work.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. AlanBrown

It's weird-- people talk about fantasy as escapism, as wish fufillment, as delusions for powerless young men-- but I generally find that to be the exception, not the norm, & true amongst fiction, period, not just genre.
Colin Bell
8. SchuylerH
@Mordicai: Well, it's the exception with good fantasy. One of the things that has interested me about this re-read is that before I didn't particularly consider myself a fantasy fan and I had (more-or-less) given up on the genre altogether. Still, since the start of the re-read I've been reminded of what I liked about it in the first place and how much of it I still enjoy.
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
8. SchuylerH

I'm not personally a big "epic fantasy" guy-- to much word salad for my taste-- & that has sort of grown to be synonymous with the genre, but that's just a quirk of the moment, & of perspective. Epic fantasy gets the big push, sells the most books, but there are plenty of books with wizards that are still kicking butt. Heck, some of it they call "YA" or "horror" or something but...nah!
Colin Bell
10. SchuylerH
@9: I have the following three problems with the modern fantasy genre:

Too much Weis & Hickman.

Too many people trying to be Weis & Hickman.

Too many people trying too hard not to be Weis & Hickman.

I'll admit, I find people working on a rather smaller, urban, canvas such as Cornell and Miéville can be rather more interesting.
Walker White
11. Walker
@10

Really? Have Weis & Hickman been relevant at any time in the past two decades? The post Dragonlance books barely got any traction. I cannot think of a single modern fantasy author that considers those authors influential.
Colin Bell
12. SchuylerH
@11: No, but consider it shorthand for rampant EFP sub-Tolkienism.

For that matter, any Weis & Hickman is too much.
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
12. SchuylerH

I gotta disagree; Chronicles was a fun write up of a campaign-- it especially tickles me because the characters totally ignore the Forever Man, just the way PCs would definitely ignore the important campaign plot hook-- & Legends is actually a really fun integration of time travel into fantasy.
Colin Bell
14. SchuylerH
@13: Maybe it's more fun if you play D&D but I don't and, as a result, I have missed every single reference to D&D in all of the fantasy novels I have read. I even had to have Miéville's "gold and experience" bit pointed out to me.

I will say this though: at least it tried to be fun and didn't overuse the relentless grimdark bleakness of doom the way more recent fantasies have. At least there was a managable number of characters, not all of whom were unspeakably vile. At least Dragons of Autumn Twilight was only 448 pages...
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
14. SchuylerH

I mean, I also read them when I was like, 13 years old, so I've got nostalgia working too.

& not to be TOO much of a shill for the company line, but Tracey & Laura Hickman have a Tor book coming out soon that I just heard about that sounds really good. Um, to be super vague & again, biased, but it is a clever idea, very Twilight Zone.
Eugene R.
16. Eugene R.
I am a fan of Lin Carter, though I have only sampled his works and not run through all of them. Which would be tough as he notoriously started series (sometimes in the middle or at the end, like the Gondwane books) and did not finish them.

Still, when he works with humorous material, he does shine. I am very fond of his Amalric the Man-God stories, both of which he put into his Flashing Swords anthologies (#1 and #3). Anyone running an Al-Qadim D&D game would do well to read (and plunder) "The Curious Custom of the Turjan Seraad" (in #3).
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
16. Eugene R.

That brings up an unrelated point: I don't understand why more campaign settings don't build in campaign settings as like...another continent. Faerun here, Kara-Tur over there, Al-Qadim over there, heck, go crazy & put Dark Sun at the south pole or something.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
18. hoopmanjh
@17 -- Actually, technically Kara-Tur and Al-Qadim are parts of Faerun -- Kara-Tur is the far eastern edge of the continent (obviously), and Al-Qadim is somewhere to the south. And let's not forget Maztica. They weren't part of Ed Greenwood's original conception; they were shoehorned into his world by the Powers That Be at TSR.

And Lin Carter was nothing if not ambitious; he just often lacked the determination or the chops to follow through. One thing I like about him is that, in his introductions and essays and the like, he's completely up-front about what he's trying to do (this series is a riff on Zothique/Dying Earth; this other series is planetary romance, but he's trying for more of an Abraham Merritt feel to the prose). He really was an enthusiast first, last and always.
Colin Bell
19. SchuylerH
@15: I have convieniently lost all records of what I enjoyed when I was 13. I can say that my favorite book at the time was A Voyage to Arcturus and no one can prove me wrong!

@18: Would you say that Carter was an early author of fan-fiction? That's the feeling I get from his works.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
20. hoopmanjh
@19: I don't know if I'd say fan-fiction precisely -- except for Conan and Kull, which were paid gigs for which he was recruited, I'm not aware of him working with other authors' characters or settings. But yes, there's something of that vibe to him.

If he was around today I think he'd be one of thos folks self-publishing reams of stuff for Kindle, and very enthusiastically promoting it far and wide.
Colin Bell
21. SchuylerH
@20: You could also put his posthumous "collaborations" with Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith in the fan-fiction category. As for self-promotion, I recall that Carter was never averse to anthologising his own stories...
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
22. hoopmanjh
That's right -- I'm not sure if I've ever read his Lovecraft or Smith "collaborations".

And there was at least one volume of DAW's The Year's Best Fantasy (edited by Carter) in which he had at least two stories, one of which was listed under a pseudonym.
Mordicai Knode
23. mordicai
18. hoopmanjh

Yeah yeah! Sorry I wasn't clear; I meant...why don't people USE that more? Or mix it up: The last campaign I played in we sort of decided that if Faerun was "Europe" & Kara-Tur was "Asia", that Barovia was the "Russia" in-between. I mean, heck, what with the level of magic in your usual DnD game along with the level of tech-- where pirates have galleons & such-- it seems silly to not diversify your cast of NPCs. But I'm crazy like that.
Colin Bell
24. SchuylerH
@22: That applies to the 4th and 6th. He had two stories in all of his six volumes, though in 1, 2, 3 and 5 they were "collaborations".
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
25. hoopmanjh
@24 Someone (I'm not sure who said it originally, but I've seen Darrell Schweitzer quoting it) said that in the DAW The Year's Best Fantasy series, the only accurate word in the title was "The".
Gregg Chamberlain
26. greggchamberlain
uh huh... used to read a lot of Lin Carter back in the day... both his good stuff and his dreck (and unfortunately he did do a fair bit of the latter).

this particular book in the DAW series is actually one of the prequels that Carter finally got around to writing for his The Giant of World's End novel for Belmont-Tower paperback... a bit of a lost novel... which, if i remember how Carter later figured it out, would be the NINTH novel of his now-planned World's End series... which, unfortunately did not quite pan out as he passed away before he could finish it... though he did manage two or three more books to the series for DAW... and i think what he had in mind with this series was a sort of friendly nod and poke in the ribs satire or farce on epic fantasy.
Eugene R.
27. Shimrod
"Melf’s planetary adventures are the reason that AD&D’s multi-classing rules—or is it dual classing?—are so bizarre"

Can you offer something more (perhaps a link) about this?
Mordicai Knode
28. mordicai
27. Shimrod

Hm; I'm trying to find more on it; I think I might have read it in one of Mister Gygax's "Up On a Soap Box" Dragon articles. I just googled around but I can't find it-- if memory serves, it is something like this: Gary & his son Luke-- who played the "male elf," "Melf"-- would play solo games when they were bored & the rest of the players weren't around. After becoming a 13th level magic users (with an IOUN stone providing the +1 to his level cap) he was teleported mysteriously-- through the powers of being bored & needing a story that wouldn't conflict with the rest of the game-- teleported to another planet, where magic didn't work but he had John Carter strength & jumping ability. There he learned to be a fighter, & when he returned he was the first fighter/mage. & that is the reason the rules for multi- & split-classes are so weird.
Eugene R.
29. dean elliott
I agree with your assesment of the first Gondwane Epic, wait till you read the rest! I am an old school player and the books so typically captured how my friends and I played the game it was no holds barred fun.

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