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By Jim NelsonGary Gygax playing Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role playing game he co-created in 1974.
In a time when many of us are being asked to shelter in place and work from home, a hearty reading list can be invaluable. One intriguing list I recently rediscovered was drawn up by the late E. Gary Gygax toward the end of the 1970s. While formalizing the advanced rule set for Dungeons & Dragons, a game he created with Dave Arneson, Gygax added an appendix to his Dungeon Master’s Guide listing the books that inspired him to create his fantasy role-playing game. “Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy,” Gygax wrote, “being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950.” Over the years this reading list has become so well-known in the role-playing world that it’s merely referred to as Appendix N. Now the Internet Archive has created an online collection of Gygax’s famous list.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a role-playing game set in a universe of sorcerers, elves, dragons, and dank underground lairs. While D&D’s fantasy world might sound like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gygax’s Appendix N shows he drew from a wide field of fantasy and science-fiction authors: R. E. Howard (creator of Conan), H. P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber (whom it’s believed coined the phrase “sword & sorcery”), Michael Moorcock, and yes, J. R. R. Tolkien. Some names on the list might surprise you, such as Leigh Brackett, whose screenwriting credits include the film noir The Big Sleep and John Wayne’s Rio Bravo. (Gygax probably included her for her planetary romances set on Mars, however.) Others would have faded into obscurity if not for Gygax’s list.
Forty years after it was published, Appendix N has taken on a life of its own within the role-playing community. Gygax’s list has been studied, dissected, and emulated. There’s even an Appendix N Book Club. Blogger James Maliszewski called Appendix N the “literary DNA” of D&D.Borrow the books that inspired Dungeons & Dragons for free here.
If you’re interested in expanding your diet of fantasy books, or you’re curious where the D&D phenomenon all started, you’re in luck. Internet Archive has many of the books on Gygax’s reading list available for borrowing. When Gygax was asked in 2007 if he would change any of the selections, he replied, “I wouldn’t change the list much, other than to add a couple of novels.” Internet Archive has a few of those later additions available as well. Happy reading!
Gygax’s original Appendix N list:
- Anderson, Poul: Three Hearts and Three Lions; The High Crusade; The Broken Sword
- Bellairs, John: The Face in the Frost
- Brackett, Leigh
- Brown, Frederic
- Burroughs, Edgar Rice: “Pellucidar” series; Mars series; Venus series
- Carter, Lin: “World’s End” series
- de Camp, L. Sprague: Lest Darkness Fall; The Fallible Fiend; et al
- de Camp & Pratt: “Harold Shea” series; The Carnelian Cube
- Derleth, August
- Dunsany, Lord
- Farmer, P. J.: “The World of the Tiers” series; et al
- Fox, Gardner: “Kothar” series; “Kyrik” series; et al
- Howard, R. E.: “Conan” series
- Lanier, Sterling: Hiero’s Journey
- Leiber, Fritz: “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” series; et al
- Lovecraft, H. P.
- Merritt, A.: Creep, Shadow, Creep; Moon Pool; Dwellers in the Mirage; et al
- Moorcock, Michael: Stormbringer; Stealer of Souls; “Hawkmoon” series (esp. the first three books)
- Norton, Andre
- Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of Swords Against Darkness III
- Pratt, Fletcher: Blue Star; et al
- Saberhagen, Fred: Changeling Earth; et al
- St. Clair, Margaret: The Shadow People; Sign of the Labrys
- Tolkien, J. R. R.: The Hobbit; “Ring trilogy”
- Vance, Jack: The Eyes of the Overworld; The Dying Earth; et al
- Weinbaum, Stanley
- Wellman, Manley Wade
- Williamson, Jack
- Zelazny, Roger: Jack of Shadows; “Amber” series; et al
Gygax’s 2007 additions:
- Lanier, Sterling: The Unforsaken Hiero
- Anthony, Piers: Split Infinity series (Split Infinity, Blue Adept, Juxtaposition, et al.)
- Pratchett, Terry: Discworld series (The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, et al.)
Jim Nelson is a science fiction reader & writer, in addition to being one of the Internet Archive’s core engineers. Prior to joining the Internet Archive, Jim was lead engineer and Executive Director of the Yorba Foundation, an open-source nonprofit. Jim also writes books and short fiction, including the dystopian novel “Bridge Daughter.” You can read more at j-nelson.net.
Forty years ago as a freshman, I pulled my first book off the shelves of Hayden Library at MIT. This month, every MIT undergraduate departed from campus in an attempt to contain COVID-19, leaving behind the vast resources of that library. Ready or not, we are all being thrust into an enormous experiment in online learning. One that can have positive and permanent outcomes, if we handle it right.
With schools closing from Changshu to Cambridge, suddenly students are cut off from the physical resources they rely on: the teachers, the classrooms and libraries that are the backbone of learning. And in this flux, those in marginalized communities—from rural areas without broadband or schools with few online books—are even more profoundly challenged. The Economist reports that in the United states, “7 million school-age children cannot access the internet at home.”
“If this is just a prolonged pause in our education and economy, without the benefits of learning and adapting, one of the most profound impacts of COVID-19 may be…a “quiet brain drain.” It will be time our children never get back.”
But here’s the good news: we know how to do this, to impart knowledge at scale over the Internet. Online courses, online libraries and broadband all exist—but we need to expand and upgrade them to meet the needs of the close to one billion learners around the world whose classrooms have been shuttered.
24 years ago, I founded the Internet Archive as a nonprofit digital library serving more than a million learners every day. Today, the Internet Archive is working with hundreds of public, school and university libraries to digitize their core collections and make them freely available over the Internet. Even as MIT was sending students home, we were working with MIT Libraries to see how many of their books we have already digitized. In 24 hours, we were able to hand them back 166,000 digitized books to lend online through their catalogue and via archive.org. This week, the Internet Archive created a National Emergency Library of 1.4 million digitized books to serve the needs of students, educators and learners who can now access them from home.At archive.org/nel or OpenLibrary.org, you can borrow 1.4 million digitized books for free during the COVID-19 crisis.
Think of this as a huge experiment. In one big push, we can improve online learning and its infrastructure in a way that may otherwise have taken years. This crisis encourages universities to be bold, to make investments that ultimately may mean many more students can benefit. Perhaps 500 undergraduates can fill a hall at MIT, but how many millions can take an online MIT course, once the books, materials and lessons are online?
China is a few weeks ahead of the United States when it comes to experimenting with online learning. In January, my son, Caslon, was teaching English to 4th graders in Changshu. Now he is teaching them from San Francisco, with recorded lessons and online interaction. Next month, his school in China is poised to reopen, but I suspect it will be forever changed.
If this is just a prolonged pause in our education and economy, without the benefits of learning and adapting, one of the most profound impacts of COVID-19 may be what Dr. Kate Tairyan, Chief Medical Officer of the online college NextGenU.org, calls a “quiet brain drain.” It will be time our children never get back.
But we have the opportunity to harness American ingenuity to build a stronger, more robust educational system—by leveraging the Internet, new technologies, and our investments in digitizing books at scale into something that democratizes learning for a generation to come.
Brewster Kahle is the founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. A passionate advocate for public Internet access and a successful entrepreneur, he has spent his career intent on a singular focus: providing Universal Access to All Knowledge. Kahle graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied artificial intelligence.