Archive for the 'Newspapers' Category

Portrait of a Young Geek Playing Dungeons & Dragons, 1982

Mike Hughes The Arrow 1982

The geek and “Dragon Master” is Michael Hughes, a writer, teacher, performer, and occultist. Hughes founded the D&D Club at Andover High in 1981-1982, and, as luck (or fate) would have it, one of his homemade adventure modules appears in a compendium I wrote about a couple of years ago, The Habitation of the Stone Giant Lord and Other Adventures from Our Shared Youth. Mike talks a bit about D&D and The Habitation of the Stone Giant Lord here.

At the link you’ll also see an old school character sheet for “Grey Wanderer,” a half-elf ranger/cleric who possesses suspiciously high ability scores—though not so much in the way of looks, poor fellow. You’ll notice “Chaotic Good” listed under languages. That’s not a mistake. “Alignment languages” were a thing in the early versions of D&D and AD&D.

If you’re into Lovecraftian horror, do check out Mike’s novels Blackwater Lights and Witch Lights, published by Random House.

Mike Hughes CS

Letters to Santa, 1982

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“My old B.B. gun just doesn’t have enough power to kill what I want to shoot.” Yup. The letters are from a Texas newspaper. Lots of Atari and tabletop/mini arcade game mentions, especially Pac-Man, and one brave soul asked for “electronic Dungeons and Dragons.”

John Boorman and the Making of Excalibur: ‘The Biggest Selling Game in America is Something Called Dragons and Dungeons’

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Tolkien sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings—for $250,000—to United Artists in 1969. That same year, John Boorman pitched Excalibur to UA, but studio execs wanted him to do a live-action Lord of the Rings film instead. He agreed, and he and Rospo Pallenberg (co-writer on Excalibur) wrote a script. By the time it was finished—two years later—management at UA had shifted, and the project got dropped. (Boorman’s script, which is housed at the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University, features a sex scene between Frodo and Galadriel, along with “gratuitous nudity and rebirthing rituals.”)

There are a number of choice Boorman quotes in the article, from the May 6, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

I’ve been trying to get `Excalibur’ made since 1969. But it took a surge of interest in fantasy in the past few years – in books, magazines and games, as well as in movies – before I could get financing […]

There is tremendous interest in the subject,” said Boorman. “Fantasy magazines have proliferated. The biggest selling game in America is something called ‘Dragons and Dungeons’ [sic]. This surge of interest helped me get `Excalibur’ made […]

‘Star Wars’ put fantasy back in fashion. And if you look closely at that film’s literary heritage, it’s really another variation of the Arthurian legends […]

One of the things the film [Excalibur] is about is the attempt to transcend the primitive-predatory nature of man, the attempt to build peace and a great society, the attempt to transcend materialism and to move into the world of ideals […]

Compare the last quote to L. Sprague de Camp’s 1980 description (in Omni) of the “heroic fantasy” genre:

Heroic fantasy is alive and flourishing. The more complex, cerebral, and restrained the civilization, the more men’s minds return to a dream of earlier times, when issues of good and evil were clear-cut and a man could venture out with his sword, conquer his enemies, and win a kingdom and a beautiful woman. The idea is compelling, even though such an age probably never existed.

All in all, the article is significant. It shows (1) the enormous cultural impact of Star Wars and D&D; (2) how closely Star Wars and D&D are related—they both descend from Tolkien, whose work descends primarily from the Arthurian mythos; and (3) the direct link between the fantasy (or heroic fantasy, or sword and sorcery) genre and the American counterculture, which dates from the 1965 paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings.

George Romero’s Knightriders (1981), a very good movie about the counterculture’s failure to “build peace and a great society,” is also highlighted in the article.

The Peter Yates film called “Sorcery” in the article was released as Krull in 1983. It was originally titled Dungeons and Dragons.

Ottawa Citizen Article (February 15, 1979): ‘Tolkien Fan Sees Movie 23 Times’

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Every once in a while you see someone coming back three or even four times to one movie. The last time I saw anything like this fellow is when I managed the Rideau during the Beatles craze…

Watership Down Movie Review, 1979

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The film adaptation of Watership Down (1978) is another touchstone of my youth, and, as far as I’m concerned, the most powerful and haunting animated feature ever made. I still remember picking the Richard Adams novel (1972) out of the thrift store book bin in ’81 or ’82 and devouring it over the next several days. (It has more than a little of Tolkien’s myth-making, epic quality.) I have a more emotional connection to the movie, though, and here’s the part of the review that explains why:

Parents should be warned that, like in Disney’s Bambi, death and violence are not strangers to this animal kingdom, and the sight of bunnies in mortal conflict could disturb some of the more tender youngsters. Yet the same parents should remember that children have a keen contempt for the patronizing falseness of nicer-than-real story telling. They, too, are no strangers to raw conflict.

Italics mine. Here was a movie that, while animated, forthrightly explored death, sacrifice, violent conflict, politics, and morality as if younger viewers were bright enough to (1) grasp those concepts and (2) be entertained by the story that employed them. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a montage of the most graphic scenes of “bunnies in mortal conflict,” set to music from The Omen. (The movie pops up frequently on Kindertrauma, and rightly so.)

I know parents who pulled their kids out of Frozen because some scenes (specifically the as-non-graphic-as-possible, nicer-than-real shipwreck and the snow monster) were too disturbing. Frozen! Forget “raw conflict,” these kids aren’t even allowed to suffer a moment of emotional discomfort.

“All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies. And whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you—digger, listener, runner, prince with a swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

Chills. I get chills.

(The review, written by Dave Chenoweth, is from The Montreal Gazette, January 27, 1979.)

Milwaukee Sentinel Article (August 22, 1980): ‘It’s All a Game at Gen Con’

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Here’s the 36-year-old Tom Wham, who designed the canonical Snit’s Revenge and The Awful Green Things from Outer Space:

I’ve been making up games since my dad game me a Monopoly set…

It’s a chance to create an alternate world where people can be things they can’t be in the real world. You can create a place in which you can have power over something.

Compare this to an H.P. Lovecraft quote I shared on Facebook yesterday: “There is no field other than the weird in which I have any aptitude or inclination for fictional composition. Life has never interested me so much as the escape from life.”

The article goes on to describe RPGs as “power-to-the-people” games, which I thought was a keen observation for the time.

There were 5000 attendees at Gen Con in 1980. In 2013, there were 50,000.

(Images via Google News)

`Dungeons & Dragons Day’ at the Public Library, 1981 – 1985

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The clippings are from (top to bottom) The Pittsburgh Press (9/15/81), The Pittsburgh Press (11/10/81), New Hampshire’s Nashua Telegraph (3/12/82), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (5/15/82), Utah’s Deseret News (9/29/83), Florida’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune (7/1/84), and The Milwaukee Journal (7/16/85).

Certainly not an exhaustive list of ongoing D&D events sponsored by public institutions, but the narrative told in just these few cases is interesting enough. (I’ve mentioned D&D in science museums here and here). In the midst of all the nonsense spouted about the game, most adults managed to keep an even head about it. My parents didn’t understand how it worked or why I found it so enthralling, but they trusted me enough to let me play, and, if I felt it was necessary, to stop playing.

That’s what’s changed. It wasn’t the Religious Right that killed all the quality, kid-friendly events and institutions of the ’70s and ’80s (arcades, youth centers, public playgrounds, roller rinks, summer camp, etc.), it was helicopter parents and their distrust (overprotection is a form of distrust) of their own children. If kids aren’t allowed to hang out by themselves with other kids, then all the fun places for kids get shut down, and they’re left thinking Angry Birds and Facebook are as good as it gets.

We need more places—more physical spaces—for kids to inhabit so that they can develop their own communities, languages, ideas, and rules. Otherwise, they’re never going to grow up. And they’re never going to understand what fun really is.

 


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