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Showing posts from October, 2006

[Fantasy] The Storyteller and Mrs. Brown

Today, I wish to investigate a connection between Benjamin's Der Erzähler and Ursula K. Le Guin's Science Fiction and Mrs Brown. (The latter essay can be found, like From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, in her non-fiction collection The Language of the Night.) One of the theme's in Benjamin's essay is the difference between the story and the novel; the theme of Le Guin's essay is the possibility of SF (and fantasy) novels. Together, they may get us a bit closer to an answer to the question: what is the relation of the novel, and of the story, to fantasy?


Le Guin quotes Virginia Woolf, who is musing upon her meeting an old lady ("mrs. Brown") in the train:

I believe that all novels begin with an old lady in the corner opposite. I believe that all novels, that is to say, deal with character, and that it is to express character - not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire, that the form of the novel, so clumsy, verbose, and un…

Classes vs. Archetypes

A short observation.

What makes virtually every fantasy roleplaying game have a feel so unlike fairy tales, is that roleplaying games mainly relied on classes, whereas fairy tales rely on archetypes.

A character's archetype defines his place in the narrative; most importantly, his relation towards other characters. The handsome prince, for example, is (1) the object of desire for the maid, (2) the bane of the dragon, (3) the intended victim of betrayal by his younger brother; and so forth. How he will defeat the dragon, thwart his brother and marry the maid - whether by force, intellect or guile - remains an open question until the tale is told.

A character's class, on the other hand, defines his capabilities and dominant mode of action. The fighter is good with weapons; will attempt to defeat the dragon and the brother by chopping them into little bits; and will show off his biceps in orhter to woo the maid. What he will do, and what relations the other characters have to him re…

Elitism, and RPGs as Art

I have been planning to respond to John McLintock's Roleplaying as art? Not for me for a long time, and I'm finally getting round to it. McLintock's post infuriated me when I first read it - not because I get angry at people who think that roleplaying is not an art, but because of its rhetorical use of the word 'elitist', and its attempt to discredit art.

Let me make an important point right here at the start: the question whether RPGs are art is meaningless, just as meaningless as the question whether painting is art. Is there a hidden essence of RPGs or of painting, that may turn out to be 'art' or to be something else? Of course not. Rather, we can paint with many different goals; and we can look at paintings with many different 'eyes'. We can paint for fun, and judge the painting by how much fun we had making it. We can paint to express our hidden trauma's, and have our psycho-analyst look at the painting as a symptom the meaning of which has…

Walter Benjamin, "Der Erzähler" (The Storyteller)

In the comments to my last post, Ian mentioned an essay by Walter Benjamin, Der Erzähler (The Storyteller). Benjamin was an important German philosopher of the first half of the twentieth century; he wrote on a wide range of topics, but his best-known work is probably his essay Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (it is widely cited as The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility would have been a better translation).

Der Erzähler is a very rich and complex essay. It claims to be a reflection on the work of Nikolai Lesskow (in English known as Leskov, I believe); but it also touches on the difference beween a story (in the sense that a storyteller tells stories; Erzählung, not Geschichte) and a novel, on the communicability of experience, on the role of death in modern life, on the nature of wisdom, on the relation between man and nature, and on several other topics. All that in t…

[Fantasy] Elfland, Poughkeepsie, Hogwarts and the Game of Houses

This post is not about roleplaying or interactive fiction, but about fantasy literature. I suspect that there will be more posts like that in the future, so my apologies if you do not care for the subject. The [Fantasy]-tag will help you recognise and avoid them.


I am currently reading Ursula K. Le Guin's From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, in which she discusses writing styles appropriate to fantasy. But more interesting than her comments on style (which, though true, are not especially insightful) is the framework of her discussion; the insight in fantasy that allows her to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate styles.

Her metaphor is that of a big national park, which people should go to in order to experience something they normally do not (wilderness, nature), but which some people do go to "in a trailer with a motorbike on the back and a motorboat on top and a butane stove, five aluminium folding chairs, and a transistor radio on the inside. They arrive in a totally…

Sexism in the Realms

Being ill, I wanted to read an easy book this weekend. I chose R. A. Salvatore's The Dark Elf Trilogy, a set of Forgotten Realms novels describing the youth of that well-known D&D character, the good drow Drizzt Do'Urden. They were pretty bad, of course, but just the kind of light entertainment I was looking for. Except...

There has been some discussion of sexism in roleplaying games on the internet, among which John Kim's interesting and shocking Gender Roles in RPG Texts. Although Salvatore's books are not roleplaying games, the fact that they are official TSR-published novels set in one of the most popular roleplaying settings in history makes them relevant to this discussion. And boy, these books are so sexist that I couldn't believe what I was reading.

Not that Salvatore ever says anything like "women are inferior to men". I suspect that he is not even aware of his own sexism, and that - what is even worse - most of his readers never notice it. But…

IF Comp 2006

The annual Interactive Fiction comepetition has begun. You can download the games today, start playing and judge them. Your votes must be in by November the 15th.