So I just returned from my final trip to the local used book store, which is closing its doors at the end of the day. I wish that I had had more time--and cash--to spend on the trip, and a better idea of what I wanted to look for, but alas, I managed only four tomes: The Song of Roland, an Elric saga, a calculus textbook--I'm spending my free time re-learning calculus, what of it?--and an abridged volume of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Though I spent a goodly portion of my time pondering the extensive Fantasy/Science Fiction section of the store, I started to think about all the Appendix N-ish books I've purchased off the shelves of this store over the years. Poul Anderson's Three Hearts Three Lions, several A. Merritt tomes, some Avram Davidson, Ursula K. LeGuin, L. Sprague de Kamp, CAS, Vance, Zelazney, etc. etc. And I thought about the numerous books of this ilk that line the stacks of my library, how many of them are marked with old receipts, odd business cards, and torn-off grocery lists standing watch at the frontier, patiently awaiting my order to advance into unread territory once again. I wonder if they realize that I've deserted the cause.
It seems that more and more when I turn to Appendix N tomes, it's not for the enjoyment of the read, but to exercise my D&D credentials. Reading Appendix N tomes has become the equivalent of heading to the gym after work*; I don't do it because I like it, I do it because I believe that if I keep at it, I will gain something from the effort. Specifically, my sorties into Appendix N are mostly an effort to uncover the roots of The Game, to give myself a broader understanding of where it all started. Sometimes the evidence is satisfyingly obvious such as Anderson's Tres Hearts, Trois Lions; you'd have to be comatose to miss all the elements that were co-opted into D&D. Other times a books contribution is more of a sense of exploration or a particular tone of adventure, not a specific monster or character class or justification for some rule or other. For instance, I've found few, if any, direct, concrete elements of A. Merritt's work encoded in the game, though my reading of his work is less than thorough. Merritt's works tend to be of the Lost World variety, a subgenre that for some reason I just can't get into. I've been tackling The Moon Pool and The Face in the Abyss off and on for several years with little chance of finishing them.
* It should be noted that my gym membership lapsed several years ago.
Except for Conan--who I read mostly in comic book form nowadays--I rarely read "fantasy" just for the fun of it. Rather, when I venture into the genre there's always this underlying sense that I'm researching the genre, and it becomes sort of like doing homework. I can't say for sure if it's the books that are failing to engage me enough to overcome the sense study, or if I'm letting my studies prevent me from truly engaging the books, but the end result is that I kind of have a lukewarm view of most Appendix N tomes. Now some of them truly suck--this is blasphemy I know, but I find that most Elric books, with all the dreadfully serious pawns-of-fate stuff that dominates the story, are unreadably dull--but others such as Jack Vance and... someone else... seem lighthearted enough that I should be enjoying them more than I do. But it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to return to the fray.