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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

APPENDIX N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons

APPENDIX N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of science fiction's past that will fascinate any serious role-playing gamer. It also contains an extensive interview with the designer of the Tunnels & Trolls RPG, Ken St. Andre.

Author Jeffro Johnson, an expert role-playing gamer, accomplished Dungeon Master and three-time Hugo Award Finalist, critically reviews all 43 works listed by Gygax in the famous appendix of the original D&D game books, and in doing so, draws a series of intelligent conclusions about the literary gap between past and present that are surprisingly relevant to current events, not only in the fantastic world of role-playing, but the real world in which the players live. Johnson is also the Editor of the Castalia House blog and a regular contributor there.

Featuring an Introduction by John C. Wright, himself an inveterate role-playing gamer, APPENDIX N is 355 pages, DRM-free, and retails for $6.99.

Brian Renninger described the significance of Johnson's APPENDIX N:

With this book we are coming out a dark age. Jerry Pournelle has said “The definition of a Dark Age is that we no longer remember what we once could do.” It’s not just that we have lost capability but, not knowing that we ever had capability that makes it dark. Of course, the term “Dark Ages” has fallen out of current fashion. It seems judgmental and unscientific to call that time after the fall of Rome and through the end of the Viking Age “dark” as if it were lesser in some way. But, I’m not an academic and history is not science. And, Rome was sacked. The aqueducts did stop running. Latin was forgotten, by all but a few specialists, to be replaced by the babble of dozens of local tongues. It’s dark because the records of that time are sparse – fewer people wrote and the people who did write, wrote on fewer topics.

Appendix N is just a reading list. But, a reading list tailored to a topic. The topic being inspirational works for playing the original role-playing game – Dungeons and Dragons. The list was intended to inspire players on adding variety to their game. And, to give players examples that explain why the game was made the way it was made.</

Jeffro Johnson set himself the task to read all of Appendix N in the context of its stated purpose. He found what he was looking for: clear evidence for many of the foundational rules of Dungeons and Dragons hidden in plain sight in the text of old fantastic adventure writing. But, he also found more – the nucleus of an earlier canon of fantastic literature. In that canon he discovered greater variety, subtlety, strangeness and a broader sophistication of theme than found in the general run of fantasy writing today. And, he found some damned fun stories.

So, for us, what has been forgotten? To a large degree, we have forgotten the scope that fantasy fiction can obtain when allowed unfettered freedom of imagination. We have forgotten that fantasy fiction can be just as edgy and daring when addressing the best of human nature rather than the worst. In fact, we have forgotten that literature can and should encompass all things. Or, even more, that literature should also encompass impossible things – especially fantastic literature.

And at Castalia House, Schuyler Hernstrom explains how it was that Appendix N started a literary movement:

Jeffro has indeed unearthed something. It is the hidden heritage of our beloved genres. I feel a little embarrassed, frankly, that I was so wrong about the fiction that I love so much. What I thought I knew about the genre was a series of walls and fences, put into place to guide me toward opinions and attitudes that were presented as things inevitable.... Jeffro’s work has become a lodestone, pulling at a set of emerging and disparate writers. We are out there, creating what we want from influences as varied as Lord Dunsany and anime. From the maps he drew we are navigating rivers back to their sources. We are exploring myth and knocking the rust off old ideas like heroism and honor. 

Some may wonder why Castalia publishes such seemingly esoteric books, especially given the fact that I'm not an RPGer, and never was except in the very most casual computer-game sense. The reason is that the dominance of the Left is cultural, and they arrived at their position of political influence in the West primarily through cultural means as per Gramsci rather than the economic means Marx predicted or the violent means Mao, Lenin, and Che utilized. Those on the Right who sneer at cultural matters as being irrelevant or unimportant fail to realize that they are playing a superficial and losing game. It is from children's tales and children's games that tomorrow's voters are made.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
- GK Chesterton

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49 Comments:

Blogger Gordon January 17, 2017 5:34 AM  

Too late. I already purchased it as a gift for an in-law who is very serious about gaming. I'm not, although it probably wouldn't hurt me to read it for the context.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable January 17, 2017 5:36 AM  

Featuring an Introduction by John C. Wright, himself an inveterate role-playing gamer

Does JCW have clones? Where does the man find the time?

Blogger VD January 17, 2017 5:39 AM  

it probably wouldn't hurt me to read it for the context.

It's actually fascinating for any reader of SF/F. It's even interesting for GenXers just to see how the Millennials have been rendered ignorant of the larger part of the history of the genre. Jeffro describes a canonical literary gap between generations, and it is astonishing to see how Harry Potter draws a big bright line between those who know of Howard, Lovecraft, and Burroughs, and those who do not.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable January 17, 2017 5:44 AM  

It's actually fascinating for any reader of SF/F.

Second that. Played D&D maybe four times in the early 80s, and never since. Doesn't matter: Jeffro's stuff on the App N literature was mesmerizing.

Blogger Gordon January 17, 2017 5:51 AM  

Okay. Perhaps I'll buy it again for myself. One of the authors, Jack Williamson, was a family friend. I once sat in his study, the walls filled with foreign-language editions of his novels. I was entirely too young and foolish to ask him about The Legion of Space, which I had loved reading.

Blogger Gordon January 17, 2017 6:02 AM  

5343 Kinds of Deplorable wrote:
Does JCW have clones? Where does the man find the time?


I wonder myself. His wife, also an author, has a series. Three books so far, but she's planned out 24. She wrote that pretty much the entire series has been gamed out around their dinner table, and JCW contributes dialog and illustrations.

I would suggest she consider writing a book on how to RPG your novels, but she's producing the series books too slowly already. If everyone would just buy JCW's back catalog, they could hire someone to make dinner and I'd find out what happens next to Siegfried and Rachel.

Blogger Martin January 17, 2017 6:38 AM  

When i see some movies or TV series i imagine that I discern that they are the results of some group of RPG players saving their game notes. One TV series where I suspect this is Farscape. But I guess that is going forward from ADD. Rather than backwards, which is what this post was about. Just came to think about it when i read.

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 17, 2017 7:12 AM  

The Millennial reactions to Appendix N are both interesting and terrifying.

There is just a hint of "is this shit...ya know...legal?

The answer of course is not for much longer.

Blogger Cerdic Ricing January 17, 2017 7:29 AM  

I'll have to give this a read. After coming across this criticism of younger folk (and then proceeding to look at the Appendix N in the back of the AD&D DM Guide), I realized that it was very much true. Of the list, the only ones I had read were some of Lovecraft and Tolkien. I've been using it as a starting list to get caught up since then.

Blogger Nate January 17, 2017 7:43 AM  

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
- GK Chesterton

Amen.

I've never told my kids monsters were not real. To the contrary, when they were scared of a monster, rather than tell them monsters don't exist, I told them it was my job to kill the monsters. That's what daddies do. Daddies kill monsters.

Some day... the Castalia House story will make a best seller.

Blogger The Kurgan January 17, 2017 8:02 AM  

"Daddies kill monsters."
Indeed.
Even when sometimes the process is extremely long and messy.

Anonymous BBGKB January 17, 2017 8:15 AM  

Its funny that they purposely removed the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth from the new Dr Strange movie, because most people today would think Hoggoth must be near Tijuana. They must think hoarfrost forms in Bill Clinton's back yard.

Harry Potter draws a big bright line between those who know of Howard, Lovecraft, and Burroughs, and those who do not.

Harry Potter at least got kids to read decent sized books, even if the magic was Rube Goldberg instead of Vancian magic system. Did VD ever say if the Arts of Light/Dark series had a fire/forget or a mana point system? Given that before the one battle with orcs one mage reviewed his battle spells to include a touch of death spell. It would be unlikely to memorize a non aoe spell non ranged spell when knowing you are going to fight a horde of orcs. A mana point or D&D sorcerer would fit better. It was mentioned that there are 8 fields of magic but I don't think they have all been mentioned.

I've never told my kids monsters were not real... I told them it was my job to kill the monsters

You need to get busy Darth Soros has created spawn. If Obama dies this week there will be 3 holidays in January.

Blogger sysadmn January 17, 2017 8:35 AM  

As Breitbart said, "Politics is Downstream of Culture". http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2011/08/22/politics-really-is-downstream-from-culture/

Gamergate was a cultural victory, not a political one. The key to turning back the Left is to point out where they've overreached, and rally the majority against them.

Blogger Cail Corishev January 17, 2017 8:54 AM  

Gonna have to get this one. D&D was indeed a major influence on the culture of Gen-X, especially the smarter (nerdier) kids. It might be second only to Star Trek in that regard.

OpenID elijahrhodes January 17, 2017 9:07 AM  

I grew up playing D&D in the early days. Back then RPG was a haven for smart white boys. Girls simply weren't part of that subculture.

A couple decades later I got back into it to teach my young kids, so I started watching campaigns being run on YouTube, and lo an behold, lots of girls were now playing.

Two things were apparent immediately:

1. Girls mostly play for attention, and boy do they seek it. 2. Boys in mixed campaigns tend to not be assertive, since it's nearly impossible to get a word in over the girl's constant chatter.

Yet another realm that girls infiltrate and then ruin.

Also, in the early versions of the game, female characters were penalized with lower strength, etc. In newer versions there is no such penalty. Yet another way in which grrrrr power expresses itself.

Blogger Durandel Almiras January 17, 2017 9:23 AM  

Reading the sample on Amazon lead me to purchase the book yesterday. I played D&D3ed a few times in HS, but was never into the culture of it. I bought the book because Jeffro makes the subject matter so fascinating. It reads more like mystery novel in some ways than it does as a historical review. Enjoying the book so far.

And once again the message is clear, SJW's want to deny people their inheritance in order to better control what is considered "good think". I've already loaded onto my Kindle every book by every author on that list that I could find for free or on the cheap.

OpenID cirsova January 17, 2017 9:51 AM  

Jeffro Johnson's work on Appendix N is one of the biggest reasons why Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine exists.

Blogger Student in Blue January 17, 2017 9:59 AM  

Chalk another one up for an endorsement of this book. From having only read a good number of Jeffro's posts on Castalia Blog on Appendix N and not the book itself, I can still confidently say that it's worth every penny if you have the slightest interest in fantasy and science fiction.

Yes, science fiction. Fantasy and Sci-Fi were more intertwined back in ye olde days. That's one of the things that I learned from Jeffro's amazing efforts.

Blogger Matt Robison January 17, 2017 10:09 AM  

I've always loved that Chesterton quote. Yes, yes, and yes. It's one inspiration for my own children's book, Princess Hiccup. http://amzn.to/2jUVBNo

I don't even play D&D, and this book has me intrigued. I love deep analysis into esoteric stuff.

Blogger Gordon January 17, 2017 10:34 AM  

I gotta say that the cover is heroically good. Best indie cover I've seen in a long while.

Blogger Jack Ward January 17, 2017 10:34 AM  

On Castal1a:

'Some may wonder why Castalia publishes such seemingly esoteric books,'
Don't change what Castalia or how it does things. One reason why this house has no choice but to become a famous icon. If it's not changed.

Blogger Jack Ward January 17, 2017 10:53 AM  

Question for Ilk:
Is any game, now available, maybe even D&D, set up to use the much advertized virtual reality headsets. Here I'm thinking several headsets connected to a central driver box or, the ability to connect via computer and Internet to play against online opponents? I'm not a gamer at present, but, that would be something that would probably draw me in.
Thanks.

Blogger Ron January 17, 2017 10:57 AM  

The quote by GK Chesterson really koved me. There is a scene in game of thrones where Tyrion is going on for ages about how he always wanted to see a dragon. And now I understand why.

Because he wanted to know it was possible to ride on something so terrible that everyone else would finally fear him. And that right there is GoT in a nutshell. A bitter man who wants the power to take revenge on everyone who ever snubbed him.

The female knight would have been dragged down by a dozen bandits and raped to death, she wasnt, why? Because our boy doesnt hate her. Sansa ends up married to a sociopath, who, contrary to all game knowledge, doesnt turn her on. Why? Because martin cant stand the thought of it.

You know the one thing I kept on thinking whike watching that show? How do you kill these goddamn dragons.

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright January 17, 2017 11:00 AM  

@15 I've played D&D for years. A few observations.
1) As a girl, I wasn't allowed to play with my brother's friends...because the middle school boys were too embarrassed to do things like piss on orcs with a girl there.

2) In college, I was the only girl who played. But I don't think I was a good player back then. I could follow what was going on just fine, and I could do things, but I couldn't grasp things well enough to think ahead.

3) Something changed when I was first dating John. Suddenly, I could grasp the whole thing and think ahead, which meant I could act, not just keep up. Since then, I've been one of the best players around, more foresight, more active. (In our current D&D game, I play a ditzy elf deliberately to make sure I don't make all the decisions--as we want the boys to learn and lead.)

4) I have occasionally played with other girls. Some of them were pretty good, but most of them prefer a gentler, more storytelling-oriented game.

5) I prefer story games, too...but not necessarily gentle ones. (I prefer playing "on hard" and will even put up with "extra hard" (ask John if you don't believe me. ;-) if the game is good.) I prefer them because they allow for more creativity.

Like John, I like a game where if you can make a ball of fire, you can then use it for things fire can be used for, not just for smiting. (As you may imagine, games run by John are super intricate and cool)

6) Having run both boys and girls for years, if you wanted to run a game that would interest the girls, I could tell you some of the things you need to put into the game (basically, more that requires thinking and talking and less that requires number crunching.)

Cheers,

Jagi

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright January 17, 2017 11:08 AM  

@6 From your lips to God's ears! Dinner takes me by surprise every day. You'd think I would have gotten use to it by now.

But, you'll be happy to hear that I am FINALLY back to work on Book Four (had some family emergencies this fall. Happy to say that all has ended well.)

Blogger Student in Blue January 17, 2017 11:32 AM  

@L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright
Like John, I like a game where if you can make a ball of fire, you can then use it for things fire can be used for, not just for smiting. (As you may imagine, games run by John are super intricate and cool)

Those can be fun, but only if the players are expecting it going into the game.

If players expect a more 'intricate' game, and the GM/DM wants to run it like a video game, then those players are going to have a bad time as several will be almost completely useless in comparison to other players no matter how hard they metagame.

Vice versa, if players approach a game with characters formulated with by-the-numbers theorycrafting to pump out the most damage per round, they'll find themselves constantly frustrated (and not in a good way!) by a world the GM/DM crafted which requires spells and skills that aren't simply "smite ye monster slightly harder".

Also if Level 1 Grease and torch are nearly as effective in game as they are in real life, then combat immediately becomes a situation where you only have a hammer so everything looks like a nail.

Blogger VD January 17, 2017 11:54 AM  

You know the one thing I kept on thinking whike watching that show? How do you kill these goddamn dragons.

Stick with ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT....

Anonymous Jeigh Di January 17, 2017 11:58 AM  

Recently I got a tablet (my first) and downloaded some free books. Among them were a volume of the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert Howard. It began with a couple of stories I had never read. As I read them, I had the feeling I haven't had in years. Not only did I wish to be there in the, I was there. Today's fantasies just don't measure up.

Blogger Ron January 17, 2017 12:06 PM  

Hah! Way ahead of you. Loved the elves. Very very good. You nailed it. What the mother said to her daughter was Truth.

Very touching what you did with the vikings. That was kind. Martin would have probably had them all raped then emasculated.

Blogger Cluebat Vanexodar January 17, 2017 12:09 PM  

Heh. Still have all of my 1e books and supps. Probably never use them again, but still like to reminisce.

Blogger L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright January 17, 2017 12:12 PM  

@26 I entirely agree. We found that it look players a while to be trained into playing more free style games. Some never preferred it, but most caught on and did quite well.

OpenID cirsova January 17, 2017 12:13 PM  

@15 @24

I play in a huge group; if you took a picture, you might mistake us for a college brochure. We play a mix of hack & slash and mystery and intrigue. Our wall has a sticky-note graveyard filled with 20+ dead PCs. The women in our group are all pretty awesome and don't come across as just playing for attention; some are into hack & slash, some are into story, just like the rest of the group. Sometimes there are conflicts on what the party wants to do, but that has more to do with the fact that sometimes there are 9 or 10 of us. For instance, a couple of the women in our group weren't as interested in the organized crime stuff, so when another woman and I lost our characters who were heavies in our gang, we gave up on starting our own thieves guild used the opportunity to pursue different goals.

If you play 3d6 in order and none of that power-gaming crap, there's no need to 'nerf' a gender because 'realism', since the average character is going to be average and any PC, including average ones, is going to be above the average of most common folk.

I think a lot of gendered friction at the gaming table dissolves when kids outgrow peeing on the orcs. (yeah, not everyone outgrows it)

Blogger bob kek mando ( Death To The Boor-geois, Keks To The Lol-etariat ) January 17, 2017 12:17 PM  

Schuyler Hernstrom explains
What I thought I knew about the genre was a series of walls and fences, put into place to guide me toward opinions and attitudes that were presented as things inevitable.



indeed, this applies to ALL of American society.

the Founders *never* practiced International Free Trade, how did this become an "American value"?

not only were the Founders goldbugs, they were silverbugs as well. to such an extent that they encoded this into the body of the Constitution. how did fiat currency, a direct violation of Constitutional Law, become an "American value"?

the Founders hated Democracies ( which is why this nation was designed as a Republic ), how did Democracy become an "American value"?

11 of the 13 colonies PRACTICED slavery at the time the Constitution was adopted, how did abolishing slavery become an "American value"?

et cetera, ad nauseum.

Blogger Oakes Spalding January 17, 2017 12:59 PM  

Nice quick review of an important book. I suspect it will be quite successful. I can't wait for the paperbound version.

Not to be the village stick in the mud but that Chesterton quote is quasi-fake. I did some research on what Chesterton actually said here:

http://mahoundsparadise.blogspot.com/2016/05/tracking-back-that-chesterton.html

It's a fun little detective story.

Anonymous pseudotsuga January 17, 2017 1:02 PM  

Cluebat Vanexodar wrote:Heh. Still have all of my 1e books and supps. Probably never use them again, but still like to reminisce.
I also have the 1st edition AD&D Players' Manual (an actual first edition, without the grey/white bars on the tables!), Monster Manual, and DM's Guide. They're pretty worn out, and worth nothing on the market, but they are old friends of mine that I will never part with. Playing the game was something good that I remember from high school -- experiences come and go, but the stories last forever.

Anonymous Gecko January 17, 2017 1:21 PM  

Just for clarity, this is the actual Chesterton quote:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Nate wrote:I've never told my kids monsters were not real. To the contrary, when they were scared of a monster, rather than tell them monsters don't exist, I told them it was my job to kill the monsters. That's what daddies do. Daddies kill monsters.

Amen, brother. I still remember the first time one of my daughters asked if I knew how to slay a dragon. Those are the moments when you pause and check yourself before replying, because your answer will be a significant page in the book by which they judge other men some day.

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 17, 2017 3:33 PM  

It isn't just for Millennials. Jeffro's work actually got me reading Appendix N books again for the first time in years.

The nice thing about revisting them after all these years is seeing them in the light of having been seasoned by time myself.

This is from my article on Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword:

The fascinating thing for me is Anderson's depiction of his elves.

Tolkein's elves were intrinsically good if unearthly. They were the Golden People. Not so much closer to God but closer to Man before his fall at Eden. They toiled not and lived lives of Unearthly beauty.

Anderson's elves on the other hand are not nice at all. They not creations of God. They have no souls and hence are fundamentally incapable of love or morality. They are the anti-Tolkein. However, they are very much in keeping with the old stories of faerie. This soullessness is a central theme of this book. All of the faerie are soulless. Both the elves and their enemies the trolls. And all of faerie blanches before the encroaching power of the White Christ whose church will drive them to oblivion.

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 17, 2017 3:42 PM  

@24 L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

The thing that hooked me on Stranger Things right out of the gate was it's accurate portrayal of boys playing a D&D game.

DM: There is a door at the end of the hall.

Player 1: I open the door.

Player 2: DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!!!

Player 3: YOU DON'T KNOW WHATS BEHIND IT!!!

Player 4: Did you check for traps?!?! Did you check for magic? Are you trying to get us all kill?!?!?!

Player 1: I. Open. The. Door.

DM: You hear a deep, penetrating, earth-shaking growl

Player 2: GENIUS!!!!

Player 3: I draw sword!

Player 4: Why bother we're all gonna die!


Anonymous Loki7 January 17, 2017 5:22 PM  

When I was about 12 or so, I traded a book for a basic D&D set. I was reading the instructions when my HolyRollerMother caught me. ``That`s of the devil!``she screamed. You would of thought I was playing `Hookers&Blow`. She never found out about my CONAN magazines though.

Blogger cavalier973 January 17, 2017 5:29 PM  

Just purchased it. Finished three or four chapters so far, and really enjoying it. Thanks for the heads up, VD.

I'm now going to recommend it to the Facebook and Google+ D&D groups to which I belong.

Blogger Commenter January 17, 2017 6:39 PM  

Castalia House and friends have overtaken my kindle library. This book will probably open another reading rabbit trail, and I may never get caught up, but what a wonderful problem too have! I shall now return to lurking. Thank you!

Blogger Martin January 17, 2017 8:19 PM  

@23. Ron
Dont blame GRRM for whats happening in the TV show. If you want to evaluate GRRM, read the books.

Blogger SteelPalm January 17, 2017 8:51 PM  

From what I have seen on the Amazon preview, it's even better than Jeffro's excellent series on the Castalia House blog.

Shame I don't presently have access to my Kindle, which I need to reconnect to the Internet, anyways.

And yeah, it says a lot when I have only read 6 of the authors/works listed in Appendix N (Howard, Lovecraft, Burrough's "A Princess of Mars", Lanier's "Hiero's Journey", Farmer's "The World of the Tiers", Lord of the Rings) and a "huge fantasy fan" friend of mine has read precisely 1. (Tolkien)

Blogger VD January 17, 2017 8:57 PM  

From what I have seen on the Amazon preview, it's even better than Jeffro's excellent series on the Castalia House blog.

It had the additional benefit of a 3x Hugo-nominated editor, you see.

Blogger Commenter January 17, 2017 9:21 PM  

SteelPalm, there's a free kindle app that will give you access to your library on most smart phones/tablets/computers. It's annoying to read on a small phone screen but great to have books always available.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 18, 2017 12:23 AM  

@7 Martin
When i see some movies or TV series i imagine that I discern that they are the results of some group of RPG players saving their game notes. One TV series where I suspect this is Farscape.
---

Farscape one of my all time favorites. The reason it is so different, they say, is because the people who did it had no idea about the genre and had no constraints from it. Plus, Australian. I think they had a lot of soap influences also.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 18, 2017 12:36 AM  

I have got to get this book immediately.

Anonymous Bruce January 18, 2017 2:01 AM  

Just bought it. Castalia just keeps getting better.

Blogger Jon Mollison January 18, 2017 2:05 AM  

Just to echo what Hernstrom was driving at: Bear in mind this book isn't just a look back at yesterday, it's a signpost that points to a better tomorrow. His study and analysis of the sci-fi and fantasy canon has shown a number of authors how to be better heirs to the grand masters than the current authors churning out imitations of imitations and deconstructions. Jeffro shows everyone how and why the old titles work so well in a way that makes it possible for a new generation of writers to produce new works more in line with the naked heroism and virtue that characterizes so much of Appendix N works.

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