D&D's Origins in Gothic Fiction


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    D&D's Origins in Gothic Fiction

    I haven't read much Gothic fiction -- just Dracula, really -- and the genre has gone profoundly out of fashion, but in its day it was extremely popular, and, as Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorne declared in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, the first Gothic novel, Otranto, influenced modern fantasy quite a bit.

    This is what jumped out at me though:
    The prevalence of castles in the literature was no accident, nor was the frequency with which they were built on the iceberg principle, with nine-tenths of their structure consisting of subterranean vaults. These spectre-infested spaces were rooted in the fantasies of an architect, Giovanni Piranesi. A revised edition of his Carceri d’Invenzione appeared in 1761, featuring a series of drawings of prison interiors conceived on a titanic and overpowering scale.
    Welcome to Blackmoor. (Ravenloft came much later, of course, and reintroduced a lot of Gothic elements quite explicitly.)
    Last edited by mmadsen; Wednesday, 2nd November, 2011 at 04:06 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    Welcome to Blackmoor. (Ravenloft came much later, of course, and reintroduced a lot of Gothic elements quite explicitly.)
    Ravenloft 3rd Edition made the connections and parallels between Otranto, the Gothic genre, and D&D explicit in its introduction.

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    Now you mention it, I've played quite a few sessions that felt like Sheridan LeFanu's Uncle Silas or Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.
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    See also Titus Groan (1946) and later novels in the series, which heavily influenced some of my early D&D campaigns.
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    The Wikipedia entry for Piranesi has some images that seem quite D&D:


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    I think you're right in that there is a large part of the original and especially later versions directly inspired by Gothic Fantasy, however, I would say that the original concept is much less inspired by Gothic Fantasy and much more by Historical or Just Plain Fantasy.

    For instance I find the writing of Fritz Leiber to be almost a verbatim translation of the thief and fighter for OD&D. I would say that the first campaign worlds were probably more inspired by Gothic Fantasy than the game as a whole. But I get where you're going.
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    I'm thinking I should try to read Otranto by Halloween.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    I'm thinking I should try to read Otranto by Halloween.
    I read it and thought it was terrible. Just one man's opinion, of course.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corathon View Post
    I read it and thought it was terrible. Just one man's opinion, of course.
    I'm hoping that playing spot the trope will make it interesting. Sometimes the original feels derivative; sometimes it manages to feel even more original after you've read the derivative works.

    By the way, Cawthorn and Moorcock's list starts with Gulliver's Travels and then continues with a number of Gothic works: The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, The Monk, Frankenstein, and Melmoth the Wanderer.

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    Most of which are nice to know from a context to the appearance of modern fantasy as we know it, but I wouldn't really call them fantasy novels as we know them, and kind of take exception to their inclusion myself, actually.

    Vathek was hugely inspirational to the "Three Musketeers" of the Weird Tales; so much so that Lovecraft's The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath is sometimes referred to as a pastiche of it. Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard were also big fans. Especially CAS.

    But I wouldn't call it a fantasy novel. It's fantastic, in the sense that it's full of unbelievable things happening, but it doesn't really follow many (if any) of the trops and conventions associated with fantasy as a modern genre that we know and love.

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