D&D's Origins in Gothic Fiction - Page 3




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  1. #21
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    I recently finished The Castle of Otranto, and Corathon's right; it's not very good. It reads like a bad Shakespeare pastiche, actually, with all the tropes dialed up: mistaken identity, long-lost family, comedy-relief servants, star-crossed lovers, etc.

    I do believe that Otranto is the source of one now-cliche trope though: the door that opens for no apparent reason, followed by a sudden draft that blows out the lamp.

 

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    Honestly, I hated Frankenstein, but I loved Dracula.
    I like Dracula also. The book has a terrific beginning and a terrific ending, but the middle is a bit of a swamp of Victorian sentimentality. Still, a good book, though.

    Frankenstein is, IMO, the first science fiction story and still contains a lesson for scientists today (and that lesson is NOT "don't tamper with God's domain"). Perhaps because I'm a scientist myself, I prefer it to Dracula.

    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    Interesting bit of Frankenstein trivia: the original text never describes Doctor Frankenstein constructing his monster out of human cadavers.
    Yeah, Shelley leaves quite vague the method of the monster's construction and animation, speaking of some undiscovered "ray" IIRC. Which was probably a smart decision. I suppose that since doctors and medical students of the time were paying grave robbers to bring them corpses for dissection that its not an unreasonable assumption to assume that the monster was assembled from corpses or was a reanimated corpse - but it is
    and assumption.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corathon View Post
    Frankenstein is, IMO, the first science fiction story and still contains a lesson for scientists today (and that lesson is NOT "don't tamper with God's domain").
    Do not call up any that you can not put down?

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    Quote Originally Posted by prosfilaes View Post
    Do not call up any that you can not put down?
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    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 dĺInvenzione 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.)

    That doesn't feel familiar with my own recollection of The Castle of Otronto. IIRC, there were a couple of underground chambers and a trapdoor (that needed a key and had a complex latch) leading to a tunnel that allowed for escape from the castle off to a monastery or some such. The "iceberg principle" is not something I recall at all. Perhaps I should dig it out and have another look. As to the rest, more along the lines of mid-Twentieth Century horror than D&D. So, too, Dracula and Frankenstein.

    In undergrad, we took the text of Dracula and between two playwrights and many editors, constructed a scene-for-scene stage play which started as a five hour script and was pared down over a couple of months rehearsal to a taut (nearly ) three hour production (I scored the titular role! ). The multiple styles used for the narrative, not so unlike Frankenstein, made for a rather cumbersome and awkward story and we wound up scrapping many of the scenes and backstory, discovering that much of what is found in the classic movie versions is really most of the action worth recreating for an live audience.

    In grad school, as in many MFA programs from what I understand, we had a full course on Frankenstein and came at the text from many angles. We used it primarily as a way to highlight various styles of Literary Criticism, some of which weren't really a good fit, but that's really an aside to this discussion. The creature is much more compelling than that which most people would find familiar from film versions. Even De Niro's turn as the monster falls short of the depth that the original text imbues. It's definitely a more interesting read than the other two aforementioned novels but clunky in parts where it coasts along on journal-like exposition.

    In any event, I suspect much of what might have been gleaned from such novels for early gaming structure (or "tropes") is minimal and more along the lines of snagging merely the seeds of ideas here and there and morphing them into something else entirely rather than grabbing large swaths of material and transposing it to fit the Medieval Fantasy setting/genre we've come to know from D&D and similar RPGs. As someone familiar with those texts, it doesn't quite ring true.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Corathon View Post
    Frankenstein is, IMO, the first science fiction story and still contains a lesson for scientists today (and that lesson is NOT "don't tamper with God's domain").
    Ugly folks need love too?

    Actually, although whatever you get out of a novel is what you get, and can hardly be gainsaid, in general, I'll point out that the majority of literary criticism, and the background in which Mary Shelley concieved the novel in the first place would argue quite strongly that not tampering with God's domain is in fact one of the main themes of the novel.

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    Which if updated Hobo is: Do not tamperi with the DM's domain, or you will get it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark CMG View Post
    That doesn't feel familiar with my own recollection of The Castle of Otronto. IIRC, there were a couple of underground chambers and a trapdoor (that needed a key and had a complex latch) leading to a tunnel that allowed for escape from the castle off to a monastery or some such. The "iceberg principle" is not something I recall at all.
    You recall correctly. Despite having a haunted castle with a secret tunnel, Otranto isn't much of a dungeon. The nearby cave complex isn't interesting either.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmadsen View Post
    You recall correctly. Despite having a haunted castle with a secret tunnel, Otranto isn't much of a dungeon. The nearby cave complex isn't interesting either.
    Oh, yeah. The refugees hide in a cave "complex" which doesn't get much play except it being said it was used for hiding unsuccessfully. Now, if that were also connected to the vaults in some way . .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark CMG View Post
    The multiple styles used for the narrative, not so unlike Frankenstein, made for a rather cumbersome and awkward story and we wound up scrapping many of the scenes and backstory, discovering that much of what is found in the classic movie versions is really most of the action worth recreating for an live audience.
    Certainly a scene-by-scene adaptation of an epistolary novel won't work on the stage or screen, but the classic movie versions have missed many of the novel's best visuals: Dracula's bushy mustache, his climbing down the wall head first, Van Helsing's terriers coming to the rescue, Harker's khukri,etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark CMG View Post
    The creature is much more compelling than that which most people would find familiar from film versions.
    The monster of the novel is really nothing like the film version. It's agile, articulate, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark CMG View Post
    In any event, I suspect much of what might have been gleaned from such novels for early gaming structure (or "tropes") is minimal and more along the lines of snagging merely the seeds of ideas here and there and morphing them into something else entirely rather than grabbing large swaths of material and transposing it to fit the Medieval Fantasy setting/genre we've come to know from D&D and similar RPGs. As someone familiar with those texts, it doesn't quite ring true.
    I would say that D&D borrows many gothic tropes, but not necessarily directly from the original novels, and it certainly leaves out many of the central ones.

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