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Ed Greenwood: How The Realms Began

Begin at the beginning, saith the maxim. So here we go… Yes, I’m the guy who created The Forgotten Realms. Back in the spring of 1965. You read that right: 1965, about a decade before D&D, which came along in 1974, and wasn’t seen by most of the world (all the places that weren’t colleges in or near Wisconsin) until 1975.


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I was five years old. A few months away from being six. I was one of those kids they called “child prodigies,” and devoured all the books in my parents’ den. Like many book collectors, my Dad built his own bookshelves so he could cram the maximum amount of books onto them and out of the maze of boxes that filled the basement, so books ended up sorted by size, which meant an inquisitive young reader could stumble across anything. And I did. Everything from wartime National Geographics to “give one to a friend in uniform” wartime paperback murder mysteries and lurid pulps to fantasy and science fiction. Lots and lots of fantasy and science fiction.


Note from Morrus -- I'm super happy to announce Ed Greenwood's new column here on EN World! Upcoming articles include Mirt Strides Out Of My Mind, and Making A Setting Come To Life! Please let us know in the comments about topics you'd like to hear, and don't forget to check out Jonathan Tweet's new column and, of course, Jim Ward's excellent column which delves into TSR's history!



Many was the occasion upon which I’d go racing up the stairs waving a discovery I’d fallen in love with but just finished, calling, “Dad! Dad, where’s the next one? There IS a sequel, isn’t there?”

And my father, who knew books and writers and the world of magazines like few mortals I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked for forty-five years in public libraries), would either direct me to where it could be found, or far more often would say something along the lines of, “Son, that writer died in 1938, and never wrote a sequel to that one, so far as I know, so if you want to read one, you’ll have to write it.”

And I’d reply, “Okay! Great!” and rush back downstairs and start writing. Wandering-plot, rarely-finished fragments, most of them, and gawdawful, nigh all of them, but I was having fun and learning to write in the style of this author, and then that one; everything from Lord Dunsany to J.R.R. Tolkien to E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith.

And I was deciding what I really loved, which tended to be swords and sorcery or high fantasy or all the flavors and blendings in between. I was making up my own stories, some of which my Dad found and took to work and read to his colleagues, apparently to their enjoyment (because they kept asking for more; after a James Bond sprint-and-shoot-and-car-chase pastiche, someone asked for a sex scene, to which my Dad replied sternly, “He’s FIVE, gentlemen!”).

Slowly I began to imagine a medieval-cum-Renaissance fantasy world linked by gates to the settings in all of my favorite books. I’d come across the William Morris novel The Wood Beyond The World (and all of his others), with its ancient deep forest riddled with gates, that had become a crossroads between many other worlds (step between two trees at the right moment or humming the right tune or in the moonlight and your next step would be elsewhere), an enchanting idea later borrowed by many other writers (such as C.S. Lewis, for his Narnia books).

So I wrote stories, purely for my own entertainment, of adventures in this as-yet-unnamed fantasy setting. I decided that it was “close to” our real Earth, that is, linked by many gates, which was why we had many legends of dragons and vampires and such, but didn’t meet such creatures every day, when walking down the street; traffic through the formerly busy and popular gates had dwindled to a trickle as the gates had been destroyed, forgotten, “twisted” to become magically dangerous, or guarded by shadowy secret societies who controlled access to them for their own financial gain (surely that’s how some of my reclusive, rich, and creepy neighbors had made their bundles!). So the ways to this fantasy world had become forgotten—so it was “the Forgotten Realms.”

A setting of stories, not roleplaying, because the only roleplaying game that I knew of, at the time, was Kriegspiel, the fog-of-war military officers’ training game (my father had been in the military). I did love to play games, and happily followed Donald Featherstone’s wargaming books; when D&D came along, I played it but thought it lacking (this is make-believe around a table, but with enough holes in the rules that inevitably it’ll devolve into arguments). However, when the Monster Manual appeared, and was then capped by the Players Handbook, I was smitten (Vancian spells, so details of magic with limitations! All the monsters of legend plus new ones, with everything they did codified! YES!), I was smitten, and rewrote everything in the Realms to match. From then on, D&D would be the anchoring backbone of my setting, even if I never found anyone to play a game with, and the magazine then known as “The Dragon” was a constant source of inspiration.

But I get ahead of myself, of course. Back to the beginning of the Realms.

Among all the pastiches of blaster- and needler-firing spacefarers and lady knights in armor riding out to slay dragons, I was rather more timidly building a world. Not as I would do it now, thinking things through and mapping and building in plots and conflicts, but writing little tales and fragments that gave me glimpses of this special place.

Around vivid mental images that came to me in dreams, or when daydreaming. My very first glimpse of the Realms was a view of a temperate forest glade by night, in winter, with the snow softly falling. A lone woman with long silver hair—metallic silver hair, not a senior with gray-white hair—was sitting by a small fire she’d obviously made, playing a harp. And in the darkness under the trees all around her, filling the background, were the many pairs of glowing eyes of all the critters who’d heard her harping and come to listen.

And then, out of those same trees, also lured by the harp music, comes gracefully walking another tall woman with the same silver hair, to join the first one.

I don’t know their names yet, but I already know they’re sisters. I desperately want to know more about them, so I have to start writing.

Little do I know that someone else, already lurching and wheezing his way to the fore through the wild forests of my imagination, bucket-topped boots flopping, will have other ideas. His name was the Mirt the Moneylender, and he would shoulder aside those two ladies, and their other sisters, to become my guide into the Forgotten Realms.

We’ll meet him next time. When we do, guard whatever you’re drinking.
 
Ed Greenwood

Comments

Greyson

Explorer
The Forgotten Realms is a fantastic setting for D&D and always has been. It's open-ended nature has been perfect for every edition of the game. Though I did not discover game play in the Realms till 4th Edition, I went back and looked at all that the setting has offered over the years. Generally, it has been great campaign material for the game.

According to Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, Greenwood indicated, "He began writing stories about the Forgotten Realms as a child, starting around 1967" (Wizards of the Coast, 2004, 104). He may have been closer to 8-years-old than the 5-years-old suggested in this article.

While the Realms as a setting are an amazing and enduring piece of creative invention, Greenwood novels are not so good. I only read two trilogies, Shandril's Saga and The Shadow of the Avatar, and that was enough for me. Reminds me of George Lucas - a good idea man capable of borrowing from many other stories and sources, but not so good at storytelling.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Interesting, so Niles is the source for both Maztica and the Moonshae Isles.
Douglas Niles also wrote the originally generic H modules, and the Cold Lands introduced there were pushed into the Forgotten Realms: they shrank the ice cap from Ed's version to fit the new countries.
 

gyor

Adventurer
Douglas Niles also wrote the originally generic H modules, and the Cold Lands introduced there were pushed into the Forgotten Realms: they shrank the ice cap from Ed's version to fit the new countries.
Interesting to think what Authors are functional the creators of various regions in FR, sometimes they don't get the credit they are due. Jeff Grubbs created Zakhara and David Cook created Kara Tur. Ed Greenwood came up with the names and vague concepts of the Old Empires region, but Scott Bennie really created the what those region ended up as, largely in response to the Desert of Desolation being retconned into the Forgotten Realms.

Really mostly the Swordcoast and the Heartlands are hardcore Ed Greenwood regions. Maybe a few other areas as well. Other areas were just vague places that got defined by others or even created while cloth by other writers.

Still without Ed laying the foundation, none of it would exist.

Interestingly one region that Ed made himself completely was Returned Abeir continent.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Interesting to think what Authors are functional the creators of various regions in FR, sometimes they don't get the credit they are due. Jeff Grubbs created Zakhara and David Cook created Kara Tur. Ed Greenwood came up with the names and vague concepts of the Old Empires region, but Scott Bennie really created the what those region ended up as, largely in response to the Desert of Desolation being retconned into the Forgotten Realms.

Really mostly the Swordcoast and the Heartlands are hardcore Ed Greenwood regions. Maybe a few other areas as well. Other areas were just vague places that got defined by others or even created while cloth by other writers.

Still without Ed laying the foundation, none of it would exist.

Interestingly one region that Ed made himself completely was Returned Abeir continent.
The Sword Coast and the Heartlands are where Ed's games took place: he put an amazing amount of work into outside areas, but that certainly left room for others to fill gaps.
 

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