Monday, January 9, 2012

Holmes on Solomon's Stone by de Camp

Solomon's Stone (1957) by L. Sprague de Camp, cover art by Ric Binkley
     
     Last month Theodric of Mythopoeic Rambling noted that the dedication of Dr. Holmes' novel The Maze of Peril is to three people for literary inspiration: Tolkien, Lovecraft and L. Sprague de Camp. Theodric wrote: "I can't say much of anything about his naming L. Sprague de Camp, as I believe I have only read his S&S anthology and his Compleat Enchanter. Others may have more to offer here, although, an obvious connection to be made is that both men were avid fans of Howard and Lovecraft. Perhaps there is something about de Camp's attempts to combine the zany and the scholarly in his work that attracted Dr. Holmes? Further, they have in common the effort to keep dead authors' universes alive by penning new (or finishing incomplete) works set within them."

     I commented that I'd write something about de Camp and Holmes when I got a chance. So, to finally elaborate, Holmes refers to de Camp's work several times in his 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games (which predates The Maze of Peril by about five years). First, in chapter 3, Holmes includes de Camp in a discussion of "literary inspiration for the worlds of fantasy role playing games": "most fantasy games are closer to the wild, blood-thirsty worlds of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp [than Tolkien] ... De Camp's The Compleat Enchanter discusses magic as a separate kind of reality with its own rules of logic" (page 46).

     However, later in the book (chapter 13), Holmes discusses another de Camp story more extensively:

     "Years before Dungeons & Dragons was invented, L. Sprague de Camp wrote a story called "Solomon's Stone," published in 1942 in the magazine Unknown Worlds. De Camp says it did have a brief appearance in book form [pictured above] but it is long out of print. The story was a fantasy in which the hero exchanges personalities with his alter-ego in the astral world. Here he discovers that the astral self of each living person on earth is the self he imagines or fantasies himself to be in his most private day dreams. The hero is an accountant in the real world. His astral self is Chevalier de Neche, a swashbuckling swordsman straight out of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. A friend who reads Westerns has an astral self who is Arizona Bill, the cowboy, and another is Sultan Arslan Bey with a huge harem. The story is humorous and entertaining, as all of de Camp's tales are, but having been written during World War II, part of the plot is the struggle of the good guys against the Aryans, which rather dates it as a work of fiction. I am always reminded of "Solomon's Stone", though, when I see the bizarre and wonderful characters created by my friends for the game. De Camp saw the fun and humor of everybody becoming their fantasy self but, although he was familiar with Fletcher Pratt's rules for wargaming with model ships, he didn't hit on the idea of putting the "astral selves" into a world controlled by wargamers' die roll tables (pg 209-210)"

     The Maze of Peril is fiction that is highly derivative of D&D - as acknowledged by Holmes. The first dedication is to "Gary Gygax, who invented the game" and the second is to his sons and friends who created the characters while playing D&D. Based on the statements in his FRPG book, and because it is to de Camp alone rather than Pratt, I think that the dedication to de Camp for literary inspiration derives from his appreciation for Solomon's Stone.

     I've read the first three books of the Compleat Enchanter series (and will eventually read the rest) and would like to read Solomon's Stone but it remains out of print and used copies are prohibitively expensive.


     I'll follow this with another post on a few other connections between de Camp & Holmes.

3 comments:

  1. Many thanks, Z. Once again, I'm reminded that I've *got* to get hold of a copy of Fantasy Role-Playing Games (1981). I have begun agitating for your post and for attention to Solomon's Stone.

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  2. Charles Williams (one of the Inklings) wrote a story called "Many Dimensions" which revolves around Solomon's stone. I'm curious to learn how de Camp's story compares.

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