Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ochre Jelly Inspiration?

Illustration from Worlds of Fantasy #1 (1968)

I've just finished reading Conan of Cimmeria (1969), the second volume of the famous Lancer/Ace series of Conan paperbacks from the late 1960s (the second in internal chronology, not publication order). Nowadays one can easily find compilations of pure Howard material, but back then these slim paperbacks were the main way to encounter Conan. This particular volume is a dog's breakfast of Howard Conan stories; a non-Conan Howard story edited to be Conan; a Howard draft finished by de Camp; and pastiches written completely by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The origin of each story is helpfully identified in the front matter of the book.

The de Camp/Carter stories are essentially filler connecting the Howard tales --- brief stories about Conan encountering some menace while traveling from one region to another. Though less exciting than the Howard stories I've found them to be competently written, and quick reads. And certainly suitable as inspiration for D&D encounters.

The first pastiche in the book is The Curse of the Monolith and was originally printed as Conan and the Cenotaph in the magazine Worlds of Fantasy #1 (1968). The illustration above shows the monster which threatens Conan in this story. It is described as a "huge lump of quivering, semi-translucent jelly", pulsing with "throbbing, bloated life" and glistening wetly as it beats "like a huge, living heart". It first extends a single "slippery pseudopod" that exudes "a digestive fluid, by means of which is consumed its prey", later joined by more pseudopods. Elsewhere it is described as a "wet jelly", "living jelly", "jelly-beast" or a "slime-monster". 

The description of course immediately brings to mind the "clean-up crew" of D&D, and in particular the Ochre Jelly. These creatures appeared fully formed in the original D&D rules, with Ochre Jelly, Black (or Gray) Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze all being described in Volume 2, Monsters & Treasure. They are not, however, in Chainmail or the pre-publication "Guidon D&D" draft from 1973, which means they were added to the D&D draft at some point between "Guidon" and the first publication of D&D in Jan 1974. So the The Curse of the Monolith was available well before their first appearance.

In OD&D we learn that the Ochre Jelly "is a giant amoeba which can be killed by fire or cold, but hits by weaponry or lightening [sic] bolts will merely make them in to several smaller Ochre Jellies. Ochre Jelly does not affect stone or metal, but it does destroy wood, and it causes one die of damage per turn it is in contact with exposed flesh. It seeps through small cracks easily".

The jelly of the monolith is not specifically described as an amoeba, but has pseudopods, a term that is closely associated with amoebas. The jelly-beast is not described as being ochre in color, instead being semi-translucent and turning pink after feeding. But its abilities and vulnerabilities are similar to the Ochre Jelly. It dissolves flesh but not stone, like the Monolith on which it lives,  or metal, such as a rusty dagger of a former victim that Conan finds. And Conan finally destroys the jelly with fire, which is one of the vulnerabilities of the Ochre Jelly. Compare with the Black Pudding and Green Slime, which are also vulnerable to fire but can dissolve metal, or the Gray Ooze, which is immune to fire.

I don't want to read too much into this, because it is certainly possible that these similarities are pure coincidence. There are many stories out there about the inspiration for the oozes --- the Blob, the Green Slime movie, etc. Rob Kuntz mentions these in a 2009 blog post, Origin of the Black Pudding? Roots in CA Smith Conceptions? These stories don't generally call out the Ochre Jelly specifically, so I'm not sure whether it originated with Arneson or Gygax.

The Ochre Jelly may have just been created as an alternatively colored "goo monster" to the Black Pudding and Green Slime, and then given different characteristics to distinguish it. But the frequent use of the name "jelly" in the story coupled with its similar abilities and vulnerabilities is certainly worth noting in a list of possible inspirations.

See also ---
Holmes on Solomon's Stone by de Camp
Conan on the River of Doom (unfinished Conan novel by Holmes; de Camp was editor)
de Camp & Holmes in Dragon Magazine

Update: Re-reading the summary of the Blob, which I saw many years ago, I see that it grew redder to more victims it consumed, which is a specific detail very similar to the color change of the jelly-beast in the Conan story. This suggests that de Camp and Carter had this movie in mind for their story, ala Conan meets the Blob.

Update #2: Here on DF, Gygax credits the Black Pudding to Arneson --- 

"Dave Arneson evidentally disliked English black pudding, made up an amoeboid monster of that name which I glommed onto..figuratively of course. 

If he was thinking of Shoggoths when he envisaged the critter, only Dave knows..."

The "glommed onto" presumably refers to adding the various other members of the cleanup crew.

Here in his EnWorld Q&A, Gygax takes credit for the Ochre Jelly, but disclaims any influence other than nature ---

"Because of the large and varied ecology of the D&D dungeons and underground, it was necessary to have scavengers of all sorts, so I made up the gelatinous cube, carrion crawler, ocher jelly, etc. There was no particular inspiration save for nature--amobeas, insect larva, and imagination."

Update #3: Here's a link to Dave Arneson indicating (in 2008) that he read the Ace/Lancer Conan series. Thanks to Geoffrey McKinney for finding this (see his comment below).

Official Dave Arneson Q&A at ODD74

6 comments:

  1. Zen I would have to dig a bit to find it, but The Ochre Jelly was claimed by Arneson, and it was originally little more than a rip off.... er, adaptation, of the Horta from Star Trek. That's the silicone creature from the episode "Devil in the Dark".

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    1. If so, the origin is disputed, since Gygax also claimed it (quote above). I'd be interested in a link to Arneson's quote. I looked on ODD74 and the Comeback Inn and didn't see any references to it.

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  2. I remember reading a comment made years ago by Dave Arneson that he was reading Conan books during his inception of D&D. He was specifically asked if it was pure Howard, and he said that it was the Lancer/Ace series. (If I had to guess, it was on Fin's OD&D message boards.) I think it extremely likely that "The Curse of the Monolith" helped inspire Dave to create the types of critters listed as the "clean-up crew".

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  3. Here is the reference for my previous comment: "They were the DeCamp/Carter variants. What can I say."
    link: http://odd74.proboards.com/thread/4178/official-dave-arneson-thread

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    1. Thanks! I'll put the link up above. We really need to make an index of all of his comments over at ODD74.

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  4. I vote for Arneson and Conan. I enjoyed the illustration and discussion. The monsters in the film Green Slime are more fun than the D&D monster. Another great blob film is Caltiki the Immortal Monster by Mario Bava.

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