Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: TSR, 1985, 348 pages
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the late 1980s. I knew who Gary Gygax was, of course, but somehow I never knew he wrote books. Until one day at my local Goodwill, I happened to come across the first four books in the Greyhawk world with the first two written by Gygax. I was surprised and excited. Here’s a man who created one of the most beloved and successful gaming systems in the world. And now I get to read his vision of what a fantasy story should be.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Never meet your heroes”? Although Gygax is no hero in my eyes, the essence to the adage is true. He might be able to create game mechanics, but writing novels isn’t really his calling.
We follow the young antagonist named Gord from his very early years as an orphan living on the streets stealing food to survive. He gets caught one day and is sold to the local Thieves Guild. He spends his days in the training room learning to hide, sneak and steal like a professional. Of course, he’s the best and learns fast. Soon he’s leading other youth on missions and bringing home coins and loot in amounts that surprise everyone.
This book is written more like a collection of short stories than a traditional novel. At least, that’s how it felt to me. There’s no real sense of getting to know Gord. Gygax jumps from event to event without connecting the dots. Gord is a skilled youth about the age of 11. Next chapter, he’s early 20s and scamming people in card games. Then, he’s on a barge heading down the river learning to be a seaman. Next, he’s helping a princess escape her kidnappers and getting her home safely. Then, he’s caught in a battle between warring cities. It just goes on like that.
I wouldn’t mind so much if there were any kind of struggle to overcome or lessons to learn. But everything just kind of happens. I never felt suspense. I just read what happened. Perhaps because there isn’t any protagonist at all, just events that occur.
The writing is actually pretty good. Gygax has a large vocabulary, and I even had to look up more than a couple of words. I was only slightly annoyed with the verbiage from time to time.
I wish there were more I could write about this book, but I don’t want to just rant on about all the downsides. But, I feel like that aren’t any real upsides to the story. Not all books are winners. I suppose you need to read a few bad ones to know what a good one looks like.