Sunday, March 28, 2021

My Earliest Childhood Fantasy Inspirations

The other day, I was talking with some friends about our childhood fantasy inspirations. It occurred to me that everyone's knowledge of fantasy (or any other genre) is very limited at first, and grows over time.

But if I cast my mind backward, I can still kind of recapture what the fantasy genre looked like to me as a child. If I'd been called on to run a D&D campaign at age 10 or 12, these are the images and plots I would have drawn on to provide the inspiration for my game.

For me, let's mark the end of "childhood" and the start of my teen years with the roughly simultaneous discoveries of Magic: The Gathering and The Duelist magazine, JRPG games I could read about in Nintendo Power magazine even if I didn't own them, and my family's first subscription to 1990s dial-up internet. Those three discoveries gave me windows outside my parents house and shaped my view of fantasy in my teen years, and they probably established the type of fantasy world I'd imagine today. But what I'm writing about here comes earlier, before that, when my world was still small.

What were your earliest childhood fantasy inspirations? What did your fantasy world look like back then?

The Sword in the Stone - The origin-story prequel of the saga of King Arthur, Sword in the Stone tells the story of an unloved young squire nicknamed "Wart" who meets the wizard Merlin and his familiar, Archimedes the owl. Merlin and Archimedes tutor Arthur by showing him the world from the perspective of two different prey species, one a fish, and one a bird, both times defending him from predators, and eventually from the shapechanging witch Mad Madam Mim. The film ends when Arthur pulls the sword Excalibur from the stone, almost by accident, while trying to fulfill his duties as a squire.

As a child, I was small, skinny, and had few friends. I found Arthur's life as "Wart" easy to relate to. One thing that stands out in this movie is just how tiny Arthur is, and how giant all the adults seem by comparison. The magicians' duel between Merlin and Mim, with all its creative shapeshifting, including her ending up as a dragon, is a real delight to watch - as are the scenes of Merlin magically packing up his study and cleaning the kitchen.
Robin Hood - The familiar story of Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, who robs from the rich, gives to the poor, does battle with Prince Jon and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and comes to the rescue of his girlfriend, Maid Marian. Oh yeah, and everyone's an animal. Robin is depicted a hero of the people, beloved by the townspeople, and a group of small children who - in an almost metafictional gesture - play pretend at being Robin Hood themselves.

The Disney films on this list weren't just three of my favorite fantasy movies, they were also three of my favorite Disney films, and three of my favorite movies period, growing up. The music is especially good in this one, and the costumes are easy to imagine transposed onto human characters, and Robin in particular is a master of disguise. (Although his fortune teller disguise seems to be based on, and to perpetuate, stereotypes about the Roma people.)

Sleeping Beauty - A fairly standard telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty that's elevated by its details. The evil fairy Maleficent is frightening even before she turns into a dragon, the good fairies are fun to watch when they're fighting over what color Aurora's dress should be, and if the instrumentals sound good enough to dance to, it's because Tchaikovsky wrote them for the ballet.

All the verve and personality in this movie is reserved for the supporting cast, but they have it in spades. Maleficent is one of the all-time great villains, she turns into a giant black dragon, and I love her little army of mismatched goblins. She says "hell" once, you guys, which seemed like a big deal at the time. And even if most of what is does is stand there and look vaguely handsome, I also liked Phillip's brief turn as a dragonslaying knight on horseback.

LEGO Castle - Although I've often lamented that LEGO got much cooler right after I stopped playing with them, what I probably mean is that that's around the time they started making licensed sets with recognizable characters from other intellectual properties. I had a few sets of knights, bandits, and the "forest men" who are clearly modeled on Robin Hood. I used them to act out Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, and to make up my own fantasy stories. If I had been running a game of D&D as a kid, I would definitely have used these LEGO minifigures to represent each character.

The Princess Bride - The classic story of True Love TM , Westley and Buttercup fall in love when they're younger, and separated by circumstance, she gets unwillingly forced into an engagement to a prince, and Westley returns bristling with talent and dressed in all black to rescue her. There are some really excellent sword fights, and various extremely silly supporting cast members.

As a child, I really don't think I understood that this is intended to be a comedy. I read the book too, with its fake editor's notes and summaries of the expurgated materials, and failed to understand that the supposed "good parts edition" was the only edition, there was no actual unabridged original that I couldn't locate. For all that, I really enjoyed this movie, perhaps especially Westley's sword fight with Inigo, wrestling match with Fezzik, and battle of wits with Vizzini.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Prince Adam of Eternia transforms into the indomitable He-Man, defending his kingdom from invasion by the evil sorcerer Skeletor and his army of colorful minions. The characters on He-Man are essentially fantasy superheroes and supervillains, but they'd probably make good additions to any cast of NPCs.

I've heard from people who've rewatched this cartoon that He-Man never actually uses his sword as a weapon, that he always wins his fights with other feats of unarmed strength, but as a kid I never noticed that. He-Man is one of the earliest cartoons I can remember watching, and I was kind of obsessed with it at the time. I had some of the action figures and played with them constantly, I played at pretend sword-fighting, on a few occasions I even wore across my chest so I could carry a toy sword on my back. While this was on the air, I never got tired of it.

Circle of Magic - Randal, a young squire, abandons the path to knighthood to learn magic. After seeing a demonstration by Master Maddoc, Randal follows him to the city where he wins admission to a wizard college. He meets Lys, a girl his own age who starts out homeless, orphaned, and dressed as a boy, stealing food to stay alive. Given an instrument and a chance, she develops into a successful traveling minstrel. Randal travels too as a journeyman wizard, and is joined by his cousin Walter, who has become a knight errant. Their adventures frequently culminate in an attempt to banish a demon from the world.

I think I probably bought these books off the Scholastic book carts on one of the occasions they took over the lunchroom at my elementary school. I remember sneaking out of bed to lie on the floor so I could read them beneath my nightlight. As a kid, to a certain extent, almost all my fantasy inspirations felt personal. Maybe all my classmates knew the Disney films, but none of my friends had seen Labyrinth or the Dark Crystal. But even today, the Circle of Magic books still feel personal. Unlike the other items on this list, there are no rewatches or reviews online, no shared generational nostalgia. 

I didn't understand why at the time, but I felt especially interested in Lys's story. These days, with the fantasy books I seem to read, I'd almost be surprised to find a girl character who doesn't disguise herself as a boy for safety, but at the time, Lys wasn't an example of an archetype to me, she was a unique and surprising individual. I liked that she and Walter were shown to be as skilled at their careers as Randal was at magic. 

There was also some subtle commentary in these books. Wizards don't tell lies because their magic will betray them if they do. Wizards don't use swords because they promise not to, and so using one would mean breaking a promise, and thus telling a lie. And in their travels, the group comes to a town where the upper class all wear fancy dueling swords, which they observe are quite different from the heavy killing blades Randal and Walter grew up with.


Return of the Jedi - Luke Skywalker helps rescue his friends from the alien gangster, Jabba the Hutt. They discover the location of a new, incomplete Death Star. The Rebel fleet will attack the space station while Luke and his friends turn off the shield generator that protects the station. The generator is on a forested moon, and they're aided in their attack by the alien Ewoks. Luke also goes to the Death Star to convince Darth Vader to quite the Empire.

In general, as a kid, I drew thick boundary lines between the genres, but the last Star Wars movie slipped through my firewall to inform my vision of fantasy far more than it did scifi. I was thrilled by the raid on Jabba's palace and the climactic sword-fights between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Evil Emperor (who shoots lightning out of his fingers!), and the Gamorrean guards joined the ranks of the goblin army in my mind.
The Neverending Story - Bastian skips school to sneak into an attic and read a new fantasy novel, also called The Neverending Story. In the book, the world is being dissolved by the encroaching Nothing. Heroic Atreyu travels across the shrinking countryside to find the Childlike Empress and try to save both her and the world, risking death several times along the way. He eventually gets help from Falcor the luck-dragon, and Bastian begins to understand that he has a role to play too - the fantasy world can't survive without the imagination of its readers.

This was another one I read. I found a luscious hardback copy of the book on my parents' shelves, printed with green and red ink to designate Bastian's and Atreyu's stories. It blew my mind when I discovered that there was a whole second half to the book that continued after the endpoint of the movie. I know everyone feels sad when they watch Atreyu's horse drown in the swamp, but the scene that always made me saddest is when we meet the rock giant for the second time. The first time, in the beginning, he's happy and confident, certain he can outrace the peril that's chasing him. When we see him again, he's wracked with guilt over being unable to save his friends from the Nothing, disappointed in himself because there's no one else left to be disappointed in him. For whatever reason, the way he was haunted by his failure really resonated with me, even when I was too young to have failed at much in life yet.

Labyrinth - Teenage Sarah wishes the goblins would come take her screaming, crying baby brother away ... so they do. To rescue him, Sarah has to navigate a maze with a shifting layout to try to reach the castle of the Goblin King. She helped by a handful of the labyrinth's inhabitants, and obstructed by the majority of those she encounters. She learns both self-confidence and a willingness to trust deserving friends, and eventually rescues her little brother, but retains a connection to the goblin kingdom.

This was one of the few fantasy stories I was aware of where a girl hero saves a boy damsel, and I really liked Sarah as a character. She's smart, but more importantly, aside from acting impulsively on her feelings at the beginning, she finds her way through the maze by being emotionally intelligent. I also felt there was something interesting about the Goblin King insisting that he only acted like a villain because humans like Sarah wanted him to, which makes him a bit like the Lucifer character from the Sandman comics - although I wouldn't read those until like a decade after I first saw Labyrinth. The visuals in this film are really good, the MC Escher inspired staircase room remains part of my idea of what dungeons should look like.
The Dark Crystal - Two elf-like Gelflings, Jen and Kira, meet on a quest to find a crystal shard and return it to the great Crystal. They're pursued by the horrible vulture-like Skeksis, who rule the world, and have bred monsters to protect the Crystal from being repaired and made whole. When the Crystal is repaired, the Skeksis merge with the ancient Mystics, each pair fusing to become a single body. These restored beings abdicate their rule and leave the world to the Gelflings.

I'm certain I didn't understand this movie as a kid, although I loved the visuals. The plot isn't necessarily that complex, but I found it disorienting. It doesn't just tell a new story, it tells it using unfamiliar characters. There are no humans or recognizable animals in Dark Crystal, it's got its own complete ecology. Like Neverending Story, it tells the story of a world that's practically disintegrating from some sort of overuse and exhaustion, a world that is reborn like the first day of spring after a final victory that's less about defeating an enemy than fixing something that was broken.
The Secret of NIMH - Field mouse Mrs Brisby knows that she needs to move her family out of their cinderblock home before the farmer ploughs the field, but her youngest son is too sick to move. She seeks help from the mysterious rats of NIMH. She meets a friendly crow, a terrifying giant owl, puts sleeping powder in cat named Dragon's food dish, and eventually uses a magic amulet she got from the rats to levitate her house to safety. The rats are having their own internal disputes, which they settle with a lot of sword-fighting.

I thought this was the coolest animated movie as a kid. One of the rats says a swear word - "damn!" When the rats sword-fight, they get cut, their swords get bloody. Nicodemus and the Owl both have scary glowing eyes, and the amulet lets Mrs Brisby use what amounts to telekinesis, but animated with absolutely gorgeous glowing fire light. Between Mrs Brisby's dead husband, her deathly ill son, and the Lab Animal style revelation of the source of the rats' intelligence and powers made this a pretty dark movie. Although as I write this, actually several of the films on this list have some pretty mature themes for children's entertainment.

Looking across the different stories, it becomes possible to draw out common themes, to see the key features of a campaign world inspired by these movies begin to take shape.

Your friends are small and weak - When the heroes in these stories have allies - friends who support them even if they don't join in their adventures - those allies tend to be marginal and vulnerable. They're children, the elderly, people who have been disabled by sickness, or people who spend most of their time helping the above. Think of Robin Hood's many supporters among the poor, and Friar Tuck, whose obligations to his ministry limit how much he can help his criminal friend.

When the heroes receive supernatural help, its often from allies we might think of as gnomes. They might not be called gnomes in-fiction, but I'm thinking of the podlings from Dark Crystal, the observatory keepers at the Southern Oracle in Neverending Story, perhaps even Yoda. These allies can provide information, medical attention, a place to sleep, but there's a reason they aren't adventurers themselves.

Heroes wear black - And not just literally, like Luke in Return of the Jedi and Westley in Princess Bride, (and Zorro!), but also figuratively, many of these heroes are criminals and outlaws, and many of the villains are kings and princes, people with the law, the government, and an army on their side and at their command. Jabba the Hutt might be referred to as a gangster, for example, but he's the one with the palace, the courtiers, the guards, the multiple sites where he executes people for spectacle. Even the heroes who used to be royal themselves have been thrown out of power. If they retain anything at all from that time, it's a bit of status and respect from the common people. These are adventures where the bad guys have won before the story even starts, and the quest is an attempt to repair a situation that has been broken for quite some time.

Villains lead goblins - The villainous rulers of these stories wear quite a bit of black themselves, and they're often quite frightening and imposing. Think of Skeletor's skinless face, Maleficent's horned headdress, the Skeksis' terrible bird-like features, or Darth Vader's whole costume.

The villains also frequently have their own private armies of goblins, who look quite distinctive compared to the goblins that I saw later in Magic and Pathfinder illustrations. These goblins are typically short, pale brown or sickly yellow skinned (not human skin tones, more like colors you might associate with disease), and with diverse bestial features. Some have pig's noses, or animal maws, or horns, some mostly look like kids, and their individual uniqueness gives them a distinctive look when they're grouped together. Goblins are cunning and dangerous, but also cowardly and undisciplined. They're like a cruel reflection of kids and gnomes as allies.

Dragons are deadly - Mad Madam Mim and Maleficent turn themselves into dragons, the LEGO knights fight dragons, and the Rats of NIMH live in fear of Dragon the cat, who killed Mrs Brisby's husband and broke Mr Ages' leg. While many of the fights in these stories are fought until one side can knock out or capture the other, a fight with a dragon stands out because it's a fight to the death.

Knights should be a character type - I still remember how surprised I was learning about D&D and realizing that knights weren't really a viable character class. There are fighters who wear plate armor, there are self-righteous paladins, and occasionally there's some sort of cavalier as an optional addition to the core rules, but despite how often they appear in the fantasy media (and LEGO sets!) I was familiar with as a kid, knights just don't really have a place in standard D&D. They certainly would if my kid self ran a campaign, though!

The protagonists of these stories are more likely to be former squires than active knights, but there are plenty of knights in armor among the supporting casts. Knights errant should probably also be a possible NPC ally, someone you could recruit to accompany you and fight on your behalf. I would probably let the players take turns controlling their mounted champion in combat though, so it doesn't feel like fights are decided by contests between a GM-controlled protector and some GM-controlled monsters. Speaking of combat...

Fighting means sword-fighting - I think the most common sort of fight in these stories is a one-on-one duel with swords. As others have noted in detail, this is not a type of combat that standard D&D models particularly well, although I think it probably requires a change in the common practices of description more than it requires a change in the rules. These sword fights are rarely to the death. They typically end with someone surrendering, being taken captive, or knocked unconscious.

Swamps are scary - Princess Bride has the Fire Swamp, Neverending Story has the Swamp of Sadness, Labyrinth the Bog of Eternal Stench, and Return of the Jedi has Dagobah, plus poor Mrs Brisby's house sinking into the mud in Secret of NIMH. Swamps are a place where heroes are at their emotional low point and villains have the upper hand. If you're in a swamp, something has already gone wrong to get you there, and things are about to get worse. If a friend is going to die or get captured, it's very likely to happen in a swamp.

Magic is giant - Besides the dragons, these stories have other giant magical creatures. Think of Morla the Ancient in Neverending Story the Owl in Secret of NIMH. Places of magical power are ancient and oversized. Magical creatures are giant and terrifying, even when they're not overtly hostile. They might offer some help, but they're not allies - they must be convinced to intervene, and might demand a price for their assistance.
The worlds these stories describe are troubled places. The rulers of the land are typically evil, and things might be in actively in the process of getting worse. These rulers are magical and frightening. They're powerful fighters in their own right, and they command things like dragons and armies of goblins that strengthen them more.

Any benevolent leaders have been cast out of power or co-opted. They either retain just enough royal status to make useful hostages, or they're so busy trying to care for the government's victims that they have no time for adventuring. And their aid to the poor limits their ability to oppose the government - they can't openly defy the rulers without endangering the people they're working to help.

The heroes and their allies are both figuratively and, often, literally small and vulnerable. They are taking a terrible risk to their lives by trying to free the land from the evil of misrule. They're outnumbered, out-equipped, and overmatched. They rely on stealth, magic, and a tactic of surgically striking at their enemy's weakest point to have any chance of victory, or even survival. This is why our heroes travel overland, to avoid the enemy's power centers and guard posts. This is why the fate of the world is decided by swordfights and appeals to the conscience of the main villain's lieutenants - because that's the only scale on which the heroes can fight and possibly have a chance to win.

The heroes' weakness is contrasted against both the villains' strength and the hugeness and indifference of most magical places and creatures. In addition to an villain who wants to kill them, the heroes also face a world filled with oversized and overpowering magical creatures who simply don't care about them or their problems.

If I were to add any more stories to this list, I might pick Alice in Wonderland or David the Gnome or Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Pirates of Dark Water - but for the most part, I don't think the themes I pulled out would change very much. A list like this is partly generational, partly idiosyncratic. I know you would have been inspired by different stories, would have taken different lessons from them.

What would be on your list of inspirations when you were little? What kind of fantasy world would you have built out of them?


  1. Great post. By the time I got to playing D&D I think my inspirations included "traditional" D&D ones like Tolkien, Arthuriana, and Lloyd Alexander, but also cartoons and comic books. I think a lot of my early ideas of fantasy were formed from the visuals associated with a lot of stuff from book covers to movie posters without exposure to the content of the things they were illustrating.

    1. That's a great point about the visuals, Trey. These weren't the ONLY only fantasy things I saw as a child, but they're the ones whose imagery has stuck with me over the years.

    2. And I should add, before I actually owned ANY rpg books, I somehow got a Palladium catalog. So I could read descriptions of RIFTS and its various sourcebooks, see the names of whatever classes or magic types or monsters they wanted to highlight (plus maybe counts of the total number), but I basically had to imagine what it would be like to actually read any of them.

    3. That reminds me how my first contact with D&D was through some index sheets for 3rd edition and the "Sword and Fist" supplement. I remember having an alphabetical list of spells, a character sheet, and a sample combat (where two mounted combatants were shooting arrows at each other). It felt incredibly arcane and esoteric at the time.

  2. With minor changes here and there (like I never read the Circle of Magic books or Norse and Greek mythology played a big role in my concepts of fantasy), our lists are strikingly similar. Like, choosing to include Castle Lego sets is eerily too close to home.

    1. I don't think I've ever talked to anyone who *has* read the Circle of Magic books.

      I would guess that we must be somewhere around the same age if we had the same formative experiences with media. I remember the Disney movies were on official VHS in fancy plastic clamshell cases, Neverending Story and Return of the Jedi were on LaserDisc, and Labyrinth and Dark Crystal were on VHS where somehow my parents had taped them when they were on TV.

  3. I also have a lot of overlap with your list, but one major item for me that doesn't show up here was "Dragon's Blood" by Jane Yolen:

    I practically wore out my library's copy single-handedly. I re-read it a few years ago and it was still quite enjoyable. The other two novels in the trilogy are quite strange though, and were not really worth the time IMO.

    1. Dragon’s Blood is great! I only read it once as a library book but it stuck with me

    2. I feel like the media of my childhood is filled with books and magazines I read over and over, films I watched over and over, tv shows where I saw only a handful of episodes but managed to catch them several times as reruns.

      These days, rereads and rewatches are a bit rarer for me, but they were definitely the norm back then.

      I never read Dragon's Blood, but I remember my mom reading me Andre Norton's Dragon Magic.

  4. My world at 12, If I’d had D&D to experiment with, would have looked like the films Excalibur, and Labyrinth, the TV series Neverwhere, various film and TV versions of Robin Hood, and some Doctor Who. Even a little bit of Harry Potter. Not because I’d seen them by age 12, but that is an easy way to convey some essence of what I can remember of the worlds I imagined when I was 12. Mostly from reading historical fiction, history, mythology, and a few good films. There would have been standing stones and arches and tunnels and wardrobes you would walk through to get to somewhere else. Magic would have been real, but subtle, and gone hand in hand with psi powers and witch sight, or the ability to draw a scene of a place on a ‘trump’ card or cell wall - and walk through it to somewhere else (per Zelazny) Forests were magical, and dangerous. Animals could speak, sometimes, but not necessarily be friendly(per Animal Farm, the Wind in the Willows and some other old stories I can not remember now). Like for you: Knights were a thing, and would have been present, along with trusted if flawed friends (misc. Arthurian stuff). I had not yet read The Hobbit, nor Lord of the Rings, nor Three Hearts & Three Lions/Broken Sword but even so elves and dwarves would have been norse and Celtic in inspiration because I’d read a lot of historical novels and greek/norse mythology. I’d read some Moorcock, which would have reinforced that the fae are not necessarily nice, nor heroes - but strange and hard to know, if knowable at all. David Bowie’s Goblin King, and the sterner version of Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel (though I’d not seen either at age 12 - but they matched my vision). They’re not human after all, and halflings or changelings are a sad and tragic thing, and have it hard in the world they come in to. Fate and Destiny are real things, and can sometimes be changed, but often must be accepted with courage and character. If you can. It would have been a world with less of a medieval feel, but some mix of the Three Musketeers (the books and 1973 film) and The Last of the Mohicans (BBC tv), with the eeriness of the Owl Service, Elidor, the Weirstone of Brisangamen, and the Dark is Rising. Swords and Spears would mix with Lasguns and Blasters, because of Andre Norton’s SF and the Witch World, and travelling between them would not be unknown (per various, but especially Norton and Zelazny).

    Mostly books, and a few films. Just after this there was a lot more TV and film.

    Thanks for your post, and the question. It has been an interesting introspection and reflection for me in answering this. I think my 12 year old self was much more creative and imaginative than I had remembered.

    1. Thanks for that really thoughtful comment, Alistair. There's kind of a whole setting in there!

      It's interesting the way that our lists partially overlap, but when paired with the non-overlapping items, different themes emerge from the same works.

    2. Yes. Different people and different experiences, and also different generations to a certain degree. I think the core of my ideas about fantasy were formed before I was exposed to TV, and then the first 5 or 6 years of TV were filled with lots of programs that reinforced them. I enjoyed the reflection, though I’ve recently been reflecting on the games I’ve run or played in over the years to work out where I’m going next with rpgs this year, so I guess I was already primed to see your post and just brain dump a bit.

  5. Lovely entry. Might do a response this week on my blog. Those circle of magic books sound like a fun read. Will see if I can pick them up somewhere.

    1. It would be cool to see what you come up with if you decide to post on your blog.

      I think the Circle of Magic books got reprinted around 2000 or so. In my opinion, the new covers are pretty terrible, but they might be easier to find.

  6. Awesome post! Pushed all my nostalgia buttons, lol!

  7. Disney Robin Hood and NIMH are two facets of a dream game of mine

    1. Agreed! And our current zeitgeist seems to be filled with talking animals.

  8. Time to write a Response Post to this.

    1. Please do! I'd love to see what your version looks like.

  9. Love this. All time A+ post . . . would love to see you develop it into something like Pendragon or at least the Prince Valiant game down the road. The notes on NIMH and the Disney titles are especially great. If this stuff doesn't somehow build character, what is it all for?

    My trajectory from Oz mega fandom to DND was short and murky but L.A. tv circulated a few cartoons that don't make the canon nowadays, all are available on the 'tube in their entirety:

    * The Mouse & His Child (1977)
    * Winds of Change / Metamorphoses (1979)
    * Alakazam The Great (1960)

    1. Thank you, bombasticus! I'm not sure where this is going yet, but you're right, there does seem like there's some kind of campaign in there.

      Thanks for the recommendations. Pre-internet, we were all very much at the whims of whatever was showing on the local stations, or whatever was rerunning on the likes of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, USA, SciFi; combined with our personal schedules and whenever we happened to be available to watch. So the viewing experiences of any two people could end up quite different.

  10. Not strictly fantasy, but it struck me late last night that I found the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy quite early. A copy was on the family bookshelves* and BBC Radio repeated it around 2003 (I think?). It seems to have stuck with me, consciously or otherwise. I can't say that my work has been notably or casually apocalyptic, or for that matter comic, but there's the odd bit of bitten-down seriousness that resonates.

    *The Pan books original paperback, with the faintly kaleidoscopic cover []. This has always struck me as the best of covers for the Guide, the abstraction of it functioning a lot better than slick modern 'iconic' versions, or those ones with the hateful grinning green 'Aren't we zany!' face.

    1. I definitely read these a few times over the years as a kid and teenager. My mothers' copies had the green face covers.

  11. I was a little luddite as a kid, so my influences were pretty much exclusively books until middle school. Frustratingly, I'm only recalling a handful of them. My Father's Dragon and it's sequels were deeply influential to me as a little kid (and I've commented on them as a model for OSR problem solving with whatever random junk you have in your pockets before). The Magic Treehouse as well, although that was more "ubiquitous" than specifically inspiring. A little later, I remember being very influenced by the Septimius Heap books, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, Susan Fletcher's Dragon's Milk and it's sequels (which got so upsetting for me as a kid that I eventually stopped reading and never picked them back up), and various Diana Wynne Jones novels. I know there were many more, especially standalone books not part of any series, but I'm not calling them to mind. (I grew up right in the heart of the Harry Potter boom but I never liked them, which I feel very vindicated about in retrospect.)

    There's a very strong theme across these books of child protagonists with the adults around them being at best unable to protect them or at worst actively malicious. (I know a lot of adults like to mock the "adults are useless" tendency in kid's fiction, but it resonated with me as a bullied kid. I think we as adults like to forget how much kids have to fend for themselves in a world that doesn't listen to or respect them.) There's also a near-ubiquitous framing device in them that I've never seen in tabletop games: the protagonists get shipped off to a huge old house in the countryside where Nothing Ever Happens for the summer or in a move, go exploring for lack of anything better to do, and immediately stumble across the Mysterious that they (often begrudgingly) get interested and entangled in. There's also a lot of kids venturing out into the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on their backs and some useful junk in their pockets, which showed up directly in the stories I came up with at the time. I also had a love of making up ornate, systematized magic systems with almost gygaxian levels of creating distinctions between synonyms, but I'm genuinely unsure of where I got it, it doesn't show up in any of the influences I recall.

    My influences were definitely more pro-dragon than yours. My mom read the Hobbit to my sibling and I as kids, but stopped before the climax because she knew we'd be upset at the dragon dying.

    Incidentally, I do actually recall the Circle of Magic books: I never read the originals, but I did read one book of the sequel series where the protagonists of the original books were taking a new generation of protagonists under their wing as apprentices. I was very lost and don't recall most of it, but I vividly remember the climax where the protagonist used her weaving-inspired magic to catch the villains in a web of their own dark magic. Their bodies had become so infused with it that they simply came apart into little chunks of flesh when the protagonist spooled it up. That stuck in the mind.

  12. I see that they changed Mrs Frisby's name for the movie. That is so weird.