Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jack Vance: The Dying Earth

Jack Vance's The Dying Earth was published in 1950, some 60 years ago. A slim book of 156 pages, The Dying Earth is a brisk and enjoyable read, and is far cheerier than its brother, The Eyes of the Overworld.

The Dying Earth is composed of six short stories, some of which are cleverly interconnected. Those short stories are: Turjan of Miir; Mazirian the Magician; T'sais; Liane the Wayfarer; Ulan Dhor; and, Guyal of Sfere. The accompanying picture is Joe Bergeron's depiction of a confrontation between T'sain (the twin sister of T'sais) and Mazirian the Magician, beneath the waters of Sanra, the Lake of Dreams.

While Mazirian the Magican and Liane the Wayfarer both ultimately receive their comeuppances, many of the other characters in The Dying Earth enjoy a better fate.

Jack Vance's Dying Earth series is well-known as the basis for the D&D magic system. In The Dying Earth series, most Magic Users can employ only 4 or 5 spells, much fewer than the number permitted for middle-to-high level spellcasters in earlier versions of D&D.

In Vance's Dying Earth series, only some 100 spells remain, from the thousand or more that existed in earlier times. Among the spells still know are the Charm of Untiring Nourishment, Call to the Violent Cloud, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Phandaal's Gyrator, the Spell of the Slow Hour, the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere, the Spell of Immobilization, and Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell. Looking at the spell lists in early versions of D&D, and those in some of the Arduin and Delos rulebooks, one is struck by how often the Vancian naming conventions were employed. A credit to Gygax, Hargrave and others, who treated the source material with respect.

9 comments:

Al said...

Dying Earth is Essential gamer reading! :)

Maroon said...

The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga are very different from The Dying Earth and Rhialto the Marvellous. Not everyone likes Cugel; I think he's endearing. I'd recommend reading about Cugel only after reading the other two books, but if you like Clark Ashton Smith or Wodehouse you likely won't have any problems getting through them.

A favourite spell of mine comes from The Eyes of the Overworld: the Charm of Forlorn Encystment. Rhialto the Marvellous also features a nice list of spells, e.g. the Green and Purple Postponement of Joy (the Green and Purple being philosophical schools, also encountered in the tale of Ulan Dhor) and Lugwiler's Dismal Itch.

The magic in Rhialto also differs most from the other stories; on one occasion, Rhialto casually disintegrates a corpse with a spell -- who'd've memorised that spell if you only have room for six at most? They don't even need to cast spells, really, since they've got sandestins, who can basically do everything a spell could do. I think Rhialto and his associates are a good source of inspiration for high-level magic-users in D&D.

cyclopeatron said...

Oh I love this book! I can read it over and over again! Not only is it relevant to D&D players, it is exceptionally great fiction!

By the way, Dying Earth was actually published in 1950 (I own a copy of the first printing). Four years before Fellowship of the Ring.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

cyclopeatron said...
Oh I love this book! I can read it over and over again! Not only is it relevant to D&D players, it is exceptionally great fiction!

By the way, Dying Earth was actually published in 1950 (I own a copy of the first printing). Four years before Fellowship of the Ring.


Thanks for the correction, I was looking at the copyright for Eyes Of The Overworld, which is 1966.

Brunomac said...

Jeez...I gotta get around to reading at least one Vance book. Gonna hit the library this weekend I think.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Maroon said...
The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga are very different from The Dying Earth and Rhialto the Marvellous. Not everyone likes Cugel; I think he's endearing.

Cugel is not quite as irredeemable as Liane.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Al said...
Dying Earth is Essential gamer reading! :)

Agreed, it will change your views of D&D magic and adventure design.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Brunomac said...
Jeez...I gotta get around to reading at least one Vance book. Gonna hit the library this weekend I think.

Read two: The Dying Earth and Eyes Of The Overworld. Will be interested to read your reactions.

Matthew Slepin said...

I love The Dying Earth with a possibly-illegal-in-some-states passion. I like The Eyes of the Overworld and found the tube of blue pignment to be an amazing way to present technology that has been forgotten.

I am a huge fan of both P.G. Wodehouse and CAS and found Cugel's Saga so tedious and Skipped large chunks. Rhialto was more enjoyable, but seems a minor work compared to the beauty of TDE.

For what it is worth.