Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers and Sons Redux

They were fighting again. The fourth time that afternoon. The Professor's glasses had slipped to the tip of his nose and threatened to fall off, but there was nothing he could do about them. He was too busy trying to keep Wild Bill from hitting him.

Those are not my words, they are my father's. But I am The Professor. Or at least I was for a time in the early 1980s as a thinly-veiled protagonist—as was my brother "Wild" Billin my father's serialized fantasy novel.

I've written of this before, the late childhood thread that ties me back to my first days with this game and the deep vein. My father runs all through that narrative. Playing D&D with him, the Vietnam combat vet, and the magical realism of that teetering Edwardian house in the hills above LA.

The book was another piece of that. We would spend summers with Dad in Southern California in the rawness of that time after my parents' divorce, it was where the hook would be set with that first blue box of Basic D&D with the gangly red dragon. The summers were spent awash in things new, wonderful and weird despite the pains of that time.

The game was to some extent a way to keep that alive through the longer truck of the school year back in Texas. And importantly the novel which came to us several pages at a time in thick envelopes did too. I hung on them. I could hear my father's voice in them, the same lively voice that would narrate whole chapters of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings to us from creased paperbacks when were were around.

I realized reading through the rough smudges and mark-outs of one of my greatest paper treasure, the non-correctable typewritten—there's a nostalgia onto itself— compiled manuscript how much of the game's influence entered in my everyday conversation. That first bit on the post is the beginning of the book, it begins with the cats-and-dogs fighting that was near-constant between my brother and me in those days. The funny thing is what my dad writes about the cause—most definitely something that actually happened:
H-h-he said,” Wild Bill stuttered. “Said I wasn't wise.”
I did not,” The Professor said calmly...
He said I was low on wisdom.”

I can almost hear the Gygaxian WIS shorthand in that remark. No bonus divine spells for Bill.

The meat of the book was our journey into the far and distant land of a demonic tree spirit, the Tumbo, and of course our battle against his fell influence. There are touches of LeGuin's Earthsea books the magical power of true names and the like through it, which makes sense given how my dad had handed them over to me at the time.

Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country (and he can correct my paraphrase if I am wrong) once stated in a discussion I posted on G+ about DCC rpg that he was done with the dark and gritty in the games he runs, that instead he was looking for that childlike wonder aspect of fantasy.

I don't want to wax on about the golden-tinged private Narnia-Idaho of my childhood (at least more than I have), but I liked how Erik stated that. It was an important corrective to how I feel about aspects of fantasy, the visceral yet softer emotion of that sentiment can indeed balance with the dark, metallic edges and the maladapted picaresque that I love.

With all the imaginative, creative little boys running around in our burgeoning extended family, it's something I genuinely look forward to: being a conduit into that wonder. All you fathers out there playing the same role, I tip my hat to you today, savor and appreciate that role.

And, of course, on this Father's Day to my own conduit, The Professor says “thank you” and “great love.”


  1. A great post and a great tribute. :)

  2. May you live your dreams. Love, PapA

  3. Not what I expected to read on a gaming blog tonight, rather touching though, and very appropriate on this day of fathers. Also a good sentiment regarding the "fairy tale" elements and "childlike wonder" available. I should heed it more, having just sent a pack of jaded grown-ups out the door after another comically grim-dark session. You remind me to savor the fantasy of this hobby, and how we almost all got started as goggle eyed kids, thank you.