Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Rez and the Blue Bird

Compare and contrast, 1980s Gamebook illustration and 1890s Fairytale illustration:

The waistcoat (even the trim), the sash, the shoes, the beard the hair, the pantaloons, the crooked hat the outstretched arms. John adds a wealth of detail and pattern to the figure, as well as a grizly murderized victim and 'fixes' the slightly overlong arms.

The Green Fairy Book collected by Andrew Lang and illustrated by Henry Justice Ford was published by in 1892.  Many early fantasy games illustrators seem to have taken queues from fairy tale illustration as Trampiers  homage to HJF of the Cloud Giant in the AD&D Monster Manual, clearly shows. Langs Fairy books were also instrumental in J.R.R. Tolkiens conception of the fairy-story and, perhaps, in moving the ring from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. The wizard illustration is intended to accompany story The Blue Bird.

The Sorcery Spellbook written by Steve Jackson, and illustrated by John Blanche  was published by Puffin in 1983. The spell REZ is used to resurrect the dead, somewhat appropriate to resurrect an old wizard image to illustrate it. Ah, makes me want to visit Mampang again, although I need to find some Khukuri or perhaps some Chhaang or Raski for the journey.

I will fully admit that this remarkable observation wasn't made by me, but by an erudite and long-time reader of this blog, they must have made their spot-hidden roll again, many thanks for this and other tip-offs - may the Gods of Chaos always smile upon your dice!


  1. I wonder if Blanche's wizard should have pulled the sword *out* of the throat of the victim before applying the resurrection spell?

    Also notice the Cross on the side of the vial. "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live."

    1. Hi Douglas, certainly looks like an uncomfortable return to the realm of the living doesn't it?

      Good catch on the Cross. I've always considered there to be a strong streak of Christian symbolism through much of Blanches work, which, apart from anything is highly unusual for 1980s fantasy gaming artwork after the anti-D&D propaganda of the religious right, which tended to make publishers distance their products from from real-world religions.

      Have you seen the Citadel Miniatures D&D Dungeon Adventurers set?In the original the cleric holds up a crucifix, which was later erased and replaced by an Egyptian Ankh. There is probably more than enough material in GWs archives for a longer consideration of these themes. Thanks.

    2. Thanks for the reply Zhu. I would love to see you write a ‘feature-length‘ post on the topic of Christian symbolism in 1980s fantasy gaming systems -- particularly early Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy.

      Something I noticed the other day was a section on Talismans in the Arcane Magicks book from the WHFB1E supplement, Forces of Fantasy. A Crucifix is listed among the other Talismans, and an illustration of a grumpy-looking wizard beneath appears to have all the listed Talismans about his person, including the 'Crucifix' about his wrist. A real Crucifix depicts the Corpus Christi himself nailed to the Cross, as opposed to a Cross without a Corpus, in which case it is simply a Cross. That is the case in the illustration.

      This is the only time I have ever seen any explicit Christian symbolism used in the Warhammer world, with the exception of the Men of West having great helms with cross-shaped eye-slits and of course the references to the Crusades agaist the Men of the East in 2nd Edition.

      Fighting Fantasy has a lot more examples, including a memorable moment where the only way to escape from a vampire in a subterranean crypt is to present a Crucifix (if you've had the fortune to find one), though I forget which book this was in.

      It is interesting to me, particularly as a Christian, how significantly powerful the symbol of the Cross is that even in fantasy games it is used as an instrument of vanquishing (or escaping) from evil. I like to toy with the idea that (as I believe can be argued from textual evidence) the worlds of Warhammer and Titan are planets that exist in the same universe as Earth, and that there are certain means by which these worlds are connected -- either through space travel or wormhole-like portals, through which certain artefacts might be transported. It might be the case that certain interworld travellers have brought Crucifixes or Crosses into Titan or Warhammer out of curiosity because of their cultural/spiritual influence on Earth. Maybe even certain whispers of the Christ himself have been passed into these worlds, and thus God's plan to redeem humans by the sacrificial blood of his Son is not merely confined to Earth alone, but even to humans in these other worlds?

      This, in effect, ties in nicely with another idea I like to entertain: that, from a real-world Christian perspective, that Christ (God the Son) not only comes to restore and heal his own Creation, but even the sub-created worlds (like Warhammer and Titan and Middle-earth) that flow from the minds of his sub-creators: human beings, created by him in his image.

    3. How could I forget which book it is where you can escape from a Vampire by means of a Crucifix? Why, it is The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, of course -- the original and best!

    4. Apologies for the sloppy use of language regards cross/crucifix, and thanks for the correction. A quick list off the top of my head...

      Talisman, Pilgrim hands in prayer and priest in his bishops costume. Interestingly the cross replaced with a heart motif - not as instanty recognisable as the cross, but a catholic symbol nontheless.

      Many of Citadel Miniatures pre-slotta clerics and slotta clerics carry or wield crosses. Worth seeing if OD&D has similar imagery.

      Regards WFB 2nd editions Crusades, they are an interesting reflection of history Avenging Knights of the Cleansing Flame (" He abhorred the swarthy, outlandish men of Araby and their insidiously evil culture. ") and the Disciples of Red Redemption both elaborate somewhat.

      Regards Tolkien I have to agree, I think that's part of his intention - but also that Christ has not yet redeemed humanity - Middle Earth is in the time of Dantes "virtuous pagans" , The Halls of Mandos being the halls of waiting for the "unknown fate" - which become known with the coming of Christ, when mankinds true destiny is unveiled, and the virtuous pagans saved via the Harrowing of Hell (which is foreshadowed/echoed in Aragorns redemption of the Oathbreakers).

    5. Thanks again for the reply, Zhu.

      Ah yes, I remember you writing about the Harrowing of Hell in your post about the origin of Orcs. Very interesting indeed!

      My comments about the Cross\Crucifix differentiation were not aimed at you -- sorry about that -- I was just pointing out how the WHFB1E Arcane Magicks book listed a Crucifix as a Talisman but the accompanying illustration had a Cross instead.

      I forgot to comment on the D&D illustration you shared. It is rather a shame they replaced it with an Ankh -- it loses some of its potency as a symbol (though I would say that) and the cover-up is quite obvious.

      Talisman also features, if I am not mistaken, the Holy Grail and the Holy Lance. There is a Christian chapel also, though the second edition has a ‘devil's pitchfork' where a cross should be. This was certainly fixed by the fourth edition. I can't remember what the third edition had.

      I will keep my eyes peeled for any more examples I find.

    6. I forgot that Talisman also features a Cross that can instantly destroy spirits/demons, with the drawback of not being able to take the 'Craft' XP for yourself. There might be some theological significance to that detail.

    7. Thanks Douglas! Talisman indeed had a Holy Grail and a Holy Lance, also has Angels and Demons as an encounter, who change alignment IIRC.

      I always thought the 'pitchfork' on the Chapel was a trident, like Poseidon may carry. Although thinking bout it that doesn't make much sense, as there isn't really any sea. One of Bob Connors original playtest boards for Talisman has the Chapel, and what looks like a golden cross atop it. Also the White Dwarf Talisman Templar "advanced character" rounds the crusader theme.

      There's also the C22 Demons of Law which are clearly angels.

      Also the WH40K two-headed Imperial Aquilla has more than a passing resemblance to the Banner of Holy Roman Empire, which would be an unlikely coincidence.

    8. Oh yeah, 40K -- at least the Imperium -- is riddled with shadows of medieval Christendom. I suppose I am more interested in examples of when more explicit symbols, such as crosses and crucifixes, show up in completely random places where Christianity isn't a known religion -- such as a dungeon in Allansia, or on the side of a Ressurection potion vial in the Old World, yet still has the same power, purpose and meaning as it does in the real world.

  2. I can definitely see the imaginative appeal of that :-)

    It would be interesting to draw a history of GW with small incidents of overtly Christian symbols appearing in the early 80s, into a period of erasure, partly perhaps due to the TSR and anti-D&D thing, then moving into a phase of "crypto-christian" imagery with the development of the Gothic version of 40ks Imperium, culminating perhaps with the full-on rendition of the "War in Heaven" imagery of Age of Sigmar.

    1. That would be an excellent study indeed and most worthy of praise. I would look forward to it with great interest!

      If you wanted to do take a detour into the realm of Fighting Fantasy, that would be even more exciting.