Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Dungeon

So I was blog-hopping yesterday, and I stumbled across the name of Philip Jose Farmer. I had heard the name previously, and I knew he was an author, but the name dug at my mind for some particular reason. Then it came to me: The Dungeon.

This was  book series that I tried to check out from the library when I was 10. I had just gotten into D&D by way of the Dragonlance novels, which I read endlessly. I'd started looking into the books that were shelved around them on the metal rotating cart that held fantasy/sci-fi paperbacks. I remember the covers absolutely grabbing me: a guy with wild hair and a mustache, always posing with a sword on some otherworldly landscape. On each cover he wore a brilliantly colored billowing cloak, always a different color- blood red on the first book, bright orange on the third one, and so on.

I remember the books contained sketches that were supposed to be from his journal as he explored the titular Dungeon (actually a series of different worlds/environments linked by warp gates.) I never did make it through a single one of the books, but I know I checked them out several times. I don't recall what the problem was, but I was more interested in staring at those covers, looking at the sketches, and imagining what the Dungeon might be like. It was a pretty formative experience in my D&D history, but I'd forgotten about them entirely until just yesterday.

Doing some research, I discovered that PJF didn't actually write the books, he seems to have come up with the idea and then persuaded four other authors to actually write the series. Interesting.

I've got a yarn to run a Dungeon-esque campaign, an extra-dimensional prison of many layers/levels, the PCs being a party of beings from different worlds/times/dimensions who are lost and trying to find a way out. As much as I'd love to use White Box or something similar, I know I won't find players for it. I'll probably make it my first outing with the new edition of Savage Worlds.

I've also got a yarn to order the first novel. I've found an old used copy for just a few dollars plus free shipping on ABE. At the same time, I'm worried that whatever is in the book, it won't live up to the imaginary wonder tied to ten year old me marveling at the cover at a time when I was just discovering what would come to be the defining pastime/passion of my life. Maybe I'll get it just to have that cover on my shelf.


  1. SO...I'm pretty sure I've written about this somewhere, so I'll give you my take on the series.

    These books came out when I was in high school, and I picked them all up and devoured them (more or less in order...I think I read #2 first, then #1, then continued) until the final novel. I thought they were pretty darn groovy, loved the pseudo-Victorian protagonist constantly having his conservative English sensibilities challenged by the weirdness of his encounters (which were great). Every new book was written by a different author, building on what had gone before and adding his/her own stamp as well.

    Then...either because of some delay or a lack of ready income or the transition from high school to college or SOMETHING...I missed out on the last novel, only (later) borrowing it from someone, somewhere, sometime later.

    Here's the thing: instead of getting some new writer to craft the final novel, PJF brought back the FIRST AUTHOR of the series to write the final book. And instead of building on what the other authors had written, the guy went back to his own story arcs from the first novel: having the protagonist pine and act all weepy for a bit-part love interest that had been brought in for novel #1 and killed off in #2 as if she were some firm part of Neville's life? Even though no one else had bothered to mention this passing flame in half a dozen novels? Just awful.

    My impression at the time (I haven't read the thing since I initially closed it in disgust) was the author was just pissing all over what the interim authors were doing, just out of spite for screwing with *his* arcs and creations.

    It was very disappointing.

    Right now, I can see all the novels on my shelf, minus #2 ("The Abyss?" I think so). Yes, they had wonderful covers and beautiful illustrations. I found the first five very entertaining. Perhaps...perhaps...I'll go back and try reading #6 ("The Final Battle") and see if the passing of decades has diminished the bile I feel for it.

    Let me see: Richard A. Lupoff. Yeah, what a pratt. I'm kind of surprised I still have volume 6. There's an inscription in the cover from my old buddy, Doug (dated 7/90) who apparently gave me the novel "for my trip, to remind me of home." What was I doing then? Hmm...maybe that was when I was going to Japan? That would explain why money was short for me (all my funds were tied up with travel).

  2. Yeah, you know what? Perhaps my memory is being too harsh...I *was* only a snot-nosed kid 30 years ago! Perhaps I’ll give my Lupoff’s final novel of the series another chance. Certainly PJF speaks glowingly about the book in his foreword. At least then I can justify the thing taking up shelf space.
    ; )

    1. Well, I'll start with the first novel... maybe I won't even want to read #2, who knows.

  3. My own memory of these novels is that they were very unevenly written, and even though the environments were cool, it really didn't feel like a cohesive narrative. There's a lot to be plundered here for gaming, though.

    1. This is basically an exercise in plundering along with some misguided nostalgia fulfillment. I'm not expecting great literature. :)