Recommended Reading?

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Prime_Evil
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Recommended Reading?

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:04 pm

One thing missing from the Legend core rulebook is a list of inspirational reading to help GMs and players to absorb some of the influences on the design of the game so that they get a sense of the intentions of the authors. This was a feature of many early RPGs, from the famous Appendix N of 1st edition AD&D to the bibliography at the back of the classic Runequest rulebook from 1978.

There is a Recommended Reading and Viewing List on p456 of the RQ 6 rulebook and it is an interesting exercise to compare it with the one from earlier iterations of Runequest. I agree with many of the works on the list that Loz and Pete put together for RQ 6, but there are a few additional works that I would add (Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories, Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, etc) and a few choices that make me scratch my head (Barbara Hambly? Andrew Offutt?).

Obviously reading tastes are intensely personal, but I thought it might be interesting to open up a general discussion about the novels and stories that influence how you play Legend. My own tastes run towards Swords and Sorcery and Dark Fantasy, with a touch of pulp-era Sword and Planet. With a few exception such as Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, high fantasy written in the epic mode tends to leave me cold.

I'm interested to see if we can help other gamers learn about the existence of obscure works that they didn't previously know about - for example, Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft are huge influences on me, but I only recently stumbled across Brian McNaughton's excellent Throne of Bones on the recommendation of a fellow gamer.

I'm also eager to learn about recent fantasy novels that people would add to the list of influences - I'd probably accept Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards sequence into the canon, as well as Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy and a few others such as Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, Jeff Salyard's Scourge of the Betrayer and Howard Andrew Jones' Desert of Souls.

And that's not even getting me started on the way that authors of historical fiction such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece, Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, etc have influenced my gaming tastes over the years....

How about everyone else?
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby warlock1971 » Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:47 pm

Very interesting post.

Of late, I have been rereading Howard's Conan short stories and enjoying them, tremendously. The last fantasy novels I read were from Steven Erickson - the Malazan books. Dark fantasy that has definitely changed the way I see gaming.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Loz » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:16 pm

I read the very first Malazan novel and, although it had some good ideas (I like the warrens) I was left feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I felt Eriksson squandered the interesting characters, like Whiskeyjack, in favour of the uber-bad guys who completely dominated the conclusion of the book whilst having nothing to do with anything that went before. I thought the plotting was lazy in places, and it all boiled-down to two high level NPCs duking it out while the player characters stood around and watched. It put me off the rest of the Malazan saga, and so it won't find its way onto my reading list.

These days I'm veering more and more towards historical fiction. Steven Lawhead's 'King Raven' (Norman-era take on the Robin Hood legend, with Robin as a Welshman): avoid like the plague. But Cornwell, Hambly, Duggan, Pownall ('The White Cutter' is superb for Masonic origins) are all good value.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Old timer » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:41 pm

Bit of mix of books for me that have inspired my fantasy games, though i have not read much fantasy lately, being on a bit of either historical reading or science fiction reading run at the moment. High fantasy wise, mainly Raymond E Feist, though i prefer his more darker fantasy in his later books. Conan and the Elric novels have all inspired in the past. More recently the books of Gene Wolfe, mainly the tale of Severian the torture, i do like that sort of post technical/fantasy mixed style he has. Many of China Merville works as well, his fantasy is nice and different from the rest of the pack. Also, most recently, though it is more steampunk than fantasy, the novels by Chris Wooding of the adventures of the airship Ketty Jay and its captain Darien Frey have been very entertaining and inspiring.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby rust » Tue Feb 12, 2013 5:58 pm

While I did read most of the fantasy classics, like for example Howard and
Tolkien, the authors who did influence my gaming style are others, like for
example Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Andre Norton, Patricia
McKillip and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby alex_greene » Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:54 pm

I don't look at the other authors' books - the best you can accomplish by following their example is a pale pastiche of what has gone on before. Look at George R R Martin's Westeros oeuvre and that atrocity that is the Hunger Games series. Oh, and everything written by Rowling. And Pullman. And C S Lewis, and ...

I look at other sources: Carl Jung for the concept of Archetypes and dream logic, Robert A Wilson and Isaac Bonewits for the inspirations on presenting the occult; Denis Wheatley, Aleister Crowley, Peter J Carroll, Kenneth Anger, Jack Parsons, Carl Sagan, and myths and legends of Trickster all over the world, from every culture.

A proper fantasy builds on solid foundations.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Feb 12, 2013 8:22 pm

alex_greene wrote:I don't look at the other authors' books - the best you can accomplish by following their example is a pale pastiche of what has gone on before. Look at George R R Martin's Westeros oeuvre and that atrocity that is the Hunger Games series. Oh, and everything written by Rowling. And Pullman. And C S Lewis, and ...

I look at other sources: Carl Jung for the concept of Archetypes and dream logic, Robert A Wilson and Isaac Bonewits for the inspirations on presenting the occult; Denis Wheatley, Aleister Crowley, Peter J Carroll, Kenneth Anger, Jack Parsons, Carl Sagan, and myths and legends of Trickster all over the world, from every culture.

A proper fantasy builds on solid foundations.
And yet....many gamers use rule systems to simulate their favourite genre archetypes. I don't dismiss the influence that genre works have had on my own gaming, although I also read a lot of non-fiction too. I'd agree with Carl Jung for mythic archetypes and the concept of the shadow, but would add Mircea Eliade, Owen Barfield, The White Goddess by Robert Graves (an appalling piece of history, but a superb piece of poetic inspiratrion) and a few others. I'm not sure whether I'd include Joseph Campbell or not. I like both Robert A. Wilson and Isaac Bonewit's, but they aren't a big influence on my gaming. Other non-fiction works that have been important to me from a gaming perspective include The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis (probably the best thing that he ever wrote, and a solid piece of medieval social history rather than fantasy fiction), Ronald Hutton's Stations of the Sun and a couple of other works. I do read a lot of books on occult and the western mystery tradition, but they don't tend to influence my gaming much.

One thing about the RQ tradition that is interesting is the emphasis on primary sources from the ancient and medieval periods. Older versions of RQ included Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur and Njal's Saga, while RQ 6 lists Beowulf and the Iliad. I'd certainly have a few of these works on my personal list and might recommend specific translations for those who can't read them in the original language - Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf is great (although not perfect) and Robert Fagle's translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey is essential reading. I'd possible also add a few other works - I'd like to place a few more of the Icelandic family sagas on the list, but choosing a good translation is tricky. Plus I'd definitely add Tolkien's excellent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby rust » Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:20 pm

alex_greene wrote:I don't look at the other authors' books - the best you can accomplish by following their example is a pale pastiche of what has gone on before.
I do not think so. While it is certainly true that the primary sources
are an essential foundation, I consider their uses and interpretations
by good fantasy authors as equally important, because they often in-
clude useful ideas and insights I would otherwise have missed. The-
refore I prefer combinations of various types of sources, like for ex-
ample in the case of an Arthurian theme Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur
as an original compilation of Arthurian stories, Ashe's various books
about the historical Arthurian Age and Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of
Avalon and Bradshaw's Down the Long Wind trilogy as fine examples
of very different interpretations of the material.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby alex_greene » Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:07 pm

Yeah, but while Tolkien may have had Beowulf and the Mabinogion to inspire him, the authors of Beowulf and the Mabinogion only had, at most, the oral tradition.

And there are all those other traditions across the world and history which have never been touched by modern fantasy authors. Western fantasy is still stuck in the pre-industrial rut it has been since Tolkien, as if every author has been shackled by the neck and forced into writing what amounts to Game of Thrones, or at worst Once Upon A Time.

The great thing about Legend is that it is just a framework on which to build the stories. The settings being used are based on others' work - what's stopping new Games Masters from throwing away the last shreds of the ghost of RuneQuest and writing one's own stories?

Imagine a fantasy setting where your familiar fantasy towns had hospitals, where homes had indoor toilets and plumbing, simply because they never had a Dark Age to set civilisation back for a thousand years? Or a fantasy setting where it's the present day, there are the usual familiar towns and cities - Swindon, Pontefract, Aberystwyth, Glasgow, Oxford, London - and you have the familiar sights and sounds - cars, television, smartphones, the internet, people fretting over mortgages or work, police on the streets - but half the people are blue-skinned seven-foot tall telepaths, and nobody thinks twice about this because they've always been here?

I eschew others' work, unless I'm reading them for my own entertainment only - because when I create my settings, I try to create my own, and give the players some hilarious, dodgy, strange, sexy, horrific, dangerous new worlds to explore.

Worlds they have never encountered.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby alex_greene » Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:07 pm

My words were so good, I had to post them twice.

Double post. :oops:
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Prime_Evil » Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:56 pm

alex_greene wrote:Yeah, but while Tolkien may have had Beowulf and the Mabinogion to inspire him, the authors of Beowulf and the Mabinogion only had, at most, the oral tradition.
Tolkien's sources are complex and are not always purely literary in nature - for example, his own experiences in the Battle of the Somme inform his descriptions of Mordor. There are a lot of incidental details in his descriptions that show a deep personal familiarity with the war-torn landscape that he describes.
alex_greene wrote:And there are all those other traditions across the world and history which have never been touched by modern fantasy authors. Western fantasy is still stuck in the pre-industrial rut it has been since Tolkien, as if every author has been shackled by the neck and forced into writing what amounts to Game of Thrones, or at worst Once Upon A Time.
There are plenty of examples of fantasy that draw upon non-western influences. In addition to authors associated with the New Weird movement (China Mieville being the most prominent), there is the Sword and Soul movement in the U.S. that seeks to write fantasy from an African perspective. In addition to such giants as Charles Saunders (author of the awesome Imaro novels), there are folks such as Miles Davis (Changa's Safari) and Carole Macdonald (Wind Follower) currently working in this area. And then there are award-winning authors such as N.K. Jemisin, whose writing is at least partially inspired by ancient Egyptian mythology. And then there's the revival of interest in the middle-east as a setting for quasi-historical fantasy - in the last couple of years we've seen such works as Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, Howard Andrew Jones' Desert of Souls, and Scott Oden's Lion of Cairo and many others. And if you want to go a bit further back, rememberM.A.R. Barker's Tekumel, with its eclectic mixture of Indian, Aztec, and Chinese influences - which dates right back to the 1940s.
alex_greene wrote:The great thing about Legend is that it is just a framework on which to build the stories. The settings being used are based on others' work - what's stopping new Games Masters from throwing away the last shreds of the ghost of RuneQuest and writing one's own stories?
There's some truth to that statement, but I think its important to understand and respect the older material - if only so that you can break audience expectations creatively. Plus I have immense respect for the work of the designers and authors who have shaped the d100 legacy of which both Legend and RQ 6 are inheritors.
alex_greene wrote:Imagine a fantasy setting where your familiar fantasy towns had hospitals, where homes had indoor toilets and plumbing, simply because they never had a Dark Age to set civilisation back for a thousand years? Or a fantasy setting where it's the present day, there are the usual familiar towns and cities - Swindon, Pontefract, Aberystwyth, Glasgow, Oxford, London - and you have the familiar sights and sounds - cars, television, smartphones, the internet, people fretting over mortgages or work, police on the streets - but half the people are blue-skinned seven-foot tall telepaths, and nobody thinks twice about this because they've always been here?
Are you aware that urban fantasy and paranormal romance are currently outselling traditional medieval fantasy by several orders of magnitude. Hmmm...perhaps a book outlining how to run modern paranormal romance using Legend or RQ 6 might be fun :P
alex_greene wrote:I eschew others' work, unless I'm reading them for my own entertainment only - because when I create my settings, I try to create my own, and give the players some hilarious, dodgy, strange, sexy, horrific, dangerous new worlds to explore.

Worlds they have never encountered.
And that's great!
Last edited by Prime_Evil on Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Loz » Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:27 am

Western fantasy is still stuck in the pre-industrial rut it has been since Tolkien, as if every author has been shackled by the neck and forced into writing what amounts to Game of Thrones, or at worst Once Upon A Time.
Not every author. I urge you to read anything by Robert Holdstock. Or China Mieville. Or Jonathan Carroll. How about Mervyn Peake? Like any medium there's a huge amount of dross that one needs to wade through; but there is also a great body of contemporary fantasy that drives its own course, takes direct influence from myth and the oral tradition, and its this that's worth reading.
The great thing about Legend is that it is just a framework on which to build the stories. The settings being used are based on others' work - what's stopping new Games Masters from throwing away the last shreds of the ghost of RuneQuest and writing one's own stories?
Nothing at all. It just so happens that fans of Legend and RQ are also fans of the fantasy works of which you're quite dismissive. Glorantha, for example, draws on a vast array of myth and has successfully created its own mythic backgrounds that are far different to the standard fantasy tropes. I know you're keen to eradicate the links between Legend and RQ, Alex, but it strikes me as being very disingenuous to be so dismissive of all contemporary fantasy fiction - and of Legend's heritage. Not everyone has your imagination. Not everyone wants to create their own stories. Some people enjoy immersing themselves in the worlds of writers like Moorcock, Tolkien, Howard or Martin and continuing those stories for themselves and creating their own chapters for them. Its one of the beauties of fantasy roleplaying.

As you say, Legend and RQ are great frameworks. But don't be so ready to dismiss the heritage, or a whole tranche of extremely good western fantasy. Its fine if you don't read it (and don't want to read it); but there's no Right or Wrong here.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Prime_Evil » Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:16 am

Loz wrote:Not every author. I urge you to read anything by Robert Holdstock. Or China Mieville. Or Jonathan Carroll. How about Mervyn Peake?
Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood sequence has been a HUGE influence on the way that I view spirit magic / animism, along with the works of people such as Mircea Eliade and Michael Harner.

I've enjoyed some of the works of China Mieville, but find him very hit-or-miss. I loved Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and The City and The City, but his other works haven't impressed me so much. Curiously, I've always thought that there was a strong influence of Mervyn Peake on Mieville's best work.
Loz wrote:Like any medium there's a huge amount of dross that one needs to wade through; but there is also a great body of contemporary fantasy that drives its own course, takes direct influence from myth and the oral tradition, and its this that's worth reading.
Sturgeon's Law states that 90% of anything is crap and that's as true of fantasy fiction as anything else. The commodification of fantasy as a distinct publishing category since the late 1970s has done some damage to the genre, but there's no reason that authors with an authentic voice can't still emerge. The major issue is that they find it hard to compete for shelf space with those who play it safe with regard to audience expectations. Occasionally you get an author like George R.R. Martin who writes mainstream blockbuster fantasy, but works in enough new ideas to push the boundaries of the genre a bit. However, this is rare in the current market
Loz wrote:Glorantha, for example, draws on a vast array of myth and has successfully created its own mythic backgrounds that are far different to the standard fantasy tropes.
D'oh! I'd forgotten that obvious example. It's one of the best things about Glorantha, but also one of the things that have made it difficult to market the setting to a skeptical public.
Loz wrote:Some people enjoy immersing themselves in the worlds of writers like Moorcock, Tolkien, Howard or Martin and continuing those stories for themselves and creating their own chapters for them. Its one of the beauties of fantasy roleplaying.
In my own experience, most players want to play in games that are "like" those described by the authors that they admire, rather than inhabiting the worlds of their favorite authors. Gamers often have eclectic tastes and combine elements from multiple sources that appeal to them.
Loz wrote:As you say, Legend and RQ are great frameworks. But don't be so ready to dismiss the heritage, or a whole tranche of extremely good western fantasy. Its fine if you don't read it (and don't want to read it); but there's no Right or Wrong here.
I've noticed that there is a whole generation of folks out there whose expectations about the fantasy genre are shaped by movies and computer games rather than by the classics of literary fantasy. How do we reach them?
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby alex_greene » Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:44 am

Prime_Evil wrote:I've noticed that there is a whole generation of folks out there whose expectations about the fantasy genre are shaped by movies and computer games rather than by the classics of literary fantasy. How do we reach them?
Bingo.

If all they know of fantasy are the Disney adaptations of the Narnia stories, the Harry Potter books (and movies), the Hunger Games films and Skyrim, that's a pretty weak foundation from which to begin.

A lot of the forumites here have years of experience of fantasy (and, face it, science fiction and horror), having devoured pretty much anything and everything that's been printed. But we're still the exceptions.

If you have to put up a recommended list, you need to do more than just write about put up a list of fantasy authors and their books - to show them that there's more to fantasy than Philip Pullman or Skyrim, the recommended list should include non-fiction sources, to provide them with the inspiration to do their own thing.

As genres, fantasy and science fiction have to break out of the mould set by modern market expectations. And that requires educating future generations of gamers and potential authors in how to break out of that mould. Otherwise, a generation from now, kids won't be playing a thin pastiche of Tolkien - they'll be playing a thin pastiche of a copy of a Xerox of a clone of the Hunger Ganes or Game of Thrones.

And you can't begin to imagine what thin, poor fare that will taste like. The current wannabes are pretty weak as it is.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby jux » Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:42 am

The Polish witcher stories are very good: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski.
Prime_Evil wrote:I've noticed that there is a whole generation of folks out there whose expectations about the fantasy genre are shaped by movies and computer games rather than by the classics of literary fantasy. How do we reach them?
So true, but I would extend this thought and say if fantasy is only the "western, Tolkien influenced, insipid, childish stories of elves and dwarfes" the D&D fantasy, then it is very sad. That's why The Witcher (even though popular computer game now) stands out here. It is influenced by the folklore of Eastern Europe and real myths.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby Prime_Evil » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:21 pm

jux wrote:I would extend this thought and say if fantasy is only the "western, Tolkien influenced, insipid, childish stories of elves and dwarfes" the D&D fantasy, then it is very sad. That's why The Witcher (even though popular computer game now) stands out here. It is influenced by the folklore of Eastern Europe and real myths.
The Witcher computer games are great and have exposed the stories to a much wider audience than they might have achieved otherwise - a phenomenon shared by other works that inspired computer games such as Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's haunting "Roadside Picnic". Eastern Europe is a very fertile source for raw material that can be turned into great fantasy - which is why fantasy authors and game designers are often attracted to it.

I feel a bit sorry for poor old Tolkien though - he's been ripped off so many times by second-rate authors that people have lost sight of the originality of his works at the time they were published. He certainly had a very strong knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Germanic mythologies and used them as raw source material for his works - not realising that that his own idiosyncratic interpretations of the mythological source material would quickly be watered down into a new set of genre tropes. I respect Tolkien's work deeply, even though I don't like some aspects of his vision - for example, I cordially dislike Tolkien's elves. It's instructive to contrast the Lord of the Rings with Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, which was published in the same year and draws upon the same mythological source material (right down to the central image of the broken sword that must be reforged). There are some areas where Anderson beats Tolkien hands down - for example, I much prefer Anderson's depiction of the elves as amoral beings who are capricious and dangerous to deal with, capable of great generosity and great cruelty by turns. And yet I can't begrudge the power of some of Tolkien's inventions - the ringwraiths, the barrow wights (based upon old norse draugr), the orcs, etc.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby jux » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:37 pm

Correct. I don't bash Tolkien and his works but the popularity of it. Middle Earth was inspired by Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Germanic mythologies, but still it was Tolkien's own creation. Sad thing is that this is what other fantasy stories are influenced rather than the real mythologies and folklore.

For people that find Eastern Europe folklore interesting, I would recommend our national treasure, Andrus Kivirähk. His works have not been translated to English yet, but for people who know French, „L`homme qui savait la langue des serpents“ (Man Who Knew the Snake Words) will certainly find it to be quite fresh read. It is great that it is becoming quite popular in France, so English translation cannot be far away.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby alex_greene » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:50 pm

jux wrote:For people that find Eastern Europe folklore interesting, I would recommend our national treasure, Andrus Kivirähk. His works have not been translated to English yet, but for people who know French, „L`homme qui savait la langue des serpents“ (Man Who Knew the Snake Words) will certainly find it to be quite fresh read. It is great that it is becoming quite popular in France, so English translation cannot be far away.
Or we could learn French and grab the French translation, or even go for the novel written in the original.

If it's good enough, it's worth learning the language.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby rust » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:35 pm

jux wrote: I would recommend our national treasure ...
Talking about national treasures, one which has rarely been used
by fantasy authors (well, Tolkien borrowed a few things) and con-
tains lots and lots of fascinating ideas is Finland's national epos
Kalevala - highly recommended as a primary source of fresh fan-
tasy ideas which mostly escaped mutilation by Hollywood & Co.

And if you are looking for more new material, take a look at the
myths of the Inuit and similar "fringe cultures" as collected by cul-
tural anthropologists, sometimes there are even excellent movies
based upon such material and created by people from the relevant
cultures, like for example Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner from the
Inuit culture or Pathfinder (the original one of 1987, not the ter-
rible U.S. remake of 2007) from the Sami culture.

Modern fantasy has a lot more to offer than just dumbed down Ho-
ward or Tolkien, but in order to find the good stuff one has to do
a little research as far off the English language mainstream as pos-
sible.
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Re: Recommended Reading?

Postby jux » Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:56 pm

Finnish Kalevala and Estonian Kalev's son are the most ethnic legends of these nations, but they are not much of a page-turners.

There was a old cartoon of other giant of Estonian legends (Big Tõll) of which a music video was made.

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