Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Ballet is as OSR as F*ck: More on the Appendix N of Appendix N

For familial reasons, I sometimes have to watch and pretend to be interested in ballet. Well, I say pretend to be interested; as time goes on, I have in fact become genuinely interested - and not just because I like watching attractive women prancing around in revealing clothes (although that is an added bonus). The level of skill, strength and prowess of professional ballet dancers is truly remarkable, and combined with the music of a genius like a Tchakovsky or a Stravinsky, the effect is often beyond words. Viz:

What is interesting about ballet is that it reveals another aspect of what I have previously called the Implied Appendix N, or indeed the Appendix N of Appendix N. The authors who inspired D&D did not come up with the pulp fantasy genre in a vacuum. They drew on an existing milieu of the fantastical which appeared throughout the history of Western art, going back of course to the dawn of time, but really coming to fruition in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Part of this, as I detailed in my earlier post, was the fiction of the likes of HG Wells, Jules Verne, RL Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H Rider Haggard. But it is also there in the tastes of the elite - opera and ballet.

Classical and romantic ballets, drawing as they often did on the fairy tales of Central and Eastern Europe, and existing books and stories, are filled with inspiration for the fantasy genre that we know today. There are princesses turned into swans by evil sorcerers (Swan Lake), human sacrifices to bring automata or golems to life (Coppelia), heroes stealing things from the lairs of immortal wizards (The Firebird), a woman being forced to dance herself to death in a sinister pagan ritual (The Rite of Spring), magical undead beings who can only be defeated in specific ways (The Miraculous Mandarin), violent, giant mice led by a mice king (The Nutcracker), evil hags performing mysterious charms and curses (La Sylphide) - not to mention evil fairies (Sleeping Beauty).

There is little in the world that is really sui generis - cultural artefacts always have precursors, and of course most of these ballets are not original in that they are based themselves on other works, myths and legends. I think there is a tendency among modern fantasy fans to tell themselves that the genre burst onto the scene with Tolkien, or perhaps earlier pulp writers. The truth, of course, is that all that is just topsoil and fantasy's roots go an awful lot deeper. 


  1. There is nothing new under the sun

    I once had an idea to do a string of posts on PCs/NPCs/Monsters strictly in the public domain but there’s no time

    1. Scott Driver's old Mandragora blog was a project in that vein, I'm still bummed he deleted all of his various blogs.

  2. I saw the Royal Ballet do La Bayadere a couple of years ago and thought it was extremely Yoon-Suin!

  3. I don't know about Ballet, but Wagner's Ring der Niebelungen sure as hell gets to be in my Appendix N.