Valerie's Reviews > Quag Keep

Quag Keep by Andre Norton
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May 17, 2010

Read from May 17 to 25, 2010

The relationship to D&D is explicit (it's on the dedication page). Less obvious is the part Donald A Wollheim played in getting books published in affordable editions, introducing new authors, etc. It's not an accident that this is a DAW book.

It's an indication of Norton's prejudices that she set up a crude dichotomy ('law=good, chaos=evil'), and that neutrals are marginalized and often despised. I played only rarely, but I remember clearly that there were characters whose alignments were chaotic good or lawful evil. And as a person who felt ethically compelled to adopt strict neutrality, I don't much appreciate being defined as mercenary therefor.

Norton's personal distaste for quagmires (so extreme that dusty deserts are often described as less hostile) is revealed by her description of the land as 'poisoned'. It's not a criticism of a filter to describe it as dirty. And the characters are so stubbornly biased against marshes and their denizens that they are unrepentantly discriminatory against the 'lizardman', pretty much to the end. He doesn't comment on this, but you have to wonder what he DID think about such bigoted allies.

On a technical note, btw, I'm not sure if Gulth was a reptile (it's not clear from context), but if so, it's not a lot of use wrapping him in cloaks to keep him warm (unless they're electric cloaks). One of the reasons blankets work for homeotherms is that they keep the excess heat produced at such expense by the homeotherms' internal furnaces from escaping. Non-homeotherms usually require an external heat source to deal with cold. Or they just become torpid, or migrate or hibernate or suchlike.

Several conventions are routinely adopted. I've mentioned the absurdity of the idea of 'killing machines' before, and I don't regard them as more plausible if magically generated. But another convention I may not have mentioned before is the tendency to describe (often heavily) vegetated areas as lifeless unless they contain animal life; as if plants are not also alive. There are a few arguments against this latter convention (notably by the elf), but since the elf is not the viewpoint character, the convention tends to predominate.

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message 1: by Luke (new) - rated it 1 star

Luke Sineath D&D originally only had Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral alignments. It was not until AD&D that the full matrix of 9 alignments was created.

message 2: by Valerie (new) - added it

Valerie I gather from the preface that Norton actually interviewed the creators of the game, and thus may have had more insight into their early thinking than showed up in the first published rules.

Norton herself tended to think more in terms of good and evil, and would probably interpret things along this line, whatever she was told.

I should point out that many authors (of games as well as books) often 'know' more of the backstory than they choose to publish. This is because, unless a story is more encyclopaedic than direct narrative, there are things that are expressed more as shading and texture than as direct elements in the story.

message 3: by Luke (new) - rated it 1 star

Luke Sineath My point is just that Dungeons and Dragons only had three alignments; your memory of a more robust alignment system is based on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which didn't fully exist when Quag Keep came out. So it isn't a matter of Norton's prejudices, but rather modeling the game's mechanics.

The D&D rulebook defines the alignments as follows:

"Lawful characters always act according
to a highly regulated code of behavior,
whether for good or evil. Chaotic characters are quite
unpredictable and can not be depended upon to do
anything except the unexpected -- they are often, but
not always, evil. Neutral characters, such as all thieves,
are motivated by self interest and may steal from their
companions or betray them if it is in their own best interest." (Holmes edition)

So while Norton may indeed be susceptible to a dualistic thinking you don't like--I don't know, I've never read anything else of hers--in this case it's coming right out of the game as published, and not some classified information.

message 4: by Valerie (new) - added it

Valerie Understood. I, on the other hand, being asocial, played very few social games. And I read a LOT of Norton--very nearly all of her more than 50 year oeuvre.

I appreciate the clarification, and if I reread the book at some point, I may add to the review.

I should note that there was, apparently, at least one sequel to this book--and it may be based on a later version of the game. It was probably written as a collaboration, so it may reflect less (or more, depending on the collaborator) of Norton's prejudices. I'll keep an eye out for that.

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