Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gifts Gary Gave Us

Now, on the second anniversary of Gary Gygax' death, I feel compelled to write concerning the man's contributions to his fans' lives. Gary's love for the English language suffused all of his work- his prose used a glorious palette of purples, or, as he would put it mauve, lake, violet, puce, lilac and deep blue. What other individual has ever inspired fourteen-year olds to casually throw around words such as milieu, or phrases such as in durance vile? Imagine the consternation of hundreds of high school teachers, scratching their heads in puzzlement as they reached for their dictionaries, wondering where a precocious freshman had encountered such highfalutin' words. Though he wrote for an initial audience of wargaming enthusiasts, history buffs, and college students, his narrative voice never changed, even though his target audience came to include many children and adolescents- his writing never took on a condescending tone. While there have never been any studies of the phenomenon, I would have to guess that exposure to Gary's writing was a guaranteed boost for SAT verbal scores.

Gary broadened our scope, he inspired us to seek out obscure reference works and largely unsung legends, as well as the fiction that inspired him. Without Gary, how many of us would have read The Kalevala, The Tain, the Icelandic sagas, La Chanson de Roland?

While Gary's fans were an imaginative lot to begin with, Gary gave us a means to pool our imaginations, to share our particular interests as we created shared narratives. Some brought a love of classical myth, some an interest in film, some a knowledge of Medieval history, of organismal biology, of martial arts, all had something to throw into the communal stewpot of our games and campaigns. Gary took the typically private life of the imagination, and gave us tools to make exercise of imagination a public endeavor.

Although I never had the honor of meeting the man, his works still resonate with me, and his avuncular kindness and good humor shine through in posts that I have read subsequent to his passing. While the best way to honor his legacy would be to throw some 20-siders, it's a workday and a weeknight, so this long-overdue tribute will have to suffice.

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