Thursday, 27 September 2012

Reading Appendix N: Lavender-Green Magic

There are a few difficult issues to resolve when one wants to blog about Appendix N fiction.  One of the obvious problems is deciding where to start.  At first, I considered writing about the authors and their works in the alphabetical order used by Gary Gygax in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.  If I did that, though, I would be writing dozens of posts about the extremely prolific Edgar Rice Burroughs, and perhaps never get to Manly Wade Wellman.  I think that would be a mistake.

I am kicking this off with Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton, mainly because I just finished reading it, and because it was suggested to me that this novel isn’t the type one would seek inspiration from for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.

The Story

When their father goes missing in Vietnam, three children have to move in with their grandparents, who live in a junkyard in Dimsdale.  They discover an old embroidered pillow that allows them to penetrate an overgrown maze, leading them back through time to the young (good) witch, Tamar.  Basically, sleeping with the pillow causes dreams which point the way.  The first penetration of the maze occurs when the younger sister, Judy, sleeps with the pillow.

The older sister, Holly, then jealously cheats in order to get the next turn, and things go wrong.  Going “the widdershins way” through the maze, the children instead encounter Hagar – an evil witch, more beautiful than Tamar, and perhaps more cunning.  Certainly more ruthless.  She snares Holly in a spell to bring out her worse emotions, and to create a tie between the past where the witches dwell and the present where the children come from.

Research in the present reveals that Hagar’s acts are going to result in Tamar being accused of (evil) witchcraft.   A resultant curse has stung Dimsdale in the past, and seems ready to strike down the children’s grandparent’s home in the near future.  The children must go again into the past to save both Tamar and their home, facing down both Hagar’s malice and Holly’s insecurities.

In addition to the story, my copy includes a section entitled “To Make Tamar’s Rose Beads and Other Old Delights” that gives instructions for making rose beads, “tasties for tea”, sugared mint leaves, and pomander balls.

Elements for Gaming

One of the other dilemmas one faces writing about Appendix N fiction is this:  Should you talk about all the good ideas that are available to steal from make homage to?  Or should you just use them yourself?  There are several elements in Lavender-Green Magic which are useful to the aspiring DCC judge, either to create outright homages of, or to demonstrate game principles.

First off, Tamar and Hagar are usable almost as they appear in the novel.  Two witches, sisters, one Lawful and one Chaotic.  They both live in the same house at the centre of a hedge maze.  If you follow the right-hand path, you reach Tamar.  If you follow the widdershins way, you reach Hagar.  You can only follow either path by sleeping on a specific pillow, and your intentions determine which path you take.

Not only is Hagar an excellent example of the “standard” DCC witch, but Tamar is a great example of the “good Wiccan” type witch one also finds in several Appendix N works.  In addition, either could be considered a potential patron – it is fairly explicit that Tamar becomes Holly’s patron at the end of the novel.  Both Tamar and Hagar clearly have their own agendas.

A cat in the novel, Tomkit, is implied to be Tamar’s familiar, and offers some guidance to judges for using familiars or other creatures that might be sent by a patron or other supernatural power.  A creature need not be obviously supernatural when first encountered in order to be so.

This novel makes good use of travel through time, both in terms of its plot and the way in which the plot is staged/conveyed.  Judges interested in using time travel effectively in their adventures can certainly get some ideas from this novel.

Finally, the aspiring judge might gain some ideas for encounters or setting from the section wherein the children navigate the maze widdershins. 


Lavender-Green Magic is not a Sword & Sorcery yarn by any stretch of the imagination, but it does contain many elements that are firmly usable in the DCC rpg. 

I can easily imagine a 0-lvl adventure designed to allow players to take the roles of modern-era children, which could borrow even more heavily from this book.  Such an adventure might not be an actual “funnel” (so that you aren’t killing the kids off), but it could be designed in two parts, so that the first part of the story is when the characters were children, and the second part takes place when they are adults, perhaps dealing with ramifications (good and ill) from their childhood decisions.

That might actually make a good module.  Perhaps when I get some more free time, I will write it!


  1. I think this exercise in going through Appendix N will be useful. I've not read Andre Norton, but your description in the intro seems to mirror C.S. Lewis' tales in some ways. Did you find that to be true? What books up next?

    1. I wouldn't say that Andre Norton mirrors C.S. Lewis. Norton does use otherworlds, but often not in the metaphysical sense, and typically not in the same religious metaphysical sense that Lewis does. For example, the otherworld in Lavender-Green Magic begins as another point in history, and only changes to a "true" otherworld because of the actions of the protagonists.

      Also, Ms. Norton's protagonists are not typically children; this novel is somewhat of an exception in that regard. Anyone building an adventure like the one I suggested in my Conclusions would be well advised to take a look at the Narnia books, though, even if they are not Appendix N! I would also recommend the novels of Susan Cooper in this regard (esp. The Dark is Rising series, but certainly don't limit yourself!).

      I don't have an actual plan as to order....although the next few (after Hiero's Journey, which I just posted) are likely to be Battle for the Dawn, The Blue Star, and The Efficiency Expert. Maybe in that order. Maybe not. Maybe with other things in between.