Written by James West
Conan the Barbarian
The Robert E. Howard character, the Marvel comics, and the 1982 movie all had a huge influence on how I see fantasy. While Tolkien made everything seem lofty and nearly inaccessible, Conan kept it real. This was mud-and-blood storytelling and it’s still in my veins today.
Big Trouble in Little China
I have watched this movie countless times. The rapid pacing, comedic character chemistry, and Jack Burton‘s unwillingness to admit his own woeful inadequacies make this flick a priceless treasure. And hey… it even has some underground caverns complete with monsters and an adventuring party drinking potions of heroism!
Tales From the Flat Earth
The grounding that Conan gave me was reaffirmed and expanded by Tanith Lee in her deliciously decadent series of dark fantasy novels. This was gut level, weird stuff for a 14 year old boy to consume. While Tolkien had me thinking about comfort food and songs of ye olde tymes, Lee had me thinking about virgins, demons, and lust. She also showed me that gods and demons could be flesh-and-blood and walk among people, getting twisted up in the story. I still love that. I still love her way of weaving intricate tales that read like fables, as much as or even more than adventures do.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Of course I discovered this book and of course I loved it. I still love it. I can read the first half of Fellowship any time and be transported to a different place and time. I’m probably irritating Tolkien fans by adding that I never liked the other books as much, and frankly I could barely slog my way through Return of the King, preferring to go back and read Fellowship again. Ah… the beginnings of journeys.
The Road Warrior
This movie was on my repeat list for years. Every time the network would play this I was glued to my seat. Maybe it was the palpable fear of nuclear war in those days or maybe it was just that Mad Max is basically Conan in the exploded future. Either way, I was there. I loved the shattered landscape, the macho character, the cool car, the brutal struggle for survival. It inspired me to create one of my first RPGs, a game called Survivors. It was a straight up rip-off of Mad Max I scrawled into a spiral bound notebook.
This was my guy. All the way up through 1991 I was buying every issue of every Spider-Man title like a zealot. It all started in March of 1983 when I was in Food Lion and I convinced my mom to buy me a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #238… the one with Hobgoblin ripping the Spidey costume in half on the cover. It was Hobbie’s first appearance. And I was there! Spider-Man showed me that you can have awesome stories with heroes who face mundane problems as well as Earth-threatening doom and never give up fighting! I like that.
Brian Froud’s Faeiries
My local library had a copy of Froud’s 1978 picture book. I must have checked it out a zillion and one times. I even worked on an AD&D Mythos (in the Deities & Demigods tradition) featuring the creatures in the book. I’m not sure how much influence this book really had on me, but it was clearly one that I kept going back to. I suspect that if I had discovered Vaughn Bode at this time he would have ousted Froud… but alas I was ignorant of Da Bode until I was a 30 year old man.