Thursday, September 23, 2010

A frightful hobgoblin is stalking Europe

I have ideas and plans to continue the Borderlands analysis, and expand it to others 'B' modules. But, I currently lacks the time I need to do it quietly, because of my involvement in the preparative of strike. As you know, France is the country of strikes. It could be discussed as a reality, as the US working-class movement is impressive in its own way, but French' strikes turned to be like a cliché. So, as tomorrow will be a national day of strike, I want to speak of something D&D and communism have in common: Hobgoblins.

Few people would link hobgoblins to communism. Let me explain. The first English translation of Karl Marx's famous Communist Manifesto, published in the chartist paper The Red Republican, by Miss Helen Macfarlane, started by this phrase: "A frightful hobgoblin is stalking Europe". Later, the frightful hobgoblin was replaced by a spectre, closer to the German version. But the word Hobgoblin is still a part of the Communist heritage, and The Hobgoblin is today the title of the paper published by The International Marxist-Humanist Organization.

I wonder why Helen Macfarlane choose Hobgoblin as a translation. It seems, when she write it in the middle of the 19th century, it was an accurate word for a ghost, but later translators apparently didn't find it self-evident, as they replaced it. The German word Gespenst, choose by Marx in the original version, probably had something to do with Hegel's concept of Gheist, which is both a mind, a spirit and a ghost. This is an interesting clue, as the word Hobgoblin is not so common: Helen McFarlane's hobgoblin is more or less an undead. Trolls, in Norse sagas, are undead as well, as are most dark creatures. The border between living creatures and undead is not so clear in Norse and German mythology than in modern role-playing games. As I'v been a long time Vampire player, I can't avoid to note that Miss Macfarlane identity is barely known and nobody knows where and when she died. But that's another matter...

Studying the genealogy of the gnoll to write the Gnoll's article for Wikipedia, I noted that gnolls and hobgoblins have strong links, and both of them are also linked with undead. In the lbb's, gnolls and hogbolins are closely associated, several times, and the thoul - even if it could first have been a typo - is noted between gnoll and ghouls. Then in Molday's D&D, Thoul is described like being between troll, ghoul and hobgoblin, often mistaken with the later. Last, Yeenoghu as links with gnolls and ghouls (interestingly, arabian tales describes ghouls as being able to change to hyenas). So, all these creatures are linked, I should say chained, with ghouls, an undead creature.

Chaos in OD&D is strongly tied to death and darkness, and hobgoblins are part of Chaos. I don't know what Gary had in mind, and how his thoughts evolved on that point, but he's well known for his love for German mythology. Hobgoblins are closer to their mythological sources and far much more impressive when they're some mysterious creatures bewteen life and unlife, than just a tribe among others. So, let's Frightful Hobgoblins stalks your campaigns! 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Archaeology of the Keep

Archaeology is my daily job, so when I’m not writing about Dungeon & Dragons or about Marxism, I practice archaeology.  So, that’s why, when I started studying Keep on the Borderlands with a closer look, I decided to analyse carefully the Keep’s plan itself. It reveals some details which seems me interesting enough to share my thoughts, even if I’m still struggling with most details. Let’s discuss these 7 points first.   

  1. The general outlook of the Keep’s Fortress suggests a taste for symmetry. It seems to be in the middle of the north wall, but a careful look shows it’s not: 6 cases from one corner, 8 from the other. Why? Probably because the Fortress is older than the wall itself. Structure of the wall is tied to topography, so when it was built, it was not possible to find a symmetry because there was already a building. A possible clue on the keep’s inner chronology. I got another alternative I’ll explain later in that post.
  1. Same thing for the Inner gatehouse. Its position on the middle wall is not aligned on the Fortress. Fore sure, middle-age construction is not always obsessed by symmetry, but my experience is that such details reveals generally a lot about phases of a building. Here, the same problem happened than about the Fortress itself: probably, the Chapel was already built when the Inner gatehouse was added.

  1. That north-east tower is really surprising, as it looks to be built directly on the cliff. Sure, it gives a good position above the road, but why such a difficult building? I must admit I don’t have a clear answer to that question, but it worth to be noted. A strange, but possible one is that a first tower was built, then the cliff broke and this tower was destroyed. With a stubborn energy, another one was built at the very same place…
  1. Did you notice the fountain is the only one to be noted in the Keep? Water supply is a major issue for such a castle. Is there wells or cisterns? None is quoted, but the fact there’s a fountain suggest an hydraulic system could have been managed. If not, this makes the Inner yard very dependent of the outer one in a siege. 
  1. Why does the smith’s workshop have defences of a tower? Larger walls could be explained by the danger of fire, but this doesn’t explain battlements and the like. The better explanation I can provide is it is really a tower, a vestige from a first keep or a first version of the outer fortress.
  1. This hypothesis is strengthened by the East wall of the stable and warehouse. This strong wall in front of the main door is a mean of defence, as it puts invaders in obligation to run from the doorgate under arrows from above, even when they forced the first door. This is a common feature for a concentric castle like the Keep. But, it seems already an old-fashioned defence, as big double-doors have been pierced trough the wall, for a better access to the stable and warehouse. A good thing for trade, probably a wise idea from the Guildmaster, it lowers the defensive effect – that’s why I consider these doors as being a later addition. If I’m true about the Old Tower (the smith workshop), the wall is itself probably a part of the first
  1.  Could the Inner bailey have been build before the outer one? Maybe.  This is the point I’m still struggling with. I’ll provide in another post my conclusions about it, but here’s the point: plan of the Outer bailey building seems less structured than the inner one, as if it was a village later included in a wall. It could even have been built in two different periods, the “smith tower” being a fossil of the first one.