Yesterday, I spent the day at the Spring Auction at Games Plus, which I’ve taken to calling the Paris Fashion Week of Games. It was a very successful outing — so successful that I knew I had some explaining to do to Alice, who balances the family finances.
While I was waiting to settle up with the cashier, my eyes fell on a curious artifact in the tiny books section at Games Plus: The Merriest Knight, The Collected Arthurian Tales of Theodore Goodridge Roberts. Roberts was a Canadian pulp author whose tales of Sir Dinadan, whom Mallory called ”the merriest knight,” appeared in the pulp magazine Blue Book in the 50s. Sir Dinadan was known as the most practical of the Knights of the Round Table, and Roberts’s stories differed from many of the Arthurian tales of the era in their warmth and wit.
Late in his career, Roberts wrote a final entry in the Dinadan saga, “Quest’s End,” which remained unpublished in his lifetime. Rumor had it he’d also begun collecting all the tales with an eye towards publishing a book, but the project remained unfinished when he died.
Now the peerless Mike Ashley, who’s edited countless anthologies — including 32 books in The Mammoth Book Of... series, and five other Arthurian Anthologies, such as The Pendragon Chronicles and Chronicles of the Holy Grail — has finished what Roberts began with The Merriest Knight, a beautiful collection of the complete tales of Sir Dinadan:
Under the guidance of editor Mike Ashley, The Merriest Knight gathers for the first time all of Roberts’ tales of Sir Dinadan — including the previously unpublished “Quest’s End” — and several other long lost Arthurian works by this master of the stylish adventure yarn and the historical romance. Within these pages, readers will find a collection of Arthurian tales that are sometimes poignant, often humorous, and always ingenious, as well as a Camelot made fresh by the wry and often scathing eye of Sir Dinadan, who never rushes into battle without first being certain of the need to fight at all.
Why is The Merriest Knight for sale in a games store? Ah, that’s an entirely different tale.
Back in 1996 Chaosium — publishers of Call of Cthulhu and the Pendragon RPG, and one of the premiere game publishers in the hobby games business — decided to leap into the exploding collectible card craze with Mythos, a Cthulhu-inspired CCG designed by Chaosium prez Charlie Krank.
It was a solid game, winning the 1996 Best Card Game award at Origins, and selling well in its initial release, but the cost of producing the game left Chaosium sorely overextended. And when the CCG burst in the late 90s, pushing a host of game companies into bankruptcy, Chaosium was forced to make some changes just to survive.
One of those changes was to spin out the Pendragon game, and the fledgling Arthurian fiction line, into separate company Green Knight Publishing, owned by investor Peter Corless, in 1998. Green Knight released a number of fine supplements for Pendragon from 1999 to 2011 and, under the guidance of editor James Lowder, the Pendragon fiction series.
Eventually Green Knight sold the Pendragon rights to White Wolf in 2004 and packed up shop, but not before publishing over a dozen titles, including a splendid assortment of novels, anthologies, and lost Arthurian classics. Some of the authors they published were Phyllis Ann Kaar, Edison Marshall, Clemence Housman, and Naomi Mitchison.
Most of the best game shops carried their products, and to this day you can frequently still find them — as I did — tucked between games on the shelves.
The Merriest Knight, The Collected Arthurian Tales of Theodore Goodridge Roberts was published by Green Knight Publishing in October, 2001. It was edited by Mike Ashley, with interior art by Shane A. Holloway. It is 528 pages in trade paperback, with a cover price of $17.95.