We’ve been talking a lot about the early days of Dungeons and Dragons recently, and that put me in mind of the early novels directly inspired by fantasy role playing. The most famous examples are probably Andre Norton’s Quag Keep (1979) and Joel Rosenberg’s long-running Guardians of the Flame series, starting with The Sleeping Dragon (1983).
Pamela Dean’s Secret Country Trilogy is another early example, although it’s not as well remembered today. It began with The Secret Country (1985), featuring a group of friends who become stranded in the fantasy realm they thought they had created.
Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:
The Secret Country was full of wizards, witches, unicorns, a magic ring, the Dragon King…
But then the Secret Country became real — the magic was real, the intrigue was real, the sharp edge of a sword drew real blood. The game was getting out of control…
Like a lot of trilogies at the time (and even today), it didn’t start out as a series. But the first book was successful, and The Hidden Land followed a year later, followed by The Whim of the Dragon in 1989.
One thing I found unusual about these books was the fact that the text on the back was almost identical for all three. It varied at least a little by the time the third one came along:
The Land of Unicorns was just an imaginary place…
They’d made it up one day while enacting a fantasy role-playing game, and filled it with sorcerous creatures, enchanted swords, and dragon kings. Then they found the sword under the hedge, and the Secret Country became all too real. The magic was real, the swords drew real blood, and the Dragon King was their sworn enemy.
They’d barely escaped with their lives. And now, a message has come requesting their return. This time, to face the final dangers of… The Whim of the Dragon.
The Secret Country Trilogy was re-released by Firebird in 2003, with a set of matching covers by Steve Stone:
The series is currently out of print.
Since the late 80s there have been rumors about a fourth book, and recently Pamela Dean confirmed that Going North, the sequel to both The Whim of the Dragon and her 1994 novel The Dubious Hills, is a work in progress.
Pamela Dean’s most famous novel is perhaps Tam Lin (1991), a Scottish fairy story transplanted to a Minnesota college campus, which is still in print today.
The Secret Country, The Hidden Land, and The Whim of the Dragon were all published by Ace Books from 1985 – 1989, with covers by Dawn Wilson and Dean Morrissey.
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