Thursday, March 31, 2011

Geography of Titan (Part 2)

[Part 1 is here]

Steve Luxton has now emailed me a revised map of the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan for discussion and review. I've attached it to this post below as Figure 1.

Figure 1. Revised global map of Titan by Steve Luxton.

As you can see, Titan finally has an equator and a scale! I have a few minor issues/notes with it, which you can see in Figure 2 below as possible corrections.

Figure 2. Things to check: Blood Island, the Arrowhead Archipelago,
 and Tura, southernmost Island of the Dawn.

Issues to be addressed on the revised map:
  • We really need to sort out correct shapes for the three continents, starting with either Allansia or Khul. Allansia needs to be somewhat broader for instance, to allow for the rolling expanse of the Flatlands.
  • I'm not sure what the tiny island is, far to the west of Allansia. If it is Blood Island from Trial of Champions then it needs to be much closer to the Allansian mainland.
  • Some of the topmost islands that form the 'point' of the Arrowhead Archipelago appear to have been cropped off.
  • We're missing Tura, the entire southern-most Island of the Dawn. Tura can be seen here. Incidentally, do we have any idea what the climate of Tura may be like? Warren mentioned Hokkaido as a point of comparison, which seems as good an idea as any.
What thoughts do other people have about this revised map?

In addition, I did a rough mock-up of a climate map for Steve's revised version. This is Figure 3 - as per before, blue = polar regions, green = temperate regions, and orange = subtropical and tropical regions.

Figure 3. A revised idea of Titan's climate. Better, perhaps?

Again, it's not an exact map, but what do people think of this new climate interpretation of Titan?

You know the drill. Hit us with your ideas, thoughts and opinions. What works and what doesn't. After we've nailed this one down, we could probably then start looking at the individual continents themselves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tales from the Catacombs...

There's slowly been some feedback filtering downwards to my lair concerning Catacombs of the Undercity, my adventure for Tin Man Games' line of Gamebook Adventures for the various iDevices. Firstly, it's got nothing less than 5 star reviews at iTunes! Yay!

Secondly, this awesome review was posted as a comment to the Tin Man website:

This release got me into your games, thanks! I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve played through to various bad ends more than a few times, and died countless times before even crossing the river… and I’m still finding new things to explore, and there are a few more achievements to pick up. The “roll three ones” one took the sting out of a nasty roll, and it’s been fun seeing which ones I get whilst exploring.

I also bought 2 & 3, which look awesome from the brief time I’ve spent on them. I am very happy with them all, except for the way they’ve filled my iPhone’s gamebooks folder and wrecked my beautiful organisational scheme. I guess I’ll just have to buy the rest when 6 comes out, to tidy things up.

So far, though, 5 (and perhaps the others) are among my favourite classic-style gamebooks. I can’t possibly compare them to Fabled Lands, as it’s a different style of game entirely, and Lone Wolf has the ongoing saga aspect with its pluses and (mostly, to me) minuses, but they’re better than every Fighting Fantasy game I’ve played, and my school used to have a shelf full of them. Keep up the excellent work!

Thirdly, Warren had a bash on the iPod Touch, and said:

I spent a couple of hours of unadulterated pleasure playing this last night, the perfect salve for a cold! I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the gameplay. I usually don't play gamebooks by the rules, but it was strangely liberating being made to, and not being able to flick back to the previous paragraph continuously (helped of course by knowing that you're not the sort of author who kills people for choosing one random option over another).

As for the dice, I loved them. I know it's just random number generation, but having dice on the screen made it seem less random than 'you lose/win'. And it seems to me, although I need to play a lot more to be sure, that the Tin Man system makes the most of random rolls, with players getting more random rolls the higher their stats are, so that the randomness comes down as you get better.

Looking forward to playing more. I have to work out how to power up without losing all my health and money...

Finally, a friend in Bangkok now has it on their iPod Touch, so I'll get to see my own adventure, plus all the hard work that Tin Man Games have put in, when I hang out with them at the pub tomorrow. The Undercity beckons...

[Remember, if you get stuck in the Catacombs and need some spoilers - let me know, and I'll dig out my flowcharts and see if I can help you out!]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ian Livingstone in Bangkok!

Ian Livingstone
(from Digiplay, 2011a).

I’m gutted. Ian Livingstone, co-creator of Fighting Fantasy, former editor of White Dwarf, and ex-mastermind behind Games Workshop, was in Bangkok on Friday to give the keynote speech ("Capitalizing on Great Ideas: from Games Workshop to Tomb Raider", Digiplay, 2011b), at the opening of “DigiPlay: Thai-UK Digital Festival” and I had no idea. DigiPlay, held at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre until May 1 (so I can still visit at least!), is part exhibition, part trade-show, showcasing UK and Thai companies involved in game design and digital entertainment. Perhaps I should buy an iPad and get down there with Catacombs of the Undercity

Anyway, local newspaper The Nation has reported on the opening though it doesn’t make clear whether the pull-quotes in the article from Ian Livingstone were delivered as part of his speech or an interview afterwards. Regardless, I’ll reproduce here all the comments by Ian Livingstone as follows:

DigiPlay! (from Mudlark, 2011).

“The global revenue of games sales today – both online and offline – is about US$50 billion a year – bigger than the box office, DVD, book and music industries combined. Young and old, male and female, enjoy the experience. It’s mass market entertainment industry.”

“Gaming has moved from a niche market to mainstream entertainment with many platforms available today from PCs, consoles, handheld devices, smartphones and online portals. It’s no longer necessary to have a huge team to produce a game, a small team can reach global audiences. The days are gone where you sell a limited number of games for high prices; today you can sell to millions of people for a very small price.”

“The success of Angry Birds lies in its elegant way of operation – using a touch screen device in a satisfying and simple way. It’s easy to play and deals with an emotional response and the human spirit. It generates gameplay that makes you want to play again and again. Just one more time to reach achievement – feeling yes, I can make it!”

Among three things – gameplay, technology, and graphics, the most important thing to me is gameplay, that’s the value of replay. Satisfaction is playing the game, not looking at it.”

Online games [are the next big things]. People need a game that’s enjoyed together with friends and family rather than one that’s won as a solo experience. Rising penetration of broadband and fast processor PCs, those can make things happen. Farmville on Facebook is a great game. It promotes gameplay and is a kind of social engagement too.”

“The opportunity is open to all. Angry Birds was conceived by a small team. Thai creators are equally as capable. The game character and content should be global. It’s important to lead people to think about good things in your game like problem solving or brain training, not violence.

         (all from Pholdhampalit, 2011, p. 1B, bold emphasis by me)

Ian Livingstone interviewed in Bangkok (from Tiwa, 2011)

It’s an interesting article, and I certainly intend to visit the exhibition, but I’ve highlighted three things that stood out for me:

Replay value: Ian Livingstone’s obviously learned his lessons from Crypt of the Sorcerer or Armies of Death.

Family enjoyment beats solo experience: Fighting Fantasy strike one!

No violence: Fighting Fantasy strike two!

Of course, we’ve been here before. Back when the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was released, we were told:

In 2005 the first brand-new [Fighting Fantasy] book for ten years was published. Written by Ian [Livingstone] Eye of the Dragon played on the strengths of the original series while at the same time reflecting Ian’s experience gained over fifteen years in the world of computer and video games.
        (Jackson & Livingstone, 2007, p. 206, bold emphasis by me)

Anyone who thinks the above paragraph is true should consult the following reviews of Eye of the Dragon:

I've reached a saddening conclusion: despite being one of the pioneers of interactive fiction, Ian Livingstone isn't and never has been that good at writing it. I won't deny I enjoy Forest of Doom and Deathtrap Dungeon on one level, but I first read them when I was nine and expected less from books back then. Not to mention I have fond childhood memories now. Caverns of the Snow Witch and Island of the Lizard King aren't bad gamebooks, but "bland" sums them up accurately. Unlike the Golden Dragon book of the same name, which was one of the best entries in its all too short series, Eye of the Dragon is an Ian Livingstone book of the absolute worst kind. I'm not familiar with the short adventure from Dicing with Dragons this book is adapted from, but if it's anything like this, Ian should've left it alone.

I've never particularly enjoyed dungeon crawls and this book reminds me of the worst reasons why. You wander from room to room, fighting a bevy of random and frustratingly bland monsters, finding a bunch of annoying vague items where every single one is as likely to curse you as save your butt, and constantly face the soul-shattering decision of whether to choose the boring left passage or the boring right passage. And just why is there someone operating a general store in this isolated, monster-infested dungeon? If you were going to let the player buy supplies, fine, but why couldn't it have been before he got to the dungeon? The way it's done is almost [parody-like].

Besides the genius who makes a living from a shop in a hidden dungeon, what are such a random collection of creatures as a BLACK DRAGON, MASTER SWORDSMAN and even a boss monster stolen wholecloth from the underrated House of Hell -- right down to the only weapon that can hurt him -- doing in this isolated dungeon? If it were some madman's idea of a trial of champions that'd be one thing, but it's just a collection of stone rooms hidden beneath the forest floor.

Even if you're willing to put up with all this and a sidekick named Littlebig, all you've got to look forward to is a climactic battle with a dull villain and an ending full-on as lame as the one in Crypt of the Sorcerer. While I'm grateful to Ian for the fact that Fighting Fantasy exists, this book proves that if anything his powers have only dulled with age. Let's hope if Ian contributes another book to the new line it's at least something he's buckled down and done from scratch.
(Fireguard, 2009)

And here:

Nothing is better than the brilliant choices, the awesome plot and the wonderful writing and imagination that pour forth from this book.

Choosing [repetitively] between the right passage and the left passage, without knowing anything about either is what makes Fighting Fantasy books so awesome, so let's do it twenty times in a book. And other brilliant choices like when you see a plain treasure chest in the room, do you open it or leave?! It took me centuries to decide if I should open the unguarded treasure filled chest, or walk off. Other brilliant choices include deciding whether to throw 1 gold coin into a non functioning wishing well, staring into a mirror with a 50 foot IT'S A TRAP sign, and choosing whether to open the door. AGAIN.

This is deeply engaging book, and I could feel every brain cell in my head being put into full use, especially when I met other humans, and I was confronted with the thrilling attack for no reason-talk-leave choice AGAIN. WHOMG!

And the challenges you go up against are so imaginative, you’d think they were divinely inspired. I mean you will know true fear when you face the likes of a GOBLIN, a GIANT SPIDER or even an EVIL WIZARD.

And MAN the plot and writing of this book are brilliant. Some dude has found some stature in the bottom of a dungeon in Darkwood forest. The statue is worth 335,000 gp, because people in Titan like to pay large amounts of gold for crap. And naturally, rather than sell the statue and retire in luxury, the old owner decided to put in a dungeon and somehow fill it with monsters and obvious traps. No one would think to look in there!

And naturally when some guy asks you to drink slow acting poison that will kill you in two weeks, you see no problem at all with doing so. But all though he intends to screw you, he was at least courteous enough to switch his poison with grape juice, ruining his brilliant evil plan.

And of course, although you’ve been warned that touching the statue without the two emeralds will result in your death, if you reach the statue with one emerald, instead of looking down one of the exciting right/left passages, you touch anyway. SMART.

Those of you with one or more brain cells may have figured out this is something of a joke review.

Humour aside, this is a merit-less piece of crap. If anyone but Ian Livingstone or Steve Jackson had submitted this crap to Wizard Books, they'd have burnt it into little cinders.

It really is nothing more than a bunch of poorly thought out clich├ęs meshed together. The choices are every bit as inane and stupid as I have made out, and there is nothing of any merit here. If Wizard Books publish any more new adventures, I seriously pray they're better than this.
(Paul T., 2005)

Fighting Fantasy strike three!

Of course, the moral to this story is that you can give someone an OBE or make someone Life President of Eidos, but it still doesn’t mean that they know what they’re talking about, or understand what made their initial venture so wildly successful. Therefore, as Ian himself says, the opportunity is still open to all.

If you want to read an online version of the news article, you can do so here.


Digiplay Thai-UK Digital Festival. (2011a). Feature Designers. Accessed from

Digiplay Thai-UK Digital Festival. (2011b). Seminars. Accessed from

Fireguard. (2009, May 20). Fireguard’s thoughts on Eye of the Dragon. Review posted to

Jackson, S. & Livingstone, I. (2007). The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: 25th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge: Wizard Books.

Mudlark. (2011). Digi-Play (Bangkok). Image accessed at

Paul T. (2005, May 3). Paul T.’s thoughts on Eye of the Dragon. Review posted to

Pholdhampalit, K. (2011, March 27). Gaming’s golden age. The Nation, p. 1B.

Tiwa. (2011, March 25). “w/ Ian Livingstone, tomb raider producer @tcdcconnect Digiplay exhibit launch”. Photo posted to

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Geography of Titan!

Titan - the Fighting Fantasy world!

Steve Luxton, original cartographer for the sourcebook Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World (Gascoigne, 1986), recently got in touch with the gang at Titan_Rebuilding. He's looking at redrawing the original maps of Titan and its various continents for Arion Games upcoming release of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy rules system. Steve wants to know what improvements can be made to the Fighting Fantasy maps to make them more accurate and remove or reduce the errors that crept into the original designs. This blog post has two functions then:
  • To highlight the errors and inconsistencies in the original maps from Titan.
  • To serve as a forum, via the comments section, where YOU state your opinion as to what should change and what should stay the same, and also to add any spotted errors that may have been missed.
For this post, we're just looking at the big map of Titan (see Figure 1), and from what I can see, most potential changes can be grouped under three main categories.

Figure 1: The World of Titan, by Steve Luxton (from Gascoigne, 1986).

1. The Shape of the Continents.

In the bad old days before Photoshop, the nearest equivalent you had to resizing images and placing them in a new image was the office photocopier. This may explain why the shapes and sizes of the various continents on the big map of Titan differ radically from their appearance in their individuals maps. Figure 2 shows the map of Titan with the individual shapes of the continents superimposed over the top.

Figure 2. The continents of Titan. Actual shape of continents as coloured overlay.
Two further points follow on from this.

a) Priorities. If we want to make an accurate map of Titan, we need an accurate map of each of the three continents developed first, so we can then downsize them and insert them into the main map. Unfortunately this goes against Steve's idea of sorting the main map out first, and then letting the rest follow on from there.

b) Scale. Accurate map scales are rubbish in the world of Titan. This is easily established, thanks to Warren M., by looking at the map of Khul the Dark Continent in Figure 3. The distance between the towns of Willowbend and Fenmarge takes one day to travel through in Scorpion Swamp (Jackson, 1984), and yet a similar distance in the Inland Sea make take a week or more of sailing in Seas of Blood (Chapman, 1986). Ironically, the scale looks a bit better on the otherwise incorrect Titan map, where the Inland Sea is larger, than the individual map of Khul.

Figure 3. Khul, the Dark Continent, by Steve Luxton (from Gascoigne, 1986).

2. The Climate of Titan.

Another problem area! Figure 4 shows an expected climate map of Titan, with a central tropical equatorial orange band, bordered by two green bands of more temperate climates, and surmounted by icy polar regions in blue, at the north and south poles.

Figure 4. The expected climate of Titan (blue: polar, green: temperate, orange: tropical).
Unfortunately, this isn't what we find when we look at both the original map of Titan and what we read about in the various gamebooks themselves. Figure 5 shows a simplified look at Titan's unusual climate where we have a narrow northern temperate band followed by a broad tropical climate area, followed by more temperate regions (in Khul), then more tropics in southern Khul, then the southern polar area! Just what is going on and what solution can we come up with?

Figure 5. The actual climate of Titan (blue: polar, green: temperate, orange: tropical).
Given that the climate weirdness of Titan is due in part to the tropical areas of southern Khul, perhaps one approach would be to invert Khul so that its tropical region lies within the main equatorial band. Figure 6 shows this, with Khul effectively becoming an upside down continent in the southern hemisphere. The problem here of course is that it disregards 25 years of established Fighting Fantasy canon.

Figure 6. Climate solution #1: Flip Khul upside down! [a.k.a "Australian Solution"]
A better approach may be simply accept the fact that Titan's climate is highly irregular and heavily messed-up. This could be due to any of the following:
  • The War of the Wizards, and the creation of the Wastes of Chaos in central Khul.
  • A lingering tectonic/magnetic anomaly caused by the Splitting of the Lands following the sinking of Atlantis.
  • Problems stemming from the original First Battle of the Gods, and the release of Chronada the God of Time into the atmosphere of the planet Titan.
  • A combination of all of the above three theories!

Figure 7. Climate solution #2: The unexplained Khulian anomaly!
What it gives us is Figure 7. This map looks almost normal, were it not for the strange temperate region of most of Khul, otherwise surrounded by equatorial tropics. Perhaps the Wastes of Chaos are somehow responsible after all...

3. The Lost Lands of Titan.

There has been a considerable amount of geological and tectonic upheaval on the planet of Titan. It would be nice to see a few references this on the main map of the world, especially since their locations will not be covered by any of the individual maps of the continents. Figure 8 shows us the location of two of Titan's major lost land-masses: Atlantis and Vangoria.

Figure 8. The lost lands of Titan (Atlantis: orange, Vangoria: green).

a) Atlantis. The sinking of Atlantis caused the cataclysm that split the great continent of Irritaria into the three lands of Allansia, Khul, and the Old World. Although its final resting place has never been shown, we know from Demons of the Deep (Jackson, 1986) that the sunken capital of Atlantis lies near Fish Island and Skull Island in the Western Ocean. Figure 8 therefore demonstrates a potential location to mark it on the map of Titan. Of course, the whole island of Atlantis does not need to be marked. Perhaps instead we could just have a cross that says "Sunken City of Atlantis" or something similar.

Figure 9. The land of Vangoria,
(artist unknown, from Jackson, 1993).

b) Vangoria. The continent of Vangoria, and its connection to the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan, is a little more obscure. Vangoria was the world of Steve Jackson's collectible card game BattleCards, and Figure 9 depicts it in all its glory. An immediate link to Titan can be seen here - the Eelsea of Vangoria's eastern coast matches the Eelsea of the Old World's western coast (other links can be found here). Hence the decision in Figure 8 to place the sunken continent of Vangoria in the northern waters between the Old World and Allansia.

Obviously Vangoria was another product of the Splitting of Irritaria and existed for several centuries in the obscure period immediately following that cataclysm. However, a secondary tectonic disaster (perhaps caused by the magical wars of succession described in and by the BattleCards game itself), caused Vangoria, like Atlantis before it, to sink beneath the waves, leaving us just a few scattered islands (Dolphin Island, Compass Island, and the Cragspider archipelago) to mark its passing. One could also make the argument that survivors from Vangoria made it to both the Island of Scars and its neighbouring Isle of Despair to account for the diverse populations supported by these otherwise highly isolated places.

Given that it is much more obscure than Atlantis, if we want to record its presence on the main map of Titan, we probably would look for a dotted outline of the continent and labelled "Lost Land of Vangoria".

c) Islands of Titans. Offhand, I can't think of any other issues with the island and other lands of Titan (apart from Allansia, Khul, and the Old World, which will merit separate posts). A few small things would be to finally label the Isle of Despair (alongside the Island of Scars), and perhaps also Stayng Island (the eastern-most islet in the Arrowhead Archipelago), but that's about it. There are other islands mentioned in Demons of the Deep (Jackson, 1986), but given their size and location it's probable they make up the Blood Islands group.

Phew! That's it from me. What do YOU thing needs changing (or not)?


Chapman, A. (1985). Seas of Blood. London: Puffin Books.

Gascoigne, M. (1986). Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World. London: Puffin Books.

Jackson, S. (1984). Scorpion Swamp. London: Puffin Books.

Jackson, S. (1986). Demons of the Deep. London: Puffin Books.

Jackson, S. (1993). BattleCards. San Diego, California: Merlin Publishing International.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tekumel versus Dr. Seuss!

The Vipper of Vipp -
obscure Tekumel satrap?
(from Seuss & Geisel, 1975).
A while back Dave Morris recommended grabbing a PDF copy of the original Empire of the Petal Throne RPG setting. I’ve always been intrigued by Professor M.A.R. Barker’s world of Tekumel, where Empire of the Petal Throne is set, since reading about it in What is Dungeons & Dragons?, where it was introduced as:
set in the far future, but in a fantasy setting as civilization has degenerated, after a cataclysm, into near barbarism. Metal is extremely scarce, tough animal hides being used for weapons and armour. Even so, there remain some vestiges of the old technology, in the form of various ‘eyes’ or artifacts with powers which the people of the new Tekumel regard as magical. At the beginning of the rulebook there is a very extensive exposition of Tekumel’s history and society. Although the dominant race is humanity, there are a number of excellently conceived monsters, some the descendents of starfaring alien races, some originally native to the planet.
(Butterfield, Parker & Honigmann, 1982, p. 158)

So, I finally snapped up a copy of the PDF and it’s an interesting read, both as concerning the world of Tekumel and as a snapshot of RPG gaming from the mid-seventies (when I was, let’s face it, two or three years old)! One bonus as far as I’m concerned is a short primer on the Tsolyani script (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1. An example of the Tsolyani script (from Barker, 1975).

Looking at this, I was immediately put in mind of Dr Seuss, and his children’s book classic, On Beyond Zebra (1955), which features a fictitious alphabet used to describe a series of bizarre and imaginary creatures:

        In the places I go there are things that I see
        That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
        I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.
        My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
        (Seuss, 1955, p. 7, see Figure 2 (emphasis is mine))

Figure 2. "My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!" (from Seuss, 1955).

Seuss takes this a step further in a later book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973). Here we have a linguist’s worst-case nightmare scenario:
        And how fortunate you’re not Professor de Breeze
        who has spent the past thirty-two years, if you please,
        trying to teach Irish ducks how to read Jivvanese.
        (Seuss & Geisel, 1973, p. 30)

Figure 3. Irish ducks and Jivvanese (from Seuss & Geisel, 1973).
 While instructing waterfowl in the art of reading obscure languages may seem foolish, it is made even more tricky by the fact that Jivvanese is a highly complicated series of obtuse and idiosyncratic pictograms with no apparent key or method of deciphering their meaning (see Figure 3). Nothing like the relatively structured and phonetic approach of Tsolyani then, despite superficial similarities in the intricacies of their swirling and nebulous letters. The take-home message from this post therefore, is that if you want a cool script for your RPG gaming, grab some Dr Seuss!


Barker, M.A.R. (1975). Empire of the Petal Throne. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: Tactical Studies Rules.

Butterfield, J., Parker, P. & Honigmann, D. (1982). What is Dungeons and Dragons? London: Puffin Books.

Seuss, Dr. (1955). On Beyond Zebra. New York: Random House.

Seuss, Dr. & Geisel, A. S. (1973). Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? New York: Random House.

Seuss, Dr. & Geisel, A. S. (1975). Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! New York: Random House.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cartwright the Creepy

The Beast!
Short post for now. I’d looked before at the artwork of Stephen Cartwright in the children’s book Dragons  (Rawson, 1979), and its early influence on my appreciation for the worlds of fantasy here. There are five more books in the same series that I plan on talking about in the future, each with Cartwright’s humorous and idiosyncratic watercolor artwork. However, while ransacking the library at work for books to stock my classroom, I came upon another volume illustrated by him and thought I’d shared some of the pictures with you. Interestingly, although I was aware of some of Cartwright's other work (Roxbee Cox, 2004), I'd never seen this book before.

The Usborne Book of Creepy Poems (Emery & Cartwright, 1990) features an anthology of disturbing poetry, although disappointingly given the subject matter, a lot of Cartwright’s art is a little mundane. There are however a few wonderful gems, where both the poem and the accompanying image form a satisfyingly gruesome blend.

First up we have the Beast, from Tell Me It Isn’t by Trevor Millum, which you can see at the top of this blog. I really like this creature – colour, pose and expression are all simple but very effective:

        Tell me – the movement I saw
        Behind the door…
        It wasn’t a paw
        It wasn’t a claw
        It wasn’t the Beast
        About to roar
        And pounce and gnaw – WAS IT??
        (Emery & Cartwright, 1990, p. 2)

The Mary Celeste...

Next is Mary Celeste by Stanley Cook. Cartwright’s picture is gloomily evocative, based of course on a true story, but the poem itself isn’t up to much snuff:

        On the Atlantic Ocean
        The light winds blow
        And the abandoned ship
        Tacks crazily to and fro.
        (p. 6)

The Dusk Jockey rides again!

Then we meet my second-most favourite, Dusk Jockey by Vernon Scanell, a ghoulish combination of DJ and nightmare. The picture is awesome, particularly the look of determination on the face of the Dusk Jockey's steed. This one concludes with:

        And then I’ve got to go, before the blind
        Of total night comes down. But don’t believe I’m through:
        Dusk is the time I find most work to do.
        I’ve got to groom my mount while there’s still light;
        I’ll ride my mare into your sleep tonight.
        (pp. 22-23)

Beware the Thing behind you!

The final poem in the book features a nameless thing in It’s Behind You by David Harmer, which would be more amusing if it weren’t for the rather disturbing image of a boy having his head torn from his shoulders by what looks like a giant green lizard. The final stanza:
        Oh what a shame!
I thought you’d make it
        To the door. Hard luck.
        I still think it means no harm        
        I expect it bites all its friends.
        (p. 31)

March of the Zombies! (from Dusk Jockey)


Emery, H. & Cartwright, S. (1990). The Usborne Book of Creepy Poems. London: Usborne Publishing.

Rawson, C. (1979). DragonsLondon: Usborne Publishing.

Roxbee Cox, P. (2004, February 21). Obituary: Steven Cartwright. Accessed from

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Giant Turtle from the Lake of the Restored Sword

Hoan Kiem giant turtle
(from Tran Van Minh, 2011).

The big news over here in Indochina is that the giant turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake in central Hanoi has resurfaced looking somewhat the worse for wear. If you're unfamiliar with this seriously cool but critically endangered chelonian, consider it the Vietnamese equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Unlike Nessie however, the Hoan Kiem turtle is definitely real, and instead of dwelling in some long, deep, mist-shrouded Scottish loch, this poor beast lives in a small, shallow, rather polluted lake smack bang in the middle of the Vietnamese capital's downtown/old city area. On a personal level, I've actually spent a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging out in nifty coffeeshops and pubs overlooking this lake, while staying in Hanoi with friends, and never once realised that those placid green waters contained a turtle of truly epic proportions.

The Turtle Pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake,
downtown Hanoi (from Tran Van Minh, 2011).

The actual species of turtle is uncertain - some claim it is the Giant Chinese softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), others that it represents a new species (Rafetus leloii) (e.g. see Heinselman, 2000; Coleman & Huyghe, 2003, pp. 181-183; Naish, 2007; Zeller, 2007). What distinguishes it from other softshell turtles is its size - this specimen is around 1.8m long, 1.2m wide, and weights 200kg. There appears to be only one of these giant turtles living in the lake, though a stuffed specimen does exist in the Ngoc Son temple on an island by the northern lakeside.

Hoan Kiem giant turtle (the huge brown-green circular thing!),
 from Heinselman (2000).
Both the turtle and the lake are important to Vietnamese history. In the mid 15th century AD, King Le Loii was boating in the lake when a giant golden turtle rose from the water and grabbed his magic sword, that he had previously used to repel a Chinese invasion. The turtle was apparently returning the enchanted blade to its original divine owners. As a result, given the rather poor condition of the current giant turtle, the citizens of Hanoi have mobilized to clean up the lake and help the enormous creature. Here's hoping the turtle's health improves and they can find a mate to propogate the species if it does turn out to be distinct from its northern Chinese relative.


Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. (2003). The field guide to lake monsters, sea serpents, and other mystery denizens of the deep. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.

Heinselman, C. (2000). Hoan Kiem Turtle - A Tale of the Sword. Crypto 3(3), 15-18.

Naish, D. (2007, November 29). The goat-eating hot water bottle turtles. Message posted to

Tran Van Minh. (2011, March 4). Vietnam scrambles to save Hanoi's sacred turtle. Accessed from

Zeller, F. (2007, November 6). High-tech lake clean-up to save legendary turtle. Bangkok Post [from AFP], p. 14.