One of the most peculiar adaptations debuted in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. Up until that point, they had been clearly based on the creatures from German folklore, in particular, the troublesome fellows who bothered miners.
The official story is that the change occurred due to a miscommunication between Gary Gygax, the game designer, and Donald C. Sutherland, the artist. There’s clearly more to the story. I do not have a copy of the original Monster Manual, but I do have the next print with the red dragon hunting a herd of pegasi on the cover.
Let’s begin with the art. Sutherland depicted kobolds as diminutive dog men with large pointed ears and tiny devil horns. The contradiction to the official story appears when you start to read the description. Kobolds were scaly and laid eggs like lizards. Gygax had to have known, unless this particular monster was another writer’s responsibility.
Was there a literary inspiration out of Appendix N that described such a creature? Yes. It’s right there in black and white. In fact, it’s the very first series cited under Edgar Rice Burroughs name, “Pellucidar.” Whether or not it was a conscious homage is a question that will likely never be answered, but there was a fantasy and science fiction canon that was read back at the dawn of the hobby. Both men must have at least been aware of the novels, if not read them. Then, perhaps a dim memory of the material may have inspired the kobold.
The novel is Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. In it, we meet the Horibs. They are snake people. They range between four and nine feet tall. Like snakes, they grow larger with age. They have snake heads with unblinking eyes, large pointed ears, and small horns, giving them an appearance that the humans within the novel find disturbing. They also lay eggs.
The Horibs are an almost precise match for Sutherland’s kobolds!
As an interesting addendum, I was browsing online last night. The current description of kobolds as draconian has another inspiration: gargoyles. Their folklore is directly derived from dragons. In fact, they’re a much closer match to kobolds as they’re currently described. If you check out gargoyle pictures online, you’ll be surprised how closely they resemble Sutherland’s depiction, too. Right down to having dog-like faces!
So, now you know.
I’ve got a book to finish so I may slow down on my blog, but I’ll be back with any interesting tidbits. Have a great weekend!