Sunday, January 20, 2008
Chess in Fiction
Bobbie Fischer’s death started me thinking about the use of chess in fiction. One of my favorite anthologies of all time is Pawn to Infinity, a collection of SF tales involving chess that was edited by Fred Saberhagen. The best story in the collection was “The Immortal Game” by Poul Anderson, which was a brilliant dramatization of an actual game, called “The Immortal Game,” played in 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. Another equally famous and beautiful game is known as “The Evergreen Game,” which was played in 1852 between Anderssen and Jean Dufresne. They had no formal world chess championship in those days, but Anderssen was widely considered the best in the world at the time.
Some variation of chess appears frequently in fantasy works. The first time I remember seeing this was in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. Martian chess was called Jetan and was played on a black and orange board of 100 squares rather than the 64 squares of Earthly chess. ERB even included the rules for the game in, appropriately enough, The Chessmen of Mars. (You can also find the rules on Wikipedia.) Alan Burt Akers (Kenneth Bulmer) created a chess variation called Jikaida for his Dray Prescot books, a sword and planet series that had some influence on my Taleran works. Jikaida has a number of forms but Bulmer gives the rules to the most common type in an appendix to A Sword for Kregen. The game has 36 pieces and, I believe, 216 total squares. a Sword for Kregen is clearly influenced by ERB’s The Chessmen of Mars.
John Norman invented a chess variation called Kaissa for his Gor books. Kaissa is played on a 100 square board of yellow and red and involves an interesting twist called the “placing of the home stone,” the home stone being the spiritual heart of Gorean cities. Norman never gave the full rules of the game in the books, and even indicated that there were many different versions, but several versions have been formalized by fans and you can find some of them at Kaissafan. The term Kaissa is a variant spelling of Caissa, who is known as the goddess of chess. She first appeared, as far as I know, in a poem by Sir William Jones. Norman’s real name is actually John Lange, and he is a philosophy professor. One might expect him to know about classic poetry, although he doesn’t seem to know much about women.
I invented a game for my fantasy stories as well. It’s called Kyrellian, although there is a simpler version called Kyrell. The central board (battle board) for Kyrellian is 100 squares, with two smaller boards (Home boards) of 40 squares each attached to either side by a narrow, one square width, bridge. The players, known as Crystal and Obsidian, start with 20 pieces each on their home board and must move their pieces into the battle section of the board across the bridge. The object is to capture the opponent’s land (the 40 square board), and this can be accomplished in several ways. Kyrell, the simpler version, begins with the pieces already placed on the battle board. There is a longer, more convoluted version, in which four players compete from four different Home boards.
I’m considering doing an article on the issue of chess-like war games in fiction, but I need to do quite a bit more research. Maybe some of you can help. Any of you know of books that have used chess as part of the plot, or that have invented some variation on the game?