We use cookies to improve your experience

Dark Dungeons: The horror and the hope of redemption in Dragons and Dungeons

The game ′Dungeons & Dragons′ grew larger as it received greater opposition. The psychotic episodes of young James Dallas Egbert III in 1982 had attracted the entire force of fundamentalist censorship and the media against the game. It was probably due to that attention that in a matter of months the sales were multiplied by four. Everyone wanted to get a slice of that phenomenon. Tom Hanks starred in the same year ′Mazes and Monsters′, one of the many films that were then filmed around the phenomenon of panic to Satanism; and to further feed the terror of the population, Jack Chick, meanwhile, took the opportunity to draw one of his most commented comics: ′Dark Dungeons′ (1984). Thirty years later a giant like Netflix uses this erring era to build one of his most popular series. Today we analyze all these details that force us to go through the work Tolkien, Gary Gygax, Jack Chick and finally the young Duffer brothers, the creators of ′Stranger Things′.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Monday, January 13th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 17 minutes or 3381 words.


People carry the desire to grow and multiply included as a factory functionality but we always do it in conflict. Jack Chick was not the only war veteran to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Professor and writer J.R.R. Tolkien had already fought the Germans when he finished writing ′The Lord of the Rings′ in 1954. He did so particularly in what is considered the bloodiest battle of the British army. The Battle of the Somme would cause more than three million casualties and of all the professor′s friends only one survived. Tolkien not only survived the war but used it in the creation of a fantastic world with its own identity. Experts today identify in his character Bilbo traumatic traits of PTSD type similar to those suffered by Jack Chick. Gary Gygax, on the other hand, acknowledged that he had used the commercial success that ′Lord of the Rings′ had achieved to make his own role-playing game ′Dungeons & Dragons′ more attractive in 1974.

Tolkien had just died then but Middle-earth Enterprises, the company that administered part of the rights to ′The Lord of the Rings′, forced to change some names that Gary Gygax had used. The success of the game was unstoppable. ′Dragons and Dungeons′, which is how the game was later known in Spain, has been identified by The New York Times as the key game of the 1980s in the same line in which the ′Monopoly′ had been the key game of the Great Depression. The games catalyzed in both cases singular shortcomings nationwide and, not in vain, the characters of the series ′Dragons and Dungeons′, broadcast here on Sundays on TVE, sought their way back home, just as we did each of its small and lost spectators.

Swings of the allegory between entertainment and education

Tolkien always went back in time to his mother′s support and determination when he returned from Africa. Because of the conversion that Mabel Tolkien had to Catholicism in 1900, her Protestant family had withdrawn their support. Having become a widow recently and without family support was not going to make her give up. Mabel Tolkien took out her chest until she died shortly after, but not before making sure that the Catholic education of her children Hilary and John was protected. An already grown-up John Tolkien was riding a bicycle every morning to celebrate masses in Latin and held explicit beliefs that were fundamental in the conversion to Christianity of the then atheist professor C.S. Lewis Tolkien reviewed his work with the determined objective that there was no explicit reference to Christianity, he had a clear idea of ​​reaching all humanity with an implicit and universal message that could be adapted to each reader. The experts of his time then struggled to value historical events and discredit stories like ′Beowulf′ for the use they made of fantastic beings. Tolkien′s excellent defense of the universal value of the monsters of these stories is definitely conclusive in the history of literature and cinema in general.

Tolkien did not appreciate the use that the counterculture had made of ′The Lord of the Rings′ but he got enough money from him to be able to retire in the idyllic place in the world that his wife had asked for: Bournemouth. The Second Vatican Council had made serious modifications to the liturgy of the Catholic Church that greatly upset Tolkien and his family reminds him by saying in Latin the part of the liturgy that all other parishioners already said in English. Nor did he appreciate the allegories of the ′Chronicles of Narnia′ of his friend C.S. Lewis, who had become a member of the official church of England. A correspondence between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis where both reproach the light use he made of Walt Disney fantasy because in one way or another, with more or less emphasis on the details of the allegory, what the two British were clear about was that they were not in the entertainment business . ′What is the purpose of life?′ Camilla Unwin asked J. R. R. Tolkien by letter. In response to his question, the professor wrote: ′The main purpose of life could be said to be to grow in the knowledge of God, and to be moved by him to praise and give thanks to the extent of our abilities and by all means we have within reach. ′

Greek philosophers already used fables long before parables dominated the gospels of Jesus. For the past forty years, however, Jack Chick has sown the cities with his comics against the fantastic literature of J. K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. Professional experts and education academics such as Vivian Gussin Paley of the University of Chicago, confirm today that fantasy, play and storytelling provide children with training and skills in solving the problems they will face. References to strategy games are kept for four players in India in the 3rd century B.C., which will eventually be known in Europe in the year 900 under the name of Chess. The Prussian army used since 1780 the Kriegsspiel, which in German means ′war game′ and served to train its officers by introducing the use of the dice for the selection of possible enemy reactions. Science fiction writers like the English H. G. Wells in 1913 or the American Fletcher Pratt in 1940, had published their own rules of war games where miniatures are introduced. In fact, there was already an industry specialized in the war game when Gary Gygax started playing in 1953 and did so with ′Gettysburg′ of the Avalon Hill company.

Gary Gygax′s dream come true

Gary Gygax lost a lot of interest in school while playing pirates with his friends in the streets of Chicago. Over the years his friend Mary Jo Powell would end up becoming his wife and his friend Dave Arneson in his partner in the creation of the role-playing game ′Dungeons & Dragons′ in 1974. Dave Arneson′s daughter says that the greatest His father′s world was his desire to make people happy, but the truth is that life puts many obstacles to that goal. The reality ended up knocking on his door with a new bill to pay and for many years they had to make the domestic tasks, temporary jobs and business strategies of their new company Tactical Studies Rules compatible. Gary Gygax was in Los Angeles celebrating with all kinds of excesses the success of ′Dungeons & Dragons′ when the rest of the company went bankrupt and looked for ways to fire him. Success is that capricious. Historically however Gary Gygax has gone down in history as the creator of a new game concept that is really interesting.

It is no accident that Tolkien and Gygax shared the same position among the thirty most influential people in role-playing games according to the 2003 GameSpy Awards. Gary Gygax introduces Tolkien′s fantastic world into the gaming market and with him one of the most interesting news regarding war games that allow the imagination to develop further. Choosing between being pruso or Gallic can offer much less possibilities than being able to choose between being a hobbit, ent or balrogs; that is just the thesis that Tolkien maintained when he defended the potential of fantasy in stories like ′Beowulf′. Gygax, however, takes Tolkien′s work much further in regard to ethics and morals. Tolkien′s characters tend to be good or bad because of their race or species status in a way that is unusual in real life. All orcs are bad in a line very similar to what all German soldiers looked like during the First World War. The Bible itself ensures that all human beings are bad and that superficially many times the bad act as if they were good and the good act as if they were bad.

Gary Gygax told the media of the “GenCon Indy 2007” fair that the etymology of his surname goes back to the biblical giant Goliath: “I was really reticent to the fact, you know, that I am a Christian; mainly because I was afraid that I could give Christianity a bad name, having been me who had done Dungeons & Dragons. That′s why I did it and I shut my mouth. But finally I have decided that no, I will not do it anymore. ” That same year Gary was diagnosed with ′abdominal aortic aneurysm′ and refused to undergo a surgical intervention that offered him between 50% and 90% success. A month and a half before his death on March 4, 2008, Gary wrote this letter to one of his fans: “Thank you, Michael. I am only one more human being, who after having taken many wrong paths and having failed many attempts, has finally found Jesus Christ. Gary. ′ As a footnote in the same letter, the gigantic Gary Gygax added the quotation to some words of Jesus Christ gathered in the Gospel of Matthew 5.16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ”

The imaginative informants of ′Dark Dungeons′

′Dungeons & Dragons′ has made its way and a customized version has just come out with the details of the popular ′Stranger Things′ series. Hawkins in the series is a city where nothing ever happens to the same extent as Hobiton de Tolkien was. The forest where Will is lost is named after Mirkwood, which is the same name as the forest where Bilbo is lost. The reference to the diabolical dangers of the toys and animations of ′My Little Pony′ is a reference to real cases related to the obscurantist era in which he drew this comic by Jack Chick.

Journalist Joshua Benjamin Graham has written in the recent book ′Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s′ about this chapter of panic to Satanism where toys play a leading role in the decline of America. There was no evangelical bookstore then that did not promote authors such as Phil Phillips, Texe Marrs or Gary Greenwald, who argued in their books that the toys and animations of He-Man, She-Ra or My Little Pony pushed children to the most terrible Satanism influences. ′Stranger Things′ recreates even the news of this infamous era: ′Mysterious deaths and a strange chemical leak. Is it all related? Is it a huge conspiracy? Or is something else happening in Central America? Some say that it′s all the fault of a satanic sect. To find out, tune in tonight at 20:00 ... ′

It′s hard to know who had more imagination then. The fundamentalist writer William Schnoebelen claimed to have been in the past satanist, druid, vampire, ninja and pirate. Such a clear experience justified in the eyes of many that he could collaborate with Jack Chick, documenting and verifying the real existence of H.P. Lovecraft as Necronomicon and Cthulhu or, of course, the real presence of satanic forces behind the game ′Dungeons & Dragons′. Wired magazine argues that Jack Chick is in this comic titled ′Dark Dungeons′ so out of reality, it is not necessary to modify the message to make a satire. In fact it is just what J.R. Ralls in the recording of the movie entitled ′Dark Dungeons′ in 2014, which even had the approval of Jack Chick himself!

The title of ′Dark Dungeons′ may well want to add a second reference based on ′Dark as a dungeon′, one of the songs that Johnny Cash performed for the prisoners the day ′At San Quentin′ was recorded (1969) . Jack Chick often visited prisons at this time and he should certainly appreciate the image of a dangerous Christian that inspired Johny Cash. Jack Chick, however, also used fraudulent John Todd to document himself in this comic, also locked up in prison shortly thereafter for rape and child abuse. John Todd appears in fact at the end of the comic, behind the pulpit, ensuring that only Christ saves but that you also have to burn games and rock music records.

The bold warnings of those authors such as William Schnoebelen, John Todd or Jack Chick, contrasted with the fears declared by Gary Gygax before he died, bring much light to the warnings that Jesus had first made when he said in the same Gospel of Matthew : “For he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you close the kingdom of heaven before men; For you neither enter nor let in those who are entering. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you devour widows′ houses, and as a pretext you make long prayers; for this you will receive greater condemnation. ”

True protection against evil

The religious wanted to kill Jesus because he gave free to those who came to him, what they only gave for a very high price. The cartoonist Jack Chick, who was basically a skilled businessman, said at the end of his comics that salvation is really available to everyone for a very low price and is easy to follow in four simple steps. Easy only in appearance, of course. Robert Fowler, one of the most active collectors and distributors of Jack Chick comics, documents in his book a list of things to stop doing under the title of ′Bad Things.′ The list is simply endless. ′If there is something you like, you can be sure it is on this list,′ Fowler adds with his typical sense of humor. Today, as in any other previous era, in order to declare oneself truly Christian, we must make it aware that there is nothing, good or bad, that we can do to deserve its adoption as children of God.

There is no good or bad game that we can play or stop playing that can replace the terrible and bloody death of Christ. The life of his only son had already been offered in sacrifice for our crimes, long before William Schnoebelen, John Todd or Jack Chick ignored them in these comics. Because we keep this in mind: occupying the list of crimes with what are not really crimes, the paradox is that in the end there is hardly room for real crimes. The goal of religion is to nullify the only hope for humanity. According to the gospels, God′s goal is not to suffer as his son suffered, which is just what Jack Chick was looking for. Christ confirms it before he dies when he says to his disciples: ′In the world you will have affliction, but trust I have overcome the world.′ God′s goal was therefore that we could be confident. It does not say: ′trust that you can defeat the world′, but ′trust I have defeated the world′.

The Demogorgon in the series ′Stranger Things′ is superficially a reference to a powerful demon of ′Dungeons & Dragons′, but if we bother to pay more detailed attention the Demogorgon is actually a representation of the fears to which We cannot or do not want to face directly. It is just the narrative resource that Tolkien protected when defending the story of ′Beowulf.′ Religion has wanted to name many of our fears throughout history but Jesus goes further and asks us to pay attention to his promises. The monster that may want to ruin our lives can be called one day in one way and another in another, so for Jesus the important thing was to have the confidence of his disciples.

′These things I have spoken to you so that you may have peace in me,′ Jesus said to his disciples. “In the world you will have affliction; but trust, I have defeated the world. ” Jesus then addressed his father in heaven saying: ′When I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name; to those you gave me, I kept them, and none of them were lost, but the son of perdition , so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you; and I speak this in the world, so that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world either. I do not pray that you take them away from the world, but that you keep them from evil. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in your truth; your word is true. ′


This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Dark Dungeons: El horror y la esperanza de redención en Dragones y Mazmorras


′Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical′ Tim Keller Talks at Google

Watch more talks in Youtube by TGC, HTB or UNCOVER.