We have finished our read-through of Sterling Lanier’s minor SF classic, Hiero’s Journey, but in assessing the book’s impact on the larger field of Geek-dom I have found the following sites helpful:
The author, EarthKnight, provides some background detail on Sterling Lanier himself, who had a wide range of eccentric interests. Lanier was trained as an anthropologist, which probably explains his decision to make his protagonist Native American and his female romantic lead African-American, though it doesn’t seem to have made him very inquisitive about the cultures and motivations of his humanoid antagonists. Lanier was in his spare time a “fan of cryptozoology” and a sculptor of “Ice Age animals,” which explains the giant mutant beasties that tromp or swim or slither through almost every chapter of Hiero’s Journey.
Tim Callahan praises HJ for the intensifying pace of its plot, and observes that Lanier intended it as the first volume of a trilogy, though he only completed one sequel, The Unforsaken Hiero, before calling it quits. Hiero’s Journey itself had a significant and largely unacknowledged impact on the early role-playing games of the 1970s. It was an obvious source for the 1978 game Gamma World, which was full of vicious humanoids, mutant animals, and “cities with names like primitive spellings of our own.” It also, however, seems to have influenced Dungeons and Dragons, which includes psychic powers – something not found in Tolkien or Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories or many of the other main influences on D&D – and whose early adventures were often set in ruins and tombs belonging to lost empires. D&D, Callahan concludes, was “a more ambitious genre mashup than just Gandalf meets Conan."
Raven Crowking, who read Hiero’s Journey specifically because of its appearance in the bibliography of the first D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, observes that Dungeons and Dragons’s love of “weird creatures that defy natural explanation,” fungus and slime monsters, intelligent giant lynxes (inspired by Klootz and Gorm), evil humanoids, powerful artifacts (some of them bearing curses), “clerics in leading roles [and] psionics” almost certainly come from HJ. The novel, Mssr. Crowking notes, takes an “episodic” form like a series of D&D adventures, and it even includes an actual, interior-voice depiction of a character “leveling up:” “The two battles Hiero had won…had given the hidden forces of his already strong mind a dimension and power he would not himself have believed possible. And the oddest thing was, he knew it.” Because of the giant “LEVEL 5” icon hovering above his head, no doubt.