Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Fantasy Can Be Great Again: Part 1

How many times have you browsed the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of your favorite (or merely convenient) bookstore, and walked away empty-handed? Why is that? I can tell you that that has been my experience, over and over, for years. There is virtually no decent Fantasy on bookstore shelves these days -- nothing new, anyway. Of course you can find diminishing selections of Tolkien, but JRRT did not give us an inexhaustible supply of stuff -- maybe nearly so; but there is only so much one can enjoy of Elven etymologies. One needs swords, and blood, and creatures, well-written. Ah! therein "lies the rub," as my good friend Richard says: well-written. Some may not be well-read enough (or well-written enough themselves, if you take my meaning) to recognize good writing when they see it -- or, more importantly, to recognize bad writing. Even Tolkien was not, how you say, a great writer. He was, more correctly, a good writer, and a stellar fantasist. But nowadays being simply the latter is not enough; but to be both a great writer and a great fantasist may be too much to hope for in any mere mortal... and yet, that is how Fantasy as a genre can continue to not only remain viable, but to show once again how it is the ultimate form of the written art. It is the only way, and it is what I have striven for.
Before I go further, let me clarify something: I am talking about the highest form of fantasy, and the most difficult to write and to achieve that "willing suspension of disbelief" that all fiction writers need in their readers: I mean Epic Fantasy, what you find in LOTR and what other writers like Robert Jordan and R.A. Salvatore and David Eddings strove for, and mostly failed. Once must needs dig deep, rummage around in Fantasy's forgotten attic, to find other great epic fantasy. William Morris pulled it off; others there may have been who were nearly as successful. Their names escape me at present. But there was something in Morris at least that kindled Tolkien's imagination, and stirred a desire in him to take what he found in The Well at the World's End, The Roots of the Mountains, and The House of the Wolfings, and go one better. And now we must go one better than Tolkien; and in the fifty-odd years since readers first followed the wandering path of the Fellowship, no one has figured out how to do that. If they have, they haven't actually done it.
In my next post, I will present what I believe to be the two necessary skills a modern fantasist must have to be successful. In the post after that, I will talk about what I think the fantasist must do to be a good writer as well. But first I will think a bit, and read a bit more.

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Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"