Only posting a link!
Here is an essay on the genre of high fantasy and swords and sorcery which I hope will be studied seriously, both now in and in years to come, by all who read, write, and review in the genre.
The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists by Leo Grin. Read it here:
I don’t particularly care for fantasy per se. What I actually cherish is something far more rare: the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves, and that echoes in important particulars the myths and fables of old.This realization eliminates, at a stroke, virtually everything written under the banner of fantasy today.
The mere trappings of the genre do nothing for me when wedded to the now-ubiquitous interminable soap-opera plots (a conservative friend of mine once accurately derided “fat fantasy” cycles such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time as “Lord of the Rings 90210”). Nor do they impress me in the least when placed into the hands of writers clearly bored with the classic mythic undertones of the genre, and who try to shake things up with what can best be described as postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage.
My comment: The examples mentioned (by Joe Abercrombie, Matthew Woodring Stover, Steven Erikson) I have not had the pleasure (or otherwise) of reading, and can make no comment whether the essayist is being fair or unfair in his assessment. However, I did wade through the unsanitary sewage of Mr. Michael Swanwick’s IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER for about half the book, before realizing than Mr. Swanwick was having a joke at my expense, and at the expense of all his readers, and a rather dark and bitter joke at that.
Stated as a ratio, IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER is to honest fairy stories with real magic to them as the movie version of STARSHIP TROOPERS is to that novel of the same name: an elaborate and obsessive long-drawn-out paean of hatred and contempt of a cramped and unlit soul crouched in a fen or cave against the sunny upland glades of some larger and more glorious thing he can neither understand nor adore: a harpy excreting the excess of diseased bowels on festal delicacies her digestion cannot accept, and elfin wines her tongue not savor.
I have met both Mr. Swanwick at science fiction cons and speaking engagements, and worked with Mr. Stover on a non-fiction book to which I was very pleased to be asked to contribute. They seem like fine fellows both of them: I wish them no ill will, but I abhor cynical nihilism and the effect cynical nihilism has on the taste of the readership to whom I hope to sell my work. As a Christian, I am allowed to love the writer and hate the writing.
Mr. Leo Grin in his essay makes clear that he upholds the right of those who adore such degraded things to write and read their chosen poison. He is more generous than I. It is my judgment, shared of many ancients, that there are certain proper emotional reactions and relatins one ought to have, and improper ones one ought not. A child raised to curse and despise his parents, trample the crucifix, burn the flag, abhor kittens and Christmas scenes and motherhood but adore torture porn and satanism and deformity, that child’s tastes are objectively perverse and false-to-facts. He has been trained to spew his mother’s milk and drink venom. Fair to him is foul, and foul is fair. In the same way that to say A is not-A is an offense against logic, to hate the lovely and love the hateful is an offense against aesthetics, a disconnection from reality.
Tolkein’s work was such an unparalleled success, in my opinion, precisely because of the cynical nihilism so popular in Europe between the wars and in America after: in the Twentieth Century all trace of the fantasitic and supernal had been successfully erased from literature. In rebellion, the yonger generation of lovable yet stinking hippies joined hands with their grandfather’s world of Roman Catholic old-school conservatism, the conservatism of that type that seeks conservation: because both rejected the fundamental falsehood and ugliness of a world both godless, drained of magic, paved, and industrialized. It was an odd and original alliance, as odd an original as Tolkien’s work itself
Now that the supernal has made a come-back, and captured again the popular imagination, the literati (or, to be precise, anti-literati) make inroads into the realm of elfland itself, to erect the smog and graffito of their beloved Mordor.
I propose such poets serve not muses but sirens — whom, so myth feigns, not only lured sailors to destruction, but also one had been angelic beings that challenged the muses to a contest of song, which, losing, they had been plucked of their wings by the muses and flung into the sea.
Such are the souls of those who hate the muses and seek to use the gift of song to ruin song, or who think it wise or daring to efface and degrade the dreams of men into darkness.
Mr. Abercrombie at his own blog takes exception to Mr. Grin’s rhetoric, as is only fair, but for some reason pauses to call me insane (apparently for claiming that there are proper as opposed to improper emotional responses to reality that are not matters of taste).
He pauses to jest that he and Swanwick and Stover are in a vast conspiracy against Western Civilization. Perfectly funny joke, and no less misleading than my own heated rhetoric: But I want the record to reflect that I was not talking about his work, and I had not read it, and do not take Mr. Grin’s assessment of it at face value, and I said so.
I also would like the record to reflect that I said Stover and Swanwick are perfectly nice fellows when I met them (unlike some Harlans I could name). I should have emphasized that while I was put off by IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER, which I assume is the reaction the author sought of me and mine, STATIONS OF THE TIDE is not just good, but great SF, and worth more the one read.
To defend myself against the charge of insanity, allow me to post my latest passport photo. I think this will show, as you look into my calm, thoughtful, nay, soulful eyes, that I am in complete possession of my five senses, or six if we count ESP.