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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Bad literature

Re: the Wheel of Time

Ian Crisp wrote:

I'm halfway through Book Seven, and starting to get annoyed. The main story line at the moment is in Ebou Dar, searching for The Bowl Of The Winds, and I've rather lost track of what Rand and Perrin are up to.

This is generally what's wrong with epic fantasy nowadays. You have to realize that the folks these authors write for are geeks, folks who take pride in their learning in these matters. The writers get wrapped up in creating their minutely detailed worlds, full of rich backstory, and their target audience is composed of people who are capable of hard study in that sort of thing. The problem is that the human life span is only capable of mastering two or three fandoms of this sort; attempt more, and you will show yourself a dilettante. So a wide reading in this sort of literature isn't really do-able.

I recommend Tanith Lee, a writer I have praised before. Her prose is generally well constructed; you can tell from her prose that she is the victim of a classical education. She has written a number of sprawling fantasies in a shared world - I like the "Tales of the Flat Earth" series that begins with Night's Master - but these are long on intricate description and relatively short on lore. And, she writes short stories. Red as Blood and White as Snow are reworkings of classic fairy tales. They require no backstory other than general cultural literacy.


OTOH, you could do a Reader's Digest Condensed A4 Sheet of Wheel Of Time and lose just about nothing. Let's call it highly compressible data.
My problem with Wheel of Time-like fantasy is that it just plain bores the bejeezus out of me. @.@ The authors don't really seem to want to be telling an epic; they have an idea that maybe would be good for one or two books worth of story, but they're pounding it out to as many books as they can because it makes more money and it's what the publishers and, for some reason, a lot of readers want. But I have no attention span for it, even though I've got the attention span for a lot of things generally considered more boring, like... watching paint dry.
Critical analysis of these things strikes me as akin to a review site comparing McDonald's outlets on their burger quality.
They don't really want to tell a story. Or rather, they are not as interested in that as they are in creating and exploring and charting a world. The story is incidental. (See, we know this only too well.)

But there is no market for just a book about an imaginary planet. Oh, I know, there's things like the Encyclopaedia of Imaginary Places, but I mean a whole book on one world, like here's the principal exports of Outh and the only form of government in Girtallu is a limited monkey, and the blond barbarians come from North Amblia and oh yeah, by the way, here's the legend of whatsisface. See, because that would be dull. It would be too much like school, and like ihcoyc is saying, there's a lot there, and it would take too long to learn it all and so forth. There's no market for it. In order to sell it, they have to cobble together some kind of a plot line, and I think a lot of times, the guys who are good at worldmaking (or discovery) aren't really that good at plot lines and stories as such (although the legends of whatsisface can get prettyj interesting, but they're short).

Besides, look at the flak that Tolkien took for creating those appendices and languages and everything. And even if he weren't seen as "dangerous" and all that rot, a lot of these guys know they're not going to be as good at it as him.

Well, I'm just rambling now to get my mind off the flies. Bon voyage.
In this context, it behooves us (hey! you just got behooved!) to remember Moorcock's Epic Pooh, which makes some similar points, though it is a lot more politically pointed.

Yes, the thing that Tolkien had, and that Jordan may have, is their ynnighedd, their lavishly furnished retreat, a Tlön with its lists of cities and kings and playing cards and etiquettes. That was what they valued; the narrative was an afterthought.