Monday, March 19, 2012

The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature (2002)

     I may owe Crawford Kilian an apology.  While I found little in his Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (1998) to be full of worthless and severely out-of-date information, there was at least some consistency in it.  I may have found Kilian's tastes to be counter to my own, but he was trying to give some advice on the subject of writing.  That is not the case with The Writers Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest (How to Write Fantasy Stories of Lasting Value) (2002), edited by Philip Martin.
     Martin is largely the author, but he fills in much of the meager 228 pages (the rest are appendices on resources for writers) with snippets and interviews from selected authors.  This is problematic for two reasons.  First, it interrupts any attempt at a narrative flow.  The examples are meaningless because it is never truly established what the exemplar is supposed to be.  Second, and worse, most of the selected text sections read as meaningless when divorced from their source material (or at least enough of it to give it context and weight).  It gives the impression that lasting fantasy literature is rather bland and unengaging.
     That is not to say that I could not stand to learn a lesson from this book.  Indeed, it served to reinforce how unfamiliar I am with the breadth and scope of authors of 'speculative fiction' that Martin considers to have contributed something beyond the momentary blip on the radar.  Granted, this is a lesson better illustrated by my meager library of read books as noted on (where each title and author can be tracked), but it is one that can be learned again and again.  The list of authors I have not read is somewhat staggering:
✦ J.K. Rowling (I have, however, seen the third Harry Potter film and know the story from commercials for the other movies)
Lloyd Alexander
Susan Cooper
Diana Wynne Jones
✦ C.S. Lewis (I have seen the three 'live-action' Chronicles of Narnia films, and remain scarred by animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
Beatrix Potter
Madeline L'Engle
George MacDonald
Charles Williams
Peter S. Beagle
Mary Stewart
✦ T.H. White (that's right, I never read The Once and Future King, a book that was required in my Freshman Honors English part because I thought we should have been reading actual Medieval literature instead of pretend Medieval literature)
✦Fritz Lieber (though I am familiar with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as characters)
Michael Moorcock
Brian Jacques
Patricia A. McKillip
Donna Jo Napoli
Midori Snyder
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Laura Esquivel
Louise Erdrich
✦ Anne Rice (and I have no interest in reading her)
John Marco
Elizabeth Hand
Richard Adams
Kenneth Grahame
Graham Joyce
✦ Terry Prachett (who Martin adores, but Kilian execrates in his book on writing)
Orson Scott Card
Neil Gaiman
Alice Hoffman
Franny Billingsley
Kij Johnson
L. Frank Baum
✦ Ursula K. Le Guin (I read a little booklet that she wrote about designing the maps for Earthsea, but I'm not going to count that)
Lord Dunsany
Eva Ibbotson
Robert Jordan
Terry Brooks
     Okay, that is a lengthy list.  And it highlights that my exposure to fiction is not weighted towards the British end of things or the well-received books that had no cultural impact among my age group (which makes me question the "lasting" quality of the works, but since I am wholly ignorant of them I should probably just shut up).  But I think it also speaks to how large the field really is.  If one were to be a dedicated reader of fantasy fiction, chances are that the best he or she could do would be to read about 5% of the published titles in any given year. 
     Back to the book.  The last two sections finally get around to some kind of discussion on actual writing, but that serves to highlight that the majority of the book is dedicated to a stand-offish, shallow review of the nature of speculative fiction.  Had it been an academic review of fantasy literature, dense as that would be, it would have been much more rewarding.  Instead, it was just sort of there to be slogged through, offering almost nothing in terms of insight as to what makes for good or meaningful fantasy literature (or even what elevates fantasy writing to the level of literature).
     If I had only spent two days on this book, I'm positive I'd be less upset with it.  But it took a full week of slow progress and stepping away from it again and again to get to the end.  That didn't feel helpful, and I don't know that there is anything I will keep with me from this.  The only upside is that it costs nothing to check a book out from the library.

1 comment:

  1. The Mysterious Writer Without a Face C.S.SCRIBLERIUS

    Among an I number every time larger of authors that walk in the shadows detached the mysterious C.S. Scriblerius, believed is a pseudonym as of Twelve Hawks. The mysterious man without face announces his production as a writer that nobody saw and whose identity is the subject starting from their writings pages. Everything that it is known about those authors the book MAGICAL MYSTERY TRAVEL and their works as ””Percyfaw Code””,de Scriblerius, made available by limited time as e-book in an apparent strategy of marketing of enormous success in the web and ””The Traveler””, Twelve Hawks published amid the style of Hollywood hype where disembarked in the list bestseller of the newspaper The New Times.The mysterious to Thomas Pynchon’s same style, Philip Roth, JD Salinger,B.Traven, Cormac McCarthy, authors C.S. Scriblerius and Twelve Hawks “live out of the grating”, meaning that you chose roads no so conventional in the market editorial, using like this other means for popularization of their works,and, hindering of they be tracked.