“The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.”
“When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien’s innumerable heirs. Call it ‘epic’, or ‘high’, or ‘genre’ fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.
Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can’t ignore it, so don’t even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there’s a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien’s clichés—elves ‘n’ dwarfs ‘n’ magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was ‘consolation’, thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.
That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.
Of course I’m not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it’s impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick’s superb IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?
Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it’s getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy’s radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they’re not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.
The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we’re entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn’t been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’m excited. This is a radical literature. It’s the literature we most deserve.”
I don’t usually post quotes this long, but as I’ve been working on Coal Belly, and after publishing my essay on problematic fiction this quote from 2002 has been kicking around in my head. (Originally from here, but it’s been modified over the years.)
My work has frequently been described as “difficult to categorize”—and while I label the Bell Forging Cycle as urban fantasy for simplicity, it’s no secret that its more accurate description is much more complicated. I revel in this, genre classification is boring at best and writing dangerous or challenging fiction within the “Next Wave” the “New Weird” or whatever we want to call it is exactly where I want to be as a writer.
Friday is here! That means it’s time for the Friday Link Pack. My weekly post covering topics such as writing, art, current events, and random weirdness. Some of these links I mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…
RED LITTEN WORLD:
This will be the last week for the Red Litten World category. If you haven’t picked up your copy there are plenty of ways. Paperbacks can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or direct from My Store. EBooks can be purchased from Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, GooglePlay, Nook, and of course, My Store. (Always DRM Free.)
Red Litten World, 1 Week Old
A week after the launch I reflect on the happenings around Red Litten World. I discuss early reviews, direct folks to inspiration, the delay I experience with some minor printing issues, and more.
Jazz Saints Of The Bell Forging Cycle
In the first entry for my ongoing series, Wild Territories, I explore the reasons behind the Jazz Saints that crop up through The Bell Forging Cycle. I look into individual songs and explain why I selected them.
Three Reasons Your Writing Career is Stuck
Author and blogger, Kristen Lamb, offers some tough-love advice on shifting your attitude, changing your perceptions, focusing your time, and unsticking your writing career.
See the Sketches J.R.R. Tolkien Used to Build Middle-Earth
Yay! A maps link (and a bit more)! If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, then do yourself a favor and check out these early sketches and notes for Middle Earth. Heck, if you’re a fantasy fan at all this article and the associated imagery is worth your time. Show’s how much work Tolkien put into his world.
100,000 Books Sold – What Happened?
Indie-author John Ellsworth, writer of legal thrillers, discusses his career and what it took for him to sell his first 100,000 books and what he plans on doing to sell many more.
The Most Mysterious Star In Our Galaxy
Strange things are circling a very distant star located between the constellations of Cygnus the swan and Lyra the harp. Is it a natural occurrence or some enormous an ancient superstructure? Maybe Commander Shephard knows? Scientists are struggling to find out. [Thanks to Mike for sharing this.]
Holy City Of The Wichitas
My favorite blog, Atlas Obscura, looks at a little piece of old Jerusalem smack in the middle of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains. Bonus points for their use of the pun: faux-ly land.
Monty Python Releases 14 Minutes Of Unseen Animation From Holy Grail
I have always really enjoyed those weird little animations in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So I was extra excited when the A.V. Club shared this look at never before scene footage from the classic movie.
Taman Shud Case
“The Taman Shud or Tamam Shud Case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 am, 1 December 1948, on Somerton beach, Glenelg, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. It is named after a phrase, tamám shud, meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian, printed on a scrap of paper found in the fob pocket of the man’s trousers. This turned out to have been torn from the final page of a particular copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of poems attributed to 12th-century poet Omar Khayyám. Following a police appeal, the actual book was handed in – six months after the body was found, a businessman (given the name Mr. Francis) said his brother found it in the back footwell of his car at about the time the body was found. The book was handed to Detective Leane who made the decision to keep the finder’s real name out of the papers. Imprinted on the back cover of the book was something looking like a secret code as well as a telephone number and another unidentified number.”
H.P. LOVECRAFT STORY OF THE WEEK:
The Call Of Cthulhu
So, oddly, I don’t think this has ever been a featured story of the week. This is one of the biggest (and some might argue one of the best) of Lovecraft’s story. Also, the only tale to feature the tentacle-faced monstrosity himself, Cthulhu.
GIF OF THE WEEK: