For me, the best fantasy provides escape from the very worst of humanity in which some of these modern "fantasists" sadistically wallow.
One of the first examples for of Kathyrn Kurtz's 1992 King Javan's Year, in which the bad guys win and the protagonist one hopes will escape is horribly murdered, and then the book ends. I felt horrible at the conclusion, and betrayed. This is not why I read fantasy (particularly as my life has been filled with sufficient experiences of pain, personal, family, and in the patients I serve).
I believe fantasy should provide hope, if not triumph, in the face of adversity. Death is not the problem; the problem is the absence of hope, of the absence to appreciate that there always exists the potential for good in human beings to raise us all up.
As G-d tells the sinful Israelites in Jeremiah 31:34-26:
Thus saith the LORD, Who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, that the waves thereof roar, the LORD of hosts is His name: If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever.
Thus saith the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
That is to say: "Never."
Without hope in Man (be it filtered through the human storybook creations of elf, dwarf, or even hobbit), what is there for us?
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited February 13, 2011).]
Even though I can see his point about some of the fantasy of today but I believe there is still the older style being published. Not all of it is as grand as Tolken etc but it is still along those lines...if you get what I mean. It's not even close to being as depressing or macabre as the examples he gave.
I wouldn't want to read the type he discussed even though I may have read a couple in that genera, and sometimes it does seem there is way too much of it but at the same time I still find plenty of the usual or old fashion type so it is still being written and published. I don't think he was saying it wasn't being published but that there was too much of the other type and that he didn't enjoy this new type.
If I may expand beyond genre fiction, I think John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy succeeds brilliantly in depicting the antihero, but I digress.
Fast-forwarding to modern times, self-loathing has become chic in Western culture and I think the influx of dystopian literature and the degradation of heroicism merely reflects it. I don't mind it on occasion, but in general, I like fiction to take me beyond our base world, not to lower places I struggle to even fathom.
The horror genre has received even a worse fate, degenerating into blood and gore in lieu of character transformations through suspenseful tribulations. Lovecraft and Shelley are gone; Saw VII is in theaters celebrating great new wonderful ways to torture a victim.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Tolkien / Howard fan, but did you ever really doubt how those books would end? The good guys win, the bad guys all lose, and everybody is happy. I once read that Tolkien lamented that the third book in LOTR was called "Return of the King" as it "gave the ending away" as if the ending was ever really in doubt.
I like the new trend in fantasy (George R R Martin, Stephen Erikson, etc) where characters (*gasp* even good guys!) can die. It adds a level of tension that you just don't find in Tolkien.
Did you really think that any of the Fellowship would die (except Borormir who was half bad / half good)? Of course not.
Did you think Ned Stark would get his head chopped off at the end of the first Song of Fire and Ice book? I know I sure as hell didn't see it coming. It makes the book all the more exciting.
The Malazan Books of the Fallen series, along with Song of Fire and Ice (the article even dumped on Wheel of Time...) are both awesome, and any fantasy fan is doing themselves a disservice by not reading them.
Last year I listened to this old Agony Column interview with Terry Goodkind in which he discusses heroic fantasy, morality and the prevalence of antiheroes and so on in modern literature. While I'm not sure I completely agree with everything Goodkind says, I do agree with the overall issue, and I wonder if the glut of a- or anti-moral books is more a result of publishers wanting to stand out as offering 'something different' for their market share than actually offering 'good reads'. But then, in so saying, I do reveal my biases
In the interests of full disclosure, that link can be found in the library of mp3 podcasts here.
It really depends what you read for. I read to escape, and the last place I want to escape to is Hell or worse.
I read Song of Fire and Ice and loved the first books. But I did hate the fact that every time I got involved with a character, whack! and they were dead.
As far as Jordan, and Wheel of Time, I have bought that book 3 times and have tried to read it at least 10. I have kept it in my library, as I imagine I will try it again some day. For some reason it doesn't agree with me, I have yet to make past 90 pages. And if I have to force myself to read to get into a story, its not for me.
I have tried to read the Erickson book that I have, Gardens of the Moon or something like that, I believe its the first in his series. And for some reason cant get going in there either.
As I said in another thread it is more me then the stories themselves, the market is broad and I am only one small portion. I think it just might be that what I want right now in my life, the happy ending, and have always liked those books. Just because you know the destination doesn't mean you know the journey to get there.
Rcorp- i'm glad someone took an opposing view; my own falls somewhere in between.
My only argument against the two definitive modern examples (GRRM and Jordan) is that both series become lost and uninspiring after a few books. After reading the first three Song of Ice and Fire novels, I thought I was reading this generation's Tolkien. But by the fourth novel, it seems to depart on some wayward path with new characters, going in a direction that I don't even know if Martin has yet figured out (and judging by the series' lack of production, I wonder if he even cares).
I am being a tad harsh. To accomplish what they have is tremendous and to write like GRRM would be an honor. I just don't want the protags dying because it is trendy when the stories don't have a satisfactory conclusion.
quote: Please... Don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Tolkien / Howard fan, but did you ever really doubt how those books would end? The good guys win, the bad guys all lose, and everybody is happy. I once read that Tolkien lamented that the third book in LOTR was called "Return of the King" as it "gave the ending away" as if the ending was ever really in doubt.
I disagree somewhat. I consider the ending melancholy because everyone isn't happy. Yes, the bad guy is out of power, the King is back but it's the end of the Elves, other beings-hobbits and others- can't be healed here..the King's wife-sorry I forget her name- ends up alone. At the same time you are right about the ending was predictable.
quote: I like the new trend in fantasy (George R R Martin, Stephen Erikson, etc) where characters (*gasp* even good guys!) can die. It adds a level of tension that you just don't find in Tolkien.
Like one person, who stated already that they don't like being emotional invested in a character who ends up dying, I feel the same. But at the same time I think we talking about more than just a hero or two getting killed. At times I can live with that even though I usually don't like it because it seems to fit and there are other heros to take up the cause but extreme descriptions of torture and depressing, dark scenes are another matter.
quote: Did you think Ned Stark would get his head chopped off at the end of the first Song of Fire and Ice book? I know I sure as hell didn't see it coming. It makes the book all the more exciting.
You have a point, if one character gets killed off who else can die? So suspense is built but it can go too far for my tastes, Even though not fantasy Davie Weber has done that with his Honor Harrington series. In one scene something like half a dozen major minor characters-that's not a misprint I mean important secondary characters-get killed off. Especially one of them had my jaw dropping--he wasn't suppose to die. But he did. So who else will get killed off? That is one reason I still haven't finished the last book with Honor. More than likely some well liked, important characters are going to die. Especially since it's been three years or so since that book was out and no other books about her have come out. One or two books about other characters have been published but not her.
Today I recalled that I have read a dark fantasy series. With vampires; one of the main characters is a half vampire- half human specially made for a purpose but things didn't go as planned at her birth so she was never used for that scheme.
There is some torture and such that happens but so far none of the four main characters have died. So far though it doesn't really match the type in the article that started this thread. It's sort of in-between.
Well, I think The Lord of the Rings was conceived and written so differently than the modern commercially-published open-ended fantasy series, that it's not surprising if the latter comes out differently.
On the notion that you knew the Fellowship (minus Boromir) was going to survive till the end of the novel...well, unless you're one of those ones who thumbs ahead to the very end of the book, there's no way to know from the narrative who will and who won't survive. (A number of other characters, some with speaking parts, do die in the course of the battles, notably Theoden King and Lord Denethor.)
On the notion that the Elves leaving Middle-Earth isn't sad---it's that the Elves were leaving that was sad, not that they were gone, though that was sad too. If you know someone close to you is dying, do you grieve during, or after, they're gone, or do you do both?
I have to confess I am pretty simple when it comes to fantasy. I want the good guys to win. I know extremely simple, but, torture, bad things dont bother me as long as they are needed to the story and the good guys win in the end. I know, so basic, but really in fantasy in particular, I want to escape, and in my dreams the good beats evil. A sacrifice can be made, but I want no doubt that good wins.
Lord of the Rings. Well, I have read them several times, not sure I actually read every word though. A little thick for my preferred taste at this point in my life, but boy overall they did get the imagination running.
Grin's setting up a strawman argument here (but I love Tolkien and Howard. Nuff said). Needless to say, I don't agree with the man. More detailed thoughts to be found here, who wants to click and read:
I'll be the disagreeable one here... even tho I too read purely for escape (I'm not at all interested in being moralized, uplifted, or whatever is the current jargon)...
I've mostly stopped reading fantasy, because I'm sick and tired of syrupy sweet stuff (and plot coupons). Even when nasty things happen, we know it'll all come out right in the end. It's become quite rare to feel like any of the major characters are truly at-risk; to genuinely fear for their virtual lives.
GRRM's tomes have been extremely refreshing, both for their depth and that no one is sacred or immortal (and death is not a sure thing either). Yet despite all the darkness, we've had some peculiar redemptions, most notably Tyrion Lannister (who has become my personal hero in these books). [I will agree that the 4th book seems to have wandered into a dimly-lit corner; I really don't give a damn about that southern princess twit, and I have an unfortunate foreboding about where that's leading.]
King Javan's Year -- that was like watching a train wreck, in slow motion and powerless to stop it. I wouldn't want to read such a downer book every day, but it too was refreshing against what was becoming a miasma of saccharine.
Remember the big hoo-rah about Donaldson's Covenant books? Looking back, it's not that they were all that good (the writing is, objectively, terrible; I found the latest installment unreadable) but that for the first time in living memory, something mattered in a fantasy world; it wasn't just flashing swords or noble elves or whatever standard trope saving the day. Same reason some of us abandoned Conan the moment Elric and Kane showed up -- they broke out of the old tropes and did their own thing.
SF has gone through similar spasms and islands of monoculture -- the robots and colonies; the dystopias; the 1970s "spec-fic"; the cuties (including most UF, which got old real fast); and now the "literary" SF (which at this moment, being severely irked by the maguffin used in what I just read, I hope to never see another of; I had to go wash my brain out with some old Cherryh space opera).
I haven't read WOT, just could not get started on the damned thing; same with Goodkind. Just seemed like I'd seen it all before.
I guess a lot of it is that too much of anything gets old and dull.** Maybe we need to do more writing of stories, and less making them fit into some preordained mold.