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Old 12-29-2007, 04:37 PM   #1
davem
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Thumbs up Fantasy

Actually, I just added this as an edit to my post on the Golden compass thread in Movies, but it got me wondering if its worth discussing in a wider context. The Edit was:


Quote:
Actually, it brings up a bigger question - should the ideas & concepts that fantasy explores, whether in book or movie form, be restricted? Isn't fantasy, at heart, about asking the question 'What if?' If a fantasy novel or movie can't present a secondary world in which 'God' is not only evil, but actually a fake, then what can it do - what limits do we set on fantasy worlds - because whatever limits we set on fantasy worlds we are actually setting on the human imagination - we're saying 'You are not allowed to imagine 'X'.' - effectively Pullman's point.

It could be argued that those who object to Pullman's work on 'moral' grounds (not pointing at anyone in particular) are actually objecting to fantasy in general, & to the human imagination in particular. After all, in what way is imagining a secondary world in which 'God' is a fake from whom humanity must liberate itself & find its own way forward different from imagining a world in which the sun is green, or in which animals can speak with humans?

(For the record, I still found HDM (the book - haven't seen the movie yet) increasingly dull as it went on (nearly said 'progressed'!!) & found PP's repetitive haranguing just annoying by the end, so I'm not putting this argument forward as praise of PP.
So, is it right, or acceptable, to demand that Fantasy shouldn't explore certain ideas - if those ideas challenge, or attack, certain values or beliefs? HDM, apparently, has been removed from the libraries of some schools because of its 'message'.

And the question is, because Fantasy is the purest use of the human imagination, is it right to set limits on it, & refuse readers/movie-goers access to certain secondary worlds, or should there be no limits on what can be imagined? Isn't that the purpose of Fantasy?
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Old 12-29-2007, 05:27 PM   #2
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A good point, Mr dave.
A genuinely good work of fantasy is something very rare. The genre has quite a stigma attached to it and many associate it automatically with half hearted attempts at something Tolkienesque. Because The Lord of the Rings has itself become such a bench mark by which almost all other fantasies are measured, it is inevitable that anyone writing in the field is going to be drawn to it in some measure. Positively or negatively. Tolkien was doing something right. This has, in some ways, been a sort of restriction on fantasy, in some ways. But the imagination can go further. Owen Barfield says something along the lines of;

Quote:
“[Myth] is intimately bound up with the early history of meaning. It is the same with innumerable words; if one traces them back far enough, one reaches a period at which their meanings had a mythical content ... [such as] "panic", "hero", "fortune", "fury", "earth", "North", "South".”
I think that's sort of what I'm trying to say.

A world with a green sun, for example, is a physically different world. As is one with Elves, Dwarves or Deamons. The trouble comes when you start putting ideologies into it. This is the same for all genres, in my opinion, and one cannot single out fantasy. Although, writers with less about them have often given rise to the general none-subtle nature of the revealing of the ideologies. I have said it before, but I think a repetition is in the right place here. I think that when a writer has the idea of writing with a certain message in mind, it can sometimes be difficult to make it subtle, for fear of people missing it. Even Allegories can, at times, be blatantly obvious as to what they are referring to. This can also limit the range of the imagination in fantasy, I think. One must admire Tolkien, for, while there may be a message, or messages, the story is always the important thing. Therefore, you don't get the preachy, rambling speeches of a character talking with the author's mouth which can happen so often. It is better, I would say, to let the reader decide on the moral issues raised in a story, especially a fantasy one. This, in tern, can not only lead to the reader's further engagement with the story, but can also free up the imagination. A lose end is always fun, I think.
A writer called Sean Penn said something that subs it up, for me:

Quote:
“When everything gets answered, it’s fake. The mystery is the truth.”
The imagination can run away with a lose end. But as for what is written down, I don't think there should ever be any limitation on what the mind can conjure up. But it is hard not to fall into Tolkienising* or being preachy. Interestingly enough, in my opinion, C.S. Lewis, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at least, is quite clever and subtle with his message, more so than Pullman who whacks you over the head with it. I still get surprised looks from people if I tell them that Narnia can be called 'Christian literature'. I think it is the use of the word 'witch' that puts people off though.

*See, I can make up words too!
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Old 12-29-2007, 05:34 PM   #3
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I heard the news on local radio's morning-show a few days ago and almost snorted my coffee from my nose as I thought that was a nice joke. But it seemed to be true. Vatican really thought it was a matter of such importance that they felt they should make their point known. Oh my... I could come up with a thousand of more pressing problems with the church than one out of hundred non-christian piece of fiction...

But the problem here I think resides in the fact that to us non-believers (or educated people in general) fiction is fiction and to the Vatican (and the newly born Christians & fanatic Moslem alike) it's a battleground of truth.

Or there can be a thing called fiction if it's aligned with the message of the church - as most of the fiction is made looking at the religiously conservative U.S. markets that are the prime targets of international entertainment conglomerates. But even here it's not the faith that counts but the money that can be raised with the help of the faith (or which is lost if the faithful will not accept the product).

I mean no one here in the west complains when Narnia or LotR or HP or Matrix or what have you invoke Christian imagery and teaching; that they blend easily to our Christian culture and in some cases openly call for Christian solutions to life's persistent problems. But when one movie (a book in the first place but it becomes widely known only when a movie has been made) goes to present a slightly different stance everyone's up their toes. And the studios / publishers take a step backwards.

Once again I think you have put your finger into a painful spot davem, and thank you for that.

It comes as no surprise if I say that of course fantasy should probe anything.

If litterature tries to tell things of this world and what goes on in it as such it's called realism.

If litterature tries to make people think in a predetermined way or to cling to already existing ways of thought that please some parts of society it's called propaganda.

If litterature first and foremost tries to sell it's called commercial... or entertainment... or whatever you wish to call it.

A lot of things given to us today are sadly a combination of the two last ones... the second point being in most cases a tool to obtain the last one.

But couldn't fantasy be one of the media where we could actually look at different ways of seeing the world?

I know the mainstream fantasy isn't up to the task as it's too occupied with making money and/or fame and thence trying to find the lowest common denominator.

But "real" fiction / fantasy could do a lot in here.
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Old 12-29-2007, 05:52 PM   #4
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Fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction can do and say just whatever it pleases.

It has for some time been a bastion of independent and original thought. Look at some of the outrageous ideas put forwards by the likes of JG Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K Dick. It's in this area of fiction where you find the outrages, not in the domain of cosy middle class Booker winning novels (much as some would like to think they are being unique - note that Martin Amis for one did a wholescale rip-off of Kurt Vonnegut in Time's Arrow).

I think the moral panic element has not a little to do with snobbery. It's perfectly OK for someone who appeals to the intelligentsia to diss religion (I could make a list as long as my arm here) and be morally outrageous (or even, just a wee bit challenging ). But as soon as someone does this in mass market fantasy which might appeal to the unwashed masses or in 'kiddies' books, then their wrists must be slapped. Reminds me of how at one time Bibles were only available in Latin, which of course restricted them to the priests, who then had control over what people believed.

But one element of fantasy that can't be ignored is the sheer lack of control of it all. Tolkien really and truly let himself go into it, that's how it comes across as genuine, and you can see the evidence as the language itself loses control into TT and RotK and. However Lewis did not lose control, Narnia is a bit 'constipated' as he got so bogged down with 'message' and all that. Now the weird thing about Pullman is he was trying to 'do a Lewis' but as the madness of the second and third books unfold, it's clear he too got carried away like Tolkien did - his creation took over his story. Same thing happens with Gormenghast as the story takes over and almost disintegrates. It happens with Earthsea too. And Harry Potter; for all those of you who have read book 7, notice how Rowling almost loses control of it all...
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Old 12-29-2007, 06:26 PM   #5
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I suppose one could ask the question 'Are all fans of Tolkien (& Lewis) fans of Fantasy?' or are many only fans of the 'confirmation' of their own beliefs/worldview that they percieve it to contain?

Or, 'Is the true lover of Fantasy one who seeks to enter into a secondary world which is other than their own?' What Pullman does, at least in the first volume, is create a convincing secondary reality, whose inhabitants are 'real' - within their own world. I don't know of any (even its most vociferous opponents) of the work who claim its 'fake', 'unconvincing', 'unbelievable'. Their objection seems to be the exact opposite - its too convincing, too 'seductive' - read Pullman & you may be seduced into his worldview.

In other words, Pullman's work is both offensive & dangerous because, as fantasy, it succeeds. Pullman creates a totally believable secondary world (sorry, fans of HDM, but I'm limiting myself here to the first volume).

So, I think its possible to argue that anyone who objects to HDM/The Golden Compass movie is actually objecting to Fantasy itself - or to any manifestation of Fantasy that challenges their worldview/belief system - which, essentially, is the same thing.

Good Fantasy convinces, bad Fantasy doesn't. But bad Fantasy isn't a 'threat' to Churches or political regimes, or to anyone's personal beliefs - because bad fantasy doesn't convince: it feels fake. Only good fantasy is a threat - because it does convince - of its 'reality', the possibility that a world like that is possible (if only logically possible).

So, one could argue that any Fantasy is only a 'threat' because its a good (ie convincing) fantasy, & that a true fantasy fan would like* it, & that anyone who disliked a convincing Fantasy because they didn't approve of the worldview it presents is not a true Fantasy fan at all.......

*They may not approve of/agree with the philosophy behind it, but they would have to approve it as a Fantasy, as the creation of a convincing & wholly believeable secondary world.
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Old 12-29-2007, 06:45 PM   #6
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What an absorbing work of 'good' fantasy like Lord of the Rings does is to create other possibilities of life. It opens your mind to other kinds of existence, and that's instantly threatening to those who wish to maintain the status quo.

I liken their hatred to two things.

One stems from fear, and the best way I can describe that is my own refusal to accept that there may be aliens, because at heart, I don't want there to be aliens as they are more advanced and would simply wipe us out (history shows that this always happens, just as the native Americans and the Aborigines were destroyed). So some do not want the possibility of alternate existence put before them because they fear it.

The other thing is control. We (or at least, some of us) live in an ordered world where we know what will happen from one day to another. We don't go to extremes, we accept our lot. But fantasy offers chaos and anarchy simply by its very existence. That's A Not Very Good Thing to some, so they want it to go away. They either tell us its bad for us or ban it if that doesn't work.

The human imagination is a terrible thing. Far better to shut the door, switch on the soaps and peruse nothing more challenging than the Argos book The alternative is to be like Bilbo and be swept into things too big for you, or be like Lord Asriel and want more of it all.
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Old 12-30-2007, 04:17 AM   #7
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Found this piece from the Australian newspaper The Age:
http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinio...344881475.html
which explores the ideas we've been discussing here.

Quote:
But despite a notable tradition of Christian writers of fantasy (including J. R. R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis), special fear seems to be reserved among some extreme elements of the Christian churches for the genre, which they see as a portal into young, impressionable minds.

You'd think that after harnessing the supposed birthday of their most revered figure to a pagan festival that included divination and witchcraft, they might have more tolerance for the genre, although on Boxing Day in 2005 they were happy to co-opt Narnia, the film version of the allegorical C. S. Lewis novel in which the lion Aslan represented a muscular, militaristic Jesus. That time it was the turn of the devoutly atheistic to be horrified at the thought that their little ones would emerge blinking from the cinema and demand to be taken to Sunday school.

It didn't happen, of course, just as the Harry Potter films (and books) didn't create a junior league of Satan worshippers with their depiction of witchcraft. It remains highly unlikely that young viewers of the latest blockbuster popcorn fantasy fare will begin burning churches and practising their pentagrams. You need to understand something of Christianity to recognise the allusions; even then, they're better seen as the beginnings of healthy debate rather than a Trojan horse for atheism.
So, Fantasy seen as dangerous - if its done well, & offers a convincing alternative worldview, if it says, effectively, 'Things could also work this way.'

Tolkien, in OFS, stated:
Quote:
Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being “arrested.” They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination. But the error or malice, engendered by disquiet and consequent dislike, is not the only cause of this confusion. Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.” Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise. To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
One could argue that what the makers of the TGC movie did was turn good fantasy (again, not using 'good' in any moral sense, but in the sense Tolkien uses here) into bad fantasy. Yet, the moral/religious objections that have been raised to TGC has nothing to do with the fact that its (apparently) not a very 'good' (ie convincing) fantasy, but that this 'bad' (ie unconvincing, in its movie incarnation) fantasy may lead children to read the books, which are 'good' fantasy, but with a 'bad' message.

So, those with a moral objection to TGC (in both incarnations) have an objection to Fantasy qua fantasy - 'bad' fantasy (ie poor, unconvincing, rushed, trashy) would be acceptable to them if the 'message'/worldview it presented was in conformity with their own , but 'good' fantasy is unnacceptable if its message/worldview contradicts or challenges their own. Fantasy is not judged as Art - in the way that Tolkien states it should be judged - but only on its usefulness - 'Does this story confirm me in my belief, & serve to communicate my belief to others?' Art doesn't come into it - utilitarianism is all.

In this context its interesting that Tolkien loved Eddison's fantasy The Worm Ourobouros - despite the fact that he disapproved strongly of the underlying philosophy. Eddison was a master fantasist, & created a totally believable world. As a writer of Fantasy, a creator of secondary worlds, Tolkien appreciated the Art of Eddison, & would never, for all he disliked Eddison's philosophy, have demanded T.W.O. be banned, or boycotted.

Yet, there is the question of personal response. I find Moorcock's Fantasy poor & unconvincing - ie to be 'bad' Fantasy. Everything of his I've read seems fake, unconvincing - I have to force myself to suspend disbelief (or rather, in Tolkien's words, I don't so much have to suspend it as hang, draw & quarter it) just to get through a Moorcock fantasy - yet I've read comments by Moorcock fans that say the exact same thing about Tolkien's Fantasy, which to me is, & always was, absolutely 'real'.
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Old 01-04-2008, 07:18 AM   #8
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It might be helpful to note that there may seem to be two kinds of fantasy going on. There's Fantasy the genre, and Fantasy the format.

In this idea, Tolkien writes, and heads up, Genre Fantasy. It is self-contained, it doesn't have any underlying 'message', and in a sense, it is far less restricted as it can be free to bend the boundaries of the genre.

On the other hand we have people like Pullman and Lewis who write/wrote Format Fantasy. This is where the form of fantasy is used in order to get across other messages.

I was interested to read an interview with Pullman in which he says this:

Quote:
I realized early on in thinking about this book, when I found, to my consternation, that I was writing a fantasy. I hadn't expected ever to write a fantasy, because I am not a great fantasy fan. But I realized that I could use the apparatus of fantasy to say things that I thought were true. Which was exactly what, I then realized, Milton had been doing with Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost is not a story of people and some other people who've got wings. It's not one of those banal fantasies that just rely on somebody having magic and someone dropping a ring down a volcano. Paradise Lost is a great psychological novel that happens to be cast in the form of a fantasy, because the devils and the angels are, of course, embodiments of psychological states.
Then this had me thinking about how to some (Tolkien for example) the story is all there is and the story is King, but to others (Pullman and Lewis for example) there are many jumbled boundaries between Story and Idea. And you see it again in Magic Realism, where authors play with fantasy and fairy tale to create something different - in for example the case of Isabel Allende fantasy is used as a form of contrast and escape to the brutality of the Pincohet regime, likewise the same happens with Pan's Labyrinth, where Ofelia's 'dreams' are a retreat and ultimately save her brother from a wicked father.

Genre Fantasy of course assumes that we are willing to accept magic, other worlds, strange beasts etc. There are no half-measures. This is maybe why some simply find it 'evil', as right from the word Go it tempts us into thinking there are other ways of existing. However Format Fantasy may, on occasion, offer something more acceptable to those who find the notion of dragons, witches, spells etc disgusting, whether because their preacher says No or being a 'cool' Islington type. It's different because the dragons, witches or spells are there for a higher purpose.

Ultimately, it's the difference between Art and Utilitarianism.

Oh yes, that Pullman interview: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/bn-rev...linkid=1071115

Lots of fascinating points about narrative structures, authorial viewpoints and the nature of Story. Though some might be disappointed to find that it's not all about religion. Pullman is not a one-trick pony
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Old 01-06-2008, 05:56 AM   #9
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The 50 greatest British writers since 1945

http://entertainment.timesonline.co....cle3127837.ece

Interesting how many writers of fantasy fiction make it - Tolkien top, but Peake, Lewis, Rowling & Moorcock also pop up. And this is a list of the greatest British writers since 1945.

Actually, I found this list via a thread on Michael Moorcock's site, & his comment was interesting:
Quote:
Yes -- that's the problem with being on the list (if only just!) -- you can't write in and argue with it, at least not very easily. I think Fleming is probably on for being an influence and a success, as are some of the other writers. I'm sorry not to see Sinclair there, since he has been very influential as a prose stylist (among other things). His influence on the likes of Self and Ackroyd needs to be acknowledged somewhere. Equally, Alan Moore is a huge influence and, of course, a great success, though largely through books which don't get on fiction best-seller lists. My list would probably start with Moore, in fact, if I took all the mentioned factors into account. Tolkien would probably have to come second. I'd also argue with a number of the other choices but at the same time am glad to see some good names there, including Carter and Ballard.http://www.multiverse.org/fora/showt...195#post111195

" My list would probably start with Moore, in fact, if I took all the mentioned factors into account. Tolkien would probably have to come second."


Have we finally moved away from the cliche that fantasy fiction is the province of geeks? If Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Pullman, et al can now be included in such a list can we say that Fantasy is now mainstream? And, further, can we now say that Tolkien succeeded in his aim to take Fantasy back from the nursery?
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Old 01-06-2008, 09:24 AM   #10
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Moorcock is correct. Where is Alan Moore?

And Gaiman?

Alan Garner is on though. Surprising how many primarily kids' authors like Rowling, Dahl, Garner, Pullman and Lewis are included. But not 'realist' kids' authors like Jacqueline Wilson (Benjamin Zephaniah writes realistic kids' books but is much better known for his poetry).

Note how many of the other authors on that list are known for working with fantasy and sci-fi but outside the bounds of genre. That's following what I said about Fantasy as 'form' as well as 'genre'. Rushdie and Carter are renowned magic realists. John Fowles makes use of the tricks. Doris Lessing and Antony Burgess worked with sci-fi, and Iain Banks writes out-and-out sci-fi as Iain M Banks. Orwell strayed into fantasy and dystopian sci-fi to create his political novels Animal Farm and 1984. Of course then you also have JG Ballard on there...

Otherwise, it's very interesting that a poet tops that list. And such a good one.
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Old 01-17-2008, 04:26 PM   #11
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I think fantasy is intended to strengthen/reinforce our sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Once it ceases to do that, it is no longer valid. Just like anything else, fantasy literature can be either used properly or it can be abused. The placing of limits upon fantasy writing prevents its abuse by immoral imaginations. There isn't anything about the human imagination that makes it particularly 'pure" or 'good'; however, the limits placed upon the imagination liberate it from baseness and ignorance, enabling people write really good stuff. Without those moral limits, fantasy would be rubbish.
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Old 01-20-2008, 07:21 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem View Post
And the question is, because Fantasy is the purest use of the human imagination, is it right to set limits on it, & refuse readers/movie-goers access to certain secondary worlds, or should there be no limits on what can be imagined? Isn't that the purpose of Fantasy?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but have 'we' here at the Barrow Downs really decided/defined/discussed whether Fantasy is "the purest use of the human imagination"?

And it isn't just fantasy but many forms of language which have been censored/ banned/ repudiated. The novel was disparaged, particularly as reading material for young women, in its early decades. I seem to recall a certain philosopher who would have banned poets from his ideal Republic. There seems to be an uneasiness, a queasiness, with language that too far diverges from history or some sort of touchstone of verifiability.
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Old 01-20-2008, 11:23 PM   #13
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Fascinating thread davem.

One of my favorite fantasy authors (actually I should just say one of my favorite authors) is Terry Pratchett. Pratchett has referred to himself as a "bolshy" (bolshevik) when he was a kid, because after he had read the Lord of the Rings he felt sorry for the orcs and the trolls and thought the Elves were tricksters who were "up to no good." So, Pratchett writes fantasy in a different style then authors such as Tolkien, Pullman, and Rowling. When he first started writing his Discworld novels he said it was just about "getting to the next gag" in his books, but as he wrote more he started focusing more on the story and character development...yet at the heart he still realized he had a gift to make people laugh, and that "gift" I think is still present in all of his stories.

Anyway, the point being, Tolkien, Rowling, Lewis, Pullman, seem to have a more serious tone in their writings. Yes, there are light-hearted moments that I chuckle at when I read The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but the humour doesn't play anywhere near the substantial role in plays in Pratchett's books. I think in Pratchett's books you have the more "serious" undertones, and his acceptance of humanism does show up in his novels, yet that takes a backseat to the "funny gags."

I guess where I'm getting at with all this is to agree with Lal in that Fantasy authors can do whatever they please (which leads to the fantasy genre being dangerous by those who wish to maintain the status quo). When you look at Mark Twain, who wrote stories about the "real world" there were two attempted bannings on his books because they deal with racism. You really don't hear of fantasy books being banned over the topic of racism (which is really interesting because Tolkien had his books attacked saying they were rascist).

I'm going to use Rowling and Pratchett as an example. Why can they get away with racism? Because they are fantasy authors. Why is no one screaming about the werewolf Lupin being an outcast and facing discriminationg? Because he's a werewolf, and werewolve's aren't real. Why can Pratchett get away with the "racial hatred" the dwarves and trolls have for eachother? Because dwarves and trolls aren't real. So, you might say that fantasy authors don't have to fear about being politically correct (something Pratchett loves to poke fun at) as much as authors such as Mark Twain; authors who write about the real world. No one raises hell because Lupin is a social outcast, because he's a werewolf...who cares?

What fantasy authors do have to fear though, is those who want to keep the status quo. Those who want to put a halt to "revolutionary" ideas. Pratchett is a staunch supporter of fantasy, and as he says he likes people who "dress in costumes" (the fantasy "fanatics"), because:
Quote:
"You never hear about any Trekkie going down High Street with a pump action shotgun."
Fantasy authors can provide their readers with a secondary world, a healthy outlet to escape, keep them interested, keep their minds open; or as I love how Pratchett puts it:
Quote:
"Stop people from staring at the wall and deciding they want to shoot up a mall."
But, such "secondary worlds" that these fantasy authors create, can be quite dangerous. And as davem points out especially those who are successful.
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Old 01-23-2008, 02:29 PM   #14
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Running with what Boro says, another factor in fantasy is that it can sneakily deal with things that otherwise people would shut their ears and eyes to. Taking Tolkien as an example, who in the 1950s would have had even the slightest interest in environmentalism? Yet he ran with his feelings on the destruction of the natural environment, expressed his horror of the motor car through showing in a very emotional and even spiritual way the essential value of woodlands. That slipped right under the radar and it's no surprise that the hippies of the 60s picked up on his vision, and that eco-folk still find much of this in his work.

Fantasy has been at the forefront of some of the world's political movements. I believe Tolkien was also taken to heart by many of those involved in calls for the Berlin Wall to come down? If you look at writers such as William Morris and HG Wells you can see how they used fantasy to explore the possibilities of this world and of other worlds. In modern fiction you see Isabel Allende use the medium to explore the horrors of the Pinochet regime, as I said in an earlier post. Then you can take Orwell's 1984, still a potent work for anyone who opposes totalitarianism.

Note, you find that opposition too in Tolkien's work! Which is why I don't buy this line that he didn't have anything political in his work - it's packed with politics.

This is why fantasy is important. It allows the space and freedom to explore and to express thoughts and ideas that otherwise may not get taken seriously or may even be banned. And that's why there should never be limits on it.
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Old 01-23-2008, 07:58 PM   #15
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It should be pointed out that having fantasy that has 'a god' goes against what atheists think. So it is no different from having 'godless' fantasy. It if makes a certain yay or nay in this issue it's going to upset some people.
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Old 03-02-2008, 01:13 PM   #16
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Another (related) question

I recently found this essay by Poul Anderson http://www.sfwa.org/writing/thud.htm & got to thinking....

Does good fantasy have to be rooted in reality to work? Anderson makes some very good points. Does the existence of a Green Sun in a fantasy world mean that humans in that world can be superhumans & break the rules on what humans can & can't do in the Primary world? I suppose the wider question is, what are we prepared to allow a writer of fantasy to get away with? Is there a difference between breaking the 'religious' rules & presenting God as a senile old fake & breaking the physical rules & having a 'Gnorts' gallop his horse non stop for three days straight & then slaughter three dozen warriors with his fifty pound broadsword without breaking a sweat?

Or, in short, how much should a writer - how much can a writer - get away with?
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Old 03-02-2008, 11:45 PM   #17
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typical reader

In thinking of this, I haver wondered by the writers of fantasy get away with so much. I believe it is because readers of fantasy are willing to suspend the "rules" and as such I don't think that most readers are worried about what happens. The general reader doesn't worry about how long a man or woman could wield a 5lb or a 50lb sword, or that it won't penetrate armor etc. What they care about is how the hero or heroine overcome the problems or obstacles they face and win the day. The reader wants to suspend their own time in reality and escape somewhere else. I think this is also evident in the world today with the rise of video games and other uses of technology. Perhaps then we have to ask why do so many people want to suspend the reality of this world and escape to another?

I think another thing that we have to acknowledge is that any author includes something of themselves in their writing. Tolkien did. Though he went about to create a myth for England, he infused into the story elements and themes that were at the core of who he was. Whether a conscience decision or unconscience decision, it occurs. Thus even a writer who is not using fantasy to relate a certain view or point, still does to some extent.

Finally I believe that fantasy is so important for so many people for a variety of reasons. But one of them is that fantasy explores the human condition, in ways that are opposite of daily life or reality. In fantasy, good eventually overcomes evil, wrongs are made right, and people are able to become more than what they are, they become better. I think that differs from the real world where evil truly does win and reigns at times and in places in the world. Fantasy then gives or provides to us something to believe in, that people can rise above and be better then they are. This is counter to the reality of life, where we the struggle is to come to terms with who we are, the good and the bad. Fantasy allows each of us to explore the human condition in a safe way, without having to face the reality of our world and ourselves. It inspires us to become more than what we are, hopefully inspiring us to become better than what we are.
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Old 08-24-2008, 02:47 AM   #18
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Dragging this one up because of a recent article in The Times on the Battle of Towton, Palm Sunday 1461 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/tra...ffset=0&page=1

Its a long piece, but well worth reading. The important bit for this discussion is the depiction of the battle.
Quote:
It (the Longbow) was slowly replaced by gunpowder . Any terrified peasant could point and pull a trigger, but it took a lifetime of aching, deforming practice to muscle up the 100lb of tug needed to draw a yew bow to dispatch a cloth yard of willow-shafted, goose-feathered, bodkin-tipped arrow 200 yards through plate, through chain, through leather and linen and prayers, into a man’s gizzard. The longbow was the most lethally efficient dealer of death on European battlefields until the invention of rifling and the Gatling gun.

The archers stepped forward and together chucked up what they call the “arrow storm”. An English archer could fire 15 to 20 arrows in a minute – that’s what made the opening moments of battle so horrific. The eclipse of arrows would have crossed high in the frozen air, and in that moment Edward and the House of York had their touch of luck. The thick, stinging curtain of snow slashed the faces of the Lancastrian line, making it difficult to aim or judge distance, pushing their arrows short. And it carried the arrows of York further and deeper into the Lancastrian line. God howled and cracked for Edward that morning, searing the cheeks and freezing the eyes of Lancaster.

The metal-detectors have found the long, broad trench of bodkin points, showing where the first appalling fusillade was loosed. Emptying their own quivers, they began firing back the arrows wasted by their enemies. There may have been half a million arrows fired in 10 minutes that day – the largest longbow shafting in history.

...So the two armies, screaming obscenities or just howling like mad dogs, slithered together and joined one of the most hellish experiences of human ingenuity: a medieval battle in the snow.

At the front line there is little room for swashbuckling or dainty footwork. This is a match of thud and stab. The weapons of choice are daggers and maces. Men with iron sallets buckled to the backs of their necks, so they can’t be yanked forward to offer a spine stab, stare wide-eyed through slits, straining and flailing with short, maddened blows and ache-tensed muscles into the faces of men inches in front of them.

There was a lot of armour about in 1461.

Most men would have had some form of head protection and bits of plate, but the most common protection was a stab vest made from layers of linen sewn together that might deaden the blow, absorb a spent point or a fisted poniard. But this wasn’t about killing the opponent. It was about putting the man in front of you down – on the ground. He’d be dead in seconds.

The most common injuries are to the head and neck, and death must often have come by way of suffocation – the air squeezed from your body under the weight of men behind you, jammed in the mangle of battle. The pressure and the impetus came from the army that wasn’t yet fighting shoving and heaving.

...It snowed all that Palm Sunday. The thick snow deadened the noise of dying whimpers and cawing crows, the shocked and exhausted soldiers too stupefied or disgusted to pursue the rout, the carters and baggage-train servants, the prostitutes and local peasants scuttling up the ridge to harvest the dead, fires being lit for porridge and to mull wine, the breath of the living pluming in the crepuscular white light like small, ardent prayers of gratitude.
You won't find that sort of thing in Tolkien. But should we? Tolkien avoids graphic depictions of actual warfare, but are we to imagine the horrors of Towton taking place in Middle-earth? Or are the battles there 'fantasy' battles? Tolkien placed a high value on 'Escape' as a function of fantasy literature, but is it not dangerous (or at least seriously misleading) to romanticise Towton into Pelennor Fields?

Or to put it another way - Tolkien cast a 'Faery' glamour over the woods & hills & peopled his world with gods, Elves & monsters, & I think we're better for being exposed to that vision. But are we better for his casting that same glamour over the battlefield?
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Old 08-24-2008, 03:44 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem View Post
Its a long piece, but well worth reading. The important bit for this discussion is the depiction of the battle.
You're right, that's an excellent description of Towton (and medieval battle in general). The biggest battle ever to be fought on English soil is also one of the least known.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem View Post
You won't find that sort of thing in Tolkien. But should we? Tolkien avoids graphic depictions of actual warfare, but are we to imagine the horrors of Towton taking place in Middle-earth? Or are the battles there 'fantasy' battles? Tolkien placed a high value on 'Escape' as a function of fantasy literature, but is it not dangerous (or at least seriously misleading) to romanticise Towton into Pelennor Fields?

Or to put it another way - Tolkien cast a 'Faery' glamour over the woods & hills & peopled his world with gods, Elves & monsters, & I think we're better for being exposed to that vision. But are we better for his casting that same glamour over the battlefield?
One could say that Tolkien was not one to glorify war (although his works are full of it); however, let us say rather that he minimized the savagery of war in his decriptions of battles (to the point at the Battle of Five Armies we miss the action nearly altogether). I think this harkens back to Tolkien being more of a chivalric, rather than modern writer. We don't see great big bloody scenes with arms and legs lopped off in Sir Walter Scott either (although Tolstoy painted some grim pictures).

Is it misleading and dangerous? Well, I suppose in giving a romanticized picture of battle Tolkien might not have been doing anyone any favors, but then again offering a truly graphic and horrifying depiction of battle might have precluded me from reading his books to my children (just like I won't let them see Schindler's List until they have reached an age where they can comprehend the enormity and true terror of that important film).

I suppose it all depends on the audience you wish to reach.
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Old 08-24-2008, 04:38 AM   #20
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Its less a matter of graphic depictions of violence in war, more of the fact that death in battle in M-e is depicted (in the main - there are odd exceptions) as glorious, as tragic, certainly as heroic - but virtually never as being as ugly, dirty & sick as death in medieval battle actually was. But is that OK, as 'its fantasy'?

EDIT.

I think this brings up a number of questions as regards Tolkien's attitude to warfare - is he saying via his depiction of battles in his fiction 'This is what medieval warfare was like.' ?(clearly wrong - medieval battles were not such 'chivalrous' affairs), or is he saying 'This is what battles ought to be like.' ?(big moral question there - should violent death be presented in such an 'uplifting' way?). Or is he simply saying 'This is how battles are fought in my fantasy world.'? Why would Tolkien, who had seen real death in battle (he referred to the 'animal horror' of the Somme) want to present battle in such a 'sanitised' way? And do we excuse him because he wrote 'fantasy'? When does fantasy become lying?

(yes, I am being provocative.....)

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Old 08-24-2008, 08:33 AM   #21
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Well, Tolkien's depiction of fantasy eschewed an explicit depiction of Evil. We don't get much explication of Sauraman, of how he fell to his power-tripping ways, nor really of his alleged magnificant eloquence (Gandalf's verba jousting with him not withstanding). Most of LotR focusses on the members of the Fellowship and their efforts and their response to Evil. Perhaps Tolkien's sanitised battle scenes are part of this deliberate decision not to focus upon evil but upon what is required by those who choose good.

At the same time, it is worth thinking about how war has been 'covered' in history. How often in history has it been said that war has been glorified in order to persuade men to fight--pro patria gloria and all that? Hasn't it been an element of the twentieth century that people began to examine, acknowledge, publicise just how horrible battle is? Or perhaps that began with the American Civil War? Look at all the public monuments to war and see the difference between tradition monuments and modern ones. Perhaps this is Tolkien's traditionalism coming to effect and his distaste for the modern emphasis on ugliness.
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Old 08-24-2008, 09:21 AM   #22
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Perhaps Tolkien's sanitised battle scenes are part of this deliberate decision not to focus upon evil but upon what is required by those who choose good.

.....Perhaps this is Tolkien's traditionalism coming to effect and his distaste for the modern emphasis on ugliness.
But it still leaves us with evil & ugliness of war being presented as, if not 'good' at least glorious...

Does aesthetics justify lies? Tolkien knew first hand what death on the battlefield was like ('animal horror') & yet do we get that from his stories?

Or are we meant to? Do his Elves, Men (& Orcs) die suffocating in mud & choking in their own blood -
Quote:
death must often have come by way of suffocation – the air squeezed from your body under the weight of men behind you, jammed in the mangle of battle. The pressure and the impetus came from the army that wasn’t yet fighting shoving and heaving.
, do they butcher each other
Quote:
The weapons of choice are daggers and maces. Men with iron sallets buckled to the backs of their necks, so they can’t be yanked forward to offer a spine stab, stare wide-eyed through slits, straining and flailing with short, maddened blows and ache-tensed muscles into the faces of men inches in front of them.
but Tolkien, for aesthetic reasons, chose not to mention it?

In short, are the battles in M-e as gross & brutal as Towton but the horrors glossed over by Tolkien so as not to shock or traumatise the reader, or, in his 'Secondary World' are those aspects of war absent? Are Tolkien's battles 'fantasy' battles or real ones - & can he justify such 'fantasy' battles, where grief, loss & 'pain' are undeniably present as well as glory & chivalry, but where the real ugliness & brutality of war
Quote:
the two armies, screaming obscenities or just howling like mad dogs, slithered together
are absent?

How would a reader with no knowledge of actual warfare (either by personal experience or by historical study) take Tolkien's battles - does Tolkien actually contribute to the pro patria gloria idea - intentionally or otherwise? Yet if he does, is that OK because he's writing fantasy?
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Old 08-24-2008, 09:34 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem View Post
How would a reader with no knowledge of actual warfare (either by personal experience or by historical study) take Tolkien's battles - does Tolkien actually contribute to the pro patria gloria idea - intentionally or otherwise? Yet if he does, is that OK because he's writing fantasy?
I have to say I believe that Tolkien's depiction of battles do contribute to idea of pro gloria patriae in the minds of fresh readers. Whether this is intentional is not as easily answered... honestly I have no clue. Obviously, Tolkien did not include the grossly vivid concepts of battle that he had personally witnessed, but I believe that he did not mean to intentionally delude younger readers into believing battle to be a purely beautiful and noble event, either.

Contributing to the idea of noble war is not wrong in any way. Some might take offence at the possible delusion of otherwise ignorant readers, but there are many poems, classical and modern, that glorify battle (although the trend in modern poetry seems to paint a truthful picture of battle). Just because Tolkien's genre is fantasy does not change his right as an author to depict battle in any way he pleases. In fact, if the reader would only understand that it is fantasy, then the author should logically be given even more liberty to "lie" about such things.

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...When does fantasy become lying?
Isn't fantasy the epitome of lying? All fantasy lies at some basic level, and I don't believe that lying about wars or battles somehow changes the premise of fantasy, or the justification of lying in that genre. You could say that at some point, fantasy becomes absurdity, but introducing nobility in a battle scene is not absurd, by any means.
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Old 08-24-2008, 10:07 AM   #24
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Actually, it brings up a bigger question - should the ideas & concepts that fantasy explores, whether in book or movie form, be restricted?
No, it shouldn't.

Furthermore, isn't the very categorization "fantasy" a restriction in itself? I certainly think so. I mean there are many great works of fiction that easily could be classified as fantasy, or sci-fi, but isn't for reasons unknown to me. Take for example Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, Orwell's 1984, or the works of Astrid Lindgren. Now these works are rightly admired by much of the literati, whereas fantasy books usually are dismissed as lowbrow trash for nerds, sometimes unrightfully, but perhaps often not. I guess what I'm saying is if you set out to write a fantasy-book, you will inadvertedly end up writing something derivative, often in the shadow of Tolkien, although it might be well worth reading anyway.

For what it's worth, my advice to a budding fantasy-writer would be to forget about the genre and just try to write a great work of fiction. I don't think Tolkien set out to write a fantasy-book or laid any restrictions on himself based on what he thought the genre demanded.
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Old 08-24-2008, 10:36 AM   #25
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Isn't fantasy the epitome of lying? All fantasy lies at some basic level, and I don't believe that lying about wars or battles somehow changes the premise of fantasy, or the justification of lying in that genre.
Indeed. I do believe it has been said in the past that 'poetry never lieth, because it affirmeth not' or something to that effect.

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Old 08-24-2008, 10:53 AM   #26
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Tolkien's Mythopoea http://home.ccil.org/~cowan/mythopoeia.html is clear on his own position - that Fantasy is not (or should not be) about lies

Quote:
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers bencath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him.
Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused).
The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.
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Old 08-24-2008, 11:30 AM   #27
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I think fantasy is intended to strengthen/reinforce our sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Once it ceases to do that, it is no longer valid. Just like anything else, fantasy literature can be either used properly or it can be abused. The placing of limits upon fantasy writing prevents its abuse by immoral imaginations.
Who then is to decide just what is the true, the good and the beautiful? The Catholic Church? Perhaps the Imans of Iran? Are you?

Quote:
There isn't anything about the human imagination that makes it particularly 'pure" or 'good'...
This I agree with. And it includes your imagination and my own. I do believe we all should have a right to express it however, as long as it doesn't harm anyone else directly.
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Old 08-24-2008, 12:13 PM   #28
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Of course, it could be argued that in LotR Tolkien is offering the 'ideal' Just War. It is Good vs Evil. Yet, in an ideal world there would be no war at all. Of course, Tolkien looked back to a time when things were better - even war was 'better' before Man introduced Machines into the mix. But that's a lie. War was never neat, clean & chivalrous. The kind of war Tolkien describes could only happen in a fantasy world. Yet that could be applied to every aspect of Tolkien's world - the woods, mountains, seas are not those of our world, but 'perfect' versions of them - even evil & monsters in his world are perfect examples of the 'evil' & 'monstrous'.

Maybe Tolkien needed to write about an honourable, just, war in 'compensation' for the one he'd known - perhaps the War of the Ring was the war he wished he'd fought in?
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Old 08-24-2008, 01:57 PM   #29
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Hmmm...But from Tolkien's conservative point of view, perhaps there was such a thing as a righteous war, even if the savagery of battle presented 'animal horrors' to the combatants. Certainly, both the wars against the Kaiser and later Hitler were presented as conflicts against aggression, and were considered to be necessary to rid the world of evil (as Churchill's harangues during both World Wars made abundantly clear, at least from a propaganda standpoint). The lines of good and evil were clearly delineated during both conflicts (at least until the cynical manuevers of Stalin muddied the waters).

It would seem then that Tolkien did subscribe to the 'just war' concept, at least from a storytelling standpoint (fighting the long defeat, perseverance in the face of certain destruction, the malnourished and puny London clerks and Oxford undergraduates transformed into Hobbits trundling off for king and country, etc.). One doesn't get the same gloomy prospects and disillusionment espoused by writers of the 'Lost Generation' (like Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Siegfried Sassoon, T.S. Eliot or D.H. Lawrence). Rather than confronting the ghosts of Flanders in a modern method, Tolkien's therapy seemed to be to subsume himself in a chivalric or medieval world where virtue and truth still made sense and were applicable to war (along the lines, but not necessarily as reverentially as Froissart, who glorified chivalry even when noting that the Black Prince was slaughtering whole towns of innocent civilians). Perhaps the hope attendant in Tolkien's religion precluded him from falling prey to the cynicism of many of his literary peers who survived WWI.

I am not sure. Perhaps your take that Tolkien needed an honorable war to expunge the horror of his own experience is correct. *shrugs*
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Old 08-24-2008, 02:22 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by davem View Post
Tolkien's Mythopoea http://home.ccil.org/~cowan/mythopoeia.html is clear on his own position - that Fantasy is not (or should not be) about lies
Hmmm, this is very good. Tolkien himself has made the point, I believe, that man does not inherently lie, and that he should not be a Grima Wormtongue as it were...

But the second bold section in your quote states that it is our right to fill our world with fantastical creatures, etc. Either Tolkien is promoting mass hallucination and belief in his construction of M-e, or, we have to admit that his works are, on a basic level, a deception. To say that his works are about lies is wrong, I admit. I should choose a better way of phrasing it. Perhaps I can't even phrase it properly...

... because the dragons and Elves are breathing down my neck. It was no deception!
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Old 08-24-2008, 03:52 PM   #31
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Perhaps, in spite of what Tolkien states in Mythopoea, Fantasy (in the sense of creating a Secondary World) is about creating a world in your own image - one where the woods are peopled by Elves, where the gods walk, & where battles are simple, straightforward affairs of good against evil & where those on the side of right ultimately win out.

(Or where 'God' is a senile, useless spirit from whom humanity can attain liberation in order to be free to build the 'Republic of Heaven'). Perhaps it really is no more than wish-fulfilment, however an author attempts to justify it with philosophical/theological theorising. The likes of Towton never happened in M-e because Tolkien didn't want it to. Which means that no fantasy (Secondary World) is superior to any other (other than in the quality of its creation, & its believability). To argue that Middle-earth is in someway 'superior' to the world(s) of HDM in a moral or ethical sense is pointless, because both Secondary Worlds are ultimately simply the head trips of their respective creators. Setting limits/restrictions on what may be included in a fantasy world is ultimately to attempt to set limits on what a human being feels he or she lacks. Both Tolkien & Pullman are responding to a perceived 'wrongness'/lack in the Primary world by creating a Secondary World in which that wrongness is put right.

And yet, the question still remains - do writers of Fantasy have an obligation to reflect certain Primary World realities (from the horrors of war to the dangers of smoking)?

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Old 08-24-2008, 04:53 PM   #32
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For whatever reason Tolkien chose not to be overly graphic in his descriptions of war in Lord of the Rings, but you can't say the same is true of all his work; Children of Hurin is pretty graphic and brutal. I'd say he utilised lightness of touch when writing battle scenes in LotR, our horror at death comes more from being invested in the characters who are hurt, lost or killed.

As for writing of good/evil wars, the War of the Ring is neither, it is simply a war of survival, a war in which, if you do not stand up and fight will certainly result in death or thralldom.

The writer does not have to be overly graphic to portray horrors, they merely have to be just graphic enough. If anyone has had the uncomfortable experience of reading The Road they will know what I mean - in that there are a couple of simple scenes which are not overly described but which are so utterly horrific you cannot scrub them out of your head. Tolkien does the same thing - it's enough to have the Witch King threaten Eowyn with some barely sketched horror or to mention a few of the Orcs' fighting methods to have the skin crawling. He doesn't need to go further.

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And yet, the question still remains - do writers of Fantasy have an obligation to reflect certain Primary World realities (from the horrors of war to the dangers of smoking)?
They can and should do exactly as they please or it ceases to be fantasy The very idea of setting limits on it is vile.
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Old 08-24-2008, 05:23 PM   #33
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If one accepts the statement I quoted above--that poetry never lies because it never affirms anything--and if one accepts that by poetry Spenser meant all literature--then the answer would be simple. A fantasy writer, as a writer of all literary forms, is bound only by the quality of his or her sub-creation, by the aesthetic demands required to create a 'great reading'. 'Lies' just doesn't cut it in this perspective. In fact, I would suggest that the Mythopoeia poem isn't about lies at all but about the quality of sub-creation, that creativity and artistic vision has its own drummer and is not beholdin' to any other kind of vision.

The problem for Tolkien arises, I think, when he elaborates upon his Legendarium by calling it a prehistory of our world. That then invites comparisons between Middle-earth in the Third Age, First Age, Second Age, etc, with our world. The denizens of the earlier ages are similar to mythological types in other early world literatures. What Tolkien appears to have been wanting to depict, at least in LotR, is the 'moment' when that mythological world fades away into a world more in conformity with our 'Seventh Age.' It is the time when the elves, dwarves, dragons, orcs fade away, even though Tolkien suggests that hobbits still exist with a highly developed ability to hide from our view. It is possible that his difficulty in writing or completing stories for the Fourth Age relates to this loss, that the really inspiring aspect for him was the waning of this mythological time.

For Tolkien, a world perspective which does not allow for wonder, imagination, creativity, the ferment of ideas, as much as a moral stance which allows one to differentiate among the Lobelias, Frodos, Boromirs, Grimas, and Gollems, must remain essential. It is a perspective which grants constant vigilance against human error, which recognises that humans are so prone to aspects of power that they can easily fall into error. That concept of human psychology is absent from much in "progressive thought" that grants to mankind--usually the males of the species--the absolute right to totally dominate other human beings and the natural world. One doesn't need idealism or God or gods to understand that humans are prone to their own self satisfaction which can have disasterous consequences. In fact, Tolkien's poem Mythopoeia suggests that when men replace God/the gods with their own pitiful power tripping--"head tripping" in davem's words-- by thinking that a name is what makes a thing exist, they fall into error. This might not be a caution against human willfulness which Pullman acknowledges, but the baddies in Pullman are every bit as prone to this Tolkien error as any villian in Tolkien.

There's enough evidence in our Primary world, from environmental abuse to domestic abuse to technological abuse of knowledge to suggest that a world view which asks us to question our own claims to power/divinity is not writing fantasy as wish fulfilment. Sometimes, it is easier to see things in front of our own noses if they are coloured to appear different. That then puts the 'onus' as it were, on the reader to interpret.
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Old 08-25-2008, 01:07 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post

There's enough evidence in our Primary world, from environmental abuse to domestic abuse to technological abuse of knowledge to suggest that a world view which asks us to question our own claims to power/divinity is not writing fantasy as wish fulfilment. Sometimes, it is easier to see. That then puts the 'onus' as it were, on the reader to interpret.
Tolkien does ask us to question our own claims to power. He also offers 'answers', solutions, responses, which, while they may work well in his world, may not work in ours - may in fact have the opposite effect. A fantasy writer can indeed show us "things in front of our own noses if they are coloured to appear different" but his offered solutions may make things worse rather than better if put into practice in our world. The Shire may be a bucolic idyll wherein we may all secretly wish to dwell but no Hobbit ever died of lung cancer or cirrhosis - we can have the Shire as our solution to the Primary World evils of the desire for power & environmental destruction....but not exactly Tolkien's Shire, which is a Fantasy. In fact, there was a housing development in Bend, Oregon, called The Shire, with houses 'inspired' by Tolkien's creation - its just gone bankrupt due to the credit crunch (don't think they had those in Middle-earth....). There's no lung cancer, cirrhosis or credit crunch in M-e for the same reason there's no animal butchery like Towton in its wars (or homosexuality for that matter) because its Tolkien's fantasy & he controls what exists in that world. Tolkien is the gatekeeper. Certainly some of the horrors of the Primary World have echoes in the Secondary - but by no means all of them. And when they find place there it is in the form Tolkien wishes them to have & the solution of them is Tolkien's own & works in his world not so much for logical reasons but because he says it does.

But that's because its a Fantasy & so anything can happen. Yet smoking does cause cancer, excessive drinking does result in alcoholism & death, & if you go to war & arm yourselves with swords, maces, daggers, spears & arrows you get ugly bloody butchery not noble death rounded out with beautiful speaches a la Boromir & Theoden,

Perhaps the best response to the question I posed is that a writer of fantasy should be free to create any kind of world, include in ot anything he or she wishes, explore any kind of idea, however 'offensive' to some - but that the onus is on the reader to be able to separate fact from fantasy & realise that the fantasy world may tell them little or nothing, may even (while it is not a 'lie' in itself) lie about the reader's own world.

Or at least that the best one I can come up with at the moment....

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Old 08-25-2008, 03:38 AM   #35
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Perhaps the best response to the question I posed is that a writer of fantasy should be free to create any kind of world, include in ot anything he or she wishes, explore any kind of idea, however 'offensive' to some - but that the onus is on the reader to be able to separate fact from fantasy & realise that the fantasy world may tell them little or nothing, may even (while it is not a 'lie' in itself) lie about the reader's own world.

Or at least that the best one I can come up with at the moment....
Some readers do not want to separate fact from fiction And while that might be funny when you get people who live their lives as though they really are Klingons, Hobbits or centurions or whatever, it does have a dark side. Plus a lot of people believe everything they read a bit too easily.

In that respect, fantasy can be a dangerous thing. Tolkien was free to describe his battles how he liked, and he chose to leave them lightly described and the reader free to make up his/her own mind about how they worked. Course, that does mean that you can get stupid people who think "Wow, running round with swords is coooool" and then actually doing just that and hurting others (just as you get stupid people who think Grand Theft Auto is also something to recreate in the real world).

But why should the author's Art have to be changed just because some people are stupid? Or even because down the line, his books might be read by a whole generation of people who had no direct experience of the horrors of war (remembering that Tolkien and his generation knew full well how nasty war was and had no need of a graphic description as they lived it every night in their nightmares)?
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Old 08-25-2008, 10:11 AM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
Originally Posted by Bęthberry

There's enough evidence in our Primary world, from environmental abuse to domestic abuse to technological abuse of knowledge to suggest that a world view which asks us to question our own claims to power/divinity is not writing fantasy as wish fulfilment. Sometimes, it is easier to see. That then puts the 'onus' as it were, on the reader to interpret.
Tolkien does ask us to question our own claims to power. He also offers 'answers', solutions, responses, which, while they may work well in his world, may not work in ours - may in fact have the opposite effect. A fantasy writer can indeed show us "things in front of our own noses if they are coloured to appear different" but his offered solutions may make things worse rather than better if put into practice in our world. The Shire may be a bucolic idyll wherein we may all secretly wish to dwell but no Hobbit ever died of lung cancer or cirrhosis - we can have the Shire as our solution to the Primary World evils of the desire for power & environmental destruction....but not exactly Tolkien's Shire, which is a Fantasy. In fact, there was a housing development in Bend, Oregon, called The Shire, with houses 'inspired' by Tolkien's creation - its just gone bankrupt due to the credit crunch (don't think they had those in Middle-earth....). There's no lung cancer, cirrhosis or credit crunch in M-e for the same reason there's no animal butchery like Towton in its wars (or homosexuality for that matter) because its Tolkien's fantasy & he controls what exists in that world. Tolkien is the gatekeeper. Certainly some of the horrors of the Primary World have echoes in the Secondary - but by no means all of them. And when they find place there it is in the form Tolkien wishes them to have & the solution of them is Tolkien's own & works in his world not so much for logical reasons but because he says it does.

But that's because its a Fantasy & so anything can happen. Yet smoking does cause cancer, excessive drinking does result in alcoholism & death, & if you go to war & arm yourselves with swords, maces, daggers, spears & arrows you get ugly bloody butchery not noble death rounded out with beautiful speaches a la Boromir & Theoden,

Perhaps the best response to the question I posed is that a writer of fantasy should be free to create any kind of world, include in ot anything he or she wishes, explore any kind of idea, however 'offensive' to some - but that the onus is on the reader to be able to separate fact from fantasy & realise that the fantasy world may tell them little or nothing, may even (while it is not a 'lie' in itself) lie about the reader's own world.

Or at least that the best one I can come up with at the moment....
Essentially, your complaint that fantasy isn't realistic is a complaint that has been lodged against all forms of literature, particularly by those with an ideological axe to grint. Remember Plato's complaint about poets and how he dealt with them? Think of the Vatican's list of proscribed books. Or think of how political correctness has developed out of quite legitimate complaints (in themselves, when addressed to conditions in the Primary World).

Rather than bowlderizing literature or censoring it or calling down fatwahs upon authors who violate ideas of the Primary Realm, perhaps it is well to remember that literature, as with all art, exists to delight and to instruct. If people choose, as Lal has said, to be more delighted than instructed, that is the freedom allowed in a democratic Primary World. As is the freedom allowed to complain about the sub-created world. It all just works to develope human communication.

by the by, just in the interests of clarity, I notice that the quotation you attribute to me in your post, davem, is not a completely correct transcription. My original sentence read:

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Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post
There's enough evidence in our Primary world, from environmental abuse to domestic abuse to technological abuse of knowledge to suggest that a world view which asks us to question our own claims to power/divinity is not writing fantasy as wish fulfilment. Sometimes, it is easier to see things in front of our own noses if they are coloured to appear different. That then puts the 'onus' as it were, on the reader to interpret.
Must have been an incomplete c&p.
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Old 08-26-2008, 10:23 AM   #37
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Its less a matter of graphic depictions of violence in war, more of the fact that death in battle in M-e is depicted (in the main - there are odd exceptions) as glorious, as tragic, certainly as heroic - but virtually never as being as ugly, dirty & sick as death in medieval battle actually was. But is that OK, as 'its fantasy'?

EDIT.

I think this brings up a number of questions as regards Tolkien's attitude to warfare - is he saying via his depiction of battles in his fiction 'This is what medieval warfare was like.' ?(clearly wrong - medieval battles were not such 'chivalrous' affairs), or is he saying 'This is what battles ought to be like.' ?(big moral question there - should violent death be presented in such an 'uplifting' way?). Or is he simply saying 'This is how battles are fought in my fantasy world.'? Why would Tolkien, who had seen real death in battle (he referred to the 'animal horror' of the Somme) want to present battle in such a 'sanitised' way? And do we excuse him because he wrote 'fantasy'? When does fantasy become lying?

(yes, I am being provocative.....)
Yes, even though you were/are being mischieviously provocative, perhaps davem you might wish to consider writing a paper on Tolkien and war in response to this call for papers which Estelyn posted on her LJ:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Estelyn Strider
Next year's Tolkien Seminar will be in Hanover, Germany, April 24 - 26. The topic will be: 'Violence, Conflict and War in Tolkien'. For anyone interested in presenting a lecture, here is the Call for Papers: http://www.tolkiengesellschaft.de/deutsche-tolkien-gesellschaft/tolkien-seminar-2/tolkien-seminar-2009/"
To make the link work: Call for papers on Violence, Conflict and War in Tolkien

I'm sure you would make a stellar contributor, davem.
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Old 08-26-2008, 11:26 AM   #38
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Hmm - don't know that I've either the time or the energy at the moment - however, I did find this interesting piece about Tolkien & his Somme experiences (which I linked to on another thread, but seems relevant here) http://www.thecuttingedgenews.com/in...&pagename=Arts
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Old 08-27-2008, 10:00 AM   #39
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Fantasy is a certain means of saying something that you don't think would go over well if stated directly. Fantasy is the sugar that makes the medicine go down, and as an author, you may see the world (or just yourself) as needing to take the medicine. You add a few elves and princesses, castles and dragons, and suddenly you have all of the necessary parts to carry your message.

This link sarcastically lays out the formula for writing successful fantasy.

My other favorite author, though more a scifi than fantasy writer, once said,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Herbert, commenting about the long term effects of the fluoridated water 'experiment'
I'm working on a book that I'll publish next year. It's called "The Dosadi Experiment." It concerns a massive psychological experiment on a large population without their informed consent. The implications are all around us. You see, you can do this in science fiction because you're talking about another world, another people. It's way over there. (laughs) The reality comes back later.
Note that this way of saying one thing while meaning something more important is used in more than just fantasy writings. A partial-preteristic view of the Christian Book of Revelation by John of Patmos (Also called 'the Apocalypse of John') uses what I would call flowery language to describe the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD by the Romans under Nero. One could not write such a book with the Romans hanging about, but could if the Romans were "Babylon" and "the beast;" your intended audience would know of whom you spoke, and the authorities would be none the wiser.


Regarding war, maybe Tolkien thought that his and following generations would know about the horrors of war first or second hand, and so why then fill in the details when persons imaginings/knowledge would work better. Or maybe he wanted to leave that horror behind and yet depict battles. Our family had a great uncle who participated in the battles in WWII, and he never spoke about what had happened to him 'over there.' He obviously didn't want to remember or reminisce about that, and that always struck me, as boys always brag about how tough they are, how many fights they'd been in, and how gross it all was. This man, in his silence, said much about the horror, and me only a child.

Did Tolkien consider this same thing, sanitizing his wars (albeit he did have the orcs toss 'head shot' over the walls of Minas Tirith) so that readers could fill in the gaps from the silence? Did he think that his readers would reject the addition of 'reality' into a fantasy text? How would it have helped knowing that Theoden's spleen was lying next to him, and that the King was slowing asphyxiating from his collapsed/punctured lungs etc?

Not sure what is meant by, "that poetry never lies because it never affirms anything;" regardless, this topic begs noting that famous (or infamous) poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Quote:

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Just makes me want to jump upon a horse and ride into a valley surrounded by enemy cannon (or is it canon?), all due to some 'issue' with my commander, whether he was confused, angry, stupid, etc, and so get the joy of watching my fellows get their heads shot from their bodies, bodies blown into too large of pieces (I can still see the man that I spoke to, and not just bits), and pieces of flesh and bones that now will feed the worms...

My father had me watch the 1930's film version of All Quiet on the Western Front (not a particularly gory film) before the government banned it again just so I could get a different take on war. Rah rah!
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Old 08-27-2008, 11:17 AM   #40
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You realise how long it is since you've regularly posted when you try & rep people & find you can't ...anyway..

One argument is that the only responsibility a fantasy writer has is to create a convincing secondary world, internally consistent & true to its own laws, but.. what if a writer does their job so well that they convince a reader that war is cool & exciting & that, if death results it is a beautiful & poignant thing, rather than ugly & dirty butchery? Or that smoking is an entirely safe activity?

Is a writer of Fantasy literature absolved of any responsibility for such things, in the way a writer of other kinds of fiction is not?
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