Friday, July 4, 2008

Brief Thoughts on Fantasy Writers

I set a schedule for myself to start at 6:30 a.m., but of course I've been online all morning checking out the blogs. Really gotta stop this habit. I'm two hours behind.

I've been thinking a bit, in brief interludes between practicing and composing and teaching (I have some time on my hands right now), about fantasy writers who really know their history. You can feel it as you read. Gene Wolfe is a good example of this in his Book of the New Sun (at least the first half; I haven't gotten around to reading the second half yet). But the MC, Severian, is an apprentice in the Torturers' Guild. The detail with which he infuses this guild and the world surrounding it is rather astounding. Many fantasy writers tend to gloss over the small details in the hopes the reader won't notice. The result being of course that you can't imagine the world the writer tried to build. Somehow the supernatural elements become the only thing holding the story together. But with Wolfe, the supernatural takes a backseat to Severian's story. You accept the supernatural along with everything else. He's one of those writers who can make you believe in the supernatural. (He's also one of those writers who makes me want to impale myself on my pen.)

But in reading the first half of this series, I almost felt as if I was reading a slice of history—one that was so real that so-called accurate history, with its absence of witchcraft and the supernatural, is some bastardized account of what really happened back in the good ol' days. And you can tell Wolfe has read a lot. It's just something that wafts off the pages.

Neil Gaiman and Rowling are another two I can tell really know their history, mythic and otherwise. I'm looking forward to reading John Crowley's Aegypt series, too.

But now that I'm going back to school, I'm fighting guilt when I read. It feels too luxurious to read fiction. I have some blogs I use for my teaching, and I don't post to those nearly enough, so I'm trying to refresh myself on music history and so forth (interesting reads in themselves). Just trying to use this time to prepare as much as I can.

One thing I notice when I read music history now is that I absorb a lot more regarding time and place and the political/historical situations surrounding the development of music. I think this is because of my interlude into reading so much in the last four years.

So what about you? Do you notice that your favorite writers are sort of unpaid historians as well? (Not that a few of these writers don't make up for that in their royalty checks . . . )


writtenwyrdd said...

I believe that a great fantasist is not necessarily a good historian, but someone who understands the things that affect humanity and societies. They can thus create a plausible history and background for the worlds they write--or possibly they are just presenting readers with the right combination of facts and conclusions that make the world realistic.

And Gene Wolfe? Every time I sit down to write I want to write like him. The man's a genius.

Just noticed I'm on your blog roll. Thanks!

Also, re reading. It's never a waste. And sometimes you need to recharge your batteries. What better than either exercise or a good read for that? You'll give more to teaching if you give a little more to yourself to stoke the inspirational flame, you know?

freddie said...

Yep, I know you're right, WW, but I still can't help but feel guilty. On the other hand, one of the best compositions I've written (if I may pat myself on the back; I won't break my neck doing it . . . promise!) was inspired by Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. So I comfort myself knowing that.

OTOH, I feel pretty far behind my soon-to-be-colleagues (school). I've spent a good four or five years away from music. Feel like I'm playing catch-up. But I'm trying to separate work and play so that I don't work and work and work myself into the ground like I did last time. I just eventually burned out. So reading is my way to keep that from happening again. I'm just trying to remember that. Sigh.

And you're right about the recharging batteries, insights, etc. That's something to remember, too.

You're welcome on the link! Didn't think you'd mind . . .

Robin S. said...

Hey freddie,

I agree with yu about JK Rowling - that's pretty much the only fantasy that I've read- but you could feel her classics/history background in her prose, and I liked that.

I'm with you on the blog time thing - I'm having to cut back - I'm trying to find the balance so I can still enjoy my friends and what they have to say - but dig down into my writing/work - it's a tough one.

Kristin said...

Interesting to know.