The self-conscious fantasy epic.
This morning I read a piece in the Guardian called When the Lord of the Rings doesn’t cut it: Confessions of a fantasy junkie, and found it rather amusing. In particular this bit (which makes us all sound a bit like Gollum, I think):
I understand the pain of the addict. At the turn of a page, weeks of total immersion in a fantasy world come to an end and mundane reality is waiting. Fantasy is epic because that is how we like it. But like any narcotic substance, fantasy operates on the law of diminishing returns. Once you’ve see a few dozen dragons, you’ve seen them all. The fantasy fan is on an eternal quest to recapture that first taste of magic. Eventually, the doorstoppers don’t cut it anymore. And then we are forced to go underground.
I’ve written on this topic a few times, and it certainly hit home for me. As someone weaned on Tolkien and Lewis, I know the feeling well. I remember trying to hide my undying love for Middle-Earth, and failing miserably when my book report gushing to the world was read aloud in class by my teacher. My school was small enough at the time that there weren’t any D&D groups to join, and the only person I know who also read fantasy read Terry Brooks. And I did not.
Anyway, it didn’t get easier or better for me as I got older. I’m now convinced that my time in both undergraduate and graduate school studying Middle English was only in an effort to study the roots of fantasy literature. It was cheating a little, because all that chivalric literature really isn’t any different than fantasy, save in language and occasional subject. (I should argue that plenty of medieval stuff is even more revolutionary than today’s contemporary fantasy–read Silence for a cross-dressing heroine, for example!) I found quite a few friends in graduate school, however, who loved fantasy, and that was certainly a help.
But my roundabout point is, in spite of coming to grips with liking to read fantasy epic, it’s taken even longer for me to accept writing it. Why? Because it’s a genre that breeds self-consciousness. It’s practically made of cliche and stereotype. Saying you write fantasy literature to some people is no different than admitting a penchant for furries, or a LARPer. I know, I’ve gotten the looks before. Eyebrows up, mouth agape–they struggle for things to say, but the fact is, even if the book was on the Bestseller list, they’d likely never read it. And if they did, it’d probably make them laugh hysterically.
Anyway, currently I am writing a fantasy epic. True fantasy. No steampunk, no time-travel, no squids. And I find that I’m incredibly self-conscious about it some days, and completely revel in it on other days. I have moments where I ask myself, “Is this too fantasy epic?” and others when I think I’m really on to something different. Truly, it must strike a balance to be good, and I’ve never had such a set of demons on my shoulder arguing it out over a book. I love the genre to bits, and I am indeed still reaching to capture that magic–but doing it with my own wand, as it were, is another spell all together.
I wrote a sequel to The Lord of the Rings when I was fourteen. It was about Merry and Pippin meeting up together in old age and making a trip across Middle Earth to Gondor, and their final days there with Aragorn. I wish I had a bit to share, because it is quite amusing. Regardless, I have always expressed my love in writing. I scarcely know how else to do it. I even re-wrote half of The Stand once… And while I am a bit self-conscious about this particular endeavor (and… well, thankfully not plagiarising) it’s still done with joy. Part of me is very much that same fourteen year old with the ugly sweater and wire-rimmed glasses hunkering down at my Aptiva and composing everything in Footlight.
And thankfully, at long last, I don’t care who knows. I only hope I can do it well enough.