The OF Blog: Free the Mind

Friday, September 29, 2006

Free the Mind

It is fun living in the fishbowl called spec fic blogging. Articles written months or even years before can be brought up in some backwater (or prominent, depending on one's perspective, I suppose) site, perhaps a blog such as this or even on a messageboard, and points can be argued that go well out of the bounds of that original article. It has taken some time, but I see that my words are generating discussion elsewhere.

Oddly enough, it began back in June 2006 with a little "rant" that I wrote at wotmania in response to the commentaries inside the Quickpoll for that day. I wrote a little bit about how I believed fantasy was much more than the epic form, that it was not just literature, but an essential part of our material culture. The rant, written in a few minutes, generated over 50 responses in its original form on the OF Messageboard and as is my custom when I write pieces that I think might be worth reading for people outside of wotmania, I posted it here on my blog. Just a nice record of my thoughts at the time on the genre and on the connections between people's lives and the forms of stories that they tell each other.

So it was of interest to me today when I was browsing through a few sites that I haven't had time to glance at for weeks due to my new job to see this. At first I just shrugged it off as being just merely an attempt to cause me to make an angry reply, but then I read some of the responses. Interesting to see how illuminating responses sometimes (not always, though, but merely sometimes) can be. So I shall now, as an apologia, take some of the comments contained within that thread and discuss them here.

In the end, I think dylanfanitac/Larry fails to convert his valid observations to a viable conclusion. Though he attempts to separate fantasy from literature, the distinction rings false.

Literature, be it fantasy or not, does engage those issues. Some books and stories do a good job of it, others not so much.

Fantasy is a subset of literature. Like horror, historical fiction, romance, "mainstream" fiction, or any other, there are good examples and poor examples.

Cutting through it all, where I suspect this is coming from is his perception of Terry Goodkind's comments about fantasy. This really needs to be put to bed. He has talked and continues to talk openly about using fantasy to write about human themes, as recently as the podcast mystar posted this morning. To Terry, it is no different than using romance or anything else; it is one element of many. What he rejects as invalid is precisely what dylanfantic says he is railing against: empty-headed fantasy for the sake of fantasy.
This is from a longer response that did agree with some of my comments. First off, I wasn't stating that fantasy was separate from literature or needed to be, but rather the opposite: fantasy (and literature as a whole) is in the end but merely a subset of material culture, those tangible, visible artifacts of a society that enable the cultural historian/cultural anthropologist to make some presumptions as to what were the values/ethos of that particular society. How we use our imagination, how we construct our "fantasies," is a very key part of understanding how we have come to develop the societies that we've held. I was not railing against "empty-headed fantasy for the sake of fantasy," but instead against the narrow view that only X is "fantasy" and not A-W or Y and Z as well.

As for the comments on Goodkind, that shall be addressed later on. Now for another excerpt:

That blog is pure crap. Yes, there are a couple of factual statements included. Mostly, however, it is a rambling monologue about the disconnect between what is termed 'the fantasy genre' and fantasy itself. The genre of fantasy is defined historically by what is traditionally in fantasy novels. Period. That does not mean that there is no fantasy involved in other writings. It does not mean that a fantasy novel cannot have a deeper meaning. It simply means that classic fantasy has certain elements inherent in it and that the purpose is escapism. That is why Goodkind says that he does not write fantasy; his books do not fit into the rigid mold that has historically defined fantasy. So Larry is unhappy with this rigid definition of fantasy. So what?
Ignoring the subjective commentary on the quality of the discourse, there is something interesting here. The commentator seems to be making the argument that my post was about the "disconnect between what is termed 'the fantasy genre' and fantasy itself." There is a bit of truth to that in that I do see differences between the two, but I believe that the commentator goes a bit too far afield in arguing that "classic fantasy has certain elements inherent in it and that the purpose is escapism." While I certainly am not denying that escapism is an important element in a great many fantasy (especially epic fantasy) works (and in what leads a great many readers to read secondary world fantasies set in mileau different from their own), that is simply too simplistic of an answer. Take Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or even moreso his Silmarillion writings. There are quite a few messages embedded within those texts. One of which is that of Loss and the "passing over the sea," never to return. From the Three Silmarils to the Three Rings of Power, from the Fading of the Elves to the decay of the Númenoréans in exile on Middle-Earth, there is a sense of melancholy that pervades Tolkien's writings. I could talk at much greater length on this (and many others before me have done so, including Tolkien himself in his published letters), but for now it suffices to say that this "purpose" that the commentator perceives to be true is but incomplete, if not misleading for some works within the field. Furthermore, there is the fallacy of presuming that there is indeed a "rigid" definition of "fantasy." There is not. If that were indeed to be the case, then there would not be the number of debates that there have been in recent years over how to perceive this work or that work in regards to their inclusion in this nebuleous thing called "fantasy."

Fantasy for fantasy sake is a dying genera.
Not true, very far from true. Ignoring even the gains in sales within the marketing area called "Fantasy literature," a subset of human material culture that deals with the utilization of the imagination to confront or to describe elements that are pervasive in human cultures just cannot be written off in such a fashion. Considering that was what I was addressing and that I had a concern about those who defined "fantasy" too narrowly (i.e. as being that late 20th century alteration of a prose epic form to display certain idealized forms, such as the "proto-Fascist whiteboy whooping up on Dark Lord Satan/Suge Knight in his crib" form that I did mock in my earlier Blog entry), it is a bit much to make bald statements such as that without having a clearer definition of what the genre entails.

Fantasy like any other genre should be a tool for conveing ideas, struggles, convictions, and political views... An exceptional fantasy can become a classic like any other genre. People change and all genres evolve to reflect what will satisfy the audience, fantasy is no different and authors new to the genra seem to reflect this.
I agree. There is indeed plenty of room for fantasists of all political/social persuasions to write stories utilizing the fantasy form to address issues that are near and dear to them. Now some seem to think that the point of my earlier post was to attack one Terry Goodkind. yes, I did mention him and Robert Newcombe in passing as writing what I consider to be "shit." That is my opinion and I have never denied it. However, it is a bit much to go from there and to presume that the point of my earlier wotmania post/Blog entry was to attack Goodkind. If you go to the wotmania link inside this article, you'll see an opening paragraph that I edited out of the Blog entry for readability issues (as in the context changed a bit when further removed from the wotmania Quickpoll that started the original post that in edited form became the Blog entry). That opening paragraph states quite clearly why I wrote the rant back then.

You might notice that the blog is almost 4 months old, and hasn't a single comment. Which tells me he either doesn't know anyone from the site (or guests, if they're allowed to post) who agrees with him, and/or the only responses were in disagreement and he deleted those responses.

Or, he's just a pathetic loser with no friends trying to prop himself up by knocking others down.
This made me smile and wonder if this moderator was projecting here. The only features I have turned on this site is a verification box to keep 'bots from spamming the posts, like what happened a few months ago. If he had bothered to go to the link embedded at the top of the original article (and which is also first in this article), he would have seen over 50 comments to my original post. But nope, this blog isn't heavily advertised. Actually, considering that it mostly exists as a repository of posts/interviews from wotmania's OF section, it is quite interesting to see how a certain someone came to read that article in the first place. But I must admit that I'm amused by the final line there, considering the reality of my situation now. Keep trying!

Maybe I am reading too much into your particular choice of words, but my interpretation is that you are suggesting that these attacks on Terry are a minor issue. I do not agree with that at all. WFR is going to be made into a mini-series by a well-known producer. As a result, I am thrilled: 1) for Terry; 2) that more people will become conversant with the SOT series and I will be able to discuss my favorite books with more people; 3) most importantly, that many more people will be exposed to Terry's philosophy. Call me crazy, but I believe that this is an opportunity for Terry to have a major impact on America. Ayn Rand started the movement of objectivism, a major element of which is personal responsibility, but it still has languished in our society. Her books take too much effort for most people to read and, despite large numbers of sales, objectivism remains a relatively obscure philosophy as far as mainstream America is concerned. Terry can change all of that that. His writing is much more accessible to everyday people. This exposure is going to be HUGE. Let the naysayers like Larry enjoy their last few moments of fun. When mainstream America, particularly the younger generation, really starts to understand what Terry is saying, expect a sea change in American politics. Maybe this is why Larry and his ilk badmouth Terry; they are afraid of these changes.
Ummm....ummm....did someone just drink the purple Kool-Aid? I don't deny thinking that Objectivism is no more than just a daft pseudophilosophical viewpoint, but the main reason people have fun at Goodkind's "expense" (and sadly, I have to devote time to this topic, since my original post dealt with fantasy as being more than just this marketing tool for a limited number of books that shared a few superficial features in common) is because of what is perceived to be his shoddy writing, illogical plot developments, and yes, hyperbolic statements such as the one I quote above. Oh yes, I'm quaking in my boots (err...sneakers) right now over this impending Objectivist Revolution. And some wonder why Objectivists aren't taken any more seriously than they are now...QED.

Those that would seek to tear down someone like Terry, simply because such an action makes that person feel better about himself, is someone that I consider evil.

For quite some time, mystar has attempted to mobilize us against these "enemy forces." Speaking about these issues amongst ourselves, or debating individual enemy combatants when they come to this board, don't seem to be particularly effective. Going to other sites, either singly or in groups, and defending Terry only seems to get us labeled as "Goodkind fanatics." There has to be a better way. Darned if I know what it is.
And therein lies the biggest problem that some at this one site have had with my post and perhaps with other writings of mine. I don't devoting my waking hours to badmouthing Goodkind - I spend much more time talking about how much the New York Yankees suck than I do about an author that I consider to have ideas that are the opposite of my own. But when I am talking about one thing and it seems that some have interpreted it in such a way as to turn into an "attack" on Goodkind (who was mentioned specifically as much as Newcombe was), it is rather telling as to how certain people (not all the ones that I cited, but just merely certain ones) view the world.

Now excuse me while I return to dividing my reading attention between Roberto Bolaños's Los detectives salvajes and Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven. There are things still left to be learned, things to be remembered, and still other things to be forgotten for a time before they reappear as if new in my imagination. There be dragons over there, ahí, y los buscaré. And that is the spirit of Fantasy, that quest to find what is around the corner or over the hill, not just what is written about some "heroic" character. Free the mind.

Free the mind.


RobB said...

"main streem"

More than mindless escapism? Does this person read fantasy outside of the Goodkind shelf?


Freebird said...

Good question, Rob. I was in turns quite amused and baffled by some of the responses at that messageboard. Some I will admit were worth considering, but the majority were closer to the "genera" and "Main streem" level of discourse.

C'est la vie.

And what I'd give for one of those trogodytes to go off on someone like Gabe...that alone would be worth more than a popcorn and a coke to see!

RobB said...

It would be entertaining, that's for damn sure.

I remember one of the Dead Cities folks posted a rebuttal to Goodkind at SciFiWire about a year or two ago. Of course the back-and-forth moved to the Goodkind forum you have linked and the debating, initially, was somewhat entertaining.

As for myself, I like to think I've had my fill of NoGoodkind bashing.

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