The OF Blog: A Fantasy version of Godwin's Law

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Fantasy version of Godwin's Law

I am going to presume that most reading this have heard of Godwin's Law, that pernicious meme regarding the nature of certain internet discussions. What many might not know is that on a few fantasy forums, there is a SF/F version of Godwin's Law that can be applied to the discussion of a writer's merits.

Inevitably, there are going to be disagreements about an author's style, writing, plotting, and even his politics and attire. More and more, especially on epic fantasy sites, things will devolve from analyzing these perceived deficiencies to a state where that author, rightly or wrongly, will be compared to one entity that has become the epitome of suckitude, smug arrogance, uncouth attire, and loathsome ideology.

Yes, Terry Goodkind has become a shortcut to denying the validity of another's arguments regarding another author's talents and abilities. To use Goodkind in the comparative is to imply that other writer in question has questionable merits, if any. Take for example this recent comment on the George R.R. Martin fansite, Westeros, where almost out of the blue a poster decides to deride Michael Moorcock and China Miéville for their prior comments regarding J.R.R. Tolkien:

I'm expecting to get whacked down for this, but I think Moorcock has turned into a mirror universe version of Terry Goodkind. Moorcock wrote entertaining fluff when he was young, but gradually he fell into delusions of brilliance and decided that he should write political didactic fiction to educate us stupid people. Moorcock separates himself from Goodkind by his opposite political views and his tendency to cover his simplistic stories with a thick layer of purple prose and misguided, self-indulged artsy techniques like random tense changes all over the place.

Not-so-coincidentally, both Moorcock and Goodkind hate worldbuilding and requirements for self-consistency, preferring to slap cool-sounding stuff into the story just like that.
Ignoring the near-total lack of evidence to support this assertation, let's look at how this poster uses Terry Goodkind as an ersatz Nazi. We see first "he fell into delusions of brillance," an intended claim to megalomania (one that the SFWA committee in charge of deciding their Grandmasters might look askance at, perhaps). Then it is followed up with the writing of "political didactic fiction," which of course makes me wonder if the poster confused occasional political undercurrents with the subordination of Story to Politics. The "educate us stupid people" bit is something else, one that leaves me with eyes agoged and wondering what sort of janja was being smoked then.

Then there are the obligatory disclaimers, as no-one in his/her right mind would accuse Moorcock of being an Objectivist, only for the thing to have the cherry on top of "hate worldbuilding and requirements for self-consistency," whatever the hell that might mean. While I never thought of Moorcock as being someone who slaved over how to create a non-existent language with 13 variants just so five words could be used in a story that would have the numbing details of a Baedeker's, I can't say I see the comparison with Goodkind either.

But this, of course, is beside the point. Making logical arguments is subordinate to using the new nuclear weapon in these forum debates of dropping the "Tairy Bomb" on someone. Once the comparison to Goodkind, good- or ill-fitting notwithstanding, has been made, the chances of a give-and-take discussion have dropped precipitiously. Might as well have called the other person a Nazi.


Gabe said...

Fucking BRILLIANT, Larry. I'm sooooooo jealous right now. You win forever and ever.

Lsrry said...

Thanks, although I think my post was more a case of stating the obvious than anything else :P

Gabe said...

Yeah, but you got dibs on Firsties.

Plus... that picture.

Lsrry said...

Hah! Well, I have to give credit where credit is due in regards to that photo - it was posted in one of the numerous Goodkind threads on Westeros. But something tells me that Goodkind's Law won't catch on as a meme name, nor would I want that name to, come to think of it.

Jonathan M said...

That is a fantastic picture. Though weirdly, Neil Gaiman's site is also covered in those kinds of pictures it's just that Gaiman actually looks like a rockstar and Goodkind looks like a highschool english teacher :-)

I agree that Goodkind isn't enough of a universal figure of hate and mockery outside of fantasy forums for the meme to catch on but the idea behind it is really spot on.

Comparing the two authors is completely ridiculous as well. Mike Moorcock is arguably a better writer now than he ever was. It's just that he's less accessible and writes stuff of less interest to most genre fans.

Lsrry said...

I think in Neil's case, part of it is being accommodating to his fanbase, while in Goodkind's, I think he wants to look intimidating. As for the too-exclusive nature of the meme, I agree and I'm thankful for it being that way. While this was amusing to write, I'd shudder if it caught on, because there does seem to be that tendency in certain circles for phrases/memes like this to be overused.

I really need to get around to read more of Moorcock's writings, as what I've read in excerpts from his latter works, it does seem like he steadily improved from the early Elric stories I read. And I'll certainly always think highly of him for how generous he was to the youngest of the Team members here at this blog. I think she was 14 or 15 at the time and he treated her with a great deal of courtesy and respect, which she really appreciated. Anyone that does that automatically avoids comparisons with Goodkind in my opinion.

Camilla said...

It's funny 'cause it's true.

My god, he looks like a Star Trek villain!

Lsrry said...

I think he wanted to be another Neo, but ended up looking like a rejected model for a Ferengi ;)

Camilla said...

It would be sad if it weren't so funny.

Lsrry said...

True, but it's up to him to take his lemon head and make lemonade from it ;)

Neth said...

this really is one of your better posts.

as for Moorcock - his short fiction in particular can be considered didatic I suppose - though I think that it's far better considered as satire. And you know how some people just don't react properly to satire (especially when it's in opposition to their beliefs).

Lsrry said...

Thanks, and to think it involved less thought than usual! :P Totally agree about how some people react strongly to satires. There's a reason why the Greek playwright Aristophanes got the ancient version of hate mail/death threats after some of his satires...

Anonymous said...

Hmm I have never read the authors in Question. I stay away from Melville because of his political beliefs though just as much as Goodkind. Socialism doesn't do it for me and never has. I have no idea if he makes his politics secondary to his story as he should and Goodkind doesn't but having read goodkind makes me loath to read another who may end up going that way. So I stay away from authors with obvious and well known political beliefs.

To translate what the author means by "slapping things on with no respect for self consistency" though knowing how intelligent you are I think you really do know what he is trying to say. Think of it like obeying the rules you set up. In Lord of the Rings Tolkein has the elves say that what they do isn't magic though it may look that way that only the enemy uses magic. Now suppose later in the story we meet a hobbit who can throw fireballs...this would break his own rules and so not be internally consistent. This is what the author was saying they don't do.

I have no idea if he is write having never read the authors in question.

Good read though..I must not participate in political threads enough because I had never heard of Godwins law before (though I was familiar with the logical fallacies it came from being an armchair philosopher)

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