Sur les contes des fées

Thoughts on fantasy. Title is "On Fairy Stories" (see below) in French, which language Tolkien did not like—but then again anyone who prefers Welsh to Irish can be assumed to suffer from a form of aesthetic aphasia.
  • The dude what writes Superversive once complained about participating in a D&D campaign where, because the DM was former military, the PCs' liege-lord treated them much as an officer treats enlisted men, rather than—as he would—guests in his home, from whom he was asking a favor. And, I mean, fair enough, DM's an idjit. We all been there (actually, come to think of it, have you, ane-ue?—I mean, of the two people I know who've DMed for you, neither of us was an idjit, that one thing with the beholder notwithstanding).

    But Mr. Simon then goes on to act like that's something inherent to D&D as an enterprise. And there I must object. Much like Lothlorien, only those who bring some evil with them need fear D&D. Sure, RPGs tend to gloss over how gift-economy and liege-courtesy work, because they're intended for a general audience, not, well, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. But it's not like "how the lords treat adventurers" is a key game mechanic, if you want it more realistic nobody's stopping you.

    Few are the fantasy works in general that I've seen actually capture a society prior to the early 18th century; most are content with the late 19th (think of the nobles—decidedly more Bertie Wooster than Bayard sans peure et sans reproche, and Bayard was hardly a medieval man, born 20 years after the Fall of Constantinople). Melanie Rawn doesn't seem to be trying even for pre-Baby Boom.
  • That's actually something I was impressed with Skyrim on, overall. The Jarls (to say nothing of the einherjar in Sovngarde) can talk like Theoden son of Thengel when the need strikes them, and they give you gifts when they make you a thane (though the gift-giving seems an after-thought—it actually is the act itself—and you sure as hell couldn't sell an axe from your liege-lord down at the smith for some extra jink). Also you wouldn't have guards, because all freemen would be expected to take up arms against malefactors—remember how Theoden's only guards are in his own hall? Housecarl and guard wouldn't be two separate things.
  • Read "On Fairy-Stories" recently, all the way through (I'd dabbled, of course, as we all have), and you should too, if you haven't. The thing is the answer to a plenitude of asininities. Though Tolkien, as usual, doesn't give the fairies credit for what they are, which is yokai; he's trying to cram them into a Christian cosmology that has completely ignored them (mostly because they're irrelevant to it).

    But the section on Escape is, to a T, the answer to all the Martins, Moorcocks, and Miévilles in the world—that they are merely cowering away from the charge of escapism, rather than rationally considering its purpose. "Look, masters," they simper at the literary establishment that has so often kicked fantasy, "we included ugly class-consciousness, master, just as you said all real books should! There's no escape to be found here, masters!" And the literary establishment rewarded them with (seldom not condescending) good reviews, all the time fingering the nine rings they had from their true lord.
  • Tolkien's distinction between fairy-stories and stories about fairies, by the way, is just one more example of how it would've been nice if he'd had more contact with Japanese literature. Because the distinction he makes—between fairy tales, as such, and accounts of the actual doings of the fairies—is precisely captured by the difference in Japanese between otogizoshi and kaidan, that is, between a fabulous exercise in literary fantasy, and a story not unmixed with horror (literary sense), about the yokai. (It would also have been nice if a Japanese person could've been involved with the movies of LotR, namely with the music—Japanese people have some little experience making songs in moraic languages, like their own...and Sindarin.)
  • It is irksome to hear people opine on magic in fantasy stories, claiming there shouldn't be much, and it should be hard, like that in Tolkien and Howard/Leiber. Only, know what? Apparently I'm the only one who actually read Tolkien, because Numenoreans and elves and dwarves are pretty much all running around with swords +2, orcbane (also, Merry's sword from the barrow is presumably holy, since it can overcome the witch-king's damage reduction). No, nobody's casting fireballs (although that thing Gandalf used on some wargs was basically fire seeds), but pretty much every culture in Middle Earth that can find Mordor on a map goes around recreating the posters for The Expendables with magic swords. Did you know Tolkien's other name was Monty Haul?

    It's similarly ludicrous to say there's no wizards in Howard or Leiber (in Tolkien, admittedly, they're angels). Mouser is one, and is probably single-handedly the reason rogues in D&D have the ability to use magic items they don't understand. That Persian gent they fought on Earth was one. There's several good ones as well as evil ones in the Kull stories, one of whom trapped silence itself in a pit if you'll recall, and Conan's been known to work with them as well as against them. Sure, they're more often antagonists, but that's because scribing conjuration circles is boring to read about—see also, James Bond fights guys who sit in chairs petting cats while directing hundreds of minions, not the other way around.
  • That thing, though, about how you can't work decent fantasy in an RPG setting, said so often by people who should know better (as in, they've played D&D, thus any flaws in the execution are their own damn fault), has pissed me off so much I'm starting work on a series of stories set in my current D&D world, trying to do decent fantasy therein.

    Since sound-swapped Japanese, Chinese, and Korean are hardly worthy of such a project (and not at all because the Secret Vice is a filthy addiction, I can quit anytime I want), I've redone my elvish and common-tongue, and will soon redo my dwarfish. My Elvish and Common have the same sounds as Sindarin and Westron, respectively—those are just what elves and fantasy-humans sound like to us. But my Elvish has a grammar based on Tibetan (only inflected rather than agglutinating, and with fewer cases, because seriously, ablative is redundant with oblique—what are you, Russian, with its instrumental-dative-locative?). Dammit, I just like elves to have ergative grammar. I know it's weird.
  • Note I said Westron—not the English it's ciphered into, the real common tongue of the West of Middle Earth in the end of the Third Age. As in, it's not Bilbo and Frodo Baggins of the Shire, it's Bilba and Froda Baghîn of Sûza; their race is not Hobbits but kuduk, and the Rohirrim don't have legends of holbytla, but of kûd-dûkan. The gardener who bears the One Ring briefly and later has a whole passle of children isn't named Samwise Gamgee, he's named Banazir Galpsi (which sounds like a Pakistani film star, doesn't it?); the guy who hamstrung the witch-lord of Angband isn't Meriadoc Brandybuck, but Kalimac Brandagamba.

    What, am I the only one who read the appendices to Return of the King?
  • Thought it'd be cool to have the elf subraces, though known to their own people by completely different names (that actually describe something very important about them), called high, wood, and dark elves by humans. The first two are geographic names, since they live on mountains and in forests (though the former are reclusive and proud, so "high" does have a connotation of haughtiness, in human minds though not, particularly, in actual fact). The latter is a moral descriptor (they don't look markedly different from the other two, unlike drow—whose name, by the way, is actually a variant of troll, as "orc" is of ogre).

    I decided to go with "high elf" having its Elder Scrolls/Forgotten Realms connotation, rather than calling those people "gray elves" like in standard D&D settings, because "gray" only makes sense in the context of the light of Valinor—the gray elves are those who saw it but stayed in Middle Earth, while the high elves actually went; those who didn't see it are the dark elves, see? (Anyone who thinks Tolkien's stories are morally simplistic: do you know why there are high elves in Middle Earth in the Third Age?)

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