De fabularum mirabilium

Thoughts upon fantasy. Got the Latin word for the thing right this time ("On Tales of the Marvelous").
  • This is probably sarcasm, perhaps a jab at how Hollywood would pretty much have to make that movie. If not, I may have to rethink being a fan of that strip. And if anyone takes it seriously, then I hope their movie bombs the way everyone expects it to.

    Again: if you have to send people from our world to a fantasy world, you have not done sufficient work on your fantasy world. I don't care if it's Narnia, The Land, or anywhere else; there is an exemption for The Labyrinth, MÄR, and Zero's Familiar, but if you are not one of those three things and you contain that idea, you don't have a right to exist. Yes I'm rhetorically anthropomorphizing stories and then talking to them, doesn't everybody?

    Maybe sword-and-planet, too, although really, why not just write straight up sword-and-sorcery?
  • So John C. Wright was recently complaining about "subversive" monsters in things, where dragons and vampires and werewolves are good guys. Well and good, though I say you can have werewolves as good guys so long as you don't use the asinine, made-up-by-Universal Studios, version of them. And you can't have them be skinwalkers, unless they're Hopis of the Fog Clan (Hopi skinwalking, unlike Navajo, isn't always a part of witchery). Or, like the werewolves in my books, an Indo-European warrior society (if we're going to insist on calling any beast-man, possibly shapeshifting cultural complex "skinwalking", which seems to be the trend).

    But then Wright said that benevolent Chinese dragons don't count, because those are actually long 龍, not dragons. Sigh. This is what happens when shallow half-brights try to sound smart, the same idiocy as when people say Jews don't believe in sin, but in "missing the mark". Because, uh, Took-A-Miracle? The dragons in Norse mythology, and also in Beowulf, aren't dragons either, they're ormar and wyrmas, respectively.

    Also, if he had actually read any Chinese literature (which he, I think fairly demonstrably, has not), he would know their dragons are as capricious as the average river god in Greek myth. Not coincidentally, dragons are river-gods in Chinese myth.
  • In my fantasy, I tried to come up with the appropriate psychology for dragons, starting from how each fairy race's nature is based on their different attitude toward Being. Dragons, I decided, are something like the Sensates from Planescape; they hoard because things are beautiful, and beauty is Being as apprehended by the senses.

    I added, however, another element, related to their hoarding and aesthete-ness. Namely,
    I am the Avaricious, so, I want money!...Also women!...Also status!...Also fame!...I want everything in this world!
    Because Greed is the way you write a character like that. The dragon in my book, however, doesn't so much want "women" as think humans are moe, and isn't quite so blatantly "blue-collar Xelloss".
  • Wright also said that magic is bad because it is using supernatural power for worldly ends rather than spiritual ones. Logically, of course (logic is the thing that makes the sky-spirits send us cargo, Mr. Wright), that means it is wrong to pray for health and safety, too.

    Now, this is actually interesting, because it comes up every time Christians discuss fantasy. The real reason magic is forbidden to Christians and Jews, is that its use places you under the laws of the beings you get it from. At best, that means fairy-like creatures (of which class the pagan gods); at worst, fallen angels—which is to say, at best, you're in the Mafia (the only Western institution that still has an aboriginal pagan ethic); at worst, you borrowed money from the Mafia. Christians are not to be bound by any law (save natural), and Jews are only supposed to be under haShem's.
  • Which reminds me, I need to have the elves at the end of my book, discussing the fact that their kingdom's laws, based more on their comfort than on morals, are what drove one of the villains to her rebellion. See, their two kingdoms are basically Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire, and they use that civilization's equivalent of Roman Law, while the human kingdoms use common law derived from actual morals. Because when I write fantasy in a medieval setting, I actually base the culture on the Middle Ages.

    In a way, actually, my fantasy story is a thought-experiment—what if fantasy settings were based on the real Middle Ages? And yes, I know that's what all those dark fantasy writers claim they're doing. I'm sure minstrel-show performers also thought black people really talked like that.
  • I am irked by people who say (read the Wikipedia article on fantasy, for example) that whether a writer believes in the possibility of the marvels he describes makes a work fantasy. This is irksome because I do not disbelieve in any marvel, as such (I may still discount any given account of one), until I see it demonstrated to be logically impossible (because anything that isn't logically impossible, isn't really impossible). So apparently, I'm not writing fantasy? Does that make any sense?

    If you believe marvels are impossible, by the bye, I hate to break it to you but that's because your worldview comes from "comfort-thinking", not reason. A world where ghosts, magic, fairies, and (while we're at it) miracles are possible is much more unpredictable, and contains more things you know nothing about. So you hide. Skepticism is the comfortable, explainable, comprehensible universe its proponents attribute myth to. It's also misnamed, because that word shares an etymology with "scope" and means looking, not covering the eyes.
  • Speaking of which, apparently Mircea Eliade said that reading fiction performs the function of myth and religion in secular society. Only...the novel was invented pretty much simultaneously in medieval France and Heian Japan, neither of them remotely a secular society. Islam caused a flowering of literature in Persia. A Mahayana revival was the reason Journey to the West was written. I can go on, really.

    Also? Propaganda and ideology serve the functions of myth and religion in secular society. How exactly is political correctness not a purity code; how is Rugged Individualism in the American Frontier not a myth (except that most myths recapitulate reality)? For that matter, how is Liberalism (modern, classical, left, right—doesn't matter) not a religion of the same kind as Hinduism or the Chinese Imperial Cult?
  • Another thing that Wright said in that thing about good monsters was basically to imply that fantasy should never deviate from its folkloric models. Only...medieval romance used what the science of the time thought was the real behavior of animals like wolves, foxes, and lions. Why not use the real behavior of those animals, that we know of now?

    I am not such a fool as to discount the traditional portrayals of, say, wolves, foxes, and jackals; our ancestors had good reasons for thinking about them like that. But I still think that for a modern fiction to be respectable, it does have to take new knowledge into account. E.g., my werewolves do not behave like the Proto-Indo-European warrior-complex they descend from, despite its use of wolf-totems—because they actually have influence from the spirit of the wolf, and the spirit of the wolf wants them all to be pack-alphas (married couples with children), while the warrior-complex was made up of unattached young men.

    There is an expression in Japanese, generally given as a warning to girls (and probably popularized by the 1977 song "Be Careful, Little Red Riding Hood" that was used as the ending for Ookami-san and Her Seven Companions), "Men are wolves." It is based on the purely folkloric symbolism of wolves as ravenous and crafty. But I think, given what we now know about the family structure of most canids, that the only appropriate response is, "Ideally."

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