Epics and Dystopias in a Tossed Salad
Okay, this post is going to be rather scattered as there is a lot to cover today in criticism and news/ announcements.
For the past few weeks, there has been an extended debate over nihilism and morality in fantasy, a dearth of definitions, and questioning who gets left out of the discussion. I’ve been interested in the debate (even wading into) and I want to get some of my thoughts down.
After a lot of thought, I think that when it comes to “realistic” or “nihilistic” (would some one please actually define what you mean when you use it!) a more appropriate term would be “dystopic.” A dystopia is a fantastical place where life is a mess- it is brutal, cruel, sadistic, depressing, etc. TV Tropes also uses the term “crapsack world” for it. I think this works better than either realism or nihilism. Realism makes one think of mundane fantasy while nihilism is just a pejorative with little real force. A dystopic fantasy is, I think, the best descriptor (until a better one comes along).
I’ve also been intrigued by Matthew David Surridge’s essay from last week trying to define “epic” fantasy. I agree with parts of his arguments, but I’m not totally with him. I think a good definition is “a work of fantastic literature that 1) Features a prominent ‘great conflict’ against a great, undeniable evil 2) usually lasts for over a thousand pages either in a single volume or across several and 3) typically, but not necessarily, being set in a secondary world that is annoyingly like Medieval Europe.” Now, not all of the definition has to be met although a consensus is that part one should be met.
Postmodernism has been brought into the debate, which I feel is problematic to say the least. Personally, I don’t trust postmodernism that much, especially with fantasy. I like some of the stylistic innovations that postmodernism has brought, but I don’t think that the wider philosophy of postmodernism is all that helpful in appreciating or understanding fantasy. What I mean is that often times postmodernism reflects on the text as an artificial construct but this, I think, damages the enjoyment of fantasy. And challenging everything before anything has been set is rather like knowing Cthullu. Enough of this.
I just finished read Naruto vol. 49, and I am debating whether I want to do a review or tackle it when I do my Naruto analysis project. I think I may do that then. I also attempted Brent Weeks’s novel The Way of Shadows and did not make it too far (only about 117). Not impressed with that one. Next is Tanith Lee, Joe Abercrombie, and Glenn Cook. As for my own reading projects for the blog, I’m either going to do Naruto in the coming weeks or do a Clark Ashton Smith project. Or I could do both!
Enough for now. I need to get to writing.