December 21, 2003

Allegory versus Fiction

People. This is a public service announcement. Please read carefully. In order to prevent the administrator of this website from inflicting further ire upon well-meaning but (grinds teeth) mistaken persons who keep (Grrrr!) missing the point whenever she expresses criticism of those who insist upon calling the fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings an "allegory" when they mean, well, a work of fiction, please first memorize these definitions:

al·le·go·ry: The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.

fic·tion: An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.

And then read this essay, Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic, The Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson's films, which is so far the best-written and clearest explanation of what Tolkien's work really means in the context of his religious beliefs, and most important, why the book he wrote is not and never will be an allegory.

(Link to the essay via a reader who is probably shaking singed fingertips and muttering "Damn? What the hell did I do?" My apologies, binkley.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 08:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 29, 2003


Crooked Timber provides the valuable service of, among other things, being a sort of clearing house for all the sphere o' blogs' snobs to get together and dis whatever is the chatterati's bugbear du jour. This being that time of year, the big High Kulchah no-no is to admit that Lord of the Rings is one's favorite novel, or in one's list of favorites.

Now I am sure it is not news to my two or three readers that said book is definitely in my top ten. But you know, I can see why the litcrit brigade hates it so. It's too long. It's about imaginary places and made-up creatures, like a (shudder) fairy tale. All that monarchism -- how reactionary! There is no self-consciously beautiful language that calls attention to itself and screams "Look at me! I'm a Writer!" There is too much exposition -- for instance, the scenes between Gandalf and Saruman, which are real-time action sequences in the movie, take place in expository flashback in the book during the council of Elrond. In fact, all the rest of the scenes in the movie (both parts one and two) with Saruman are not in the book; Saruman's actions are only the subject of discussion and speculation, and there is no face-to-face meeting with him until after the Battle of Helm's deep, a scene which I assume will be in the third movie in some form or another.

But I digress. The commenters to the above-linked post mostly follow the Bloomist "Jane Austin rules, Tolkien drools" line of partisanship. There doesn't seem to be much room for the idea that one can read both authors and find them fine for different reasons. After all, they wrote in different times, about different things...

This is all part of the neverending fight over what constitutes Proper Litrachoor, as opposed to the "good reads" us hobbits grubbing around in our cottages like to curl up with. The idea on the part of the litcrit brigade seems to be "let them watch Survivor." If we won't read -- and praise! -- their idea of "the right books" then we are consigned to the caverns of the Morlocks.

The idea that "high" culture should be difficult and make one uncomfortable comes, I think, from the religious origins of academic culture. The university system, whose denizens are the de facto guardians of the culture, began as an offshoot of the church, and the religious attitude towards things High Educational remains though the term "secular" itself no longer refers to those daily things having nothing to do with scripture that are however necessary for the church to work in the temporal world, but instead now means the opposite of anything having to do with religion. This is why so many academics seem to approach their subjects like flagellants, and also why the opposite phenomenon -- Manic Fun!, i.e., Postmodernism -- has taken such a hold on academic life; this seems to be a particular disease of the Philosophy and Humanities departments of many universities. I have known many an English major who had a simple enjoyment of reading beaten out of him by course after mind-numbing course on theory and dialectics and what-have-you. I myself barely escaped with my sensibilities intact from a minor in Creative Writing. True, I got an "A" in my first course. I wrote a story, which focused almost entirely on character -- there was hardly any of that nasty plot stuff, and my hero -- well, my protagonist -- was almost entirely passive, as many modern short stories seem to call for these days. (Action implies plot, as well as sexism or some other -ism unless your protagonist is a carefully delineated Person of Color and Non-Male Gender -- then she can be a superhero with supernatural powers; you can call it "Magical Realism" and invoke the name of Borges or somebody. You think I exaggerate? Ha ha! Only slightly, I assure you.) I had it online once, maybe I'll put it back up; it wasn't bad, if I do say so myself.

But I'm one of those crass vulgarians who wants to read a story when I sit down; I am not particularly looking to be "shocked" or "made uncomfortable" or "introduced to new ideas," when doing so, though if this happens in the course of my reading I am not put out. But I don't consider that I have wasted my time if I haven't had my horizons blasted open by a breathtaking new insight (or whatever it is these people seem to be jonesing for) when I finish a book.

As it is, I recall the first time I read LOTR, I certainly felt as if I had changed somehow. For the better I hope, but that's something only time will tell. After reading Pride and Prejudice I didn't get this feeling, though I enjoyed the book. Quite frankly I consider most of Austen's work "light" reading -- but that is just my own personal classification system, not to be taken seriously by anyone else. I think that a lot of people invoke her name, though, because they identify her with everything that is "nice" high culture -- afternoon tea, lace and crumpets; people who say "Sir," "Ma'am" (and pronounce it "Mum"), and "Thank you"; men and women walking arm in arm across the Mall; in short, all those "English" things that people seem to associate civilized behavior with. (I blame Masterpiece Theater.) I like all those things too -- and I imagine that the reason I do is the same reason people seem to set up the Austen style as the opposite of Tolkien. Sure, they talk a great game about her "careful character delineation" and her "delicately nuanced language," all of which is bullshit, if I may use a term that Miss Austen would cover her ears rather than hear.

I say that Jane Austen's novels are, in this day and age, as fantastical as Tolkien's or any other fantasy writer's -- even more so, because Tolkien writes about all those gritty, downbeat things like war and violence and death, as well as about things like tea and parties and sitting by a cozy fire. The worst thing I think anyone does in an Austen novel is tell someone off. (Then again, this may seem devastating enough to people who would rather face a horde of ten thousand orcs single-handed than be cut dead at a party.) Okay, I exaggerate just a tad. But my point is....

Bilbo moment. What was my point?

Oh yeah. My point is that Tolkien dissers come off as snobs because their critiques all seem based on social approbation and being known as reading either what is "cool" or what is "civilized." Thus: Austen in, Tolkien out. Or -- (insert famous name in littrachoor) in, Harry Potter out, to link this to the wider world of "realistic" fiction versus straight "childish" fantasy. And by the way, speaking of how devoting oneself to higher culture is supposed to be "good" for one's character, I provide this anti-example: one commenter to the above-linked post snarked about wishing he could tell some hapless reader of Lord of the Rings that "Gollum dies." This pretty much seems to sum of the collective litcrit protest against the book. I left one response, but now I have thought of a couple others -- be really brave, tell someone reading Pride and Prejudice not to worry, Eliza gets to marry the lord of the manor; or, "Good. I hate that little stinker."

Updated/insert: I just wanted to mention that I am in full agreement with Gary Farber's statement that calling readers of Tolkien "witless" and "childish" and saying that all "literature" (as it is known today) is pretentious crap are not useful arguments. Even if I do believe that most modern "littrachoor" is pretentious crap. So is most of everything, some science-fiction writer said once. (Yes, I know who said it, and yes, I have tried to read Theodore Sturgeon's work. I found it to be pretentious crap.)

PS: if you want to hear some of the actual literary criticisms (as opposed to Literary criticisms) of Tolkien, as well as their demolishment by the same critics, get the extended dvd of The Two Towers. The verdict in short? Storytelling wins over perfect adherence to Rewls of Littrachoor.

PPS: if you want a laugh -- a painful one, that is -- listen to the actors' audio commentary over the movie on the same release. Of the two movies' audio commentaries, the actors' versions anyway, I prefer the ones for Fellowship. The actors, at least the principals -- yes, I mean you, Mr. Wood, Mr. Astin, Mr. Monaghan, and Mr. Boyd -- have had time to let their pretentions flower. Especially groan-worthy is to hear Astin and Wood babble on about how the book is really about "all religions" or can communicate to "all religions" and how "all religions are really all about the same thing" or something like that. (I don't feel like writing a transcript.) How can I put this delicately: I don't think that a) Tolkien would have seen it that way, and b) I don't think the actual members of most other religions think so either. It's all very sweet, this We Are All Children of the Universe mentality, but it's also the equivalent of covering your ears and singing "la la la" very loudly. Oh well, thank god for Hollywood, it's like having our own little Shire full of happy, ignorant hobbits.

PPPS: Look! Comments are open! I am curious to see what people think. For now.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 10:53 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

Another book to add to the list

Oh look -- look what's finally available. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available through Amazon so I can't add it to my wish list. However, ordered through NRO shipping and handling is free. This will make up for the fact that I subscribed to the dead tree edition of that magazine exactly one issue after Miss King's last column (which column was the reason I subscribed to the magazine in the first place).

Posted by Andrea Harris at 06:52 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 20, 2003

So you've got a... what is it again?

Blob? Plod? Slog?

Posted by Andrea Harris at 05:42 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

I'm too sexy for my hobbit

Wandering back to elderly post on Harry Potter, it occurred to me that there is a certain type of hyperintellectual personality that is unable to enjoy any work of art that does not have any depiction of overt sexuality, and who therefore are unable to understand how anyone else could have any sort of interest in a book or movie or what-have-you that did not have a scene of someone humping someone else (or at least have a lot of thinly-disguised allusions to sex, sexual organs, and so on). See the frequent utterances of commenters in the thread complaining that there is "no sex" in the Potter books (about a character who is a preteen and then only a young teen, yet).

Also, the "sex" so sought is invariably that which traditional society once saw fit to call "deviant" -- everything but sex between husband and wife for purposes of procreation -- but which these days is almost boring in its ubiquitousness if not its respectability. In other words, maybe there was something to those admonitions of bourgeois grandparents to their charges to "get your nose out of that book before you go blind!"

Posted by Andrea Harris at 11:21 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 24, 2003

Bore to Pieces

Aldahlia reads War and Peace. I've been tring to read it too, in my sort of half-hearted campaign to read all the Dead White Male-penned classics. But I am afraid I have come to the same conclusions she has: the Borodins et al are as dumb and dull as rocks.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 04:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 08, 2003

Reading between, under, and over the lines

Then again, maybe there is something to the notion that adults shouldn't read childrens' books.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 07, 2003

Popular books

Oprah is going to be publishing literary classics. Yup, that's right -- Oprah is going to reissue the Dead White Male Hegemonical Oppressor Canon under her own publishing company. Damn. Just when I thought it was safe to go back to hating Oprah, she does something like this.

(Via Erin O'Connor.)

Update: it would be nice if I posted a link to the actual story, wouldn't it?

Posted by Andrea Harris at 06:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 08, 2003

Potted Author follies

There is so much that is wrong with this criticism of the Harry Potter novels by A.S. Byatt that I don't know where to begin. Well actually, I do -- with the title: "Harry Potter and the Childish Adult." I do realize that most articles that appear in the pro news media have their titles chosen by someone other than the author, but this time the title at least reflects the central thesis of the piece, which is that tired, flabby notion that the reading of so-called "childrens' books" by those over the age of eighteen is supposedly indicative of some sort of immaturity of outlook, or merely an assuaging of some creature called the "child within."

I would like to state here and now that I do not believe that the onset of adulthood means that the child one was the day before one's eighteenth birthday (or whatever age one's society decides one becomes an adult) is somehow destroyed or subsumed. I believe that people keep their same personalities from birth to death, barring severe brain damage. As one grows older one accumulates more life experience and knowledge, and hopefully these things increase one's understanding as well. A certain level of mental, emotional, and physical maturity being necessary, however, before a human being can fully participate in society, human beings have therefore created an idea of there being a transition at some clearly demarcated point that is referred to as "becoming an adult." In olden days, when life was simpler, this time was chosen to more or less coincide with a person's sexual maturity, which happens around age thirteen. But as society became more complex, this solution became less satisfactory. (For one thing, the mental and emotional maturity of human beings lags far behind their physical maturity. In fact, few people -- some would say no people -- finish developing in those areas.) That is one reason why traditional religious ceremonies marking a child's becoming a full participant in their community's activities -- the bar mitzvah, first confirmation, and so on -- occurs either in preteen or early adolescent years, but secular society doesn't consider a person to be an adult until they reach at least the age of eighteen.

Anyway, I don't believe in this fencing off of "childish" literature. In fact, I believe that at least in Western society the idea of childrens' literature is a relatively recent development, and goes back no earlier than the Victorian Age. That was when there was finally a middle class large enough and prosperous enough to affect the market in a significant way. Before then children read the same things adults read, if they read at all. The stories known as "fairy tales," shunted off to the nursery, were merely the old stories and myths of the countryside, passed on to children by their nannies and therefore becoming "childrens' tales" by default. (If you want to read more about this idea in depth, read J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories." Currently it is to be found as an introduction to his story "Tree and Leaf," in The Tolkien Reader. He pretty much cuts to pieces the idea of childhood as a special state alien to adults, and thus the idea of special "childrens'" literature.)

Anyway, to get back to the Byatt piece. I have a problem with it the first sentence going in:

What is the secret of the explosive and worldwide success of the Harry Potter books?

First of all, it is my personal opinion that the word "explosive" has become hackneyed, and a moratorium should be placed on its use in referring to anything other than describing the use of incendiary devices, or diarrhea. But let us move on, to the next sentence, which wonders at the "much harder question" of why so many adults read the Harry Potter books. Byatt comes to the conclusion that one reason adults read them is because they are "comforting" --

Childhood reading remains potent for most of us. In a recent BBC survey of the top 100 "best reads," more than a quarter were children's books. We like to regress. I know that part of the reason I read Tolkien when I'm ill is that there is an almost total absence of sexuality in his world, which is restful.

Well, everyone reads Tolkien for their own reasons, I guess... though I can think of a lot of things I read that have no sex in them. Personally, I read H.P. Lovecraft's stories when I'm sick -- I find that restful, make of that what you will.

I have, incidentally, deliberately passed the extended Freudian approach to the reason why the Potter plot is so popular among children. I try to pass over Freudian cites without commenting as often as I can. My attitude towards Freud's theories, at least whenever they are used to back up someone's critique of a movie or a book, these days somewhat resembles that of Robert De Niro's character in Analyze This.

But see, see the stuff about "regression"? That's what I mean. My inner Paul Vitti (other people have "inner children" -- I have an inner gangster, go figure) wants to whack this kind of crap right now. Bada bing.

But that's not all. Next we get to the Today's Generation Sucks theme. See, in Byatt's day, grownups read proper stuff that made them feel all oogy and uncomfortable but in a squidgy, superior sort of way that they called "edgy" among their knowing, Culturally and PsychoSexually Aware friends. Oops. I meant, "literature" was once properly Dark and In Touch With Our Earlier Culture, and got us to know Good and Evil, and Everything Was Magical. But today, people are just a bunch of mundane sheep:

Ms. Rowling, I think, speaks to an adult generation that hasn't known, and doesn't care about, mystery. They are inhabitants of urban jungles, not of the real wild. They don't have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had.

Good god, I haven't seen the phrase "urban jungle" in print since the seventies.

See, if you read something Byatt thinks is worthless, you are also worthless. It's a strange world Byatt inhabits. I would say that people who read pretentious "adult" literature are themselves pretentious twits who eat salads made with substances called "arugula" and have tasteful erotic art books on their coffee tables, but I actually know many people who read such literature and they are otherwise quite down to earth, have been known to buy and eat fast food, and don't think to themselves "I am getting in touch with my wild ancestors" when they go on hunting trips. I will refrain from wondering if Byatt is as snooty in person as she sounds here in print.

At the very least, though, she could have approached her subject with a little more care. Byatt seems to have barely skimmed the Potter books, because she gets several things wrong. The "magic" in the Potter books is by no means "confined to school grounds" (in the very first section of the fifth book evil magical creatures attack Harry and his cousin in their own neighborhood, far from Hogwarts), nor is it no less a "force" than the magic in Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books -- which also features a school for wizards, by the way -- since just as in LeGuin's stories magic is recognized as something that the persons endowed with these powers must be taught to control and focus. This isn't some tossed-off idea buried in a paragraph towards the back of, say, the fourth book -- it's only the entire premise of the main setting of the books, the Hogwarts School, not to mention one of the major underpinnings of the books as a whole. Harry must learn to control his powers lest they -- through the books' representation of a person's potential for evil, Voldemort -- control him, and he becomes evil like Voldemort. So there are no serious themes, no struggle between good and evil, in the Potter books? Fine, whatever.

I am not going to argue here that Rowlings is a writer on par with Thackeray (or Terry Pratchett, whose work if you ask me is only nominally fantasy; I think people like him for all the cute asides and in-jokes myself. Personally, I can only take Pratchett in small doses). She is no stylist -- she uses English the way most people use it, to describe what happened and what people thought and did and said about it. The prose is workmanlike, no better. If you are turned on by "amazing sentences" you won't care much for any of the Potter books, nor for a lot things. For my own part, I grow tired of "amazing sentences" and other such attention-getting tricks and sometimes would like to just sit down and read a story. If I feel "comforted" rather than depressed and drained -- as is my reaction to a lot of "real" literature -- I don't think that means that I am immature, unable to handle myself in the "real wild" (I'd like to know what the reaction of this flower of English letters would be if she were to end up somehow in the "real wild"), or "without the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing." I think I do pretty good in the telling apart of the ersatz from the authentic, especially when it comes to criticism of sort.

(Via Crooked Timber.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 03:01 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

June 19, 2003

Alphabet soup, alphabet stew, fried alphabet--

When I was a child I went through life happily unaware that there was any such thing as a "researcher in children's literature," though I am sure that there must have been. I think reading something like the statements in this article would have killed my enjoyment of several favorite works. Here's a sample (the subject is the Harry Potter books):

A literary icon develops the power of myth, generating meanings beyond the immediate narrative.

Oh god, I feel my brain going numb already. Must... click... back... button...

The whole rest of it is a bunch of back-of-the-book-jacket clichés. ("...his characters achieve an imaginative reality." "... narrative twists and turns..." "...dazzling allure." " has indisputably endowed him with cult status." Feh.) Via The

And on that note -- Harry Potter is a conservative plot! (Cue shrieking Psycho violins.) Do tell:

Despite all of the books' gestures to multiculturalism and gender equality, Harry Potter is a conservative. A paternalistic, One-Nation Tory, perhaps, but a Tory nonetheless.

Har. Get this:

Hogwarts' curriculum doesn't include teaching foreign languages, geography or overseas trips, despite the ease of magical travel.

And there aren't any Diversity Guidelines posted in the Hogwarts hallways!

Hogwarts celebrates Christmas and Halloween, but there are no feasts for Rosh Hashanah or Diwali. This is not so much multiculturalism as naive monoculturalism.

Oh come on, Adams, you can't be serious. I wonder if this is some sort of inept attempt at satire. If this article were anywhere but in the Groaning Wad, I'd be sure of it.

Here comes the March of the Class Strugglers:

The Dursleys are Rowling's epitome of the modern middle class: crass, mean-spirited and grasping, living in a detached house in the suburb of Little Whinging. Vernon works in middle management while Petunia is a curtain-twitching housewife.

The Dursleys read the Daily Mail, support capital punishment and lavish video games and junk food on their spoilt son Dudley. They dream of bigger company cars and holidays in Spain, rather than traditional Tory visions of warm beer and village greens. The Dursleys, not Voldemort, are the real villains.

This looks more like projection. Rowland's portrayal of the Dursleys is satirical, but it is quite clear to someone who hasn't read the books through a Marxist haze that Voldemort is the real villain. The Dursleys, unpleasant though they are, are merely pathetic and buffoonish. But to a Activist of the People™ villains such as Voldemort are not the enemy -- rather they are to be admired for their "individuality" and ruthlessness at attaining their goals. It is the hapless Dursleys of the world, materialistic and compromised (and too much like one's own clueless, middle-class family), who are the true enemy.

(Via Steven Chapman.)

Update: Trevelyan has a few things to say to Richard Adams.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 02:00 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 29, 2003

I promise

That no story or novel I write will ever feature characters communing with whales. Ever.

(Via Charles D. G. Hill.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 24, 2003

Not ready yet

Dang. I hate it when I almost get an idea, and in the few seconds it takes Word to fire up and present a blank page, the idea fades into puerility. Crap.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:24 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 16, 2003

Fox on the run?

Oh, what utter bullshit.

For one thing, guess who's involved. If that doesn't set off your alarm bells, then the mere fact that someone on the run from a family that "is an alarmingly influential pillar of a small European country, deeply meshed into the financial fabric of the nation and at the core characterized by the highest extremes of power and influence" is keeping a weblong with extensive entries should be a clue. Especially now that the site has been moved from the relative anonymity of Blogspot to its own domain. If her family is so much like the Corleones, isn't she afraid of endangering whoever registered the domain for her? I guess not -- but then she probably isn't even real. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if this isn't another of Mr. Plagiarist's performance-art-like stunts designed to mess with the blogworld's collective head.

As a side note, I can't understand the praise this writer, whoever it is, is getting from people. "She's a great writer" my ass. My cursory visits to her site to get an idea of what this was all about nearly caused me to go into a coma from boredom. If you have an old, dull, well-worn plot like "rich, powerful, and controlling family vs. frightened-yet-determined rebellious daughter" you sure had better have a writing style that raised your story above all the others mouldering in the remainders box with their front covers torn off. This girl (or whatever) doesn't -- she's so dull she makes me want to go to a used bookstore and dig up something by Barbara Cartland.

(Via Neal Sheeran.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 12:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 11, 2003

Oversexed and over there

David Frum praises the unrestrained, sexy, British -- or does he?? (Scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

(Via a commenter in this post on Joshua Claybourn's blog.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 02:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bad book alert

Wow. This really does sound like one of the worst books ever written.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:24 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 27, 2003

Timely verse

Dean writes a haiku
A simple little word play,
Think that they'll get it?

Posted by Andrea Harris at 02:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2003

The Rules of Fisking

This is actually a pretty useful guide on copyright and libel laws as concerns the practice of "fisking" -- which I think has pretty much become a standard blogging term whether some people like it or not. (Note: this is a straight target link to the post, because as usual Blogspot's archives are screwed up. As such, the link will rot once the post scrolls off the main page. It's the post for April 21, 2003, at 5:48 AM.)

Via Instapundit.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 09, 2003

Handout on Plagiarism

Here's a useful thing: a simple, straightforward, guide to what Plagiarism is, and how one can avoid it. This is put out by the University of Virginia, which notes that you can be expelled for committing plagiarism. (Via Chris lawrence.) And here is the pertinent page on my university's "Golden Rule" (student rights and responsibilites) handbook site (it's under "Academic Dishonesty/Cheating").

Posted by Andrea Harris at 03:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 24, 2003

Best Writer-Smackdown Ever

Mr. Helpful has some helpful words for Stephen King, after sitting through the new movie based on one of his stories, Dreamcatcher. Sample:

1. The crippled/shunned/outcast/socially unacceptable/retard character who actually possesses numerous redeeming traits and ends up being the savior of us all. A lot of times, King makes this character a child and whenever I see this idiotic plot device, I immediately think of that scene in the Cohen brothers marvelous Barton Fink where the assistant to a "great" writer describes the routine plot machinations as involving a "waif" or a "helpless female" or an "orphan" or sometimes all three. King obviously has great empathy for the less fortunate amongst us but let me just say to him one of the great truths of life which is "so what, you fucking egomaniac??!!"


Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:35 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 18, 2003

Hacks of Middle-Earth

Alex Knapp slams a sample of what the fantasy arm of the publishing industry is pumping out these days. He voices one of my pet peeves about the genre: that most of it is crap, hack-work designed to take advantage of the success of novels like Lord of the Rings. The same could be said to be true of any other publishing genre: romance, horror, etc. But somehow in fantasy the cheap gimcrackery of the underpinnings of the hack jobs are so much more obvious. This is probably because in a fantasy novel there is the least amount of real-world material available to you to fill in plots cracks and smooth over glaring failings. With a fantasy novel one ideally is creating not just characters and plot, but an entire world. Creating an entire world from the continents to the firmament is exhausting -- even God took a day off. If you aren't up to it you should probably not be writing fantasy.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 12:52 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

March 12, 2003

Chilling at Windmills

Okay, maybe I didn't make myself clear. My problem with the use of "chilling" to describe every bad thing under the sun these days wasn't because of its incorrectness, but because of its overuse. Remember how everyone in the Seventies used the word "coping" until you wanted to stick an icepick into your ear so you couldn't hear it anymore? (You know you did. Don't lie.) Well, that's the effect the constant appearance of the word "chilling" in any context but 1) what jello should be doing in the fridge, and 2) an activity one engaged in with one's homies, has on me. Sit back, chill out, and read the evidence:

" - Internet Hate-Speech Ban Called 'Chilling.'"

"Global Warming: A Chilling Perspective."

"From Justice Scalia, a Chilling Vision of Religion’s Authority in America."

"A chilling truth about childcare."

"Powell: Bush Sends Iraq a 'Chilling Message.'"

"A Chilling Specter."

"‘Revenant’: a chilling tale made human."

"Antarctica's melting ice - hot air or chilling reality?"

(It is with great effort that I do not remark upon the frequent use of the word as a lame, obvious pun.)

In a synopsis of a news story about skydiving: "Tonight At 5: Chilling Video From Skies Over Washington."

A snippet from an Australian news story about the prime minister's reaction to a train wreck: "But such a loss of life in travelling to and from work is always a particularly chilling thing." It got poor John Howard.

Statistics on how many kids in America watch tv are "chilling."

This tv movie on John Mapplethorpe's high-class pr0n exhibit brouhaha back in 1990 "brings back chilling memories." Well yeah, that one with the bullwhip in -- never mind.

Not getting to watch Karen Finley smear chocolate over her genitalia is a "chilling effect" on artistic freedom.

Receiving messages from the Unabomber back in 1995 was "chilling." I thought explosives involved heat, but what do I know.

And The Chilling is billed as a "A Good, Low Budget Zombie Movie." Linda Blair stars.

That's only a few examples. And I haven't even started on the blogs.

(Technique stolen from Tim Blair.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 11:16 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

My futile campaign, cont.

In this article about the blindness of the George W. Bush-haters, I come upon this quote by one of them, on the subject of Condoleeza Rice:

She is a "US version of Margaret Thatcher, a person whose lack of empathy for those of lesser ability is chilling".

Look! The eedjits have taken to using the "c-word" ("chilling") in that way I hate. Now will you all stop using it like that??? Pleeeeease? (Maybe if I can find a quote of Clinton using it, that would work, eh? Argh.)

Article via Tim Blair.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 03:18 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 10, 2003

Grammar peeve

I have just about had it up to here with the use of the word "chilling" to mean anything but what one should do with a bottle of champagne. I know I say that just about every month, but I mean it every time I say it. Stop. It. Now.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 08:10 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

March 06, 2003

Weird preoccupations of the left

The tings people get upset about... now it's someone who calls himself "Gummo Trostsky" getting in a lather because Dorothy Sayers spoke favorably about the Ptolemaic view of the universe (geocentric, spherical, etc.) in her footnotes to her translation of Dante's Inferno. Then he goes on to compare it to, what else, those icky contemporary conservatives and their "seriously weird" (supposed) nostalgia for "times and places outside their own experience." Quite frankly I find people who don't have any sort of attraction to anything outside their own experience to be seriously weird, but that's just me. Also, he refers to Sayers in the present tense, even though the author has been dead for quite some time. I don't get this petty rage against the likes and dislikes of someone from a previous era. One might as well get bent out of shape at an eighteenth-century landowner and eventual president, such as Thomas Jefferson, not quite getting the whole equality-between-the-races thing. Oh, wait...

Posted by Andrea Harris at 08:23 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 24, 2003

A web comic novel graphic thingy

I was just surfing around looking for images of Valkyries to use and I came upon this web comic: Ancient Messages. It's a complete web comic book novel graphic thingy. It's deceptively simple. I like it.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 12:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 21, 2003

A Poet Dissents

That's the name of this article, written by poet Frederick Turner. He is for the war, and wonders if this means he's not a poet anymore, considering the apparent attitude of the so-called "poet community." Perhaps instead of poet, we could resurrect the old term "bard" for him then. The poem he ends his article with might not be "good" poetry -- I have too little education in the matter to be able to say whether or not a poem is "good" -- but I liked it; it has a certain Beowulf -like rhythm. (Via Instapundit.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 09:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 20, 2003

The wages of peace, pt. 2

For the Children™.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 02:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2003

Divided by a common language

Sometimes I wonder what we mean by "dialogue." I keep reading that "we need to have a dialogue!" concerning this possible war with Iraq, but I am not sure why. Everyone seems to have already made up their mind; I know I have. "Dialogue" seems to result instead in frustrating exchanges like the one in the comments to one of my posts. I have come to the attentions of one Colin Roald, who has his own blog, though it seems to be down right now (it was up earlier this afternoon).

Anyway, I found the exchange exasperating. Mr. Roald seems to be coming from an isolationist, or perhaps defeatist (in the "since we can't go/aren't going after all the evils in the world all at once, we shouldn't do anything" mode) position. Now I say "seems to be," because he became put out when I made a statement on what I thought he believed about something based on what he wrote in my comments. Now, I do not know Mr. Roald, nor can I get onto his webpage to scan it until I find a statement of his beliefs -- and in any case, what is the use of writing and engaging in "dialogue" if it is not to showcase one's beliefs? But he did not become snippy because I got his beliefs wrong, he was upset that I had attempted to say anything whatsoever about his beliefs. If he didn't want me to try to figure out what he believed, then what was all that writing for, a typing exercise?

Here is an example of what I mean: in one of the comments here, Mr. Roald says: "[...]things are maybe not so cheery in Afghanistan as you assume " (emphasis mine) and quotes from a news report from this Afghan-focused (and perhaps produced, though I can't find a masthead) website to emphasize, I guess, his own gloomy prognosis for that area. Now I would like to know just how he assumes I or my commenters have decided that things in Afghanistan are "cheery." One of the commenters merely said something to the effect that predictions of a Vietnam-like quagmire for US forces in that country have not come to pass. No one tried to pass off the situation in Afghanistan as "cheery" or anything else.

But this is why it is frustrating to have a dialogue with any of these antiwar people. When you point out to them that things they were certain would happen have not come to pass, they change the subject. When you expose their beliefs, they accuse you of abstract wrongs rather than explaining themselves further. And most frustrating of all, they keep writing the same thing over and over, using slightly different arrangements of sentences each time, the new internet version of "shouting" which has replaced all caps. You know, if I disagree with you on something, and you keep repeating it, I'm not going to slip up and say, "You're right," as if we were playing some demented version of "Simon Says."

Posted by Andrea Harris at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2003

Buffy the Balrog Slayer on Krypton

Uh oh -- Mr. Neil Gaiman has fallen afoul of one of those scourges of the internet: the Reader Who Takes Umbrage at the First Paragraph of a Blog Post, Fan-Fiction Writer Subgenus. (Entry for February 4th.) Apparently Mr. Gaiman mentioned in an earlier post that he doesn't read fan fiction. He went on further, of course, and anyone who read his entire post would have found out that the reason he doesn't read Sandman/Spock/Kirk/Angel slash isn't because he thinks it smells (nor because he thinks fanfic is all slash). But the flood of emailers obviously didn't get that far before the fired up their Outlook Express. Thus:

[...]it also looked like a lot of the people telling me off hadn't even read the whole post, or had just seen other people on other sites quoting the last paragraph, which was then extensively quoted back at me as evidence that: I don't know what I'm talking about; do not understand that people are writing fan-fiction for pleasure, or that fan-fiction is a valid artistic purpose in itself; that I am myself nothing more than a glorified fan writer; that people writing movies and TV shows and comics and books are really writing fan-fiction; that real life is really fan-fiction; that all comics writers are writing fan fiction and what about that time I wrote (insert comics/historical/mythical characters I didn't create here)?; that Shakespeare was writing fan fiction; and that my choice to write fiction that I do not call fan-fiction should not be seen in any way as a reflection on those who wear their fan-fiction proudly. Also if I'd just read some decent Buffy/Smallville/Legolas/Gone With the Wind fan-fiction I wouldn't have been so rude about those who choose to write it.
I dunno, Buffy/Smallville/Legolas/Gone With the Wind fan-fiction sounds like it would be... interesting. Or something. (Or at least it does to me, who is suffering from huge writer's block problems on everything but silly blog entries like this one.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 03:01 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 20, 2003

How to conquer your nightmares

Make them into a best-selling graphic novel series. (Or turn them into stories anyway; maybe that's why I rarely have nightmares.)

[Note: that link is the closest to a permalink Gaiman's blog has for now -- I had an idea to see what the archives looked like; it's the entry for January 20th.]

Posted by Andrea Harris at 11:35 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 11, 2003

To the moon

Now, I am a genre fiction champion, but I am not unaware that most of it is crap. In fact, considering how important such things as plot and setting are to genre fiction, I am of the opinion that it is much more difficult to write a decent romance or science fiction or fantasy novel than it is to write a plain literary work. (That is one reason I prefer genre fiction: it is harder to do right, so that when it is done right, I feel like I have found buried treasure.)

A case in point: Coyote by J-school grad Allen Steele. This work of science fiction has won two Hugos. I think I know why, and it has nothing to do with the plot, which is a standard rehash of all those seventies-era scifi Liberals-in-Space novels. (For a much better practitioner of this sort of subgenre read anything by Ursula K. LeGuin. A sub-subgenre of this is the womyn-in-space sagas that appeared after Reagan had been president for a while, where men were the Great Evil that nurturing, bonding females had to fight and/or flee from to other planets; and there is even a sub-sub-subgenre I call "brown-womyn-in-space-and-their-nurturing-brown-male-supporters," where it's the White Male Oppressor that everyone is fighting/fleeing.)

Plot being the most important thing in genre fiction, take a gander at the plot of Coyote:

Coyote is a tale that begins in 2070. The only thing far-fetched about this story is that the government's space shuttles are named after conservative politicians from the 20th century, including Jesse Helms and George Wallace.

But maybe that isn't so far-fetched. In Steele's near future, political conservatives, buoyed by decades of war against terrorists, have taken firm control of the government, amended the Constitution in the name of national security, put dissenters in prison and bankrupted society to build a genuine interstellar starship. It seems that the president has a dream of being the first to colonize a distant planet and begin a better, more pure world in the spirit of Joseph McCarthy.

However, liberal intellectual dissidents hatch a conspiracy, steal the starship Alabama from its port in Earth orbit and start their own space colony in the spirit of the Mayflower.

The spirit of Joseph McCarthy?!? Is the fear of this long-dead senatorial buffoon still that strong in journalism schools? Can't we have some sort of ceremonial exorcism so I finally won't have to see the term "McCarthyism" applied to everything from communist-mocking to a multiplex cinema's refusal to show the latest unrated (i.e., full of skanky Eurosex) imported film in its big-screen theater? Make. It. Stop.

Via Media Minded; further via Susanna Cornett.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 10:00 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Great minds think alike?

Someone (not me) emailed Neil Gaiman and asked him about adding permalinks to his blog. He says there are plans to add them soon. So it wasn't just me...

Posted by Andrea Harris at 02:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 09, 2003

Bad Poetry in Motion

The U.K.'s poet laureate is a producer of bad doggerel. No, really. Tell me what you think of this, ignoring for the moment it's "inflamatory" subject matter

CAUSA BELLI by Andrew Motion

They read good books, and quote, but never learn
a language other than the scream of rocket-burn.
Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad:
elections, money, empire, oil and Dad.

And I thought my poetry sucked. Tim Blair is collecting parodies of the work. Send them his way.

Update: Dig it! Tim better wake up! People are all over this here thing. Here's mine:


They pose and preen and spout erudite words
But little do they know we see right through these turds.
Fine talk is cheap, but no help in the breach,
Nobody cares a fig what these loons preach.

Update: the results are posted. Go read. Do not eat or drink at the same time, though, unless you have a replacement keyboard.

Posted by Andrea Harris at 03:36 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

January 08, 2003

Interviewing bloggers

Bloggers are discombobulating the journalists who interview them by doing things like posting the entire transcripts of the interviews on their own blogs, according to this article. The article doesn't say this trend is a bad thing, but it must be unnerving to see that your carefully culled and pruned and edited article has a big sprawling, messy echo available somewhere. It must seem to traditional journalists kind of like an actor getting his hands on the entire uncut reel of the movie he was in and giving it to all his friends. (Via Instapundit.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at 10:42 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 06, 2003

Picture this

I think that "illustrator" is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It obviously comes from Latin -- I didn't even have to look that up on to figure that out. It looks positively Elvish. Anyway, one of my favorite illustrators of children's books is Trina Schart Hyman. I have an edition of Snow White that was illustrated by her, and I found A Walk Out of the World and Marrow of the World, two excellent original YA fantasies written in the seventies by Ruth Nichols, that Hyman also illustrated. I have always wished I could draw like her. Anyway, I have been thinking of fantasy a lot lately (no! really?) and of artwork inspired by such, and remembered this one artist. Other artists I like are Brian Froud, Alan Lee, the Brothers Hildebrandt, Aubrey Beardsley, and Gustave Doré. I also love the Japanese ukiyo-e print-makers, and Chinese and Japanese painting in general. I tend to prefer: realistic painting with a touch of the otherworldly. Blame my parents: my father had a thing for Oriental art too, and Chinese paintings and Japanese vases were all over the house.

Update: Chris reminded me of another fantasy artist whose work I liked, but I didn't know his name: it's Tom Canty. No, Chris, I don't think you're a weenie at all!

Posted by Andrea Harris at 01:45 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 04, 2003

Take him for all in all

John Derbyshire might be the most perfect example of the idea that "Man can soar higher than angels; he can sink lower than beasts" (Zarathushtra) that I have yet encountered. Often he will emit some diatribe or what he obviously thinks is a mere observation, and the general reaction of people who read it is "Ew!" There is some evidence that he is, to put it mildly, a homophobe, and he seems to have a kind of Tourette's syndrome about it. But then there is his obvious love for Chinese culture and literature. In this current column of his, he talks about the opening lines to classic Chinese novels and other works. It seems that not all of them start out obeying the rules of publishing, i.e.: "Hook your reader at the very first line." For example, the opening line to one of them is: "This is the first chapter."

It makes me wonder about the novels we call "classics" now, and whether or not they would be publishable, never mind given endless literary hosannas, today. There is the famous example of Tolstoy's War and Peace: "Eh bien, mon prince!" "Rule" broken: never start your novel with a line of dialogue, especially one in a language not your own. (But of course, the characters speaking are Russian upper crusties in the nineteenth century, who all spoke French and used it in conversation as often as Russian; this establishes the character of the speaker right away. Incidentally, a lot of translations translate that line into English too, which grates on my nerves; I searched until I found a Penguin edition which left the line as is.) Also, Tolstoy's tome is famously huge, and I wonder if his publishers had a heart attack when they received the manuscript. It's longer than Lord of the Rings -- but then, Tolkien wasn't a member of the Russian nobility or any nobility. I also like this quote from my edition in "Notes on the 1978 Edition": "In his absolute moral awareness and total moral engagement with the fate of his characters Tolstoy often neglected literary style."

Posted by Andrea Harris at 11:07 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack