Some of the strangest criticisms I receive comes from those who feel that I don't respect the "great fantasy novelists" ... the names of which range widely, of course, since most can't agree, but which I would assume includes Tolkein, Leiber, Moorcock, Lovecraft, Anthony, Howard, Burroughs, Bradley, Zelazny, Lewis, Baum and Carroll. Frankly, I am driven to belly laugh when I hear others thrown in there, like Rowling, Eddings, Brooks, Asprin, Vance or Prachett. Nice little fantasy churners, but "great" writers?
Hey, I've had a long and serious experience with writing all my life, and with people who actually can write ... particularly people who have been considered great writers for a century or two. Rowling famous in two centuries? Yeah, that's going to happen. I don't know any serious reader anywhere who thinks Tolkein is a good writer; Burroughs, Howard and Leiber are fun, but we're not talking literature here. The best writer in the above group, in my opinion, is undoubtedly Lewis Carroll, followed by Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and Michael Moorcock. I mean, right down to the nap as it were - the thing that makes or breaks a book for me.
I'm a writer. I'm unquestionably as good as a lot of these guys (but I write non-fantasy, so I'm not going to get praised in those parts) ... and the way I can tell that is that I find myself needing to edit their sentence structure. I mean, seriously. It sounds, most of the time, hackneyed and clumsy. Burroughs is ungodly purple, Leiber writes like a painter whitewashing a house (all at once and without emotion) and Lovecraft suffers from the same adverbitis I fight like hell to destroy in my own writing when I'm editing (remember, I generally don't edit my blog posts, so many adverbs creep in here). Not to mention he shares Burrough's ridiculous where it comes to the vocabulary. I mean, look at this paragraph from Lovecraft.
"in the third round the fight grew really rough; several ears and other appurtenances being wholly or partially detached from the frontier battler by the Shokan Shocker. Somewhat irritated, Two-Gun countered with some exceptionally sharp blows; severing many fragments from his aggressor, who continued to fight with his remaining members. (At this stage the audience gave signs of much nervous excitement - instances of trampling and goring being frequent. The more enthusiastic members were placed in the custody of Mr. Harry Brobst of the Butler Hospital for Mental Diseases."
Oh, I know ... [he said, his face sardonic and disgusted] ... this is just 'brilliant!' What a writer this is! Wow! It's like you're there.
I'm sorry ... ears and "appurtenances" having been removed, Two-Gun is "somewhat irritated"? This is the way you write when you want your audience to laugh. And I love the journalistic note about Mr. Harry Brobst ... is this a story or a newspaper article?
Now, I know the fan boys out there are getting worked up now ... but I'm sorry to tell you guys, this stuff - as literature - is just shit. It's read by boys in grade school because in grade school you haven't read enough to know this is shit. Sure, Lovecraft is creative, he's got some interesting turns in his material and I used to really like him ... when I was in grade school. But you grow up, eh? You read better stuff. You get a sense of what can be done with language and buddy, it's better than this.
Of course, many a gentle reader will disagree. I'm sorry. Life is really rough that way. Not everyone can bow to the gods you bow to.
Now, I will say a few words about those writers who ARE better - Lewis Carroll, Moorcock and Frank Baum and so on. Here, its true, I can't complain about the writing style. The writing style is marvelous. But ... I just don't care about the content. I mean, I've read those books; Narnia was all right, the Wizard of Oz and the other three Baum wrote about Oz were better when I was a kid; I never liked Elric of Melnibone but Jerry Cornelius was interesting from a post-70's perspective. They don't speak to me now, however. They simply don't. My mind is in a different place, it finds different things important, and those perspectives don't apply to those priorities. Such is the way with human beings. Fantasy just doesn't interest me any more.
Oh, I incorporate fantasy into my D&D campaigns ... but I see that as a game feature, not as something that makes my skin vibrate. That's the facts of it. It's sort of like how some people think that seeing a dismembered leg is unbelievably horrible - and then you meet someone who works in a surgery and sees that sort of thing every day. Meh, no big deal.
And I suppose I must say a word about Tolkein. Once again, an altar I just can't worship at. Sorry. Nice and creative, but overall just second-rate writing. He holds it together for passages like explaining the Hobbits and what Hobbits do, and then just freaking loses it where it comes to long, meandering preposition-enriched passages where we're walking ... and we're walking ... and we're walking.
I simply don't see how my playing D&D has anything to do with either reading fantasy or kowtowing to it. My imagination is as rich and varied as any of these people, no matter what I write like - and frankly, whatever they had to say to me, they said it to me thirty years ago. I've had time to grow and expand and read other books ... books about family, tragedy, bloody-mindedness and ignorance; books about war and devastation, sacrifice, loyalty, brutality and indifference. Books that cover a lot more ground than bravery and wonder. I mean, bravery and wonder are interesting themes, but they're not every theme that's ever been advanced. May I also add, I'm not terribly interested in the sorts of themes that are expressly popular today in fantasy, which can only be described as emo and angst. Angst is naturally very popular among young, dissatisfied, largely unambitious people who feel the world is not awarding them their due ... but overall, it's a crapfest if you're actually in charge of your life, and you don't personally feel shortchanged. When you feel as I do, that you're getting exactly your due, then angst is, well, either laughable or thoroughly repulsive. It does not offer a good weekend with a book.
I'm not going to pitch those books I think everyone should read. Those books are obvious to anyone and everyone. They are the same books that people who are aware of the length and breadth of literature have tried to levy on the gentle reader, and which many gentle readers will have ignored. It's very interesting that those people who scream and stamp for fantasy to have the respect it's due (sounds very much like the angst perspective) so very rarely read the books which have that respect already.
It's not enough to read just one or two of those books. It's not enough to read ten of them. It takes years of constant growth to comprehend, fully, what's in those books, and that can't be done with dabbling. If you have read some of those books - and didn't get what all the fuss was about - then you didn't read enough of those books.
Fantasy is juvenile fiction. Read by juveniles. Who defend it, expectantly, with the pouting squalling of children. It's limited thematically to juvenile themes because it is about things that are not real. At best, it can reflect things that are real ... which is yet one step removed from writing about real things. That is why the literates don't respect it. It's escapist, which makes it fun and that has its own satisfaction ... but it isn't relevant to that thing which literature does best of all the arts.
Literature tells us how to live here, in the real world. In the now. Without all the decoration, and without all the frivolity. It's the dismembered limb in your hand, not the dismembered limb in the horror novel.
It takes a long time for some people to learn that. Some people will never learn.