Slogging forward, looking back
Have you had enough leftover candy trick-or-treaters didn’t get, or candy appropriated from your descendants or siblings after they crashed from the sugar high? Ready for something more filling, more varied, and much more tasty to the brain? Here, check out the indie halloween sale.
One of the strange side effects of LCHF diet is that I’ve pretty well lost my sugar cravings, and now things that used to taste awesome taste sickly sweet to me. This year’s Halloween candy did not escape the effect, though a strong helping of nostalgia made sure several pieces were consumed anyway. Nostalgia, you see, is a secret spice that makes everything it sticks to better. It’s very hard to transmit, and usually only appears as a residue from memories, though good authors can subtly sneak it into a story, and leave you craving a dish or a particular drink or to visit a place after reading an adventure wherein it was a part. It’s most noticeable around import stores, where people who have fought and sacrificed to get to a better world will indulge in snacks, candies, sausages, pates, and spreads that are practically oozing nostalgia ankle-deep in the aisles.
Nostalgia also drips from the pages of books, rendering some things awesome that are completely opaque to others coming at it cold, with no common reference and a headful of opposing viewpoints. To those approaching the Illiad and the Odyssey as a dry literary reading, they may not understand the sheer guts, glory, and excitement of these tales when told in the hands of a warrior, or a sailor. Certainly, they’ll start reaching for the cliff notes instead of singing out “Sing, Goddess, the wrath of Peleus’s son! ‘Cause Helen’s gone AWOL, it’s time for some fun!”
For a story is more than words; it is a shared emotional experience, transmitted from the author to the reader. And the best stories bring the reader back again and again, to bring back the emotions and the experience again, even in echoes. A question arose, last week, on whether or not one should make fun of a grown man reading Treasure Island.
I found the very question puzzling: what does it gain your soul to mock other people? Why would you want to tear others down? But to be very clear, I’m very strongly against the notion. Because there are many reasons to read kid’s stories. Perhaps he was getting rid of a bad day by re-reading a favorite book, and remembering how he’d daydreamed of running off to such an island as a youth. Perhaps the man was reading it for the first time, and is enjoying it so much he’s suspending disbelief and temporarily blind to the gaping plotholes and papered-over problems. Who are we to ruin his enjoyment?
Perhaps he was reading it to see why the book is still well known and rather popular over 130 years after its publication. Few books stand the test of time, and if you’re going to write a pirate tale, then it’s wise to know where so very many of them came from. (In fact, if you’re going to write heroic fantasy, or a deconstruction of heroic fantasy, or fantasy at all, do yourself a favor and actually read some Conan the Barbarian instead of assuming you can pick it all up from a Frazetta painting and third-generation removed fantasy. Read not only Robert E. Howard, but some Lovecraft, the original Mary Shelley Frankenstein, EE “Doc” Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett and Bram Stoker. You’ll find the stereotypes of the authors’ works don’t necessarily match what they actually wrote at all.)
As Joe in PNG noted in the MGC comments yesterday, “PTerry did Cohen the really, really, really old barbarian how long ago- 1986? Even the “Illiad” poked holes in the heroic fantasy narrative- witness Achilles initial rejection of lasting fame and glory in favor of a long, ordinary life.”
Kris Rusch has also noted how many young writers she’s run into who are completely ignorant of the many, many female authors who’ve been in science fiction and fantasy since the start. Among other reasons, many of their works have gone out of print, and the new writers coming in may not have read the old magazines, or picked up the older, dated-artwork books at the used bookstores. So they really, truly, may not know that their groundbreaking new take has been done to death thirty years before they came on the scene, or that they’re trying to reinvent a wheel that has not only been invented, it’s evolved to all-wheel drive with traction control.
Check out her project to bring back knowledge of the past in this genre here: http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/
Take time, too, to reread the books you liked both as a reader, and as a writer. You’ll start to see how they managed to tug your heartstrings, and incorporate that into your own tales. And may your own works someday evoke that same feeling in your readers!
…and now that the sugar has worn off, I go to bed. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For when the cat leaps up onto my bladder and dances across my chest while purring up a storm, who knows what dreams may come?