The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists


#1

This, and the other articles in this series are very well worth reading. I tied to capture important themes in my quotes, but each article has too many such themes, and then there’s grin’s introductory lead-in that sets up each theme. Please take the time to read the articles. I am not a big reader in the Fantasy-SciFi-Adventure genres (which often overlap). I enjoy Tolkien, Lewis, Verne, some of H. G. Wells and Zamyatin’s We, but I’m not a devotee of the genres.

The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists
by Leo Grin
Big Hollywood
2/12/11

But it was only recently, after decades of ever-increasing reading disappointment, that I grudgingly began to admit the truth: I don’t particularly care for fantasy per se. What I actually cherish is something far more rare: the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves, and that echoes in important particulars the myths and fables of old.

This realization eliminates, at a stroke, virtually everything written under the banner of fantasy today.

The mere trappings of the genre do nothing for me when wedded to the now-ubiquitous interminable soap-opera plots (a conservative friend of mine once accurately derided “fat fantasy” cycles such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time as “Lord of the Rings 90210”). Nor do they impress me in the least when placed into the hands of writers clearly bored with the classic mythic undertones of the genre, and who try to shake things up with what can best be described as postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage.

Alas, I haven’t read it — Abercrombie’s freshman effort, the massive First Law trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Were Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings) was more than enough for me. … Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.

In the case of the fantasy genre, the result is a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and Howard willed into being with their life’s blood. Honor is replaced with debasement, romance with filth, glory with defeat, and hope with despair. Edgy? Nah, just punk kids farting in class and getting some giggles from the other mouth-breathers.

Care to … Agree? Disagree? Illuminate? Expand? Go for it!


#2

Sanity and Sanctity: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien Part 1
by Leo Grin
Big Hollywood
2/19/11

It was thus left to Lewis to spur the author of The Hobbit on to greater heights of imagination. “If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves,” he once told Tolkien, and that’s just what they did. Each used the medium known (fondly to some, pejoratively to most) as “fairy stories” to achieve the tang and ring and chime — and through them the thoughts and feelings and beliefs — that they were seeking in literature.

… penning worried, often melancholy letters to his sons off to war. “I sometimes feel appalled,” he admitted in one 1944 missive, “at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment. . . If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed visions of the heavens! … We do so little that is positive good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil. It must be terrible to be a priest!”

And yet, he also possessed shadowed hope: “At the same time one knows that there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible beauties of word or deed or face — not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there.”

Is it any shock that it was this series of articles focused on Tolkien that caught my attention? While all do to some degree, this article especially gives info and insight into the history/development and purposes of Tolkien and the LOTR Trilogy.

The Order of Grace: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien, Part 2
by Leo Grin
Big Hollywood
2/28/11

… So many dismiss fantasy in general and Tolkien in particular as shallow children’s fairy tales, with simplistic nursery-rhyme notions of good and evil, and all of it of little relevance to the modern adult world. And yet here are grown adults, intelligent and erudite, who clearly were affected on some bedrock level by The Lord of the Rings. They speak of a sort of comfort, as if reaching a port in the storm of Life, battered and weary, and of being nourished and refreshed by a Power, “some sort of faith,” a Light “from an invisible lamp,” a “sanity and a sanctity.”

… heroism becomes the heritage not only of the strong and mighty and scary-smart — in fact, frequently it is they who most easily give in to the temptations of power. It should be remembered that among the greatest tragedies of Middle-earth is that even such monstrous villains as Morgoth and Sauron were once forces of great good in the world, veritable angels who ultimately allowed themselves to be corrupted into Lucifers by their anti-heroism, i.e. their disloyalty to God. Much the same can be said of Saruman and the Ringwraiths — all tempted into sowing the seeds of their own undoing.

Conversely, many of the greatest heroes of Tolkien’s legendarium are Hobbits and men who, compared to immortal Elves wielding rings of power from the safety of their forested fastnesses, are weak and low and even wretched. And yet by their “physical resistance to evil” they manage to save the world. “The ennoblement of the ignoble I find specially moving,” Tolkien once wrote. “. . . .I love the vulgar and simple as dearly as the noble, and nothing moves my heart (beyond all the passions and heartbreaks of the world) so much as ‘ennoblement’.”

His use of the word “vulgar” here is interesting. He of course did not mean dirty language or nudity, but common or simple. Middle-earth is a world that rocks to what Tolkien described as “unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten.” He was enchanted both in fiction and in life by how ordinary people, through even the most seemingly minor acts of charity, pity or goodwill, could create earth-shaking effects that redounded to the good of Good, and of humanity.

This delves further into the themes Tolkien intended to develop. His theme of little people doing little things and thereby being keys to accomplishing great things is one I particularly appreciate. As an aside, keep in mind that Tolkien’s usage of “vulgar” is the older meaning of, “common” or “ordinary”.

Eucatastrophe: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien Part 3
by Leo Grin
Big Hollywood
3/5/11

At heart, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien — The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and even the often bleak and sad Silmarillion — are kindly works, not bitter and cynical ones. He was not interested in leaving his readers holding onto the last page of his books feeling empty, hopeless, cheated, or confused. Nor did he leave vast parts of his plots deliberately obfuscated and unresolved in order to claim an unearned depth and complexity for his work and thoughts. Quite the contrary: Tolkien took immense pains to give his tales not only spiritual and literary but dramatic satisfaction. …

By graciously satisfying his readers’ insatiable curiosity in as many ways as possible, Tolkien puts himself at odds with many of today’s authors who, in an attempt to be ostentatiously arty and edgy, delight in leaving their readers with a sense of dramatic emptiness and thematic pointlessness. Just like in the film world, stories that ultimately resolve nothing and leave important plot threads hanging are in increasing vogue. Providing a paying reader with such basic dramatic tenets as resolution and closure is so last century, dont’cha know?

… recoil from truth like a vampire from a crucifix. There is none of their beloved shades of gray in truth: by its very nature, the word renders or implies some sort of moral judgment on the events described, and forces the author to come down on one side or the other of the cosmic “good vs. evil” debate at play. Liberals often contort the English language into pretzels in their effort to avoid making these judgments, hence they speak of “my truth” versus “your truth” and how all truths need to be respected in an enlightened society. If, say, Sauron’s truth is different from Gandalf’s truth, then who are we to force the reader into embracing one over the other?

Here, Grin looks at the reactions against Tolkien, directly and indirectly (in anti-LOTR novels and cheesy knock-offs). There is at least one analogous notable conscious reaction against C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” series, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. I have not yet read this trilogy, but what I’ve heard is that the first book is very well written, but the latter two descend into manipulative tendentiousness. I recently found that my daughter has a copy of The Golden Compass, the first in Pullman’s trilogy, but I’m in the midst of two other books, with three more in my must-read-soon queue.


#3

It is mainly talking about Fantasy novels, not Sci Fi. If you like Fantasy, you would like this book/author My Novels « Monster Hunter Nation. Larry Correia is a conservative gun nut, who likes B movies, I think you would like it.


#4

I agree that the “Fantasy” class of fiction is mostly garbage these days.
I have often wondered if it was just the version that ends up on screen due to Hollywood influence or if the writers themselves are really that shallow.

“Avatar” was so awful it could have been written by a 3rd grader, when it was an instant hit I just shook my head at what passes for good work today.

There are some obvious exceptions, The Harry Potter series seems like it embraces some larger concepts of truth and humanity (although I still have not seen them all so that comment may be premature). “Twilight” is so bad I cannot get past the first 30 minutes after 4 separate attempts.

My boys and I have been watching the “Stargate” franchise recently, we never saw any of it when it was new. It is OK from an entertainment perspective but I notice a lot of shallow PC stuff slipped in where some timeless profundity would have fit a lot better, not always but often enough where I notice it.

I often wonder if all generations have had a lack of great allegorical writing in their Fantasy/Fiction/Science fiction and if that is why we remember the greats so well. I can say that “Firefly” is the best Fantasy/Political/Humanity allegorical writing I have seen in a long time and it took place in the last 10 years.


#5

I like Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series. I have been able to read the books multiple times without growing bored. I will say, after 13 books, I’m about ready for it to wind up.


#6

Avatar had the potential to be good. But James Cameron had to do his leftist propaganda nonsense (which I also saw in the first eight episodes (on DVD) of his Dark Angel series before I got tired of it). End result: Awesome visual effects, lots of action, imaginative scenery and vehicles- and a thin plot demonizing conservativism.

When it comes to reading a book multiple times, possibly my favorite is the Star Trek novel The Vulcan Academy Murders. It has was I think is an awesome romance subplot.


#7

Never even heard of that one, FC.


#8

I’ve really enjoyed those myself! Two to go, one out and one next year. Brandon Sanderson did a good job pinch hitting from that first book he helped on.


#9

I thought so, too.

I must confess, I got impatient on the last two, and bought them in hardback…:embarrese (Books ain’t cheap any more, are they?)


#10

That’s why I haven’t gotten the latest yet $24.95 I think. Need a bit of overtime or a sale.


#11

No responsibilities, here, Perk. I can spend a bit on books. Still, +/- $25 ea. could add up pretty quick. At least 14 books in this series would be +/- $350… :eek: (I never did that math before). Still pretty good value for me, considering the hours of entertainment.


#12

If you’re a Trek fan, it’s worth looking at. The author does do a little of the a-criminal-mind-is-just-a-mentally-ill-mind thing, but not terribly much. Also, the computer refereces are rather dated (it was written in the mid '80s). But on the whole, I thought it was well worth it. The author wrote a sort-of sequel, but it was no match for the original.