In my early teens, love of fantasy led me to start reading novels in English (indirectly providing me with the tools necessary to write this blog). It was mostly American paperbacks in bunches of three: Eddings, Feist, Weis & Hickman, Brooks, Zimmer Bradley. Absolutely wonderful (except Brooks, shudder, even I could see that back then). Then I turned away from this sort of thing, shunning Jordan, Kay, Williams, Hobb, Lackey and their ilk. But still, inside me there is a 13-year-old who feels that anything with dragons and magic in it must be worthwhile. So I've returned now and then. With predictable results.
Dear Reader, it is useless to collect a fiction library, because you will sooner or later find that you are no longer the person who decided to keep a given book. Give your books away once you've stopped re-reading them. Eddings sat untouched on my shelves for 15 years. Then I re-read Pawn of Prophecy and promptly donated the Belgariad series to my local library. In recent years, I've also given Hobb, G.R.R. Martin, Goodkind and Kay a chance, but I haven't felt like finishing their books.
American Tolkienesque fantasy sells well, which means that it is good literature by the only meaningful yardstick I know of. But I am personally unable to enjoy most of it. My problem with it is that it feels like a walk through Disneyland. Everything is painted in bright colours with sharp edges, like the Larry Elmore cover of a Dragonlance book. It's mostly written in the voice of a literary innocent, guileless and naive, a breathless Dickensian storyteller. The people in these novels are clearly modern Americans in quasi-Medieval costumes. Much like Larry Elmore's woodenly posed and composed models, actually.
Another thing that keeps me from enjoying American fantasy is my profession. As an archaeologist specialising in 1st Millennium AD Northern Europe, I know a thing or two about the real Dark Ages that these Americans are dreaming of at long remove. I'm breathing the actual dirt from Dark Ages cemeteries and settlements. I can see what outdated college-textbook historical interpretation a fantasy author is working from. I groan at the umpteenth Happy Meal plastic toy resurrection of matters Arthurian, Beowulfish and "Celtic". The weight of cliché is often crushing. Diana Wynne Jones skewered the genre mercilessly in her very funny Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996), but of course she couldn't kill it.
Most of the fantasy novels I've read and liked in the past five years have been written by Europeans.
- Låt den rätte komma in. John Ajvide Lindqvist 2004.
- The Absolute at Large. Karel Čapek 1922.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll 1865.
- The Warrior of World’s End. Lin Carter 1974.
- The Never-ending Story. Michael Ende 1979.
- The Exploits of Moominpappa. Tove Jansson 1968.
- Changing Planes. Ursula K. LeGuin 2004.
- Ronia, the Robber's Daughter. Astrid Lindgren 1981.
- Titus Groan. Mervyn Peake 1946.
- The Truth. Terry Pratchett 2000.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. J.K. Rowling 1997.
- Kung Tulle. Om grundandet av Tulavall. Irmelin Sandman Lilius 1972.
- The Eyes of the Overworld. Jack Vance 1966.
[More blog entries about books, fantasy, novels, fiction, reading; böcker, läsning, fantasy, romaner, litteratur.]