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[Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic

Started by Calithena, October 23, 2003, 03:31:27 PM

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1) We've now reached an impasse in the discussion of Moorcock. How would we make progress?

We'd have to analyze his prose style seriously. I admit there are things I like and things I don't. I tried to re-read Elric of Melnibone a couple years ago and found it miserable, had that 'embarrassed that I read that and liked it so much as a kid' feeling that I have when I see Urshurak on the used bookstore shelves. On the other hand, I burned through the Hawkmoon books and loved them not long ago, and those are perhaps the cheesiest of all Moorcock. Ron reports a similar schizophrenia with respect to the second Corum series. So I suspect that something more complicated is going on here - there's something MM is doing really well as a writer, from a writerly point of view, and something he's not. If I had more time I'd try to analyze this, but maybe some of you guys would like to present the case. Any takers? Chunn the Unavoidable?

2) Ron, a good RP group is like a band, and S&S is the rock and roll of fantasy fiction, but the only kind of music that really fits your analogy is free jazz.

I can't emphasize enough how much mileage I'm getting out of S&S right now - it's absolutely wonderful. Thank you for writing it.


(You're not going to believe me now, but I honestly didn't like Urshurak that much. I was just using it to make a point, coz, well, I did like it a little. When I was a kid, mind you.)

Rod Anderson

I'll hazard the opinion that it's not so much Moorcock being good at one thing and bad at another so much as him being, simply, uneven -- I gather during the period of his best-known books he wasn't much of a polisher, to say the least, and for any given value of "what writers do" he careens from good to bad like a pinball.


Ian Charvill

It is I think worth noting, that one of Moorcock's later, non-fantasy works was nominated for fairly prestigious English litarary award (Mother London was up for the Whitbread).  How this realtes to the quality of his earlier, fantasy works, is down to how much credence you put in the London LitCrit establishment.

W/r/t stormbringer, I tend to believe in the absence of other evidence that power fantasy's about big swords are about martial rather than sexual prowess.  I think that anyone who has ever been in a fight - especially anyone who has ever lost a fight - will understand instinctively that the desire to have a big and powerful sword needs no subtext other than 'I wish I was good at fighting and people couldn't bully me and push me around'.  Swords are not phallic - swords are just the right shape for killing people with.
Ian Charvill

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Fun as it is, I think we've beaten the Moorcock/style issue pretty dead. All the variables or points are on the table, and the reader can choose. David, my apologies if I've cut you off from an intended post, but I hope you can see this is turning into a "Moorcock to me" free-association session, and it's time for that to finish up, I think.

And if I'm not mistaken, Calithena's response to me about Vance represents a meeting of minds: "high fantasy" is as good or bad a label as any for a writer of this breadth, and there's at least enough correspondence with the label to keep it from being utterly abominable. I can live with that.

Let's take a look at the passage in question anyway. In regard to the seminal works of sword-and-sorcery fiction in the 1930s through the 1950s, I wrote:

QuoteThese works of course represent only a sub-set of fantasy fiction, and they have a specific relationship to two other branches that is beyond the scope of this essay. The interested reader might look into high fantasy (Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, E.R. Eddison, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jack Vance) and serious, scholarly horror (William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, Robert W. Chambers, and H.P. Lovecraft).

It is not correct to read this text and say, "Ron says Jack Vance is always and in every way a high fantasist." That's setting up a straw man to knock it down. It says instead, "If you want to learn more about high fantasy, read a bunch of writers, including Jack Vance." I'll stand by that. The fact that I'd reference him as well regarding a number of other literary achievements or labels (most especially social and philosophical commentary) is irrelevant to the point of the paragraph.

Side note: as long as we're criticizing people's writing styles, I would like to state that Ron Edwards uses "of course" too much in his Sorcerer books. To the extent that I want to scream and throw the book against the wall.

So - with some regret, it's time to pronounce this thread closed. If anyone wants to discuss some other authors, though, let's do it in new threads.



I'm happy to end this discussion in favor of a new one too - especially since I don't feel inclined to analyze Moorcock's prose seriously right now.

I think Mr. Edwards and I reached mutual understanding with respect to both of the issues brought up in my original post. With respect to #2, Ron seems to have granted that the Sword and Sorcery influence was a vital one in the early days of the hobby, while I freely grant that there were dozens of things about those game systems (hit point based combat, the inclusion of horribly watered down 'faerie' creatures in nearly all the games, encumbrance, magic weapon shops, etc. etc.) that did not in fact support the inspiring genre. I have high hopes that the rules in Sorceror/Sorcery & Sword will do this, and am even now plotting to use them in play with my old 70's cronies, and some newer ones as well.

With respect to #1, the original point was just this. If I were teaching Intro to Fantasy Fiction and gave the following question:

Which group of fantasy writers is Jack Vance more correctly associated with?

a. Tanith Lee, Fritz Leiber, and Clark Ashton Smith
b. C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

I think the right answer would pretty clearly be a. On the other hand, if you changed the question to

a. Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, and Karl Wagner
b. C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

the student would have every right to protest the question as unfair.

To be fair to the original text cited above, Mr. Edwards was trying in that chapter to define the Sword and Sorcery genre, and I grant freely Ron's point that JV is not a core S&S author. What I was objecting to was just the listing of Vance alongside authors with whom he had less in common than he did with some of those on the core S&S list, and in a genre into which he fits arguably no better than he does into S&S. And I wasn't even really 'objecting' in an absolute sense, actually  - since Mr. Edwards is clearly a man of exceptionally penetrating judgment, I assumed that he had some reason for this slightly odd categorization. As it turns out, he did, and as a result of the exchange I've had fun and gained a little insight in thinking about Vance as a high fantasist, which I hadn't really done previously.

(I'm a great believer in the agonistic approach to learning. I don't mean to give offense by going on the offensive, though - I aim to understand the subject better by going as far as I can in the direction of sharp categorization. In this I see Mr. Edwards, whose passion for RPG theory and analysis is worthy of great respect, as a kindred spirit.)

So I guess that's it for me on this thread. The only other comment I had is that for very many people, and perhaps especially for very many young male adolescents, martial prowess vs. sexual prowess is a false dichotomy, psychologically speaking. What people are doing at this age is coping with their emergence as, well, people, and this has a lot of different components. Many of these components involve our personal sense of power: we want to use it, want not to misuse it, and want to get clear on what using and misusing it means. This has martial, sexual, social, intellectual, interpersonal, and lots of other dimensions. To say that the sword is a 'surrogate dick' is not to say that this is all some thinly disguised metaphor for sexual prowess. The stuff is connected - it's about wishing and having and the limits of both - and sex, self-defense, social stature, finding out your own abilities, and a lot of other things are all tied up in this. But that's way, way off topic, so I'm signing out.

Mr. Edwards, thank you very much indeed for your time and insight.

Ron Edwards

All done, then.

Post-script, though: "Mr. Edwards" won't do. It's "Ron."



Hi All.

I'm new to this forum but not to the subjects at hand. Style, esp. style in fantasy fiction, is a particular interest of mine in both creative and scholarly terms. I'm also Sean's putative DM. He has successfully dragged me into this discussion, right when I'm supposed to be writing a paper on Nietzsche (thanx Sean--I'm plagarizing one of yours next time!).

I don't feel ready to weigh in in a fully formed fashion about why I regard certain wrtiers' style--Vance, Leiber--to be enormously superior to others being discussed (Moorcock esp. & to a lesser extent Howard). Nonetheless it seems helpful to think a bit more about what we mean by style.

David says:

"While I'm pondering that, I'll try to conjure my definition of 'style' which is likely different than what my instructors drilled into me. More or less, I think of style as being a bit of everything squashed into one."

While I suspect David has a good working understanding of style, he doesn't really articulate it here. I'm proposing we get a bit more explicit about style as a literary & rhetorical category. Being a rhetorician, I can't help but think that framing our discussion in rhetorical terms might help.

In clasical rhetoric, there are 5 stages, or "canons," that desctibe the composing process. These are:

1) Invention
3) Style
4) Memory
5) Delivery

Bizzell & Herzberg define style (somewhat unhelpfully) as "the use of correct, appropriate and striking language." We need to understand correct here as referring to 'correct' for the rhetorical situation--in a written text we might say the sentence or passage, or a particular moment in the narrative--not 'correct' in some grammatically prescriptive way.

So when we talk about Vance's skill as a stylist--he is, to my mind, the premiere stylist of 20th century fantasy--we are talking about word choice--how he builds sentences and paragraphs. We're talking about what I usually call the "line-level" for shorthand (as opposed to broader categories like 'story'or 'idea').

Unsurprisingly, I more-or-less agree with Sean & Ron: Moorcock is a mediocre stylist, esp his 60's work. Gloriana is quite stylistically interesting but closely wed to Victorian conventions. On the other hand Leiber, at his best, is a sublime stylist. Consider the opening of "When the Sea King's Away" and the long discourse on Lankhmar's divinities in "Lean Times in Lankhmar." You'll see great variety in sentence length, syntactic organization & subject (in a grammatical sense) choice. Such variety yields a range of cadences & reading aloud really emphasizes how effective these passages are.

Vance is not only a great stylist but a master of voice, which may or may not be the same thing as style but in any case is closely allied to it. Voice is that sense that a certain sensibility guides a narrator's word choice--the effect is very much like a tone of voice. Vance's narrative voice is, of course, famously sardonic. In Moorcock, Elric may be, and even act, sardonic but the narrative voice is not. Mostly it just just adds the adverb "sardonically" to Elric's dialogue tags, which is hardly the same thing.  

We are most accustomed to thinking about voice in terms of a first or third person limited narrator's individual psychology: when we read The Book of the New Sun Wolfe's narrative voice is subsumed into Severian, the ostensible author of the text we read. In books like A Wizard of Earthsea or Cugel's Saga we have what Ursual Le Guin calls "the involved narrator," an unspecified voice that provides us with context, reflection and commentary.

Le Guin dislikes the term "omniscent narrator" for this voice because she believes such a voice is never really omnisicent--its comments are deployed for certain discursive purposes. I tend to agree. No text ever fully documents experience. Storytelling is largely the art of omission.Vance is especially good at this as well. His ability to move readers around in time and place at the slightest whim is a quality I envy enormously.

Well that's plenty for now. I'm happy to be aboard and look forward to talking to everbody soon.

"It takes a blow to drive any animal to pasture" --Heraclitus [fragment 59]


Ooops. I guess in my eagerness to get in the mix I missed Ron's note that this thread is dead. Apologies to any & all for surplus commentary.


"It takes a blow to drive any animal to pasture" --Heraclitus [fragment 59]


Hey Del! Glad you made it!

I think the format around here is new topic, new thread - so if we want to get into 'fantasy stylings' we should start a new thread about that. (Plus you followed the 'Rome rule' - you had a take and you didn't suck - so I'm sure no-one will mind.) I thought about doing that myself, but wasn't sure on the proper forum here at the Forge for posting literary quibbles. Ron, others, any suggestions?