Posts Tagged ‘about’
Fantasy kinda sucks. As a longtime fan of the genre, I’ve somewhat earned some right to say that.
While “Harry Potter” is fun to read — excepting the fifth book — its colorful characters and whimsical settings are bogged down by weak writing.
“His Dark Materials” has similar strengths and flaws, and was worsened even further by the author’s tendency to proselytize.
The worst of all of them is that “Eragon” series; it reads like it was written by a 19-year-old homeschooler from Montana. In part because it was.
Whatever Neil Gaiman writes, he tends to exhibit the same self-indulgent fascination with multi-pantheon crossovers, leaving Terry Brooks alone among living fantasists for being above reproach. After all, Brooks is the only one who doesn’t take his fantasy settings seriously.
It’s become a rule, therefore, that fantasy as a whole is a thin, shallow genre of fiction with especially egregious pretensions that it has meaningful depth and that it’s romanticism profound rather than transparent. Science fiction, unfortunately, is much of the same.
Fortunately, because the overall crappiness of fantastic literature is a rule, there are going to be exceptions. I just spent the better part of two days — almost spilling over into three — reading one of the most important and, dare I say, literary exceptions in recent memory.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” had interested me ever since I first saw it on the discount bookshelves and bestseller lists, but I decided against bothering with it. I didn’t have the money to buy it, and it was too contemporary to be in the school library, besides. Having recently graduated to the local library, I saw it Thursday last and, on a whim, checked it out.
Though buying this book in its native Britain would set me back a good 7 pounds, I’d call it an even trade: the hardcover weighs almost that much. There are nearly 800 pages in the hardcover version I spent a weekend reading — that makes it roughly the size of a King James Bible after a begat-ectomy.
Despite that it reads like Jane Austen and the humanity of its title characters are straight out of Dickens — if you’re sure I exaggerate, you’ll appreciate this book more than I did — I enjoyed every moment.
I shouldn’t make my admiration seem so unlikely — I was bound to like “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” from the very start. It has the flair of a finely researched history, and more footnotes per page than “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” a history in which the author, for whatever reason, apologizes for including as many footnotes as he does.
It’s no criticism of the novel to say that these footnotes were my favorite part of the 7-pound blunt object that is “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” and I suppose quite a few readers came to the same conclusion. Indeed, the footnotes were enjoyable enough, and added so much to the world of the novel, that when the author decided to make her second book an anthology of stories, at least a few of these stores were inspired by her first novel’s footnotes.
There’s a lot of story in the book, and it would be difficult to summarize it without unbecoming spoilers and lengthy exposition, but, given fantasy these days, that depth is one of the great charms of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Suffice it to say that the whole of it focuses on the careers of two British magicians of the Regency period, and is full of charmingly fleshed-out characters.
The early 19th century is the such a refreshing setting for fantasy. Rather than a world where dwarves and elves and orcs are the face of the fantastic, one of the great squabbles between the two title characters is over the status and usefulness of fairies, creatures that had once encompassed the whole of British fantasy before Tolkien injected high fantasy with his mish-mash blending of Old Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon epic. However well-written “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is, and however well it stands on its own merits, that it ignores the 50-year-old precedent of swords and sorcery, a subgenre that might as well be mimeographed from the worst parts of “The Lord of the Rings,” is one of the greatest strengths that author Susanna Clarke chose for her world of British magic.
After reading so much of dwarves and elves and orcs, a reprieve was due; we needed a reprieve into densely imagined real literature from dense-minded pulp literature, even if that it lasts only a weekend.
But what a weekend.
My friends, even those already out of college one way or another, tend to complain about the stress begat by the complexity of and varying degrees of warmth in interpersonal relationships. They call it drama.
I heard someone complain about drama at that dinner I wrote about a few days ago. Another youngster, this one a recent high school graduate, plays the second french horn part in our veteran’s band, but when he starts playing for his college marching band, he’s decided that he wants to switch instruments from french horn equivalent, the mellophone.
This isn’t a big issue, prima facie. French horn seems to be the kind of instrument that band players switch to in the first place because there are never enough players to cover all the parts, especially at the lower echelons of wind ensembles. Instead, what bothered me was his motive.
He doesn’t want to switch instruments, but not because he doesn’t like playing the mellophone, though I would understand if he didn’t. He wants to switch instruments because of the legendary drama of the Fresno State Marching Band’s mellophone section. I thought that this was misguided.
Those bothered by interpersonal stress are usually those who consistently concern themselves with the petty gossip of the day. As this petty gossip makes its rounds from one person — she’s pregnant with whose kid? — to another — he said I was pregnant with whose kid? — gossiping itself creates an infinite feedback loop of headache-tacular proportions.
It’s pretty easy to cure drama sickness. All it takes is to ignore what that piccolo is doing with the first trumpet, and how drunk the sousaphone players get before picture day. Once you stop caring about everyone else’s details, your life will be a lot easier.
I feel the need to bore our freshman mellophone player with all that explanation, when I could say the same thing in nine words: There is only as much drama as you acknowledge.
I hope he takes that to heart. Maybe he’ll switch from mellophone for the right reasons.
Apparently, my alma mater has a baseball team, and that baseball team kind-of-sort-of won the College World Series.
As a marching band alumnus, I was invited to play in a rally to celebrate a victory I had absolutely no part in or knowledge of until I got an e-mail late Tuesday night. I’m more than happy to come to this rally: I have school spirit.
I’m still not used to having school spirit.
When I was in high school, school spirit was a silly thing. Though our losing football team wasn’t much to speak of, we had a genuinely talented wrestling squad. Our school put on rallies to celebrate those accomplishments.
I still didn’t care. I wasn’t in the wrestling squad.
I went to exactly one rally during high school, and that was the first of my freshman year. Fellow freshmen, screaming at the top of their lungs, stood around me in the stadium. I sat throughout the entire rally, reading my a copy of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition Monster Manual. I thought to myself:
I could do this in the school library.
So I did, for every rally between autumn of my freshman year and graduation of my senior year. I grew to appreciate rallies. Not because I liked them, but because I liked the school library.
I was proud of one thing in high school: our band program. Our marching band was the division champion in 2003 — for the 60-members-and-under division — and the concert bands regularly did very well. When I got to college, I decided to stick around the music department.
Marching band there got me interested in our college football team — this team tends to be middling with thrilling shots of greatness — and a few seasons later, I was hooked. This wasn’t school spirit so much as loving the marching band for being incredible, and without using amplification.
I was also a fan of the band trip per diem.
I contracted school spirit only since I left the band, and, more recently, the school. My school spirit is derivative of nostalgia, and my nostalgia is integral to school spirit. It works mathematically. Nostalgia requires active interest; it takes effort toward some cause; most importantly, it requires spending some time away from that cause. School spirit works the same way.
My high school threw rallies and sort of expected us to be excited about something other than skipping class for a day. That’s the wrong way about it. How can we reasonably expect students to have school spirit without getting first getting them actively involved?
I’m off to play last chair second trombone at a rally, to celebrate the accomplishments of athletes I hadn’t heard much about until last Monday and hadn’t followed much since then. That’s alumni involvement, and all schools need that, too — active alumni have school spirit.
Schools need to foster school spirit, and most schools know it. High school administrations also realize that they must give their students something to have school spirit about.
Rallies don’t count. Schools forget this.