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September 10, 2005

Fantasy Bedtime Hour
Posted by Teresa at 04:02 PM *

It goes like this: There’s a Bay Area public access cable show called Fantasy Bedtime Hour. Each episode is the same: two bubbleheaded and ostensibly naked girls, Juliana and Heatherly, lie in bed and read a four-page selection from Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane, then try to figure it out. They invite “experts” to join their on-the-air discussions. They also direct Fantasy Action Sequences, in which are reenacted their interpretation of the latest four pages. So far, they’ve aired twenty-seven episodes.

Here’s Tadhg O’Higgins, their favorite expert, trying to explain the thing:

Hereís my understanding of how this show came to be: Juliana was working for a startup a couple of years back, and had very little free time. A friend of hers recommended Lord Foulís Bane, and she started reading it at night, which was the only time she had to read. Working ten- and twelve-hour days didnít leave much concentration for reading, and she would read about four pages a night before falling asleep. Lord Foulís Bane is a somewhat portentous, involved novel, heavy in both style and subject matter, not really suited to being dipped into and digested in small chunks. So each night Juliana would read four pages, and the next night remember just enough of what was going on to continue.

After about eight or ten months of this, another friend of Julianaís asked her what she was reading. Juliana said ďLord Foulís BaneĒ, and the friend asked what it was aboutóa question to which Juliana, thinking about it, realized she had no answer… And from that, somehow, Juliana and Heatherly came up with the idea for a TV show based on the two of them playing ditzy girls who trying to figure out the novel, in bed.

It’s an inspired blending of book and concept. This is the show’s plot summary from Episode One:

Thomas Covenant has just left his house in the country to walk two miles downtown to pay his phone bill at Pacific Bell. He is walking mechanically with his arms braced like a strangler because he has this disease called “VSE” which causes him to lose appendages (ie - 2 fingers) as a result of being very unclean.

On his way, he encounters a small boy who reaches out to touch him. The boy’s mother, whose heart is quailing, snatches her son out of harm’s way. Thomas Covenant is pissed. He is suppressing a memory of his ex-wife Joan when he notices 2 teenage girls trying on jewelry in a store. He pauses to eye them lecherously. It is as if his penis is just another amputated member. A man in an ocher robe runs into him and points at him. Grimacing wildly, he continues his journey to Pac Bell still walking like a strangler (ie - a robot).

And Episode Two:

Thomas Covenant has just reached Pacific Bell to pay his bill. He is greeted by a hot chick who works there. She takes his bill and goes to the back room to check the status.

While he waits, Thomas Covenant takes out a pamphlet that was given to him earlier in the day by a Mormon boy. He is considering becoming a Mormon. When the hot chick returns, she informs him that his bill has already been paid. Thomas Covenant is really pissed. He has to focus on his aching ankles and wrists as he struggles to keep the anger at bay.

He then attempts to pick up the hot chick by lying to her about his leprosy. He tells her that “It isn’t catching. Except to children” (and beggars but apparently not hot chicks). She refuses his advances and he leaves Pac Bell in a rage. He walks mechanically downtown until he reaches a beggar.

Taking pity on the beggar, he attempts to tear off his white gold wedding ring to toss in the beggar’s cup but instead tears off his entire finger! Blood squirts from the wound! The beggar returns Thomas Covenant’s finger to him and Thomas is somehow able to reattach it. Suddenly, he finds himself surrounded by construction. Then as if appearing out of nowhere, he almost falls into a giant precipice filled with rough damnations multiplying below him.

And onward to Episode Three:

Thomas Covenant finds himself falling into the precipice of his future after being hit by a car and struck in the head by a metaphorical spear. After bandaging his massive head wound, he realizes that he is deep within a cave filled with churros. A wretched figure is standing above him waving a staff.

The creature is yelling, “Mine! Mine! Done it! I have the staff! Lord Drool!”

From deep within the bowels of the cave a second ominous figure appears. It is Lord Foul himself! “Back, Rockworm!” he yells, “This prey is too great for you!”

Thomas Covenant cowers in terror. Eating a churro, Lord Foul explains the doomed lineage of Berek Lord Father, Loric, Ravi Shankar and Kiril Threndar Heart of Thundar. Don’t miss this compelling episode with our tallest Expert in Lord Foul’s Bane, Sean Knox!!!

Contrary to popular rumor, this is not how John Clute got his start.
Comments on Fantasy Bedtime Hour:
#1 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 05:32 PM:

The reason why I could never get into the concept is.... why the hell would anyone want to devote that much time to anything having to do with Stephen Donaldson and the abominable Thomas Covenant.

#2 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 05:34 PM:

No mention of Lord Mormon [sic]?

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Where would Stephen R. Donaldson be, without Dave Langford to point out the piquant and singular charms of his prose?

"...in the Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R. Donaldson there was the thrill of detecting when the great man had turned again to the Oxford English Dictionary to improve his style. Argute with concentration and caducity, he would make his preterite way through its gelid, sapid pages, full of beneficent mansuetude and analystic refulgence, and hurl each clinquant new discovery at you like a jerid. `They were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene. They looked horribly like children.' One doesn't like to think what children look like in Donaldson's part of the world."

#4 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 06:46 PM:

Stephen Donaldson, the only author to outdo H.P.Lovecraft when it comes to indigestable prose.

#5 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 07:28 PM:
Where would Stephen R. Donaldson be, without Dave Langford to point out the piquant and singular charms of his prose?

Not to mention Langford's efforts to popularize the sport of clench racing.

(although I'll admit that I quite enjoyed Donaldson's "Mirror of her Dreams" duology).

#6 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:43 PM:

Okay, I understand. My sugar's really low. I'll have a slug of juice and a couple of glucose tablets, and everything will be reasonable again in a minute or two. I hate this bleeping disease.

I'm straight enough now* to know that Tim misspelled "indigestible." Better.

*Kids, this word used to mean "not tripping.**

**And this word used to mean "on drugs.***"

***Insulin's kinda like acid,**** only really mundane, and there were no colors, and you didn't want to do anything interesting with anybody.

****Lysergic . . . OH, NEVER MIND!!

#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:53 PM:

All better now, except now I want to be in the Bay Area, wearing jodhpurs and a scarf,* directing some of this stuff in mine gutsten von Sternberg akszent.

I could explain about General Ted Cogswell, but . . . no, I couldn't. Maybe when you're older. Go home. Nothin' to see here. I'm watching Fabray and Levant play Comden and Green as Nielsen and Hayden in The Band Wagon's Incredible Trip to the Mushroom Planet, and no, that's not another drug reference, exactly. G'night.

#8 ::: Manon ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:57 PM:

I'll just be dying laughing over here. I loved the Covenant books, but...

#9 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:58 PM:

About 20, 25 years ago, I made myself read the damn thing after my best friend raved about it. I wound up skimming most of it, because I couldn't stand the plot, the writing, Covenant - or, in fact, any of the other characters. (It takes a peculiar kind of talent to write a trilogy, a published trilogy no less, that contains not one single likeable character.)

When I finally finished, I wondered what in Creation's Name my friend had found in it, that I hadn't, for her to like it so much. I was too polite to ask. (In her defense, she also turned me on to Andre Norton when we were kids.)

A few years later, when we were talking about our favorite writers and books, I did ask. Enough time had gone by that I would no longer feel like saying, "That's a good few hours of my life you owe me, not to mention all the brain cells that crawled off to die."

She scarsely even remembered the books: "Something about a guy with leprosy, right?"

So I *love* what Fantasy Bedtime Hour has done to - um, with - the Covenant story. It's perfect!

#10 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:01 PM:

I think the exact construction is "done for." In however many senses you please.

#11 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:50 PM:

I am quite pleased to learn that I am only one of many who couldn't stand those books for so much as one hour. It was many years ago when I read the first one because it had all these rave reviews about it. I think I made it as far as the part where his reaction to being transported to a wondrous new world and getting his full health and strength back is to rape the first girl who is nice to him. Then I threw the book across the room and made a mental note never to read anything by Donaldson ever again. (If I have the exact details wrong, it's because I kept to that.)

#12 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:52 PM:

John^H^H^H^HMike, damnit:

So do your footnotes above give me insight into just how The Dragon Waiting got written? I'm just saying. *

* As it's been one of my favorite fantasy novels since it came out, you can draw whatever conclusions you choose about the state of my own youthful brain and the -addling thereof.

#13 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:03 PM:

Heh. I despised the Thomas Covenant books, too. Since I had usually-reliable friends who swore to me they had never read anything so wonderful, I've spent years with the nagging feeling I'd missed something important and valuable. Or, *shudder*, perhaps if I was a bit brighter, I'd understand some fabulous insight hidden in the subtext beneath the opaque-as-old-oatmeal prose.

I feel a bit better about it now. At least I'm not alone.

#14 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:11 PM:

Yes, but Donaldson knew it was a rape, and Covenant never gets to stop realizing what a horrible crime it was, and that's more than you can say about a lot of books, great or otherwise.

I come neither to praise nor bury, but to say only this: something about Covenant's fiercely craven misanthropy and (yes) unbelief was a welcome tonic to a certain sort of highschool student, given what had thus far been available in phantasy at the time. So much so that I—I mean, a certain sort of highscool student was willing to forgive all those goddamn "puissances." Though he never did warm to Strongheart Foamfollower or whatever the fuck.

I like classing this with what Fred Clark's doing to—I mean for Left Behind over at Slacktivist. Microexegesis! Exfoliatory reading! —Though Fantasy Bedtime Hour's a little overindulgent with the theme song.

#15 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:20 PM:

When I was at the early end of my teen years, I thought Thomas Covenant was a fantastic trilogy. Loved it, and so did my friends.

I picked up LFB last year and couldn't get past page 4. The style was completely unappealing.

I've been afraid to try any of my other junior high favorites since. If Creatures of Light and Darkness is actually pretentious crap, I don't need to know.

#16 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:21 PM:

All I can say about that goddamn series is that there are only so many words anybody can say about a fucking tree, and Donaldson blew past that limit by at least three chapters.


* Warning: Unreferenced footnote.

#17 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:55 PM:

After 5 months at sea, and having re-read all of the books I had with me, someone gave me the Donaldson books, and thought they were a gift. In the next 4 months I somehow managed to get through all of them (something about being in the middle of nowhere with no other options has this effect on some people).

When I got home, I burned them. The only books I have ever burned.

Mike: ONLY jodhpurs and a scarf?

#18 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:56 PM:

Ah, John: le mot juste. Thank you...and watch out for that brown insulin :)

OT (or not): There are books, plays, etc., that I adore, recommend to anyone who'll listen, drag people off to, reread until I've memorized, and so on. (Not to name names or anything, but there's a certain poem that portays the personae of Camelot arriving home for Christmas by train, that I like to read out loud - very unusual for me - though never when other people are around, because I invariably burst into tears at the last lines.)

But have you noticed that truly wretched peices of work can also provide years of enjoyment (once you've recovered from the initial trauma) by vilifying them forever after for an appreciative audience?

About 10 years ago, my then-beloved and I went to Ashland, and one of the plays we saw was "Blood Wedding." Oh. My. God.

Now, I know Garcia Lorca is well-thought of, is considered a genius, and he may well have been. So I'm not going to say otherwise, based on this one staging of one of his plays. Except to note that what seemed like a daring use of surrealism and archetypic imagery in the 1930's maybe doesn't age very well. Or maybe it wasn't Garcia Lorca's fault at all, but whoever at Ashland came up with that particular staging.

Where shall I start?

With the protagonist, who kept striking poses (no doubt meant to be dramatic but which looked like a bad case of saddle soreness) every time he opened his mouth?

With the actors in costume, seated on set, who kept shifting from Scene Extras to Greek Chorus, without warning, so you were never sure if they were repeating the previous lines (in Spanish, no less) to provide an extra bit of doom and gloom, or because it was part of the dialog?

With the random interludes of Modern Dance that served no apparent purpose except to show that Ruth St. Denis has a lot to answer for?

By the time Death rose with the Moon to dance the Dance of Portentous Erotic Doom with a half-naked, leather-panted, possibly body-oiled Woodsman, a little wave of whispered Oh-for-God's-sakes swept through the audience, and Michael and I weren't the only ones clapping our hands to our mouths to keep the giggles from escaping.

And we have gotten more after-the-fact enjoyment from that play than from any others we saw, all of which were excellent. (Oh, except for The Scottish Play, which featured the least charismatic Thane and Lady imaginable, and which had sets and costumes designed in what Michael referred to as "Early Klingon.")

To this day, we dine out on that play. Mike and I broke up, but we stayed friends, and still have a lot of friends in common. And all they have to do is say "Blood Wedding" to make us look at each other with fond nostalgia before we laugh until we fall over.

#19 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 11:09 PM:

I was pretty young when I read the Covenant books, but I remember being pissed off at him all the time. I think he was probably my introduction to the concept of a reluctant (anti-)hero.

For all that I see the terrible, terrible flaws in both series, though, there was something compelling about them for me. Enough so that I didn't cringe when I saw Donaldson's name on other books, which led me to the much more enjoyable Mordant's Need duology, plus some really keen short stories.

Anyhow, the show itself sounds hilarious. Maybe they can do some other books later. :)

#20 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 11:29 PM:

Kip and others, thanks for helping me forgive myself for how much I loved the TC trilogy when I was a teenager. I hated the sequel trilogy -- was it that the books were not as good, or that I had matured? Now I don't know.

In partial defense of the books -- with the protagonist/rapist and the portentious overwroughtness and all -- it's Big Theme was that the hero had to live with guilt and unworthiness, and everyone hated him even though they needed his Special Powers to save them. But beneath this crust of supposed tough-minded misanthropic anti-heroic stuff, was really a gooey center of sentimental fantasy magic with morals and lessons. The hero's crime is part of the faux veneer of toughness.

#21 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 12:28 AM:

Kip: I can understand that highschooler, sort of; my mother copped to having liked Franck's Symphony in d as an out-of-place underage college frosh, but felt she'd grown out of it. Me? I barely finished Lord Foul's Bane even though I was shut in by a blizzard with nothing else to read; I started The Illearth War because people were raving about it, and it became almost the only book I have not even skimmed to the finish but simply dropped.

I couldn't believe Bakka Books (Toronto) were recommending Donaldson when I visited in 1988; the immediate response to my skeptical stare was -"This is nothing like Covenant!". They were mostly right about Mordant's Need, but I never heard whether they tried to recommend Donaldson's rewrite of the Ring of the Nibelungs.

#22 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 12:41 AM:

I was flying home for Christmas to the states from Brussels in '78 and found the Covenant books in a WHSmith store. "Oh, that's great," thought I. "Enough reading material to make it through the flight." I only finished them b/c I had nothing else to do. What crap. But the duology was much, much better. Why is that?

And 3 years ago, when I was flying to Paris, I picked up a book by an author named Anne (who had murdered the mother of her best friend, but her last name escapes me at the moment). And it was another Thomas Covenant moment all over again. But I was much older, so I simply placed it in the seat pocket ahead of me, went to sleep and left it for some poor sucker on the next flight.

#23 ::: marisa ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:14 AM:

In partial response to Kip:

What's the deal with the word "puissance"? China Mieville is inexplicably fond of it, too, though I like his writing enough to overlook it. It's a fine word, but you should only get to use in once in any single book.

#24 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:17 AM:

Can't remember why I read some of the Thomas Covenant stuff - old enough to know better - maybe it was the working-in-a-bookstore-want-to-know-what-all-these-kids-like-so-much idea. Hated every moment of it, never did figure out what anyone could like. Maybe it was the gloomy teenager learning to live with self-hatred, as you guys point out.

Mirror of Her Dreams was not so bad, but when the title of the next one was And a Man Rides Through, I couldn't face it.

For turgid prose, anyone remember Ghormenghast[sp?]? And Jane Gaskell? Some excuse for her, she was very young, I think I heard. Her I enjoyed enough to think I might reread someday...... maybe.

It was Donaldson who clarified for me one of my rules about what to read: if I'd duck into an alley and hide behind the garbage cans when I saw the character coming, why waste the time with him? And if I wouldn't want to visit the world, why do it?

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:42 AM:

As I recall, I bought all three Covenant books based on friends' comments and, well, marketing hype. New fantasy was relatively rare back then, and here were three great big chunks of Adventure! to read.

I even got all three signed at some NYC convention or other.

Then I started actually reading them. Harrrrgghhh. I got halfway through the second book and stopped dead. I don't remember my exact motivation, but it was a deliberate and serious act, not a case of "maybe I'll try again later."

I hung onto the paperbacks for years, because they were signed. They didn't follow me to California, so I'm guessing they got donated to my old school's SF libarary.

#26 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:49 AM:

The simplest way I've found of describing the prose in LFB to the uninitiated has been to tell the true story of how a group of Harvard liberal arts majors sat around one evening complaining about how pretentious the language was.

That tends to sum it up pretty succinctly.

It's interesting to contrast that with other authors who also use two-dollar words but don't annoy me in doing so -- like, for example, Gene Wolfe. Or Gormenghast; I have no problem with Peake's writing, Mina. It's like reading a form of Dickens I actually enjoy. :-) Some writers can pull it off; others very definitely can't.

#27 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:55 AM:

Interesting to see a thread in which almost every book mentioned is one I have sampled but not read. Once when I had half an hour to kill and Lord Foul's Bane was the closest book at hand, I read the beginning and was totally drawn into it; but I never set aside the time to read the trilogy.

Back when I first read Tolkien and some of the other fantasy writers that were coming back into print, I didn't read Gormenghast because of what I was told was a dense writing style. After watching the British tv adaptation, I pulled the book(s) out to look up a few things and found it surprisingly readable. Again, no plans to read it anytime soon, but now I wouldn't mind the attempt.

And hrc mentions Anne Perry -- I presume her not-well-received fantasies. The mysteries are (I've heard) much better. I've read a short story or two by her, and the beginning of The Face of a Stranger just because my wife liked that one so much; I would like to read that some day.

But I don't seem to read much any more. Maybe because I'm typing away here at two in the morning when I could be reading Mervyn Peake or John M. Ford?

#28 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:55 AM:

I liked and read the Mirror of Her Dreams first, and then got to Lord Foul's Bane. I didn't get very far--even though I am one of those readers who reads the shampoo bottles in the bathtub. The rape scene really turned me off of the book. (I was in my very early teens at the time, and rather sensitive on sex in books. If I'd read Friday at the same time that I'd tried reading Lord Foul's Bane, I probably would never have gotten any further in Heinlein's work than I have, but by the time I got to Friday, I was much older. Who knows, I might be able to give Donaldson another whirl, but I doubt it.)

I live in the Bay Area, but alas, we lack the TV. (Well, not really alas, because that's a concious choice on our part.)

#29 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:01 AM:

hrc - Interesting comparison with Anne whatever [if I screwed the handle back on the cupboard under the bookcase I could find out her name]. I liked those books - the amnesiac main character, who doesn't remember himself, but realizes from other peoples' reactions to him that he doesn't like the man he apparently was, was interesting. And I presumed autobiographical [my memory was that she helped the best friend murder her mother]. Much better written. And maybe the concept works better in mystery.

The only book I ever trashed instead of sold is still an amazingly vivid memory of awfulness. I have no idea of the author or title, but the plot:
The dolphins were mad at humans [I don't remember why]. They were technological dolphins. To get back at humans, they decided to raise the temperature of the ocean surface a few degrees, in order to melt the polar icecaps and flood all the coastal cities.

The author, who clearly needed to learn to think, apparently had no clue that this would at best relocate the world oceans' stocks of plankton which feed the little fish which feed the bigger fish which feed the dolphins. [I was an oceanography major at the time] Worst, and more likely scenario, is that a few degrees rise in surface temperature would wipe out most of the plankton.[Since they're not very mobil.]

This historically bad plot has been on my mind lately, not because of the flooding, though I had no idea it might make hurricanes worse too, but because fishery stocks are crashing all over the world.There were many migratory offshore seabirds who died with empty stomachs off the east coast USA this summer, and penguins in the Falklands who starved during molt because they hadn't built up sufficient fat stores to survive 3 weeks on land. The summer winds off the Pacific coast, which bring cooler nutrient-rich water from the north in closer to the shore during the summer, finally developed a few weeks ago, way too late for the breeding season of seabirds, and probably lots of other animals. Then there was the largest recorded iceberg, that calved off the Antarctic ice in Nov or Dec, and was supposed to be in the way of the parent penguins getting back to the babies. I'm going now to see if I can find what happened with that. Last time I googled starving penguins, I found the Falkland story too.

#30 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:18 AM:

Well, I loved Gormenghast, dense prose and all. I was an angstful early teen when I first read it, but I devoured it and have come back to it periodically and still like it. Yes, the unctuous, treacherous, murderous Steerpike. Yes, the memorable tale of the swing... and the slingshots... and the waxed board replaced wrong-way up...

I can't at the moment tell you why I find one particular writer of florid prose and morbid situations brilliant, and another repellent and annoying, but there you are.

I think it may in part be the difference between a writer for whom a vast vocabulary (and a dark cast of imagination) comes naturally, and one who seems like he is picking his words out of a thesaurus or a vocabulary-builder list. It's like the difference between Eddison's The Worm Ourobouros and all his pale imitators - Eddison gave the impression that it just came naturally.

#31 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:28 AM:

Ah, yes - the sobering blow to my self-image that always comes with realizing that I will never be cool enough to bring myself to hate the Covenant books.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:29 AM:

If it hadn't been for Lord Foul's Bane, at the 1978 worldcon masquerade we would never have had that fellow who skulked about the stage in a long black cape and a duck's-head mask, then announced that he was Lord Bane's Fowl.

Mike, I am deeply gratified by your reaction.

Clifton, the rape put me off, no doubt about it; but it was the walking that lost me. Never did a character do so much walking to so little end.

Kip, I like "microexegesis," but I adore "exfoliatory reading."

Harry, don't worry about rereading Zelazny. His prose was sleek, stylish, and intelligent. Creatures of Light and Darkness is at worst incoherently episodic, though many of the segments are quite readable. Zelazny's biggest problem was always structure. When he got that right, he was great. When he didn't, the disparate parts were good anyway.

Mina, the biggest problem with Gormenghast was that the market was desperately hungry for more Tolkien, and Ballantine packaged Eddison and Peake as though they were more of the same.

Jane Gaskell, now, furnished me with one of my earliest experiences of being launched out of a book, the full ejection-seat effect, by an erroneous detail. There they are, romping about in Ancient Atlantis or wherever, and some catty bimbette refers to another young lady as a "prunes-and-prisms kind of girl." Boom! Faced with Ancient Atlanteans who had apparently read Charles Dickens and/or Louisa May Alcott, I suffered a permanent loss of suspension of disbelief.

As Stefan Jones said, new fantasy was relatively rare back then. Sometimes you had to be a two-fisted reader to get through it.

#33 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:35 AM:

Thinking back, high school was my second go-round with Donaldson. (They are much older than I care to think.) My first go-round would have been the tail end of elementary, when we were taking all those road trips to check out Dad’s possible new jobs, and I read the first book on the way to Connecticut and then jumped straight to the third book on the way to Idaho because I wanted to know what would happen. Which I never ever ever did as a kid, otherwise. So I guess that says something.* (The sudden jump in the third book to Lord was it Mhoram’s [?] point of view bugged the hell out of me—having missed the second book, with half the narrative carried by the blind genius general who believes, I’d thought the point was still is-it-or-isn’t-it, to a certain extent, and kicking us into the point of view of what was supposed to have maybe been just a figment of Covenant’s imagination spoiled what seemed to me at the time to have been the game.) —I’d read Tolkien and Susan Cooper and a couple-three of the Foundation books at the time, so I really have no cause to complain about the quality of fantasy I’d quaffed to that point. —Then the house burned down, and we moved, and when I was buying new books I got Xanth and Julian May and Raymond Feist and Dragonlance and, yes, Varley and Dune and a fuckload of Heinlein so when I finally got around to replacing the Donaldson books—the second series was done by then, I think, and I wanted to refresh my memory as to what was what—a trilogy about an incompetent, foul-tempered asshole who hates the brutally simplistic fantasy world he’s dropped into through no fault of his own? Seemed refreshing at the time. (Again with the moronic cynicism.)

But that first go-round—I honestly can’t remember what elementary-school me thought of most of what was going on. (The aforementioned rape, for instance.) —I do remember being annoyed that “ur” wasn’t in the book’s glossary.

Only read the second series once, and I remember the middle book of that one as being arid and weird—something Miévilleian about that desert city, and not just the word “puissance”—but it’s mostly a fevre dream somebody told me about once that I haven’t been interested in looking into again. —Never got much into anything else by Donaldson, either. Haven’t gone back to read the first three since probably froshling year. Definitely books for a time and a place, but they’re the right books.

And the language has something to do with it. If I had the books to hand I’d, I dunno, dip into them and refresh my palate and test my analogies. I want to say, see, that there’s something of outsider art to the way the prose does what it does, but that’s the sort of critical assertion you really want to be careful with. But—the prose, it’s awful, but there’s a naïve power to it that, well, fits what it’s trying to do. (“Pretentious”? No. It’s not pretending to be anything.) But I’d never expect anyone to like it for that power. (The idea of preferring Donaldson’s prose over all others makes me think for no particular reason of the character of Bunny, in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, who listens to nothing but Sousa marches. —Then, there’s a certain naïve power to having a character in this day and age who listens to nothing but Sousa marches.)

But to then bring up Gormenghast? Peake, as turgid? I suppose I can see the connection, but it’s like comparing a cheap port with grappa. The same basic thing is in there, trying to do what it does, but the cheap port ends up cloying and sticky and the grappa takes your head off. —Don’t ever let anyone recommend Eddison to you, would be my advice.

(Lovecraft? Lovecraft is another kettle of fish entire.)

*As I was finishing this up, I remembered: I’d bought and read the first book on one trip, as noted, and went into a bookstore and they didn’t have the second, only the third, so I bought it and read it and finished it on the next trip. So my willingness to have skipped ahead against my better nature tells us nothing, really, beyond the fact that book distribution had a ways to go, back in the day.

#34 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:40 AM:

Marie - I wasn't clear, I actually liked Gormenghast quite a lot when I read them, but couldn't imagine rereading them. Now that I look into my mind, they seem to be classified as "definitely have to be in the mood, maybe in 20 or 30 years".

And Eddison, he did make it seem natural to him. There was a rennaissance-like intricacy that I liked. One of the poems that he quoted was Baudelaire, I think. At one time I knew it. So it may not have been a rennaissance flavor of decadence he was aiming at, I just thought it was.

#35 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:43 AM:

Iowa, not Idaho. Also forgot that in addition to Miéville, that second book, second series makes me think of a grim ’n’ gritty Dawntreader. Like someone had done a Thieves’ World on it or something. Now I want to take another look at that one, dammit, but the amound of work I’d have to do to catch up is to say the least daunting, and I’m so very busy these days.

#36 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:45 AM:

As Stefan Jones said, new fantasy was relatively rare back then.

I'm sure I will regret saying this, but it still is.

#37 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:47 AM:

My pet analysis of the First Chronicles is that the Land is indeed Covenant's delusion. Lord Foul is his own leprosy anthropomorphosized. The reason the prose is so pulpy and over the top is because, as you may or may not recall, Covenant's profession was pulp fantasy novelist. So the Land's narrative, being a figment of Covenant's psychosis, reflects that.

It also seems to me that the rape scene is frequently misunderstood. It certainly isn't something to be proud of but given the circumstances and the fact that Covenant believed - rightly in my opinion - that he was dreaming, I don't think his moral culpability is what it might otherwise be. How many people have done stuff in dreams that we wouldn't do in waking life? Many of us, I wager. Even so, Covenant spends the rest of the Chronicle trying to atone for what he believes is a crime committed solely inside his own mind.

Donaldson made a colossal blunder when he introduced POVs inside the head of other "real world" characters in the second Chronicles. I ignore that.

#38 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 03:19 AM:

"Anne Perry" does indeed sound like the right author. While I've never actually read any of her books, her sordid past was outed shortly after the release of "Heavenly Creatures", in which she was played by Kate Winslet; also, iirc her dreadful fantasy novels have something or other to do with her conversion to the LDS, though I have no idea what would happen if you interleaved the pages with Orson Scott Card's "Alvin" series.

#39 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 03:29 AM:

there are only so many words anybody can say about a fucking tree

I never read the Donaldson books, but I have to object to this: there are unlimited words a person could say about a tree, and another unlimited set of words a person could say about a fucking tree, and unlimited subsets of each of those that could be good words to say about a tree or a fucking tree respectively.

Really.

#40 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:22 AM:

CaseyL, I too saw a memorably bad Scots Play sometime in the mid-1970s in central Georgia (the US state, not the ex-Soviet Republic). The modernistic set was entirely formed of cubes painted to resemble granite. The witches stood around one of them making stirring motions. Then they frogmarched the Thane across the stage and sat him down on the cauldron.

Clifton, you and I had exactly the same reaction to Covenant, probably on exactly the same page.

PiscusFiche, Dr. Bronner's Soap was made for people like you and me who read the shampoo bottles.

I read and liked The Worm Ouroborous but couldn't get into Gormenghast.

And how have we gotten this far into a thread dealing with unpleasant characters without mention of Steven Brust's Agyar? Brust has an almost supernatural gift for making you sympathize with his protagonist even when he's a thoroughgoing bastard.

#41 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:26 AM:

Anne Perry's mysteries--espeially the Monk mysteries--I love. The other mystery series is okay, but I have them and read them because my grandmother loves mysteries, and I loan her my mysteries to read. (She gets mad at me if she thinks I'm buying books solely so she can read them. Buying used books helps.)

Anne Perry's fantasy, however, is awful, although I didn't find it as horrid as Lord Foul's Bane. A good friend recommeded LFB to me, and I've been wary of trusting his judgement about fantasy books since then.

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:45 AM:

If it hadn't been for Lord Foul's Bane, at the 1978 worldcon masquerade we would never have had that fellow who skulked about the stage in a long black cape and a duck's-head mask, then announced that he was Lord Bane's Fowl.

The late Jack Harness, in probably his most memorable disguise.

#43 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:51 AM:

I could stand the rape, given that it was acknowledged as such and given how much rape disguised there has been in fantasy (or, as LeGuin would probably note, fake fantasy), but whereas the other fake fantasists were either sadists or romancers of rape Donaldson's essential discovery was masochism; masochism may be rarer than those other two but it is not better for that rarity.

Yes he admitted how horrible that rape was, but only to wallow in its horror, enjoying every nasty minute of it.

That aside, his style sucks. But then so does the style of many writers.

#44 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 10:10 AM:

Mina, the biggest problem with Gormenghast was that the market was desperately hungry for more Tolkien, and Ballantine packaged Eddison and Peake as though they were more of the same.

For me, at least, this was the opposite of a problem. I would never have discovered those books as a teenager otherwise, and I'm very glad I did.

Where Ballantine Books failed my teenage self was packaging the Zimiamvian trilogy in internal chronological order rather than in publishing order, meaning that it started with an unfinished book (The Mezentian Gate). That was a little beyond me, and I didn't have the good sense to continue on anyway.

#45 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 10:17 AM:

That might ALMOST get me to go through Donaldson's prose again.

I remember slogging through the first books and thinking, "God, I hate these characters, I hate this world." I remember thinking, "White gold is an alloy of gold and silver; why don't they have any available?" I remember thinking "Wow, circular definitions in the glossary" (how sad is it that I read the glossary as well). I remember thinking that the books could have been cut in half just by cutting out the words, "LEPER OUTCAST UNCLEAN!"

I remember thinking that I never wanted to read another book by Stephen R. Donaldson again in my life. So far, I've been doing that.

#46 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 10:46 AM:

I feel oddly disloyal saying anything critical about the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. It's silly of me, I know; but that was a tremendously influential publishing program in terms of the industry, the literature, and my own reading history.

I've been told by knowledgeable people that Judy-Lynn Del Rey -- a darned influential figure in her own right, who went on to see genre fantasy established as a widely recognized and commercially successful publishing category -- learned her chops from Betty Ballantine. I can well believe it. Ian and Betty Ballantine were geniuses when it came to publishing, and they had amazingly acute taste.

They helped make the world I live in. That's been one of the graces of my time in publishing: I've gotten to meet some of the people who made my world. I've mentioned Ian and Betty Ballantine. Young Tom Doherty was working with them when Ballantine Books got paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings into every wire rack in the country. Guys like Ian Ballantine, Tom Doherty, and Ralph Arnote helped develop the paperback and wire rack system that poured a stream of paperback books into two-bit burgs all over America. When I was born, there were between five and six hundred bookstores in America, and most of them were in big cities, university districts, and New England. If it weren't for the mass-market distribution system, a lot of dusty small towns would have had no retail books at all.

And I got to meet them! I said "Thank you."

#47 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 10:56 AM:

Julie L:

The thought of interleaving Anne Perry's fantasies w/ Alvin Maker is a horrid thought. I salute you for it! good thing I didn't have my coffee cup next to the keyboard however.

And Card is another example of someone who can and does turn out penny dreadfuls but is capable of writing decent stories as well (Ender's Game is how I got my oldest son into sci-fi and fantasy).

#48 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:43 AM:

OK, there are writers who can do excellent fantasy and science fiction, I can think of a few favorites right off. And I can think of a couple of writers who do excellent science fiction, and not so good to awful fantasy. None who do good fantasy and bad science fiction come immediately to mind, you guys can probably think of some.

But if the good science fiction/bad fantasy combination is commoner, could that mean fantasy is harder to write?

#49 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 12:00 PM:

I rarely comment here (lack of time, not of interest), but I couldn't resist. :)

Having, to the best of my knowledge, a relatively unusual first name, it was decidedly odd to see it on Making Light today...let alone in this context. :)

That said--I read Donaldson in high school, apparently like many others. About all I retained from the experience was the brief desire to send Donaldson a thank-you for probably boosting my SAT score a point or so. ;)

Also--Lila: Agyar! Yes! What a delightful bastard. :)

#50 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 12:21 PM:

But if the good science fiction/bad fantasy combination is commoner, could that mean fantasy is harder to write?

Nah, merely that our expectations of what we call “fantasy” and “science fiction” are different, here and now. The one difference that comes most immediately to mind: we expect SF to conform to communal ideas, of science and technology (for some values of “communal,” “idea,” “science,” “technology,” “conform,” and “SF”); fantasy we expect to be an altogether more individual thing, “beyond the fields we know” and all that. (Protestations that contemporary fantasy tends to run lemming-like in cliquish, door-stopping fads merely reinforce the distinction: the easiest way to get beyond the fields we know is to follow someone else’s path.) —So it’s (perhaps) easier for someone who’s already done a great good job of building something individual and rich and strange from what we don’t happen to notice are commonplace ingredients to take up the latest common threads of another closely related discipline and ring great good changes on them, than it is for someone comfortable in a raucous clubhouse of shared ideas and techniques to think they’ve got to strike out on their own to make the other work.

I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that I’m backing into a Delany quote from an altogether unexpected quarter, and that’s usually a sign I need more coffee. I’d go look for it, but my library is in disarray, due to all the plastering and painting I’m procrastinating.

#51 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 12:25 PM:

The thought strikes me...

...that Donaldson's Covenant trilogy is the sf/f community's version of Bret Easton Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO.

Unsympathetic, even repellent, protagonist who does horrible things. Ellis' repeated use of brand names may be seen as the equivalent of Donaldson's OED-completist vcabulary.

And of course, the critical reaction, in both directions. And the sales.

(For the record, got fifty pages into the first book.)

#52 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 01:13 PM:

Lila: Agyar and Cowboy Feng were strange in that I realised a short while after reading them that I didn't actually care that much about the characters or ever really want to see them again. Brust had fooled me into thinking I did, for the duration of the books.

By 'fooled' I do not mean that I feel cheated or tricked or anything like that, just that he's a good storyteller.

Then there's the Paarfi books, whose characters I still do care about deeply. (I like the Vlad characters well enough, but it's the world, and the smart, twisty plots, and the timeline, and the *Easter egginess* of it that keep me coming back to them again and again.)

#53 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Mina: I seriously highly recommend And a Man Rides Through. The title may not be the most melodius, but the book is truly quite good.

#54 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:10 PM:

Tim: That's what I had been about to comment this morning. "Packaged like Tolkein" is exactly why I found Eddison and Peake. I couldn't handle the Zimiamvian trilogy myself when I first tried it but I recognized it as something I'd want to come back to later and was glad. Let's not forget Evangeline Walton's glorious telling of the Mabinogion, as well. I owe Ballantine a huge debt of thanks for all the brilliant and half-forgotten books that they dragged back out of the shadows into print.

#55 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 02:52 PM:

The odd thing about the Covenant books is that I found the fantasy part of them completely unreadable crap, but that the real-world set parts had the potential for an interesting story. In fact, I bailed out right quick from reading the dreadful prose -- but I did read all the little real-world bits set around the two trilogies.

#56 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 03:00 PM:

Tina - It was not the lack of melody in the title that I objected to, but the implied premise that all her problems would be solved if she just had a man [to put it more politely than I thought he meant]. Since that reading of the authors' intent seemed born out by the little I read, I didn't want to go further.

All details long forgotten. Since I didn't actually read most of it, my take could well be wrong. ?

#57 ::: J. Alexander Harman ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 03:50 PM:

I finished LFB, but never bothered picking up any of the others after hearing from two friend who had read the entire series that no, Covenant doesn't get any more likeable as the series goes on. I do love the Book-a-Minute summaries, though:

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Ultra-Condensed by Russell Lutz

Lord Mhoram: Thomas Covenant, you are the savior of The Land.
Thomas Covenant: Bite me.
(Thomas Covenant saves The Land.)

THE END

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Ultra-Condensed by Russell Lutz

Thomas Covenant: I am the savior of The Land.
Linden Avery: Can I help?
Thomas Covenant: Over my dead body. (dies)
(Linden Avery saves The Land.)

THE END

CaseyL: your account of "Blood Wedding" reminds me of a play my college's theater department did during my senior year, "In the Burning Darkness." I don't recall the playwright, but it was a Spanish play about a school for the blind that was apparently supposed to be some sort of political allegory about Spain under Franco. The translated script was hopelessly stilted, the characters were universally unlikable, the director added, exactly as you described, random interludes of Modern Dance that served no apparent purpose, and weren't even part of the original script (the director taught the Movement class, and the dance bits served to show off her choreography and gratuitously give her favorite student a role in the thing), and to top it all off, the entire set was painted and furnished in various (and largely bilious) shades of yellow. The intent, so I was told by a disgusted scene-painter friend of mine, was to convey a bright and cheerful mood; the effect was to remind the audience that all these characters were blind, because if they weren't they'd have to redecorate.
Later,
Alex

#58 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 06:23 PM:

I seriously highly recommend And a Man Rides Through. The title may not be the most melodi[o]us ...

The actual title is A Man Rides Through, which scans well enough. I suspect that people refer to "The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through," and the puissant severance is transapportioned. Or summat.

#59 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 07:56 PM:

As if Donaldson's excrutiating prose style weren't enough of a deterrent, his repeated reference to sheep that were foaling -- giving birth to foals, rather than lambs -- had me hurling "Mirror" across the room.

Smack onna editorial head for that one.

(On the other hand, a typo in one of M Lackey's books had her character swearing, "By the Coddess!" I must've read that one a dozen times, and it still leaves me in fishy-deity-hysterics. Some copyediting errors are forgivable.)

#60 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 09:07 PM:

Mina: It was not the lack of melody in the title that I objected to, but the implied premise that all her problems would be solved if she just had a man [to put it more politely than I thought he meant]. Since that reading of the authors' intent seemed born out by the little I read, I didn't want to go further.

It's been long enough since I read AMRT that I couldn't tell you exactly why the heroine steps up from her passive self (although being dissed by her ignorant father when she's starting to prove herself may be the final log on the fire). But I recall "just having a man" having relatively little to do with it; she deals with the principal evil sorcerer herself.

Harman: Tom Smith summarizes the books as
1. Everything turns to shit.
2. Everything is shit.
3. We discover plumbing.
4. The plumbing overflows.
5. The house explodes.
6. The operation is a success but the plumber dies.
7. (8.?) We resurrect the plumber.
8. (7.?) ?
9. We discover the true meaning of shit.

(Tom Smith is demented; we could use a few more of him.)

#61 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 09:31 PM:

None who do good fantasy and bad science fiction come immediately to mind, you guys can probably think of some.

terry pratchett's strata, a sort of sci-fi take on the discworld, was very bad in my experience. but i don't think it was because it was science fiction, just that it was a very early book & he hadn't found his book legs yet.

i could be totally misremembering too, as it was a long time ago i read it.

#62 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:47 PM:

J. Alexander - I was IN a terrible university production of In the Burning Darkness!! For what it's worth, we didn't have any modern dance or dreadful yellow walls in ours. Instead we performed in a tiny theater that seated approximately 12 audience members. I was the only American in the cast (I was studying abroad at Oxford for a semester) and annoyed the other cast members no end when I would "mispronounce" words like privacy.

#63 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 12:32 AM:

I know LFB only by reputation; as I recall, at the age of fourteen I had a look at the back cover, ascertained that the name "Lord Foul" wasn't an indication of wacky hijinks a la The Princess Bride, and never felt any desire to pick it up again. I gather that Covenant is convinced for a good....ahem...a large part of the plot that the fantasy world he's been propelled into isn't really real. No kidding, with a villain named Lord Foul. Of course, it occurs to me now that that may have been the point.

I did, however, read The Mirror of Her Dreams as a teenager, and though I do remember a certain amount of head-gripping at the writing style I think I attributed this to my own lack of erudition.* I loved the premise and the grittiness of the world enough to continue on halfway through A Man Rides Through before (extremely unusually for me) pooping out. I remember an excess of political intrigue subplotting, but the main thing that drove me around the bend was the heroine. It seemed like every other character in the first book stopped by at least once to tell her how well she was adapting. No, she friggin' wasn't. She was hopelessly missish and passive...and I could've dealt with that; I'm not saying I expect or want every female fantasy character I read to be dauntless and ass-kicking. And many authors don't give more than lip service to the sheer bizarre trauma that landing in an alternate world would necessarily cause a person.** But around the seventh reassurance that, gosh, she was really getting the hang of things...and wasn't she so, so very pretty?...I started emitting little shrieks of rage.

*See how I subtly signal that this lack's been attended to, dragging in the four-dollar word. Thank you.

**My favorite example for this...though I'm sure it's by no means the most egregious the rest of you could think of...comes in the first book of a series called The Soprano Sorceress, where it's explained that, despite the AU having a completely different history, geography, religious structure, and system of physics, their language "has Germanic roots" and therefore our heroine is able to become fluent in a couple weeks, having had some experience with the German in various operas. For God's sake. Just make a Babelfish already and save the rationalizations for the whole words-set-to-music-magically-come-true thing.***

***One of the reasons I stuck with this series for three books was the hope that, sooner or later, someone else would wander in from our reality, play a little rock and roll, (why did every spell she performed have to be set to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"?) and turn the whole thing into a kind of cross between early Xanth and War for the Oaks. That or sing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song. I wasn't picky.

#64 ::: J. Alexander Harman ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 02:48 AM:

CHip: there's a third trilogy now? Geah!

Kate: you have my sympathy. I couldn't sit through that play; I can't imagine being stuck there for multiple performances plus rehearsals....

Brooke: And many authors don't give more than lip service to the sheer bizarre trauma that landing in an alternate world would necessarily cause a person.

No kidding. I found that annoying in the Narnia Chronicles, and it's a common feature of that whole subgenre of fantasy. My favorite fantasy involving characters from our world thrown into a world of swords and sorcery is Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame," in part because he avoids this pitfall; in the first book, his characters (with one exception) are severely traumatized and desperate to get home -- and inclined to murder the philosophy professor/dungeonmaster/wizard who tricked them into going in the first place. The exception, James Michael Finnegan, has muscular dystrophy in our world, while in the other world he takes on the form of Ahira Bandylegs, a superhumanly strong and healthy dwarven warrior. Like Covenant, he has a strong incentive to stay, and unlike Covenant, the presence of his friends with him leaves little room for disbeleif.

Then there's Jo Walton's "Relentlessly Mundane," in which coming back to our world proves at least as traumatic as going to another. (BTW, Jo, if you happen to be reading this thread -- I noticed you post here -- I loved that story. I was on the Strange Horizons staff at the time, and I think it was the best thing we ran in our first year.)
Later,
Alex

#65 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 04:44 AM:

Alex: The thing is, I like fish-out-of-water fantasies. I'm willing to suspend a whole lot of disbelief, if I like the characters and/or the story is compelling. You will not find a bigger Narnia fanatic anywhere on this earth. (Unless you look in Tempe, AZ and happen upon my older brother. ) The problem comes, for me, when there's a disparity in the realism shown between the world and the characters and the method of transit between worlds and...nuts. That sentence was going to make sense when I started it, I swear. My point is that authors need to decide where to put the emphasis in their explanations and angst. If it's a light swashbuckler, by all means have the characters arrive because A Wizard Did It, and don't have them lolling around pouting for very long. I think the reason the kids are supposed to be adapting so well to Narnia is that they are kids; it's partly E. Nesbit's influence and partly the old children-are-purer-of-heart-and-more-able-to-accept-truth thing. Think about what a fuss Eustace makes about wanting to see a British Consul. Think about the end of Prince Caspian when the enemy soldiers have to choose whether to start new lives in the alternate reality of Earth or stay and deal with Narnia becoming a fantasy land again. ( PC also starts off with a bit of uncertainty because the kids have a couple of days of going, "Um. We suddenly appear to be on a deserted island. On the ruins of the castle we left only a year ago. And we're all alone. WTF?") Six out of the seven books are fish-out-of-water stories, and notice: in every single one, there's a different method used to cross into Narnia, and a different set of motivations and emotions involved, and a different journey to be taken in consequence.

Ahem. (/pontification)

About Anne Perry: I'd read several of her mysteries before the hoopla surrounding the release of "Heavenly Creatures." I thought they were pretty good; fairly strong protagonists and nice Victorian London atmosphere and murders at a reasonable level of graphic. And then the movie came out.

That really is an amazing, persuasive bit of film making. (This Peter Jackson guy--he's got a future.) With the way the fantasy world the two girls invent is brought to life--it's gorgeous and twisted and really, really crazy. Young Kate Winslet looks a whole heck of a lot like the author photographs of Perry, I noticed. And so I reread The Cater Street Hangman, the first of her mysteries, and started getting the screaming mimis. There are all of these...I wouldn't even call them details, it's more like...affinities of thought between the narration in that book and the diary transcripts they used in the movie.

And then I started thinking about the mental state of someone who had actually committed a murder (or at the very least been a very involved accomplice) now writing dozens of bestselling books about murder and I....I gave my copies of her paperbacks away to the library sale. You could not pay me to read her fantasy novels. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, in regard to moving on with her life, but...well.

So. At the last L. A. Festival of Books, I passed by a press stand where she was signing, and kind of...walked in the opposite direction. I'd seen her name in the flyers: she was doing a panel that day on creating realism in mysteries. Which...yeah. Not two hours later, I saw her at again at a bookseller's stall. And then, late that same afternoon, I turned around and there she was standing four feet behind me. I said, "Eeep!" dropping the book I was looking at, then gingerly put it back in place and tried to exit the tiny crowded bookstand without knocking anything (else) over or in any other way drawing attention to myself or her. I think I've got a ways to go, maturity-wise; if I were really being properly charitable I wouldn't even mention any of this. But, seriously, how would you guys have reacted?

#66 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 05:16 AM:

The trouble is that I now rather want to read Donaldson all the way through, if only to chuckle at the bizarre vocabulary. (Telic, a real Donaldsonian word, is the British codename for our little imbroglio in Iraq. I have never heard a more thoughtful pause than that which occurred after I informed a couple of military friends that, yes, it was a real word, and it meant "purposeful; with a clear objective in view."
"Huh," one of them said eventually. Until then they had accepted the unofficial explanation that it was the acronym for Tell Everybody: Leave Is Cancelled.
Backronyms like that are a foundation of military humour. The new Bowman radios are supposedly so called because you are Better Off With Map And Nokia.)

#67 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 08:09 AM:

Mina: As CHip says, the title doesn't have anything to do with her being saveded by her man. (I'm sort of ashamed to admit I honestly didn't remember the real title, btw; I clearly must dig these books up again.) IIRC, it has to do with something that helps trigger her own, mm, solidity is a good word here, I think.

Although the guy she ends up involved with obviously does support her, it's clearly not a case of him rescuing her (if anything, almost more the other way around).

#68 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 08:45 AM:

An assistant in my local Waterstones recommended the Covenant books as similar to my plot summary of my first novel, so I undertook to read one for research purposes. At some point between the recommendation and my sitting down to read the book, someone on a forum said they couldn't abide Covenent because of the rape.

When I made time to read it, about three pages after the rape I realised that *this* was the rape that the forumite was so upset about. The prose was so utterly impenetrable that I didn't realise while I was reading it.

#69 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 08:53 AM:

[on the weird writing]
`So the Land's narrative, being a figment of Covenant's psychosis, reflects that.'

Except that everything else Donaldson has ever written has the same... constricted writing style.

Oh, and note also that the Gap series has a washy and useless female protagonist (Morn) who gets raped by someone else (Angus) who later becomes a protagonist and agonises over it; the series also has other female characters who manage to be mostly useless most of the time (Mikka). Just like the Mordant's Need series.

I think Donaldson has some, er, hangups in this area.

#70 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 10:34 AM:

"I think Donaldson has some, er, hangups in this area."
yes either that or he is lazy when it comes to plot construction.

#71 ::: Dru ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 11:02 AM:

Nix:

I've always secretly thought of the Gap series as
"Covenant in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace". Barely disguised. Not one likable character, or situation.

I was stuck with the series in a blizzard and read the entire thing. I think I threw them against the wall at least five times each (three over the 'stop reading limit'). I found that it is possible for monetary policy textbooks to begin to look appealing after enough fiction trauma.

Hangups, perhaps that's the difference between Brust, Mieville and other high-value word authors and Donaldson. Their fiction doesn't feel like some form of verbal-cathartic therapy.

#72 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 11:30 AM:

I want very much to read the version of the story that these 2 women are putting together, because, really, it sounds so much more interesting than the original.

I remember reading the books the first time in high school. I sat on my bed with an old dictionary next to me. I referred to said dictionary at least once per page. As an adult, I thought, "Gosh, I vaguely remember these books and they are bountifully available at used bookstores everywhere. I shall re-read them, and surely with 10 years of vocabulary expansion under my belt, I won't need the dictionary!"

I was wrong.

But, then again, I only got as far as the rape before thinking, "Um, WHAT?" and flinging the book across the room. Tried looking at the second trilogy, remembering a female lead, but she was AWFUL. And Covenant was just as atrocious.

Now I wonder whether Donaldson is just as unpleasant as his character.

#73 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Aha. I see we've arrived at The Real Story and whatever the rest of the Gap series is called. I found the first book relatively tolerable, but considering my reaction to Covenant I was ambivalent about seeking out the rest of the trilogy. I take it that it's best skipped?

But I absolutely adored Mordant's Need. Its levels of self-loathing and wallowing were far below my toss-book-across-the-room threshhold, the heroine goes from being passive and squashed at the beginning of the duology to seriously kicking ass by the end, and, dude, stuff coming out of mirrors! How cool is that?

Somebody mentioned The Worm Ourobouros. Would those who liked it please convince me to go back and finish reading it? I'm beginning to suspect that my disliking it the first time around means I'm just broken or something. I kept expecting to turn the page and finally find the author's admission that the whole thing was meant as a spoof, but said admission never turned up.

#74 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Now I wonder whether Donaldson is just as unpleasant as his character

Absolutely no reason to think so, just from the books. People have lots of different reasons for writing the way they do, and being just like the main character is only one possible reason.

#75 ::: Northland ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Would those who liked it please convince me to go back and finish reading it? I'm beginning to suspect that my disliking it the first time around means I'm just broken or something.

Nicole, I love Ouroboros but I rarely try to convince people who bounced off it to give it another go. It's one of the most idiosyncratic books I've ever read.

That said, it may help to skip the framing chapter and jump in when the narrator arrives on "Mercury" -- but I suspect that to enjoy it you really need to have a shameful taste for over-the-top Elizabethan revenge plays. Also, if your dream man is a combination of Shakespeare, Raleigh & Hawkwood and you have always secretly wished to be a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Queen Elizabeth.

Virginia Woolf describes the appeal of Eddison for me perfectly: Exquisite is the delight, sublime the relief of being set free to wander in the land of the unicorn and the jeweller among dukes and grandees, Gonzaloes and Bellimperias, who spend their lives in murder and intrigue, dress up as men if they are women, as women if they are men, see ghosts, run mad, and die in the greatest profusion on the slightest provocation, uttering as they fall imprecations of superb vigour or elegies of the wildest despair.
[though, of course, she's talking about actual Elizabethan plays]

#76 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 02:41 PM:

The Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through drove me up a wall. As I recall the gal spends much of the story wandering around a castle getting into scrapes and being rescued by a plucky young fellow who has a job that's something to do with mirrors. She's constantly menaced by a villanous knight, who does everything but twirl his moustaches as he attempts several times to rape her. Naturally he's always interrupted at the last second, so that her virtue is spared, allowing the plucky young fellow to be the one to, well, pluck it.

In a particularly inspired bit of Mary Sue-ism, she doesn't wear traditional garb when she's transported through to Medieval Times -- she has the castle tailor make her a bunch of jeans and shirts, using fancy dress fabric. Everybody thinks this is neat and I seem to recall her starting a new style among the castle ladies.

#77 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 05:42 PM:

Back in 1982 I had dinner with Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey at a nice restaurant in New York, and one of the things Lester and I discussed was the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I was honest enough to say I didn't like the books -- I'd read them all the way through, hoping there'd be a killer ending to make it worth wading through three volumes of overwrought nonsense, and was thoroughly annoyed at the ending I actually got. I said so.

I expected Lester to take offense, since after all, he'd bought Lord Foul's Bane after twenty-two editors rejected it, and made a pile of money by doing so. He didn't; he just nodded, and said he wasn't surprised, since the books were crap and he'd known it when he bought them.

What made him different from the twenty-two other editors, he said, was that he'd realized they were crap he could sell -- that all that wallowing in self-pity would appeal strongly to a certain sort of reader.

Apparently he was right.

#78 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 05:51 PM:

The 2005 Award for Sausage Factory Tour Guide of the Year goes to . . . Lawrence Watt-Evans!

#79 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 06:06 PM:

Now I wonder whether Donaldson is just as unpleasant as his character.

No.

To dislike a book is quite a different thing from insulting its author.

#80 ::: Jurie Horneman ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 07:29 PM:

I don't know how much I can really add to this, but given the overwhelming number of negative opinions re Mr. Donaldson's oeuvre, I feel compelled to say that, although LFB didn't do much for me, I liked Mirror Of Her Dreams / A Man Rides Through, and I adored the Gap Cycle, to the point of waiting for the next tome with bated breath. What worked really well for me was the tension: he just keeps ratcheting it up, chapter after chapter. Especially in the Gap Cycle the stakes keep getting higher - it is as if Donaldson invented the setting just so he could make the potential ruin more... well... ruinous. It can make for tough reading (emotionally - not, as I recall, because of the style), and the climax never quite matches the build-up, but boy, did I enjoy reading those books.

#81 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 10:20 PM:

JAHarman: No, there are \two/ more trilogies; the Tom Swift quote is at least ten years old, and now we're hearing about Covenant's daughter (I think; my reaction to reports has been to avert my eyes, except when the reports are so funny I forget the details).

Nicole et al: I read the Gaps all at once, which was certainly a mistake; I think I was attracted because his foreword was the first thing I've seen to make sense of the Ring (although I don't know how far out the analysis is). Possibly they would have been better over time.

Donaldson has also done some good novelettes.

#82 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 10:44 PM:

I read the Gaps all at once, which was certainly a mistake...

Yep. I read all five in a row, too. The books were supposed to be read a year apart, and the story was full of as-you-know,-Professor style recaps. It was a complicated plot, so the recaps were probably necessary, but I didn't need them in the story itself, where I couldn't avoid them.

#83 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 11:16 PM:

And to amplify what John M. Ford said above (and possibly to distort what he's saying beyond recognition), not reading novels with unpleasant protagonists limits you as a reader.

I understand it, and have a related affliction--I can't watch even mild violence in film or video without a nasty reaction, and a slasher movie might just kill me--which limits me as a viewer.

Comedy tonight!

#84 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 01:00 AM:

Awwww poor leper....!

Is the ONLY single possible emotion I got out of slogging my way through the first book. I've not read anything else Donaldson's done because of that reaction. It was probably the first book I'd read voluntarily that was THAT TIRESOME.
(I HAD to read Catcher in the Rye in my junior year in high school and thought Holden Caulfield was a useless, tedious prat... and I had to write essays about it, dammit.)

This is from someone who found Silas Mariner to be an entertaining book (read voluntarily after seeing the PBS version) though written in a very old, rather complicated style--in our age someone could likely tell the tale just as well but with at least 30% less narrative. (But I love Dickens too...and Austin and a bunch of other verbose writers!)

#85 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 02:24 AM:

verbosity is the gaud of elegance.

#86 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 09:32 AM:

I HAD to read Catcher in the Rye in my junior year in high school and thought Holden Caulfield was a useless, tedious prat.

THANK YOU. I thought I was the only one.

#87 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 06:01 PM:

I HAD to read Catcher in the Rye in my junior year in high school and thought Holden Caulfield was a useless, tedious prat.

THANK YOU. I thought I was the only one.

Right there with both of you. I could hardly believe in him as a character, I was having to wade through so much perceived condescension from the author. It made me mad, it really did.


#88 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 02:52 AM:

Count me in to the "tedious prat" club. I think what got to me most was his smug certainty that he had the one true yardstick of worth, able infallibly to divide the phony from the real.

#89 ::: J. Alexander Harman ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 11:20 PM:

Brooke: I don't mind the fish-out-of-water fantasy as a genre, as long as the author handles the characters' reactions convincingly. I like Narnia fairly well, though the Christian allegory gets a bit thick for my Secular Humanist taste. One thing that helps Lewis is that the same characters end up in Narnia several times, so the culture shock isn't so bad on return visits. Eustace and Jill have pretty rough periods of adjustment in VotDT and TSC, now that I think about it (of course, in Eustace's case it doesn't help that he starts off as a loathesome little creep who "almost deserves" the name Eustace Clarence Scrubb).

Rosenberg's characters in Guardians can't afford to spend much time lolling around pouting because the world they've been tossed into is rather dangerous; one of them gets killed in the first twelve hours they're there. Also, their adjustment is helped some by the fact that they arrive in the bodies of the RPG characters they had been running in Professor Deighton's game, inheriting all of those characters' skills and knowledge of the world (and also having to deal at first with something like multiple personality disorder, until they work out how to integrate their characters' personas with their own -- each of them strikes a different balance). At the end of the first book they escape, but find that the price they've paid is too high, and the only way to undo the damage is to go back to the Other Side -- from which they cannot return again.

I've been vaguely tempted to read The Gap Cycle, because I'm just familiar enough with the source material to have fun spotting the parallels. However, I'm not sure that story could ever really work for me without Wagner's music to buoy it up....

As to TCitR, I thought everyone knew Holden was a useless, tedious prat. IIRC, he never quite works out that he's just as phony as everyone else -- or that, by his standards, nobody and nothing is "real."

BTW, has anyone seen the film SLC Punk? It reminds me a bit of Catcher in this regard, with one crucial difference: much is made in it of the supposed distinction between true punks and "posers;" the denouement hinges on the protagonist's realization that all punks are posers, because the punk ethos itself is nothing more than a pose. It's a pretty decent movie, and also something of a revelation: it turns out that when he's not playing Freddie Prinze Jr.'s sidekick, Matt Lillard can actually act.

#90 ::: Dee Lacey ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2005, 10:28 AM:

Disliking a book and insulting the author are very different things. For that matter, disliking anything and insulting it are different - one is a feeling, the other an action. So there are two boundaries being crossed: book|author and emotion|action.

If one isn't acquainted with the author, emotions about their characters seep into emotions about the author - for example, I find myself feeling more enthusiastic about posts here by John M. Ford because I just read Princes of the Air and really liked Orden Obeck.

One should hold such emotions in check out of understanding their likely lack of correlation with reality. But feelings are notoriously difficult to control with logic.

Failing that, one should refrain from acting on the emotion, especially if it is negative and will lead to insult.

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