I found a really cool site the other day--officially titled The ShanMonster Page of Delights and Vertical Imagery, it's kept up by a woman who styles herself "an agnostic secular humanist". My experience with this page started with a section about the witchcraze that blighted the earth from about 1100-1700 AD. It was so interesting and informative that I decided to go see what the heck this "Shantell" person was anyway. What I found was an amazing page coving topics from why Jesus was Goth (not for the conservative Christian mind, but I found it funny) to chinchillas to bellydancing to, of course, ShanMonster herself and her personal rants. Anyway, after reading most everything I was ever going to on the site, I finally looked at her self-description. (And I thought my taste in literature was eclectic...) On her list of "least favourite authors" was Mercedes Lackey--ShanMonster feels that Lackey is too preachy.
No, this is not an argument about whether or not one should like Mercedes Lackey. ShanMonster is entitled to her opinion and I respect that. I am not going to try to put Lackey on a pedestal or anything here.
It really made me think. Because she's right. Lackey is preachy. She's preachy about things that I consider (usually) good causes--mostly dealing with unity and tolerance--but she's still preachy. This touched off two trains of thought; for the sake of something resembling brevity I'm only going to follow the one about why in all heck I like the stuff I like.
I've been told that David Eddings writes flat characters--cardboard cutouts that never really break their stereotypes. I agreed with this statement as heartily as I agree with the statement that Lackey is preachy. However, I still devour his books whenever I go back to reread them.
I've been told that Jordan is long-winded and goes into detail. Long-winded I'll agree with; you can't look at those books and deny that. Detail, I think, is good, but I can see the point that too much is... Well, too much. No matter what point one puts forth against Jordan, though, I will still reread the Wheel of Time whenever I can, regardless of how long it takes me.
Conversely, I've been told that Terry Goodkind (geez, I almost put Brooks, too many Terry/Terri people running around in fantasy these days) is on a level with Tolkien. Anyone who's read my review of Wizard's First Rule knows I disagree with this, and anyone who hasn't read it and is interested should click here.
The list goes on and on--things I've been told are good but I've found distasteful, things that other people thought were horrible but I thought were good. Why do I go in for the things I do? Why do I keep liking this stuff even though I know it's not the greatest thing in the world, when I know that it is, to some degree, just as bad as the stuff I don't like?
Here's what I came up with.
Bad writing puts me off--in a sense. I do not care for Goodkind's books because I feel he gets too graphic, but also because his whole style is rough around the edges. Very much so. I think he'd be fine if he were telling this story aloud, but the way he tells it in print just grates on my nerves. Eddings, on the other hand, isn't too great at developing new plots. I mean, look at the whole thing. In both of his major series, a group of people including the hero, a long-lived woman of some authority, the hero's lover/wife, and so on and so forth, wander around looking for a blue stone. The hero is a king either by birth or by marriage in both cases. A deity "guides" the group. The "evil" side is represented by red and attempts (more or less) to consolidate its power into one big bad guy. The hero's child is involved in the second half of both sagas. The previous owner of the blue stone was also a king. In both cases, the hero is the only one who can really handle the blue stone. Well, there was Eriond in the Bel/Mal books, but as was shown later, he doesn't really count. A deity in disguise is involved in both series. The point is, it's the same damned plot over and over again. The biggest difference between the Bel/Mal and the El/Tam is that the Bel/Mal consists of a grand total of twelve books, whereas the El/Tam is only six. What's the difference between Eddings' fallacies and Goodkind's?
Goodkind's style immediately turned me off, whereas Eddings' immediately drew me in. Style isn't everything, but it can make a bad book seem better and vice versa. Besides, Goodkind isn't too great at plots either. Oh, he's not so repetitive as Eddings, but it's always "Richard saves the world" and "Richard saves this person" and "Richard saves that person" and "Kahlan messes up" and "Zedd is ornery". You begin to see the same old stuff happening all the time, even if it seems to take different forms.
Also, there's more variation than it seems like in Eddings' work. Yeah, the plots are very much alike. Well, OK. But at least you get new and different characters. How many series have goddesses who perpetually appear six years old? Everyone's got a hero who didn't know he was a hero; Eddings has a guy who can walk through rock. There is variation between the two series as well; yes, both heros have queens on their arm, but Ehlana has some major backbone and actually saves the day at least once, whereas Ce'Nedra stands around whining about Garion all the time. Backgrounds, companions, etc. are different pretty much across the board. And although Sephrenia and Polgara share many traits, Sephrenia is far, far more subtle and subdued than Pol. You wouldn't catch Sephrenia destroying a room in a fit of rage.
But I'm getting off track. A short note about why I like Jordan, and then we'll move on to Lackey. Jordan is one hell of a writer. Some people find him boring; that's a hazard of writing books so popular that even "mainstream" readers pick them up. People who didn't like fantasy to begin with are not likely to be converted by 800-page tomes. I find his work fascinating. there are references made in the first book to things that happen in the fifth; he obviously has this well-planned. Either that or he's got improvisation down to a science. The sheer complexity of the storyline draws me in and keeps me interested. And he's one of the few authors who's written a romance book I read through without laughing at the absurdity of it all--The Fallon Blood was misfiled at our library and I picked it up thinking it was fantasy.
If you're still with me, I congratulate you on your attention span and ability to somewhat follow what I'm rambling about.
Lackey. She preaches acceptance--"There is no one true way"--which encompasses other nationalities, other religions, other lifestyles if you want to use that euphamism... Pretty much everyone except the bad guy. And hell, you can even accept him or her if he or she turns good. Why do I like her writing if she preaches so much? Which she does. I honestly don't know. I've never been good at nailing down favourites or why I like them. I will say that I think some of her recent books aren't up to the standard of the old ones. Why not? Well, see, I can't nail that down either. I guess that there's a sense of the fantastic, something not conveyed by the implementation of magic or by the introduction of mythical animals, spirits, higher beings, demons, whatever. A sense of identification with the characters for sure. I identify heavily with Talia and Vanyel, with their troubled childhoods--even if mine was never as bad as theirs and I don't share certain powers or tendancies of theirs. I identify with Keth and Tarma and Kerowyn and to some extent Elspeth--those strong women who want to make their own destinies. And more or less do. Lackey's style grabbed me from the beginning, just as Eddings' did. I like the idea of accepting people no matter what, the idea that someone is not evil because of what he or she is. That's not enough for some people; ShanMonster, for instance, seems to be very open-minded and more willing to accept people as they are than many I know. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, either; I'm just saying I don't hold the same expectations as ShanMonster--or anyone else in the world, for that matter.
I guess it comes down to an escape. I like to get out of reality when I read. I don't want down-to-earth storytelling. I don't want complete bubblegum and cotton candy, either--a lot of that stuff tends to violate te laws of reality so far that I cannot forget I am reading a story. And when I cannot forget that, it's no longer worth reading. I want a kind of mix. Two parts fantasy to one part reality. Forget my troubles in reading about someone who's worse off--or better. I guess that's it.
And if you have any idea what I just said, please e-mail me and tell me what it was, because I don't know myself.
Copyright Sara Fawbush 1999.
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