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February 24, 2011

The magic goes away

Leo Grin contrasts the heroic fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard with today's anti-heroism and its "postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage".

Take Joe Abercrombie, for example.

Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

He is just getting warmed up.

Via Theo writing at Black Gate, who considers Grin's argument - and societal decline - in detail.

The morally confused anti-hero who alternates between conventionally good and conventionally evil behavior may be interesting and well-written, but when every character exhibits the same moral relativism and behaves in the same morally nebulous manner, it readily becomes apparent that the writer is constitutionally incapable of observing actual human behavior much less creating psychologically credible characters that are not stand-ins for his own confused moral sensibilities. It is precisely this intellectual shallowness that pervades the greater part of modern fantasy fiction.

Matthew David Surridge offers a thorough riposte and an excellent link round up of the bun fight over the decline and fall of high fantasy, including Joe Abercrombie's reply to Leo Grin.

When it comes to an epic tale with moral clarity set in a supremely realised fantasy world, [Tolkien] pretty much knocked it out of the park. But that means there’s not much point in my writing it again, is there? Forgive me for saying so, but it feels as if folk have been writing Lord of the Rings again for a while now, and I think we could probably, you know, stop.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at February 24, 2011 07:27 AM