At 02:56 PM 2/16/2004 +0000, Marc wrote:
>I think it is a crucial distinction since the importance of
>enjoying "the company" is one place where it seems that you and I
>part ways on the types of works we like. I don't require that
>my "tour guides" be particularly interesting themselves or enjoyable
>people to hang out with
I don't either. A person whose company you'd detest in person can be a
most entertaining subject of fiction, as we've already shown in regard to
Shakespearean villians. And, as you observe below, a person who's simply
not particularly interesting can make an excellent viewpoint character,
through simply transparency. (Scott McCloud discusses this point in one of
his comic-art theory books.)
But neither of these describe Thomas Covenant. He is not uninteresting, he
is positively annoying. Nor is he merely detestable, but a detestable
person one is supposed to identify with (to an extent) as a viewpoint
character, without - at least as far as I read, three long weary books of
it - having a turning point or apotheosis of sympathy as Lear has, or
getting his due comeuppance as Richard III does.
>if they can provide me a window on a culture,
>place, etc. that I would otherwise not be able to visit. Further,
>in my opinion, a "tour guide" of this type may sometimes actually do
>a better job in helping explore another culture/world than a more
This is true, in regards to the types you describe above. But a positively
annoying one only gets in the way. I have no thoughts about Donaldson's
Land that don't include Thomas Covenant walking across it, whining to himself.
>However, let me put up a current relatively popular
>example, which would be The Sopranos. The lead character, Tony
>Soprano, is no grand scheming mob boss like the Shakespearean kings
>you mentioned earlier. He is something of a petty unlikable thug
>with a lot of emotional issues and not a particularly pleasant person
>to hang out with.
None of which necessarily makes watching the show at all like reading
Donaldson in the way we're discussing.
>Both he and some of the other folks in his family
>can get tiresome at times.
This, however, could be relevant. Unfortunately I have only seen one
episode of this show, and I didn't get that impression from it. Seeing
many episodes might give me a different impression. But I have no doubt
that, if Tony were anything like Thomas Covenant in his level of
tiresomeness, one episode would be more than enough. I've seen many a TV
show of which 10 minutes was more than enough, which is why I don't watch
much television. (I might have watched more of "The Sopranos" except that
it's on cable, which I don't have.)
By the way, when I first heard of "The Sopranos", all I knew about it was
the title. I was expecting a show about opera singers until I learned
more. What is it about TV show titles anyway? We have a show called
"Angel" which is not about an angel, a show called "Monk" which is not
about a monk, and a show called "The Sopranos" which is not about sopranos.
To excuse this potential confusion on the grounds that they just happen to
be the characters' names is to get us into the territory of the Monty
Python sketch about the man named Snivelling Little Rat-Faced Git.
>I certainly don't think yours is a unique reaction. In fact, I'm
>pretty surprised that the books have sold as well as they have and
>would be surprised if anyone who had actually read them was thinking
>of risking a big budget to turn them into movies (which is the point
>I made that started this conversation in the first place).
But what their popularity proves is that we're both wrong, if we generalize
from our personal reactions to widespread opinion. I don't see why our
presumptions about the books' hypothetical popularity as books (i.e. in the
absence of actual data) should be any more accurate about their
hypothetical popularity as movies. Film producers have a long history of
thinking that a popular book can make a popular movie, even though they too
at times have been wrong: often they're right.
>Since you seem to want to split hairs on this,
Now there you go again, sounding insulting even if you don't mean it. All
I'm trying to do is find out what the heck you meant.
>You are assuming that the effect of living in a period
>I have for convenience designated as a post-Romantic world is
>uniform, that it effects everyone who lived after WWI (or whenever
>you want to start it) equally and that all must have an equivalent
>response to it.
No, Marc. I not making that assumption. I am reacting to your making that
Let me quote your original statement to you again, in case you've forgotten it:
"What can I say. As someone who grew up in a post-romantic world, I'm not
particularly bothered by works that are dark, horrible, and/or have
We've already established, in previous discussion of this sentence, that
"works that are dark, horrible, and/or have loathsome characters" were not
the subject of the discussion. Darkness and horribleness had nothing to do
with the matter, and the subject was works whose protagonists (not just
"having loathsome characters") were both loathsome and tiresome. And it
seems to me that you've apologized for sloppy wording there.
Now I want to focus on the "As someone who grew up in a post-romantic
world" part. You are saying, it seems to me, your not disliking these
things is due to your rearing there, and it therefore follows that if I do
dislike them, I must have grown up in a different world.
There's nothing in there about being affected differently by this
post-romantic world. It says only that your explanation for your reaction
is that you grew up in it. Therefore, as my reaction is different, I didn't.
>In contrast, this is obviously a much more complex
>phenomena and in any case, all attempts at periodization are
>imperfect at best and are fraught with problems when you try to draw
>strict logical conclusions from them about individuals tastes.
Absolutely. But your statement carried the implication that you do NOT
believe that, which is why I started making sarcastic remarks implying you
must think I'm over 90 years old. (I don't seriously believe you think
that, which of course was the reason to point out the contradiction.)
>Now, what I was referring to originally was a kind of post-romantic
>aesthetic that tends to favor works that are cynical, ironic, dark,
>violent, rough, horrible, etc. over works that are shall we say,
>pretty and romantic
Ah, now you say "aesthetic". But previously you'd said "world" which is a
much broader term, implying a coverage of everyone living in a particular
culture in a particular period of history. But even if you'd written
"post-romantic aesthetic," you left it open as an unstated apriori
assumption that I wasn't reared in it. Actually, you don't know anything
about what I grew up in, you don't even know how old I am or where I come
from, and to treat that as a given is what irritated me, especially
combined with the "What can I say," which carries a presumption that your
aesthetic reaction is so innate to your upbringing that you can't respond
to a different reaction.
>Now the type of exposure that any individual will have to
>this aesthetic obviously will vary depending on where and when they
>lived, what their education is, what there interests are, who their
>family, friends, co-workers, etc. are, what type of works they are
>familiar with, etc. Further, different people will have different
>responses to it depending on their personality, upbringing, etc.
>So, even though this is a factor in the development of my tastes in
>literature & art, there is nothing at all strange about the fact
>that you and I would have differences on this despite living in
>roughly the same time period.
Perhaps if you had originally written something like "I guess I'm more of a
post-romantic than you are ..." that would not have read as if you were
trying to write me out of the 20th century, and would have presented your
conclusion, not as a blanket statement about what you are and I'm not, but
as a frank presumption which I could confirm or deny.
And if you had, I would have said, "Well, we in the Mythopoeic Society have
a long history of looking fondly on the pre-Raphaelite tradition, which is
very far from being post-Romantic. William Morris is one of the household
gods around here. And that, I think, explains a lot about why Covenant is
not that popular a character in these parts." But even that's not
invariable; Donaldson has his fans here, and he was even our Mythcon guest
of honor one year.
Nevertheless, the Mythsoc has a particular style and particular tastes
which remove us from the general run of readers of what's called fantasy
today, and explains why our focus is not on the blockbuster fantatists like
Donaldson and Robert Jordan et bloody all, but on less flashy and quirkier
folk like Patricia McKillip and Neil Gaiman, to name a recent MFA winner
and our next guest of honor.
But in terms of the original topic of this discussion, let me just
reiterate: we're unusual. We also seem to be unusual among Tolkien fans in
not universally jumping up and down in glee at every move of Peter Jackson's.
>That actually would be 1 of 2 things that really bothered me as
>suspension of disbelief shattering anachronisms in the movies. The
>other being when Theoden has his Oprah/hallmark moment about how
>parents should not outlive their children. Sounded way too modern
Come now. Something can be modern without being an "Oprah/hallmark
moment." My parents have outlived one of their own grown children, and
they hardly seemed ready to go on Oprah when they expressed the same
bitterness to me.
The problem with this moment is not the sentiment - for surely an ancient
king no more intends to outlive his son and heir than a modern Oprah guest
does - but the phrasing and style with which it is said. But this is a
constant problem in Jackson's script, and there are many, many offenders
besides this one, some of them much worse. I first noticed this in one of
the first film's trailers, where J-Galadriel says "Even the smallest person
can change the course of the future." The content of this is Tolkienian,
but the phrasing is un-Tolkienian mush.
If you haven't done so, read Tolkien's letter #171 to Hugh Brogan, in which
he discusses exactly this problem.
- David Bratman