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Re: Guy Gavriel Kay's work

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  • David Lenander
    I m with Alexei on his work. I read only the first volume of his initial trilogy, and was not inspired to read more. However, many years of being on the MFA
    Message 1 of 5 , Jun 27 7:57 PM
      I'm with Alexei on his work. I read only the first volume of his
      initial trilogy, and was not inspired to read more. However, many
      years of being on the MFA committees have forced me to read a number of
      his later works, and I think he's become progressively better as a
      writer, starting with a giant leap forward in _Tigana_. I liked one or
      two books along the way better than that one, and "The Sarantine
      Mosaic" was a masterpiece. It's quite a different sort of book from the
      early trilogy, a loosely fictionalized and fantasied historical novel,
      set in an alternate world Byzantine empire, so people who are allergic
      to that sort of book (the main complaint I remember from a Butterbur's
      Woodshed discussion was that if he was going to so thinly fictionalize,
      why didn't he just go ahead and write a historical?) may need to avoid
      it. But it's beautifully written, and the work of the protagonist, a
      mosaicist, as well as the characters and the philosophical ruminations
      are quite marvelous. It is two volumes long, by the way.

      David Lenander
      d-lena@...
      2095 Hamline Ave. N.
      Roseville, MN 55113
      651-292-8887
      http://www.umn.edu/~d-lena/RIVENDELL.html
    • Leelan Lampkins
      I happen to like The Fionavar Tapestry . It stands out from most modern fantasy that I have read in many years as being well worth the time it takes to read.
      Message 2 of 5 , Jun 28 11:54 AM
        I happen to like "The Fionavar Tapestry". It stands out from most modern
        fantasy that I have read in many years as being well worth the time it takes
        to read. Not much that is currently published can say that.

        And the point of the story seems to me to retell all of the old
        storylines and cliches. Several times in the text a character will say that
        most of what happens in the other dimensions are echoes of the reality of
        Fionavar. It is self-serving but I thought it made for a valid premise to
        hang a book upon. GGK was not trying to reinvent the wheel but to write a
        good story and, IMHO, he did it.

        Chaucer as much as said through his work that there are no new stories
        and that an author cannot avoid seeming to plagiarize other's work and
        ideas. So many people have told so many stories that it is almost
        impossible to be original. Tolkein backs him up in this. If you have read
        Shippey's bio, "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century", then an obvious
        example comes to mind. The names of Gandalf and Thorin and Co. all come
        from the Icelandic sagas. And, again, there are many story threads in
        Tolkein's books that are the spitting image of stories in ancient Norse
        mythology. So I don't buy snubbing an author's work because they use
        cliches. If they use them badly, then OK. Don'y read it and tell all your
        friends. But if the author uses them with skill - as I think GGK does -
        then just say that you don't like his book.

        I like seeing how old stories are given new treatments. What follows is
        one example that comes to mind.

        "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" is a very strange retelling of
        "Beowulf". It is very intense and includes ALL of the episodes and
        characters of the ninth century story. The fun is picking out"who is who"
        and "what is what". Wait 'til you read who gets to be Grendel's mother!

        Before you dismiss this as frivolous, there is a valid germ of an idea at
        the base of this particular book. I took Old English in college and had to
        translate "Beowulf". There is a word, "aglaeca":

        "An example of this is given by O'Keefe:

        The word *aglaeca* is an instance of an unfortunate glossing which
        seriously affects the interpretation of the text. Thw word is used
        twenty times in Beowulf, chiefly, as Klaeber notes, for Grendel and
        the dragon. Yet *aglaeca* is also used for Beowulf and Sigemund.
        Klaeber's solution to the problem of one word's describing two sets
        of characters is to gloss *aglaeca* as "wretch, monster, demon,
        fiend" when it refers to Grendel and the dragon and as "warrior,
        hero"
        when it refers to Beowulf and Sigemund."

        Miller uses the cliche comic book hero and the concept of "hero as
        monster" as the starting point for his novel. It sold thousands and got
        Hollywood to make their BATMAN movies which it had been putting off for
        twenty years and more. Batman is the definitive cliche comicbook hero.
        Everything about him is cliche. But the "hero" intentionally takes on the
        appearance of a "monster". In fact, he is seen as a monster by many in the
        story and not just those he fights. He is seen as a monster by those he
        protects as well as those who once fought beside him.

        Back to the Fionavar Tapestry. What SOLD the trilogy to me was Kay's use
        of the Arthurian myth.
        The power of those characters added to the portrayal of them as fully aware
        of being locked in a never-ending cycle of love and betrayal had me almost
        in tears the first time I read it. It was very moving. Cliche, yes. But
        it was handled with skill and care. It was not treated with disdain. It
        became the point of the story.

        Another excellent retelling of the Arthurian cycle is Peter David's
        "Knight Life". Simply put, Arthur returns and runs for mayor of New York
        city. All the old cliches are in force. And they are used sometimes with
        the sublety of a battle axe but wonderfully well! The scene with the Lady
        of the Lake is classic!

        Oh! And if you can find a copy of Peter David's "Howling Mad"- buy it!
        It takes the cliche werewolf story and sets it on its ear! You know what
        happens to a man who gets bitten by a werewolf and survives. What happens
        when a wolf gets bitten by a werewolf and survives??? Hilarious! When you
        read it, tell me if Danny Devito and Daniel Stern wouldn't be perfect for
        the parts of the werewolf and vampire respectively.

        Sorry to be so long winded. But I really like the books you were
        impugning. And I really enjoy old cliches when they are used well!

        -Leelan

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      • David Bratman
        ... It takes tremendous chutzpah to claim that what is, in fact, your cheap reproduction of something else is actually the original and that the real original
        Message 3 of 5 , Jun 28 8:10 PM
          At 02:54 PM 6/28/2004 -0400, Leelan Lampkins wrote:

          > And the point of the story seems to me to retell all of the old
          >storylines and cliches. Several times in the text a character will say that
          >most of what happens in the other dimensions are echoes of the reality of
          >Fionavar.

          It takes tremendous chutzpah to claim that what is, in fact, your cheap
          reproduction of something else is actually the original and that the real
          original is in fact the cheap reproduction.

          More than chutzpah, it takes skill, skill which Kay as a beginning writer
          most emphatically did not have. He might have it now; but even the
          experienced Roger Zelazny could not get away with claiming that his
          cardboard knock-off world Amber was the real world and that our world was
          the cardboard knock-off.

          Perhaps the only writer who's actually been able to be convincing in
          claiming that his copies are the lost originals of the real-world legends
          they're actually based on is J.R.R. Tolkien.


          > Chaucer as much as said through his work that there are no new stories
          >and that an author cannot avoid seeming to plagiarize other's work and
          >ideas. So many people have told so many stories that it is almost
          >impossible to be original.

          Nowhere near entirely true, but even to the extent it is, using an old
          story as the framework for a new story is not the same thing as copying the
          old story, or even worse claiming that your new story is more real than the
          old story.


          >Tolkein backs him up in this. If you have read
          >Shippey's bio, "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century", then an obvious
          >example comes to mind. The names of Gandalf and Thorin and Co. all come
          >from the Icelandic sagas. And, again, there are many story threads in
          >Tolkein's books that are the spitting image of stories in ancient Norse
          >mythology.

          There is, however, no kitchen sink in Tolkien's work. Or Tolkein's either.
          Tolkien, or Tolkein, or both, used the metaphor of "the leaf-mould of the
          mind" to describe influences. They have to be fully digested and
          assimilated into the author's own experience and reused as something new.
          Throwing together bits and pieces from everywhere and yonder is fun enough
          for comedy or other light work - Peter David, whom you mention, is a fine
          light comedian among fantasy writers - but it's not going to create a
          serious mythology.


          >So I don't buy snubbing an author's work because they use
          >cliches. If they use them badly, then OK. Don'y read it and tell all your
          >friends. But if the author uses them with skill - as I think GGK does -
          >then just say that you don't like his book.

          If they don't use them badly, they're not cliches.

          You beg the question here. Why do we not like the book? Well, besides
          that it's tediously written, badly organized, and with implausible premises
          - is that enough so far? - the cliches are not used with skill. Your
          argument is logical, it's your premises that are wrong.


          > I like seeing how old stories are given new treatments. What follows is
          >one example that comes to mind.
          > "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" is a very strange retelling of
          >"Beowulf". It is very intense and includes ALL of the episodes and
          >characters of the ninth century story. The fun is picking out"who is who"
          >and "what is what".

          This is hardly the first reading that comes to my mind of "Dark Knight
          Returns". But whatever, I suppose it can be made to fit "Beowulf" too.
          (Is it just supposed to be the dragon scene, or what?)

          And yes, there is much excellent mythopoeic literature written on this
          model, fitting the template of an older story. I recommend "Fire and
          Hemlock" by Diana Wynne Jones as a particularly excellent _and_
          particularly self-conscious example.

          But that's not at all the same thing as claiming that your story is the
          lost original of what you're copying. Nor is a good "template" story a
          copy: it's a new story on the same theme.

          - David Bratman
        • dianejoy@earthlink.net
          For you Butterburra-hobbits: Want to discuss his latest in BW this next year? I think it s *Light of the Sun.* Anyone know if it s a stand-alone or part of a
          Message 4 of 5 , Jun 29 8:20 AM
            For you Butterburra-hobbits:

            Want to discuss his latest in BW this next year? I think it's *Light of
            the Sun.* Anyone know if it's a stand-alone or part of a series? ---djb

            Original Message:
            -----------------
            From: David Lenander d-lena@...
            Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004 21:57:11 -0500
            To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Guy Gavriel Kay's work



            I'm with Alexei on his work. I read only the first volume of his
            initial trilogy, and was not inspired to read more. However, many
            years of being on the MFA committees have forced me to read a number of
            his later works, and I think he's become progressively better as a
            writer, starting with a giant leap forward in _Tigana_. I liked one or
            two books along the way better than that one, and "The Sarantine
            Mosaic" was a masterpiece. It's quite a different sort of book from the
            early trilogy, a loosely fictionalized and fantasied historical novel,
            set in an alternate world Byzantine empire, so people who are allergic
            to that sort of book (the main complaint I remember from a Butterbur's
            Woodshed discussion was that if he was going to so thinly fictionalize,
            why didn't he just go ahead and write a historical?) may need to avoid
            it. But it's beautifully written, and the work of the protagonist, a
            mosaicist, as well as the characters and the philosophical ruminations
            are quite marvelous. It is two volumes long, by the way.

            David Lenander
            d-lena@...
            2095 Hamline Ave. N.
            Roseville, MN 55113
            651-292-8887
            http://www.umn.edu/~d-lena/RIVENDELL.html




            The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
            Yahoo! Groups Links






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          • Leelan Lampkins
            ... Beowulf has four main episodes. They are Breca, Grendel, Grendel s mother and the Dragon. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was originally sold in four
            Message 5 of 5 , Jun 29 12:30 PM
              > > I like seeing how old stories are given new treatments. What follows
              >is
              > >one example that comes to mind.
              > > "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" is a very strange retelling of
              > >"Beowulf". It is very intense and includes ALL of the episodes and
              > >characters of the ninth century story. The fun is picking out"who is
              >who"
              > >and "what is what".
              >
              >This is hardly the first reading that comes to my mind of "Dark Knight
              >Returns". But whatever, I suppose it can be made to fit "Beowulf" too.
              >(Is it just supposed to be the dragon scene, or what?)
              >
              >- David Bratman

              "Beowulf" has four main episodes. They are Breca, Grendel, Grendel's
              mother and the Dragon.
              "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" was originally sold in four issues. They
              dealt with Two-Face, Mutant Leader, Joker and Superman.

              In the first episode, the hero contends with someone who was once a good
              friend, someone that had the same struggles that they had but who did not
              finish the race. In Breca's case, the race is literal. In Harvey Dent's or
              Two-Face's case, it is spiritual.

              In the second episode, the hero faces a monster. Beowulf faces Grendel
              and Batman faces the monstrous Mutant Leader. Beowulf tears Grendel's arm
              off. At the end of the second match, Batman breaks ML's arms and legs one
              by one.

              The third episode, the hero faces the mother of monsters. Beowulf tracks
              Grendel's mother to the bottom of a dark foul lake where he kills her after
              a terrible battle. Batman tracks the Joker's trail of sensless murder
              through a carnival where he defeats him deep within the Tunnel of Love where
              the Joker dies.

              The end comes when the hero faces the supernatural. Beowulf faces the
              Dragon and dies in victory. Batman faces Superman and kicks his butt but
              "dies" of a heart attack.

              There are differences in some small details. But on the whole they are
              the same story.

              Hrothgar's country is menaced by monsters that only Beowulf defeats.
              Commissioner Gordon's city is savaged criminals that only Batman can match.

              Unferth doubts Beowulf and tries to hinder him. The new commissioner not
              only doubts Batman but does her best to bring him in under arrest.

              Wiglaf stands beside Beowulf against the Dragon. Carrie Kelly takes
              Robin's place much earlier in the story but stands beside Batman even up to
              the battle with Superman.

              As I said, there are differences but the main details are there and in
              the right order. There is not much of a struggle to make the pieces
              correspond.

              And, I have to admitt, that I did enjoy seeing the Joker kill David
              Letterman, Paul Shaffer and Doctor Ruth. And the author of "Seduction of
              the Innocent", Fredric Wertham, was also killed in the persona of the
              Joker's doctor, Dr. Wolper, who also treated Harvey Dent. Both doctors had
              very unpleasant things to say about Batman.

              But the clue for me was that one word in "Beowulf", "aglaeca" which means
              both "hero" and "monster". Batman fits that to a "T". As a character he is
              very familiar to most Americans and possibly to many outside the States as
              well. Maybe as familiar as Beowulf was to his original audience. As such
              they are mythic in stature if not in reality. Batman is both hero and
              monster. A hero because he stands between the people and the monsters that
              threaten them. A monster because only a monster could be strong enough to
              fight another monster.

              -Leelan

              P.S. As for the Fionavar Tapestry, I will agree that Kay is clumsy in many
              ways. Some of the story is painful to get through. But his use of the
              Arthurian Cycle is for me the saving grace.

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