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Re: [mythsoc] Authors misunderstanding Tolkien?

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  • Trudy Shaw
    ... From: WendellWag@aol.com To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Sunday, May 06, 2001 2:50 PM Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Authors misunderstanding Tolkien? A game has
    Message 1 of 16 , May 7, 2001
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: WendellWag@...
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Sunday, May 06, 2001 2:50 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Authors misunderstanding Tolkien?


      A game has to have simple, quantifiable goals so
      that the game will eventually end and one player will be declared the winner.
      That's why the goal of most RPG-type games is something like "Find the gold
      in the dungeon. Completely explore the castle and collect the most magical
      items. Kill all the other players. Survive to the end of the game." None of
      those goals consistently applies to good novels. A good novel could have the
      hero sacrifice himself to save other people, or triumph over evil while
      ending up penniless. A hero in a good novel doesn’t travel all over the map
      on pointless tours or collect magical items for the heck of it. At best, the
      plot habits acquired in RPG's are useful only in a very narrow subset of
      fantasy novels.

      Wendell Wagner



      Reading these comments made me think of another aspect of many (not all) RPG's. There really isn't "good" and "evil." There's just "us" and "them." Talk about missing a major theme! How does a hero sacrifice, or even risk, himself for the good of others if there's nothing at stake except who gets the gold? How would you even define a "hero" in such a plot?

      I also notice that Wendell specifies *plot* habits from RPG's not being very useful. That's probably a good point, although I would add characterization that goes beyond special abilities, etc. The world-building skills might be useful--for certain types of fantasies--but there are other ways of learning those.

      The ones who have the biggest problem are people who don't read what Wendell calls "good novels," but think they know how to write one from what they've learned from RPG's.

      Trudy Shaw


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    • ERATRIANO@aol.com
      In a message dated 05/07/01 8:53:35 AM Eastern Daylight Time, tgshaw@earthlink.net writes:
      Message 2 of 16 , May 7, 2001
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        In a message dated 05/07/01 8:53:35 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
        tgshaw@... writes:

        << That's why the goal of most RPG-type games is something like "Find the
        gold
        in the dungeon. Completely explore the castle and collect the most
        magical
        items. Kill all the other players. Survive to the end of the game." >>

        tournaments, sure. But not regular games. Regular games are more like life,
        they have a temporary goal (find the gold or whatever) which will in a good
        game also involve issues of loyalties and other human (so to speak) themes...
        then after the gold is found, another quest usually appears. At least if
        you have a good group that enjoys playing together. It is not really
        appropriate to try and apply the same standards to gaming as to novels. Can
        someone put this better?

        << At best, the plot habits acquired in RPG's are useful only in a very
        narrow subset of fantasy novels.>>

        So I think that my initial comment, about learning from gaming things that
        can be applied to writing, does not apply so much to actual plotting (which
        is a problem for me anyway), as to world-creating and character balance. A
        good DM puts a lot of work into his or her world, it has to have an
        incredible level of detail to stand up to the rigours of a good game. But
        there is I suppose an aspect of that control which would be a drawback in
        fiction, at least for me, where I like a more lifelike unknowable atmosphere.
        Something like that. Maybe we are actually in agreement, Wendell, and just
        can't make the words mesh. LOL

        Lizzie
      • WendellWag@aol.com
        In a message dated 5/7/01 11:31:42 AM Eastern Daylight Time, ... True, and it s not really appropriate to apply the same standards to novels as to gaming. So
        Message 3 of 16 , May 8, 2001
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          In a message dated 5/7/01 11:31:42 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
          ERATRIANO@... writes:


          > It is not really
          > appropriate to try and apply the same standards to gaming as to novels

          True, and it's not really appropriate to apply the same standards to novels
          as to gaming. So the point is that only a limited set of criteria from
          gaming carries over to novels and only a limited set of criteria from novels
          carries over to gaming. I guess we are in agreement here. If you want to
          write (or criticize novels), you have to learn about how novels work. You
          shouldn't just automatically import things from gaming. If you want to
          create (or criticize) games, you should learn about how gaming works. You
          shouldn't just automatically import things from novels.

          Wendell Wagner


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        • David S. Bratman
          ... As I put it in a review once, Tolkien s gold, like the fairies , turns to dust when it is stolen away. It is possible, though, to use Tolkien s gold
          Message 4 of 16 , May 8, 2001
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            At 12:50 PM 5/6/2001 , Wendell wrote:

            >I think that there's another problem though. Too many fantasy authors steal
            >plot devices from Tolkien without understanding what the point of those plot
            >devices were for Tolkien.

            As I put it in a review once, "Tolkien's gold, like the fairies', turns to
            dust when it is stolen away." It is possible, though, to use Tolkien's
            gold without stealing it at all: in Brian Attebery's estimation (and mine),
            Le Guin's Earthsea is the most successful example of this. (Has everyone
            seen the new book, _Tales from Earthsea_, by the way?)

            >So sometimes I find myself putting down a work for stealing
            >and misunderstanding plot ideas from other works and sometimes I find myself
            >praising a work for stealing its general structure from other works in a more
            >artful fashion. I wonder then if I'm being consistent or if I'm merely
            >making my criticism arbitrarily fit whatever intuitive feeling I have about a
            >work.

            Maybe you are. But it's more likely that your intuitive feeling is telling
            you something important that your intellect is merely trying to analyze
            afterwards. There is no point in evolving a personal criteria of literary
            quality unless it helps explain what you like and dislike, and why. All my
            own high-flown theories of what is good or bad in fantasy I've derived
            inductively, by reading books and noting what works and what doesn't. To
            create a theory of what's good and apply it rigidly, describing books as
            good or bad by means of this pre-existing theory in isolation of whether
            you liked them or not - that would be the worst sort of criticism.

            >I discuss the problems of filmmakers trying to make a film noir-type movie
            >without really understanding what the point of film noir is. You can't have
            >a film noir end with a blazing shoot-out in which the hero triumphs (that's
            >an action film) or an ending in which a flawed hero is disappointed but
            >resolves to become a better person (that's a sitcom with a moral at the end).
            > Film noir is about the lack of trust in society. Such a film can only end
            >with evil triumphant because the supposed hero was never anything but a
            >patsy, or with everybody dead, or with a naive innocent surviving because
            >everyone else has killed each other off, or with a hero surviving but no
            >happier because no one trusts him. Film noir isn't about conventional happy
            >endings, and any supposed film noir that ends with one has missed the point.
            >... A fantasy author who
            >says that he admires Tolkien but who then writes a novel supposedly in the
            >tradition of Tolkien, except that the novel ends with the equivalent
            >character to Frodo becoming rich, getting married, becoming king, and living
            >happily ever after, has completely missed the point of _The Lord of the
            >Rings_.

            There's another possibility, though I admit it doesn't actually happen very
            often. The author or filmmaker could be trying to do something different,
            by playing on your expectations for the genre and then subverting them.
            (The term "deconstruction" is sometimes loosely used to describe this.)
            _Tehanu_ certainly subverted most readers' expectations for a fourth
            Earthsea book, but it was clear that the author was retroactively
            reimagining the entire premise, rather than merely failing to understand
            what she had created. I don't know whether the makers of _L.A.
            Confidential_ thought they were making a film noir or not. But there's no
            law that says they can't make a film that starts out looking like a film
            noir and then turning into something else. And if the less perceptive
            critics keep calling such a film a film noir, that's not the film's fault.
            I thought _L.A. Confidential_'s ending had more problems with sheer
            believability than whether it fit into the conventions of the rest of the film.

            David Bratman
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