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Dickens & Gaiman, also Funke and King

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  • David Lenander
    Diane wrote: I read *Christmas Carol* after seeing the movie, and much enjoyed; partly because it had some fantastic elements. I read *Great Expectations* in
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2003
      Diane wrote:
      I read *Christmas Carol* after seeing the movie, and much enjoyed; partly
      because it had some fantastic elements. I read *Great Expectations* in
      high school, and loved the scenes with Miss Havisham in particular. It
      made me wonder what it might have been like, had Dickens just gone off and
      written straight-out fantasy. And what did Dickens think of fantasy? Did
      he read it, or regard it with contempt? And which fantasy author today
      would be closest to him in execution?

      Of course, I appreciate Dicken's realism of presentation, and he did such
      skilled representations of reality and characterization that fantasy might
      have been overkill. (Nevertheless, I'd say *Christmas Carol* is his most
      popular work.) I have to admit I've read little other than these; I should
      read more Dickens, I suppose. ---djb

      Yes, much of Dickens' work has fantastic elements (though I've not actually
      read most of his novels, myself). For a good discussion of "Christmas
      Carol" and some other comments about Dickens, see Stephen Prickett's
      _Victorian Fantasy_. I was in a class with Prickett, right after that book
      came out, and realized that not only was it possible to find fantasy
      throughout Dickens, but also throughout Austen, Eliot, and most or all of
      the other great 19th century "realistic" writers. But, of course, they
      actually wrote few out and out fantasies. Another by Dickens is his
      Children's story, _The Magic Fishbone_, and (as Mary S. noted) some of his
      other Christmas romances. Dickens, along with Jane Austen, is generally
      accepted as one of our Two Great Novelists in the English language. So,
      while I've never felt compelled to run out and read all of his books (I've
      never read a few of the Austens, either, notably _Sense & Sensibility_) and
      recognizing that tastes differ, there may be something in the conventional
      and received opinion that he was a Great Writer to make reading him
      worthwhile. It surprises me that David B doesn't care for him, and yet
      David B likes the more extreme characters of Mervyn Peake (who is about the
      most extremely Dickensian writer I can imagine). For other
      Dickens-influences, P.C. Hodgell claims that she was attempting a Dickensian
      novel in _God Stalk_, and had a lot of arguments about plotting with her
      original editors (who cut the manuscript by a third--that was after original
      suggested cuts of over half, as I seem to recall her telling us at a
      discussion of the book, many years ago). If you don't think you care for
      Dickens, at least give _Great Expectations_ a try. It's a magnificent book,
      and Gene Wolfe acknowledges its influence on him at the beginning of _Shadow
      of the Torturer_ in an hommage that is telling and significant. (Wolfe also
      repeatedly pays tribute to Kipling, whom someone mentioned recently, here).

      A current, preliminary candidate for finalist for the Children's MFA is
      Cornelia Funke's _The Thief Lord_, which I think owes something to Dickens,
      and which I thought one of the best of the lot. (To be honest, I didn't
      actually *read* it, since I couldn't find a copy in the library of the
      hard-copy book, but both Claire and I *listened* to an unabridged
      audiotape--which lasted over 8 hours). It's technically fantasy, but the
      fantasy doesn't come in until almost the end. But the story is marvelous. I
      also thought of Astrid Lindgren's Bill Bergson books, and a book with the
      American title of _The Horse Without a Head_ that was translated from a
      French original, and any number of other children's stories "like they used
      to write, but don't anymore." But Funke apparently does.

      I am astonished that anyone would find that Stephen King is a superior
      writer to Neil Gaiman, but I actually share much of the reservations someone
      expressed about the one Sandman episode that I read, which featured the
      Cereal/Serial Convention. Even though I can see (and admire) the satire
      which David praises. My reaction to _American Gods_ was that it was
      ultimately flat and unpleasant, if intelligent and truly mythopoeic, but I
      loved much of the style and admire the brilliant talent and virtuosity of
      the writing--and wish I had time to reread it for whatever I'm missing. I
      won't miss reading future Gaiman novels--and I like his short stories even
      better. I have no desire to read any more Stephen King, even though I've had
      trouble putting a couple of his books down while actually reading them.
      Kind of popcorn for the mind, in my opinion. Though I suppose I could be
      persuaded to try to find what I've been missing. In other words, I'm not
      saying that someone else's taste "sucks," politely or impolitely, just that
      my experience has been different. I'm interested in what I might have been
      missing in a writer whom I've not greatly appreciated.

      -- David Lenander
      293 Selby Ave. St. Paul, MN 55102-1811
      d-lena@... 651-292-8887
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