What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
Search This Blog
The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
I mused recently, rashly and publicly about the derivative nature of most fantasy fiction opuses. Unfortunately, for me, I was guilty of a sweeping generalisation that left me open to a convincing challenge, which duly arrived courtesy of Deborah Beale on Twitter, or @MrsTad as she is known. She told me in not so many words that I was a buffoon and to go away and read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Mr Tad before making any further egregiously similar mistakes, tenderly qualifying her praise with the caveat that it's a slow starter. So, having being goaded into committing what amounted to two months of my reading time to this trilogy (or tetralogy if you wanted to buy the last volume in two constituent parts, Siege and Storm), I have come to the conclusion that I was right all along.
That is NOT to say that these three/four novels are diminished by the presence of archetypal characters, races, situations and events and which are to be found littered throughout such luminary fantasy works as Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Tolkien, and the pages of Campbell's oft-derided mapping of hero myths, The Hero With A Thousand Faces - rash oaths, unwilling heroes, plains dwelling horse peoples, magical metal work, gruff, obstreperous northerners, elvish types, naughty elvish types who don't mind a bit of cold, and so forth - no, not at all! In fact, I was engrossed from the off. It little matters who copies from whom when the storytelling is as good, and more importantly across 2200 pages, as consistent as this!
And that is the truly remarkable facet of this multi-faceted work. I am absolutely amazed at how consistent is every single character voice, from the reluctant hero Simon Snowlock (né Mooncalf), through gruff Duke Isgrimnur, modest troll Binabik, spiky and tenacious Princess Miriamele, to even the overly-egged pudding that is Rachel, Dragon of the Hayholt. I could pluck a sentence of dialogue at random from any page and, reading it aloud, could instantly identify the speaker, such is the strength and stability of characterisation. I can only read in envy and awe. Such prowess is surely the work of years of painstaking editing and amending.
And whilst, for sure, there are some slower sections, with much Hamlet-esque pacing and musing where I would perhaps have preferred more charging and killing, and some where you think, surely he'd be dead by now, or physically unable to pick up a sword, or leap across a chasm, or climb a ladder, or even sit up without support, let alone climb a million steps in the dark or walk hundreds of miles through the most severe cold and punishing weather imaginable, it's so easy to suspend disbelief, to allow some self-indulgent wallowing of tortured souls in their indecision and suffering, when the characters propel the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter and volume to volume relentlessly and without respite. Who has time to dwell on minor details when they are so damnably keen to find out what next, what next?
So, on the record then, I stand by my own rash oath that fantasy is perhaps overly reliant on the tropes and authority of that which has gone before (indeed, Tad Williams reminded me himself that George RR stated publicly the effect that these books had on his own story arc), but for all that, it is an unjustly maligned genre wherein beaver away some of the most fantastic storytellers imaginable. If you have a few months at a loose end, pick this up and hunker down for some highly addictive adventuring.
Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.
For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…
By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue.
Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …
The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…