Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fantasy, amplitude, and Sir Walter Scott

A--m Ro----s outdoes himself in a review of a book called "Rivers of London", which sounds right up one's street ("It’s an expert midrash upon a venerable body of magic-intersects-reality fictions that re-imagine London: Dickens, Carter, Gaiman, Mièville, Harry Potter, Susan Clarke et al.), but that's not the point.

The follwing quote is the point, and I love it... (And I especially love it when I consider that David -- until recently the arch-foe of discursiveness -- is the only person I know (I think) who actually reads Scott for pleasure.)

Rivers of London shares one quality with fantasy that we do not find in noir. I’m going to call this quality amplitude..... The point is not in the content; it is in the tone—the voice of the novel. It is a voice that sets its face against terseness and reticence in favour of a generous discursive expansiveness..... Amplitude is precisely what many readers of Fantasy go to their chosen genre for in the first place.

The trick to understanding the prodigious success of Scott in the 19th-century is the realisation that he was popular not despite being so prosy, but because of it. You don’t read Scott’s prose for its sharpness, for its quotable zingers or apothegmic wisdom. Opening the covers of a Waverley novel and starting to read is, or ought to be, like sinking into a warm bath. It is the very amplitude of Scott’s art that explains its success.

My point, I suppose, is that although Scott himself has fallen from favour, the taste for amplitude in our verbal art hasn’t.


David Chute said...

To clarify: I have nothing against amplitude whatsover. But A Suitable Boy and most Trollopes (or Tolstoy or etc etc) don't give one the feeling of rolling downhill in a runaway wagon. That's induced by something like the smoothness of the surface. The fact that nothing is bumpy or "sticky." Different issue altogether.

I was going to write something about the tone of fantasy novels but along the lines that that if read aloud they should be declaimed, given the weight of legend, preferably with an English accent. Like the spoken prologs of period films. I could imagine that trailer-voice diction being a deal breaker for some people. Certainly nothing like the kind of prose that aims to sound as unwritten as possible.

Tulkinghorn said...

You should take a look at a book called "The Half-Made World" which is (loosely speaking) based on elements of the classic western in precisely the same way that most heroic fantasies are based on medieval elements.

No deep intoning there.

David Chute said...

We were talking about Christa and her tie-in day jobs. One of Roberts commenters rwemembers these fondly:

Tulkinghorn said...

I was also amused at Paul MacAuley (another Hugo-neighborhood sf writer)owning Roberts with his list of great fantasy short stories.....

Anyway, no Aaronovitch US publication on the horizon, so it's "available from these sellers" for me.....

Tulkinghorn said...

After having to do research, I have learned that "Midnight Riot" and "Rivers of London" are the same book and has been available here since February.


David Chute said...

To make it sound like a Clash song.

Christian Lindke said...

Ursula LeGuin has a wonderful essay about Epic Fantasy where she praises Tolkien for how his work was written to be read aloud, and where she criticizes most other fantasy authors for lacking that very virtue.

There are some authors who sound down right hideous when read aloud. I know this from experience reading tales at night to my wife and daughters. There are others that are exquisite for this same purpose.

Some of the best to read aloud?

The early Harry Potter books.
James Enge's Morlock stuff reads like Greek epic in its intentional repetitions.
Patrick Rothfuss.
Edgar Allan Poe
Robert E Howard

On the other hand, some authors are better consumed silently.

George R.R. Martin
Robert Jordan

It should be noted that I enjoy all but one of these authors.

David Chute said...

Offering a prize if we can guess the "but one"? (Comparing "Game" to BSG in an earlier comment could be an indication.)