Friday, July 3, 2009

Before They Are Hanged, End Notes

7/3/09 End Notes on Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie.

Say this for Joe Abercrombie, he has balls.

A good fantasy novelist nowadays had to write against certain genre expectations. That is, a fantasy novelist who wants his work to resemble real life in all its messiness should write against certain genre expectations. And he has to do it without disappointing the reader who comes to the work expecting certain things from his chosen genre.

So lets review: you have to write against what people expect without writing against too much what people expect because some of their expectations are what brought them to your book in the first place and if some of those expectations aren't met they wont finish your book and won't buy the next two or three in the series.

A bit like balancing six spinning plates while someone lights all your clothes on fire. The plates need to keep spinning no matter what.

Some writers do this quite well: Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, the great Glenn Cook and of course GRR Martin is a downright master. (I still maintain that the Red Wedding is one the most brutal and terrifying things ever written. It is right up there with the harsher parts of Macbeth). Fantasy, modern fantasy, mirrors the messiness of real life in order to speak to a broader audience but also for the sheer art: characters in war die, yet how many characters in the Lord of the Rings come through the battles with little or no damage? I think a life of Rangering would make Aragorn a bit meaner than he is. And please, there is not one mean spirited female in LOTR. No real beheadings, no one dies at a young age. Even Shakespeare knew an Iago will do some real damage, and he lets him, and we as audience can't look away because life is like that.

In real life people often go in search of things they don’t find. I've gone to walmart and been disappointed. I've crossed a continent for a woman and been dissappointed. I've gone across the ocean for a job and been dissappointed. But in a fantasy it seems to be a cliché that when you go on a quest you find the thing you're questing for because, well, that's what is supposed to happen in this genre.

Well, not anymore.

Abercrombie takes you all the way through book two in search of an object with his characters and they fail. They fail miserably. They return empty handed, broken, beaten and frustrated. Some are disfigured. Some are broken hearted. They don’t return with the magic "thing" but they return with something else.

Self knowledge.

Which is often an unexpected bonus. And for some of the characters its bitter, for others its welcome, but for each of them its not why they left in the first place.

And strangely enough I didn't feel cheated. I felt, you know what, I did learn something about myself when I went to the other side of the country for a woman, or to England for a job. Even when I went to walmart: I learned I didn’t really need a dozen hershey bars(I threw up). Life is like that.

More to come when I write my review but for now I'm glad this guy is writing fantasy.

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