How to Ruin a Fantasy

My favorite scene in Lawrence Sterne’s classic comic novel, Tristram Shandy, occurs in the Shandys’ bedroom on the night Tristram is to be conceived. Mr. Shandy has taken great pains to choose the perfect night; and just as the begetting process is getting under way, Mrs. Shandy suddenly asks, “Have you remembered to wind the clock?” That ruined everything.

There are fantasy writers who do the same thing to their fantasies. I’m reading a book now, set in the 5th century and featuring Merlin and King Arthur, in which some of the dialogue reads like today’s text messages. Arghhh! Nothing quite breaks the spell of the story like having Merlin say something like, “Yeah, that guy sure is a crook.” (No, I’m not exaggerating. I wish I were.)

Why do writers do this? The whole point of a fantasy is to make the reader feel he’s in another place, another world. Why would you suddenly remind him that he’s stuck in this one? Why, after going to all the trouble of setting it up, does the writer shatter his own illusion? It’s like a magician letting you see him put the rabbit in the hat, so when he pulls it out again, there’s no sense of magic: it’s just some dork with a rabbit.

Lapses like this force us to ask, “What was the editor doing?” Editors are supposed to spot such gaffes and edit them out. But I think some of you would be amazed at the ignorance and laziness of certain editors.

Please! If you’re writing about King Arthur, or a non-human being in an imaginary world, do not permit him to call anybody “Dude.”

Just don’t do it. Ever.

P.S.: Happy Birthday, Paul Morphy (b. 1837)–America’s first international cultural celebrity, the greatest chess genius of all time, and my favorite player, whose recorded games continue to delight chess fans everywhere.

4 comments on “How to Ruin a Fantasy

  1. Well, like so many, they are just mixed up. In the head part. No use explaining it. The light can never shine. Something like the professional lady who tells me it is quite OK not to reprimand my boy for marijauna usage because “alcohol is worse.” Like telling him it is quite OK to steal a bit of candy from 7/11 store, “because robbing a bank is worse.” They never get it, because they can’t.

  2. After all the great books you’ve given our family, I always feel so bad when I read that you’ve been stuck with another stinker!

    So here’s a recommendation that I think you will enjoy: “The Great Siege: Malta 1565” by Ernle Bradford. It’s not fantasy or fiction but it reads like something by Sabatini. You can find it on Amazon.

    Thank you so much for your Bell Mountain series, especially for developing Wytt’s character further in your latest book! We always checking for updates as to your next release date. The only good thing about having to wait for the next book is that it gives the children time to read things like “Treasure Island” 😉

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