Category Archives: Fantasy Criticism

It’s Finally Sunny Again

Image result for images of the silver trumpet by lee duigon

I’ve lost an awful lot of time due to bad weather, but the sun is finally out again, I can’t ride my bike because of a flat tire (I told the guy not to over-inflate it!), so I’m out there trying to play catch-up on my current book, His Mercy Endureth Forever (Bell Mountain No. 12). As for The Temptation, we’re waiting on Kirk DouPonce’s cover art.

Meanwhile, the story is hurtling toward a climax–and I don’t know what it’s going to be. The Lord will tell me when I’m not expecting it. But poor Obann, what a mess! A savage horde of Hyena Men has invaded the country, and Jack and Ellayne somehow have to smuggle Lord Orth into the city so he can call Obann to repentance before it’s too late. I have no idea whether he’ll succeed.

A brief thought on fantasy-writing in general:

Overcome the temptation to give your characters names that are just too far out for the reader to stomach. If your fantasy novel starts sounding like a Russian novel translated by someone from Venus, you’re doing it wrong. I once read a Lawrence Sanders book in which the hero was named Jack Smack and the heroine, a femme fatale, Clementine Cadiddlehopper or something like that. I found those names detracting from the conviction of the story. So don’t do that.


I Am So Sick(!) of Buxom Wenches…

Image result for images of visions of light and shadow by allison reid

I’ve just received my copy of Visions of Light and Shadow by our esteemed colleague, Allison Reid (we know her here as “Weavingword”), Book No. 3 of her Wind Rider Chronicles. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I catch up on some other assignments. I know it’ll be good–in fact, a good book to read in bed.

One of the things I love about her books is that Allison has female protagonists who don’t conform to fantasy cliches, but instead are kind of normal people, albeit interesting ones,  who happen to be caught up in extraordinary events. This helps me to believe in the story as I’m reading it.

The fantasy genre–these books are fantasy novels–is smothered in cliches. For an art form that leans so heavily on the imagination, these toweringly unimaginative touches constitute literary crimes. The genre is notably poverty-stricken in its cast of female characters.

I can’t decide which female fantasy cliche I detest the most–The Invincible Female Warrior or The Buxom Tavern Wench. Their presence in so many fantasy novels is almost mandatory. From the moment each is introduced, you know exactly, down the most minute detail, what she is going to say or do in any situation–because you’ve already seen it hundreds of times before. They tend to form tag-teams with the male cliches, like The Thief With A Heart Of Gold or The Brawling Lusty Barbarian Warrior Who Can Drink Any Norse God Under The Freakin’ Table. These are not the only trite and overdone characters in fantasy, not by a long shot–The Know-It-All Fantastically Handsome Elf springs to mind–but it’s a rare story which doesn’t stifle the reader’s imagination with these.

Anyway, Allison’s books are all available in paperback now; and if you enjoy fantasy but hate cliches, try ’em, you’ll like ’em.


‘How to Tell if the Book You’re Reading Was Written by a Space Alien’ (2015)

Image result for images of miller space alien toys

Actually, in the three years since I posted this, it has become more difficult to tell which books have been written by space aliens instead of human beings. But the examples provided still hold true.

https://leeduigon.com/2015/09/23/how-to-tell-if-the-book-youre-reading-was-written-by-a-space-alien/

Thing is, more and more people nowadays behave like space aliens! I mean, would genuine earth people sit together around a table, on the sidewalk outside the pizza parlor, and instead of talking with each other, just sit there transfixed by some electronic doodad? (Please say I’m right.)

 


‘Why Do I Read Bad “Christian” Novels?’ (2016)

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It’s sort of a pet peeve of mine, the business of pumping up an inferior product by calling it “Christian” and trying to make Christians feel guilty for not buying it. We see this a lot in publishing and “entertainment.”

https://leeduigon.com/2016/01/14/why-do-i-read-bad-christian-novels/

It’s not that secular novels, movies, and TV scripts set impossibly high artistic standards that Christians can never hope to equal. Overall, those standards ought to be fairly easy to beat. Christian artists must try harder.

Because, after all, we have to answer to a higher authority.


I Review ‘Fawkes’

Image result for images of fawkes by nadine brandes

In 1605 there was a plot to blow up the English Parliament, with King James I, and replace the Protestant government with Catholics. The idea was to hide many barrels of gunpowder under the Parliament house and blow it sky-high. This has come to be known and memorialized as the Gunpowder Plot. One of the plotters, Guy Fawkes, was actually caught just before he could light the fuse.

Sounds like it’d made a great historical novel.

But Nadine Brandes has written it as a Young Adults fantasy novel, and I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I just don’t get it.

https://chalcedon.edu/resources/articles/book-review-fawkes-by-nadine-brandes

We love to read, we want to pass that on to our children: there’s no limit to what the voracious reader can learn. But we don’t want to be reading a load of baloney, just so we can say we turned a lot of pages.

I think the reason this fantasy didn’t quite make it is because there was no reason to write it as a fantasy in the first place.

Too bad. We would like to understand how the conditions of religious life in England in those days, ostensibly Christian religion, could have led to the Gunpowder Plot. We would like to use its history as a guide to avoiding those mistakes!

But we’ll need other books for that.


Did I Do That?

Image result for images of the glass bridge by lee duigon

These remarks may strike some of you as a little weird. But writing fantasy novels does tend to lean a bit in that direction. And there are always readers who are curious about what it’s like to be a writer. So here goes.

I’m editing Bell Mountain No. 11, The Temptation, which means I have to read it attentively. And although I do know I made up the characters that populate my books, it doesn’t feel anymore like I made them up! They feel like real people that I really know.

When I’m actually writing a book, I’m too deeply involved in writing it to respond to what I’ve written. So when I read it, much later, it’s a whole different experience–almost as if someone else wrote the book, not me. I read a passage that gets to me and find myself thinking, “Oh, I didn’t write that! Did I? Could I?” It feels like these characters, places, and events came into print through me and have a real existence that has little or nothing to do with me. As if I were more a chronicler than a creator.

I wonder if other writers feel these things. I know she isn’t, but at the same time I just can’t shed the notion that Gurun (that’s her, pictured above) is a real person who is even now doing things, experiencing things, that I don’t know about.

I believe the people I read about in the “news” are real, don’t I?

“Never heard of ’em,” says Gurun.


‘Martin the Warrior’ (2013)

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After some headaches getting the ol’ computer into gear this morning, I happened to think of this book I’d read some years ago: Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques.

https://leeduigon.com/2013/02/17/martin-the-warrior/

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Like, Mr. Jacques sold 30 million books–no, I don’t get it. His books were adapted as TV shows and even… an opera! I read a couple of them and really, there was nothing much there.

Not that the book was truly awful. But the only thing memorable about it was all those dinner scenes. I didn’t get that, either.


‘The Green Ember’: A Fantasy Fit for Kids to Read

Image result for images of the green ember

Every now and then, in my search for suitable reading matter for children, I turn up gold–like, for instance, The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith.

https://chalcedon.edu/magazine/review-of-the-green-ember-novel

It’s a heroic fantasy featuring rabbits with swords, instead of people. And it’s about faith, hope, family, and self-sacrifice. This puts it miles apart from most of the Young Adult fiction that’s out there; and it’s written well enough for adults to enjoy it, too.

We do need more of this, much more. People of all ages consume huge amounts of “entertainment,” mostly without realizing that this is a passive but very effective form of self-education. We need to consume and digest more faith, more hope, more charity.

More Green Ember, less Spirit Animals.


No, No, Please, No! No ‘Katana-Wielding Scullery Maid’!

Image result for images of ella the slayer

Here she is with her katana. I wonder what school she studied in.

In my continual search for fantasy fiction that edifies instead of just making you dumber, I receive many invitations to review new books. Like Ella the Slayer, billed as “an Edwardian retelling of Cinderella.” Or “Cinderella” meets “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

The premise is, the worldwide 1918 flu epidemic was something more sinister than a germ, and the people who die of the flu come back as zombies who have to be killed all over again, blah-blah. I hate zombies. You seen one zombie, you seen ’em all. Besides which, the Great Flu was only 100 years ago and there are those of us whose families included some of those victims: this is in rather bad taste. In fact, it’s in execrable taste. The publisher ought to get the ducking stool, and the writer a public thrashing.

But allow me to mount my hobby horse–

Ella, the heroine, is described as “a katana-wielding scullery maid.” A lot of those in Edwardian England, were were?

I studied Japanese swordsmanship. I had to study and practice with the wooden sword for five years before I was allowed even to touch a katana–ten pounds of live steel sharpened to a razor edge. This is a serious weapon and I don’t appreciate ignorant wannabes fannying around with it. You could very easily do yourself a major mischief.

No one can say that my own fantasy novels fail to include major female characters who are strong, brave, resourceful, and worthy of admiration. Believe it or not, this effect can be achieved without writing up your female characters as comic-book superheroes with steel bras. I think I hate superheroes even more than zombies. Like, how many cliches can you jam into each chapter?

Why is non-idiotic fantasy so hard to come by?


‘An Open Letter to My Critics’ (2015)

Image result for images of people going to church

I re-ran this post once before, but the Fourth of July seems to me a good day for running it again. It hasn’t gotten any less true since I wrote it.

https://leeduigon.com/2013/08/23/an-open-letter-to-my-critics/

Are we oddballs? If we are, it’s the wider society’s loss. I was brought up–by my family, not a village!–to believe that God was always nearby, always watching, always available to hear your prayers: who loves us, who gave His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to save the whole world: to believe with all my heart that this is true. Certainly my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles believed it.

Our country’s founders believed it. Else they wouldn’t have dared defy the British Empire.

More than ever, God’s truth–which is the truth–needs to be put back into our daily lives.

And into our hourly lives would be still better.


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