Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tradition and novelty

Now, I've always hated this idea. I believe it is just a pessimistic excuse not to bother. On the other hand I don't really agree with the obsessive drive to make it new and fresh and fresh and shiny and new and better and better and bigger and shinier. I find it rather excessive.

There are great things to be said for tradition, even in the genre of fantasy, some of what we do may be worn but a great deal of it is just done badly. Fantasy is not an easy genre to write in. It is not an easy genre to write in because a large number of people thought it was, they came in and messed things up and now we have to deal with it. Even the brilliant ones aren't always safe. Imitate Oscar Wilde and you will be at least moderatly admired, imitate Tolkien and you will be sneered at. Why? Because Oscar Wilde was, without a hint of a doubt, brillaint. Tolkien was also brilliant, but in a different way. Fantasy should not imitate fantasy, fantasy should imitate life, philosophy, history, just as any other sort of story.

So yes, tradition is good but don't imitate. I think there might be a problem there. Hmm. Imitate a style and tradition of fantasy, not the particulr conformities of a certain author.

But back to the impossibility of a orginality (though, if I can be annoyed by it, it must exist at least to some degree)...

a story can be...
a. man vs man
b. man vs nature
c. man vs himself

and can end with
a. success
b. failure

Oddly enough most stories discuss all of these the same time and end with both, but that isn't important. What is important is that we end up with six stories. My personal favourite is 'man faces himself and fails.' It really leaves us to wonder.

Now, this is true if a plot is a book and if similiarity at the most basic level creates overall similiarity. It is the same as the diversity and similiarity in creatures, all come from the same basic ancestry, have the same basic needs, and live on earth, but that doesn't mean that cats are exactly the same as humans, nor does it mean that Emma is exactly like the Eyre Affair.

Now, diversity must come at a more complex level then the most basic building blocks. How is that possible? Well, there are various things, but let us stick with plot. The plot can focus on a differet thing, take for example, war.

We have three novels that discuss a city under siege and a man who defends it from the enemy. This makes them seem similiar, but I could tell you with all honesty that these books are nothing alike. Why? Because people understand things differently.

Say these books are all about the same city, even the same man. The city is under siege for three days, one out of two thousand decides to write a book about the man. He he saw it first hand and writers from his own interpretation. Later the man's son, who has grown up with stories about the war, decides to write about him. Last there is the scholar, who after researching and making careful notes, wants to write his own story (most likely about how the man was actually an evil nasty man who tortured innocent hay stacks, because that's what scholars like to do).

Now, all three would have different information, would be telling a different version of the same story. The question would arise if this ought even to be called the same story. I'm not going to answer that question, I don't know. I think it depends very much on the particular circumstances. But, seeing the huge amount of diversity even in the telling of one incident can we really imagine that there is not possibility for originality? Three people looked back and saw the war in completely different ways, and there are hundreds of others just for that one battle, thousands upon thousands in the world as a whole.

The problem is, of course, the amautur, the one who is not there to see the battle, does not learn of it extensively from those around them, and does not study it. They acquire a vague idea of what the war was about, they adopt a few views from others but do not fully comprehend them, they become confused and then they write their story. This is what we should not do. Tolkiens writing reflect how he understood those sources. That is why a writer must read, we must go back and look at the sources, understand the points of view from which a thing is seen, allow them to become our views and our beliefs, and write from that. Of course, you could just write about the world of today and then you wouldn't have to dig as deep into all those old myths and stories...though it never really hurts.

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