Books, culture, fishing, and other games

August 07, 2003

Pottering Around with Wurts

After I wrote my Apologia Pro Potter, I stumbled over this piece by Paul Howard on National Review Online: Magical Clarity: Lord Voldemort beats out Magneto, hands down.

I haven't yet read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix due to a squeezed book-buying budget resulting from underemployment (as you can probably guess from some of the times on these posts), so I can't yet comment on that one.

I agree with much of what Howard says. The moral clarity is clear at the macro level, though I would argue it gets a bit fuzzy towards the micro end of the measure. Potter and Co. are pretty free about breaking rules, and the rules they break by no means are all silly or questionable. Some are good rules, and not in the way of their pursuit to thwart evil, they're just being kids. That is fine, realistic even, but it doesn't always contribute to moral clarity. This is not per se a bad thing, however. Too much moral clarity makes things preachy, and not many enjoy that. Too much moral clarity (in fiction, at least) also discourages thinking about the moral issues.

"Fantasy novels, in contrast to science fiction, have traditionally embraced these classic moral archetypes."

One thing interesting about modern fantasy, a fairly new trend, is a move away from the classic archetypes. I want to write more on this soon, but I'll toss in one example.

I'm rereading Janny Wurts's series The Wars of Light and Shadow now, and Wurts does not conform to the classic archetypes. She nods to them, then takes a post-modernish turn and subverts them.

Wurts is a solid storyteller, but she isn't as easy to read as Rowling is. Wurts's prose tends towards ultraviolet, and as a result reading her is work. It's roughly equivalent to reading 19th century prose in difficulty, and I don't see that the odd choices of words and the stirring in of extra modifiers do more than cloud the tale itself. I admit to sometimes skipping whole paragraphs at the beginning of chapters to avoid a lot of description.

But I am rereading the five I have in the series, and just picked up the sixth today, so you can see I like her storytelling.

"In the X-Men universe (and much of American academia), fear of the "Other" (racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia) is the original sin that inevitably leads to genocide..."

Wurts certainly pulls in the fear of the other. Her big "other" is comprised of those who use magic, and to a lesser degree those who were seen as allied with the mages and magicusers are also treated as others. So, if this is a shift in fantasy (and I think Howard is on to something), Wurts is there.

Posted by dan at August 7, 2003 02:53 AM
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