Monday, February 28, 2011

Write 1 Sub 1

Have you wondered what that Write 1 Sub 1 Monthly badge in the left-hand gutter of my blog is? It's a collection of writers who have committed to writing and submitting on a regular basis, following the example of Ray Bradbury, who used to write and submit a short story every week. The challenge is the brainchild of Milo Fowler, Simon Kewin, and Stephen V. Ramey and comes in two flavors--weekly or monthly. I wimped out and chose the monthly option. (To put a positive spin on it, you could say I was being honest.) Every week or month, members check in with a comment to let everyone know what the writer has accomplished or not. It's a self-imposed deadline with self-imposed public humiliation looming over those who don't keep up. It's about discipline, or as Bradbury says, "writing persistently." Check out the W1S1 blog to see how members are doing and the video in which Bradbury talks about his approach.

So far I'm keeping up. I've completed new stories for January and February and have ideas for several more. The story for March is underway. If I'm particularly inspired this coming month, I might even crank out two tales. W1S1 is pushing me to write shorter stories, which is a good thing since it's hard to sell the mammoth pieces I normally come up with. Along with revisions of older stories and rewrite requests, I'm keeping the ink in my pens flowing. Unfortunately, the blog has to suffer some neglect.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Point Your Browser at The Tolkien Professor

Do you long to hear serious discussions of fantasy literature that treat it as a legitimate and thoughtful form of literary expression? Well, as Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber would say, have we got a website for you! Check out The Tolkien Professor. Dr. Corey Olsen, medievalist and assistant professor of English at Washington College has assembled an extensive collection of lectures, conversations, and classroom discussions that give fantasy literature thoughtful attention. There's more material here than you can shake a massive trilogy that's really one long novel with appendices at. The site is a work in progress, but the material already available (high-quality audio and free, by the way) bodes great things to come.

So, you might ask, why is Olsen assembling and releasing all this material? Olsen explains:
I have become increasingly frustrated with the separation between academics and general readers, and I am determined to come out of the cloister and spend my own career sharing my scholarly work with the public. I founded this website because I wanted to connect with other people who are eager to be included in a thoughtful literary conversation about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Your first stop should be the introductory lecture: "How to Read Tolkien and Why." Olsen offers an interesting explanation for the marginalization of Tolkien's works and fantasy in general. Unlike Tom Shippey, who argues that Tolkien's close association with philology in the face of rising interest in other literary studies brought scholarly derision on Tolkien's works, Olsen posits that the problem is Tolkien's Christian worldview, which is currently out of fashion among many intellectuals. If you are a materialist and believe all that exists is the physical world, then fantasy, which explores other worlds, is likely to seem a rather silly and not very serious pursuit. Why not write about the real world? Olsen also supports Tolkien's belief that the life of a writer is not all that important to understanding their work and dives into the works themselves, giving little attention to Tolkien's life. It's not surprising that medievalists would hold this opinion. For most medieval writers, we are lucky to know their name.

If you're a fan of The Hobbit, you will be pleased to find a series of eight lectures devoted to Bilbo Baggins' adventure. Olsen discusses the book in great detail, noting the many ways Tolkien manipulates language and events in the story to achieve broader effects. The series is in progress, a little over half finished. Olsen promises to give a similar treatment to The Lord of the Rings. Olsen also let's us sit in on his undergraduate Tolkien course from spring 2010. In forty lectures, he covers "On Fairy-Stories", a few of Tolkien's shorter works, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, he doesn't cover "Farmer Giles of Ham," but I can forgive him for that omission. Faerie and Fantasy is an undergraduate course for spring 2011. Olsen surveys fantastical works from the middle ages to the present. There's much more than I've covered in this brief summary.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fantastic Anachronisms

Aristotle, portrayed in the Nuremberg
Chronicle (1493) in 15th-century garb.
I was reading a fantasy novel last night when I came across one character saying to another, "Don't be so melodramatic." There's nothing too extraordinary about that phrase. We hear it all the time. So why did I stop reading? Why did that line interrupt the all important fictional dream? Because the setting for this particular story is very medieval and melodramatic is a relatively modern word. Websters lists its first recorded usage as 1808, nowhere near the Middle Ages. So, when I read the character's statement, I said to myself "That's an anachronism," and stopped thinking about the action in the story.

To be fair to the author, the story's fantasy world is not our own and has a different history, so maybe melodramas have already been developed in the story's world. However, there has been no discussion of dramaturgy in the story, so the reader doesn't know what types of dramas have been developed. The only thing the reader has to go on is what has already happened in the story and what the reader can fill in based on knowledge of similar periods from our world's history.

The fantasy writer whose setting is analogous to a historical period from our world's history faces a particular problem with language. The writer must be careful about using modern terms or figures of speech and if they are used, the writer must establish that such language is appropriate to the fantasy world. The challenge to avoid unintentional anachronisms is much easier said than done.

Does anyone else notice these types of slips when reading historical fantasy? Do they bother you?