Tag Archives: fantasy

A Self-Realization

Here is something I’ve learned about myself recently: though I like the idea of epic fantasy, I don’t actually want to read it.

It’s something I feel like I should have realized sooner. Years ago many good friends of mine recommended Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series to me. I read the first book but never got any farther. When Game of Thrones was big, my husband read all the books and encouraged me to try them. I got all of three pages into the first one and set it aside. Two other writer friends urged me to try Brandon Sanderson. I got about 100 pages into The Way of Kings and just couldn’t. I did read The Hobbit, but I never made it all the way through Lord of the Rings. (The books, that is; I’ve watched the movies many times over.)

“But you like Neil Gaiman,” I hear you saying. Yes, but he’s not epic fantasy, is he? Nor is Stephen King, really. Or Anne Rice. It seems I need books to either be not quite that long, and/or I need them to have some connection to the world I know, I guess? I mean, I liked A Darker Shade of Magic, but even it had a version of London I could relate to.

After some thought, though, the real problem for me is the work required to read epic fantasy. The books are almost always massive, and there are usually several in a series. There are so many weird names to learn and people to keep track of. Often these people end up in about ten different locations that I also have to keep a mental map of. And these places have laws and languages and sometimes magic and there are elves or something… It gets to be too much for me. Bottom line: I’m too lazy to read epic fantasy.

Yet I honestly think epic fantasy is probably some of the best work out there. As much effort as it takes to read, it takes that and more to write it, especially if it’s done well. I really respect and am in awe of those who can manage it. I guess that’s why I keep trying to read it—because I know it’s actually great. But I just don’t have the stamina or brain capacity or something. I can do it when it’s on film or television, but reading it feels to me like stuffing my brain with sawdust for some reason. I turn utterly stupid.

Well, we all have our preferences. I don’t read science fiction or war stories because I frankly find those boring. I don’t read erotica because sex isn’t my thing. And I don’t read epic fantasy because that bar is just too high for me.

What books do or don’t you read and why? And do you think there’s an epic fantasy out there that I might not find too taxing for my tiny little brain? Let me know!

Television: His Dark Materials, “Lyra’s Jordan”

Yeah, yeah, I’m a week behind because I hadn’t realized the show had already begun airing. Lovely think about television these days is that if you miss an episode, you no longer have to wait for a rerun. I’m old enough to remember a time before that, a time when if you wanted to record a show you had to have a blank tape and VCR. Yeah, I’m old.

First things first: I did read The Golden Compass once many years ago and it left very little impression on me. I never even bothered with the subsequent books. I don’t know what it was about that book that failed to grab me; I remember almost nothing about it except the big bear and a vague sense of not liking any of the characters, which is probably why I didn’t want to spend any more time with them. So I won’t be comparing this to the books because I remember so little of the one I read, which is actually kind of nice because I’m coming at this relatively fresh and unbiased.

This episode, which is the first of the series, begins with a lot of title card reading. Stuff like that always gives me pause because if the screenwriter and director couldn’t accurately convey the world in the, you know, actual film part, maybe they shouldn’t be adapting this material? Any movie, or even book, that requires that much information before it even gets started… needs to be rethought. Viewers (and readers) aren’t entirely stupid. They can figure things out without you having to bury them in pre-info.

That aside, I did find this a relatively engaging series premiere. James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, an explorer who leaves a baby named Lyra in the care of Jordan College in Oxford. (Note that this is an alternative dimension to our world, meaning some things are familiar and some things aren’t. For instance, everyone has a “daemon,” which is basically their soul, but in the form of an animal outside their body.) There seems to be a prophecy around Lyra, because of course there is. She grows up none the wiser and at around age 12 is selected to become the assistant to Ms. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Meanwhile, children have been disappearing, including Lyra’s friend Roger. Ms. Coulter promises Lyra that once they reach London she will help find Roger (and, possibly by extension, other missing children as well).

Before Lyra leaves with Ms. Coulter, the Master of Jordan College gives her an alethiometer, a device that—once Lyra can figure out how to work it—will tell her the truth. It’s something she must keep hidden because it’s illegal to possess without permission from the Magisterium. Of course, the first time that Lyra tries to use it, it doesn’t work. Why the Master couldn’t tell Lyra how to use it is unclear. Probably because he wanted to be sure there was more tension in the plot.

There is also a plot involving Lord Asriel’s explorations into something called “dust,” and the fact that the Master of Jordan College tried to poison him… This seems fundamentally to be a disagreement between the Magisterium and science/academia. Which is to say, a fight between religion/faith and hard facts.

Bottom line is that Lyra is a chosen one and the fate of the world as everyone knows it seems to depend on her choices. *yawn* I’m so over these kinds of stories, AND YET… I did really enjoy this, surprisingly so. It’s nicely done, and while I don’t love any of the characters, I don’t dislike them as much as I did when reading them. If that makes any sense? There is a real sense of dread around the kidnappings, and the central mysteries are set up well, designed to draw the viewer along. I’ll definitely watch the next episode at least.

Television: Good Omens

Good Omens is fairly high on my list of favorite books; my cat Crowley bears the name of one of the main characters. (Most people assume the name is from Supernatural, but I haven’t seen that show.) How delighted was I, then, when David Tennant was cast as Crowley? Off the charts, really, and he does a spectacular job opposite Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

I’m not sure I can adequately encapsulate the story for those unfamiliar with it, but basically Crowley is a demon and Aziraphale is an angel, and yet they’re friends. So when the end of the world is on the horizon, the two of them team up to stop it because, honestly, they rather like the world. I suppose it’s just the right blend of bad and good to make them both comfortable without being bored.

There’s a lot more to it than that, such as witches and witchfinders and prophecies and the antichrist and his pet dog (and a character named Pepper!), but it’s all more complex than I can describe, and you might as well read or watch it anyway.

I usually hesitate over adaptations of my favorite books because (a) I worry it’ll ruin my mental picture by replacing my imagination with a “sanctioned” version, and (b) often they’re just terrible. But there’s no reason to be concerned in this case. Good Omens is a faithful adaptation, and in the places where it’s been changed, all the changes work. It’s well cast and just incredibly entertaining. And at six episodes, easy to binge.

I’d say I want more, and I do… except I don’t, if that makes any sense. By which I mean, it’s like a really good meal: so wonderful, you want to keep eating, yet you know that the food will only begin to lose its flavor eventually, and you’ll only end up uncomfortably stuffed, maybe even ill. Better to eat and walk away with the memory of a nice dinner than make yourself sick and come to feel averse to something you used to enjoy. Or, in short form: quit while you’re ahead. So many shows try to press their popularity by eking out season after season, all for the money, until they’re only remembered for not being as good as when they began. Better to tell your story well and end it (Babylon 5) than keep chasing the audience until they turn on you.

Long story short, the Good Omens miniseries is fantastic, assuming you like that sort of thing. I do highly recommend it.