I’m somewhat getting back into my blogging schedule, though I’m still not sure if I like the various things I do on the various days. If you have suggestions, send me a note. I’m up for just about everything, as long as it doesn’t involve pepper spray. Still, I’ve found a few things that inspired me over the past week, so I’m going to drop them at your doorstep and see what you think.
In addition to the Malazan series that I’ve been working through for the last twenty months (I’m in a curious place where I really want to know how the series ends and really do not want to step out of that world) I’ve been reading a lot of novellas and old fiction. Really old fiction. From the Völsungasaga:
Better to fight and fall than to live without hope.
In context, this is referring to the death of one of the Völsung Kings, that family of larger-than-life heroes that gave birth to The Ring Cycle, Beowulf, and The Lord of the Rings, among others. I picture most of the heroes in this as something of a cross between Conan and Robocop, and not more than a passage goes by without reminding me of a similar trope in fantasy fiction. But this quote resonated in another fashion. For those of us who struggle with depression or other mood disorders, this passage is significant. Or at least, I took a different layer of meaning to it.
And perhaps this is another reason I read the old myths. True, I have to read them in doses, since they are nowhere near the same fashion of fiction that I grew up reading. But like most things you take in small doses, it’s well worth the effort. In an article from The A.V. Club about six years ago, Keith Phipps made the argument that if he could, he’d convince everyone to read The Canterbury Tales.
And—and this is where I tend to lose people—not in translation, either. It takes about half an hour to learn the basics of reading Chaucer’s Middle English, assuming it’s well-annotated, and the payoff is worth it. It’s another language, sure, but it’s a language you already know on some level, just waiting for you to reclaim it. You may never read Dante in Italian or Flaubert in French, but reading Chaucer in its original form is the birthright of anyone who speaks English.
That phrase, “the birthright of anyone who speaks English,” holds true for anyone who reads fiction and wants to get to the roots. The early epics… this one, the Eddas, Snorri Sturlson, Beowulf, The Niebelungenlied, and many others I’m neglecting to mention or haven’t gotten around to reading yet… are the root of epic fantasy. Without the epic, we’d have no Tolkien, and none of the authors who inspired him. Reading these works is like peeking at the source code that runs the application that is modern fantasy literature, to use a programming analogy. It’s like getting a sneak preview at what makes our mythic mind tick.
That’s the tease for today, and the inspiration I myself need to finish this story and study a bit more as well.
EDIT: Holy Crap, I forgot to link back to the blog Should Be Reading. Among other things, it hosts “Teaser Tuesday,” where readers and bloggers tease two sentences from the book they’re reading, (I just quoted one, but then I talked about it for three paragraphs, so I hope that’s okay.)