Man. Bloging’s been tough lately. Either I’m in crunch mode or I’m recovering from crunch mode. In random news I've been doing a lot of "secret project" writing. I've been shaking the job tree. I've been reading for 4 classes in addition to clinic (this takes up most of my time). I got back on the bike and have been doing some commuting riding when possible.
But to book end these activities:
I had my second parole revocation hearing. I don't want to say too much about this one. It turned out OK, but involved massive prep work that wasn't used at all.
Recovery from Crunch
I rented Eragon. It's awful. Painfully awful. The movie was execrable, despite decent CGI and not-bad performances from Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and some otherwise good British character actors. The pacing was clunky and contrived, and the "high point" stirring speeches and heroic sacrifices seemed oddly rushed and contrived. As there was no real sense of importance to these moments, they came off as bathetic.
The book itself was a kind of patchwork monster – the basic superficial Tolkien racial-skeleton of humans/elves/dwarves/orcs, put through a farmboy cum messianic hero plot that seems, at times, a pastiche of Star Wars, The Belgariad, The Dragonbone Chair, LeGuin and some others. Nonetheless the book worked. If it wasn't always seamless (mostly due to the difficulty in joining the established archetypal elements that the book drew on – more on that in a sec.) at least it took itself seriously enough to try to tell a good story and to have that story make sense. And for an 18 year old (?) author, it's an awfully impressive beginning, for all its heavy leaning on other works. I’ll read Eldest if I can find a cheap copy and give it a chance to slip out from Tolkien's shadow.
A quick thought on Tolkien (I did a post on TLOR movies and the Narnia adaptation a while ago).
Tolkien built his world from the ground up. Sure, he ladled in what seems to be the entire western cannon from the Norse sagas to the Arthurian stories to Cervantes and the Song of Roland, but there’s a strong internal consistency to his vision.
For example, the Tolkien elves are the perfect craftsmen. They possess long life, refined senses, and an aesthetic that’s influenced by a close tie to the creating god (in Tolkien’s mythology the elves were the first born of the mortal children of the gods – they lived in the blessed realm and learned at the knees of the gods.) What this means is that the elves are slow and subtle builders whose weakness is an attachment to the things they’ve made. Elves don’t like change. The elven king Feanor refused to surrender some things he’d invested a great deal of time and self in, even though it was inarguably for the greater good, a good that *directly enabled* him to make these things in the first place. This and subsequent acts of possessiveness set the elves towards their doom of fighting Sauron, without the gods aid, in middle earth. (I’m condensing here, but that’s basically it.)
Now, prior to Tolkien, we don’t have “elves” like this. They’re just not there. (Yes, there is the Nordic strain, with Freyr and all that, but that kind of elf is just as realized as Tolkien’s and just as alien to contemporary fantasy with, perhaps, the exception of Tad William's work).
The point I want to get at is that through popular culture and post-Tolkien fantasy story, we get an archetype of “the elf” – tall, slim, straight hair, impeccably dressed in green and grey along a vaguely Celtic/New-agey aesthetic. The elf becomes a stock element that a fantasy world ought to have, just like dragons and dwarves and a rural pastoral setting that produces unlikely heroes. And, like dragons, the elves begin to pick up fixed biological characteristics. . pointy ears, long life, and high aesthetic, just as all dragons must breathe flame and fly. But issues of good and evil. . .well, *those* become malleable. In many post-Tolkien fantasies dragons become misunderstood beasts, just trying to make it in the fantasy world as sharks and wolves do in ours. Elves begin to become creepier, non-human, instead of being a kind of perfect human, or more accurately, a human perfected. Perhaps some of creepiness draws off the celtic sidhe – the mischievous dark host who play cruel and deadly tricks on man. But all to often in contemporary fantasy the elves seem to have lost their way – no one quite knows what to do with them, they’re either distant and stiff little do-gooders doling out gifts or almost vampiric figures lamenting the short lived humans around them who keep mucking up their nice digs. You get a sense of this contemporary elf in Peter Jackson’s treatment of Elrond the bitter human-hater. Ironic, because in the books, Elrond is Half-Elven – his dearly loved brother Elros chose the human half of their heritage and died young, while Elrond choose the elven half and lived long.
In short, I’m suggesting it’s a problem. A lot of bad fantasy falls in love with the surfaces of things. The author thinks – hey, it’s great to have beautiful elves running about, speaking in antiquated languages, and hacking up orcs (gotta have those dehumanized enemy figures) with supernatural skillful sweeps of their enchanted blades; it makes for fantasy. So we get that without any understanding of what an elf *is.*
Now I’m not saying we need all bow down to Tolkien (I wish more authors *wouldn’t*, actually.) But if you’re going to have elves, then have them be elves – elves from the bottom up, consistently acting like elves ought to act in your particular fantasy world. Not elves for elves sake.