2011. január 19., szerda

For Aslan’s Sake, It’s Not the Replica of LOTR!

How did this all began?

When “Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road” (Ch. 1, The Magician’s Nephew), and when there was Polly and Digory, and Digory’s uncle and many others, and magical rings, and pools leading to different unknown worlds. Most of those who just saw the films wouldn’t know this (it’s a pity, because I think The Magician’s Nephew is the best of the seven books) since the films cover only the adventures of the children. Besides, this book tells us how the world of Narnia came into being and the process itself is quite cool, believe me (yeah, the mystery of the lamp post is revealed in it, hah!), with less killing and all that bloody war stuff. This is not really important in the light of what I really want to write about but I had to add this information as a kind of introduction, so you could somehow see The Chronicles as I see them: as mere fairy stories.

So how should I begin?

Perhaps I should give you some advice first: take a deep breath and forget all the fancy religious bullshit interpretation you’ve ever heard, read or just might come to your mind when you think about Narnia. Anything that has even a teeny-tiny connection to religionand what I mean under religion here is exclusively Christianity―has an absolutely destructive force on what I’ll be trying to argue for. For a short while just pretend that you have no knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and what the preachers told you, or what others heard from the preachers and you just accidentally know these things from the others, or from Facebook/Wiki/Google. Forget it. And when you’re done―quite hard, don’t you think?―open your heart and mind and believe in MAGIC, whether you are a believer in the Christian sense or not. (We should all believe in magic.) Think like a child, that might be the easiest way to get close to my ideas and don’t be such an ass (respect for those representing the exception). And NOW think about Narnia.

If you have some left-overs from your childhood deep inside your corrupted self (just kidding about corruption-am I?-, don’t be so serious!), you should feel great about Narnia (at least I hope you feel that way…) and consider it merely as world where one can feel special (because being part of something special makes you special), where everything is special and anything can happen.

Indeed, C. S. Lewis created this world for those who still believe in miracles and not as a proper reading for children with zealous or churchy background. Just look at this (if you google this quotation you will probably find more reliable sources; this is from http://www.greenbelt.com):

“Some people seem to think [when I wrote The Chronicles of Narnia] that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I'd write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn't write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Then came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalist, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and 'gas'. I was now enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer. On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.” ["Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said," On Stories and Other Essays on Literature.]

Yeah, so that’s how everything began. In this sense the well-known allegory loses its strong basis generated by a sect of conservative dumbasses intellectuals. Let’s see another quotation (from Google Books):

“If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim's Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?' This is not allegory at all.” (C. S. Lewis)

A much debated question whether Lewis really believed in this non-allegorical theory, or he was only pissed off at critics and he said something to close the matter. I guess, he didn’t succeed at all. But these quotations definitely support my argument that The Chronicles of Narnia are fairy stories and they don’t want to be anything more than fairy stories (at least intentionally). We should not look for explanations/interpretations in the stories because if we do then the magic will be lost―the worst thing that can happen. Not magic like STUPEFY, BIATCHES! or ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL ETC. but its own distinctive magic.

And yes, there might be some similarities between The Chronicles and LOTR but come on, Tolkien and Lewis were close friends and mates in the Inklings, where writers discussed their works and read them to the others. Who you draw inspiration from, huh?!

Seriously, these are two different imaginary worlds and two different ways of writing and style. I like them both and the matter should not be like a Team Edward and a Team Jacob fight to the death since both are unique masterpieces. Even the devoted LOTR fans should give The Chronicles a try instead of judging it badly without knowing the whole of it.

You should be open to its magical simplicity and let yourself be carried away by these wonderful stories. Don’t bother about the deepest meanings in them, about Jesus and the strange mix of cultural traditions and characters from different mythologies. After all, these are fairy stories. Who cares about accuracy when ordinary children go into a wardrobe and find themselves in a world totally different from ours with talking animals, mysterious creatures, epic battles and even Father Christmas?

2011. január 18., kedd

"...and with times being what they are..." - the "crisis" of values in our age

the quote in the title comes from the Actor in Tom Stoppard's superb play, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead, right before going on a rant about how traditional values and appreciation of the art of drama has gone out of the world. yet it is a play set in Elizabethan times, when supposed values like family, honour and suchlike were much more important. at least that is the image that persists in the minds of many, and by extension it is true to any period of time preceding ours. a prevailing thought in our society is thatit has lost important core values and is much less liveable due to present conditions and people's behaviour.

except it's not.

allow me to break this down. what many people are complaining about is that "traditional" values like family, fidelty and all their little christian friends are going out of style, and instead we get decadence, consumerism, transglobal companies and little girls doing anal at 13. and I have not yet mentioned the evilest of evils, mass media and mass culture, which destroyers "proper" elitist culture while flooding our minds with a poop overflow.
well, dear moral guardians, you seem to be missing a pretty important point here.
these values (like "patriotism", which is really a fancy word for nationalistic chauvinism, "traditional gender roles" [goodbye male opression!] and all otehr merry friends of them) did not "disappear" in some myterious way like the dinosaurs. they were slowly, methodically destroyed as an abject and obvious failure. these were the values of the late 19th and early 20th century, which resulted in such glorious highlights of our civilization as mass genocide, international division, and vietnamese children having their flesh burned off by napalm while looking for food.

and allow me to mention another little thing.

consider what we now think of as an age of great artistic accomplishments as well as a huge advancement in many scientific fields: the renaissance. you know what the renaissance was? a motherfucking king-sized revolution against previous values, complete with disgusting feats, hordes of prostitutes and orgies even a japanese porn director would faint at simply by hearing about it. and let's not leave out the thing that it was against values held by an age in which a class, for which the whole time was a never-ending chain of rape, pillage, feasts and wars still had the face to hold moral authority, supported by a church rotten to its core, doing the exact opposite of its teachings. doesn't this whole "moral authority" theme ring a bell? seems pretty similar to many later times.

as for culture... well, that is just laughable. consider how many artists we know from previous times. okay, now think of how many musicians (yes, just musicians) you know from the 1970s. chances are, a somewhat equal number. yet, there were a lot more. if you are reading this blog, there is a high chance that you know the following things:

- during the performance of shakespeare's plays in the globe, half the people were fuck-drunk, munching on some food while talking to their neighbour (and you complain about cellphones going off in the theatre)

- mozart, händel, haydn, really, anyone up to beethoven was employed to compose popular, litenable music. really, the equivalent of nowadays music, and just as there is a huge steaming pile of crap musicinas now (hello, gaga!) there was a porportionately equally huge steaming pile of crap musicinas back then (hello, salieri, what were you going to steal again?)

- literature. literary theorists and academic people (although, i'm quite happy to note, less and less of them) look down on "popular" works of fiction because they, for some reason mustn't hold equal value to canonical works, as I explained elsewhere. yet, these canonical works are obviously known as they had huge success, and they WERE written with the idea of getting money out of them (hello, mr dickens, you can tell a story in half the pages - of course, in installment publication, the longer the better).

values of the past are not here becasue we're in a different age. people starting sex life earlier and earlier - well wow, just like in ancient rome or greek, cradles of our vaunted western civilization. families falling apart - maybe it's time for a new system to develop. information and globalisation overflow - that has been increasing since the big bang, there's really nothing suprising about it's developments.

just embrace where we are, and try to make the most out of it, instead of complaining about your made-up, grandmotherish crap.

2010. december 27., hétfő

a tribute to sir christopher lee

holy. fucking. hell.

not only is he a superb actor famous for about a dozen roles as a villain (like dracula, saruman and count dooku), but also:

- he's a knight. and he's been knighted on halloween. how fitting
- he has recorded a metal album over the age of eighty as singer with two complete bands
- he regularly narrates albums by metal bands
- he has been a commando and secret intelligence member in WWII
- during the filming of LotR, he asked peter jackson to re-shoot the scene in which he was killed because, as he said "when you kill someone from behind the noise he makes is not like this one". draw your own conclusions.
- he has made the most films (over 250!!!) out of any actors, dead or alive ever
- he speaks eight languages varying from moderately well to excellent
- he is a direct descendant of charlemagne (NOT joking)
- according to himself, he does a bit of head-banging to music every day

he is probably the most awesome human being ever.

2010. december 22., szerda

the act of creation

ask any writer about the question which most frequently asked from them, and they will invariably answer: "where do you get your stories from?"

really, where do stories come from? rushdie imagines a vast "ocean of stories" in which stories come from an endless stream and mix freely (haroun and the sea of stories), stephen king maintains that his talees just come out of nowhere, usually based on a character, and always end up totally different from what he intended (on writing), while vonnegut always traces back everything to some (usually) childhood memory or other.

poems are easy. poems nearly always come from an excess of an emotion. but stories... stories can arise from anywhere. if you've got a certain knack for it, you might think of an entire story just by seeing an interesting person (such has happened to me, though that story is yet to be written down), or perhaps your imagination stretches the boundaries of an experience, making the ordinary extraordinary (or, oftentimes in fantasy and postmodern writing, the extraordinary ordinary).

some authors swear by dreams, others by drugs. if you can manage to sort out all those jumbled, crazy pieces and make it into one semi-coherent narrative, well, that's something. some say you need serious research and stay close to the truth, others will bend things to suit their stories.

do you go by an idea, and create the story around it? do you just start jotting things down, hoping it will finish up somehow? is there a "right" way to writing?

where do your stories come from?

a brief rant on fantasy and the canon

neil gaiman. stephen king. george rr martin.

all great contemporary fantasy authors with a large body of work, fantastic writing skills, loads of sold books - and serious "professional" under-appreciation.

(quick observation: huge number of books (or anything) sold clearly not equals very valuable writing (see: twilight or danielle steel) but it does indicate that the author is doing SOMETHING right.)

fantasy, as a genre, is somehow not seen as something belonging to the canon (apart from, for a certain group of people, the bible). the reasoning for it goes something like this: "many people like it, ergo it is easy to read and understand, so it clearly can't contain valuable, enriching writing". thus far, the only works of fantasy really going into literary discourse either fall more under the genre of magic realism or are from earlier periods (gothic horror is very much appreciated, king on the other hand, is somehow not, despite clearly following in the footsteps in his epic tales and supernatural horror stories) plus the lord of the rings.

yes, there might not be too much to discuss about stories involving dragons, knights in shining armour and mages throwing fireballs (unlike discussing important literary stories in which someone changes into a bug, which makes perfect sense), but fantasy is an important part of contemporary literature. check the main literary sites - song of ice and fire (martin) is consistently near the top of ratings and reviews. these are works often spanning a thousand pages, written through the course of multiple years, creating a whole new world, with new races, autonomic cultures with a language, a mythology and time-honoured tradition - to do this right, one has to be an author on the top of his job.

fantasy characters are often accused of being too simple, too black-and-white, which makes for morally less interesting stories. though this is true (although this has also been changing recently), the view disregards a very important thing: the average person's need for fairytales in which the smallest prince saves the princess and the evil overlord falls. granted, nowadays it's more likely that during the course of this, a few dozen people die, the sun is blotted out, and the princess is raped/maimed/driven insane/all of this, it's still appealing to something which was common to everyone as a child and which stays the same very often, it's simply, in some cases, repressed. one of the main points of fantasy is that it does not have to have serious meaning - it's for enjoyment and it's another goddamn world, so it does not have to reflect the problems and common features of our world.

on the other hand, there is a select part of fantasy fiction which does have important, canon-worthy themes and materials (i'm using canon-worthy as in: it could/should belong to the current canon, which is pretty much fucked up in the first place). this is where avoiding of fantasy as a whole comes into play in literary studies. i wonder if most literary theorists who refuse to read and discuss stephen king on the grounds of writing "cheap horror" and bestsellers, know that he dwelved deeply into children's psychology and their problems in a number of his works, or that he reflects on everyday social questions (race, class, gender) in all of his works; the fact that he has written several books which are allegories on alcohol abuse and the possibilities of fighting it, or that he has authored three books in which the craft of writing is meticulously explored.

george rr martin in song of ice and fire describes all the possible outcomes of a power vacuum in a given historical context, with a plot which makes richard III. look like a simple task to grab the salt instead of power. black-and-white morality is found very-very little in the series - and if it is, it quickly results in death.

and neil gaiman is neil fucking gaiman and there is no place for any questions concerning that.


hello, dear reader,

this blog is (hopefully) literature about literature. it's not really analytical writing - we're not being published in some big, important journal, not many people pay attention to us, and we're not constantly referring to other analytical works instead of coming up with our own ideas. the idea behind this blog is to explore the popular literature - it's works, genres and it's place in the canon, which, at least to me, is severly under-appreciated. we are doing this blog as a team with a few other guys, you'll get to see them postsoon enough, i hope. i myself will often be referring to a number of other internet sites - you can find them in the sidebar, or i'll highlight it in the post itself. topics for me will mainly consist of "fringe" genres such as fantasy, sci-fi and horror, different media types like literature, sometimes movies and often comics. hope you'll like the journey.