I assumed that the Malazan series was a direct descendent of Stephen Donaldson’s Unbeliever series, but having just re-read the Earthsea trilogy I’m starting to wonder. Consider this passage from The Farthest Shore:
[Ged talking with Arren near the end, as Arren tries to figure out why he is on this quest]”And then this: a false king ruling, the arts of man forgotten, the singer tongueless, the eye blind. This!…this blight and plague on the lands, this sore we seek to heal. There are two, Arren, two that make one: the world and the shadow, the light and the dark. The two poles of the Balance. Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is born, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal? What is it but death-death without rebirth?”
Malazan is a very dark version of this, with agency given to entities that represent these primal forces.
It is also written at a different time. Erikson’s series is geared towards adults, those who are not as invested in having the world turn out balanced. LeGuin, I think, sticks relentlessly to her mission of providing a truly young adult trilogy, one that offers possibility and hope as well as sorrow and balance and equilibrium.
Still, Malazan is far more in conversation with this series, I think, then LOTR or even ASOIAF…
I guess my next task is to contrast these sorts of hero quests with our fetishization of superheroes…
I am cataloguing my books as I prepare for a book sale at my local library, and I remembered that I had wanted to re-read this in the context of the blood and guts move that fantasy has taken. So I did…and observations follow…
- LeGuin clearly feels that she wants to stay within the parameters of fantasy as young adult literature – there is no sex, very little violence, and not even any adult situations.
- I fell in love with these books as a teen, and with my subsequent love of water and boats and all that stuff I get why.
- LeGuin’s world is bound by language. It’s relentlessly good-natured – the folks who do bad things are simply power-hungry and not concerned with balance and equilibrium, as she makes clear we all should be at several points in the novel. Wizards use language to make the world right – they know multiple languages and and weave complicated verbal spells to fix equilibrium in the material world. They cannot create material, but they can interact with it.
- This binding the world through language feels pretty straightforward for a novelist, but it also emphasizes story-telling and discourse over solving problems with swords and violence, even righteous anger.
- She also has this fixation with true names, which I am guessing correspond to some sort of notion of essential identity. That may simply be her appealing to an adolescent surety that somewhere despite inside us is our true, heroic sense, the one that we want to get out if we can only figure out how. That would fit with LeGuin’s usual mode of operating – she wants to explore how we can be our best…
- The heroes are such because they work with others, and they avoid bloodshed (and hell even judgment) at all times. Still, the world is ruled by wise, benevolent elders – that’s a motif that she changes in her later fiction, but she probably sees it as appropriate for a series aimed at teenagers.
I’m working my way through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen series, and as usual I’m awed and a bit baffled by Reaper’s Gale. It features a series of plots that are close geographically but not necessarily spiritually, with the exception of Quick Ben and Hedge (with Trull Sengar) defeat Silchas Ruin’s sisters (and sort of Silchas) at the Refugium. The rest of the action takes place in Letheras, ruled nominally by Rhulad Sengar but actually by some really nasty fuckers among the Letheri.
- This finishes with several epic battles, none of which is actually epic – Quick Ben’s magic comes not really from himself, so when he uses it he’s not sure how it works exactly, Hedge blows up a dragon with Moranth munitions, not exactly cool by fantasy standards where dragons must be slain by magic arrows, one mage (Beak) sacrifices himself to save the Malazans under Adjunct Lajore, and the resulting battle feels far more like WWII attempts to take German towns than any glorious cavalry rides (I don’t care, I still love the Riders of Rohan), and so on.
- So many subplots, only some of which come together in this novel. Erikson seems to eventually have everyone meet, even if those meetings are not planned or turn out as expected.
- As I think of expectations again, Erikson messes with my head, but I think that the Malazans are for the most part the ideal (in a fucked-up way). They take members from all the races, and interesting mayhem results.
As always, I will write more on this series as I try to sort it all out.
I finished Cole’s most recently republished novel last week, and I wrote a bit about it in an earlier post on the fetishization of service, but I have a couple more notes…
- Cole is acutely aware of both artistic and literary traditions, and knows that he is in conversation with the Achebes of the world. I wonder who else he considers himself speaking with? Does he speak with Nnedi Okorafor (fantasy writer whose novel Who Fears Death? rocked?) Or is he a part of the bourgeoise European artistic tradition that he knows well as an arts scholar? Or is photography his jumping off point?
- The novel struck me as in its attempt to paint realistic portraits (I’m guessing) of Nigerian society. Cole spends very little time examining colonialism’s roots, and lots of time painting snapshots of dysfunction – children thieves who demand extortion money, upper class stories of break-ins and murders, the vast amount of anxiety and fear that the country lives in, finding itself perhaps in fundamentalist movements like Boko Haram.
- He has said in an essay in The Atlantic that he does not write to provide solutions or to speak clearly in his fiction:
I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn’t have a point.
Nonetheless, this essay is written as a further explanation of his tweets about what he calls the ‘white savior industrial complex,’and I think that EDISTDFTT is part of his effort to take on the responsibility of identifying solutions for his own country, especially as his narrator struggles between going back to the U.S. or returning to the country of his childhood, Nigeria.
- The novel is also an attempt to identify positions from which intellectuals can act, much as it tries to identify ways in which action makes sense. His narrator, early on, tries to ride a public bus, despite his family’s fears, and he does even though he wonders about the risks.