Friday, September 30, 2005

The Simoqin Prophecies

Studying English literature does not help me to read. Now, I love this subject. I really do. But sometimes I get really, really sick of reading. This tends to shock people who have known me for years; I’m the poster girl for You Can’t Get Sick Of Reading.
I can’t let myself stop reading altogether though, so when I’m in one of these moods I normally pick up a Discworld book.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to read The Simoqin Prophecies by Samit Basu instead. I’d been meaning to read this for ages, ever since reading the review in the Outlook (what was it – a couple of years ago?)
I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a book in a long time. Basu plays with practically every known fantasy cliché, starting with “in a hole in the ground there lived…” (The Tolkien references are everywhere) all the way through to “Luke, I am your father.” It’s very similar to the earlier Discworld books (back in the days when they were just funny, before Discworld had started to belong to itself). In fact, there’s a lot of Pratchett in this; but then, it’s hard to tell whether someone is alluding to Pratchett or simply to the same things he alludes to. But Kol certainly felt rather Morporkian, and the Chief Civilian like Girl!Vetinari.
And…did I imagine the Sword of Truth influence because I’m pathetic and actually bought Wizard’s First Rule on sale a couple of years ago? Because Dahn Gem’s name certainly sounds familiar, as is with the “hero”.
While I had a lot of fun recognising references, I wouldn’t be being so complimentary about the book if that was all there was to it. When writing a spoof, there’s always a risk that more time is spent on being funny than on the characters and plot. That doesn’t happen here. Asvin is pleasantly annoying. Kirin is one of the most endearing anti-heroes I’ve encountered…and ends up doing the most heroic thing possible at the end of the story. Maya’s a little silly, but that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Silver Dagger disappointed me a little at the end…I would have liked someone who could be played by dishevelled Viggo Mortensen. But no, that’s my hormones talking. And the story ends on as complex a note as you could wish - I’m guessing (hoping, certainly) that the next book will feature quite a few political power games.
Basu’s fantasy allows the underdog his defence, which is rather unusual in classical fantasy. Tolkien would never have shown us the Eldar treating men like shit. And he seems fine with Gondor giving the Mark to Eorl, against the wishes of its old inhabitants. Here, the greatest sin the asurs seem to have committed is that of not being pretty, and there’s a recognition of this.

I’m not sure what I expect from the next book in the series. More politics, yes. The obvious, soap opera story should have Maya find out about Kirin and run disillusioned into Asvin’s arms. But me, I’m thinking power games, socialism, the weaker races fight back! Fun fun fun. Only a couple of months now, I can’t wait!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Two hairy midgets and a songwriter.

It probably says a lot about me that I remembered this morning that it was Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' birthday.
June later informed me that it was Nick Cave's birthday too. My mind is having a hard time associating Nick Cave with hobbits. All kinds of unwanted and infinitely creepy images are being formed. Eek.

It's hard for me to talk about Tolkien, in some ways. I discovered The Hobbit when I was six or seven, and Lord of the Rings at ten. The Silmarillion at fourteen. Joined TORC at fifteen. Am still a member. People I met there have entered my real life and become some of the most important things in it. I have all the qualifications of the Tolkien fan. I have debated on the relative merits and demerits of John Howe and Alan Moore as Tolkien artists. I have most of the History of Middle Earth books. I engaged in passionate purist vs revisionist arguments before the movies were released.
And ironically, it has been my Tolkien fandom which has led me to the people who first led me away from Tolkien. Sometime in late 2001 I moved away from Tolkien to other stuff. Beckett. Joyce. I must have been the most insuffereable kid alive at that point.
And then there was Gormenghast. This is not the right entry to talk about Peake, but Gormenghast stunned me - this was the book I wanted to have written. I never felt that way for LOTR. I almost resented LOTR for dragging fantasy in the direction it did.

Yet it's hard to escape Tolkien. I stopped the frequent rereading of the trilogy, but I still go back sometimes. I tire of his occasional old-boys-clubness and sometimes find him rather pompous. I'd rather be reading Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles, or The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings...some of his loveliest prose is when he isn't taking himself too seriously. But I still go back.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sax myle and more it is of length

I have always had a complicated relationship with C.S Lewis. I think I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia when I was about six. It was at a cousin's house (my cousins were all male and playing with them was not much fun till I learned to love football) - he had The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and it looked great (I had just read The Hobbit and found out that fantasy was a marvellous thing)So I read it that afternoon in a couple of hours, sitting between the back of the sofa and the window. And then I found that my school library had them. The next few months were spent in reading and rereading them. I loved Narnia.

Somehow, the religious allusions in Narnia escaped me for years. I'm not sure what this says about me as a literature student, but maybe I was just a very trusting young child. When I found out, it didn't particularly bother me. The school I was in had a lot to do with my religion (the parents did not interfere) and while allegedly Christian it didn't really go into the nastier (to me) bits of the faith. Basically, there was this book with some fun stories, and there was this loving God, and that was it. I didn't really have to believe in Christianity, as long as I believed in God that was enough.
As I grew older and grew away from religion, I still admired his version of it. The Screwtape Letters was sheer delight ("She's the sort of woman who lives for others. You can tell the others by their hunted expressions").
Till We Have Faces (picked up secondhand in good condition but with drawings in purple crayon at random places) was awe inspiring. That was a version of religion I could respect, if not follow. How can we meet them face to face till we have faces? Till We Have Faces was Real religion, blood spilled in dark places.
The Cosmic Trilogy I read in the wrong order completely. I read Perelandra (the second book) when I was about ten, at a guesthouse in Panchgani the same week I read The Lord Of The Rings. I found That Hideous Strength (the third) in the school library. That book was issued more times that year than in the previous ten put together. Once by Shikha, who I forced to read it, but the rest of the time by me. Then I found Out of the Silent Planet (book one) at the BCL - in the children's section, which was closed to us adult type readers, (They also had McEwan's The Child in Time and Joyce's Portrait... there. Why? I don't know.) But I found the series in a three-in-one book with one of the roadside booksellers in Saket. And there was much rejoicing.
Out of the Silent Planet is a comparitively light book to read, worth it for the gorgeous descriptions, the imagination, and the Sorns (also seen in Alan Moore's LX2). Perelandra has loads of vaguely Christian discussion relating to the Fall. It's good for the arguments. That Hideous Strength is a masterpiece. The theology is not so hityouoverthehead as Perelandra's, and it's a subtler, scarier novel with a resurrected Merlin bought in for good measure.
For a couple of years now, I've been angry with Lewis. For what he says about Eve in Paradise Lost. For what he does to Susan. For all kinds of things, based on a larger issue which was that an author I had allowed to affect me so deeply honestly believed that I was going to hell. And I felt betrayed, because he'd gone and created something for me to love, and had then made not-applicable to me because I wasn't a good little Christian child. I even felt offended from a racial point of view - the God that the brown skinned Narnians believed in was sadly deceiving them, while the white Narnians were completely enlightened. There's even a bit in OOTSP where he makes a positive reference to the White Man's Burden.
The problem is, though, I cannot stop loving the man. I feel a kind of exasperated tolerance for the more ridiculous of his views, but he's still one of the greatest writers I know of. I remember lines from his work now, books I haven't read for years. He and Tolkien are like two old fashioned father types, for me. (In the immortal words of June - you love him even though he thinks fags go to hell, women belong in kitchen and george bush is a fantastic dude. or any indian equivalent of that. that was an example, i doubt tolkien would like dubya.)
So no, I don't like his religious beliefs. Or the fact that he felt he had to beat my six year old self over the head with them. Why do I respect him? Because we had a lovely theological argument in class today about the Fall, and I came home and too out Perelandra because a teacher had asked to borrow it. And I sat all afternoon and finished Out of the Silent Planet and am halfway through Perelandra and they're gorgeous.

Read Neil Gaiman on Lewis here