Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It was a scholarly weekend at my place. I was re-reading two of my favorite books ABOUT fantasy, Lin Carter's Imaginary Worlds and Michael Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance.
In many ways these two books are polar opposites of each other. Carter pretty much uses The Lord of the Rings as the B.C/A.D. line for fantasy. Everything that led up to LotR and everything that follows it. Considering that Imaginary Worlds came out in 1973, at the height of the Tolkien craze, that's not too surprising.
Carter, long considered one of the experts in the field of heroic fantasy, lays everything out on a timeline, showing the emergence of the 'invented world' story, which firmly separates the contemporary fantasy novel from myths, legends, fables, and folklore, giving vast amounts of information about the lives and works of William Morris. E.R. Edison, Lord Dunsany, and the other pre-Tolkein fantasy writers.
Other chapters cover fantasy in the pulps with nice sections devoted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merit, Talbot Mundy and the like before leaping to the Weird Tales Triumvirate of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. There are chapters on Tolkien's circle, the Inklings, on LotR itself, and then a chapter on the post Howard and Tolkien fantasy writers circa 1973, which is full of Carter's insider knowledge of the publishing industry as it stood then. Basically if you wanted to give someone a good working knowledge of the history of fantasy literature, this would be the book. Why it's never been reprinted is beyond me.
And then there's Wizardry and Wild Romance. Michael Moorcock has long been an iconoclast. His most famous hero, Elric of Melnibone was created to be the exact opposite of Conan and nothing Moorcock writes follows any expected path. He remains an original, seldom covering the same ground twice.
Wizardry is more of a personal essay than a history, though Moorcock touches on some of the same writers as Carter. He explains in his introduction that he plans to talk mostly about the authors he admires rather than attacking the ones he doesn't care for, but when he does decide to go after some writer or other, he brings the full brunt of his not inconsiderable literary knowledge against them. The biggest example of this would be the chapter 'Epic Pooh' where he compares the comforting messages of The Lord of the Rings to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. It's a pretty savage attack, written originally as an essay in the 1960s and updated for this edition, and it has caused no end of arguments over the years. Thing is, all Moorcock's venom is directed at the work and not the author. He explains that Tolkien was very kind to him when he was a boy and he has no animosity toward the late Oxford Don. He just hates hobbits.
Anyway, Wizardy and Wild Romance is in print and available, and copies of Imaginary Worlds are readily available cheap on Ebay, Abe Books, and other online stores. Check em out.

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