a Reddit post discussing three threads of fantasy literature

ryubysss

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https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/dvcrf7
I found this mostly persuasive, though I don't know that Gaiman falls solidly into the Dunsanian tradition, as a rule. (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, probably doesn't. it falls more like a sort of humanistic fantasy tradition that I associate with the work of E. Nesbit, P.J. Travers and Diana Wynne Jones [and Harry Potter? I have't read those books, though.] anyway, a thread worth reading and thinking over.)
 

Karn's Return

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I myself tend to prefer Tolkien tradition, simply because I feel that I can get into them the most. It has more philosophical aspects than Howardian or Dunsany, though I suppose there's only a limited number of ways one can really build up a hero's journey sort of tale. I also believe that Tolkienesque tradition gives the greatest opportunity for world-building and lore creation, which I believe is one of my strongest suits to writing. Focusing on only one or two-at most-MCs and having just a couple throwaway characters just isn't my style, to me it's like pushing a person off a cliff after they deliver something to you. I just can't do a one-and-done approach to characters like Howardesque tradition does, and while I do enjoy Gaiman's work-Neverwhere being one of the best stories I've read in recent years-again, I just feel like it isn't my own particular style. I can improvise certain things well enough, but exploration for sake of exploration and characters only being able to react to surprises just smacks of laziness to me.
 

ryubysss

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I myself tend to prefer Tolkien tradition, simply because I feel that I can get into them the most. It has more philosophical aspects than Howardian or Dunsany, though I suppose there's only a limited number of ways one can really build up a hero's journey sort of tale.
Dunsanian fiction has also put forth philosophy, though, it doesn't tend to dwell on ethics and morals.
I also believe that Tolkienesque tradition gives the greatest opportunity for world-building and lore creation, which I believe is one of my strongest suits to writing.
the other traditions mentions don't even have to care about that. we all have our strengths.

I personally struggle with the idea of even Dunsanian fantasy for the simple reason that fantasy readers seem so uninterested and indifferent to it, nowadays.
 

Karn's Return

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I'm just one who prefers a cast of characters as opposed to the singular protagonist and all the attention on them. Just seems to be able to add more lighthearted tones to such things. Loneliness breeds melancholy.
 

The Big Peat

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*shrugs* I think Gaiman has plot and character. Ditto Morgenstern. And the accusation of being all about the charm of exploring a magical world and screw character is one I've heard levied against Tolkien many, many times. So... I dunno, there's something to this, but I'm not sure its for the reason the writer of this thinks.

I'd also grumpily point out that not everything in these categories stem from one author. Plenty of authors regularly cited as Tolkien-esque draw a lot of inspiration from other older works such as Eddison or Dunsany himself (see Eddings in particular) and plenty of the S&S draws from Lovecraft or Asher Smith more than Howard (and in Moorcock's case Fletcher Pratt, and indeed a rejection of Tolkien). But whatevs.

More pertinently... I don't think there's a mould here for the picaresque less-macho, more-sneaky, more humanistic adventures that arguably form a fantasy tradition stretching from Leiber to Wolfe and Vance to Pratchett to Lynch with a decent number of others along the way. I guess you'd argue for them being Howardian, but they're not. Maybe they're Leiberian.

And there's a bunch of hybrids out there. More or less the entire Grimdark genre is some Howardian-Tolkien mix if we're going to use these terms to cherrypick one easy example.
 

The Big Peat

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I don't think Tolkein actually fits the hero's journey structure ascribed to it.
True. And neither Bilbo or Frodo are that young and Gandalf doesn't really mentor them. The beats seem to come far more from Star Wars, or Gygaxian "Level 1 to level 20".
 

ryubysss

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*shrugs* I think Gaiman has plot and character. Ditto Morgenstern.
the theory doesn't say that Dunsanian works have no plot and no characterization, only that the narrative doesn't focus on them. as I said above, I don't know that Gaiman falls into the Dunsanian tradition (most of the time) but I have noticed that his protagonists seem thinly drawn and he doesn't go for intricate plotting. I don't say that to criticize him. (for the record, I haven't read American Gords, which I suspect might prove the exception in terms of protagonists.)

And the accusation of being all about the charm of exploring a magical world and screw character is one I've heard levied against Tolkien many, many times. So... I dunno, there's something to this, but I'm not sure its for the reason the writer of this thinks.
Frodo, Gandalf and Bilbo and Gollum. even people who've never read those books know those names. so I don't think Tolkien eschewed characterization.

I'd also grumpily point out that not everything in these categories stem from one author. Plenty of authors regularly cited as Tolkien-esque draw a lot of inspiration from other older works such as Eddison or Dunsany himself (see Eddings in particular) and plenty of the S&S draws from Lovecraft or Asher Smith more than Howard (and in Moorcock's case Fletcher Pratt, and indeed a rejection of Tolkien). But whatevs.
the article doesn't claim, I think, that only Howard served as the inspiration, just that he serves as the archetype. (also: Clark Ashton Smith, not Asher Smith.)

More pertinently... I don't think there's a mould here for the picaresque less-macho, more-sneaky, more humanistic adventures that arguably form a fantasy tradition stretching from Leiber to Wolfe and Vance to Pratchett to Lynch with a decent number of others along the way. I guess you'd argue for them being Howardian, but they're not. Maybe they're Leiberian.
Howardian doesn't have to mean cloning Conan in every detail. I think Leiber's sword and sorcery falls into that category. I haven't read a number of the people you also mentioned. Howardian work doesn't, as a rule, interest me. just not my thing.

if you mean The Book of the New Sun, I don't think you can classify it as belonging to any one of those traditions, IMO. now that I think of it, having tried to reread it this year, the first volume has more of a Dunsanian feel and I loved it. then it more plot-orientated and I got less into it. th

And there's a bunch of hybrids out there. More or less the entire Grimdark genre is some Howardian-Tolkien mix if we're going to use these terms to cherrypick one easy example.
I think that Martin-Glen Cook type of works form their own tradition.
 

ryubysss

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True. And neither Bilbo or Frodo are that young and Gandalf doesn't really mentor them. The beats seem to come far more from Star Wars, or Gygaxian "Level 1 to level 20".
it doesn't have to do with age. it has to do with life experience and with how they grow and in what ways.

The Mandalorian has a protagonist in his thirties (apparently) and has attained adulthood but it still seems Hero's Journey to me. or Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. in both cases, they grow out of self-involvement, out of their predictable worlds. it doesn't just come down to callow kids who learn how to fight dragons in the last act, though, it could.

Level 1 to 20 means what sh*t you can do. what physical tasks you can accomplish. not the same.
 

tegeus-Cromis

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To me, fantasy is much more interesting outside of these categories. Peake's Gormenghast, M. John Harrison's Viriconium, K.J. Bishop's The Etched City, Aldiss's The Malacia Tapestry -- these are my favorites, and they don't really fit in that categorization, though I suppose if you wanted to force them, they'd have to go under "Dunsanian." But "literary fantasy" would be closer. Also, how about LeGuin? How about Gorodenker's Kalpa Imperial? And the whole area where "fantasy" shades off into Weird Tales, the New Weird, Magic Realism, etc etc.
 

Star-child

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it doesn't have to do with age. it has to do with life experience and with how they grow and in what ways.

The Mandalorian has a protagonist in his thirties (apparently) and has attained adulthood but it still seems Hero's Journey to me. or Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. in both cases, they grow out of self-involvement, out of their predictable worlds. it doesn't just come down to callow kids who learn how to fight dragons in the last act, though, it could.

Level 1 to 20 means what sh*t you can do. what physical tasks you can accomplish. not the same.
Frodo doesn't grow. He suffers.
 

The Big Peat

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the theory doesn't say that Dunsanian works have no plot and no characterization, only that the narrative doesn't focus on them. as I said above, I don't know that Gaiman falls into the Dunsanian tradition (most of the time) but I have noticed that his protagonists seem thinly drawn and he doesn't go for intricate plotting. I don't say that to criticize him. (for the record, I haven't read American Gords, which I suspect might prove the exception in terms of protagonists.)

Frodo, Gandalf and Bilbo and Gollum. even people who've never read those books know those names. so I don't think Tolkien eschewed characterization.
Okay. I think that Gaiman and Morgenstern concentrate as much on character and plot as your average fantasy author - and frankly more than Howard - and if we're measuring whether an author concentrated on characterisation by popularity/knowledge of the character, then Gaiman's characters would start ringing fairly highly on the polls once we got the current big three of Tolkien/Rowling/Martin out of the way. And also consider what the volume of "Tolkien only did exploration of a magical world!" criticism means.

Long story short - it simply doesn't make sense to me to draw the dividing line between Dunsany and Tolkien in terms of importance of character/plot vs exploring a magical world.

the article doesn't claim, I think, that only Howard served as the inspiration, just that he serves as the archetype. (also: Clark Ashton Smith, not Asher Smith.)

Howardian doesn't have to mean cloning Conan in every detail. I think Leiber's sword and sorcery falls into that category. I haven't read a number of the people you also mentioned. Howardian work doesn't, as a rule, interest me. just not my thing.

if you mean The Book of the New Sun, I don't think you can classify it as belonging to any one of those traditions, IMO. now that I think of it, having tried to reread it this year, the first volume has more of a Dunsanian feel and I loved it. then it more plot-orientated and I got less into it. th
Leaving aside that I don't like naming a tradition after one person when there's many people involved -

Is Howard actually the archetype, particularly if we're counting Leiber (who seems far more influential to me) in the tradition? With Leiber himself heavily influenced by Lovecraft? Obviously they don't have to clone Conan, but he should be more an influence than any of the other potential influences. Pratchett is heavily influenced by Leiber. Is Pratchett Howardian? No way.

it doesn't have to do with age. it has to do with life experience and with how they grow and in what ways.

The Mandalorian has a protagonist in his thirties (apparently) and has attained adulthood but it still seems Hero's Journey to me. or Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. in both cases, they grow out of self-involvement, out of their predictable worlds. it doesn't just come down to callow kids who learn how to fight dragons in the last act, though, it could.

Level 1 to 20 means what sh*t you can do. what physical tasks you can accomplish. not the same.
If it's got nothing to do with age, then why do people keep referring to young heroes and Farmboys of Doom?

In any case - Frodo and Bilbo don't really grow in the way Rand Al'Thor, Belgarion and Jon Snow do.
 

ryubysss

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To me, fantasy is much more interesting outside of these categories. Peake's Gormenghast, M. John Harrison's Viriconium, K.J. Bishop's The Etched City, Aldiss's The Malacia Tapestry -- these are my favorites, and they don't really fit in that categorization, though I suppose if you wanted to force them, they'd have to go under "Dunsanian." But "literary fantasy" would be closer. Also, how about LeGuin? How about Gorodenker's Kalpa Imperial? And the whole area where "fantasy" shades off into Weird Tales, the New Weird, Magic Realism, etc etc.
in my opinion, they do fall under Dunsanian, other than Titus Alone, which doesn't. (I haven't read The Malacia Tapestry, though, so no opinions there.) New Weird tends to fall into Dunsanian. magic realism falls outside the schema altogether, since most everybody writing about it wouldn't know or care about any fantasy writers other than Tolkien. (it largely originated outside of the English-speaking world, anyway.)

I haven't read Kalpa Imperial (though I know of it) so no option there. I think that Le Guin's work fall under Tolkienian. but I don't believe that every work, ever, falls into any of the three categories and I think that, as I said before, humanist fantasy, usually written by woman writers like Diana Wynne Jones, exists.

actually, this reminds me of a radio prank/long sketch called "Rock, Rule and Rot". they had a fake music critic on who claimed that every work of rock music fell into three categories and proceeded to troll the call-in audience about it. (the host knew about the prank. most of the callers didn't get the joke.)
 

ryubysss

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Frodo doesn't grow. He suffers.
embarrassing admission, but I haven't read The Lord of the Rings, though I've tried. (The Hobbit I have read.) regardless, based on what you said, he changes and I have to guess that the story shows that change.
 

ryubysss

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Okay. I think that Gaiman and Morgenstern concentrate as much on character and plot as your average fantasy author - and frankly more than Howard - and if we're measuring whether an author concentrated on characterisation by popularity/knowledge of the character, then Gaiman's characters would start ringing fairly highly on the polls once we got the current big three of Tolkien/Rowling/Martin out of the way. And also consider what the volume of "Tolkien only did exploration of a magical world!" criticism means.
Dunsanian fantasy means, to me, not only a magical world but an exotic magical world. not redolent of old European myths. Howardian fantasy does that, a little, but doesn't go to with it.

I don't disagree with you that Howardian fantasy does not tend to have the best characterization.

with Gaiman (and again, I haven't read American Gods) I tend to go, "typical Gaiman protagonist". sort of an Everyman. the others tend to fall into archetypes. the fair maiden, the mentor, all that stuff. unlike big Hollywood productions, I don't think that every story has to do every single in a single work. so I absolutely, absolutely, do not have a problem with that. at all. I don't consider it a flaw.

disagree with you on as to their having strong plotting. they don't have incompetent plotting (a good writing wrote them, after all) but I don't think you go to it for all the intricate twists and turns. compare with Mortal Engines or Gideon the Ninth, which I just finished (and loved) that revel in plot. the latter book has fifty things going on at once. sudden reversals, all of that.

Long story short - it simply doesn't make sense to me to draw the dividing line between Dunsany and Tolkien in terms of importance of character/plot vs exploring a magical world.
okay, well, sit down and read some Dunsany some time if you haven't. you'll see how the approaches differ.

Leaving aside that I don't like naming a tradition after one person when there's many people involved -
I didn't come up with the nomenclature. but I do like it because you can focus a bit on specifics.

Is Howard actually the archetype, particularly if we're counting Leiber (who seems far more influential to me) in the tradition? With Leiber himself heavily influenced by Lovecraft? Obviously they don't have to clone Conan, but he should be more an influence than any of the other potential influences. Pratchett is heavily influenced by Leiber. Is Pratchett Howardian? No way.
no, but I don't think that the model covers every single writer, either.

If it's got nothing to do with age, then why do people keep referring to young heroes and Farmboys of Doom?
for the same reason that fantastical schools get compared to Hogwarts: intellectual laziness and lack of knowledge.

In any case - Frodo and Bilbo don't really grow in the way Rand Al'Thor, Belgarion and Jon Snow do.
but still, Tolkien has had more influence than the writers who created those other characters. without Tolkien, you wouldn't have those guys.
 

The Big Peat

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Dunsanian fantasy means, to me, not only a magical world but an exotic magical world. not redolent of old European myths. Howardian fantasy does that, a little, but doesn't go to with it.

I don't disagree with you that Howardian fantasy does not tend to have the best characterization.

with Gaiman (and again, I haven't read American Gods) I tend to go, "typical Gaiman protagonist". sort of an Everyman. the others tend to fall into archetypes. the fair maiden, the mentor, all that stuff. unlike big Hollywood productions, I don't think that every story has to do every single in a single work. so I absolutely, absolutely, do not have a problem with that. at all. I don't consider it a flaw.

disagree with you on as to their having strong plotting. they don't have incompetent plotting (a good writing wrote them, after all) but I don't think you go to it for all the intricate twists and turns. compare with Mortal Engines or Gideon the Ninth, which I just finished (and loved) that revel in plot. the latter book has fifty things going on at once. sudden reversals, all of that.
And? So?

Most fantasy that would get lumped in as Tolkien-esque relies on archetypal characters and doesn't have an intricate plot. Including Tolkien. Just because there's some very intricate plotting out there doesn't make it the norm. Which means it isn't a point of difference as far as I can see.

Also, if we're looking for exotic magical world not redolent of old European myths, then Gaiman is very much coming and going here.

okay, well, sit down and read some Dunsany some time if you haven't. you'll see how the approaches differ.
Read some, disagree, and your attitude is coming across as quite patronising there.

no, but I don't think that the model covers every single writer, either.
But if you're sticking an author under one school and an author heavily influenced by him doesn't fall under that school, is that author in the right school to begin with? I'm not saying they're definitely not, but if the models are worth talking about, that's a question worth examining. Leiber had a rather different take on the S&S genre to Howard; if we're going by the author of this theory's original blurb about tracing back to source of inspiration, he was more inspired by Lovecraft than Howard. I'm sure Leiber is meant to fall in the same tradition as Howard but the way this is presented, he doesn't.

for the same reason that fantastical schools get compared to Hogwarts: intellectual laziness and lack of knowledge.
Don't agree with handwaving away this away. The fact is that most of the most famous examples of this sort of hero are young; this is a red flag for the idea that they are of the same ilk as Frodo and should be examined.

but still, Tolkien has had more influence than the writers who created those other characters. without Tolkien, you wouldn't have those guys.
Not the point. The point is that saying Tolkien's with the Hero's Journey crowd is questionable.



One last final point -

I could dance around on various points for all of eternity but the short of it is that this model is too simplistic. It is too simplistic in that it tries to say "Here is the original great wellspring of a genre" which is simply a bad way to look at a genre as writers pick up too many influences and often the secondary wave of a new sub-genre are looking as much to influences outside or from before as they are the influence of the original. It is perhaps also not simple enough in that we list a great many differences and attributes that invite more argument than necessary.

And there is, of course, the fact that trying to build a taxonomy about source of inspiration when Tolkien and Howard both drew plenty from Dunsany is... well, I guess not automatically wrong, but certainly suggests rethinking three fairly immutable strands.

Maybe this would work as the beginning of a discussion, but only if the discussion is all the ways it needs to be improved and added to.
 

Dan Jones

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Dunsanian fantasy means, to me, not only a magical world but an exotic magical world.
True Scotsman Fallacy.

magic realism falls outside the schema altogether, since most everybody writing about it wouldn't know or care about any fantasy writers other than Tolkien. (it largely originated outside of the English-speaking world, anyway.)
Fake news.

haven't read The Lord of the Rings, though I've tried.
:unsure:

I haven't read American Gords
Me neither. But I read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Russian Marrows And Where To Find Them.

Read some, disagree, and your attitude is coming across as quite patronising there.
I think you misunderstand. Patronising means to talk down to someone. Look it up in the dictionary, and you'll see.
 

ryubysss

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And? So?

Most fantasy that would get lumped in as Tolkien-esque relies on archetypal characters and doesn't have an intricate plot. Including Tolkien. Just because there's some very intricate plotting out there doesn't make it the norm. Which means it isn't a point of difference as far as I can see.
I didn't say that Tolkienesque fantasy had intricate plotting! I mean that it places more emphasis upon.

Also, if we're looking for exotic magical world not redolent of old European myths, then Gaiman is very much coming and going here.
agreed.

But if you're sticking an author under one school and an author heavily influenced by him doesn't fall under that school, is that author in the right school to begin with? I'm not saying they're definitely not, but if the models are worth talking about, that's a question worth examining. Leiber had a rather different take on the S&S genre to Howard; if we're going by the author of this theory's original blurb about tracing back to source of inspiration, he was more inspired by Lovecraft than Howard. I'm sure Leiber is meant to fall in the same tradition as Howard but the way this is presented, he doesn't.
I don't honestly get a lot of Lovecraft vibes from Leiber's sword and sorcery. in his other work, I do. (I should say that I attempted to get into it and failed. Leiber as a writer in general does a lot for me. just not that particular subset of his writing.)

Don't agree with handwaving away this away. The fact is that most of the most famous examples of this sort of hero are young; this is a red flag for the idea that they are of the same ilk as Frodo and should be examined.
the most famous, though, doesn't mean all. hero's journey (in my estimation) means overcoming internal and external struggles that intertwine and getting out the other side better. since hero's journey functions as a sort of mythic roadmap to the education of the young, yes, younger characters commonly go through it but by no means every single time.

I could dance around on various points for all of eternity but the short of it is that this model is too simplistic. It is too simplistic in that it tries to say "Here is the original great wellspring of a genre" which is simply a bad way to look at a genre as writers pick up too many influences and often the secondary wave of a new sub-genre are looking as much to influences outside or from before as they are the influence of the original. It is perhaps also not simple enough in that we list a great many differences and attributes that invite more argument than necessary.
sure. the model has some flaws. but it, for me personally, showed me a lot about myself as a reader and a writer. it explained to me, for instance, why I never got far into LOTR, for example.

And there is, of course, the fact that trying to build a taxonomy about source of inspiration when Tolkien and Howard both drew plenty from Dunsany is... well, I guess not automatically wrong, but certainly suggests rethinking three fairly immutable strands.
well, felines and canines evolved form the same ancestor. they seem pretty different, though! (not trying to snark here but I sincerely find it hard to wrap my head around Robert E. Howard liking Dunsany. I heard that Tolkien read and read Howard, though.)

Maybe this would work as the beginning of a discussion, but only if the discussion is all the ways it needs to be improved and added to.
sure!
 

ryubysss

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True Scotsman Fallacy.
not, really, I mean the originator of the theory explained, I think.

Fake news.
Allende, Calvino, Borges and Marquez. none of them English language writers. granted, magical realism can mean lots of things.

I read mostly for pleasure and if a work doesn't grab me for around 10% of its length, I put it down. I approached it (twice) as historically important, but couldn't get into it, even on the second.

Me neither. But I read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Russian Marrows And Where To Find Them.
me, too! my favorite book ever!
 
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