Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Melathys » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:41 pm

and that chart is wrong. Saying Yes to needing a series finished ends up leading to the Wheel of Time.

I'm also glad to see the inclusion of Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy. Watership Down was there, but dearly missing my favorite book from the same author, Shardik.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Fivelives » Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:04 pm

How many times have you seen the movies based on the trilogy, Kelaan?

Here's an exercise. Re-read the books and write a one-sentence summary of each character in them in each book. See how much the sentences differ once you're done with the trilogy. For instance:

Book 1: Gandalf is a wise, mysterious, and powerful wizard.

How much do you think that sentence would change at the end of book 2 and book 3? Not very much, if at all. That's what I mean when I talk about the LotR trilogy being "bad". Do I mean they're horrible books and am I advising people to not read them at all costs? Shit no. They're not BAD books in that sense of the word. It's just that you could obviously tell that Tolkien cared more about the world he built than the cardboard cutouts he used to populate that world.

Conversely, the characters in Lewis' novels show dramatic changes throughout their books. They are marked by their experiences - unlike the characters in Tolkien's writing. Tolkien's writing is epic in scale - just think about having that adventure yourself. Do you honestly think that you would emerge from that unscathed?

To me, in order to be a "good" book, your characters have to evolve. They have these grand, dramatic adventures, and those adventures should change them on a grand and dramatic scale. Like the Tiger & Del novels (Sword Dancer et al) - Tiger starts out as a chauvinist pig and Del starts out as an ice queen feminist, but over the course of the 5 novels, Tiger ends up respecting women and Del admits that men are "just as good as, if not sometimes better than, women". By the way, CJ Cherryh is noticeably missing from the list too. If the "experts" were basing their criteria on what is and isn't YA purely on the issues the novels dealt with, then Cherryh's writing should be right up there. Her works always challenge an issue that society faces - racism in the Cheysuli cycle, sexism in the Tiger & Del novels, etc...

Anyway, cutting this novel short here!
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby fuzzygeek » Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:24 pm

To be fair, the hobbits and humans had pretty big character arcs. Gandalf did not, but gandalf was more a force of nature than a character.

The development of Pippin and Merry was possibly my favorite part of the series.

If you think the characters were cardboard cutouts, I don't know what to tell you.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Dazhbog » Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:59 pm

Kelaan wrote:
Fivelives wrote:They only left out the YA novels when it would've skewed the results they wanted to see (otherwise Twilight and Harry Potter would've knocked LotR out of the #1 spot - and god knows, WE ALL MUST WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF TOLKIEN).

Are you honestly suggesting that Twilight and Harry Potter are similar grades of literature to Tolkein? Granted, I would understand HP being on there (due mainly to cultural impact -- and same goes for twilight, I guess ;)), but Tolkein's a much brainier book. (I'd not have called Tolkein "Young Adult", mind you...)

I agree that not much from CS Lewis is a bit of a puzzler, but again, don't think it's on the "if you've not read this, you're really missing out" that I interpreted this list as. ;) Probably my misconception of the list showing. Thanks for the link to that blog, though.


Not all that puzzling, given the religious leanings of the Narnia novels, and the general leanings of NPR. Easy to file it with the other YA novels that weren't considered and avoid the topic of religion entirely.

On the one hand, fuzzy makes a decent point; on the other, Fivelives is right: Tolkien wasn't really writing the story for the characters themselves, so much as for the mythos. The Silmarillion started as him needing a background for the Elvish language(s); the work grew from there as he explored the mythos of Middle Earth, and the Lord of the Rings is much more of an opera, say, than other literary works. We get a little character development (the hobbits mostly), but Tolkien really didn't do it very well in comparison to other authors, and the man had a tin ear for dialogue (to quote a friend of mine). The Hobbit was a much better story book, whereas LotR will capture the full attention of people who like the mythology of Middle Earth, and lose others.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Melathys » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:02 pm

If you like books where the characters evolve and change, you'd really like Shardik. My fiance didn't like the main character, Kelderek, because he seemed weak to her. To me that made him more realistic and more interesting.

Also, to be fair about Gandalf. You're talking about a character who has been alive for who knows how long, and you are expecting him to change drastically in a comparatively very short amount of time.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Fivelives » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:23 pm

I was just using Gandalf as an example. You could say the same thing about Sam - does he change at all over the course of the entire trilogy? If memory serves, no.

There's also a lot of characters doing things for arbitrary reasons, and sometimes they don't fit with the personality or driving forces in the character. Like Frodo's decision at the end of the trilogy to sail off with the elves. That was a rather abrupt decision, but I'm going off of imperfect memory here.

And as far as Gandalf not changing - shit, he died and came back to life as Gandalf the White, and I'm pretty sure that's the first time he did that. But Gandalf the White was just Gandalf the Gray in a different color robe. Let's look at Raistlin Magiere from the Dragonlance novels for a comparable change. He goes from a red robed "neutral" wizard to a black robed "evil" wizard, and his character changes along with his situational change. This is an almost polar opposite change to what Gandalf went through (Gandalf went from neutral to good), yet it doesn't show at all in his character.

I'm afraid I don't really remember Merry and Pippin very well (it's not exactly my favorite trilogy, so I haven't been re-reading it), but let's look at Boromir. He's got a decent(ish) arc, but it's still pretty arbitrary. I don't remember him really being seduced by the ring, or anything like that - he just up and decides to try and steal it one day, then repents. It's all REALLY arbitrary, and he goes from being a war hero and heir of the realm of Gondor to a traitor. You'd think that would show in his character and it would be a more gradual change, rather than just an "Oh hai, I'm in ur campz, stealin ur ringz" moment.

And how about the Fellowship of the Ring? They're supposedly the main characters of the novel, and I think I can safely say that Legolas and Gimli don't grow at all.

But seriously, try that experiment. Summarize the characters at the end of each book in one sentence, after reading it. See how different those sentences are from book to book.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby fuzzygeek » Mon Oct 10, 2011 9:11 pm

Sam changes a great deal over the series. He starts out being a bumbling gardener eavesdropping on his employer, and ends up as a Hero of the Ring. One could certainly argue that he is *The* hero of the ring, because at the end, Frodo failed. Sam never did. Could Sam the Gardener have taken up the burden of the Ring when he thought Frodo dead? I don't think so. The Hobbit he became by that point in the book could, and did.

Legolas and Gimli don't change as much as the others, but they do. It's subtle, but rooted in the ancient animosity between Elves and Dwarves. During the denouement, Gimli and Legolas have become close, and visit the Forest and Caves, respectively, to show the other the beauty that their cultures treasure. They aren't the major characters that Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn are; I would even argue M&P are supporting cast, but they get their own treatment in the Burning of the Shire.

Gandalf the White is a different character than Gandalf the Gray, and he does act with more decisiveness post-fall than he did pre-fall. There are a host of examples I could give, but one might argue that his actions post-fall were motivated by the current war demanding action, whereas his more passive role pre-fall was dictated by the "calm before the storm," as it were. The "Gray" has nothing to do with neutrality, and I don't think you're interpreting the significance of the color change correctly.

Your memory of Boromir is completely off-base. His is entirely a tale of how men, wishing to do Good, are lead to do Evil.

There's quite a lot more that I could write to rebut your post, but I've read LotR probably twenty times in the last four decades and you're working from sketchy memories of a series you admittedly don't even like. So there's not much point in discussing, unless you really want to get into it. I've also watched the movies once -- in the theaters -- so if you're working off the movies, I honestly don't recall too much about them, either, other than being disgusted with what the Jacksons did.

I would also argue contrary to your example of Raistlin Majere. I know him fairly intimately as well -- in the early 90s, my handle back on Fidonet was Raistlin (User 8@3098). I read the Dragonlance series a time or twelve when I was younger, but reading it now I'm too distracted by the sounds of dice rolling in the background. The colors of Raistlin's robes changed, but the character himself never evolves drastically -- pretty much the only change is that his hidden motivations become ... non-hidden. One could fully argue that his choosing at the end to betray the Queen was a complete ass-pull as well. I don't necessarily agree with that argument, but given it occurs in the space of about a page, I can certainly see the justification for it.

And, again, picking out supporting characters and complaining about how they don't change isn't a strong argument for stating Tolkein doesn't care about his characters. Granted, in the spectrum of fictional universes, if you were to put "people love this series because they love the characters" at one end, and "people love this series because they love the universe" at the other, it is pretty obvious where Middle Earth falls. I would change what books I recommend to someone based on what kinds of books they like, but I tend to refrain from "this is a bad book because it doesn't do X, Y, or Z."

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One issue I've always had with the C.S. Lewis books -- and I read them many times when I was younger and very devout (Reepicheep was always my favorite character, and the scene of him paddling off in the coracle at the end of VotDT always got me) -- was the problem of Susan. But that's another discussion entirely.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Fivelives » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:15 pm

I'm not saying that LotR is bad, just that it's not the holy grail of fantasy that people make it out to be, and my reasoning is that the characters don't realistically or believably change despite the epic shit that gets dumped on them over the space of the novels.

Also, I would argue that the Fellowship of the Ring are the main characters. I'm pretty sure that all of the characters I've mentioned are members - Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, Boromir, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Gandalf.

As far as Gimli and Legolas are concerned, I'm pretty sure they visited each others' homelands (cave and forest) as a part of the plot. The entire fellowship went there, so you can claim that they might have chosen to visit, but it's a moot point - they were plot shoehorned into going.

Claiming that Gandalf is a supporting character is ... kind of silly? He's the entire reason that the fellowship even exists. Hell, he even takes out Sauron, which is kind of a Big Deal.

Merry and Pippin had pretty steep plot arcs - if not for them (as memory serves) then the treants never would've been at the battle of Helm's Deep (or a couple of other places).

Sam starts the trilogy completely loyal to Frodo and willing to do whatever it takes to support him. He ends the trilogy exactly the same - willing to do whatever it takes to support Frodo.

Boromir's plot arc of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" comes off as an ass-pull, which is why I mentioned it. Is there evidence in the story (shown and not told) that shows his decline, or does he just up and try to steal the ring?

Where in Aragorn's character does it say he would ever want to be the king of Gondor? You can argue that it's a strong sense of duty, but as I remember it, he was Strider because he was trying to hide from his responsibilities, which shows otherwise.

Frodo starts as an unwilling hero and pretty much stumbles his way through the plot getting his ass pulled out of the frying pan by various instances of deus ex machina. Also, the ass-pull at the end (he started out not wanting to leave the shire, and I'm pretty sure I remember him complaining about how homesick he was throughout the trilogy) of him leaving with the elves was ridiculous.

I guess my biggest problem with it is that Tolkien is VERY guilty of making a novice mistake - he tells, rather than shows. Ask any writer or writing teacher, or even a critic, and they'll all agree. Writers should show, and never tell.

He's also wordy as hell. I think that probably has something to do with how the movies lined up fairly well with the books - when you cut out the hundreds of pages of "filler" (his descriptions are VERY good, but they go way more in-depth than necessary), it leaves a pretty decent movie script.

So to reiterate: I don't think the novels are bad. They're not the be-all end-all of high epic fantasy and people tend to put them on a pedestal and god forbid you don't worship at the altar of Tolkien.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby JoeBravo » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:59 pm

I'm not gonna but in on the LotR discussion, just gonna say i'm amazed thet I haven't mentioned (or someone else for that matter) the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr. That is by far my favorite series of books.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby fuzzygeek » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:19 am

I agree that LotR isn't some holy grail of fantasy. I disagree that they don't realistically or believably change over the scope of the books. They may not change in the way that you or I might expect, or in ways that people we know might change, but these are not people with our backgrounds or history. It is certainly easier to identify with the Pevensies than, say, a Maia, and say, "Peter changing like this certainly makes sense, but Gandalf changing like that is just so unbelievable!"

Yes, the novels center around the Fellowship. That doesn't mean all 9 Walkers are "Main Characters" each with their own rich plotlines and character developments. We can quibble over what is a major and minor character, but this gets into semantics. Major or minor, every member of the fellowship has their own story arc -- some are more developed than others, and I disagree with your contention that they are all static characters -- or rather, "cardboard cutouts." None are carbon copies of the characters they are when they start their journey.

No, there's a bit specifically after the War where Gimli and Legolas travel together, separate from the rest of the Fellowship -- which is why I specifically noted it was in the denouement. If you insist I will go look it up and quote you chapter and verse. It is at this time that Legolas first hears the gulls crying by the ocean, and he is never content again, until he sails into the West.

I do not argue Gandalf is a supporting character -- please point out where I did, if I did so. Also, Gandalf does not "take out Sauron." I don't even know what to do with that claim.

Your line about M&P does not address whether or not they have *changed* as characters at all: just that they had a large effect on the plot. By your own earlier argument, unless characters go through some kind of growth or progression, the book is not "good." I don't know what your pointing out M&P's subplot with the Ents is intended to argue.

I don't understand your line about Sam either. Are you arguing that he doesn't change, just because he's loyal to start, and loyal to end? That's a rather shallow equivalence, to be honest. His loyalty is at the heart of the strength of his character and informs everything he does and becomes. Does that mean he doesn't change? In Narnia, Peter's sense of responsibility is at the root of his entire character. He's responsible when the children first enter the wardrobe, and pretty much always assumes a position of command or influence. Does the fact that he's responsible at the beginning and end mean he is "exactly the same"? I don't think this is a good argument.

The evidence of Boromir's arc is his dissension from the moment we meet him at Elrond's council, where he says that the Way of Men is to make use of power to protect their own. There are several bits during the journey of him arguing over the fate of the ring, and where the Fellowship should go and for what purpose. He does not "just up and try to steal the ring." It is a steady process where he convinces himself over time that it would be the best course of action. It is a long seduction which is more shown than told, in parts.

I don't understand what you're trying to say about Aragorn here at all. Aragorn wasn't hiding out because he was shirking his responsibilities, but because he was in hiding -- his father and grandfather were both murdered by agents of Sauron, IIRC. He didn't even know his heritage until he became an adult.

With regards to Frodo, you seem to forget the years and years of pain after the end of the war. Extended pain makes people tired, and if going to the Gray Havens and passing into the west would give him peace, certainly I can see him taking that journey. I disagree that this is an ass pull. If it happened two weeks after he finally got back to the Shire then I would agree with you. A couple decades of living in pain later, however, is another story altogether.

Telling vs Showing: I would also argue that different styles work for different types of literature. I would not agree that all writers must use certain conventions. Sometimes "showing" works better than "telling." Sometimes "telling" is appropriate for the work at hand. That's the writer's call to make. If you don't like it because it shades towards one extreme rather than another, that's a an opinion call, and not really subject to debate. I've written a fair bit (mostly horrible) and taken more than a few writing master classes. Most of the folks teaching these classes were somewhat more flexible in their approaches than what you're stating here. "Showing" generally works better in works with smaller, more immediate scopes; it is generally harder to pull off on a large scale epic. When writing a simulated history (which most of Tolkien is), I would argue "telling" is entirely appropriate.

To say something goes "more in-depth than necessary" is, again, an opinion call, and not something you can debate on its merits. Arguably those words are there because the writer felt they were necessary, and the writer is the final arbiter on his own work.

I would argue that part of the reason LotR is put on a pedestal is that it is one of the seminal works of fantasy literature. I don't think it's necessary to "worship" what came before just because it was first, but if you're going to make an argument against something, it should at least have the facts of the arguments straight. I don't think anyone should *have* to like LotR or even appreciate it for what it was in historical context -- I hope you don't think I'm trying to insist that everyone must "worship" this work -- but if you're going to make claims about a work, they should at least be rooted in the text.

Your opinion viz. Show vs Tell and wordiness: sure, not your cup of tea, and understandably so.
Your argument that the characters are cardboard cutouts: I don't think you can support that claim without completely glossing over what's actually in the text.

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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby KysenMurrin » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:34 am

LotR is celebrated because it was something big and different, the first of its kind. You can debate its literary worth all you like, but what matters is its influence.

Fivelives wrote:And they left out young adult sci-fi/fantasy (except for the Pern novels, and the Thomas Covenant novels, and a few others as well).

What the heck? The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is not a Young Adult series.

Anyhow, I mean the list is good for letting people who aren't already familiar with the genre get started. For someone who is familiar, there's a heck of a lot of crap on it.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Fivelives » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:42 am

fuzzygeek wrote:Gandalf does not "take out Sauron."


Yeah, I meant to type Saruman. Brainfarted, sorry.

I'll come back to this when I'm not quite so dainbread. I might even go get the books tomorrow and read them again, just to refresh my memory on the trilogy. Especially since I did completely forget that there was a long denouement.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby fuzzygeek » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:46 am

Gandalf doesn't take out Saruman either, FWIW :D

I'm probably going to have to pull them out again. It's been a few years, and if you want to carry on a critical conversation I better brush up as well.

Also if you want to talk about people not being changed after Epic Shit happens to them -- this is something that always bugged me the fuck out -- the kids in Narnia grow up there and reign as kings and queens, and then they come out of the wardrobe ... and go back to school.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby KysenMurrin » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:53 am

fuzzygeek wrote:Also if you want to talk about people not being changed after Epic Shit happens to them -- this is something that always bugged me the fuck out -- the kids in Narnia grow up there and reign as kings and queens, and then they come out of the wardrobe ... and go back to school.

I guess Lewis does make something of a point that over time once they're out of Narnia they tend to start forgetting their lives there, or at least remembering it more like a dream than reality. But Narnia's a relatively simplistic series in everything but the symbolism and allegory.

Lord of the Rings I think does well with the story, and his world building was pretty extensively detailed, but it's not really a book that tries to put character first and foremost, so of course people who look at that aspect will find it lacking.
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Re: Recommended Reading?(Fantasy)

Postby Skye1013 » Tue Oct 11, 2011 2:55 am

Gr... I was typing out a reply... and wouldn't you know it, for the first time ever the link to the shop at the top of the page worked when I accidentally clicked on it... /sigh

Fivelives wrote:
fuzzygeek wrote:Gandalf does not "take out Sauron."


Yeah, I meant to type Saruman. Brainfarted, sorry.

I'll come back to this when I'm not quite so dainbread. I might even go get the books tomorrow and read them again, just to refresh my memory on the trilogy. Especially since I did completely forget that there was a long denouement.

Anywho, basically I was saying that Saruman wasn't killed and Gandalf was with M&P when the Ents trapped him in the tower. There was a quote (I can't remember off hand if it was from the books or movie) but basically Gandalf was asked what they should do with Saruman and his response was more or less "leave him, he has no power anymore."

Also, a recommendation I have for an good fantasy series is by Piers Anthony. His Xanth series is currently up to ~35 released books (with a couple more in different stages of production.) I've read the first 32, and I'd say the characters are fairly well developed (and they rotate out as the series actually progresses through time, with the plots centering around a different set of characters each time {and the "old" main characters become sub characters for the next few books in the series.}) If you don't like puns... this might not be a great series for you, but it's full of humor, and occasionally characters will break the 4th wall.

Another Piers Anthony series that I liked is the Incarnations of Immortality series. The first book is "On a Pale Horse" and has 8 books, not likely going to have any more based on there only being 8 incarnations, with each book centered around one. The incarnations being Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, Good, Night (books are in that order.)
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