Tuesday 4 May 2010

More Horse's Assery, this time from Agony Column News

I'm generally dismissive of the idea that any one genre is "for" a particular age group, be it children, adolescents or adults. That's restrictive and unimaginative. Sword-and-Sorcery tends to be lumped straight into the "adolescent" pile, seeing as many inferior authors have tapped into that mindset for girls & gore for profit. However, it's no more or less inherently "adolescent" than fantasy is for kids, or crime thrillers are for adults.

With that in mind, it's easy to see where Rick Kleffel's coming from. Unfortunately, he comes to all the wrong conclusions.

How many readers could claim they cut their teeth on sword and sorcery stories? How many adolescent males plucked paperbacks with lurid covers from spin-racks in musty-smelling liquor stores? Those books, literally "tales of yore," created more readers than their authors may ever have dared to imagine possible. Those stories, from genre giants like Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock still have an undeniable energy and appeal.

When it comes to dental sharpening during pubescence, I'd actually call Science Fiction my tipple of choice. I started with adventure since I was a young lad, and many Sword-and-Sorcery stories were similar. However, during my rebellious teen phase, I went to the likes of Asimov, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Clark, Verne and Wells. For some reason, I haven't read as much SF now as I did then. I guess I'm on an S&S kick.

But that isn't the problem with Kleffel. This is.

But the years have not been kind to the genre itself. What is gripping reading has generally proved to be boring or worse when put on film. The big-budget adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories seemed to consist of characters walking from one dusty place to another; the television series that followed it was obscenely bad, featuring the Cimmerian barbarian seemingly clad in a leather diaper. Nothing new of note for readers appeared, and the spin racks were given over to porno VHS tapes, then DVDs. Liquor store literature seemed to have died. Like the dark gods who drove the stories it was only waiting for a time when the stars were right.

... OK, right, first of all, if these stories "still have an undeniable energy and appeal," how can "the years not be kind to them?"

Secondly, how can something that makes gripping reading not translate to film? Surely something that's "gripping" in one media should be far easier to translate than something which isn't. The answer is because it was a poor adaptation, not because gripping text cannot translate to gripping cinema. Instead of assuming what should be obvious to anyone that read a Conan story - that the films & TV show were about as accurate to the source material as Van Helsing was to Bram Stoker's Dracula - Kleffel says that the stories themselves are at fault. Which is ludicrous, seeing as anything from the Howard stories only accounts for - at most - twenty minutes of Conan the Barbarian, and zero for Conan the Destroyer and Conan the Adventurer.

Case in point: can you name a single Howard Conan story that "
seemed to consist of characters walking from one dusty place to another"? Any? At all? Because I sure can't. By the way, watching Conan the Barbarian the other night put me in mind of why the many scenes of Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli in the Jackson films was so strangely familiar.

Still, it isn't all bad. Despite his silliness, Kleffel seems to like Sword-and-Sorcery. That's something: maybe he can be persuaded that there's more to the genre, and especially Howard, than "liquor-store literature."

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