First of all, the comments here are naturally very critical of Leo's political leanings, which isn't really the crux of the argument. I'm not going to argue with their assertions of Leo being a right-wing lunatic, because Leo's right-wing lunacy doesn't have a bearing on his erudition and wealth of reading experience, and I'm not very good at judging which point being right wing changes from "conservative" to "berserk craziness."
It's the comments which claim Leo is ill-read in the fantasy field - some think he hasn't even read Elric, ferchrissakes! - that I have issue with, not just because I know them to be true, but because it's patently absurd, unless this is the only Leo Grin essay you've ever read. Fair enough if it is - though it would be nice if some people did a Google search to see if Leo has, in fact, ever written about Howard, Tolkien, or any other fantasy author before. Just common courtesy, you know?
Anyway, some choice comments:
Ah, finally, a take-down of contemporary fantasy literature ...
Alas, I haven’t read it
Oh. But you read one previous book by the author and feel like it doesn't live up to the Catholic technophobia of Tolkein and the violent and occasionally deranged pulp of Howard.
*Sigh* again with the alleged technophobia of Tolkien. There's a difference between not wanting the world to become so industrialised the environment suffers (and hasn't history kinda proven Tolkien right on that score, with energy and environmental conservation seeing a massive increase in the past few years?), and being afraid of technology. Howard's "deranged pulp" doesn't need a rebuttal. However, yet again it's a case of people seeing Leo talking about Tolkien and Howard, and thinking he's only read those two authors, or only likes those two authors. In which case, I'd say read The Cimmerian, where Leo gives props to Clark Ashton Smith, Charles Saunders and more.
So... I'm guessing not a big fan of The Last Ringbearer then.
And you know, it's not like Tolkien or Howard is ever going to go away. If you're so offended by modern fantasy, just reread LOTR ten thousand times.
And, once again, people equate Leo's argument as meaning "all fantasy is gritty and I hates it so I does" rather than "I hate supposedly gritty fantasy." That's like if someone said "I think Doom metal is redundant nonsense," and someone criticized me for saying I hate all metal ever recorded. Which is wrong, of course. I also dislike Grindcore.
The quoted section above suggests that the author's problem with contemporary fantasy is that "it's all crap now," an annoyingly ignorant proposition which seems easy enough to refute.
But upon further reading, his article actually seems to be complaining that contemporary fantasy no longer features the simple good/evil dichotomies and archetypal heroes/villains and glorification of war that the great fantasy of old offered.
Instead, the new fantasy offers complicated, ambiguous readings, with complicated characters who are neither fully good nor bad, whose motivations are complex. Depicting these complicated characters with their complicated motivations, begins to unpack the whole good/evil idea itself, challenge preconceptions, even question whether heroic war is actually heroic, and deconstructs the simplistic assumptions behind the mythologies that fueled adolescent fantasies.
Okay, Leo Grin, I was all set to defend fantasy, but, uh... you got me there.
*buries head in hands* How can you get the first part right and the first part wrong? I mean, unless you're saying that Leo's saying "all modern fantasy is crap," which is a blase dismissal which can be addressed when Leo cites his favourite modern authors in the comments? That said... You seriously think The Lord of the Rings glorifies war? I could understand thinking Conan glorifies war, but LotR? Really? That there are no complicated, ambiguous meanings with complex motivations in Tolkien or Howard? Mitra H. Christ, dude.
I am astounded. astounded! that this person is suggesting that different books written by people in drastically different time periods are not clones of what has come before.
Someone devoted that amount of writing about fantasy and nihilism and complaining of the lack of prose poetry and mythopoeic creation... and didn't once mention Donaldson and his Thomas Covenant books (of which the final final, completely final volume is being written RIGHT NOW)???
I'd say the lad doesn't really know what he's talking about, then.
By Jupiter's beard, man, are you saying Donaldson has prose poetry and mythopaeic creation? That the Thomas Covenant books aren't full of nihilism? Or are you saying that because Donaldson's hateful chronicles featuring the most loathsome protagonist in fantasy literature was written a long time ago, that Leo's tirade is somehow invalidated? Wait, don't answer, I don't think I want to know.
First, he is right, in that this is not standard heroic fantasy. If you want to read heroic fantasy, you can always go back to the Belgariad, or even the Wheel of Time.
... Did you miss the part where he explains why he doesn't consider Wheel of Time, or by extension the Belgariad, as "heroic fantasy" worth his time?
Hang on, that sounds pretty great. Might have to pick up Abercrombie's latest. (The LotR, which I mostly read because it was de rigueur for nerdy 11 year olds in the 1980s to do so, put me off fantasy for life - the 'heroes' seemed such complete, utter dickheads that a surprise cancer twist would've been most welcome.)
Really? Eh, well I suppose if you think someone like the selfless and heroic Samwise Gamgee, the humble Beregond, and the magnificent Gandalf is a "complete, utter dickhead" then I guess I can't finish this sentence.
I'm a little suprised by the lack of C.S. Lewis, or anything much assides from Howard or Tolkien as if their works sprang out of nowhere - on the other hand I get the impression he doesn't read much. I sort of doubt he's read much Howard, TBH.
Elric would blow his fucking mind.
Heh. I've combined a few comments into one, since they all suffer the same problem.
* - It should be noted, of course, the Conan was a usurper, thief, and pirate, so pointing to him as an example of black and white Heroism and not mottled in shades of gray is prolly not the best idea.
Like a lot of conservatives, this dude seems to pine for an idealized past where men were men, women were women, young people respected their elders and books had happy endings where the good guys won and there were no messy ambiguities.
There's a lot of good contemporary fantasy - I mean, honestly, how can anyone go on writing or reading the same LOTR ripoff over and over again? That way lies the madness or Sword of Shannara, either/or and worse, you start getting forsooths and nays thrown in there. At some point you begin to beg for something, anything, different to happen and I'm delighted when it does.
Basically, Leo Grin likes classic fantasies with traditional, non-threatening archetypes, dark villains, and heroes in white...
Every fantasy author has to, in the end, answer to Tolkien. But to discount every single piece of fantasy that isn't ghosts'n'goblins because you think it's about teenybopper elves snorting cocaine, which I hope someone has written, is the purview of thirteen-year-olds only.
Just as well Leo said nothing of the sort.
Half the descriptions of things he hates sound exactly like Howard.
It would've been nice if Artw explained exactly what sounded "exactly like Howard" so I could know where he's coming from, but there you go.
But on the other hand, I once had a big realization that I wouldn't want to hang out with anyone in any of Tolkien's books (well, maybe Smaug). Think of how rare it is for anybody to tell a joke! Sam, occasionally, and maybe Gandalf. And even then the jokes are pretty stiff.
No love for Pippin, Merry, Gimli, Legolas, Gollum, Tom Bombadil?
Well, for all of Tolkien's experience in the Great War, both The Hobbit and LotR come off as being very prim, Victorian, and Bowdlerized. Sexuality is probably the biggest thing he pushed to appendices that he was reluctant to write or see attached to his novels, but Aragorn is not Beowulf to kill his foes barehanded by ripping out their arms either. Contrast that to Hemmingway or Remarque who were also veterans but much less saccharine about the brutality of warfare.
Calling any of the battles in The Lord of the Rings "saccharine" is somewhat anathema to me. Did KirkJobSluder miss the gallons of blood, fire and hell? The Witch-King purposely trampling the heads of the fallen in his march through the Gates of Minas Tirith? Tolkien didn't have Aragorn killing his foes barehanded by ripping their arms out because... well, Aragorn isn't Beowulf.
deconstructing the hero is nothing new - i guess this guy's never heard of fritz leiber or james branch cabell, who was as cynical, even nihilistic, as any of the moderns are
People seem awfully quick to suppose Leo hasn't read any fantasy outside The Lord of the Rings and Conan, don't they?
I wouldn't put Howard in the same class as Tolkien as a writer, either: I love me some Hobbits but the prose? Seriously? Eeek.
This is quite funny, since you'll find a lot of people making exactly the same argument, except the positions reversed. "I wouldn't put Tolkien in the same class as Howard as a writer, either: I love me some Conan but the prose? Seriously? Eeek."
Especially telling is the bit near the end where Grin quotes Robert Bloch's hilarious takedown of Conan, and responds by quoting Tolkien's fuck-you to his critics from the back of one of the LotR editions and posting a picture of Tolkien from WWI, instead of directly referring to Robert E. Howard, who for all of his talent and genre-shaping influence was a chubby college dropout that lived in or near his hometown nearly his entire life, had only one off-and-on girlfriend (who left him for his best friend), and committed suicide on the eve of his mother's death. (This should not be taken as a personal criticism of Howard, BTW.)
Well that's sure nice of you, Halloween Jack, for qualifying that at the end! Otherwise, saying Howard was a fat, uneducated, insular, Oedipal loser might've been construed as "personal criticism." Except... well, how can anyone consider that anything but "personal criticism"? Even if it was true, as opposed to Howard being a fit amateur boxer who dropped out of college to pursue a writing career, travelled thousands of miles in his lifetime, and only got on with one girl intelligent enough to understand him? Really? Slapping on "oh, but I'm not judging him" doesn't exactly make it ok, good sir.
Oh, please. All I can imagine is Grin sulking back off to his room decorated with tapestries of magnificent wizards to read the Warcraft tie-in novels because they've got an orc in them.
This is inadvertently hilarious, since I don't think Leo's touched a videogame since the age of Pong.
And nobody would lay a wreath at Tolkien's feet more than G.R.R.M, whose main fantasy text I suspect Grin is also disapproving of. The man is so old school his math homework was done on stone tablets.
That's actually quite an awesome little line.
Leo Grin has apparently deliberately crafted a rant with the specific purpose of making my brain melt. I... I... NERD EXPLOSION.
I don't know where to begin. I don't even know if I want to begin. Have fun masturbating to your Vallejo covers, Grin.
Whoa, where'd Leo say anything about Vallejo?
Grin's reading of Tolkien is so obviously facile that one finds it hard to take him seriously. Yes, Tolkien is all about the history and the mythopoetics. But Grin is only taking the superficial aspects into account. Tolkien's fundamental worldview is far more dangerous, backwards, and anti-humanist than anything in Abercrombie or his cohort. Abercrombie, Morgan, Lynch et al are cynical because they want the world to be fair and they recognize that it isn't. They want the world to be a better place. Tolkien may be earnest (although even that is missing the less simplistic aspects) but he wanted the world to be worse. He wouldn't phrase it that way but no-one ever does.
Even if that weren't true Grin has no grasp of the history of the genre. The modern fantasy genre was launched not by Tolkien (although he is, of course, the single greatest influence... even if that influence is often subject to the second artist effect) but by Donaldson and Brooks. The authors Grin so hates are in the Donaldson tradition, the ones he no doubt loves are in the Brooks. You can guess which I prefer.
No, not really. Seriously, did people miss the part where Leo talks about how much he hates "fat fantasy"? And, again, people are mistaking Tolkien's heroism for "pure white and pure black with none betwixt". Is it that hard for people to read and comprehend an article? Or am I wrong? Have I been reading Leo's article wrong all this time? Guys, please tell me if I've been making an arse of myself all this time.
You may be wondering where The Blog That Time Forgot comes in. Wonder no further!
Does anybody believe for a *moment* that this guy would have approved of Robert E. Howard if he wasn't already considered a "classic" just by virtue of the passage of time?
If this conservative shitball were writing in the '20s and '30s he would be hating on Howard just as hard as he's loving on him now.
I hated this bad enough when it was linked to on the Blog that Time Forgot (which is usually excellent, but suffers from kneejerk hostility to anybody hating on Howard -- which isn't so bad -- and kneejerk enthusiasm for anybody complimenting Howard -- which in this case led them to side with this jerk.)
Wait, a fan of Robert E. Howard reacting defensively to when his hero is being criticized, especially when he feels he's being unfairly criticized? Heavens above! And a fan of Robert E. Howard preferring to think Howard fans should stick together and support each other rather than fall asunder due to differences in politics, religion or any other personal matter? By Jove, it's scandalous! That said - again, Leo explains why the sex and violence isn't the problem, it's the use of said sex and violence.
But make no mistake - this isn't because I'm particularly sensitive about Howard, but because there are still so many myths and misconceptions about Howard. If somebody came up with some damaging nonsense about Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, Lloyd Alexander, Conan Doyle, or others, you'd bet I'd leap to their defence - it's just been my experience that most people have been fair with those authors, with silly nonsense like "Jirel was an ironbox" and "Holmes & Watson were gay" kept to, more or less, a relative few instances. There have been more for the likes of Tolkien, Lovecraft and Burroughs in the past, but even they don't get the ludicrous treatment Howard got. Conversely, I feel the need to accentuate the positive by highlighting nice links about Howard, because Howard could do with the extra props.
On the plus side, I'm honoured that edheil thinks highly enough of the blog that he seems to think there's more than one person working on it. Hopefully my momentary lapse of madness in choosing to support a fellow Robert E. Howard fan who was instrumental in my very presence in the blogosphere - without the confidence and work ethic instilled to me during my time on The Cimmerian, I don't know if I'd have this blog at al - won't sour edheil on future posts. Politics are secondary: art takes precedence.
Seriously, this is starting to get a bit upsetting. I'm not worried about Leo: he's a big guy, and obviously he can take care of himself. If nothing else, he "brought it on himself" = no doubt his intention in the first place. Instead, I'm concerned about Howard fandom in general. How many people are going to find Leo's blog exalting Howard and Tolkien while decrying Morgan and Swanwick, and feel that it Leo enjoys/despises those authors because of their political themes? Plenty of commentators have noted some alleged link between Howard and Tolkien exalting "conservative values," "ethnocentrism," and other such buzzwords I don't quite understand due to the panoply of definitions. It wouldn't take much of a leap to then tar all Howard/Tolkien fans with the same brush - and that is very unfair, in my opinion.
Criticizing Leo for being a mini-Bill O'Reilly is one thing, and I don't know if Leo might take it as a compliment. But as we've seen, politics make people crazy. Already Lagomorph fears that Howard Fandom is predominantly right-wing, and knowing a number of Howard fans who could be considered that by their own admission, I wonder if he has a point. Michal offers to clarify his thoughts on post-modernism, though he also touches upon politics at the end.* The Official Robert E. Howard Forums (very wisely, in my opinion) keep a tight lid on all discussion of politics and religion, so it's hard to gauge the proportion. It's also an international forum, so American ideas of what is "right wing" and "left wing" may well not be the same for Howard fans of France, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Argentina, and the United Kingdom.
So, if I may, I'd like to open it up to the Howard and Tolkien fans. If you feel comfortable enough stating your political leanings, I'd very much like to know what they are. I'll get the ball rolling by say "I have no real political leanings whatsoever, and find Right, Left and Centrist views equally perplexing and would probably vote for anyone who promised me the keys to the Natural History Museum."
I'm saddened this has devolved into what nearly every Internet argument does. It may or may not have been what Leo intended, but man, I wished the few erudite, measured responses weren't drowned out by the hysterical screams of politics. We get enough of that in the newspapers.
*Thanks to Michal/Taran for the correction. I seriously need to go to bed now.