Hello, my friends and the occasional relative!
This is my sixth attempt at writing this column. I’m not saying this is the best, it’s just the one I’m willing to share right now.
Once I was a boy with shining dreams. Fantasy fiction, of my own making and the stories I enjoyed reading, were an escape from the world I thought was harsh, and unfair. And from bad footie results.
Then I grew up. The world is still harsh, and unfair. I’ve stopped caring about football in the way I used to. I still have shining dreams, but recognize that the road to them is much longer than once I imagined. The fantasies I write reflect that reality, as I see it.
I don’t like that this is so, and dislike the apparent disconnect between the stories that inspired me, and the stories I write.
I had to interrogate that recently, as I wrote my third book. I wondered why my books are not like those I loved in my youth, perhaps leavened with the fantastic line drawings of Liz Danforth or Russ Nicholson, that gave fantasy a grittier edge, but did not lose the sense of wonder that to me is essential.
The boring conclusion I have come to after five attempts is this: I got older. I also grew to feel that heroes always winning was foolish, and that struggle had to be real, or it would be boringly performative, and therefore fake. I want my books to shine, but my heroes can’t win easily. I might want them to win, but their enemies can never be stupid, and intelligent enemies with a great deal of power should be the hardest to defeat, if they can be defeated at all.
So a long road through darkness is the only true road to take, to an honest victory. (Frodo says “Hi” at this point. Really he would say “How do you do?”, but you know what I mean…) It might not be fun all the way through, but it is the road I have chosen to take. It is Fistmar’s road, Stahl’s road, though he is no hero; it will be Thena’s road. Not all roads can have happy endings, but I believe they can all have meaning. That is how I am trying to manage the disconnect.
That and deciding to write a full-on heroic fantasy of good versus evil. Sometimes you just need a palate cleanse.
I know, however, that even in writing my version of a shining, heroic fantasy, those gritty line drawings of real people in danger will come through, and make that world somewhere with long roads of its own, even if better and brighter than our own.