Perhaps, since I started writing this blog over a year ago, this entry is long overdue. In any event, I have just gotten around to writing it. Hopefully, my words will entertain you for a bit, and inspire you to look at fantasy in a new light.
First, why write? Writing is an enjoyable process of both exploration and self-expression. Exploration because there are times when you don’t know what’s going to come out next, and self-expression because it allows for the dissemination of personal ideas both simple and complex. I’ve been writing pretty much my entire adult life, off and on, for a variety of purposes. Usually, I’m chasing that ever elusive carrot of publication and entering the big-time, but sometimes I do it just for fun.
Now, why fantasy? Well, this is actually a multi-part answer. First, there is an adage (well, if there isn’t, there should be) that says “write what you know.” I’ve always been enchanted by fantasy, whether it be books, or role-playing games, or videos games, or movies. There is something profoundly alluring about exploring magical realms where dragons and sorcerers are real. It’s a form of escapism. Perhaps, that means my regular life is too mundane—that I’m indeed escaping from something unpleasant. I don’t know if I would go that far, but even if that is the case, then so be it. I enjoy the fantasy world because it re-ignites a sense of wonder and awe. Something we all felt as children, but which has a tendency to grow stale and die as we age. There is something about fairy dust and fireballs that stirs the imagination. Second, there is a certain degree of freedom in fantasy writing that may not be present in other forms of writing. The whole premise of the genre is that you are writing about a world, a situation, or a character that does not follow the same rules that apply here on Earth, or even in our universe for that matter. Whatever you can imagine can take form in your stories. Winged men, burning plants, freezing fire … whatever you want: it can happen. That doesn’t mean you can write completely willy-nilly ignoring all sense of logic. At a certain point, such would degenerate into unintelligible nonsense. But I digress. The third reason for writing fantasy is a bit more subtle, and, to be honest, is not always pertinent. Fantasy can provide a powerful means of providing metaphors about society and criticism of culture. I don’t always write like that, to be honest; most of the time, I just write a story because I like a good story. But I have on occasion written a bit of social commentary using fantasy as its vehicle. This is not uncommon. Some of the most famous names in the genre told stories that were meant to be so much more: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, just to name two. At any rate, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for literary criticism.
In the end, perhaps the most important reason for me to write fantasy is that I enjoy doing so. I have several interests and hobbies, but by far, the one with the most powerful draw is fantasy writing. Now, if only I could make some money at it. Then, I’d be all set.
Another post on vampires? Actually, today, I’m taking a little detour. I’m not going to write about vampires so much as one of the defining characteristics of them: immortality. A vampire, whether it is Dracula, Lestat, or Lucian val Drasmyr, is generally considered immortal provided he or she is not slain by some pesky human or the victim of some other fatal twist of fate. With that in mind, I want to examine immortality. Why is it so appealing? Or, better yet, is it really appealing?
Clearly, at some visceral level, immortality is appealing. That’s usually one of the temptations to become a vampire (“Become as I. Strong. Immortal …). Writer’s wouldn’t use immortality as bait for us poor mortal humans unless some part of us pined to last forever. I think this is largely a result of the natural fear of death. Even if you are religious and believe in an afterlife with sunshine and flower-filled fields of leisure, you certainly don’t know it will be as you think. No one does. And because of that, there is always a threat of total annihilation as one contemplates one’s future death. The fix for such is, of course, to not die. And obtaining immortality somehow—be it through a vampire’s bite, or what-have-you—is a way to avoid death. Immortality, then, is a balm for the human condition. We fear death. We seek to avoid it. And so we set up elaborate fancies in which we imagine we will never die.
But is immortality all it’s cracked up to be? First, what are the positives? For me, I like to learn. I could learn advanced physics, and math, and a bundle of other disciplines that have always intrigued me. Curious about the nature of Infinity? You’ll have ample time to read up on the subject. Quantum Mechanics? All in due time. Intellectually, it would be great for the first few centuries or so. Then, I suspect, boredom would sink in. How much can you learn, how much can you know, before it all just devolves into meaningless drivel? I’m forty years old and some days I’m already tired of life; I can’t imagine what it would be like when I’m 4000. Yikes!
Worse, still, is the question of company. Would being the only immortal on the planet be worth it? If all the people you knew and cared about died, would it be worth it? I’d say no. That would be depressing in the extreme. Talk about loneliness. Soon you would become an introvert simply for your sanity: it would be too painful to befriend somebody, just to watch them die a few years down the road.
Finally, the last negative of immortality concerns the afterlife. If there really is one, and it really is quite nice, then becoming immortal would deny you such an experience. And that would hardly be good.
Last time I wrote, I listed a large number of writing types and a few means of looking at each type. From the large list, I selected the following types: philosophical essays, novels, and short stories (and poems); and I claimed that of the many different ways of looking at a piece of writing, the ones I was interested in included: as a means of self-expression, as a means of communication, and aesthetically. Today, I’m going to combine both thoughts, and evaluate each type of writing in accordance with the ways of looking at it. And maybe add one or two thoughts to top it off.
I wrote tons of philosophical essays in college. And I can tell you most emphatically that philosophical writing is all about communication. I guess there is some self-expression involved, and, I suppose, aesthetic writing is always a plus, but the primary duty of the philosopher is to communicate, clearly and cogently, some thought worth telling. That’s why it’s so difficult to read. Seriously. It’s a paradox, but not really. Natural language is so vague, that philosophy involves going through various literary contortions to precisely delineate the exact meaning the writer wants to express and none other. It’s that ‘none other’ bit that is problematic. Oh yes, and there is Logic involved. Lots and lots of logic. Philosophers are basically the inspiration for Star Trek’s Vulcans.
At the other extreme, I think, is poetry. That seems to be largely a work of self-expression, greatly concerned with aesthetics almost above all else. It does communicate thoughts, but it is as much emotional thinking as it is analytical. It is something that you either ‘get it’ as it comes across, or you are hopelessly lost. But, like I said, my experience in poetry is limited, so I could be totally wrong.
Novels and short stories, though, are kind of a hybrid. They involve both self-expression and communication. Pretty language has a place, dressing the work up as an art form, but it is useless if it does not communicate some thought relatively clearly. Like poetry, the thought need not be purely rational (unlike philosophy—irrational philosophy is like a computer spewing out illegitimate code); it can be emotional, or humorous, or what-have-you. But it must be communicated clearly enough that the average reader will get the point without too much difficulty.
Regardless of which type of writing engaged in, many of the best examples involve some kind of social commentary, be it a critique of the current political structures or what-have-you. But that isn’t an absolute necessity. I enjoy stories that are just stories all the time.
I do have one final thought concerning the distinction between philosophy and literature (in whatever form). Literature consists largely of opinion (admittedly opinion that is defended or critiqued to varying levels and degrees, but it is, all the same, just opinion). Philosophy is concerned with knowledge. Which is one of the reasons it makes virtually no progress. I took four years of philosophy, and what do I know with absolute 100% certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not much: I know I am not omniscient. That’s one thing. And I know 2+2=4. It’s a small kernel of truth, but it is truth nonetheless.
Take that Mr. Relativist! (Yes, I have this horrible fixation on murdering the hideous relativistic beast that is slowly eating our society alive!)
Bwu-ha ha ha!
Perhaps, this was covered in English 101. If so, I missed the class. I thought I’d take a few minutes (or paragraphs, as the case may be) to ruminate about the various types of writing and the reasons for writing. Both for your edification and my own.
Off the top of my head, I count seven different types of writing: literary essays, philosophical essays, scientific papers, novels, short stories, poems, and other non-fiction. I think that covers the whole gamut (And to think that going into this, I was expecting to get away with just listing three—Wow! How my thoughts run away with me!). For the purposes of this discussion, we will ignore literary essays, scientific papers, and other non-fiction. I’ve helped write and publish only one scientific paper, and I don’t think I’ve ever written a literary essay (unless you count my blog—hey, that’s probably a whole new subsection … so there are eight different types of writing, maybe). My experience in poetry is equally limited; it usually only comes to the fore in the context of my other writing. The battle-hardened warrior must solve an ancient riddle to win the prize, and, of course, the riddle is in the form of a poem. Still, I will have a couple thoughts I want to share regarding poetry. I am more experienced in writing philosophical essays, novels, and short stories: I took four of years of philosophy in college, and I have learned the literary ropes, mostly on my own (a few classes here and there, but not many).
Anyway, with respect to these types of writing, I have a couple thoughts. First, there seems to be three ways of looking at any kind of writing. First, one can look at it as a means of self-expression. This is a completely solitary activity. The ultimate goal of the writing need not concern another human being in any way. Such a work can be seen strictly as a piece of art; and what it means is often subject to interpretation. Another way of looking at writing is as a means of communication. The primary purpose here is not as a work made strictly for one’s own enjoyment, but rather, to make a connection with someone else; to bridge that gap between two people and share a thought. Finally, one can look at writing aesthetically, but at this point, I think I’m getting a little out of my depth. Most people claim this last facet is all subjective anyway, except maybe a few philosophers who may not be convinced. I know I can recognize bad writing in a universal sense, and I think most people agree Shakespeare had a way with words. But clearly, it is not cut and dry like a math equation.
Perhaps there is a technical name for these three aspects of writing—self-expression, communication, and aesthetics—but regardless I believe they provide a critical lens through which any writing can be examined, at least, superficially.
Anyway, I’ve reached my self-imposed word limit for the day; next time, I will examine each type of writing (novels, short stories, poetry, and philosophical essays) through each of these lenses. We’ll see which belongs associated most appropriately with which.
As most of my readers know, I’ve written a dark fantasy novel about a vampire entitled “Drasmyr.” Talk of vampires almost always engenders talk of immortality, because that’s usually considered one of the advantages of being a vampire: they don’t die of old age. In my novel, the vampire is one thousand years old. I’ve read/seen other works where the vampire in question is 6000 or 10,000 years old or what-have-you. Generally, the age seems to be limited to several thousand years. I’ve never seen anything about a 5 million year old vampire or anything like that. But why not? There is no physical reason why a vampire could not be that old, if vampires are gifted with immortality.
I suppose one reason is that human civilization—or the historical record of such—only goes back several thousand years. Vampires are usually associated with civilized man. They are a tale of terror for those who huddle together on the edges of the night, thinking they are safe in their home, surrounded by others similarly secure. As vampires can appear human, though, this security is an illusion; a vampire can infiltrate a city or village and strike with ruthless savagery.
Likewise, according to most traditions vampires come from humans; they are the result of a human being bitten by a vampire, dying, and transforming into a creature of the night. In order for this to happen, there need to be humans around who can be bit. It makes no sense to have a vampire that’s been around since the dinosaurs, because there were no humans around at that time.
Basically, I think 1000 to 10,000 years is the sweet spot for a vampire’s age (Dracula, of course, was only 400 years old—he’s outside the sweet spot, but he’s cool anyway). This gives them a good sense of timelessness, basically dwarfing a human’s lifespan without being too ridiculous about it. There is still that sense of a connection between themselves and their prey, for once, a long, long time ago, they were human themselves.
Anything above 10,000 years, in my opinion, is just excessive and runs the risk of starting a bidding war on vampire ages. My vampire is 20,000 years old. My vampire is 50,000. Oh yeah, mine is 300,000,000. Hmmph… 5 Billion. Two Trillion… at which point we have vampires older than the universe. In the end, age is just a number for one of the undead; what really makes them cool is the powers they wield and their respective personalities.