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A Discursion into Grammar: And Then

This might be a boring topic to write on, but today I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “and.” And then, in defense of Bill Clinton, I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “is” (just kidding). You may think this to be a relatively simple topic, but as it turns out I’ve been using the wrong definition in the first draft of my latest novel (I’m not sure how Drasmyr went, but it doesn’t matter: that’s already published, errors and all). Wrong definition you say? How many definitions for “and” are there? The answer: I’m not sure, but a bloody lot. My dictionary definitions are separated by numbers and bullet points. In my dictionary, “and” lists three numbers, ten bullet points, and one set of blocked text. So, like I said, a bloody lot. But it’s all technical. Most people don’t think that hard about the meaning of “and.”

 

Anyway, on to the issue as it relates to me and my writing. The whole thing started with my sister (she’s my primary editor) … well, actually, it began with my word processor. I use a lot of “thens” in my writing, and it had a tendency to underline (in green) a good portion of them. I, of course, unwilling to surrender artistic license, ignored most of those underlines as I often do. My sister, however, did not. This led to a discussion as to whether I should use “and” or “then” for some sentences. Should it be “He walked into the room, then fell down?” Or should it be “He walked into the room, and fell down?” Or better yet, “He walked into the room, and then fell down?” According to my computer, the first construction is grammatically imprecise, and the last two are correct. According to my sister, the first one is wrong, the second one is right, and the last one is redundant. I, of course, was fond of the first one. Or maybe the third. But I was sure the second one just felt wrong. Why, you might ask?

 

Because I was a philosophy major. No, make that a double major in philosophy and math, who later went on to study computer science. I have had logic up the wazu. I was always curious about the nature of “and” when I read in a philosophy book (or math book, or computer book) a reference to a “logical and.” I always wondered, “Is there another kind of and?” Well, apparently there is. Going by the dictionary (as I said above), there’s a lot of them. And the above sentence constructions are examples of different understandings of “and.”

 

Going by the dictionary, the definition relevant to the above constructions, is: “and” is a conjunction used to connect two clauses when the second happens first. There is an inherent notion of time in this “and.” The first clause happens before the second, so there is no confusion in the sequence of events. Using this definition, my sister is right (Don’t tell her that!). The correct formulation is “He walked into the room, and fell down.” The third formulation is slightly redundant, and, as it is generally agreed fewer words is better the “then” should be dropped.

 

After many years of training in logic, the “and” I instinctively use is the “logical and.” The “logical and” is atemporal. The closest definition in the dictionary is the one that says: “and” is a conjunction used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences that are to be taken jointly. Two is greater than one AND less than three. Temporality is meaningless here. Using this definition of “and,” if one were to write “He walked into the room, and fell down,” that would mean the same as writing, “He walked into the room as he fell down.” Hence, I felt an aversion to using “and” in that sentence. So, the writing in my second book is peppered with “thens” which present the same meaning, but in a grammatically incorrect way. It’s not a big issue—most people probably wouldn’t even pick up on it, and besides, that book isn’t published yet; I have plenty of time to fix it.

 

Anyway, those were my thoughts for today.

Fantasy Literature: The Aging Vampire

In “Dracula,” Bram Stoker’s grand masterpiece, Count Dracula is roughly four hundred years old, if I recall correctly. In my own novel, “Drasmyr,” Lucian val Drasmyr is about one thousand years old, give or take. I have seen films and stories where the vampire is as old as 10,000 years old. Clearly, vampires “live” longer than humans, but what is the significance of their extended lifetimes?

At some level it may just be a yearning on our part for something timeless and immortal. Such makes what the vampire offers (virtual immortality) that much more enticing. He can take away our death and suffering, end our pain. But how does the vampire see his own immortality?

Part of that can be understood by looking at how a vampire ages. The process, of course, differs somewhat with every story. In “Dracula” our illustrious Count aged like a mortal man (or something like that) when he did not get his fill of blood. Count Dracula is a very old man when Jonathan Harker first encounters him in his castle—although he is strong and spry for such an “old man.” Later, in London after he has sated much of his appetite, his iron-gray hair has turned black, and he looks like a man in his prime. This raises a number of interesting questions, but I want to remain focused on just his aging. Clearly, Bram Stoker’s vampire does age, he just has a handy mechanism to reverse it.

Another common theme in vampire lore is that vampires grow stronger with time. So, the older the vampire, the more powerful he is, and the more difficult he is to destroy. This theme was implied in “Dracula,” but I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated. In fact, at one point Van Helsing said the Count had the brain of a child, but a very clever one, or something to that effect. Still, Dracula was the master of three other vampires in his castle. There are two possible reasons for this; either he made the other vampires, or he was simply the eldest. Both seem plausible and neither seems mutually exclusive.

Today’s vampires have taken old age to grand new heights. In “Vampire Hunter D,” an anime film from the late 80’s, early 90’s, Count Magnus Lee is 10,000 years old. As such, he is virtually indestructible. He rules his clan of vampires with an iron fist. At his age, he’s actually gained telekinetic powers, among other things. But at a certain point does not adding a few more thousand years onto the age of your vampire seem tiresome? I mean, really, we get the point. The thing won’t die.

Still, I find the aging vampire and the powers such bestows upon it an interesting facet of the vampire’s multi-faceted persona. It provides a rich and malleable measure to differentiate vampires from one another and keep them unique at the same time.

Would You Want to be a Vampire? Part Two: The Modern Vampire

In the previous post, I asked if you wanted to be a traditional vampire. And the obvious answer should be “No!” However, the nature of the vampire has changed over time. Asking the question today is not nearly as clear as it was one hundred years ago. Courtesy of first Anne Rice, and then Stephenie Meyer, vampires have morphed into modern day heroes. Actually, I must be careful here. Some modern writers, such as myself, have taken great pains to keep their vampires dark and sinister in accordance with the traditional archetype. I’m not talking about those vampires. I’m talking about Twilight-type vampires.

 

Modern day romanticized vampires have been stripped of all their negative attributes. Do they lose their soul upon conversion? Uh, no. And that’s a biggie. Do they smell like the grave? Again, no. Are they inherently evil? This kind of goes with losing one’s soul so again the answer is no. The modern day romanticized vampire is incredibly strong, virtually immortal, and deeply in touch with his feelings. They make the perfect date for the modern girlie teen-ager. The only drawback is that they drink blood, but some can “go vegetarian” and survive off animal blood. I have to point this out, though. I’m a guy, and I write, and my sister reads my work. She takes great pains to point out the errors of my ways if I have too many women who are just cosmically beautiful with looks that kill. That if you do that too much you are objectifying women as mere items to titillate men’s fancies (a few of the women in Drasmyr fall into that category, but I couldn’t figure out a way to change it without doing damage to the story as I envisioned it). If a man writes about a woman and she is the perfect woman in each and every way, this makes things difficult with real women. Real women never measure up. Real women should be offended by such a characterization. Well, perhaps you see where I’m going. Perhaps, courtesy of Stephenie Meyer, the shoe is on the other foot, now (ha ha!). I think the male vampires from Twilight are an example of the perfect man (if you ignore the drinking blood bit). Real men just can’t measure up to Edward Cullen. And hordes of teen-age girls go all googly whenever they hear his name. I would go on, but I’ve gotten off track enough as it is (and, truthfully, I don’t care enough about the point to go on … I’m just making a nuisance of myself).

 

My point: modern vampires have changed from something evil into a romantic superhero. Now, when someone asks you if you want to be a vampire, the answer isn’t so obvious. For myself, I still say no. I like me the way I am—I don’t need some quick-become-undead-fix to cover up my many flaws. I think a lot of guys would probably say no just on the principle that they want nothing to do with Twilight or its vampires. A lot of teen age girls, however, might say yes. “Make me a vampire. Make me a vampire. Please!!!”

 

And somewhere Bram Stoker is rolling over in his grave. Or clawing his way out with murder in his eyes!

Would You Want to be a Vampire? Part One: The Traditional Vampire

With the popularity of vampires among society today, this actually becomes a question worth asking. Once upon a time, most people would have answered with a resounding “No!” Why, you might ask? Let’s discuss that. At that point in time, humanity’s definition of a vampire was very different than it is today. Once upon a time, vampires were creatures of the night; Dracula was their progenitor; and Satan their lord. Ahh, yes, the times of yesteryear. This old, traditional vampire was all but immortal; they could only be slain by a wooden stake through the heart, running water, or sometimes sunlight. They were incredibly strong and had a host of special powers like the ability to change into a bat, or mist, or a wolf. But to remain strong and immortal they had to feed on human blood. That is, of course, one point against them, as most people probably don’t want to make a diet of human blood. But that’s not the worst of it.

 

In the West where Christianity was once quite strong there has always been a strong connection between blood and religion. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his apostles, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have Eternal Life,” and he promptly gave them bread and wine; the bread being his flesh, and the wine his blood (there is debate between Catholics and Protestants whether the bread/flesh and wine/blood connections are intended to be taken literally or symbolically, but that is straying off topic here). The important thing here is that Christ wanted you to consume his “blood” in order to be saved. I’m not an expert on theology or Judaic tradition so I may be getting in a little over my head here, but I seem to recall that blood was an important aspect in sin offerings. So, as far as Christianity is concerned, the blood of Christ served to “wash away” one’s sins; consuming Christ’s blood is a way to accept that and gain entrance to Heaven (like I said, I’m not an expert).

 

Vampires, on the other hand, are a complete perversion of this. They (in the West) were minions of Satan. They consumed blood and granted Eternal Life, as well, but the life they granted was an accursed abomination. It was an eternal, physical life in this “fallen” world filled with sin. Depending on the tradition, a human can become a vampire either by being bitten by a vampire, or by consuming a vampire’s blood. In the latter case, the perverted connection to Christianity is stronger. Here, the victim, instead of consuming Christ’s holy blood consumes the blood of the vampire, the unholy blood of Satan. Thus, it is a reversal of Christian Salvation. As a result, the victim is cursed to walk forever as an undead creature of the night to be forever repulsed by all things holy. Here, the price of becoming a vampire is your very soul.

 

I just made all of that up. How’d I do? J

 

Anyway, the obvious conclusion to the question: “Would you want to be a (traditional) vampire?” should be a resounding “No!” for all clear-thinking individuals.

Fantasy Literature: Short Stories vs. The Novel

The art of writing a short story is distinctly different from writing a novel. There is far less “room” in a short story than a novel; you must make every word count, particularly if you are up against a tight word count. The story must be unified by a single theme or over-arching idea; there is no room for subplots and parallel memes. Depending on the genre, the notion of a twist is also quite prevalent. In fantasy literature, for example, there must be something in the story that takes it an unexpected direction, or flips our expectations upon their head. A piece of clean prose that tells a simple straightforward tale will not cut it. Nowadays, there is a requisite of something unusual, something that makes one look at the story from a clever angle.

 

One is also limited by characters and viewpoints in the short story. Generally, the writer is limited to a single viewpoint with but one protagonist and one antagonist. There might be a couple other minor characters, but they will be few in number and their roles hardly substantive.

 

A novel is an altogether different animal. While it is true, that there is usually a central theme for any great literary work, there also can be sub-themes and sub-plots and what have you. These can be developed throughout the course of the work, because there is no word-limit on a novel (although length of a novel certainly is no indicator of quality). Complex literary devices like symbolism and such can be fully employed in a novel; one has plenty of room to develop and expand upon such concepts. In the fantasy genre, the novel, like the short story, must be more than a straightforward tale. We are drawn to the unusual and the surprising. Because of its greater length, the novel has room for multiple twists, each one eliciting a pleasant burst of “ahh!” from the reader. A story of a brave knight rescuing a princess from a dragon no longer cuts it today.

 

In the fantasy novel, multiple viewpoints and plotlines have become almost standard practice. Rare is the novel with but a single protagonist these days.

 

So which one will you write? For myself, I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve written a number of short stories, with a few minor publishing successes. However, I got into writing to write novels not short stories. Short stories are great to hone your craft, to figure out the intricacies of fusing dialogue with narrative and what-have-you. And I don’t regret the time I’ve spent on short stories—I even have a number of short story ideas that will probably never come to fruition—but I have decided that I want to focus on novels. Besides, short stories don’t pay enough to support a writer. They exist to fluff the resume. And they are great for honing your craft. But, in my opinion, that is all they can do.

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