Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 06:01 on 04-10-2011, valse de la lune
And mind you, I sort of understand why the Valar are only interested in the master race, it's a problem you have when your fantasy's creation myth is modeled on a real-world one--for this same reason it's very strange that nearly all angels in the Lucifer comic are pasty--and therefore tied to an ethnocentric narrative, while still being privileged as the literal truth of a fictional cosmos. Which wouldn't be a problem if you were the kind of writer who cares to imply that this is only one perspective and that there are others within the world (i.e. that other creation myths exist or that the Valar don't spend 24/7 wringing their hands over Caucasians--do the brown people even have a place in the Halls of Mandos, I wonder?), but Tolkien wasn't that writer.

Re: this. Trolling Tolkien fans eruditely. Beautiful. Right on the dot one of them had to whip out the "Did you even read Tolkien?!" line, as though anyone holding an opinion differing from theirs must ipso facto have only read the wikipedia summary--or have no reading comprehension at all, unlike the fan, whose reading is naturally flawless and in perfect sync with Tolkien's every whim and intent.
permalink
at 05:13 on 04-10-2011, valse de la lune
No problem, Bryn. I didn't care about anything Tolkien cared about, or what gets most of his fans hot and bothered either. :p

@Andy G: If the songs, family trees, poems, obscure references and maps don't give you a sense of a world not exhausted by the narrative, I don't know what else could do short of a mythology rooted in a real-world culture!

...because there isn't so much a world there as a little corner of it occupied, and obsessively about, Western European aristocrats and royalty? Tolkien evidently thought that was all the world that was needed. I don't. There's honestly no world beyond that in Middle-earth except for some wishy-washy mumblings about the blue wizards (?) and the faceless brown hoards that were hoodwinked into worshiping Sauron and shit. All the songs and family trees and mounds of dreck do nothing for me if all they do is tell you about this one little corner of zzzzzz without even hinting at contact with other peoples, trading, other cultures, whatever. If we take the creation myth as solid fact--and there's no reason we shouldn't, given Tolkien's approach--then the gods only created white people, apparently. Puke.
permalink
at 02:59 on 04-10-2011, Michal
You're all starting to sound like this guy.

(Addendum: Under no circumstances should this convince you to read The Last Ringbearer. It's like reading AU LOTR fanfiction where you're supposed to root for Stalin. About the best thing I can say about it is that the Polish edition had a pretty nifty cover.)
permalink
at 00:50 on 04-10-2011, Arthur B
I'm not sorry you included it. :P
permalink
at 00:49 on 04-10-2011, Bryn
'Nobody (sensible) cares' and other bits like that wasn't reasonable or warranted. I'm sorry for including that in the post below.
permalink
at 00:43 on 04-10-2011, Andy G
If the songs, family trees, poems, obscure references and maps don't give you a sense of a world not exhausted by the narrative, I don't know what else could do short of a mythology rooted in a real-world culture! Which isn't to say that the world isn't boring, elitist or white-European. I've never quite had the sense with other authors, perhaps because they lacked the obsessiveness to really put world (and language) building first. Decide for yourself if the results were worth it!

Regarding farming: Tolkien is clearly interested in details of the world like botany, materials and foodstuffs, so the lack of farming is rather odd. Elitism comes into it; but also perhaps the focus of his interest on wild nature - he clearly identifies with the Ents rather than the Entwives, for those to whom that means something. Though I'm fairly sure there are mentions of farms and farmlands in various human (and hobbit and orc) regions (and certainly space on the maps for them) - it's how the dwarves and elves feed themselves that's more perplexing, but then they are meant to be magical and mysterious (what are lembas made of, after all?).
permalink
at 00:40 on 04-10-2011, Dan H
Dislike of tedious world-building doesn't have much to do with being unable to appreciate anything other than explosions.


Yeah, pretty much this.

I'd add that quite a lot of boring worldbuilding winds up being primarily about explosions that happened a long time ago.
permalink
at 00:38 on 04-10-2011, Dan H
Really? I always thought it was more along the lines of “Wait? What the fuck? You guys call yourselves Marxists? Dude, I don't even know you. You are so out of the clubhouse.”


Were I feeling glib, I might suggest that this amounts to largely the same thing. It's the no-true-scotsman approach to political ideologies.
permalink
at 00:36 on 04-10-2011, Robinson L
I admit Tolkien is fucked-up in numerous ways, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to hold that against, or just to find him Not That Interesting, or both.

It's just that, for me personally, Tolkien manages to build up this air of authenticity which draws me into the story like few other authors I've ever read. Very few. Again, though, that's a completely personal thing.

Janne: But how would you ever find out how Sam and Rosie Gamgee had 13 children (must've been tough, Tolkien never did tell us what sort of healthcare they have going on in the Shire) and Sam sailed to the west some 60 years after Frodo and Bilbo!

Permit me to correct myself: I've never read most of the appendices. I read the Where Are They Now portion because it's only like two pages long, and I was curious to see what Tolkien thought happened to the Fellowship afterward.

Speculation: If Tolkien were writing today, would he have left all of that "Where Are They Now" stuff out of the actual book and instead let it come out in post-trilogy interviews? Discuss.

the Wikia wiki declares that "After the overthrow of Sauron, the peoples of this land presumably gained their freedom and were allowed to govern it for themselves." which is quite a big 'presumably'.

No kidding. Knowing Tolkien, that's probably true, if we take "govern it for themselves" to mean "their long-lost heir to the throne showed up, and they all immediately submitted to his rule because he just so happened to be strong and kind and wise and a perfect leader and shit."
permalink
at 00:28 on 04-10-2011, Bryn
Decided to look into this. It turns out there are two Lord of the Rings wikis (at least).

Findings: the fertile bit of Mordor is called either 'Nurn' or 'Núrn' depending on which wiki you go to. Apparently it was run by slaves; the Wikia wiki declares that "After the overthrow of Sauron, the peoples of this land presumably gained their freedom and were allowed to govern it for themselves." which is quite a big 'presumably'.

Searching it for 'farm', the Wikia wiki also declares that the 'Númenóreans' introduced farming to Middle-Earth, that dwarvefs didn't farm and fed themselves entirely by trading metalwork, that Rohan has 'many' farms and horses, that Eriador was cleared for farming, and why am I writing this, nobody (sensible) cares about the economics of 'Númenóreans' and dwarfs... but it looks like Tolkien at least mentioned how his civilisations were fed, now and then.

Apparently there were also some Beornings in there, who farmed bees.
permalink
at 23:41 on 03-10-2011, valse de la lune
Silly you, elves subsist on air nutrients and photosynthesis.

But yeah, anyone of importance in Tolkien's world is noble, royal, or descended from a Maia. Exception's again the hobbits, who barring Sam are all landed gentry. Pffft, work is for peasant stock.
permalink
at 22:56 on 03-10-2011, Arthur B
I'd really like to understand why people feel that there's a world beyond Tolkien's immediate narrative, because I never got that sense. Yeah, there's language and history--as long as you are one of the whitey-mcwhite folks from Western Europe. Sounds like an awfully small and awfully racist world, to be honest.

Yeah, I have to say Middle Earth doesn't really stand up as an internally consistent world. I'd like to know where all the farmland is; aside from the Hobbits, nobody really seems to do anything as common and plebby as agriculture.
permalink
at 22:08 on 03-10-2011, valse de la lune
One of my many problems with Tolkien is that I find everything about him dreadfully boring and dreadfully earnest. The man took his own creation absolutely, grimly seriously, and that's the one thing I can't stand about any fantasist. Beyond that, all the songs, poetry (which I thought quite bad) and landscape descriptions struck me as self-indulgent as heck. I can't make myself give a flying damn about someone's family tree, I really can't, especially not when someone is a self-important schmuck like Aragorn and Tolkien's aristocrat/royal characters. Which is to say, 95% of the cast.

I'd really like to understand why people feel that there's a world beyond Tolkien's immediate narrative, because I never got that sense. Yeah, there's language and history--as long as you are one of the whitey-mcwhite folks from Western Europe. Sounds like an awfully small and awfully racist world, to be honest.

@Ibmiller: I think I share Abigail Nussanbaum's idea that all of human experience is interesting, not just the parts that go boom.

Dislike of tedious world-building doesn't have much to do with being unable to appreciate anything other than explosions.
permalink
at 20:21 on 03-10-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
won't give up it wants me dead goddamn these ponies in my head

*This is ALASDAIR. Can you not feel the glory of the ponies? Do you not yearn to be free of the tyranny of humanity?*

*Glory to the Ponies. Glory to the Hasbro.*
permalink
at 19:06 on 03-10-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
This appeared in my Facebook feed. Two minutes in and my brain is melting. I think only the smartest man in the world could process this.

Cecil Adams?

Alasdair: Then again, it has been an unacknowledged truth that most western Marxists have spent the past forty-odd years pretending the Soviet Union didn't exist

Really? I always thought it was more along the lines of “Wait? What the fuck? You guys call yourselves Marxists? Dude, I don't even know you. You are so out of the clubhouse.”

And one shouldn't forget the whole strand of social democraticism, which was opposed to the leninist-stalinist way of doing things pretty much from the start. Or at least after Stalin tried to systematically eradicate them from the world.

But I never had that problem with Tolkein - mostly, I think, because he actually put most of his self-indulgent worldbuilding into the appendix.

Yeah, I've never brought my self to read the appendices. I quite like the world-building in the books because I feel they give the story a sense of history - that there's so much more to this fictional world than just what the author is showing us right here and now.

But how would you ever find out how Sam and Rosie Gamgee had 13 children(must've been tough, Tolkien never did tell us what sort of healthcare they have going on in the Shire) and Sam sailed to the west some 60 years after Frodo and Bilbo! But on the other hand, with Tolkien, you get the feeling that the world actually has some sort of independent existence outside of the stories, which of course was caused by Tolkien's weird little hobby of making up languages first and figuring out the stories after that. But in a sense, when someone mentions a name or a story, it often gives one the feeling, that the story actually exists autonomously and not only as an option to milk more cash out of a fantasy series by writing more prequels or whatever(Although I guess Christopher's editions of unfinished tales could be called exactly that). I must admit that I couldn't be bothered to interest myself with all that as an adult, it helped to be a teenager at the time; it was easier to be obsessive about stuff then.
permalink
at 18:06 on 03-10-2011, Robinson L
Alasdair: Then again, it has been an unacknowledged truth that most western Marxists have spent the past forty-odd years pretending the Soviet Union didn't exist

Really? I always thought it was more along the lines of “Wait? What the fuck? You guys call yourselves Marxists? Dude, I don't even know you. You are so out of the clubhouse.”

At least, that is the approximate attitude adopted by the majority of the Marxists I know (all of whom are Western).

Michal: Even Weis & Hickman wrote the (largely incoherent) Deathgate Cycle, which tried to do the whole "magic and supertechnology" thing. I'm not really willing to defend them on that score, however, since most of their work is absolutely dreadful (I'd say "all" but I haven't read all of their prodigious output, and haven't any desire to, either.)

Starshield: Sentinels also seemed like science fantasy, with an emphasis on the science fictional side (at least, that's what I gathered from the abridged audiobook). Also, as far as quality goes, I recently read Song of the Dragon, book one in The Annals of Drakis, and I found it surprisingly good.

But I never had that problem with Tolkein - mostly, I think, because he actually put most of his self-indulgent worldbuilding into the appendix.

Yeah, I've never brought my self to read the appendices. I quite like the world-building in the books because I feel they give the story a sense of history - that there's so much more to this fictional world than just what the author is showing us right here and now.
permalink
at 16:30 on 03-10-2011, Michal
Oh, parts of Perdido Street Station are very info-dumpy. I found myself skimming over some sections fairly quickly because I just didn't care and wanted more bug hunt, which is what I'm pretty sure was what Mieville got the most fun out of writing in the first place (The plot not starting until after a hundred-so pages also annoyed me quite a bit).

It's mostly the carefully-thought out magic systems that bug me; not geography, not history (I really like history), not cultural description, because magic systems are often described in the same way as you'd go about a physics lecture, and there's a reason I didn't go and study engineering in university.
permalink
at 16:04 on 03-10-2011, Ibmiller
Hmmm. I do like me some great worldbuilding - I think I share Abigail Nussanbaum's idea that all of human experience is interesting, not just the parts that go boom.

But then I remember that I was dreadfully bored by Game of Thrones (the show, didn't even bother with the books), in which every scene seemed to be either incredibly glaring nudity masking incredibly boring exposition, unless it was incredibly glaring violence (why, hello, horse that's been chopped in half in front of me) doing the same thing. Sometimes we got lucky and there was both!

But I never had that problem with Tolkein - mostly, I think, because he actually put most of his self-indulgent worldbuilding into the appendix. Or the Silmarillion, which is all worldbuilding and myth and stuff. But I love it.
permalink
at 07:23 on 03-10-2011, valse de la lune
Wait, having said that, I now recall that parts of Perdido Street Station were quite info-dumpy. Oops. But I forgave it all because, for me anyway, it was fun to read through.
permalink
at 06:53 on 03-10-2011, valse de la lune
Plus I'm not much one for meticulous world-building anyhow--any time someone describes some complex magic system with specific rules my eyes just sort of glaze over (thus my reluctance to even bother with Brandon Sanderson).

Ditto. This is one of the many reasons I can't stand Tolkien. Not that I advocate that all secondary worlds should be incoherent, but a lot of fantasy writers have this thing where they've logged a hundred thousand hours writing up complex histories, genealogies and drawing maps. Most of the time that stuff isn't half as interesting as they'd like to think, but they want to let readers know all about it anyway. It's possible to be coherent, concise and interesting, but most writers aren't.
permalink
at 05:48 on 03-10-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Michael Swanwick did something similar with The Iron Dragon's Daughter, but I think he did a much better job of it. In TIDD it's pretty damn clear that Faerie is a historyless civilization, a parasite realm that feeds off of our own (or, if you assume our universe is a 20-plus-dimensional shape that can be observed and interpreted from a variety of perspectives, actually is our own), and as such can mix together whatever influences it wants. It probably also helped that Swanwick only had one viewpoint character in his story, so as to keep the artifice intact.
permalink
at 02:07 on 03-10-2011, Michal
I think Bas-Lag is purposefully non-coherent on the world building side. At first I found it really odd that voyanoi (Slavic) were in the same place as Khepri (Egyptian) and Garudas (East Indian), along with a bunch of things Mieville just made up, which made for some language issues in my head (Why are vodyanoi even called vodyanoi here? It just means, well, "watery thing", basically, and it's not like anyone speaks Russian in Bas-Lag). If there are these creatures out of various mythologies, why not others? But then I felt that I was sort of missing the point, and Bas-Lag is supposed to be a sort of dream-space. Plus I'm not much one for meticulous world-building anyhow--any time someone describes some complex magic system with specific rules my eyes just sort of glaze over (thus my reluctance to even bother with Brandon Sanderson).

Really, I find New Crobuzon is the least interesting place in Bas-Lag. Once you leave it, things get so much more wondrous and weird.

I think different people's expectations very massively on this one. I've known people get snippy about *gunpowder* appearing in fantasy. For a lot of people "Fantasy" means "Tolkein via Weiss/Hickman/Feist" and not a lot else.

Even Weis & Hickman wrote the (largely incoherent) Deathgate Cycle, which tried to do the whole "magic and supertechnology" thing. I'm not really willing to defend them on that score, however, since most of their work is absolutely dreadful (I'd say "all" but I haven't read all of their prodigious output, and haven't any desire to, either.)
permalink
at 20:19 on 02-10-2011, valse de la lune
No need to apologize, I didn't mean to come off as so castigating. As I said, I can't stand Kraken... although I was under the impression this is supposed to be Mieville's token ~whacky hoo-ha so zany~ book or something. Like, it's meant to be humorous and stuff.
permalink
at 19:56 on 02-10-2011, Ibmiller
Sorry if I sounded snippy - not my wish. I was more irritated at the awkwardness and lack of desire to make a coherent worldbuild, rather than the melding of science/magic. I think science/magic can definitely work - Gaiman has some interesting elements of that in American Gods (structural issues aside), and G. K. Chesterton (a huge influence on Gaiman) was doing it in the early 20th century. For that matter, Star Wars is rife with that kind of stuff, and I'm a huge Star Wars fan (though admittedly edging towards the military rather than Jedi side of the fandom). Though stylistically it's a bit one-note (and definitely philosophically odd, though in a different direction from the original) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality attempts to do this on as its raison-d'etre (well, that and living forever, apparently).

Basically, I suppose my point in this rambly post is Sorry for being flip, and I don't mind magic/science, just when it's done lazily as I feel Mieville did in Kraken.
permalink