NOTE: This is a review of the whole trilogy, as I'd left a brief comment on this book first when I started reading it - why not keep it here?
First offNOTE: This is a review of the whole trilogy, as I'd left a brief comment on this book first when I started reading it - why not keep it here?
First off, I don't have much to add to all the other negatives - this is likely the worst book of any kind that I've ever read. Read on if you must...
Tolkien plagiarism - well, duh. This makes the "Sword of Shannara" look like a masterpiece of originality in comparison. The very beginning, with the "young buccan Warrows" (McKiernan's strength sure isn't in his naming) practicing their archery, is just about the only scene that doesn't seem like a LOTR swipe. OK, the warrows are a little more warlike than the hobbits. So what? They also have a piece in the appendix called "On Warrows" - they're quite short - they tend to stoutness - they live in a peaceful country all their own and like to avoid the big folks - there's a town on the verge of their country called Stonehill (Bree) populated by men and Warrows, with an inkeeper named Bockleman (Barliman Butterbur) - four of them take part in most of the action of the book, with one Tuck (Frodo) being eventually responsible for the downfall of the bad guy Modru (Sauron) and his boss Gryphon (Morgoth). You get the idea.
But I guess one can plagiarise pretty baldly and get away with it. I don't think McKiernan got sued - if he did, he must have settled quietly - his books are still out there. So let's let go of that. If he's writing a copy, well, how does he write it? Not well at all I'm afraid. His heroes and villains are all paper-thin - Modru comes off as a James Bond villain at best, cackling about his plans to his helpless female prisoner and hissing a lot, and he's evil because....uh...he's evil. The heroes have no personalities either, and most of them cry a lot. There's no sense of landscape, of culture, of history, it all just feels tacked together, all makeshift and cheap, all no more detailed or interesting than the average AD&D game I was playing in college around the time this was first published. Others have mentioned how McKiernan flips back and forth between "quarrels" and "arrows" (it should be the latter in most cases) indiscriminately, but his writing is remarkably lazy and poor throughout. He uses the passive voice an awful lot and throws in archaisms and umlauts and accents recklessly, I guess to make it feel "old" and "epic", but he only succeeds in making himself look illiterate and pretentious. He also has one very curious trait that I've never seen anywhere before - he likes to abbreviate words that are not normally ever abbreviate, e.g. "landscape" becomes " 'scape". This choice and several other equally mysterious ones like using an apostrophe before non-abbreviated words ('Day) help contribute to the general sense that the guy never wrote so much as a letter between college and the writing of this book - and his editors didn't do him any favors.
And he's awfully, awfully obvious. When Tuck finds the Red Quarrel early on, we're never in the slightest doubt that he'll be using it to complete the Big Task and destroy the Big Nasty; when the heroes go underground in Dimmen-whatever (Moria) we know they'll have to face the Balrog-thing; when the eclipse is first mentioned there's never a shred of doubt that they'll have to reach the Big Bad Iron Tower before it. And so on. This is a book almost wholly without subtext, except maybe a very cynical one: how badly can a book be written, and how obvious can it's debt to LOTR be, and yet still be published - and even cherished by fantasy fans with little taste or experience. The answer saddens me....more
My introduction to Lord Dunsany; probably like most people who come to him, I have some familiarity with some of his disciples - Clark Ashton Smith, HMy introduction to Lord Dunsany; probably like most people who come to him, I have some familiarity with some of his disciples - Clark Ashton Smith, HP Lovecraft, Jack Vance, etc. In fact, it's Lovecraft's "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" that really got me interested in exploring the earlier writer. This might seem at first to be the best place to start -- very accessible, short, with the book pretty readily available in one edition or another -- but for me, it probably wasn't. Oh, I liked it quite a bit, it's just that these very short stories rarely move me or enchant me; it takes a really great master to bowl one over in 1,000 words or less, I think. So it's very good, not great. Most of the stories seem to be emblematic of a nostalgic, nature-centered view, appalled or at least shaken by industrialisation, with an often sardonic eye on man's attempts to equal the Gods who are still so alive in Dunsany's vision. Some of my favorites were among the more melancholy tales, like "Charon" about the boatman's last journey.
Don't read them all at once, short as they are - parcel them out, I say. Too many at once might be an overdose of moodiness and pastoralism/pantheism....more
A charming little volume containing several very short Oz stories involving many of the major characters that had featured in the first 7 or so booksA charming little volume containing several very short Oz stories involving many of the major characters that had featured in the first 7 or so books in the series proper. Clearly aimed at an even younger audience than the regular books, most adults will probably find these a little too silly -- though some of the wordplay that both Baum and his successors are known for is in evidence (the Imps -- Udent, Olite and Ertinent, for example). John R. Neill's illustrations are among his best and are the high point for me, especially the double-page ones. The Books of Wonder facsimile reprint is up to their usual high standards....more
Someday I'll manage to find and afford the beautiful, limited-edition Cheap Street edition of this little gem, but for now I've had to settle for readSomeday I'll manage to find and afford the beautiful, limited-edition Cheap Street edition of this little gem, but for now I've had to settle for reading the poorly copy-edited printing in the Winter 1993 edition of "Crank" (#2) -- which, for any of you who are looking for this, is probably much more affordable than the Cheap Street. It's a nice little story, about Father Thyme accompanying a young girl -- soon young woman and then old woman -- on a journey Westward through battles and the designs of princes. Deceptively complex like a lot of Wolfe's stuff (the work that's not obviously complex), it makes extensive use of alliteration and punning on "thyme/time", coming off as both a children's fairytale and a meta exercise. It begs to be re-read, the allusive/elusiveness is both maddening and charming....more
Overall an excellent introduction to (mostly American) magazine science fiction from the beginnings of 'Weird Tales' and it's stars HP Lovecraft and COverall an excellent introduction to (mostly American) magazine science fiction from the beginnings of 'Weird Tales' and it's stars HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith in the 20s up through the 1970s and the continuing dominance of 'The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction' in the field. The selection is excellent overall, there are few if any duds here, but I do have a couple of caveats, namely that the book might have done better to have chosen some longer stories in the case of certain writers (Lovecraft and Sturgeon are not at their best here IMO with their quite short contributions), and the selections overall are just a might too familiar. Do HPL, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson really need to be here at all? Given the stated restriction to magazine fantasy, perhaps a selection of lesser-known, even forgotten names might have been of more use.
But that's the POV of someone who is fairly cognizant of the history of the field; were I a little less knowledgeable, this would probably deserve a 5th star. Many of the stories are unquestionably classics -- my own faves are probably "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" by Richard Cowper and Harlan Ellison's masterpiece "Jeffty is Five."...more