Morrison seems always to be over-extending himself. The fellow simply does better when he sticks to something more simple. His greatest downfall is al...moreMorrison seems always to be over-extending himself. The fellow simply does better when he sticks to something more simple. His greatest downfall is always his attempts to be meaningful. Morrison seems to always hover around the same level of meaning, the result of which being that the more he tries to be meaningful, the more his ideas become overt and tautalogical.
He also tries to fit in too many sources and concepts without streamlining them, which often results in incorrect facts. He followed the old wive's tale about bats being blind in Animal Man, he Misquotes Oppenheimer in this series, and also indicates that Byron would have known of Blake's work. I know there are some others I can't recall, and perhaps it is the nature of the fast-paced script writing, busy schedule, and ill-health of Morrison which resulted in such oversights, but it breeds little confidence in a reader to give him the benefit of doubt.
In his odd compulsion to combine as many odd and unrelated conspiracy and magical concepts into one story, Morrison develops a peculiar flaw. It made...moreIn his odd compulsion to combine as many odd and unrelated conspiracy and magical concepts into one story, Morrison develops a peculiar flaw. It made me recall a a humorous article I read some time ago about how ridiculous sci fi explanations seem when placed in a normal situation. Morrison's magical world ends up feeling like another terribly complex sci fi story where all the characters walk around discussing the marvel of what's going on around them in unnatural detail.
I'll be spreading my critiques throughout the series I guess, that's enough for this one.
When I started to get into comics in college, it was the britwave authors who I found most appealing: Moore, Gaiman, Delano, Ellis, Ennis, Milligan, a...moreWhen I started to get into comics in college, it was the britwave authors who I found most appealing: Moore, Gaiman, Delano, Ellis, Ennis, Milligan, and Morrison. But when I tried to read Morrison's Magnum Opus, I found none of the careful structuring or intelligent dialogue which I was hoping for. In disappointment, I threw down Morrison's book and it was a long time before I gave him another chance.
But when I did, I read WE3, Morrison's cleanest and least pretentious story. I still have trouble reconciling the author who penned that excellent little story with the one who produced this sprawling indulgence.
Determined to give Morrison another chance, I read The Filth, Seaguy, and Kill Your Boyfriend and, pleasantly surprised, decided I should give Invisibles another chance. Unfortunately, I have found it no more appealing the second time around.
But I'm hardly alone in failing to connect with it. Since my similar disappointment with Animal Man, I have been trying to conceptualize precisely why these stories are so different from the clever, well-structured writing of some of his other books; sometimes, the man is a great storyteller, but other times grows inflated and confused.
Perhaps it is a case like Neal Stephenson's, where the author strives for greater complexity, indulging in his passions, but failing to connect such disparate elements with competent pacing and larger ideas. Many authors, when writing a personal story, grow too close to the material, which prevents them from conscientious self-editing.
It is not hard to imagine that Morrison wishes he could be like Moore in this regard, since Moore ties together complex storylines and experimental plotting without losing the audience along the way, and makes it look easy. However, I feel I begin to agree with Moorecock's critique of Morrison as not quite skilled enough to reach his own lofty goals. Of course, Moorecock's critique of plagiarism grows a bit weaker in my eyes after comparing his Gloriana to the Titus Groan books.
I find Morrison's complexity outstrips his skill here, though I should note that he was working on scripting for five or six other books at the time, including the enjoyable Flex Mentallo and even better Kill Your Boyfriend.
The art of the early Invisibles was also of a lower quality, often simplified without being elegant and with various errors of foreshortening, perspective, and anatomy. Even compared to early Sandman or other books of the era, The Invisibles still seemed primitive. Perhaps the artists were as rushed as Morrison seems to have been; every other issue talks about some stress-related health problem.
I did feel somewhat bad for the man, especially after reading some of the drivel in the letters page of people who genuinely didn't understand what he was getting at. Unfortunately, even though I did have some comprehension of what he was getting at, it only helped me to see that he wasn't achieving it.
Tried to start him at the beginning, as many of my dear friends love him. However, this book showed no particular charm nor skill of construction. It...moreTried to start him at the beginning, as many of my dear friends love him. However, this book showed no particular charm nor skill of construction. It is an early piece, so this unpractised work is to be expected. The jokes were more worthy of groans than guffaws, and I was left feeling rather let down, since he's been compared to the superlatively funny Douglas Adams.
After finding this one dull, a friend suggested I try one of his later books, so I started Moving Pictures, which was better crafted, but no more amusing. I guess you can't trust your friends.
This book is so overwrought, so full of tangled, convoluted prose, that I found it hard to take seriously. The world, instead of being built up as an...moreThis book is so overwrought, so full of tangled, convoluted prose, that I found it hard to take seriously. The world, instead of being built up as an original creation, seems to be taken fairly whole cloth from the French Court of Louis XIV. I know everybody steals, but the best writers steal the most, and I could have used some more depth of inspiration.
Then, of course, there is the sex. The constant rampant, submissive, fetishy, 'pain=pleasure' sex. Sex is fine, even porn is fine, but the sheer redundant volume of the stuff made it less than exciting, after a while--mostly because it all seems to come from the same angle, the same point-of-view.
It's a problem in most fantasy: the author wants to write about what interests them, and apparently, only that. I always appreciate an author a bit more when they are able to put in some conflict, try to provide a few sides to the story, and get out of their own heads a little. When an author is truly skilled, you'll come out not knowing which side they're on.
But that's not this book. This book is self-indulgent, and makes no apologies, and there is something I can appreciate about that. It's not like the eye-rolling fetishism of most male fantasy authors, like Goodkind or John Norman, whose sexuality always feels confused, conflicted, and furtive. Carey seems to know what she wants and doesn't let anything get in her way.
Unfortunately, it was all too much for me. The purple prose, the repetitive sex scenes, the single source world, and the sheer length of the thing. Unfortunately, Carey and I do not share a fetish, because mine (at least when it comes to books) is novelty, and while she may be vastly different from her modern fantasy contemporaries, in the end, I found her book was too similar to itself.
Even as a child, the banal pointlessness of this story never engaged me. As an adult I heard the rumor that it was a ridiculously convoluted political...moreEven as a child, the banal pointlessness of this story never engaged me. As an adult I heard the rumor that it was a ridiculously convoluted political allegory, though no one's sure if that's actually true. In any case, it is as flat and silly as most allegories. The characters are the simplest form of preconceived archetype and any flights of fancy the author partakes in are conceptually shallow. Simply compare Baum to Carroll and you will see how short the former falls with his sentimental tale.(less)
As this collection deals exclusively with the interaction of Gaiman's inhuman 'endless', the reader must come to terms with the fact that Gaiman has t...moreAs this collection deals exclusively with the interaction of Gaiman's inhuman 'endless', the reader must come to terms with the fact that Gaiman has too little madness to write them. Delirium is particularly disappointing as her randomness becomes more and more predictable. Dream himself still comes off as your standard Gaiman protagonist, though Gaiman keeps using secondary characters to try to make us understand what amazing psychological changes he has undergone. It is almost the opposite of Chekhov, where we see the action and the emotional reaction is described to us.
However, Gaiman is still a strong and mystical storyteller who draws from many sources. It is unfortunate that he tried to tackle such bizarre and complex characters without Blake's chemical madness to spur him on; but then again, any author with sufficient talent and drive will not be comprehended, and especially not by their most rabid fans (how telling is it that we require a qualifier for 'fanatic').
It is unfortunate that Gaiman seems to be unable to surrender his archetypal cast to either humanity or inhumanity, but lets them sit awkwardly in the...moreIt is unfortunate that Gaiman seems to be unable to surrender his archetypal cast to either humanity or inhumanity, but lets them sit awkwardly in the middle. Though he often presents Dream and his siblings as falling to love or petty squabbling, their reactions to such are often not to work towards decision, but to subside. In those cases where they do act, it becomes merely a meaningless exercise to continue the story. When this is done for the purpose of framing other tales and interweaving ideas, it does not bother so much, but when it is the story itself, it loses that edge.
Dream, like most if not all of Gaiman's protagonists, seems to operate merely as an oculus for the reader, and we often find his own chance at decision revoked. The same is true of American Gods or Neverwhere, where any conflict set up against the main character tends to be resolved without growth or change since there is no decision made.
It is perhaps Gaiman's reticence on these archetypal characters which provides that the dialogue of this collection is often ungainly and without art. Gaiman works better when knee-deep in humanity than when trying to work beyond it.
Like most of these collections, there are several fairly strong stories but one which stands above the others. In this second installation, it is the...moreLike most of these collections, there are several fairly strong stories but one which stands above the others. In this second installation, it is the convention of serial killers where Gaiman is able to tap into his sense of human nature and draw out something that is funny, terrifying, and well-written. Often, his archetypal main characters cannot hold a candle to the depth and complexity of the small throwaways such as Gaiman creates here.
Perhaps he is afraid of alienating the reader, and hence always lays a fairly neutral and mysteriously cool reader surrogate at the center of things. I think I might prefer what Gaiman could become if he descended completely into the world of his minor characters more often, and left the moralizing to the reader.
Though Gaiman had already made his mark with Black Orchid, Sandman is where he really begins to fall into his style, which sometimes becomes his downf...moreThough Gaiman had already made his mark with Black Orchid, Sandman is where he really begins to fall into his style, which sometimes becomes his downfall in its predictability.
Here, he plays for perhaps the first time at mixing mythology, spirituality, and strange real events into a story beyond the ken of other fairytale rewrites and new age mysticism. There is a sense here that the characters and story are still undeveloped in his mind, which provides the reader with some welcome ambiguity, as soon he will nail down the characters into something a bit too precise and not quite realistic enough.
Of course, this merely becomes his frame around which he tells stories from any place or era which more than make up for the lack of conflict in other parts. The final story in this collection is an exploration of the depths of human desire and control, which recalls to us the depravity of The Lord Of The Flies. It should be unsurprising to us that Sandman became a classic by shocking and questioning its readers, and it must sadden us that no more comics have won the World Fantasy Award since.
Wolfe has an almost legendary status amongst fellow authors; Gaiman called him 'a ferocious intellect', Swanwick said he's "the greatest writer in the...moreWolfe has an almost legendary status amongst fellow authors; Gaiman called him 'a ferocious intellect', Swanwick said he's "the greatest writer in the English language alive today", and Disch called this series "a tetralogy of couth, intelligence, and suavity".
You can rarely trust the popular market to single out good authors, but you'd think it might be safe to listen to the opinions of other writers (especially an assemblage of Nebula and Hugo winners in their own right). I will give his fans one concession: Wolfe is an author who defies expectations. Unfortunately, I was expecting him to be remarkable and interesting.
This book had been sitting on my shelf for months, along with other highly-praised works I've been looking forward to, but I bade my time, waiting for the mood to strike. Few live up to their reputation, but most at least deliver part of the promise.
I would expect any author mentioned in the same breath as Peake to have an original and vibrant style, but I found Wolfe's writing to be simple without being elegant. His language and structure serves its purpose, only occasionally rising above mere utilitarianism, and then he rushes to florid flourishes that fall flat as often as they succeed. Sometimes, it is downright dull. The prose of the second book is stronger than the first, but its plot and characters are more linear and predictable.
I appreciated his 'created language' more than most fantasy authors, but I didn't find it particularly mysterious or difficult, because all of his words are based on recognizable Germanic or Romantic roots. Then again, after three years of writing stories about Roman whores in Latin, I had little problem with 'meretriculous'. Even those words I wasn't familiar with seemed clear by their use.
The terms are scattered throughout the book, but rarely contribute to a more pervasive linguistic style, as might be seen in The Worm Ouroboros, The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast, or The King of Elfland's Daughter. Wolfe's terms pepper otherwise and unremarkable modern style, which hardly helps to throw us into a strange world.
He is better than the average fantasy author, but he resembles them more than he differs from them. His protagonist started off interestingly enough: an apparently weak and intelligent man, which made it all the more disappointing when he suddenly transformed into a laconic, wench-loving buttkicker who masters sword-fighting, finds the Super Magic Thing and follows the path of his Awesome Foretold Fate. Again, I must agree with Nick Lowe: Wolfe's plot owes more to magic and convenience than good storytelling.
It relies on the same tricks over and over: any time a character is about to give important information to us, there will be a sudden attack or other interruption, as convenient and annoying as the moment when the dying man says "I was killed by . . . aargh". We also get problems solved by divine intervention whenever things start to slow, which doesn't leave the characters much room to be active.
He also seems to suffer from the same sexual discomfort that plagues so many fantasy authors. There is an undercurrent of obsession with women and their sexuality, complete with the sexualization of rape and murder. It's not so much a case of misogyny as it is an inequality in how characters behave.
The women always seem to end up as playtoys for the narrator, running around naked, desiring him, sparring with him coyly, but ultimately, conquered; and the camera pans away. They always approach him, desire him, pretending they don't want him, then give themselves up to him. It's the same old story of an awkward, emotionless male protagonist who is inexplicably followed and harangued by women who fall in love with him for no given reason, familiar to anyone who's seen a harem anime.
I will grant that the women have more character than the average fantasy heroine, but it still doesn't leave them with much. Instead of giving into love at first sight, they fight it as long as they can, making it that much sweeter when the narrator finally 'wins'. The sexuality was not new, interesting, arousing, or mutual, it was merely the old game of 'overcoming the strong woman' that is familiar to readers of the Gor books.
The sense of 'love' in The New Sun is even more unsettling. It descends on the characters suddenly and nonsensically, springing to life without build or motivation. The word never comes up in connection with any psychological development, nor does it ever seem to match the relationships as they are depicted. More often than not, it seems love is only mentioned so the narrator can coldly break his lover's trust in the next chapter.
Several times, the narrator tries to excuse himself for objectifying women by mentioning that he also objectifies ugly women. What this convolution of misogyny is supposed to represent, I couldn't say. The narrator seems very interested in this fact, and is convinced that it makes him a unique person. It made it very clear to me why the most interesting antiheroes tend to be gruff and laconic, because listening to a chauvinistic sociopath talk about himself is insufferable.
Then there is the fact that every character you meet in the story turns up again, hundreds of miles away, to reveal that they are someone else and have been secretly controlling the action of the plot. It feels like the entire world is populated by about fifteen people who follow the narrator around wherever he goes. If the next two books continue along the same lines, then the big reveal will be that the world is entirely populated by no more than three superpowered shapeshifters.
Everyone in the book has secret identities, secret connections to grand conspiracies, and important plot elements that they conveniently hide until the last minute, only doling out clues here and there. There are no normal people in this world, only double agents and kings in disguise. Every analysis I've read of this book mentions that even the narrator is unreliable.
This can be an effective technique, but in combination with a world of infinite, unpredictable intrigue, Wolfe's story begins to evoke something between a soap opera and a convoluted mystery novel, relying on impossible and contradictory scenarios to mislead the audience. Apparently, this is the thing his fans most appreciate about him--I find it to be an insulting and artificial game.
I agree with this reviewer that there is simply not enough structure to the story to make the narrator's unreliability meaningful. In order for unreliable narration to be effective, there must be some clear and evident counter-story that undermines it. Without that, it is not possible to determine meaning, because there's nowhere to start: everything is equally shaky.
At that point, it's just a trick--adding complexity to the surface of the story without actually producing any new meaning. I know most sci fi and fantasy authors seem to love complexity for its own sake, but it's a cardinal sin of storytelling: don't add something into your story unless it needs to be there. Covering the story with a lot of vagaries and noise may impress some, but won't stand up to careful reading.
Fantasy novels are often centered on masculinity, violence, and power struggles, and so by making the narrator an emotionally distant manipulator with sociopathic tendencies, Wolfe's story is certainly going to resemble other genre outings. If Severian is meant to be a subversion of the grim antihero, I would expect a lot of clever contradiction which revealed him. His unreliability would have to leave gaping holes that point to another, more likely conclusion. If the protagonist's mendacious chauvinism is not soundly contradicted, then there is really nothing separating him from what he is supposed to be mocking.
Poe's Law states that it can be difficult to tell whether something is an act of mockery or an example of genuine extremism, and perhaps that's what's going on here: Wolfe's mockery is so on-the-nose that it is indistinguishable from other cliche genre fantasy. But even if that were true, then the only thing separating Wolfe from the average author is the fact that he's doing it on purpose, which is hardly much of a distinction. If a guy punches himself in the nose and then insists "I meant to do that", I don't think that makes him any less of a dumbass.
Human psychology and politics are fraught enough without deliberately obfuscating them. Unfortunately, Wolfe does not have the mastery of psychology to make a realistically complicated text, only a cliched text that is meta-complicated.
After finishing the book, I tried to figure out why it had garnered so much praise. I stumbled across a number of articles, including this one by Gaiman and this one by an author who wrote a book of literary analysis about the New Sun series.
Both stressed that Wolfe was playing a deliberate meta-fictional game with his readers, creating mysteries and clues in his book for them to follow, so that they must reread the text over and over to try to discern what is actually happening. I won't claim this isn't a technical feat, but I would suggest that if Wolfe wanted us to read his book over and over, he might have written it with verve, style, character, and originality. As the above critic says:
"On a first, superficial reading, there is little to distinguish Wolfe’s tetralogy from many other sf and fantasy novels . . . The plot itself is apparently unremarkable."
Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I have no interest in reading your average sword-wielding badass gender-challenged fantasy book over and over in the hopes that it will get better. If Wolfe is capable of writing an original and interesting story, why cover it with a dull and occasionally insulting one?
I have enjoyed complex books before, books with hidden messages and allusions, but they were interesting both in their depths and on the surface. I didn't find the New Sun books particularly complex or difficult. His followers have said that he isn't 'concerned with being conspicuously witty', but I'd suggest he's merely incapable of being vibrant or intriguing.
There were interesting ideas and moments in the book, and I did appreciate what originality Wolfe did have, but I found it strange that such a different mind would produce such hidebound prose, tired descriptions, convenient plots, and unappealing characters. It has usually been my experience that someone who is capable of thinking remarkable things is capable of writing remarkable things.
Sure, there were some interesting Vancian moments, where you realize that some apparently magical effect is actual a piece of sci fi detritus: this character is a robot, that tower is actually a rocket, a painting of a mythical figure clearly depicts an astronaut--but this doesn't actually add anything to the story, they weren't important facts, they were just details thrown in.
It didn't matter that any of those things were revealed to be something else than they appeared, because it didn't change anything about the story, or the characters, or the themes or ideas. These weren't vital and strange ideas to be explored, like the mix of sci fi and fantasy in Vance, Le Guin, or Lovecraft, but inconsequential 'easter eggs' for obsessing fans to dig up.
As Clarke's Third Law says: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Therefore, switching back and forth between magical explanations and super-technological ones doesn't mean much, on its own. They're indistinguishable. Star Wars may use the trappings of sci fi, but it's just a fantasy story about wizards and knights in space. In order to make the distinction meaningful, you've got to put some kind of spin on it.
Overall, I found nothing unique in Wolfe. Perhaps it's because I've read quite a bit of odd fantasy; if all I read was mainstream stuff, then I'd surely find Wolfe unpredictable, since he is a step above them. But compared to Leiber, Howard, Lovecraft, Dunsany, Eddison, Kipling, Haggard, Peake, Mieville, or Moorcock, Wolfe is nothing special.
Perhaps I just got my hopes up too high. I imagined something that might evoke Peake or Leiber (at his best), perhaps with a complexity and depth gesturing toward Milton or Ariosto. I could hardly imagine a better book than that, but even a book half that good would be a delight--or a book that was nothing like that, but was unpredictable and seductive in some other way.
I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never really did. It all plods along without much rise or fall, just the constant moving action to make us think something interesting is happening. I did find some promise, some moments that I would have loved to see the author explore, particularly those odd moments where Silver Age Sci Fi crept in, but each time he touched upon these, he would return immediately to the smallness of his plot and his annoying prick of a narrator. I never found the book to be difficult or complex, merely tiring. the unusual parts were evasive and vague, and the dull parts constant and repetitive.
The whole structure (or lack of it) does leave things up to interpretation, and perhaps that's what some readers find appealing: that they can superimpose their own thoughts and values onto the narrator, and onto the plot itself. But at that point, they don't like the book Wolfe wrote, they like the book they are writing between his lines.
I'll lend the book out to some fantasy-loving friends and they'll buy the next one, which I'll then have to borrow from them so I can see if there's ever a real payoff. Then again, if Sevarian's adolescent sexuality is any evidence, the climax will be as underwhelming as the self-assured, fumbling foreplay. If I don't learn to stop giving my heart away, it's just going to get broken again.
The intellectual critic is able to remove himself from this poem's pomophilic lesbianism and focus on an analysis of the many literary elements presen...moreThe intellectual critic is able to remove himself from this poem's pomophilic lesbianism and focus on an analysis of the many literary elements present. The lesser man simply counts himself lucky to find two such beautiful events in utopic cohabitation.(less)
Though I am wont to blame the inescapability of genetics for various aspects of an Epicurean reading of Absurdism, I tend to pause, for some reason, i...moreThough I am wont to blame the inescapability of genetics for various aspects of an Epicurean reading of Absurdism, I tend to pause, for some reason, in ascribing gender differences as stringently. It's difficult to say if this is simply a bias of wishful egalitarian thinking or truly an outgrowth of my understanding, for precisely the reasons that Epicureus is worthy to interrupt my many Suicides. So, when I say that women seem more than men to be capable of breaking the Tolkien Curse laid so thickly upon Modern Fantasy (barely proper), it is with trepidation.
Flatly blaming rude and wretched socialization always seems easier; despite our inability to understand any First Cause. Original Sin infects us all.
There is certainly something bound in the flesh which drives a breed of dwarfish, ill-socialized, fetish-loving escapists to blindly build and habitate an unoriginal world; and for a further gaggle of the nearly less-talented to consume it ravenously. It seems that, in the spirit of contrariness, when women find themselves thrust by love of horses or exceedingly lax tonsorial concerns into the same arena, that they fight a different fight.
Perhaps they approach the incline from a different vantage; arriving not by way of a)Tolkien to b)Conan to c)some unspeakable modern half-wit, but by Malory, McKinley, and Spenser. Of course, one must not forget that the vein of Fantasy still runs, at least in part, through Austen; and that though those alloys be rarer, still inhabit the edges.
Bradley has certainly taken a different tack on her way to the summit (never tor) of fantasy. She evokes Spenser, the Idylls, and all manner of other ridiculous romanticics of the Arthurian Mythos. She also endeavors to pull the characters out of the romantic and toward post-modern psychological conflict. On occasion, she even succeeds.
There is an undeniable depth to the books, accompanied by a rather pleasing graying at the temples of morality which immediately places her at the opposite pole from her male contemporaries. That those poles are really not so far away somewhat lessens the impact, and one is eventually bound to recognize that there really is a reverse pole to the whole of our concept of fantasy marked somewhere in Peake's Titus trilogy.
Actually, that's not true. One could very easily read a fantasy novel a week for life and never have to realize that Bradley is really only a little bit out there; but certainly enough to feel like a breath of the fresher.
Beautiful and wonderful. Works of genius by a man who freed himself enough that he could give himself up to that genius instead of trying to make sure...moreBeautiful and wonderful. Works of genius by a man who freed himself enough that he could give himself up to that genius instead of trying to make sure that it came out perfectly. As pleasing as his other works are, none I've read can match the joy, humor, simplicity, and odd truth of these.
Like children's literature should be, these stories never lose their humor or punch. Despite some redundancy with actual myths and some cases of artificially lowering complexity for children and hence growing transparent, eminently enjoyable.(less)
If not for the fact that this is a satire in earnest, it would serve as a powerful absurdist invective against humanity itself. If this book improved...moreIf not for the fact that this is a satire in earnest, it would serve as a powerful absurdist invective against humanity itself. If this book improved my view of Christians it was only because it points out that all the faults conspicuous in the rabidly faithful are equally well-represented in the uninformed agnostic, if less readily apparent--Lewis does his best to drag everyone down to a common level.
The sharp weapon of Lewis's rhetoric tears down humanity through all its self-righteous hubris, denial, misdirected hopes, and easy mistakes. However, one begins to develop the impression, slowly at first, that Lewis has nothing to offer in return. There are scarcely words of alternatives, let alone improvements.
Lewis does give us a house which disgusts the devils and redeems the sinful, but this perfect representation of Christian values is just a lack of badness, not a profusion of goodness. It is 'suffused' by some sort of magical glow which infects the cat, but magical glows do not a life philosophy make. I got the impression that Lewis hoped to fill in with the good parts later, but couldn't think of any.
Human beings have a cognitive bias for avoiding punishment, even to the point where we will avoid a small punishment rather than seek a great reward. Perhaps this fear consumed Lewis, as it does so many people. That would explain why his books seem more concerned with avoiding small errors instead of seeking out grand achievements.
But then, Lewis has a similar failing with grand villainy. Sure, he's able to point out all the little, foolish errors we make, but he seems to have no ability to understand actual malice or hatred. His demons, like all his villains, just do bad things because it's required of them. Lewis is unable to develop any motivation for them to do evil, which means that, in the end, his vision of evil is silly, petty, and dismissive. He cannot give us a vision of a truly dangerous devil, like Milton's or Hogg's, just an arbitrary (and easily blamed) antagonist.
Lewis said writing these letters was more unpleasant than any of his other books, and that he could not bring himself to write a sequel. I find little surprise in this, because one can see how, as the book goes on, Lewis more and more recognizes the failures of mankind but when he tries to express what makes him or his faith any different, cannot find anything to say.
The 'suffusing glow' becomes a metaphor for Lewis's own righteousness, but whenever Lewis isn't basking in his own self-righteousness, he is ridiculing someone else's. Lewis' rhetoric is most deficient when he scorns one of man's many faults, then calls it a virtue in the next chapter.
For example, the book begins with the demon advising that humans should be encouraged to think of things as being 'real' without ever questioning what that means. The term 'real life' is meant to act as a self-justification for assumptions, not as an introspective view. This is 'bad' because 'real' has no meaning beyond the opinion of the user, and hence it can be used to justify anything.
Then Lewis begins to talk about how the Christians should make sure to follow what is 'natural', but fails to define what 'natural' is supposed to mean. Like 'real', 'natural' can be used to justify any idea or position, but Lewis does not turn a skeptical eye on himself.
This can hardly surprise, as Lewis maintains a philosophy of Duality. Dualism presents the 'with us/against us' ideal by which any two groups may grow to hate one another despite the fact that they have relatively few differences. As long as one defines the other as bad, there is no need to define the self as good, as in the Dualistic system, there is only good and evil, and you are either one or the other.
Lewis often falls back on this defense, showing how some men are bad, how he is different from them, and then assuming 'different' equals 'better'. He uses rational, skeptical argument to show how flawed his opponent is, but tearing down others is not the same as raising yourself up.
That being said, it would still be refreshing to meet a believer who had put as much thought and work into attempting to understand and explain themselves. It is rare to find thoughtfulness and skepticism, believer or no. Atheists and scientists can be just as troubled, flawed, and deluded as anyone else.
The lesson I will pull from this is that it is important for me to concentrate on myself and my own growth, because worrying about everyone else didn't help Lewis, and it isn't going to help me, either. I must not simply tear down those who are different from me, since this doesn't prove that I am right, any more than a bully proves his superiority by his insults and threats.(less)
I am beginning to regret reviewing these all in a row, as I feel I need repeat myself. Then again, the theme and structure of the books is repetitious...moreI am beginning to regret reviewing these all in a row, as I feel I need repeat myself. Then again, the theme and structure of the books is repetitious, so perhaps there is little else I can add.
By this point, Rowling has caught her stride, and begun that inescapable page-climb for which she became--especially in the young-adult genre--especially infamous. This book is, more than anything, an expansion of the world and of events. She puts off Quidditch at the school--perhaps out of a fear that Harry's Gryffindors playing every year would grow dull. Instead, we have the Tri-Wizard Tournament and the World Quidditch Cup (to tide us over). Many critiques of Rowling's world-building--previously grumblings--can begin in earnest here, as she expands the world of wizards from a small cadre into a full-blown, worldwide community of secret-keeping.
Not only are there the questions of Why all the secrecy, but now How, as well. The plot leaps around as is its wont, aided by a magical urging here or a convenient villain there, and the promised 'dead character' is, of course, one almost entirely given importance solely in this text. This certainly isn't the most underwhelming that her promise of future deaths will become, but it is a foreshadowing.
The characters and conflicts are exciting as ever, and as she finally developed the pacing in the last book to prevent us losing ourself in a plot which twists and turns not so much like a maze, but like a meandering goat trail, we can at least now feel the wind in our hair as we gallop along it.
I really wish that the various psychological and foreshadowed elements would resolve themselves, but one often as not finds that the climax comes with a sense of "oh, are we here already?" rather than "I've been waiting for this".
Rowling seems to do better when things are darker and more hopeless (or perhaps those are the only moments when she cannot draw into the waistcoats of her child's lit contemporaries for inspiration), and this book continues the trend that began with a darker change in tone in 'Prisoner of Azkaban' and culminating in the next offering.