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I'd been eying "German Literary Fairy Tales" for a while. It's always interesting to see attempts to write fairy tales, because they hardly ever work. A while ago, I read Goethe's attempt, simply called "The Fairy Tale,"* which is beautiful and strange, but fails as a fairy tale because it's too complicated. It's part of the nature of fairy tales that there are strange things, but that not everything is strange, and very little is symbolic. In Goethe's fairy tale nearly everything is fantastic: the ferryman can't accept gold as a fee, but only living things; the old woman can't carry living things, as they appear heavy to her, but stones are light.

The earlier tales are similar to Goethe's. Novalis' Klinsohr's Tale is evidently a response to the Goethe, but is not nearly as well translated, so it seems weaker. A common theme is the need to reject the worlds show in the stories. In "The New Melusine," the hero marries an elf princess** and puts on her magic ring, which makes him minuscule like her, but grows tired of his life as an elf prince, saws off the magic ring with a file, and goes back to his life as a poor layabout. In several of the stories the hero is presented with a choice between a supernatural woman and a good peasant girl. The supernatural woman is invariably the wrong choice.

Two stories stand out: Theodor Storm's "Hinzelmeier: A Thoughtful Story" and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "Tale of the 672nd Night." In the first, a young man grows up with apparently ageless parents. He discovers the secret of their eternal youth: his mother is a Rose Maiden, and his father has fallen in love with her and found her, which grants him her immortality. There are certain men who are destined to be Rose Lords, and fall in love with the Rose Maidens, if they can find them. If he doesn't, both he and the Rose Maiden are doomed. Hinzelmeier, distracted by the World and the promise of the Philosopher's Stone meets his Rose twice but cannot keep her. Not only is the premise original, the prose, even in translation, is lovely, and the conclusion sorrowful: Hinzelmeier has failed and has lost his grace forever.

The second story is remarkable not for its plot, since nothing much happens, but for Hofmannsthal's creation of atmosphere. The theme of isolation, too, is apparent, as it often is in his work. The main character of the story, a merchant's son, sees a beautiful servant girl, but her beauty "fills him with longing but not desire" - he is not truly part of the world. At the end he is killed by accident by a horse, and as he is dying he hates everything: there is no revelation.***

This, like many of the stories, is not really a fairy tale. The term is used because the authors certainly wouldn't have thought of themselves as writing speculative fiction, even had the term existed.

*While trying to find the text online, which it no longer seems to be, I have found this, which involves Roscrusians. No but really.
**If "The New Melusine" were a current fantasy story, it would be universally panned. So the elves were among the first creations of God, but they tried to take over the world, so God created dragons to fight them. But dragons were accursed, so He created giants to fight the dragons. The giants tried to take over the world too, so He created good knights to fight them and live in harmony with the elves.
***Both stories I enjoyed are beautiful failures.
polutrope: (work habits)
I've realized that the characters in the myriad stories that start in my head and never actually go anywhere are nearly always very, very good at what they do. Like the Queen's Champion, who is the best swordswoman in the land and knows it, and is very uncomfortable with being idolized, because she's also acutely aware that she's not a good person. Or the mercenary who's competent and good at her job, but runs up against magic she knows she can't beat.*

This transfers to the kind of characters I like to read, too. Let's talk about Phoenix Guards, because I really want to re-read it. It's fairly clear that Khaavren is awesome from the beginning, just inexperienced. He gets more and more awesome as the book progresses, but not past the bounds of reason (and to be honest, I don't really mind "past the bounds of reason", as long as the world and plot can justify it. I mean, that part in Anvil of the World when Smith has the knowledge and power to destroy the world? AWESOME. Rhapsody having the crown of every country under the sun and beauty that literally causes accidents? Less awesome.)

In other words, he's not like, say, Harry Potter, whom I never liked. I am over (and really, started out over) the hero who's not particularly good at anything. The argument I've heard for this type of hero is that people identify with them more easily. But I've never exactly wanted to identify with my heroes: I want them to be sympathetic, for sure, but not close to me, particularly.**

And, and this certainly points to a large character flaw, I'm pretty good at what I do. But I've been good at things by having large amounts of natural talent, and I tend not to go past where my talent takes me. Skating, for example. I was second nationally, on three practices a week, when my peers were doing six. Looking back, if I had been willing to put in any work off the ice, I'd probably have been in Vancouver a couple of years ago. But I wasn't, and I'm still not particularly willing to put hard work in to anything: I barely know how.*** There are certainly things I am bad at. Art, for example, or really anything to do with my hands and creating things. More relevantly to my life, math. Like, "can't-do-basic-algebra" abysmal. And I've tried to pay attention in class and stuff, but it just doesn't work, which can't be right. And I don't know how to fix it, and I have to because I need to pass a math class to graduate.

All personal flaws aside, I like my heroes talented - and preferably older, for some reason. Even as a young adult, whenever I read YA I sort of balked at the idea of trusting the Fate of the World to some teenager. I think it's telling that in about 8th grade I wrote this terrible story about an old warrior who hears the call (magically, of course) to go back for her**** last battle against the Forces of Evil*****.

Other things I am over: the heroine (usually) who has grown up in a court setting and complains about but is also vaguely proud of not fitting in. I would totally read a book about the sister these heroines tend to have, who is supposedly only interested in boys and clothes, but who is probably actually learning how to manipulate the court setting she lives in.

Arranged marriages as an excuse for inappropriate fieryness. Most of the stories in my head that will never be written are attempts to make tired tropes work for me. This one works best if she disagrees with the political motives behind the marriage. Once I think the marriage was being used to cement a deal to betray the king, which Our Heroine, being a good monarchist, of course, is against.

Speaking of kings, the idea of the Lost King, because unless you're being deliberately medieval, it's creepy and weird. Like, the stewards or whoever have been doing the best they can, but because they're not royal, it doesn't matter. Or they've been being evil, for no particular reason.

Evil people in general. Because usually they've got no reason to be evil - they've just decided "today I shall destroy the land, for funsies." Or "Today I shall attempt to take power for no real reason and then run the country into the ground. For funsies." And it makes no sense at all.

So this sort of evolved into My Issues With Fantasy, but whatever, I think it's valid and fun.******

*My characters are also 99% female. Because my head is full of kick-ass women.
**I mean, I fantasize about my life being a TV show sometimes, but really it would be super dull.
***yeah, am currently procrastinating on my junior independent work, due in a week and unstarted , because it's not coming easily.
****99% female. I meant it.
*****I have also gotten over Forces of Evil. And major battles.
******It's also a "sharing still-born ideas" post. So I had Good and Evil, right? Only it was time for the world to be destroyed, according to Good's timeline, but Evil was having none of this, because Evil needed a body to be bound to, while Good could sort of nebulously exist. So they hire a hard-bitten mercenary to do, well, I'm not entirely sure what, to stop the forces of Good from destroying the world.
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
I'm halfway through The Darkness that Comes Before, which I'd been vaguely eying since it came out (in 2004!), and really, it's pretty decent. But I really wish he'd be less obvious about the Crusade parallel: so there's a really charismatic new leader of the "main religion"(which is at least polytheistic, thanks for not making it totally blatant) who announces a holy war against people who have control of the Holy City. Also there's an empire with really involved court protocols that used to be a lot bigger but they lost to the people against whom the war has been declared. And there was a groundswell among the common people, whom the leaders have now sent out to get killed. And they call it "taking the Tusk." In sum, have fun with the First Crusade, guys! Hint: it doesn't turn out well.

Oh also, random diacritical marks. This is a fairly obvious pet peeve, and one that needs to be ignored if you want to read fantasy, pretty much, but this guy went through the trouble of making language trees. Now that I look at it again, I think it's actually to show that vowels are pronounced separately, but "ao" is not a diphthong in English, so it's not really necessary. Also circumflexes. I think Tolkien pretty much admitted they were just there to look foreign in Dwarvish, which is cool - because it really does. But why is there a circumflex in "Anasûrimbor"?

On a completely different note, after a four month lapse, we're evidently doing the Hippolytus. I highly doubt it's going to happen: we haven't rehearsed or even seen each other for the previously-mentioned four months; we have no funds or costumes; no translation; and most importantly, no venue. And this is all going to come together by May. My pessimism aside, I am going to work hard on this, until it dies a lamentable death, and so I've started my translation! I have missed Greek, and I wish I'd been functional enough to work on it before. I went through the first thirty lines like a whirlwind, in part because I remember a startling amount of it from tenth grade.

And to switch again, I am pretty sure a witch has cursed my lime sorbet. It has now been in the freezer for almost two days and it is not even close to frozen.
polutrope: (Default)
God I seriously wish that like, anyone else had heard of K. J. Parker ([livejournal.com profile] dolique, you don't count) because I really think he's my favorite fantasy author for several reasons. (I. research [he makes siege weapons! he can fence! he's a God-damned blacksmith! II. interesting characters. III. Decent prose, because really too few people have it.) Devices and Desires, which I just finished reading, is amazing. Valens and Veatriz are pretty much the only couple I really care about in anything - they write letters to each other, and all of them made me tear up a little bit.

and throughout the whole thing there's impending doom for like everyone (I am taking bets for who dies) and all I really want is the impossible - for Valens and Veatriz to go off somewhere and be happy but seriously because of who wrote it (Mr Parker is not so much with the happy endings, or even happy middles) and because of 600 pages of plot development it's really not going to happen.

All I want is someone to talk about this with, besides the ether of the internet.


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