How Does One Write Epic Fantasy? Black Widow Spiders!

Woops. I almost suckered myself into writing on that topic. Not gonna happen, because my insurance policy is simply not adequate enough. The battle between Tolkien’s moral vision and George Martin’s bleak nihilism is a deadly one, fraught with many stories found on the continuum between those two poles. Many a farmboy has come to grief on that battleground. One day, perhaps, I’m going to write a doctoral thesis on the foundational philosophies of the genre, but not today.

Actually, that’s a bit of a dream of mine. Back to school for a doctorate. I’d love to study literary theory. Not the lame marxist critique or feminist critique that most blockheads teach in academia (sorry, I have no pity or patience for such ivory tower chowdermumblebrains), but a critique theory that actually delves into the aforesaid moral vision of the oldsters (Tolkien, Chesterton, etc) versus the post-modernism of Martin, Cook, and others. One’s vision and understanding of the world shapes one’s stories. There’s no getting away from that, and there’s no getting away from the moral or amoral responsibility (can I say amoral responsibility?) that goes hand in mailed glove, regardless of the careless and shallowly constructed excuses of many of my contemporaries.

So, me for a doctorate and my wife would tackle a master’s in Jane Eyre. She’s currently re-reading Jane Eyre for about the twentieth time right now. I’m definitely the fifth wheel out when Jane and Mr. Rochester are in the house. Cambridge, perhaps?

Yesterday, I drove onto a work site where we were tearing down some old fences and replacing them with new ones. I arrived just in time to see one worker suddenly break into a frenzied impression of Michael Flatley doing his Lord of the Dance (Riverdance?) routine. Only, I doubt Flatley could’ve done such fast footwork as this fellow. There was a certain lack of rhythm and grace in his movements, but, boy, was he fast. He was also doing a lot of hollering at the same time. Turns out that he had just flipped over a large masonry block and uncovered a nest of black widow spiders. Several adults and about forty Barney-aged youngsters (Barney and black widows–now that’s a perfect combination). They all came boiling out like the four horsemen of the apocalypse (well, the forty-four horsemen, if we must be precise). Hence, the dance impression accompanied by the frantic yodeling.

Spiders as terrifying as those that planned to sup on Bilbo and the dwarves. It just goes to show you. You never know when life might become epic, fantasy or not.

4 thoughts on “How Does One Write Epic Fantasy? Black Widow Spiders!”

  1. Oh man, I gotta meet your wife. My speed is Jane Austen more than Jane Eyre, but wow, we’d have so much to talk about! And, hah, a PhD in lit studies? You couldn’t get around Marxist and Feminist criticism (at least you’d have to study enough of it to understand what they’re saying), but Postmodernist critique is a very respectable branch of the field (umm, corner of the field? branch of the tree?). My favourite is Reader-Response Theory, of which C. S. Lewis’ “An Experiment in Criticism” was one of the forerunners. Oh yeah – it would be too much fun to take a lit studies degree with the you…

    The Shelob sequence in LOTR absolutely terrified me the first time I read it, the summer I was 15. That, and the heads being shot into Gondor. Vicarious trauma, that one. And I still can’t stand watching the spider in the movie.

    1. We had to study marxist and feminist critique in grad school. That stuff drove me crazy. I thought it was pretty much nonsense, but it was instructive to see how a lot of academics think. Postmodernism? Aargh. That’s all I can say to that. I haven’t heard of Reader Response Theory. I’ll have to read that essay. Essentially, I get skeptical whenever a lit theory says that meaning is inherent in the reader/viewer/listener. I think a little meaning might be inherent with the reader, but I think the majority is inherent with the creator of the work. That’s why theories like feminist critique drive me crazy: they’re so individual-centered.

      1. Reader-Response Theory is, among other things, a reaction to New Criticism, which was prevalent in the 60s and 70s, and says that the work of literature needs to be looked at on nothing but its own merits, i.e. it has nothing to do with its author, the time of its origin, or its readers. ALL meaning to be derived from the piece is inherent in the piece, end of story. Reader-Response makes a ton of sense when you look at it. Of course it can go out the other side, where meaning is ascribed *only* on the basis of the reader, which, as you point out, is equally silly.

        1. Doesn’t it seem like Reader-Response has gotten out of control these days? I’ve read lots of stories, anecdotal, yes, where students are taught meaning is more inherent in how one reads a piece as opposed to how the piece was written. “Bring your life experience to the reading experience…” To me, that seems plain wrong. For one thing, it attacks the inherent truthfulness of the Word. That a word by itself cannot contain meaning. In a sideways fashion, that seems to weaken the ancient idea that morals and ethics and truth are absolute and exist external to humanity.

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