Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Literature For Heroes By Romantics
I wouldn't call it an inferiority complex, it's not something that's on my mind much, more an itching kind of curiosity that I've been reading the wrong books all along. See, I'm a smart guy, and that's not a moral judgment, just an observation that I was one of those eight-year-olds who thought he was hot stuff because he'd read Hitchhiker's Guide, and so there's a part of my identity based on being more literate, more aware than my peers.
As I've grown truly more aware I've had occasions to worry that I should have been reading Serious Novels like precocious kids in my genre novels. There's an idea rattling around in the back of my mind that I am to true Novel Readers as Baenkiddies and xianxia fans are to me, that by generally restricting myself to genre I'm cutting myself off from a world of beautiful truth, just because the few Novels I've read have been boring and slow.
I've never taken the time to test it, though. I have a few recommendations stored away for Novels that match one part or another of my experience or philosophy, but in general I just read genre, and not Serious Genre like Atwood either, the last few books I've read were Poul Anderson's Fire Time and the two translated Rocket Girls novels. I'm not likely to be mistaken for an excessively literate person like this.
Something occurred to me recently as I was reading a book of criticism (that stuff's perfectly accessible to me) talking about different famous Authors and what they think the purpose of the novel is. That's an odd question to me, something like asking what the purpose of tools is, but it got me thinking about why it is I write, or take notes for the unknown day in the future when I'll be able to write, or force myself near retching to put a few words down when I want to write but my whatever-it-is is keeping me from it.
And it felt odd that I'd never asked the question before. The best answer is probably "because I do." Trying to break that down I get... Well, let's see how readable my notes are:
What do I write, and why? Why do I stuff my txt folder with megabytes of plot summaries, why do I fight the Creature of Habit so hard for the right to breathe life into them? Because I would have wanted to read those things if someone else had wrote them. Because I desire fame and fortune. Because they came into my mind unbidden and chafe while they are unreleased. Because I have created situations I want to experience, and desire others to see what I see - that's wrong. I have seen things and felt things I cannot express, though I wish to learn how, but only to gain definition, not because I'm particularly bothered that other people can't see them.
Is it that I seek the glory of creation? Not necessarily to be the first to call a concept from the dark, though that is not unwelcome, but to be the father of a world, to watch it grow and flourish under my pen, for the truth it will weave peculiar to itself. For the heroes and villains of that world, probably more complicated in themselves than I can show, to feel their guilt and triumph, and perhaps for some of that to wash over the sides of their universe into me.
So it's not the expression of myself I'm specifically concerned about. Why genre? Why not focus on the intimately human? For the same reason I don't write boring heroes. I write about the human side of things, but humans of heroic stature, in settings that fit them.
Come to think of it, the intimately human things many authors especially in the modern age love to write about are foreign to me, seen less often through the lens of desire but more often through pity. I'm not going to cheat on my wife. I'm not going to defraud my employer. My life is a struggle with a goal, not a wrestling act with meaninglessness. In a sense I'm on a more heroic plane - not that my deeds have achieved such stature, but that if they did they wouldn't seem out of place. I feel qualified to be an extra in a primary-colored good vs. evil cartoon, as a good guy.
If not heroic, romantic. I can find fulfillment in stories of hard-wrought love, tribulation leading to disaster or triumph, but not in stories of constant degradation, life in despair. I find more common ground with characters who are like me.
Now, I understand that Novels aren't just about cheating on your wife. But maybe what keeps me away from them is just that I'm not complicated in the same way their subjects are. I'm a foreigner, you know. I was homeschooled, didn't associate with other kids much, not even in my relatively large family. I grew up in books, and not Novels, in mid-grade and YA and the shiniest SFF on the library shelves and exotic LDS scripture, and I'm not the kind of gushing Gertrude to get misty-eyed about codices themselves, to say something sappy about how a good book is a good friend or how everyone needs to read.
That's just my home country is all, and of course I'm proud of it, but it makes this other place everyone else lives in feel pretty strange, and books about it feel strange too. They're not about me, not about my experience, as I've always felt more like a YA protagonist waiting on his portal than a Novel protagonist dealing with everyday life things as part of a life.
And so what I read, what I'm comfortable with and what I try to draw truth from, just might not be what applies to Moderns. I'm sorry if this comes off as prideful or dismissive. I haven't suppressed that feeling that I'm missing a continent of wonder by not reading the literary canon, I don't plan to, and maybe someday I'll read all the Novels as I plan on living forever, but I don't think I'll ever feel at home there.
Hopefully I'll grow up into a Hero someday. Even if I don't, even if I grow old, I'll be more comfortable in their company.