Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Love, Books and Unbelief

Over at Rixosous, Susan is celebrating books with pictures of her regular reader's bookshelves. I have not joined in as I am currently cameraless. She says:

We don't just read books. We love books.

Well yes. But on the other hand I'm reminded of this Terry Pratchett line from Feet of Clay:

'I thought dwarfs loved gold,' said Angua.

'They just say that to get it into bed,' said Littlebottom.

Do I love books or do I just say that to get them to go to bed with me?[1] Case in point, I was up far too late last night, in bed, reading Stephen Donaldson's Fatal Revenant (volume 2 of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant). Now I greatly desired this book. I've been lusting after it since reading The Runes of The Earth (volume 1). I want to read it, but more still I want to have read it. Maybe as a trophy or an experience, as something to achieve rather than to enjoy in itself. I want to go back to bed and read this book now, even though I don't love it. I'm not even sure I like it that much.

I first tried reading my Dad's copies of earlier Donaldson novels at a very young age - far too young - and put it away again until I was a young teenager. There's some superficial (and less superficial) resemblances to The Lord of the Rings - a magic ring[3], a volcanic mountain of power, an evil lord served by inhuman creatures, wise beings who love trees opposing the evil lord etc. It's written quite opaquely, and the characters spend quite a lot of time hanging around worrying about the moral dilemmas they're in. When this works, it works, and when it doesn't, then you're skimming through the chapter to see if Thomas Covenant will make up his mind whether The Land is real or not, and either way, what is he going to do about it? Also, when it doesn't work it ends up quoted in Thog's Masterclass in Ansible, although that's an ever-present danger in the genre (and out of it, for that matter). And what's with the words like "innominate"? Can't you just say unknown, unnamed or mysterious? Does Linden Avery actually think in that vocabulary?

We're something like 12 and a half spine-inches in 7 volumes into the story by now, and even the glossary is starting to get a bit opaque[5]. But there's still some good stuff. Donaldson is exploring why the symbol of the structure that surrounds and protects The Land is The Arch of Time and what this means to those who wish to destroy it or preserve it. There's still no better not-quite-meaningless name for a fantasy mountain than Melenkurion Skyweir (with half the name italicised). And (spoiler) we finally meet Berek halfhand, legendary founder of the Lords of the Land. But I've still spent most of the first half of the book trying to tell Linden Avery - either trust them or don't, but for God's sake, make your mind up! I can't wait to find out what happens. I'm just not sure I want to commit to reading all the way through it.

[1] Metaphorically. The saying anyway; as this post will make clear I do, literally[2], go to bed with books.
[2] Heh
[3] In this case Thomas Covenant's wedding ring. Which reminds me:

Child "Is it a magic ring?"

Adult "It's a wedding ring. Of course it's magic."[4]

Did I hear this somewhere or did I make it up years ago?
[4] What if The One Ring was given as a wedding ring? Maybe that's Sauron's mistake - he's too in love with his own power to share it with anyone. If he'd only fallen in love and given away the ring...
[5] Examples: Rant Absolain: the gaddhi
Sheol: a Raver, Satansfist, samadhi
Melenkurion: One of the Seven Words
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