Sunday, June 15, 2008

Now this is my kind of trash.

I think today would be a good day to talk about trashy fantasy, since I just finished the Stone Key (book 5 of the Obernewtyn Chronicles) by Isobelle Carmody. I would like to offer the following observations about trashy fantasy:

1. it's addictive. I started reading this series when I was about ten or so, at the age where just about everything I read was trashy. Eight years later, I'm still reading it - not because I particularly like it any more, just because I want to find out what happens. See Harry Potter for a pertinent example.

2. Any literary merit the books possess is progressively leeched from them as the series progresses. Again, see HP. The first three books were good, then suddenly it didn't matter how she wrote as long as people kept reading it. I have several theories as to why this phenomenon occurs:
  • Fame (only in some cases, such as Rowling). Editors become afraid to alter anything because let's face it, the books sell. I can't blame them for this - it's the HPs and Da Vinci Codes of this world that pay for all the decent books.
  • The plot takes over. The author finds that the plot is becoming increasingly complex, and in order to keep the book at a manageable size, character development and all the other good stuff is sacrificed to the GOD OF PLOT. Beware a series whose books become progressively larger! It is almost certainly getting crappier and crappier as it goes. The Stone Key's at 997 pages, and it's not even the last in the series.
  • Fan pressure. I know that Isobelle Carmody, for one, is known for getting distracted with other books when devoted fans such as myself know she should be concentrating on the good stuff. (Are you reading this, Isobelle? Finish the Obernewtyn and Legendsong series already!) So anyway, the fans want the books. The authors don't want too many of the fans to grow up and grow out of their books, so they write quickly and perhaps without as much attention to detail as they could. I (not known for my perspicuity) noticed two contradictions that were positively GLARING in The Stone Key.
3. One becomes fond of the characters (or at least I do). Despite their increasing two-dimensionality and excessive Mary-Sue-ness, you want to know what happens to them. It's a bit like going to a school reunion - you know it's going to be awkward and probably embarrassing, but you positively need to know what those people are doing with themselves these days.

4. For me, at least, reading these books evoke memories of a more innocent time. A time filled with lazy summers and weekends sans homework. A time when a sex scene was a daring thing, causing giggles with fellow readers at lunchtime (incidentally, no sex scenes in the Obernewtyn chronicles). A time when I had known no sickness, no heartbreak, no despair. Looking back, it seems like they were my halcyon days - idyllic, perfect, and gone forever. Rereading the books I read then is like sinking into a soft, soft bed when exhausted. My life now's not so bad, ok? But sometimes you just want to get away.

6. There's always the joy of discussing them with friends. Well do I remember that abysmal compulsory religion day at school (actually, it was only last year). A couple of friends and I decided we had had enough of writing personal messages to God with lipstick on a tablecloth draped over a coffin, and we sneaked off into the pews of the church and lay there, whispering about, you guessed it, the Obernewtyn Chronicles. I look back on that day with the greatest nostalgia. Another telling anecdote would be about the week preceding the release of the final Harry Potter book. Every class was spent talking about HP. For me, who loves talking about books, it was literally the. best. thing. ever. Because suddenly it wasn't only the select few with whom I could discuss to my heart's content! It was everyone! Oh, those heady days.

7. You always know that at the end, good will defeat evil. Often I find this irritating, but sometimes it's nice. Even though they're full of magic and shit, the worlds of trashy fantasy seem simpler. Things are black and white. There are heroes and monsters, goodies and baddies. If a main character does die, they do so gracefully and elegantly. If there's a sad ending, it leaves you feeling uplifted, for even though you wept, it was beautiful (Bitterbynde, anyone?). And where there is beauty, there is hope.

Some authors try to get around this by blurring the lines between a 'goodie' and a baddie' - that is to say, the heroes may have questionable morals or snarl often (Anne Bishop, you scarred me for life at an impressionable age with your snarling, questionably-moraled characters. I never forgave you for that). It doesn't work. GIVE IT UP GUYS YOU FAIL AT SUBTLETY.

8. There's always a new vocabulary to be learnt and later recited! Actually, now I think of it, maybe this is why I read them so much. New words! Shiny! Anyway, my favourite has got to the be necromancer bells of Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (it had to rate a mention somehow). Let's see if I can still do it: ranna, mosrael, dyrim, belgaer... all right, I suck. I forget the rest. BLASPHEMY!!!!

9. The fanfiction, oh the fanfiction! I actually rarely read the stuff, because it's too bad. But it's good for a laugh. Oh, the perpetual hilarity of the Hermione/Snape pairing! The ultimate badass-ness of Bible slash! (actually, God fails at trashy fantasy. 'nuff said.) ... moving on. The less time spent talking about fanfiction the better, is all I can say.

Specifically to The Stone Key, Carmody kind of tries to explore the theme of fate versus action - you know, like in Macbeth, Oedipus, and a trillion other works of literature throughout the ages - but rather unsubtly and clumsily. Give it up, Isobelle! I love your work, but don't try to be deep. BE SHALLOW AND INSUBSTANTIAL AND WITHOUT LITERARY MERIT, FOR THIS IS WHY I LOVE YOU.

P.S. I know I have used Harry Potter examples frequently throughout this epistle, but IMHO, HP is not trashy fantasy, for all that it conforms to most of the criteria. The trubbs with you, HP (soz) is that you're not obscure enough. To qualify as trashy fantasy, a series' following has to be hopelessly nerdy and confined to dusty corners of the internet (and crouched beneath a pew when there is nothing better to talk about). I only used HP as an example because everyone knows it, and it does exemplify trashy fantasy in many ways.

It's rather sad to see how much I have written about trashy fantasy, of all things. I defend myself by observing that I am still young and thus it forms a larger proportion of my reading life than it would to, say, someone in their middle age. Through fantasy, I came to bigger and better things!!! Rant rant rant!! Bombast! Grandiloquent rhetoric!!!!!!!1

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