tough-travelingTrue Love

Love has often not been Fantasy’s strong suite – unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a genre for so long primarily marketed at geeky teenage boys. As among many geeky teenage boys, there was sort of an apprehension that love was incredibly important and solved all your problems, but not really too much idea of what exactly it entailed. The love of Aragorn and Arwen, for instance, or of Rosie and Sam, was ideal for a fantasy novel: signposted from the beginning so as not to be a cause of any anxiety or confusion, then conveniently absent while all the exciting stuff was going on so as not to get in the way, and finally dealt with once and for all with a marriage at the end of the book, because as we all know real life ends with marriage…

…but along the way, the genre has produced the odd interesting pairing. Some truly moving; others, just truly disturbing. Here, in accordance with this ‘Tough Travelling’ meme that I keep meaning to participate in but never quite get around to, are a few that I can think of.

All are variants on the idea of ‘true love’ as presented in Fantasy; some may be more loving, or more true, than others. The meme calls for five… I ended up with 13. Well, 14, technically. But then I do way fewer than 1 in 3 of these, so I reckon I’m still in deficit…

Warning: beyond this point lie moderate spoilers for the works of Tolkien, Feist, Wurts, Weiss, Hickman, Eddings, Abrams, McCaffrey, Abrams, Hobb, Jordan, Green, Donaldson, Pratchett, Gentle, and Nyx Smith…

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Lord Foul’s Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson

I have a feeling that Lord Foul’s Bane may come as a surprise to many readers. It’s on the ‘fantasy’ shelf, and fantastical things do occur, but this isn’t meant to be how fantasy works. At least, not these days.

Some history is in order. Lord Foul’s Bane is one of the most important books in the history of the genre. It came out in the epochal year of 1977 – in October, I think. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had been released in stages through the year, with the Monster Manual released sometime that autumn so far as I can make out. Tolkien fans would have been at fever-pitch with the long-awaited release of The Silmarillion in September. In January that year, Terry Brooks had released his own shameless rip-off loving homage to Tolkien. Up until then, fantasy was mostly the soft fringes of science fiction, itself already a niche genre. Pern and Earthsea were established, but otherwise it was a matter of writers like Vance, Moorcock and Leiber, who did not exactly write for the masses. Anne Rice and Stephen King were just getting started, but keeping themselves carefully distant from the ‘fantasy’ label, despite their content. Rice, King, Brooks and Donaldson were all early representatives of the Boomer generation, a generation that had grown up with Tolkien and Lewis, and that in 1977 were just beginning to put their stamp on the genre they had inherited.

What happened next is obvious. Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara became the first fantasy novel to make the NYT’s bestseller list. The Silmarillion reached #1 at the beginning of October and stayed there until the middle of March 1978. AD&D was a cult success, and went on to raise up a generation of new fantasy fans. Even The Book of Merlyn made it to the list, the long-belated fifth novel of T.H. White’s old Once and Future King tetralogy. And Donaldson went on to sell 10 million copies of his first two fantasy trilogies. Fantasy went from being a strange half-genre of isolated works to a full functioning world of its own – and a profitable world too.

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