Language


I love language. It’s incredible. You take a little thing like squiggly lines, arrange them in the right order and you can convey a multitude of information that may or may not have anything to do with the words themselves. Skill with language seems to me to be the difference between greatness and mediocrity. The power to turn a clever phrase is severely underated in our modern age. When I troll the aisles of a book store looking for my next addiction I am confronted with nothing but imitations of the Greats and no new greatness to behold. Where is my generation’s Tolkien? Who is to take up the toil of Pratchett? Must Gaiman bear the brunt of the fantasy world? Shall I be stuck reading shallow vampire/werewolf/zombie novels that offer nothing new (anyone mentions sparkley skin is asking for a beating)? Must all the heroines run around in leather pants and have at least 3 supernatural guys vying for their affection? Must every fantasy epic have a man, an elf and a dwarf regurgitating nonsensical languages in an attempt to compete with the life’s work of a professional linguist?

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a snob. And a show off. And I’m proud and vain, though I try very hard to fight that. Which is fortunate, too, considering how many instances I’ve made a fool of myself when I thought I was being clever. Though I frequently condescend to read fluff, I accept that it is that. My Mercy Thompson books will never be in the same league as the greats, but they are still easy to read and entertaining enough to repeat when I don’t feel like working so hard. I’ve also read Harry Potter more times than I have read LOTR. Still, I find myself filled with disdain for modern authors, with very few exceptions. There is nothing original any more. It is all shallow mimicry. I finally realized why.

Understanding of language is so paramount to good writing and the lack of that understanding is why so many stories fall flat. If you take any of Shakespeare’s plays and modernize them they will fail to produce the same effect unless the language stays the same. Every adaptation I have seen of his plays where they kept the dialogue the same has been ten times more powerful than the adaptations to modern English. The sets, the costumes, the props are all secondary to his brilliant use of language. Every imitation of LOTR fails to capture my imagination because it is obvious that the author didn’t build the world around the language but copied the work of Tolkien. He spent his entire adult life developing his world from the bottom up, reverse engineering it as only a linguist could. Others in the genre just seem to be making Elvish-sounding words or taking his ideas (like Hobbits) and just changing what they’re called. I’ve given up on fantasy epics entirely.

The saviors of the modern authors are few. Pratchett and Gaiman are brilliant in their own ways. One pokes fun at the whole genre while the other draws it into deeper and darker places. Both have an excellent feel for language, how to use words to best develop their characters and set the tone. Chris Moore is also adept with language, using humor to color his topics, be they Christmas zombies or the stupidest Angel or Death herself. I like reading their books because it is as satisfying as a big meal.

It is late and I have rambled. Perhaps I shall write on this again and perhaps I shall write as someone else. We shall see.

I did finally find a fantasy epic to read.  The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is very engaging and filled will fascinating characters.  He shifts narrators around so that you get to see most of the characters from inside and without and does it almost seamlessly.  His creatures are pretty original, too, except for the Mydraal (but what series doesn’t have a Nazgul-like critter nowadays?).  The whole world is intricately built and unique in many ways.  It was a little slow to get into, but now I am firmly hooked.  The only real problem is that Robert Jordan passed away before finishing the series.  He had prepared notes so the last volume could be finished without him (by a buddy Brandon Sanderson).  What started as a six book series was supposed to be finished after his death with a twelfth book.  Then “they,” whoever they are, decided that one book wouldn’t cut it so they tacked on two more.  The final and fourteenth book in the series was published last January.  I will never finish this series.

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