Friday, September 13, 2013

Secondary Flowers

What is it about secondary-world fantasy that makes people write such stilted, archaic prose? It seems that the cruder the technology, the more ornate the language becomes. It's almost as if some writers imagine that they're writing medieval chronicles...without ever considering that maybe, just maybe, those chronicles sounded fresh and contemporary to 12th Century ears. Kind of like this:

In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning,. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the wheel of time. But it was a beginning. Born below the ever cloud-capped peaks that gave the mountains their name. the wind blew east, out across the sand hills, once the shore of a great ocean, before the Breaking of the World. Down it flailed into the Two Rivers, into the Tangled forest called the Westwood, and beat at two men walking with a cart and horse down the rock-strewn track called the Quarry Road. For all that spring should have come a good month since, the wind carried an icy chill as if it would rather bear snow. (Richard Jordan)

Or, if you don't have a lot of time: Two men walked down the Quarry Road. An icy wind blew on them.

For the record, I've got no problem with ornate language. I'm a writer, damn it. I love words; Roger Zelazny is a god to me, and Ray Bradbury at least a saint. What I have a problem with is language that's flowery to no purpose. So compare that flowery to this flowery:

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays, many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these, some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made. (Ursula LeGuin)

Actually, it isn't even flowery; it just has that incantatory music that Jordan tries for, and fails to achieve. One line less, too...but how much more solid detail it conveys. You learn about the main character; you learn about his home island; you learn that his world is filled with islands, oceans, and magic; and all in one line less...

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