Friday, April 29, 2011

Read Lately

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King

This is full of insights into the horror genre ~ books and movies. Some of it is also covered in On Writing, which in many ways is an updated version that focuses a little more on writing over the adoration of King's chosen genre-but an awful lot of the same stories were in each.
I find myself carried along with King's narration stronger in his non-fiction than I even do with his fiction-and that's alright. I'm always on the lookout for ways to make stories grab people-what makes than click, what kills them-& when it comes to Horror I appreciate what King offers.
But when he starts to include thoughts on fantasy, I thought he dropped the ball. He paints with too wide a brush and while he clearly adores even the worst of horror movies and comics (not novels so much) that love doesn't carry over into fantasy. He had a lot of backhanded compliments at Robert E. Howard, saying at one point "Pigeons from Hell" was a great horror story and later saying Howard never wrote anything good beyond Conan? Clearly he didn't read (or remember enough)
This was also the book where he said Sword & Sorcery are tales of power for the powerless-he went on to say that the theme of all fantasy is Power-how to get it (or lose it=Sauron)
I have to disagree
Making such a blanket statement flies in the face of other King statements, such as the famous-"Harry Potter is about how its important to have friends, Twilight is about how its important to have a boyfriend." He forgets the myths fantasy is based on - Beowulf=Courage, Gilgamesh=Hubris/Consequences, even Hercules and King Arthur are far more complicated than merely being tales of Power-they are about wrath, revenge and redemption~far more than merely escapist entertainment told about the campfire.

So its not a bad book, I just took issue with King's handling of a genre that is not his.

B.P.R.D. Soul of Venice & Other Stories, by Mike Mignola

I really enjoyed this second installment of Mignola's Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Beyond the great title story we had an excellent ghost story with Lobster Johnson and a haunted train among others-BPRD is off to a wonderful start

in contrast

Hellboy: Weird Tales vol. 1 & 2, by various writers/artists

Was rather disappointing.
The art was usually phenomenal, but the stories = meh.
Now, I don't fault anyone for wanting to try their hand at a Hellboy story-hell I'd love to...but most of these were dogs. They just didn't capture the magic that Mignola brings to his iconic creation. I sensed that a lot of the writers wanted to up the ante as it were (TV shows are especially guilty of this in later seasons...and it usually kills the show)
These tales tried to push the envelope a bit more and it just didn't wash. So, Paul I recall you said you had these-trust me the regular series is far better.

Solomon Kane: Castle of the Devil, by Robert E. Howard, adapted by Scott Allie and Mike Guevara

The original REH Castle of the Devil is a fragment-but it sets thing up nicely for this expanded tale. The REH fragment fits almost verbatim into this graphic collection and over all I found it to be a pretty good read. I would have liked a little more explanation on what the demons actually are toward the end and why one of them can live so long but others can't? Still, it was a good enough collection I shall get the next Solomon Kane graphic, no problem.

Swords & Death, by Fritz Leiber

When I started reading Leiber's Fafrhd and Grey Mouser saga, I very nearly quit. The first book with stories about the characters before and when they first meet fell flat-it took a good friend suggesting I go back, to get me to pick Leiber up again-and I'm very glad I did.

Swords & Death truly redeems itself over Swords & Deviltry.
Leibers prose and surprise storytelling are exactly what I was looking for-I had to chuckle that a couple of great conventions I had written into the forthcoming Blood of Our Fathers were employed by Leiber years before I was born. I'm not changing mine (they are different enough) but it made me smile to think I was walking a similarly inspired trail. I'll be continuing with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser very soon.


Charles Gramlich said...

I was irritated with King's comments on Sword & SOrcery too. He showed me a couple of times that he has no grasp on true fantasy at all.

David J. West said...

Exactly Charles-perhaps I could have been more eloquent, but it showed me he just doesn't get other genre's.

Brian Murphy said...

Count me as another who enjoyed Danse Macabre very much, but was annoyed by King's comments on sword and sorcery. He should have stuck to horror.

David J. West said...

Right on Brian, its just not something I think he fully understands as a fan.

Paul R. McNamee said...

We are all in agreement on Danse Macabre.

It really ticks me off that Del Rey still insisted on putting Stephen King's quote from this book on almost all of their REH collections.

Yes, they used the half of the backhanded quote so it sounded all right. I suppose they thought having a King quote would mean more sales. But, as stated, it's not his genre. They could have asked any other number of relevant fantasy authors for a blurb.

Funny story about influences. When I was in High School my English teacher told me I wrote like Joseph Heller. I had never read Heller at that point. I went out and read two of his novels right away.

David J. West said...

Paul-yeah, I thought it was an awesome quote, until I read all of it. I do have to think it was about sales and name dropping-who doesn't know who Stephen King is?

But even NY-Times bestselling fantasists don't get recognized too often-so their blurb doesn't have quite as much weight.

I have yet to read Heller-but if you're throwing out recomendations...

Paul R. McNamee said...

If you want to try Heller, there is 'Catch-22', of course.

My other favorite Heller, and the first I read, is 'God Knows'. Imagine the story of the biblical David, told by David himself - but with a NY Jewish/Heller delivery. Very funny, yet there are also some very poignant moments.