It’s only polite to introduce yourself properly, and as this is my fourth posting on this blog, a proper introduction is really overdue. So: Who am I, and what am I doing here?
I’m a writer. I’ve had two short stories published so far, including “The Word of Azrael” in the most recent issue of Black Gate (previewed here), and I’m working on a novel. Several novels, actually, but at the moment only one is actively ongoing.
I also write non-fiction, most notably articles for Old News magazine, short biographies telling true stories from the past. I’ve written criticism and journalism for places including The Comics Journal and the Montreal Gazette. Oh, and I helped cover the 2009 Worldcon for the Gazette (you can find my blog posts about the convention here, along with posts by my colleague, Claude Lalumière, who wrote a comic column for Black Gate a few years back).
I’m also a reader. Like, I’d imagine, most people around these parts, I read a lot, and I love browsing book fairs and used book stores looking for an oddity, a novelty; trawling through the past, magpie-like, looking to pick out glittering fragments that would otherwise be lost in the ocean of published texts.
My sporadically-updated personal blog, Hochelaga Depcta, is mostly a record of what I’ve read, a venue to put down the thoughts that strike me. I’m hoping to do something a bit more focused here.
As a writer and as a reader I’m fascinated by fantasy, in almost all its forms, and that’s been the case for as long as I can remember (and when I say “all its forms,” I do include science fiction and horror). So in my contributions here, which I intend to post every other Sunday, I aim to write about fantasy and fantasy stories.
I’d like to discuss some fantasies that impressed me but that I don’t often see mentioned elsewhere. I’d like to write about stories, and how they work, and how fantasies work. And, in the end, I hope to discover something as well.
As I say, I’ve been reading stories of the fantastic for all my life — but I’ve never been able to say why they mean so much to me. ‘Escapism’ has never really seemed a sufficient explanation. Since I like to spend time thinking about the things I like, and why I like them, this inability to articulate the appeal of fantasy has begun to trouble me.
So, in writing about fantasy, I’m hoping to figure out what it is that appeals to me. Why am I so passionate about these stories? It’s a long-term goal, but I think in trying consciously to explain to other readers what it is about a book that hooks me, I have to start by explaining it to myself.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably got an interest in fantasy itself. So, if you don’t mind giving me a hand in the comments below, I’d like to put the question out to you: What is it in fantasy that interests you? What do you get from fantasy that you don’t get anywhere else? When you sit down with a new issue of Black Gate, what do you look for out of it?
Any answer will be most gratefully accepted.
Matthew David Surridge is the author of “The Word of Azrael,” from Black Gate 14. His blog is Hochelaga Depicta.
Hi, Matthew. To start to answer your question (which would probably take me a lot more time to answer in full than I have right now!), what I like most about fantasy is the chance to experience human struggles in worlds I find intensely compelling. At the heart of truly good fantasy, inside these strange worlds, are very real human experiences and emotions. I find this is the main reason I’m drawn to swords and sorcery rather than high fantasy. The fates of empires and the destinies of the stars are less compelling to me than the human drama of characters who, though they swing swords and fight monsters, feel the same rage, lust, pain, joy, and sorrow I do. The “fantasy” setting, for me, is more moving than the shopping mall, supermarket, suburban world I live in. For me, the emotions of a barbarian in pitched battle are more moving than the emotions of an English major trying to find the match for the sock he found under his dresser.
As for what I get out of it that I can’t find anywhere else, it’s the sheer variety of things that can happen. There is always an element of the weird and the unknown in fantasy. It’s fun–and a little uncanny–to wrap my head around worlds where the rules are changed from my own. And yet they are, though placed in other terms, the same triumphs and tragedies I know from my own life. The world of fantasy, when well crafted, is one I can imagine real life unfolding in. Not everyone is a hero; there are shepherds, merchants, priests, and farmers that make the world work. And yet it is the heroes, those who rise to the fore in their own worlds, whose experiences make the most fantastic stories.
Welcome to blackgate. i look forward to reading what you have to say.
I was just thinking a few days ago what draws me to fantasy and why i’ve always been interested in it. In my middle school days all i had was greek mythology, and i read lots of it. I guess its just the heroic aspects of it. the magic and the fact that almost anything can happen.
Good questions, David!
>>>What is it in fantasy that interests you?
An abiding sense of Wonder; the triumph of Hope over Fear; the immersion into Strange Realms; magic and sorcery; the return to primitive/arboreal society; the empowerment of the individual and the elevation of humanity; the exploration of Human Nature through a lens of unrestrained Imagination.
>>>What do you get from fantasy that you don’t get anywhere else?
See answer #1…
>>>When you sit down with a new issue of Black Gate, what do you look for out of it?
The first thing I look for are any stories by my favorite writers; the second thing is the presence of brilliant new stories by writers I’ve never heard of (i.e. new favorites); OVERALL: Literary Fantasy that illuminates as it entertains.
Daniel: I relate to a lot of what you’re saying, particularly your comment about the element of the weird, and worlds that work in different ways. People talk about plot-oriented fiction versus character-oriented fiction, but I’ve always been fascinated by setting. I think this is something that’s key to me.
Glenn: I think I know what you mean about mythology. One thing that’s always fascinated me about early fantasy is how many of those writers were fascinated by Norse myth — William Morris, E.R. Eddison, of course Lewis and Tolkien. I occasionally kick around in my head an idea that Norse myth lends itself to epic fantasy, since the way those myths were recorded in prose makes it easy to see a structure of a beginning (creation of the world), middle (building of Asgard, wars against the Giants), and end (Ragnarok).
Greek myths aren’t often presented that way, and indeed don’t really have an “end” to them. An individual hero’s story does, but not the whole set-up of the Olympian Gods. So, if Norse myth lends itself to epic, does Greek myth, with its tales of wandering heroes fighting hydras and chimeras and gorgons, lend itself to sword-and-sorcery?
John: I like your list of what you find in fantasy. I’ve thought of similar lists myself, but I’ve never really been able to convince myself that those things can *only* be found in fantasy. From your list, “Strange Realms” and “magic and sorcery” certainly seem fundamentally fantastic; but then what about books like Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire, or Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat? Both are nominally set in the “real world”, but both incorporate magic or occult themes within them. Then there’s something like Michael Moorcock’s Mother London, which incorporates telepathy into a kind of historical investigation of 20th-century London.
Maybe another way to put it: what *is* fantasy? Where does one draw the line between it and “mainstream” literature? Are there mainstream works that have the feel of fantasy without actually having anything of the fantastic about them in a plot sense? Conversely, can a book have magic and the unreal in it, without having the sense of a fantasy? These are the kinds of questions I wonder about.