Old Friends, Faires, and the Sacred Geography Soapbox

25 Nov

I’ve been in recovery from the Nanowrimo brain melt all week, and it took some doing, but I think I’m back. I managed to get out a short story that I don’t suppose will see the light of day, but that made me very happy all the same. (Character backstory from another novel—my first!) Nice to know my brain has finally dislodged itself from Crazed Appalachian Murderous Faerie. It’s not really a healthy place for it, after all.

The reading has helped. I re-read The Great Gatsby this week, and it was so comforting. Meghan (I’ll get to her in a minute) says it’s like visiting an old friend, but less awkward. That’s almost right, except that Nick Carraway is an awkward, ineffectual, washrag of a little man. (Which might explain why I kinda like him. I do love main voice characters who have no idea how lame they are, but make it clear to the reader all the same.) So that has me wanting to go and find copies of other old high school books and see if they’re still as fun—or like this one, even more fun—a decade later.

Then I picked up McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, which my husband has been on me to read since last year. I wrote about the movie in one of my first blog entries here—I liked it quite a lot, but I like pretty much everything the Coen brothers do. I now understand why they would choose this particular book to translate to the screen, though. There’s a weird lack of balance in McCarthy’s prose that’s unsettling in a very good way, not dissimilar from their brand of unsettling. It’s super visual and stark, only allowing you into heads when you absolutely need it to string you along. Or not even then in Chigurh’s case, which is another brilliant tactic. His use of PoV is a lesson in itself.

I liked it. There were things I didn’t get about it—scenes that went on for no reason, and even the spot-on dialect couldn’t disguise his affection for over-worked philosophy and heavy comebacks masquerading as snappy dialogue, the kind that just doesn’t happen in real life. But it was good enough to make me take all those things on faith.

I’ve also been privileged to get to see some of Meghan Brunner’s latest draft for her third book lately, so I’ve been re-reading the first two in her Pendragon Trilogy. I see a lot of people complaining lately about things they’re sick of in speculative fiction—urban fantasy in particular. Too many vampires (dude, is that even possible?), too many werewolves (again, I ask you?), too many kick-ass heroines who actually suck, too many this, that, and the others. I’ll tell you what you have not seen too much of right now, though:

Renaissance Faires.

No, seriously. Think about it. A whole world, an entire culture, right under our noses. We walk through them for a day or a weekend and watch people gnaw on turkey legs and play Dunk the Maiden games, and then we leave. But it’s all about living a fantasy for a few hours. So what goes on after the last patrons slog out the gate and head back to their minivans, and the cast and crew are still there, left with all that for themselves? It might be the single easiest premise to accept for the presence of fantasy-type magic in the real world, to think it could be there. Why has no one else been doing this? (Other than the fact that it’s clearly viewed as a niche subculture kind of market.

What, like vampires? Yeah, someone needs to get on exploiting this, quick.)

So these books are like the Secret Life of Faires, focused through the eyes of the two main characters and their story. Not only is it about a hot girly couple (what, me, shallow?), but it has crazy Fae, everyday magick, peasants doing privy humor, Gypsy caravans, loud music, and the Cult of the Great Naked Potato.

And here comes soapbox bit. I think the thing that makes me happiest about these books is that they’re not just about the magic, the struggle between good and evil, the tangled relationships, the road and weekender rennie culture, and the otherwise strange and fascinating life they live. (Let’s face it, they live every kid’s dream, pretty much.) But they’re also about a place, which I think is missing from a lot of fiction these days, sort of thrown off in favor of some pointless sex scene or random violence that’s supposed to pass for action. (Okay, there’s a lot of sex and violence in these too, but you know, it’s not pointless!)

You get all this fantasy set in these richly imagined, fabulously detailed worlds, but it seems like they’re most often just a backdrop or an excuse to make someone cold, hard, and mean, or warm, soft, and trusting. As plot and character devices go, they tend to come off as too obvious—more of a stereotype than anything terribly believable or interesting. “It’s cold in his country, so he’s cold and hard. They’re all cold and hard! They must be uniformly cold and hard to survive! Rawr!” Every now and then you get a Frank Herbert who goes so far into the ecology of their invention that it makes your head spin and that’s pretty cool, but I’m talking about sacred geography. Not sacred to any god, but sacred to a people—the places and things around which societies are built and lives are ordered.

Most of the time it just springs up—places like Tibet, the Middle East, India, the American Southwest, Peru—but it can also be built into the fabric of a city intentionally—Washington, Madurai, Paris, Athens. It unconsciously shapes life, and it rarely has anything to do with climate or neighboring friends and foes. You catch hints of it with some of the greats, but for the most part I think it’s very glossed over in a genre that should really be down with the concept. And I love that Meghan takes the time and energy to bring that to life and really show how it shapes and holds the people who call it home. Even after they’re long gone, in some cases.

Wait, I was talking about the books and then I got all crazy art historian on you, didn’t I? Sorry. Leftovers from my Indiana Jones days, I guess. I made icons to express my love, and I’ll add some to my sidebar over there… er… tomorrow. Because apparently it’s 3am, and I failed to notice.

Whoops. The good news is that I’m about to shut up, though!

Now playing: The Smiths – This Charming Man (New York Vocal)
posted with FoxyTunes

5 Responses to “Old Friends, Faires, and the Sacred Geography Soapbox”

  1. Barry Napier November 25, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    I was about to say something clever about your post and then saw The Smiths and the close and, in my excitement, forgot. Rock on!

  2. KVTaylor November 25, 2008 at 9:27 am #

    Yeah I have a pretty unhealthy obsession where the Smiths are concerned. I just went out this weekend and got “The Sound of the Smiths” deluxe edition… sure I already have all the stuff on the first disc, but it was remastered by JOHNNY MARR! (It really does sound awesome.) And the second disc is straight up rad.

    Obviously, Barry, you and I have superior taste.

    Or questionable taste. But let’s pretend.

  3. Michael Stone November 26, 2008 at 4:50 am #

    Just wondering, seeing as you like The Smiths, did you ever get into James? There ‘comeback’ album, “Hey Ma” is my fave of 2008.

  4. Meghan November 26, 2008 at 8:01 am #

    Too many vampires (dude, is that even possible?)

    Not if you’re the one writing them!!

    And thank you again for looking over the latest draft of Towards the Fates – I’d say you have no idea how much I appreciate it, except that as a writer yourself, I’m sure you do. :)

  5. KVTaylor November 26, 2008 at 8:28 am #

    Mike, no I didn’t, somehow. I remember them from my heyday of New Music Finding back in the 90s, but I never quite got that far. Best of 2008 is a big deal, I shall look them up when I get back from Thanksgiving! Awesome!

    Megh, ha! Silly vampires! Mine don’t even sparkle…

    No seriously, I’m loving the draft. It’s going to be amazing! <3

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