Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Some Thoughts on Gardening

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Some Thoughts on Gardening

Yesterday, Stephen Deas posted a thought-provoking article over on Fantasy-Faction (where I've been writing reviews of indie books this year) about one of George R. R. Martin's quotes on writing and the idea of authors as gardeners and architects.

One of his points, about the move toward multi-point-of-view narratives in fantasy in recent years, struck a chord with me.

As an aside, here’s a thought: is ensemble fantasy with no clear central character a relatively new thing (although Lord of the Rings arguably splits the lead between Frodo and Aragorn)? Does the rise of this type of story owe anything to table-top roleplaying games, the goal of most of which is to tell a story using an ensemble cast of roughly equal status? Has Dungeons and Dragons trained a good swathe of modern fantasy authors towards a certain kind of storytelling?

It was an interesting idea, but one I didn't quite buy. The roots of fantasy run deep, deep, deep, into the realms of mythology and religion. So I commented.

I do think that wandering stories with no one main character are as old as stories themselves though. It’s been a while since I read the Iliad, but my recollection of it is that it wandered all over the place and let many characters share the spotlight. It is, after all, the Iliad. It’s about Troy, not about Achilles or Agamemnon or Paris or Hector or Helen alone. Shakespeare (not a novelist, but what fantasy writer isn’t familiar with Midsummer Night’s Dream?) certainly didn’t confine his plots to one main character. And while Dickens (not a fantasist, but for my money as much a contributor to steampunk as Jules Verne) did at some times, at others he wrote pretty broadly. I’d have a tough time saying that Tale of Two Cities was about one character over the others.

That's all, really, except that it's now occurred to me that maybe Dickens was something of a fantasist. He wrote A Christmas Carol, after all. But it's an interesting topic, and I wanted to point you the gentle blog reader toward it. Hope it gives you something to wrap your heads around. I'm sure there must be examples of pre-D&D fantasy that don't center on one main character, and it's interesting to me that I didn't come up with anything off the top of my head, and neither did anyone in the comments.

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