Three separate things have teased out this half thought through blog post. They are;
- On Friday I went along to the Alexander the Great exhibition at the Australian Museum (awesome and open till April 28th, get along if you can).
- I’ve recently read two popular (i.e. well selling) fantasy series that have left me pretty cold.
- I came across this article at Black Gate
First the fantasy series. They’ll remain nameless – I’m going to be a coward and not name books I don’t like, sorry – but they were pretty similar. Both dealt with family, magical and political dramas in a vaguely medieval world. I found both quite boring. The two authors wrote well and their characters were relatively well fleshed out, but not much actually happened. Sure there were sword fights and betrayals (gasp) and encounters with monsters, but ultimately the worlds of both books felt fairly static.** A couple of times as I read each one I caught myself thinking “You own a world you can twist and bend to suit your own whim and you’ve still turned out a book more boring than plenty of history.”
Next the article on Black Gate. This wasn’t boring at all and some of the answers were pretty spot on, but what struck me was the nature of the heroes they described. As the article itself calls out, the current hero of genre fantasy is the outsider, the dweller on the fringe. The gunslinger. The cast out mage. The wounded soldier. The smuggler reluctantly caught up in a wider struggle. I love these type of protagonists, so no complaints. But this takes me to;
Alexander the Great.
I used to be really interested in Alexander. Indeed, my (terrible) honours paper was on the Diadochi. But after uni I kind of cooled on him and the entire classical period.
But, as I walked around that fantastic exhibition, it all came back to me. This man really was a titan. He set the entire known world on fire. He took his little Macedonian army to a point beyond the edges of even the wildest maps. Nothing was the same again after him and his echoes still reverberate around the Near East.
He is also everything a tortured hero should and could be.
His majesty; the taming of Bucephalus, the victories of Granicus, Issus and Arbela, his reshaping of the Hellenic World.
His magnanimity; his kindness to Darius’ family, his treatment of the defeated Porus.
His savagery; the murder of Cleitus, the execution of Parmenion, the burning of Persepolis, his (possible) involvement in his father’s death.
It is sad that he towers over so many of our fantasy heroes. We have worlds we can do what we want with, but most of the time we write safe little heroes. Men and women who are pygmies beside giant Alexander.
I can’t think of many series I’ve read where the protagonist have left a shadow half the length of Alexander’s. If you have let me know, I’d love to read them.
Am I going to do anything about this rant? I think I’d love to eventually try my hand at a sweeping epic. Or maybe I’ll just write a story about a wounded knight, home from a great war, who reluctantly gets pulled into a fight he doesn’t believe in.
I would love to write one massive tome about one massive character, a sprawling thing of splendour and savagery. Create one immense character who her enemies won’t believe she has died because “surely the whole world should stink of her corpse.”
* I’m not sure what the PC thing to do is, but for the duration of this blog, ‘hero’ can refer to a man or a woman.
**Before you send me an angry email, I don’t hate fantasy of small scope.