Item Type


Issue Info


[page 3] Poul Anderson MUSINGS {Title Art: "MUSINGS" is written vertically in block letters. "Poul Anderson" is handwritten.} {Image: A pseudo-pointillist drawing of a hunched humanoid figure beside a large stone head fills the space to the right of the title art. The figure is as bestial as human, with body hair and well-muscled limbs. It wears no clothing. Small weeds and a barren branch grow near the stone head, suggesting age.} -July the 11th 1961 EDQ would be a good place to discuss the question of why we read epic fantasy at all. Tolkien, Eddison, and a few others because they are literature ---- but what is the attraction of the entire genre, including the out-and-out pulp like Conan? In an essay in Amra, Redd Boggs says: "These stories manifest to a large degree most of the characteristics of autoerotic fantasy that Kingsley Amic names in the introduction to '_The Sound of His Horn_': 'straightforward sexual elements, a characteristic obsession with elaborate foods and drinks, with rich furnishings and apparel, with nobility and protocol, with the past, with physical danger.' ..Conan fans do not so much desire to experience a state of suspense in the uncertainties of fast-moving events but a sense of immersion in a world more wonderful than our own." (<Note symbol>) {Divider: A solid line separates the note below from the text above.} (<Note symbol>) AMRA volume 2, number 14, page 17. January 1961 -q.v. [page 4] Maybe so. But I doubt it. For one thing, this definition of "autoeroticism" stretches the concept so thin that it becomes meaningless. Even in orthodox Freudianism (to which I don't subscribe anyway), physical danger would belong more in the department of Thanatos than of Eros. Besides, in the more literary exemplars of epic fantasy, such as Tolkien, the sexual element is very slight, and in fact all the elements which Amis lists are quite secondary except for physical danger. (Eddison does go in for elaborate protocol and so forth, admittedly.) I just don't think the Freudian explanation for the appeal of this genre will wash. As for "a sense of immersion in a world more wonderful than our own --- again, I don't know. At least, such practitioners of the swashbuckling art as de Camp and the late Fletcher Pratt were the first to maintain that our world of science, technology, and sanitation is a good deal more wonderful than any pre-industrial epoch could possibly be. I tend to feel this way myself. If I had my choice of just one historic journey of exploration to go along on, I would not elect Pytheas, Leif Eriksson, Columbus, Marco Polo, or any of those boys. I'd sign up with Lewis and Clark --- who were scientists. I often wish I'd made scientific research a career instead of writing, but have never had the slightest hankering to be a swordsman in the army of Richard Couer-de-Lion. Current work now going on in such fields as nuclear physics, genetics, and oceanography is as stirring as any part of the Odyssey or Beowulf. And yet, that attraction of the sword, the sorcerer, the long ship, "and the sound of your oar blades, falling hollow," remains. We are not alone in this; Kipling, who wrote _M'Andrews Hymn_ also wrote _Puck of Pook's Hill_, and other cases could be multiplied. I suggest that in some ways the world of the past, while no more exciting than our own, and the concept of magic, while no more interesting than science, supply a need in our natures. The added attraction is that since we haven't got time travel, those swords will never actually menace us; whereas a here-and-now adventure story may strike unpleasantly close to home. But this is only a suggestion. Maybe some of your readers have a better explanation. [page 5] -11th January 1962 Why read fantasy? I didn't mean to deny that the fantasy itself is part of the reason. However, there are different kinds of fantasy, and it's arguable how commensurable they are. The sophisticated, playing-with-concepts type, usually given a here-and-now setting, associated with the great days of Unknown, seems to me quite unlike the epical type (Haggard, Eddison, Tolkien, etc.) where the magic is almost taken for granted and the emphasis is on color and action rather than on the intellectual elaboration of the postulates. I, at least, read the latter kind of fantasy for the same reason as I read historical swashbucklers and so forth: vicarious adventure and exoticism. On the other hand, I read the first type for the same reason as I read "hard" science fiction: cerebral fun and games. I like both, and see no reason why they can't be crossbred. That's what I was trying to do in "_Three Hearts and Three Lions". It's been done by many others, of course, also from the science fiction end of the spectrum --- e.g. Jack Vance's interplanetary yarns, which are as colorful and romantic as anybody's medievalistic otherworld. But then, I think science and technology are romantic anyway. In fact, our world today is still quite picturesque --- maybe a bit less so than in Kipling's time, when India was still a far off land full of mysterious people and much of Africa was still unmapped; but nevertheless picturesque. (My brother is currently in the Antarctic, leading a geological expedition into some mountains where the foot of man has literally never trod.) We're going to the moon and beyond; we're exploring the sea bottom and quite probably have already found another intelligent race (dolphins). Oh, yes, our world is scary and sinister -- but my God, wasn't Middle Earth in Sauron's time? Best regards, <Signed in cursive> Poul Anderson <End cursive>