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Twice Read Tales posted 16 April 2009 in The Judging EyeTwice Read Tales by Truth Shines, Candidate

Good point. It seems like people are so unfamiliar with a high fantasy book that's actually about more than high fantasy that they in fact come to dislike it precisely because of this. On people actually write reviews saying it's pretentious. One reviewer apparently even holds a grudge against The Darkness That Comes Before because of the quote from Nietzsche at the beginning ("a thought comes when it wants, not when I want").

I mean I can see their point. Shallow authors try to make their works appear more profound by dabbling in philosophy and religion and use them as ornaments to their high fantasy story. But The Prince of Nothing is nothing like that. If anything, it's actually the reverse: at heart it's a book about profound questions of philosophy and religion that chooses to present itself in the guise of high fantasy. These ideas are not ornaments. They are the very bones of the story. The quote from Nietzsche? It introduces the whole idea of "the darkness that comes before," which lays at the very foundation of the Dunyain. The very first line of the actual book is a quote from everybody's favorite philosopher Ajencis, defining the soul as "that which precedes everything" -- well this is not a throwaway line! This begins the exploration of the idea of the self-moving soul. And just the first 3 pages of the book? It introduces two different and profound views on the nature of crime ("as long as men live, there are crimes" and "there are crimes only as long as men are deceived"). Again, this is no mere philosophical window-dressing incidental to the actual story! The Inchoroi in fact represents the first view when pushed to its logical extreme ("when no man live, there is no crime"), while the Dunyain is the incarnation of the second view ("when one is not deceived, nothing one does is a crime").

I can understand why some people are not comfortable with this. They expect fantasy books to be a vehicle for escapism. They do not expect, or perhaps even want high fantasy to be about real world ideas. Yet this is exactly what The Prince of Nothing at heart is. Another way to see this is to look at the way it treats religion. Here religion, and its attendant concepts of soul, salvation, and damnation, are treated with deadly seriousness. I don't mean to keep picking on Tolkien or Martin, but it's useful to do a comparison (and because I'm familiar with their works): in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, religion (at least as we would normally understand it) is almost non-existent. In Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, religion is ostensibly much more prevalent, but in fact seems like the caricature of a religion as envisioned by a secular intellectual: all pomp and circumstance and power struggle, but no real substance. I can certainly imagine no one giving a speech about "putting one's face into the fire" in the world of Westeros. But did not men and women of the Middle Ages (which just about all high fantasy books are based upon) struggle precisely with questions about the soul, salvation, and damnation? Was not the Middle Ages in fact a highly religious age? Without a flesh and blood and soul real religion, how could one even begin to explain something as mad as the Crusade? This is why I say this work transcends mere high fantasy. The Prince of Nothing's serious treatment of religiosity also has the added benefit, it seems to me, of making its characters seem deeper, fuller, more three-dimensional, and more life-like. view post


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