How was your week? It was good? Good! (I’m going to assume it was good, because I can’t hear you. Speak up.) Mine was okay. The bad news is that I didn’t hit my writing goal – but the good news is that I do still feel that this week has been productive!
Oh man, have I done a lot of reading this week. Way more than I’d anticipated, actually. I finished reading Mistress of Mistresses by E.R. Eddison, then moved on to a verse translation of Gilgamesh (composed by Stephen Mitchell), and just yesterday got hooked into L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s The Towers of the Sunset, a novel of his Saga of Recluce, and some hours later finished it.
Mistress ended bittersweet. A major character was killed off-screen, and then the main character prepares for revenge, but gets killed before everything finalizes. It ends with Aphrodite – the titular Mistress of Mistresses – monologuing at his funeral. Overall I definitely enjoyed this book (mostly because I love Eddison’s lush, overwrought prose) but I found The Worm Ouroboros to be the stronger novel, mostly because it has more sympathetic and interesting antagonists. Mistress was carried, for me, somewhat heavily by my delight in its prose, whereas the story told in Worm is one I’d read again for its own sake. That being said, I definitely look forward to reading the next of Eddison’s Zimiamvia novels, A Fish Dinner in Memison, which I think earns the award for strangest title (that I know of) in fantasy.
Gilgamesh was the next thing in my reading stack. It went much more quickly than I’d expected – reading both verse translation as well as Mitchell’s introduction to the text – but was profitable, I think. I’ve read the story(s) of Gilgamesh before, once in high school and once in college, but I’ve not seen an English verse translation before, which is what drew my attention. Something that really struck me was the epic’s highly structured, ritualized way of repeating speeches verbatim. One of my goals with Jiharel is to create a world with the same sort of intensely mythic, foreign-yet-not feel of our world’s oral epics. A world where the story shares the true explanation for the phenomena; the sun rises because of the sacrifice, not in spite of it. And so on. So, reading Gilgamesh had a bit of motive beyond reading – I wanted to steal things.
Also, Gilgamesh’s strutting after killing the Bull of Heaven is hilarious. “Who is the most handsome of men? Who is the bravest of heroes? … Gilgamesh is the most handsome of men! Enkidu is the bravest of heroes!” (From memory, not verbatim as I don’t have the book in front of me; Enkidu is Gilgamesh’s close friend and sidekick.) The whole tone right after this battle is just hilarious and over the top. I’m hoping to create characters who, while maybe not quite that ridiculous, still live larger-than-life, who have “experienced all emotions.”
The Towers of the Sunset is Modesitt’s second Recluce novel, but it’s set a thousand years before the first, so I felt fairly safe in reading it. I’ve heard a fair amount of good things about the Saga of Recluce, which is how this one ended up in my reading stack. That being said, I’m not certain if the book was good, or just gripping. The more I think back on it, the more problems and fiddly things I come up with, like how the antagonist’s motivations just don’t really make sense, or the dissonance between the novel’s emotional conflict and political conflict.
Towers did emotional conflict really well, and I really liked all the major characters. The female protagonist was somewhat irritating, but the story was written mainly from the perspective of the male protagonist, who was often irritated by her. So that made sense. In many ways, Towers is a romance novel disguised as a fantasy adventure. The first “act” was classic coming-of-age wandering the world fantasy story, the second act muddled between the two, and the closing third was the romance between Creslin, the male lead, and Megaera, the female lead. I didn’t quite follow how the emotional conflict between the two resolved, but I think that’s intentional (because I don’t think Creslin quite understood, either). The romance nicely interacted with the roles of the sexes, a major theme of the novel’s setting.
The last third of the novel is dominated by political action and conflict while Creslin and Megaera try to build the island-nation of Recluce. This involves, of course, economics, trade, and several good ol’ magical disasters. A big portion of the emotional conflict between Megaera and Creslin is his use of magic to destroy, Creslin’s main tool out of problems. I think my overall lackluster response to the novel is that in the end, this emotional conflict is not resolved. There’s a big battle, and Creslin saves the day with magic – yes, at substantial personal cost – but then that’s it. Instead of finding a creative solution, he just calls down high winds and kills everyone trying to kill them. The tension is “Will Creslin & Megaera save the day without using Creslin’s storms to kill?” but the payoff doesn’t happen. He does it and accepts the personal cost instead of overcoming his flaw and figuring out a different solution.
Still a fun novel, but one with some problems. I think if it was written in a more bitter or darker tone from the start, the plot would have worked out, but the style was of Hero Saves the Day a-Ha!, not Hero Saves the Day, but at a Big Cost.
So, my goal last week was to reach page fifteen in my handwritten manuscript of chapter one of Jiharel. As of this writing, I’m at the top of page fourteen, about a paragraph in. This is mainly because I got sucked into Recluce and read just about straight through the novel, instead of the modus operandi I’m trying to build, where I’ll read a chapter, write a page, read a bit, write a page, and so on.
That method has been working out for me, and letting me handwrite for much longer (which is good, because I enjoy the process of writing more) but it is a bit contingent on my not getting sucked into a story.
I feel like the writing goes well. It’s definitely going to be a situation where I need to figure out which bits are pearls, and which bits are muck. I’m trying to mimic Eddison’s big, overwrought style, filled with description and metaphor and figurative language during big heroic Things, and obviously not every metaphorical aside is going to be a gem.
I’m meeting a local writing group this Sunday – the same one I met back in November – and I’m planning to take some of Jiharel as my contribution. I’ve already typed up a good chunk of the handwritten stuff. My goal for this upcoming week is to revise a portion by Sunday for the critique group, and then to try having eighteen handwritten pages by this time next week. Or be done, if that happens.
Last Week: Have fifteen pages handwritten of Jiharel chapter one. Not accomplished.
This Week: Prepare a rough submission for my critique group this week, and reach eighteen pages (or finish) my chapter.