An excellent speech about fantasy - and esp. faerie-tale based fantasy - by Terri Windling. It's rather long, but well worth listening to.
As the speech progressed, I found myself thinking of my own writings in
her terms, and they match well. I've long maintained that the setting,
natural and social, is one of my characters. Indeed a friend said half a
year ago that she thought I was a milieu writer, and others have since
agreed. And that seems to me to be the heart of her message - the
mystery of place, the ability to find oneself in the quest into the
Now, unlike her stated preference, I build no
mystery into magic. I'm a scientist at heart and the magic in my worlds
is as rationalistic as any science. However, that being said, the
consequences of that magic can be strange and bizarre, as mysterious as
any other. I see beauty and mystery, even the sublime, in Maxwell's
equations of electromagnetism, in theoretical quantum mechanics, the
shimmering northern lights, and yes, even in the understanding of how
they come to entice.
Moreover, in all my stories I try to use the
mystery of place, of the forest, of the ancient ruins, the vanishing
mountain valley, even of the decaying concrete city. Indeed, all my
longer works are about people who are questing for a place in the world -
their small haven, literal, spiritual or emotional, in the wide world
of the unknown.
Ms. Windling also spoke of preferring the
intimate fantasy - not the world-saving epic. I concur on that basis
also. I also prefer to cast a bright light leaving shadows in the
corners, and enjoy reading that type of story.
dark shadows (either exciting or terrifying, or both) is easy in a short
story that focusses on only one person for a few hours or days at
most. However in my first multi-novel sequence, David and Fiona - and
yes, I much prefer the ensemble cast no matter how unpopular it might be
today - are confined to one (admittedly large) island while they
struggle to return home and journey to discover what home and life means
Some writers giving advice to new writers say that
the larger, the grander, is better. I don't agree. One of my goals was
to create the sense that they are two dots in the much larger, and to
them, unknown world. They are insignificant except to themselves and
their personal friends and foes.
On the other hand, my Tower
stories start rather like Orwell's 1984, the brutality, the invasive
technology augmented with mind-stripping magic. However, during the arc
of the stories, the world itself undertakes the quest back to towards
the unspoiled rivers and large forests that Terri Windling spoke of
desiring. In each successive story, the focus narrows, either in place
or in character while the mysterious dark margins grow and the remaining
technology decays away. So, that sense of loss she spoke of in LotR is
there too (I hope), a longing for the old world. In this case the old
world is the global pre-apocalyptic civilization, so it's a yearning
that dark-ages Europe might have had for Rome. Indeed, the Carolingian
empire was one of my inspirations.
I hope my stories speak to
modern life and our issues the way Terry Windling calls for us to
create. Among other things I write them to be about finding oneself,
the power of community (for good and ill), depression, the need to
belong, the need to be true to oneself, religious freedom, sexual
identity, bigotry and racism, the dangers of the modern world (yes even
in a fantasy setting), and the fear of death and insignificance.