This is the beginning of an essay series on the authors who have influenced the writing of the Killer Mooses. Look for Cole’s influences next week!
Like a lot of young fantasy and science fiction fans, I grew up needing a healthy dose of escapism in my life. Not saying life was bad, just saying it was real — fiction is a virtue all its own.
Inevitably certain voices creep into the words of aspiring novelists and into the arcs and scraps of human nature we’re interested in pursuing. Allow me to introduce you to some of the voices who crept into my head and stayed there.
J. R. R. Tolkien
You probably know this one? You’ve met before?
I find that plenty of writers caught the worldbuilding bug from Mr. Tolkien. The urge to — like he did — spend time creating maps and languages and histories and gods and ages past. For good or ill, I missed that one. I caught a love for small heroes — the ones who aren’t necessarily the biggest, baddest, strongest, most knowledgable ones in the party.
Hopping back to the real world: We are very small creatures. Tiny specks in a vast and unconcerned universe. There’s plenty of solid dreaming to be had in being Important. A Hero, who’s life (or death) matters in more than the beautiful little prisms of human connection we make for ourselves. Tolkien though, taught me to make a hero out of someone Unimportant.
Let’s face it, most of us are hobbits in the main cast of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit — and not badass halfling rogues. We don’t have the destiny of Aragorn or the natural abilities of Legolas or the dramatic heritage of Gimli.1 We’ve got trying hard and mild competence in unrelated magicless areas. We’ve maybe got determination or a cheerful disposition. We’ve got the capacity to do better with practice and help and perseverance.
It’s a lot of fun to write great and powerful heroes, but inevitably I find myself being pulled back to a hobbit or two. And when they appear in my work, I know whose fault it is.
I also got the idea that there’s something lovely about having poetry at the tip of your tongue. I think my friends mostly don’t mind that…
T. H. White
When I say T. H. White, I mean The Once and Future King, which is what he’s best known for. For those unfamiliar, it’s a version of the King Arthur myth told in four lovely parts — the first of which is the basis for Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.
It features the Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere that are my canon and forever my mythology.
When I get the urge to rewrite a fairy tale or explore a bit of mythology with my own twisted and updated lens, this is who’s pulling my strings. And that’s relatively frequently, so here he is.
I don’t always think of him as heavily influencing my work, but then I talk to someone about Lancelot and I remember.
Lancelot is usually an arrogant character — a beautiful proud knight cuckolding the king. And that character I couldn’t care less about. But my Lancelot, T. H. White’s Lancelot, is among my favorite fictional heroes. This Lancelot is ugly. He’s the best knight in the world, but he thinks that his face is God’s way of warning him there’s ugliness in his soul. He likes killing, and so avoids it — knowing this is evil. He falls in love with Arthur long before he meets Guinevere. He and Guinevere are a complicated forty year relationship. The thing he wants most in the world is to perform a miracle.
I love a good archetype — there are so many fabulous mythological characters out there, waiting to be played with. And when I’m tempted to tackle a retelling, especially one of some well known and well beloved characters, I think I can blame it on this.
Peter S. Beagle
I could say that everything I learned about life and writing, I learned from Beagle. It’s not true, but it is perhaps more true than untrue .
Not a whole lot of people have read Peter S. Beagle. If you’re familiar with him, it’s probably from The Last Unicorn. And probably from the animated film. If you happen to own a copy of the book, then go grab it. Just for fun, flip it open to any page and start reading. Look at the sentences: at the imagery and the way they flow. Mythic and not archaic. Frequently anachronistic. Meta. And always beautiful.
If I could write like anyone, I would write like Beagle. Of course that shows in my writing. How could it not?
From Beagle came a love for the bittersweet. For the beauty of transience, and the power of a sharp and expressive first person narrator (The Innkeeper’s Song, Tamsin). If I can blame someone for my love of words, then he is it. He also gets credit for a hand in all of my Rules of Storytelling.
Honorary shoutout to Alexandre Dumas and The Count of Monte Cristo. In sixth grade I did a project on this book — which by modern standards was probably pretty disturbing. There are a lot of gruesome deaths in the novel, and I’m pretty sure I illustrated all of them.
This book taught me about enormous casts. There are so many characters here, who interact in distinct and specific ways even if they’re only around for a page or two. It also taught me something about anti-heroes. Sometime I’ll write a Killer Moose essay about the Count himself, and why every modern version of this story fails — since they insist on seeing him as a good guy.
Megan Whalen Turner
And a last nod to she who taught me that a first person narrator can be extremely unreliable, that true love comes in odd forms, and that it’s okay to stop for the occasional myth.
That’s it for me. If you want to know more about my book thoughts, you can read them here. And keep an eye out for the rest of the Moose weighing in with their influences.
- Of all the issues I have with Peter Jackson’s movies, I think the one I will be least able to forgive is what he did to Gimli. I remember reading an interview with Peter Dinklage where he cited the “dwarf tossing” joke in Jackson’s Two Towers as a sign of fantasy’s intolerance. Gods know fantasy has work to do where representation is concerned, but that’s not in the book. The Gimli of the books is a person, not a punchline — dammit.