I’ve lately been reading Tad Williams’ rather good novel, The War of the Flowers, but realised it’s been taking me an awfully long time to get through. Partly, I think, because I’ve been focussing more on my own writing projects to give any sort of reading much time, but it could also be that it’s just too damned long for its own good. However, I will reserve final judgment until I’ve finished. I will say, though, that Flowers, until many other modern fantasy books, is not po-faced, and it has a measure of wit and entertainment value often missing in the standard telephone directory-sized tomes.
To be honest, though, apart from Lord of the Rings, and a handful of others, I’ve found the fantasy books I’ve picked up to be over long, over padded and consist of characters going from A, to B, to C, with little recognisable character development. George Elliot’s Middlemarch, Dickens’ Bleak House and Tolstoy’s War and Peace are also, of course, incredibly long. But they deal with human emotions, deep characterisation, philosophical ideas, politics, and much, much more. And, apart from the beautiful writing, it is all these elements that justify longer works. Don’t get me wrong – I love good potboilers as much as literary works – but a great story isn’t just about one incident after another. Or about a group of travellers seeking a magical ring/amulet/genii/unicorn/land. As Robert McKee put it, story is not plot.
Fantasy novels are, at heart, adventure stories (for the most part). The great ones, as least as far as I am concerned, have all been short, or of moderate length: Moorcock’s Elric books, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, Tim Lebbons’ duology, Dusk and Dawn (I loved the fact that Lebbon broke the trilogy trap!), and, arguably Dune (crossing science fiction with fantasy, and, while long, isn’t ludicrously so).
I am prepared to be shot down in flames for expressing this view. It could be that I just haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in a big fantasy world, for a variety of reasons.
So, here’s the deal: let me hear your views, for or against my proposition. And, if you know of recent novels that are long and unputdownable, let me have your recommendations.