I read The Drawing of the Dark some years back. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't outstanding, either. It looks like I may need to read more of Tim Powers:
I was on a panel once in which a woman said, "Dracula is actually about the plight of 19th-century women," to which I replied, "No, it’s about a guy who lives forever by drinking other people’s blood – don’t take my word for it, check it out." As a reader, if I can sense a "message" unfolding in a story I’m reading – if I get the idea that the writer is trying to make some point beyond the characters and events of the story – my "suspension of disbelief" is just gone. This is especially risky in science fiction and fantasy, because all our disorienting effects, our ghosts and our starships and our time-travel – which are the main point of our stories – become just "let’s pretend" devices, not meant to be mistaken for "what the story’s really about.
The main point of fantasy should be (it seems to me) to excite the numinous, vertiginous effects of real supernatural events actually occurring. Any other purpose – to comment on feminism, or racism, or abortion, or the war in Iraq, or whatever the new issue of Newsweek provides – cripples that main point.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Many of your novels draw heavily on mythologies about King Arthur, the Fisher King, Orpheus, and related characters. Why do those myths and characters resonate so strongly with you?
Powers: In these myths I always get the sense of some bigger, half-remembered event behind the handed-down stories. The eerie parallels between the mythologies of Egypt, Greece, Celtic England, and Norway remind me of the attempts of early Greek and Egyptian scientists to establish the value of pi, or the distance from the sun – that is, these are primitive attempts to describe something that’s actually there. Of course, as Christians we can know the real story, but these early, intuitive guesses have a power of mystery to them, and a kind of heroic poignancy in their inevitable incompleteness. These, and our almost inarticulate spinal responses to them, are the things Lewis described as signposts in Surprised By Joy – not to be mistaken for the destination, but deeply affecting anyway. I don’t think a Christian who is indifferent to pagan mythology is quite getting the full scope of his faith.
(Via Amy Welborn.)
It drives me wild when Lit professors ignore the STORY that the author is telling, and focus on some abstract *meaning* to be derived from it.
That meaning they are looking for may be there, but it ought to be, oh, almost "invisible" in a way--unable to be separated from the story itself. When we homeschooled our son, we refused to go on and on about symbolism, motifs, analogies, etc. until he could narrate the story. The other stuff, if it's good, will flow naturally from that.
I have always marvelled at people who spent so much time taking apart a Dickens novel, say, that they treated it as if Dickens sat there and thought, "Hmmm. It's been 24 pages since I threw in the steaming trash heaps of London. Better work that one in again."
Reminds me of Harold Bloom's comments on modern social and political literary criticism in his The Western Canon. He argues (and I paraphrase very loosely) that when people try to illuminate Shakespeare with "isms," the "ism" is illuminated by Shakespeare, but not the other way around, because great literature can contain those ideas but not be contained by them. So conversely, perhaps, setting out to write a tract limits the product to ... well ... a tract.