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Wizardry and Wild Romance, by Michael Moorcock Book Review | SFReader.com
Wizardry and Wild Romance, by Michael Moorcock Genre: Non-Fiction Publisher: MonkeyBrain Published: 2004 Review Posted: 9/10/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Wizardry and Wild Romance, by Michael Moorcock
Book Review by S C Bryce
Have you read this book?
Michael Moorcock's treatise has been updated and re-released in Monkeybrain Books' 2004 edition with an Introduction by China Mielville and Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. It is valuable reading for fans and writers of the genre, providing not only an astonishing history of speculative fiction but also critiques of various works, authors, and stereotypes by Moorcock, one of both Britian's and the genre's most prolific, original, and respected authors. But be forewarned: bring your dictionary and leave your sense of decorum at the door.
Miiville's Introduction provides an apt description of the book, likening it to a wild and sometimes frustrating tour by a frenzied librarian whose knowledge and insights bring fresh perspective on a hackneyed genre. In chapters entitled Origins, The Exotic Landscape, The Heroes and Heroines, Wit and Humour, Epic Pooh, and Excursions and Developments, Moorcock sets forth and develops his thesis: good fantasy should allow for self-reflection and self-understanding, as well as wit, epic elements, irony, poetry, objectivity, metaphor, and insight into the human condition. "The romance's [his word for fantasy] prime concern," he writes, "is not with character or narrative but with the evocation of strong, powerful images; symbols conjuring up a multitude of sensations to be used (as mystics once used distorting mirrors, as romantics used opium or, latterly, LSD) as escape from the pressures of the objective world or as a means of achieving increased self-awareness." (Wizardry, p. 20)
A major weakness is the uncountable references and terms dropped throughout Wizardry without any context or clarification, leaving the reader (presumably less well-traveled in the genre than Moorcock) no more enlightened. This on-going problem is one of the most serious structural flaws of the work because it limits what the reader can learn from Moorcock's impressive familiarity with the genre. Other weakness include: failure to distinguish between fact and opinion; unacknowledged and unexplained contradictions; blanket condemnations of certain authors (particularly J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis); and the generally acerbic tone.
Despite its weaknesses, the strengths of Wizardry are legion. Moorcock writes with authority born of experience, knowledge, wisdom, and his own unrivaled place in the genre. Wizardry introduces the reader to under-appreciated writers. Numerous excerpts help illustrate Moorcock's points. The work is full of lines that cause thoughtful pauses, such as: "A writer of fantasy must be judged, I think, by the level of inventive intensity at which he or she works." (p. 47) Reading Wizardry was a true learning experience, and many of Moorcock's points resonate strongly.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of a work like Wizardry is sparking such discussions. While I disagree with his style and some of his analysis, I certainly recognize that Moorcock's ultimate goal is laudable. Moorcock clearly believes that the ravaged genre can be salvaged. He clearly wants fantasy to rise above its flat, played out stereotypes. He wants authors to be more original, to love and care about their characters, to develop them into full people. In short, he wants authors to be better writers, and fans to be more critical readers and more discerning consumers. And certainly it takes no small amount of courage (or conceit) to confront the pillars of fantasy's temples, asking readers to reconsider their favorite authors and works. Moorcock surely succeeds in demanding more from the genre and challenging us to do the same. Whether you ultimately agree with him or not, he will provoke you to think -- and this is reason enough to make Wizardry a worthy read.
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