Wednesday, December 10, 2003

*Warning* This is what happens when I am not allowed to take any interesting classes, in a wider variety of subjects. The need to analyze like a good liberal arts grad comes bubbling up, and it has to come out somewhere. *Warning*

Raymond E. Feist is acknowledged by many, (or at least many in the small subset of the world I call my own,) as one of the staple names in modern fantasy literature. I read his books back in middle school, and I thought they were nifty. I bought a bunch of them, and checked out what I didn't buy from the library. My personal sci-fi/fan book collection is what some might term "vast." Just because it takes up a 7' shelf, too. I term it "adequate" and "pleasing." Now that I am back in the same country as all of my books, I decided to re-read all of my Feist the last time I was trying to decide on something new to read. This time around, more things are striking me.

As mentioned, I read these books back in middle school, upon my discovery of the genre. I hadn't read any Tolkien, or any other classic works, for that matter. I read anything and everything that seemed remotely interesting. And this is not the lead-in to saying that Feist now seems like a bad writer to me. He doesn't. It's just that his first book is not quite as original as I remembered it.

Really, now I'm reading his work after having read some truly, utterly outstanding writers, and after having read his own Rift War series all the way to the end, and it makes his first book look like what it actually is - his first book. It honestly had not occurred to me before that his main world, Midkemia, is a total rip-off of Middle Earth, except without hobbits. He's got men, elves, dwarves, goblins, dark elves, rangers, and another character who might as well be Strider. In the beginning, it's kind of like he's not bothering to really flesh out his world to make it stand out as original, because he figures his readers will fill in all those familiar old fantasy details. If he didn't obviously have something special in mind for his main character, had I only started the series now, as an adult, I doubt I'd have kept going. It's when he finally gets around to introducing the invading people from the planet on the other side of the rift that his series starts to stand out.

And it was when he introduced this second culture and had his characters begin to mix on both sides after being captured that the story begins to get truly interesting, but also when it started to give me bizarre flashbacks to what I had just written about The Last Samurai. Cross-cultural interactions offer much fodder for stories, and my mind likes to make links between disparate items. I've been fighting the urge to go through my senior Spanish seminar notes on orientalism, exoticism, and the portrayal of minorities and cultural mixing (usually in colonial settings) in Spanish cinema. If I'm not careful, I'll find myself writing academic papers for fun. That can't be healthy.

I'm glad I started reading the Rift War from the other side of the rift, with the Empire trilogy that Feist co-authored with Janny Wurts. His writing in combination with hers just seems so much more mature, the world far more fleshed out and original, the dialogue and character interactions more natural and refined. The most interesting thing about the two trilogies side-by-side, I think, is that they are separate, but with enough connections to make one want to go read the other side for more. It isn't necessary to start with Feist's original series on Midkemia, because that series only lightly touches on the intricacies of Tsuranuanni culture, all by direct explication from informants to Midkemian characters who've never been there. The same is true on the Empire side, where the main character is only lightly linked to the Rift War and never actually journeys to Midkemia. Both trilogies stand alone, but become more rounded when the reader reads both.

I wonder how many other series I have on that shelf that I'll find myself over-analyzing from the more removed perspective of greater age. I'm glad to be back with my books. They give my brain something to occupy itself with, much as they did in middle and high school. What strange things to equate graduate school with.

Other strange parallels in my life, beyond grad school = middle/high school and Feist = The Last Samurai include:

-Pat at the ELC, whose family all live in Sendai, also used to live in Homestead Apartments, my current abode.
-Mark's friend Gene's mother is Japanese and is currently teaching a course at Tohoku University in Sendai, which I noticed because she had written the phone number on the kitchen calendar for Gene and his sister to call, and I recognized the area code.
-And of course, these two things also link back to Japan, which links to cross-cultural interactions, which links back to the original point of this story, so now our circle is complete. The end.

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