Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (G)

The cupboard was looking a bit bare early on. I could only find one real standout, but a think and a sane of the bookshelves gave me some inspiration, and here are the G authors. I think they cover a fairly varied range of topics, too.

Parke Godwin - January 28, 1929 - June 19, 2013. Not a lot of people really know about Parke Godwin, and in these days of high profile authors, he was very much the opposite. He wasn't just a writer, and had worked as a radio operator, research technician, an actor, an advertising man, a dishwasher and a maitre'd. Really the full gamut of jobs that often seem to be attributed to authors after they're published. He was active from the early 1970's, however the 1980's is when his career really took off. His short story The Fire When It Comes won the World Fantasy Award for novellas in 1982 and it was also nominated for the Hugo. He's best known for his reinterpretation of the Arthur legend in Firelord and Beloved Exile in the 1980's. The Last Rainbow is sometimes referred to as the 3rd volume of that series, but it's a separate novel about the Saint Patrick legend. The only thing it really has in common with the other 2 is the presence of the mythical Prydn. The Lovers: The Legend of Tristan and Yseult published in 1999 under the pseudonym of Kate Hawks is another of his novels to deal with the Arthurian mythos. He also had some success with versions of the Robin Hood legend in Sherwood and Robin and the King. He was the guest of honour at the 2011 World Fantasy Con. In 2012 he had problems with a declining short and long term memory and had to be placed under care. Parke Godwin passed away in 2013 at the age of 84.

It was a no contest when I had to think of my favourite Parke Godwin novel. Firelord won hands down. It's not only my favourite Godwin book, and my favourite Arthur book, it's one of my all time favourites. I often describe it as Arthur as he never was, but probably should have been. It reimagines Arthur as a Briton chieftain at the end of the Roman power in Britain. There's almost no mention of Merlin in it, and it reads as quite historically accurate, which I suspect it was in most parts. One exception is the Prydn, these were an invention of Godwin's. They seem to be what the people of the British Isles based their legends of the little folk on. The way Godwin writes about them, they're some sort of missing link, who have always inhabited the British Isles, even before anyone else settled them. They predate the Celts and the Romans. Morgana le Fay is Prydn, and at one point Arthur is one of her husbands, they practice polygamy, but only women are allowed to have multiple husbands. It's just such a wonderful epic story full of all that makes the Arthur legend such an enticing and exciting one. Godwin's take on things is different, but it's one that stays with the reader long after they close the book.

Further and related reading: Godwin has plenty on his catalogue, as well as his quasi historical epics there are science fictional works like Waiting for the Galactic Bus and it's two sequels (The Snake Oil Wars and The Snake Oil Variations), they're more satirical than anything, and rather like the works of Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) use humour to poke fun at modern American pop culture. The second of the Arthur novels (Beloved Exile) follows Guinevere after the fall of Arthur and details the end of the age of legend and the rise of the Angles and Saxons. While The Last Rainbow is also set in a very early Britain and is often thought to be part of the Firelord series, it isn't. It's about Saint Patrick of Ireland, and covers the years before he went to Ireland, and details his experiences with the Prydn. Godwin was also interested in the Robin Hood legend and wrote two books on that as well. He uses the name Robin Hood, but they take place just after William the Conqueror came to England, not during the reign of King John.

Arthurian fiction is almost a subgenre unto itself. It of course begins with Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory. That started and popularised the legend and everything else came after it. T.H White's The Once and Future King is one of the best known retellings, and it was some of that book that Disney adapted into their animated version The Sword and the Stone. The 1980's seemed to see a resurgence in Arthurian fiction and in that decade as well as Godwin's Firelord, there was Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, which retold the legend from a feminist perspective. Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle first came out in the 1980's, it was completed in the '90's. Popular historical novelist Bernard Cornwell wrote The Warlord Chronicles which are a mixture of historical fiction and Arthurian legend.  There's so much written and so much to choose from that it's an impossible task to list it all in one blog post.

William Goldman is better known as a screenwriter than a novelist, and not many of his films feature fantasy, but one very important entry does. He first achieved success in films with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which netted him his first Academy Award. He followed that up with the commercially successful The Hot Rock, The Stepford Wives and The Great Waldo Pepper, he then adapted The Marathon Man from his own novel and garnered another Academy Award for All The President's Men. A Bridge Too Far and Heat were also commercial successes, as was cult classic The Princess Bride, which was also adapted from his novel, and is far more different than The Marathon Man was from the source material. He had further success with Misery,  A Few Good Men (he consulted on that), Maverick, The Chamber and Good Will Hunting, which he also consulted on. As he's aged, he's slowed down, mostly working on works from Stephen King (he's been involved with at least 4 films made from works by Stephen King), and his last project was Wild Card, also based on his novel, in 2014.

There are more than a few people who don't realise that The Princess Bride was a novel before it was a film. It's a really clever idea from Goldman, and while the film itself breaks the 4th wall, the book takes meta to a whole new level. Goldman invented a different persona for himself as the author of the book. He gave himself a wife who was a psychiatrist (he was married for 30 years, but I don't think his wife was a psychiatrist) and a son (Goldman has two children, both daughters). He then invented a fairy tale written by someone called S. Morgenstern. He claims that his book is that fairy tale, but with all the boring bits removed. He went to great lengths to actually make this appear as real as possible, to the extent of inventing the mythical country of Florin, from which Morgenstern hailed, as well as the fictional Goldman's ancestors, which was how he got told the story in the first place. In anniversary editions of the book he claimed that he had wanted to adapt Morgenstern's sequel Buttercup's Baby, but was unable to do because the writer's estate had wanted Stephen King to write the adaptation (this may be a reference to Goldman's own success with adapting works written by Stephen King). The story itself is the classic fairytale and peopled with the characters that suit that story: the vengeful swordsman Inigo Montoya, the loyal, strong giant Fezzik, the beautiful, plucky, but distant princess, the lovelorn Wesley, who pulls double duty as the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the villains: Count Rugen, the six fingered man, who also killed Inigo's father, and the sneering Prince Humperdinck. It's just great fun and by reading the novel and seeing the film you get a more complete experience.

Further and related reading: Goldman only wrote two fantasy novels, but he does have other work in print aside from The Marathon Man. He got his start writing novels, his first book The Golden Temple came out in 1958 and it wasn't until the late 60's that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid launched him into the upper stratosphere as far as screenwriting went. Magic, which came out after  The Princess Bride (it was originally published in 1973) is horror. There was an unusual piece called The Silent Gondoliers in 1983, which is also written under the S. Morgenstern pseudonym, and it too is fantasy.

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels break the 4th wall in the way that characters enter other works of fiction, not seeming to realise that they themselves are fictional. Jim Hines' Magic Ex Libris series also has characters pulling items from fiction, and he also references his own work by having his main character make a pet of the fire spider Smudge, who first appeared in the same author's Jig the Goblin series.

Kenneth Grahame - March 8, 1859 - July 6, 1932. You wouldn't think that a man who wrote one of the most loved and whimsical books for children of all time, would have spent most of his working life as a banker, but Kenneth Grahame did just that. By the time of his retirement in 1908, Grahame had spent all of his working life at the Bank of England, and he had risen through the ranks to become the institution's secretary. His retirement allowed him to pursue his real passion, which was writing. Even when at the bank he had contributed stories to various London periodicals. A number of the stories were collected and published in Pagan Papers, The Golden Age and Dream Days. Rather like Richard Adams and Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows began it's life as stories that Kenneth Grahame told to his young son, Alastair and it was actually the boy's headstrong nature that was transformed into many people's favourite amphibian, the reckless, boastful, wasteful idler Mr Toad. Unfortunately young Alastair was plagued by health problems throughout his life and committed suicide on a railway track while an undergraduate at Oxford (Grahame himself had wanted to attend Oxford, but financial pressures forced him to forgo this for his banking career). Grahame lived for 12 years after his son's death and will be forever remembered for the bedtime stories he told the boy.

There could be no other book than the much loved The Wind in the Willows. It's a lovely book, and you get that same sense of lazy summer days spent by the river, just enjoying life, when you read it. It's not all about that either, with the made adventures of Mr Toad and the confrontations between the wealthy amphibian and the band of villainous weasels that covet his wealth and lodgings in the sumptuous Toad Hall. It's a book about friendship and pastoral life. It pokes gentle fun at the society of the day and the people that inhabited it. It made timeless heroes of the likes of Ratty, Mole and Badger. A book to be read for the fun of reading.

Further and related reading: Grahame was not prolific and much of his short fiction before The Wind in the Willows really hasn't lived on. One possible exception is The Reluctant Dragon, which appeared in the Dream Days collection. Like The Wind in the Willows, it was also adapted into a film by Disney. I don't think I've seen the animated version, I can only hope they did it better justice than they did with The Wind in the Willows. In the 1990's William Horwood wrote a series of sequels. Horwood was already known for his Duncton Chronicles (Watership Down with moles) and other books featuring animal protagonists by that stage. 

Two novelists that are known for writing books that feature animals as the main characters, and ones that act and dress like people of the day are Beatrix Potter, and she predates Grahame by a few years, so may have proven to be an inspiration of sorts. The other author that springs to mind is Brian Jacques with his long running Redwall series of books. I also should mention Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series, although that takes place on a secondary world where animals are the dominant life form.

Ken Grimwood - February 27, 1944 - June 6, 2003. Ken Grimwood worked mostly in radio, while he wrote fiction on the side. He mostly edited news, but the success of his 1987 novel Replay allowed him to move into writing full time. Grimwood had 3 published novels under his belt by the time Replay broke through in 1987, it also won the World Fantasy Award in 1988, beating out some impressive competition, including Stephen King (Misery), previous winner John Crowley (Aegypt), Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides), Orson Scott Card (Seventh Son) and Clive Barker (Weaveworld). Grimwood continued to write after Replay, developing an interest in the environment. He unfortunately died of a heart attack at the tragically young age of 59, and was working on a sequel to Replay at the time of his death.

I'd actually passed Replay over on more than one occasion, it always looked like a science fiction book. The cover above is one of the best I could find. It's suffered from some truly horrible covers. It's a fantastic book. It's rather like Groundhog Day or even the time travel show Quantum Leap. The book's protagonist keeps dying at the age of 43, no matter what precautions he takes, and is doomed to restart his life 25 years earlier. He keeps trying to live it differently, to make a difference, to himself sometimes, to the world in others, and has just about given up when he meets a woman who has the same curse. It's not a normal novel, either about time travel or in terms of fantasy, but it is one that once you've started is hard to stop reading. The film rights were sold, and it's a great premise for one as TV shows like Quantum Leap and films like Groundhog Day and Back to the Future have proven, but it was never made, and as that all took place nearly 30 years ago, I think it's unlikely that it ever will.

Further and related reading: Ken Grimwood has 5 other books of note: Breakthrough,  Two Plus Two, Into the Deep, The Voice Outside and Elise. They're all different in terms of what they speak about and over the genres that they cover. Replay is the only genuine fantasy though. 

It's rather hard to recommend anything like it because I haven't ever read anything else that quite matches it. The idea behind the TV show Quantum Leap was similar, but that was straight science fiction. The 2nd Back to the Future Film could almost be accused of ripping it off, because the protagonist of Replay does on more than one occasion use his knowledge of future events to make himself a very wealthy man, although I think that instalment of Back to the Future probably owes more to It's a Wonderful Life than Grimwood's book. One that does spring to mind is Wesley Chu's science fiction The Lives of Tao, which gave me a rather Replay as I read.

That's it for the G's. I'm looking forward to the H's, because while I can only find one genuine contender it's one of my real favourites.

No comments:

Post a Comment