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Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn/Shadowmarch

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  • Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn/Shadowmarch

    What's the general consensus on these fantasies; are they Tolkien immitators, or does Mr. Williams put an original spin on the genre and focus more on characterization?

  • #2
    MST was an annual read for me in my younger days. Every winter between the ages of 11 and 17 I'd read the series. In many ways, it was what really brought me to fantasy and ultimately in '95 to Mike via "Tales of the White Wolf" in which Tad Williams had a short, "Go Ask Elric", so I may be a little biased in Tad Williams's favor.

    To answer your question: I think that although there are broad similiarities with Tolkien--undead baddy coming back to rule the world, various races, etc--Williams really takes it in a new direction by focusing far less on the histories and the world building (most of Osten Ard is identifiably transplanted European) and more on the growth and effects of the events on the characters. In the time since I've yet to find another Fantasy/Science Ficion author who understands his characters as well and can realistally grow the characters.

    The two big Fantasy Epics of the modern age, Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" and George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" are probably the easiest to contrast MST with. Where the characters do change and grow through the (far too many) pages of the former series they do so in a largely sudden way with little step from, for example, teenage lay-about to "El Bad-Assery." On the other hand we have MST where at the end of the final volume (three in cloth, four in paper) the characters are still identifiable as those that began the tale but bearing the weight of their experience and the scars (physical and emotional) on their trials. The transition is so smooth and subtle that it is almost unoticed until the final pages where the reader can see the changed characters not through exposition but through the reactions and responses of the secondary characters surrounding the primaries.

    So yes, Tad Williams's "Memory, Sorry, and Thorn" series may share the Tolkien-esque influence of most modern Epic fantasies, but it does not rely upon that formula for its story or success. It relies upon its characters and the Tolkien influence is plugged into the background as comfortable and established so as not to distract the reader from what really counts.
    "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
    --Thomas a Kempis

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    • #3
      I have loved Tailchaser's Song, which is intended to be a Lord Of The Rings saga with cats. I would have loved to read his other books!

      This saga mentioned at this thread, was partially translated to Portuguese.

      They divided book 1 in 3 parts and published only two. And that is all I have..
      "From time to time I demonstrate the inconceivable, or mock the innocent, or give truth to liars, or shred the poses of virtue.(...) Now I am silent; this is my mood." From Sundrun's Garden, Jack Vance.
      "As the Greeks have created the Olympus based upon their own image and resemblance, we have created Gotham City and Metropolis and all these galaxies so similar to the corporate world, manipulative, ruthless and well paid, that conceived them." Braulio Tavares.

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      • #4
        I've only read his Otherland books, which I enjoyed at the time, although didn't love. His fantasies always look a little too vanilla for my tastes.
        forum

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        • #5
          I spent a few years last millennium reacquainting myself with the Fantasy genre. Tad Williams' trilogy in four parts seems to have survived, mostly because its characters are believable: for what it's worth, it's also a "coming of age" story. I could do without the carbon-copy Norsemen, Celts, Romans, English, Magyar, and even-worse civilized barbarians the Wrannamen, who are a mixture of stereotypes - but he does make them real people; I could also do without the various semi-intelligent monsters.

          He does preserve the tradition of the Faery-folk living in their own world: the fact that Simon needs Sidhi help to cross into their last remaining city, and that the weather there is decidedly different to the outside world, is a good touch.

          He does keep everything consistent, which is good. I read most of Feist's books as well, and got seriously turned off by the pirates and Novindus in a book I have failed to remember the name of. I mean, Novindus!?! It read like he'd swallowed a great heap of the history of India and regurgitated it - the pirates didn't even get that "courtesy!
          sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

          Gold is the power of a man with a man
          And incense the power of man with God
          But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
          And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

          Nativity,
          by Peter Cape

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          • #6
            Originally posted by In_Loos_Ptokai
            I could do without the carbon-copy Norsemen, Celts, Romans, English, Magyar, and even-worse civilized barbarians the Wrannamen, who are a mixture of stereotypes

            I agree that it is a tad (forgive the pun) un-original but I also think he did 'carbon copies' for three reasons (which are really all the same when you think of it):
            1. It is easier for us to relate to
            2. Since we bring our pre-conceived notions of these particular cultures, he doesn't need to write an entire world history for us to understand them
            3. It is was a time-saver that allowed him to focus on the important parts of the story/character instead of on world-building
            That being said, you're forgetting the Inuit/Inupiat copy of the Qanuc-folk.
            "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
            --Thomas a Kempis

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            • #7
              That being said, you're forgetting the Inuit/Inupiat copy of the Qanuc-folk.
              It wasn't until I'd read Jared Diamond's Collapse last year that I realized Tad Williams had incorporated incidents from the final years of the Greenland colony, in his storyline. If anything, that endeared MST to me. On several counts - because it was an American, not European, incident, and Tad Williams is an American, so he's taken some thought about "patriating" the genre to his own surroundings, and also it probably acted as a "poison shrimp" to ideas of European-descent superiority that I've encountered too often among Americans - once you've accepted that Binabik is one of the more significant characters, and Simon's superior in more ways than one, it's started breaking down that insufferable stupidity.
              sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

              Gold is the power of a man with a man
              And incense the power of man with God
              But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
              And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

              Nativity,
              by Peter Cape

              Comment

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