In Which There Are Introverts and Tropes

4 January 2004

I'm not quite as tired as I was yesterday. Unfortunately, we slid on the topic of Melvin the Laundry Monster: no loads of laundry done yesterday, and also we wore clothes and washed ourselves and so on, creating more laundry. Sigh. But the rest of the day's activities were so worthy that I will forgive us a bit more of Melvin, collectively.

How worthy? Well, I finished reading The Merlin Conspiracy (woohoo) and started Lian Hearn's Grass for His Pillow, which is also pretty good stuff. Not perfect, but nobody says it has to be. At least, not anybody here. I also spent some good time with C.J., and he helped me with a plot point on "Pillar of Salt," which is a new short story I'm going to try to get finished in time for an upcoming theme issue. And Stella and Mike and Roo came over and had supper and learned the joys of Byerly's soup. Stella and I talked in the library and had a lot of Impressed and Not Impressed in common, both with books and with people in the field. And we shook Roo's hand more times than I can count, and listened to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on one of my music boxes as a conversational background, and watched the biped fight falling asleep. Man, did he not want to fall asleep. So tired, and yet so opposed to sleeping.

Watching Mike and Stella putting him into his coat while he slept, I remembered so clearly what it was like to be little, to be bundled into a coat without fully waking, to feel the cold air and the warm coat and parent and still not fully wake, to mumble something as warm bed replaced cold air, and to have Mom or Dad murmur soothingly in response, and to fall immediately into a deeper sleep. I don't know how old I was from those memories. Little enough to be carried, little enough to fall asleep at someone else's house. It confuses me when people don't remember being themselves very far back.

Ah well.

Columbine is talking about Lord of the Rings, and here's where I think he's interestingly wrong:
Some of the better bits in Tolkien are tired old easy-to-use tropes - which isn't to say that I'm attacking them; I'm saying that they are basically foolproof and should not be taken as evidence of quality. Almost anyone can plop in an Old Dark House setpiece (Moria) and make with the scary effectively; almost anyone can employ the Warrior Who Has a Hidden Destiny (Tolkien does it TWICE, Aragorn and Eowyn) to good effect; almost anyone can throw in the Exotic Beings In Strange Habitats (Lothlorien) for a spike in interest level. Et cetera - the Dead Sibling Dad Liked Better, the Formless Dark Agents, the Lingering Wound of Presence - these are all timeless tricks, and to misuse these Tolkien would have had to be grossly incompetent. And he wasn't incompetent, merely mediocre and somewhat long-winded.

Actually, I believe approximately the opposite. It takes a good storyteller to employ the Warrior Who Has a Hidden Destiny to good effect -- it's too done, too likely to make the reader sigh, "Oh, fabulous, another hidden freakin' destiny." The more trite the trope, the more hoary, the more likely the reader is going to roll his/her eyes a few chapters in and say, "I already know the Formless Dark Agents deal, thanks, and I'm sick of it."

So take the story I linked to yesterday, Hannah's Tam Lin retelling. Was it a good, readable story because Hannah took the easy way out and did the Tam Lin thing, and it's a tried-and-true old trope that the rest of us will give an easy pass? I'll say no. I'll say that if she'd screwed it up just a little bit, the editors and the readers would have groaned, "Oh, no, another Tam Lin story, bleh!" and gone running on to the next available story. (And there is always a next available story for editors. They don't buy stories because they got stuck in airports with them while their flight was delayed.) You can't do fairy tales or hoary tropes because they're easier to do well in an original work. They're harder.

Columbine was evaluating how he thought Tolkien would hit a modern reader. I think a modern reader is more likely to say, "Oh, Old Dark House, yawwwwwwwn" than "Old Dark House, of course he'll get this right!" -- and either response is probably more likely from us than from a reader when the book first came out.

I also don't think long-windedness is a failing. Sometimes, yes, but not always. "Crisp, tight, spare" prose is a taste, not a universal rule. Even within this one book, sometimes Tolkien's long-windedness was a failing, and sometimes it was a delight. (And the same, incidentally, goes for Peter Jackson's occasional long-windedness.) Of course I would say this: I love Dumas. That doesn't make it any less true.

I'm also skeptical of the Modern Reader, because while I think there are things one can ascribe fairly safely to the Modern Reader (that people around the MR, if not the Mrself, will have been exposed to TV and movies, for example), I think the MR gets unfair blame for a lot of things. And the MR gets trotted out editorially whenever anybody thinks there's something wrong with the state of publishing: "The Modern Reader Isn't Interested in Short Stories," we hear, or "The Modern Reader has a cinematic sensibility." Some modern readers are interested in short stories and some are not. Some love cinematic-style books and others get their fill of the cinema at the cinema and want books to be chewier and bookier. The Modern Reader, like all other readers and all other human beings (categories I must remind myself are not identical despite my own circles of experience), varies. Doesn't mean there's no difference between the MR and the Reader of 1950, on the average, just means that I get very wary when those differences are under discussion.

But actually I wasn't thinking about Tolkien or windiness or Modern Readers before I read Columbine. (Nor had the Norwegian fiddle/Rohirrim theme been in my head for days and days. Sigh. Mrissas Don't Buy Soundtracks, but I'm going to have to.) I was thinking about introverts and extroverts again, because I've been around some people lately who are very, very good at dealing with introverts and some people who are very, very bad at it. I think the very most clueless thing I heard an extrovert say to an introvert this holiday season was, "I just want to see you be yourself!" With, apparently, no idea that part of himself was not talking the ears off of strangers. It's not that introverts can't be themselves around strangers. It's that themselves tend to be more quiet then.

I think many extroverts think that introverts are a combination lock, and if only they can get the combination right, they can get the introverts to open right on up. A comfortable setting, other people with whom the introvert feels at home, a topic known to be of interest, and clickclickclickclick...personality walls supposedly sliding back. It doesn't work that way, although sometimes it appears to. The introvert is pretty much always the one deciding, from the inside, when it's time to feel comfortable with someone new. And it may be that the someone new has gone up in the introvert's estimation by making an effort in one direction or another...but it also may be that attempts like that go awry or fail entirely, and the new person shouldn't feel bad if an introvert takes awhile to warm up.

I'm sure chatty introverts confuse extroverts even further, if they recognize us as different from them at all. But that's another thing.

Anyway, I have a load of laundry in the wash. I have books to read and books to write, thank-you notes to address and write, photos to crop and post for your viewing enjoyment. I got exactly one done before I had more important things to do yesterday. Eventually I'll need to de-Christmas the house; waiting for Epiphany has been an excuse more than a religious observation. Especially since I don't so much wait for the little-e kind as go charging after them hollering battle cries. Or digging. I'm very good at digging for epiphanies through heaps and heaps of fact. Sitting and waiting, though, not so much. Then again, the Wise Guys weren't exactly sitting around hoping to be holy, so maybe my way's all right as religious observances go, and I should just get on with it.

Always decent advice.

Back to Novel Gazing.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.