The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I've tried a few times to read Steven Erikson's fantasy novels, and always bailed. (Probably the first thing that attracted me was a momentary confusion with Steve Erickson, author of Days Between Stations, Rubicon Beach, Tours of the Black Clock, Leap Year and a whole bunch of other stuff. Slipstream author, much huzzah'd by William Gibson. Personally I've enjoyed reading his work and found it nifty, quirky, intriguing, though never quite satisfying. People who dig Pynchon should definitely try him if they haven't already.) To return to Erikson, I see where he's coming from, I see what he's trying to do, and for all I know, achieving, but reading him is like listening to someone playing an out-of-tune piano with more enthusiasm than ability.

Practically the first sentence of Gardens of the Moon is something along the lines of: "The winds were contrary that day above Ravenspike, blowing the smoke from the rioting this way and that." What he means, I'm certain, is inconstant. After a few chapters of same, one's tongue gets fuzzy and one's ears tintinnabulate.

However, I continued to wonder what I was missing, given the plaudits he continues to attract, until I saw the latest title, which is Toll the Hounds.

This is Erikson, and much of fantasy fiction, in a nutshell. What he means is unleash the hounds, summon the hounds with a tolling bell, but all that came to mind was half a dozen bassett hounds being swung by their tails in a steeple, baying mournfully. Or, as a friend wondered: "Does he want to charge them for crossing a bridge?"


As nipper #1 is now three and a half, I've been introducing him to his letters, spending 10 minutes a day trying to encourage him to write and recognise them. Wanting some tips, I asked my father how he taught me to read, and he said he just used Janet and John. Which names tolled a hound, but I couldn't visualise the books and certainly didn't remember them. Then I came across a facsimile edition which has recently been published by Summersdale, containing immortal lines such as, "See the boats, John. Big boats, little boats. I like my little boat. Float, boats, float."

No wonder it worked. The literary equivalent of march or die. Anything to get away from Janet and John. Same friend pointed out that anything involving a plot, or any action whatsoever would seem revolutionary: "Hey...there's a cat - he's wearing a hat - he's got a box - there's two, two things are comin' out of it! Hey, Timmy, come over here! You're never gonna believe this shit!"


I was curious to see if Janet and John would stir a memory, flicking through the pages. Nothing tangible, but it did provoke a small and delicate internal shift, a realignment which was suggestive of memory, of another place and situation. Of being taught to read, aged three and a half? Possibly, maybe.


At 2 July 2008 at 17:01 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Much of fantasy fiction is unbearably turgid.

I liked the new Russian offering, The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, though it could have done with proper proof-reading.

Teaching el sprog to read: get 'em onto mythology & folk-tales as soon as possible - kids love it.


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