Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moonwise of Babel


Look what came in the mail!  It's the latest issue of Foundation, the premiere peer-reviewed journal of the mingled genres of SF and fantasy (and sometimes horror) in the world.  And, under the title "A Conversation between Michael Swanwick and Greer Gilman," it contains the "Moonwise of Babel" panel which Greer and I put on at Boskone -- my god! -- can it have been three years ago?

Here's what happened.  I got the usual questionnaire from the convention asking what panels I'd like to suggest.  And as usual, I didn't want to suggest anything.  But then I reflected on how hideous most panel topics are and decided that just for once I would come up with something better.  So I suggested that my fellow fantasist Greer and I simply have a discussion on matters we find of intense mutual interest, and that  if other people cared to listen they could.

Fortunately for me, Farah Mendelsohn happened to be in the audience and she recorded the whole thing.  The transcription begins:

MS. The reason for this item is that they always put us on panels with some specific topic – “Flower Imagery in Robert Jordan” or “The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith on J.R.R. Tolkien” – and yet it seemed to me to be more interesting for you and me to just sit and have a serious conversation. Because it strikes me that you and I are very similar writers.

[Silence] [Laughter]

Farah Mendlesohn, from audience: Greer sits there with mouth open.

GG. I think we are, as the blurb says, both serious fantasists.

MS. We are both terribly obsessed with mythology and folklore, and also I suspect that our fantasy influences are very similar. E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, Hope Mirrlees, the whole line of classic fantasy that came along before the moderns.

GG Hope Mirrlees I read before I started writing, but not the other two.

MS. Really? I had heard that you said once that when you were in school you were too heavily influenced by E.R. Eddison, and on writing assignments your teacher would say “Greer, you could have a little less jewel imagery in this.”

GG No, actually, I didn’t take writing. What I did in the few English courses I took as an undergraduate, I would always say “For my final paper can I do a parody?” So pastiche is how I learned to write. I did a whole Canterbury Tale, “The Crumhorn Fragment”, with fake footnotes, of course, you must have fake footnotes, and I did Shakespeare and I did Pope, and whatever. I think it was because I really didn’t want to examine my imagination too closely, so I was very happy doing pastiche. Actually, this entire conversation is rather alarming. I do feel as if I have descended into the fireworks factory with a candle. To illuminate, sir, is to destroy.

MS. I don’t think so at all. I have gone down into the fireworks factory with a candle many times, and it is quite delightful. It sends out sparks and there are pretty colours everywhere.

Did we have fun?  Yes, we did.  I am remarkably satisfied with that conversation, and vastly pleased that it has been preserved.



zamzummim said...

Ok, I gotta ask:

Is there actually a piece evaluating Clark Ashton Smith's influence on Tolkien?

And if so, where could one find it?

If not, how unfortunate.

Unknown said...

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