Unending Series

I've never been a big fan of World Fantasy—you know, the sort of thing: a Tolkienesque World in which a cast of thousands has adventure after adventure after adventure. Kind of like Harry Potter, except more characters, and you have no guarantee that it will end at Book 7.

I usually run out of steam on Book 3 of just about any series. Yes, even Harry Potter. I still haven't finished the latest, although it appears to be better written than the one before. But, well, I read three books and then I read number four, and surely, that was enough?

With World Fantasy, I'm simply not that interested in flora and fauna. Many people like the idea of being exposed to a different world; they can hang out, tourist-fashion, and watch the scenery. But I prefer people—even in art, I prefer people, which is why I'd rather look at the Pre-Raphaelites than the Impressionists. Give me garishly colored knights any day over blurry trees.

Which leads us to the notable exceptions to my avoidance of World Fantasy:

  • Tolkien. Naturally. Not only is he the original, at least in the 20th century, but he is such a very, very good original. (I've even read the Silmarillion, which is heavy going but worth it.) The characters exist in an already-made world which Tolkien never explains (in the trilogy) except in footnotes; the stuff is just there, already understood, already old.

  • C.S. Lewis. Naturally. Besides the fact that the Narnia books are not particularly detailed on the flora and fauna front (to Tolkien's great disgust; but then, Lewis was more interested in people as well), you get effortless prose and straightforward, non-demanding theology. The story reigns supreme. (And the 7 books are short so they more or less count as 3.)

    C.S. Lewis is much more detailed in his science-fiction books, poetically so, but even there, the fascination seems to be less in creating a fully defined world than in dipping into a particular culture: anthropologist versus geologist.

  • The incredible C.J. Cherryh. I'm in the process of making my way through the second Foreigner series trilogy. Cherryh at least has the sense to divide her ongoing series into sets of three (she is currently on her third set of three). C.J. Cherryh is very nearly a genius. With a few exceptions (including a Superman novelization), her writing is almost flawless, and she does the thing that only Tolkien succeeded at (partly by default) and C.S. Lewis decided to avoid: she gives you a sense of a fully complicated world in which events impinge on each other: politically, socially, culturally, geographically. Her books are more people-centered than place-centered, yet place is omnipresent to the action. It's quite extraordinary.

  • Outside of these authors, whenever people tell me about a fantasy/World series that is fifteen books long, my first reaction is, "Please no." Which could lead me into a discussion about how much I disliked the soap opera-keep-you-endlessly-watching aspect of television shows, but I'll save that for a rainy day.


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