Sunday, 14 August 2011

Myself and Maurice were just having a very serious discussion about books and such. Also, I found another survey.

I'm setting myself a challenge. I found another survey, and because I bloody love surveys, I decided there and then that I just HAD to do it. Only problem is, it's a long runner. You have to answer one question a day for the next 30.

Which means I'll have to blog every day for the next month, and, as you can see, this isn't exactly something I'm used to doing. Furthermore, the survey is all on the same subject- Goth- and it goes without saying that endless posts centred squarely on my personal experiences with my subculture would be horribly tedious, both for me and for anyone who happens to be reading this.

So, I've made a decision. For the next 30 days, I will post, and in each post I will answer the Question of the Day. But also, in each post, I will write about a different topic. So, it'll be Question of the Day and a Poltical Rant. Question of the Day and a Musing. Question of the Day and Snark. Question of the Day and a Silly Anecdote. Question of the Day and whatever I feel like. But never just Question of the Day by itself.

It's time to dust out the cobwebs. I present... **dun dun dun**... Day 1!

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And so I kick off with a great big fuck-off nerd-ramble about literature! Sorry guys.

I first read Lord of the Rings when I was about fourteen, and at the time, I wasn't overly enchanted. I mean, I didn't dislike the series and a lot of it captivated me, but there were other parts I had to battle through. As the trilogy wore on, I found myself resenting, in particular, Tolkien's habit of neglecting character interaction in favour of long monologues about dead Kings, which I couldn't really bring myself to care about. I also struggled to get to grips with the endless similar-souding names taht got thrown around, and found myself having to really think in order to keep up as background characters blended seamlessly into one another.

Despite this lukewarm first impression, however, late last year I was struck by the urge to re-read the trilogy, and I borrowed the battered college library copies and began to read again. When I'd finished, my opinion had completely changed. A few years in age had taken me from thinking the series overrated to really fucking loving it.


It is. It isn't that the niggles I had the first time round have completely gone away. Tom Bombadil is still annoying, the Black and White morality still gets on my nerves and I still have no idea how the Orcs even still existed what with all the in-fighting they got up to. I still took my time through the slower bits of plot. I've found that if you lose your pace at the wrong bit- where the more whimsical and fast-moving Fellowship meets the slower and drier Two Towers- you'll have a hard time getting it back. I even managed to get annoyed by something I'd managed to overlook the first time around- the role of women.
By that, I don't mean the bog-standard traditionalism. Tolkien wrote this book in the 50's and 60's at a fairly old age, what else could you expect? No, my problem is a mixture of logic, and women being mysteriously absent where they shouldn't have been.

For logic, take the Gondor situation: Their city were under severe threat, and they had to give absolutely all they had if they stood a chance of holding Mordor back. It was a do or die situation, screw anything else, anyone who could hold a sword had to fight. Well, in theory, anyway. Despite their dire desperation, after all, they were still sending 50% of their able-bodied adult population off into exile because chivalry.
I... can't make that make sense. No amount of reminding myself of Tolkien's background makes the exclusion of women seem any less silly in-universe. By that stage in the war, the normal rules about who fights were already shown to have widened out of necessity to include old men and teenage boys, and with full awareness that this is coming from my 21st century mind, it would have made so much more sense to have conscripted at least some of the women too. Or, failing that, just given those women who were willing to fight the chance to do so.

As for the mysterious absence... Jesus. For one thing, according to Tolkien's Royal timelines, Queens don't exist in Middle Earth. There has never been an instance where any throne, anywhere, has had to go to a woman, and only one or two women seem to have been in positions of power full stop. Now, while it's probably my feministic tendencies that are making me notice this, it isn't sexism I'm complaining about here. It's more that this goes against all laws of averages. Surely, there would have been at least a few Kings who had only daughters? A few childless Kings who'd died, leaving the throne to a wife or sister? How is it possible that that could just never happen? Also, it often seems that every background character was male unless there was a specific reason for them not to be, to the point where entire races and societies were left with half their population shrouded in mystery. Again, not really sexist, but the effect was definitely a bit awkward, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. You can't automatically blame Tolkien's worldview for it, either- there's no doubt that he knew Queens and female tribespeople existed. Why they never made it into the novels... pfft, anyone's guess.

But, as I said, despite how much it annoys me at times, I love this series. For a while, I wondered about this- this trilogy contains every cliche I read Mieville to avoid. But I think I've worked it out. You see, even though there are many aspects of it that make no sense, Lord of the Rings feels real. The worldbuilding is of that rare quality where the setting and characters just come immaculately to life. It's true that more character interaction would've been nice, but the character development was effective, if subtle, and that's what really matters. Speaking of the characters, I can't think of very many I dislike. This is something I've only noticed since the re-read, but the vast majority of the cast is likeable, interesting, or both. The big exception to this is Bombadil, but he only shows up for a couple of chapters early on, so it isn't like I had to put up with him for very long. I can care about this world and these people and what happens to them. There's also something more personal to me that makes me love this series. I'm about as far from an integralist as it's possible to be, and books that contain a lot of padding spark my interest rather than make me switch off. If the author goes off on tangents just to showcase extra events or details, it not only increases immersion in the story but shows an impressive level of dedication. If there are entire tie-in books full of background information, it's even better.  

I suspect it's this love of extras that led me to dislike another book- the Lovely Bones, which I studied in English last year. Just like I didn't at first understand why I liked LoTR, it took me a while to understand why I disliked this. The concept was OK, I had nothing against the genre. Nothing was obviously wrong. It was only when I read a few negative reviews on it that rang incredibly true that I understood... the worldbuilding was pants. The setting was Anywhereville, and while that was clearly kind of the point, it made it difficult for anyone to connect with the setting. The characters were either bland or charicatures, impossible to relate to, and the main character lost her narrative voice completely after the first couple of chapters, being reduced down to a vehicle with which to convey events through.

The hollow romanticism of everything backfired on the author, as well. By trying to make everything deep and profound, she ensured that nothing was. When a murder is described with the same levels of sentimentality as someone walking the dog, it's hard to care about anything that happens. The entire book ended up as stuff happening in silly purple prose, with the exception of a sex scene that stood out just because of how creepy it was: A grown man (who hadn't shown romantic interest in anyone since his teenage crush died- yeah, Single Target Sexuality was the norm in this story. Everybody's first love interest was their One and Only) gets propositioned by the ghost of aforementioned teenage crush who is posessing his best friend. He accepts instantly. Even though this is a thousand kinds of wrong. Of course. In fact, the fact that Susie chose to have sex rather than help catch her killer when she was returned to Earth is slightly... off. She knew he was at large and was likely to kill again, after all. I'd ask where the logic was, if I could give a monkeys. Which I don't, because there was just no character or charm to this book, depite the author's many desperate efforts to shoe a load in.

TL:DR: Lord of the Rings makes me facepalm at time but is still awesome because of the thorough worldbuilding. Lovely Bones is a bit rubbish because worldbuilding is nonexistant + it tries to hard to be profound. Yes they're weird books to compare and contrast. No, I don't care.

((Looks up and wonders how many geek points I got from that))

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Question 1: How did you come across the subculture? 

I've been aware of it as far back as I could remember, but I never really understood it, and it took me until my early teens to realise I wanted to try alternative fashion, never mind develop any sort of affintiy with Goth in particular. I see pictures of young Goths who look like they understand exactly what they're going for at 12, 13, 14 years old. That wasn't me. I did not have the faintest idea what I was doing. I was more or less emo at first, but with too much DIY jewellery made from stationery to really count. Then I started erring towards a rock chicky kind of thing, but I associated a tough, rock 'n roll personality that I simply did not have to that, and inevitably dropped it fairly quickly. Somewhere along the line I became what would be described by many as a Mansonite, except I never claimed that either they or I were Goth, so... yeah. Then I learnt more about the Goth subculture, and after a while realised it fitted me pretty damn well. Yeah. 

So, TL:DR summarised, I did not have a longstanding affintity for Goth. What I did have, however, were a lot of the early signifiers. I was a creative child, always inventing imaginary worlds and writing stories. I enjoyed reading. I had a brief but intense interest in Greek mythology. When I got scared by a picture of Kali in an encyclopaedia, I conquered my fear by making up stories where she was 'one of the goodies', and developed a fascination with the Goddess that still holds to this day. 

When I was a toddler, I decided several Disney Villains and Medusa were perfect imaginary friend material. 

The main thing that sticks out for me, though, is my attraction to weirdness. Right from childhood, if it was visibly outside the norm, I'd like it. If other people shunned it because it was weird, my curiosity would be sparked. Occasionally, when I was really young, I'd become flat-out contrary and decide to like something just because some authority figure didn't. Luckily I've long grown out of that last one, but the first two seem hard-wired into me, and have held true from early childhood to the present day. Granted, sometimes the ostracism that tends to come with growing up aspie got to me deeply enough to cause cracks in my love of the bizarre, but that love always came back. I'm a sucker for creativity and boundary-pushing. Being outside the norm and pushing boundaries in the face of severe negative judgement is one of the quickest ways to earn my respect. In books, in music, in people, in places... weirdness is a virtue. Now, I don't know how many Goths have a similar history, but I am certain that for me, my love of the unusual played a big part in leading me into alternative fashion.

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