Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Grandfather and the Antireligionist

All this semester we have been reading fantasy series that have created characters that we wish we knew in reality; and of the three trilogies, two have done it so fantastically, so flawlessly that it leaves the readers wishing it was possible to know them. I’m speaking, of course, of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Pullman Dark Materials series. (Donaldson can keep his Unbeliever).

Tolkien’s characters are in and of themselves fantastic creations worthy of the histories created for them. He goes into intense detail regarding his characters and each has a deep, rich ancestry. He writes of strong emotional conflict and the difficult decisions each much make in the battle. His most poignant and my personal favorite character, is Aragorn. The descendent of Isildur, Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, but at the beginning of the trilogy, he hides this identity and pretends to be a ranger named Strider. That Aragorn does not claim his throne because he is not yet ready. As much as the trilogy tells of Frodo’s inner steadfastness before constant temptation, it also tells of Aragorn’s transformation from ranger to king. He must grow into the king, and his own journey proves vital not only for his rightful coronation but for the very survival and growth of the kingdoms of man. He gains confidence and self-awareness through his courageous support of Frodo and the rest of the fellowship, as well as from his love of Arwen. Each character in the trilogy is a success, and I can find little to bash about them. This is as they say the benchmark for all fantasy

Pullman also does a lot of character development and writes strong emotions and difficult decisions without letting the characters wallow or ruin the pace of the story. Pullman attempts something else in characterization that's rare and rather more difficult: this book has very few true villains. Nearly all of the characters with narrative introductions that lead you to expect them to stay in the villain role end up having other redeeming or at least understandable qualities, and frequently Pullman left me rooting in surprise for what I thought was the "wrong" side. With this, he's not always successful; Mrs. Coulter, for instance, felt like she got a personality transplant between books, and if the changes in her motivations were signalled in the previous books, I certainly missed the signs. Still, I'll forgive the occasional problems when the overall effect is so unusual and intriguing. I like reading a story that starts as traditional fantasy and then makes it clear that the sides aren't anywhere near as well-defined as they first appeared.

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