Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding Deliverance in a dearth of heroic fantasy

I lay with the flashlight still in one hand, and tried to shape the day. The river ran through it, but before we got back into the current other things were possible. What I thought about mainly was that I was in a place where none—or almost none—of my daily ways of living my life would work; there was not habit I could call on. Is this freedom? I wondered.

–James Dickey, Deliverance

So you’ve read yourself out of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, closed the cover on the latest Bernard Cornwell and Joe Abercrombie, and you’re looking for something new in heroic fiction. But you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for. Rather than slumming around in the dregs of the genre or reaching for The Sword of Shannara (with apologies to fans of Terry Brooks), my suggestion is to take a look at modern realistic adventure fiction and non-fiction.

I read heroic fiction for the action, the adventure, the storytelling, and the sense of palpable danger that real life (typically) doesn’t provide. Likewise, I find that works like The Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf by Jack London, Alive by Piers Paul Read, and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer satisfy the same primal needs as the stories of an Edgar Rice Burroughs or David Gemmell. The best modern adventure fiction/non-fiction stories are bedfellows with heroic fiction: While they may not contain magic or monstrous beasts, they allow us to experience savagery and survival in the wild and walk the line of life and death.

My favorite work in this genre is Deliverance by James Dickey, and it’s to this book that I’d like to devote the remainder of this post.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website .

8 comments:

David J. West said...

You've convinced me Brian, yet another book I'll have to track down on your say-so.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Absolutely right about the 'adventure' genre satisfying many of the same needs. I tried to get one of my students hooked on these sorts of adventure stories, or rather on adventure itself.

"Backpacking in the wilderness is as close as you can get to living Lord of the Rings" I told her. "It's scary out there, and you have to know arcane lore and skills to survive. The ability to track or start a fire with sticks is almost like magic."

"But there are no dragons," she said.

Oh well! At least I may have convinced her that Into Thin Air was an exciting read...

Brian Murphy said...

David: This is a good one, I would be surprised if you read it and were disappointed. Plus it's less than 300 pages.

Eric: That's an awesome story. Have you read Krakauer's Into the Wild, by the way? It's the true story of an offbeat young man who wanders off into the woods to try and live off the land, and gets into more trouble than he bargained for.

Anonymous said...

First blood by David Morrell is an excellent example of that kind of modern fiction, in Spain we have Alberto Vazquez Figueroa, I don't know if he is translated to English but here is a kind os national besrselling author, he has tittles like Tuareg, Ebano(Ashanti), Manaos or the saga Cienfuegos about a young hero in the Spanish conquest of America, very well written and very documentated, in fact he was a real life actionman... diver and war journalist in Africa or Asia...
by the way what is Into thin air by John Krakauer about...?

Anonymous said...

I'm Francisco...

Dariel said...

May I add Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire to the list? A beautifully woven story of the Spartan stand at Thermopylae, and very inspiring.

Brian Murphy said...

Francisco: Into Thin Air is about a tragic hiking accident on Mount Everest which resulted in the death of eight climbers. Krakauer was part of the expedition.

Dariel: I'm a huge fan of Gates of Fire (review here: http://thesilverkey.blogspot.com/2007/11/gates-of-fire-what-300-should-have-been.html), but didn't include it because I was referring to adventure fiction/non-fiction set in modern times. But I agree, great book.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Brian- Sure, Into the Wild is great. The film that was made a few years ago was a fairly good version of it, as well (though less balanced than the Krakauer book).

I have a nice collection of 'adventure' nonfiction, some more like the rambling early chapters of Lord of the Rings, and some like the death march into Mordor. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard or some of the other Antarctica literature is just unbelievable. The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, about getting sent to Siberia, and then escaping over the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas to India, is remarkable stuff (and I think is being made into a film as we speak).