War For The Oaks by Emma Bull. A much-acclaimed fantasy novel from a few decades ago... I'm almost done with it, and it's got me thinking about how my literary interests have changed. The book is basically a daydream, a ready-made daydream, and if I'd read it in my school days I would have loved it. Back then a daydream was what I wanted from any story, and stories that didn't work for me as daydreams were failures as far as I was concerned. But nowadays I prefer stories about how people deal with real problems, the kind of problems you can neither enjoy nor wish away, and so I'm finding War For The Oaks a disappointing read. Emma Bull is a skillful writer but a self-indulgent one; her central character, Effi, seems to be a wish-fulfillment version of herself, and the fantasy is mostly lifestyle fantasy. She's the leader of a hot rock band that never has any problems musically or socially. She has two cute boys in love with her. All the threats and problems in the story are mostly window dressing; they're about as threatening as a screensaver, and about as easy to stop. Effi only ever has the kinds of problems you dream up for yourself during a boring class, and she gets out of those problems with the kind of solutions you dream up. In this kind of fantasy you defeat the villian by just being the wonderful person you are. I much prefer the Guy Gavriel Kay / Ursula Le Guin approach, where you defeat the villian but not before he blinds you, rips your arms off, eats your family and rapes your friends. And that's in the third chapter. So the problem isn't just how to defeat the boss monster, but how to have a good life with no eyes, no arms, no family and a bunch of miserable friends.
Actually I love a good confectionary story too, like Jeeves and Wooster, The Importance of Being Earnest, As You Like It, and perhaps I'll get into the differences between these confections and this kind of ready-made daydream story in a future post.