A Long, Strange Trip

There are stories that I read that make me feel as if I have accidentally taken a right turn into the Land of Purple Elephants and Nonsensical Non-Sequiturs.

Then I realize that I am holding the book upside down.

Metaphorically.

(Also, sometimes literally, but I like to pretend that doesn’t happen.)

While there are a number of stories written just to be series of hugely imaginative, strung-together pieces of unusual imagery, I think that a lot of the time we may not be reading these stories from the same frame of reference.

I think that with many genres, we get used to a certain pathway through the events of the story. The events themselves may change, but the general pathway and the type of character interaction remains very similar. Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” is a type often associated with epic storytelling, but many genres have even more narrowly defined and specific sequences.

Most of the time I like this.

When I pick up a story in specific sub-genres, I know exactly what I am getting into and what I can expect out of my reading. As a consumer, I know what I want for these and I am happy to get what I am paying for.

The problem lies in the more general genre categories such as “Fantasy” or “Science Fiction”. Pushing the boundaries of these categories can be very rewarding for the reader, but it can also mean that the frame of reference for how we are looking at the story is wrong. If I come into a Fantasy story and expect an epic, sword-wielding journey and I am faced with the existential crisis of a man slowly turning into an insect, I may feel like I have just been whacked about the head.

The thing is, a lot of Fantasy writing in particular relies on roots in a very specific set of traditional stories and assumptions about how a fantastical world will work. When fantasy that is rooted in other stories or other assumptions is produced, it may leave the reader feeling as if they are reading the book upside down.

I see a lot of these changing structures in the deeper understanding that the internet has provided of multicultural myths and folktales. Someone who has run into these other types of stories and structures is less surprised by Fantasy pulling from non-fairytale sources. However, those who have largely read and enjoyed Arthurian fantasy may find stories rooted in Shinto ethics a little confusing and bewildering.

I hope that we see more boundary-pushing, more stories that aren’t rooted in the same assumptions and fundamentals.

Because sometimes a purple elephant isn’t a nonsensical non-sequitur.

Because sometimes it isn’t the book that is upside down, but our own perspectives.

IMG_1100Hallucinations don’t last nearly as long as a good book

I like both the familiar and the unfamiliar as a reader. Reading has given me worlds that I could never imagine and gifts that I could never imagine living without.


If you’d like to see my own attempts at perspective shifts, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.

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6 thoughts on “A Long, Strange Trip

  1. This reminds me of a funny story. A famous authors grandchild was studying her grandfathers award winning novel in school. The child asked her grandfather questions and gained some special insight into the text. Exam time rolled around and the child answered all the questions, but the teacher wasn’t happy with the child’s interpretation of the novel and told her she was incorrect. The teacher was very embarrassed when she was informed who the child’s grandfather was and that she had discussed the novel with him.

    • Hee. I had a similar experience in University where one of my professors talked about managing to bring the author of a work of literature they were dissecting into the class. The story featured a house built on stilts upon the sand and the class had spent a week dissecting the imagery and symbolism of the house. When they questioned the author to see if they were right, he blinked and he told them it was built on stilts because it was too hard to put a foundation into the sand.

      I think that is one of the most terrifying and wonderful things about stories – once they’re written and out in the world, they belong to whoever reads them and mean whatever the reader wants them to read. I hope that people learn more about some of the alternate frames of reference, but ultimately, the story belongs to the reader, in all its pink elephant non-sequitur glory. 😉

      I’m glad that you like the picture! We have a lot of Amanita muscaria around here. I couldn’t resist taking a shot, especially when I noticed the fly landing on it, since the other name for this is “fly agaric”.

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