“Those critics who still decry [fantasy literature] for its usual lack of deep characterization do not see that it completely reverses the “real” world of the social novel — placing its heroes in a landscape directly reflecting the inner landscape of the ordinary man. The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean worlds of our own souls.”
Thus the great Michael Moorcock, writing in 1963 in Science Fantasy magazine.
I don’t think all fantasy (or speculative fiction) writers work in the vein Moorcock identified, but many do. Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books are explicitly psychological, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books are all about ritual, tradition and the individual, with the theme acted out on the entire world-platform, and many fantasy novelists create worlds which seem designed specifically as stages on which to enact certain philosophical debates. Think of David Farland’s Runelords books, in which the eponymous runelords becoming powerful by taking “endowments” from their vassals, volunteers and even prisoners, by which the “dedicate” gives some quality of his — e.g., brawn, wit, metabolism, etc. — entirely to the runelord. Or consider L.E. Modesitt’s long-running Saga of Recluce, with its constant theme of order and chaos and the interplay between them in human life. In all these books it’s the setting, as much as the characters, that are explorations of the human soul.
Enter Peter Orullian. I met Peter at CONduit, and immediately thought this dude is at the wrong convention. With his glam hair and lean <<chain smoker / zero carbohydrate eater / maybe both>> face, he looked like he should be fronting a metal band, not sitting on panels about the use of literary cliches in fantasy fiction. And it turns out I wasn’t all wrong. Explore his website a bit — he’s a musician and singer and multimedia guy, a full package artist, and a man after my own heart.
And Peter is also a successful author. Tor has published his first book, The Unremembered, book one of The Vault of Heaven, and his second is nearing completion in the wee hours before Peter’s day job. The Unremembered is classic heroic fantasy, complete with a beginning reminiscent of The Sword of Shannara or The Fellowship of the Ring, in which young Tahn, hunting meat to stock the larder of the inn, has a dangerous encounter in the forest.
It’s also fantasy in the Moorcockian sense, in that the world is built to explore certain themes. In its prologue a council of the creators of worlds meet to chastise and then bind a Satan figure, a member of the council whose job it has been to create evil in all the worlds. Despite his binding, he threatens to continue his task, and we are set up for themes of good and evil, opposition, trial and free will. In the early chapters of the book, we learn that in the world since its creation, a League of Exigents has come into being and it goes around trying to wipe out history to free the current generation from the shackles of the ignorant past, so we are set up to read about further themes, of memory, culture, history and political control.
All of this, of course, to be explored through the tale of a small-town boy with the weight of destiny upon him. Peter Orullian: check him out. I think he’s going to be big.