(urth) the problem with gaiman, mieville, and pullman

Eric Mattingly eric_mattingly at hotmail.com
Tue Nov 30 10:53:28 PST 2004

Hi.  I am new to this site.  This discussion interests me and I will toss in 
my own "two cents" (as the kids are saying these days).

Harold Bloom spends a lot of time discussing the intertextual "agons" or 
battles of artistic superiority that each writer must undergo.  I think his 
theory is more or less obtuse depending on the author, but I think that we 
can see something by the Bloomian book here with Mieville, Gaiman, Pullman, 

In my own opinion, Pullman is the best author of the three.  Gaiman is a 
good, though undistinguished, author, and (again, in my opinion) Mieville is 
little more than a slightly above average hack attempting something out of 
his depth.  In all three of these, however, one can find an impassioned-- 
even embittered-- agon with Tolkien and Lewis, especially Tolkien.  It is 
the old Freudian story of the sons murdering the father in order to possess 
the mother and limit his influence (i.e. Totem and Taboo).  The irony is 
that they fail on both counts and make even stronger (though now with a 
neurotic dimension) the influence Tolkien has over them.  I agree with Turin 
that we cannot over-psychoanalyze an author based on their work, but maybe 
an author's commentary on other works is fair game.

Now, to aid in the desperate struggle of bringing Wolfe back into this.  
Wolfe freely admits love and admiration for his precursor but, in the end, 
provides the strongest agon against him possible-- he moves speculative (for 
want of a better word) fiction into the realm of genuine mythical and 
psychological conflict.  And, I would argue, in the end swallows up his 
precursors (Tolkien, of course, but Lewis too among others) and displaces 
them.  That is of course contingent upon whether or not you consider Wolfe 
the best sci-fi and fantasy writer (which I do).  The three writers in 
question do not, I believe, have any hope of surviving an agon with Wolfe.  
Pullman is cool, though.  Only he has the potential to survive the agon with 
Tolkien and Lewis (though HDM does not, in the end because of its ending).



A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes.

-- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

>From: turin <turin at HELL.COM>
>Reply-To: turin at HELL.COM,The Urth Mailing List 
><urth-urth.net at lists.urth.net>
>To: urth-urth.net at lists.urth.net
>Subject: (urth) the problem with gaiman, mieville, and pullman
>Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 01:37:29 -0800 (PST)
>I am leery of message boards, considering they often turn into screaming 
>matches which would probably happen less if the people talking could see 
>each other face to face, but Urth seems like a decent place, except of 
>course for the dying sun and the forces of Abaia, Erebus, etc.
>Someone mentioned earlier that it has become a fashion lately to attack 
>Lewis's work.  Despite my own problems with Lewis's particular worldview, I 
>have read essay by Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Phillip Pullman which 
>were written basically to "debunk" Lewiss and for Mieville Tolkien as well. 
>  Charges of racism, nostalgia, cruelty, etc , I don't think you can 
>psychoanalyze an author from her work, and I was particularly disappointed 
>in Gaiman's reaction.  I mean, yes Narnia is less of an allegory than the 
>Faerie Queene though much more of an allegory than Lord of the Rings, which 
>Tolkien denied having any allegorical structure whatsoever.
>Allegory is a very nebulous concept, though, we can call Mieville work 
>Marxist romanticism or captitalist dystopia if we want, and Pullman age of 
>enlightenment identity myth, and Gaiman neo-pagan mall mythology. Lewis 
>cannabilizes things in Theosophy or Voyage to Arcturus or Lord Dunsany, 
>Gaiman cannabilizes Roger Zelazny etc.  Really we can replace cannibalize 
>with "is paying attention to or concernwed with" or "is influenced by" and 
>instead of saying "allegory" we can say it is similar to narratives with 
>similar content and dynamics.   This is not what Gaiman et al. are doing.  
>They are merely drawing a line between what they consider to be "leftist" 
>or "liberal" fantasy, and "conservative" fantasy like Tolkien and Lewis, 
>more so with Lewis.  I find this appalling.  I am not a Christian, and my 
>pride is not hurt that they would try to detract from what they feel is 
>Tolkien and Lewis's hegemony of "fantasy" literature.  I do happen to think 
>Tolkien and Lewis are more intelligent writers than their detractors, but 
>this is besides the point.  What I find appaling is the open and deliberate 
>politization of literature, is literature for its own sake or for 
>furthuring ideology.  It is a serious problem whether you consider Narnia 
>to be Christian propaganda or not; but I find it more difficult with the 
>Science Fiction Trilogy or Till We Have Faces. What exactly is propaganda 
>is another difficult problem.  I certainly did not feel like Lewis was 
>trying to evangelize me.  The novel that is most often cited is The Last 
>Battle, but as an eight year old I knew the Emperor from across the sea was 
>probably some sort of God, but I just took the whole thing as story and 
>that's how I still read it, and it never "softened" me up to Mere 
>Christianity, so I dont understand what everyone's complaint is. Lewis's 
>observations concerning human psychology seem very persuasive to me if not 
>always the conclusions he draws from them.
>I want to contrast Narnia with Pullman's His Dark Materials. I absolutely 
>loved the series, and waited the five years until the last book with bated 
>breath.  The Amber Spyglass which turned out to be nothing more than a 
>refuatation of Christianity.  I felt like he was preaching to me, and there 
>are rumors he trashed the first manuscript, so I can only wonder what the 
>book's first form was.  Why use magic or talking polar bears to promote 
>rationalism?  Is it because he thought children will read them along with 
>Lewis and create a politically balanced genre.
>To a certain degree I am biased, I will admit, because I think Wolfe, 
>Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien ask serious questions that Gaiman, Pullman, and 
>Mievelle do not, other "fantacists", I am excluding "science fiction", do 
>not.  Questions of metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, what it means to 
>be human, what it means to be a nonhuman person, the problem of technology 
>and how to use it, etc.  Mieville, Gaiman, and Pullman seem to address 
>these issues, but it does not seem to me as if their attempts are anything 
>other than cursory.  Despite how "liberal" I may be or how "Christian" 
>Lewis is, the fact remains I think he is a better thinker than the rest of 
>them.  I feel that this writers who just so happen to be Christian make 
>serious commitments to this questions which means trying to answer them 
>honestly and to a certain degree means revealing in part some of their 
>Christian beliefs.  With Mieville and Pullman it seems as if they are only 
>trying to further political agendas primarily, the stories come second, and 
>because they pretend to be good humanists, it's okay to indulge in the same 
>"escapist" fantasy they attribute to Tolkien and Lewiss, very hypocritical. 
>  Gaiman seems not to want to commite to anything, and to this day, I have 
>no idea what Gaiman thinks about anything, except that he probably voted 
>for Kerry.  I do not understand why they started attacking Lewiss 
>simultaneously, was it jealousy, the impending Lord of the Rings moview, 
>which I can't stand, or some weird statistical nodal point.  That they were 
>trying to debunk Lewis or steal his "throne" is ridiculous.  There is 
>nothing to debunk or steal. I dont believe science fiction and fantasy are 
>secretly plagued by Christianity and a conservative political agenda, and I 
>find that kind of thinking supercilious and dissapointing.
>I am of course open to debate on this subject and will try not to snap. I 
>haven't gotten a chance to read "the problem of susan yet" but I've read an 
>essay Gaiman wrote on his feelings towards Lewiss before he wrote the story 
>and it feels very much like it would be a piece of propaganda to me. I dont 
>know how Gaiman can hate Lewis and like Michael Moorcock.  He just doesn't 
>seem to have good taste.
>  p.s. I am writing from  hell, of course, so it should be perfectly 
>obvious I am not a sheep in wolf's clothing.
>p.p.s. if you are looking to avoid a heated debate on Tolkien and Lewis's 
>"racial agenda", do notr ask me if I think Lord of the Rings or Narnia is 
>about the crusades or the Moors.
>p.p.p.s If Barliman does not deliver this, I will roast him.
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