Malazan Book of the Fallen
As I have begun to read the second book in this trilogy, what has struck me as an inherent challenge, and by extension an underlying theme, is the idea of rendering the abstract into words, into something known, concrete. To sculpt something tangible from abstract ideas, making physical change.
Of course the voice must be the blind poet’s, for how better to represent the challenge of making the abstract comprehensible, when that in itself cannot be seen. Without objectivity, there can only be subjectivity, and in subjectivity, there is all manner of truth.
At the beginning of this second instalment, we are confronted with the difficulty of facing the real, the concrete, the brutal truth, and in fact we shy away from it—much like being confronted by the blood of violence as opposed to the revelry in pronouncements of war. Not only is it impossible to portray the concrete, even when an attempt is made it is bound to fall short. It must be couched in known, shared terms. The symbolic lies between abstract and concrete, like shadow between dark and light.
I wrote in Sleight of Hand that the underpinning thesis of the Malazan Book of the Fallen was that no experience can be related, without living it itself—and so the journey of those books was the journey of the reader, becoming by doing. Here we are being shown a corollary of that idea, that the abstract cannot be portrayed or related—only the true experience holds the full effect.
And in the voice of the blind poet, the ink of this writer, we are seeing that problem laid bare, even as the very point necessitates its impossibility. The writer is discovering, reflexively, as this story progresses. The question now is, like in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, do we come along for the ride, do we live something in the concrete by experiencing this journey? Will we flinch from its truths even as it is dressed in a poet’s flourish? That is the holy grail for the artist—to communicate in the concrete, stripping away the symbolic layers and making it real.
There is of course a lot more going on here, but I’m interested to see if this thesis holds through the remainder of this book and the end of the trilogy.
My first work of non-fiction Sleight of Hand: Chaos, Authorship & Humanity is due to be published this coming Friday, July 25th. It is a work of literary criticism about Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.
The cover and blurb are below.
The book is available for pre-order on Smashwords now and will be available on other platforms from Friday.
Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen represents a landmark in fantasy literature. The ten-volume series is a post-modern journey through the mind and soul of the characters and the author himself.
The series is replete with thematic and symbolic explorations and genre tropes. Sleight of Hand explores a selection of the central themes appearing in the series, and is one of the first works to analyse those themes across the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen.
In exploring the journey of the author and his characters, Sleight of Hand becomes an exploration of the journey of a reader and anybody with a tale to tell, as they seek their humanity.