I love a good story but I also love lyrical prose. Lyrical is the right word because prose has a sound to me. It’s not quite poetry but it has a musical element. In the hands of a master, it sings.
Consider: “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He strokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.” (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian)
Or: “The battle in the meadowlands of the Euphrates was over, but not the slaughter. On that bloody field...the steel-clad bodies lay strewn like the drift of a storm. The great canal men called the Nile, which connected the Euphrates with the distant Tigris, was choked with the bodies of the tribesmen, and survivors were panting in flight toward the white walls of Hilla, which shimmered in the distance above the placid waters of the nearer river.” (Robert E. Howard, “The Lion of Tiberias”)
Very different language, and yet both are beautiful to me. I always strive to make my prose sound good as well as be functional, although it is not easy to achieve. I also believe the sound of the prose should match the content of the story. A horror tale will have different music to it than a fantasy. I believe fantasy in particular lends itself to beautiful prose, because fantasy generally requires much more description than horror fiction does.
So, I read a lot of fantasy, in hopes of getting a fix of both great story and beautiful writing. Then I come upon something like this:
“More important, if he could but grasp the language, what was the strange power this woman had? ‘You have strange powers,’ Zanthar said.”
And then: “The love-life?” Zanthar questioned. He did not understand the term. In fact, he was not at all certain that he understood a tenth of the words she used. “I do not understand.”
Repetition ad nauseam seems to be this author’s stock in trade. The repetition of “strange power(s)” and of “understood” are just killers here to any music these phrases may have had. Not to mention the far from pithy dialogue, which simply restates exactly what the writer has just told the reader in narrative. This is the very illustration of “leaden” prose.
One guess who this author is. If you read my last post, it’s the same guy. Robert Moore Williams. I was gonna give up on this book but have decided to continue on. I think I can milk a few more blog posts out of it. I can only hope no one will ever find my own writing so worthy of this type of exploration. I’d much rather be compared with McCarthy and Howard.