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The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams

I think sometimes I’m a literary snob. I say, what’s the point of reading a book that doesn’t contain merit, meaning, I do not read solely for pleasure. But I’m lying. I do read for pleasure–but what pleasures me now isn’t the same sort of book that pleasured me when I was 18. Then, I could find joy in endless leaps of the imagination, no matter how rusty the springs on the pogo stick were. Nowadays, it takes a new spring on the pogo stick, or at least a whole lot of WD-40.

Tad Williams doesn’t have a new spring–his is only as old as the 1960s and that seminal work of high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. But his WD-40 is fast acting. I don’t believe that Tad is offering anything new in this book, but his style is fluid, the plotting well prepared, and the world a strange mixture of reality and fantasy (much like the strange interplay in Tolkien). Compare this to Terry Brooks (who I did read back in my younger days). Brooks, at least in The Sword of Shannara, does nothing new. The characters were cardboard cutouts of those he read in Tolkien. Or how about David Eddings, whose work is one plot coupon after another. Williams at least knows that he is treading the same ground here, and he works hard to make it at least seem different. While he doesn’t have the courage of Stephen Donaldson, whose Thomas Covenant novels, while excruciatingly purple, are fevered creations of misery and muse, Williams achieves a good balance between pleasing his audience with good writing skills.

The Dragonbone Chair is an epic. Clearly Williams set out to write a “winnebago” of a book, and constructed a double-wide. The protagonist is your typical young male role model who is a misunderstood dreamer. Luckily, the book gets weird quickly, with a strange intermix of politics, religion (something Tolkien doesn’t really cover in the “Lord of the Rings”) and magic.

It is the religious aspect that is unique here. Williams plays on some strange similarities between the fantasy world and our own history, and it shows itself best in the Christ-like figure Usires, and the Mother Church. Some say LotR was an analogy for WWII–perhaps Williams is striving for an updated effect. I can’t tell as of yet, being only 1/3 through the tale.

I have the succeeding volumes and I plan to tackle them straightaway. I told Jill before I started these that I needed a new world to simply immerse in for a few books. Tad’s fulfilling the bill nicely.

[Finished 21 March 1994]


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