Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Michael Moorcock on the Bronte Sisters
In the December 2014 issue of Locus magazine, longtime Science Fiction and Fantasy author Michael Moorcock combatted the notion that he was a world-builder. "I think the notion of world-building is a failure of literary sophistication," he responded. "Take the Romantic writers of the 19th century, particularly the Brontes. The Brontes loved the idea of of depicting weather to suit moods--it's called the pathetic fallacy, where you give inanimate things animate qualities. The point of that style of writing is that it used landscape and weather, all exteriors, to symbolize internal conflict within the individual or within a small group of individuals."
Having been born and raised in England, it's understandable that Michael Moorcock should have a greater knowledge of the history of English literature, and know many of the themes and philosophies of that country's great writers. Having read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall recently, I confess that such a notion completely passed over me when I read these novels. I simply bonded with the characters, and followed them through their adventures. A simple Google search demonstrates that many feel similar to Moorcock, and upon reflection, it's easy to see that most of the titles denote weather and landscape. Wuthering refers to a strong, roaring wind, and Wildfell suggests a wild fell, or a rugged hill. Grey could certainly refer to the weather, as the sky in England on my vacations there has often been that color. And Eyre, while it offers no direct connection to the weather, refers to the circuit made by an itinerant judge, which is an apt description of the protagonist's rigorous life journey in that novel.
Actually, now that I think of it, Agnes Grey is an interesting title. Agnes, her given name, denotes holiness or purity, and she certainly was that. But Grey, her family name, indicates the situation into which she was born, one which offered her a murky future, a life that offered few options, and no clear (or sure) means of advancement. Wow, I guess I'm going to have to give a little more thought to the names of my characters, as well as the titles of my novels.
Weather certainly plays a strong part in Wuthering Heights, with Lockwood falling ill during a storm at the beginning of the novel. This forces him into bed for the majority of the narrative, during which his servant tells him the story of his neighbor's lives. And in Jane Eyre, young Jane faces the cruelty of weather during her upbringing at an orphanage. What at first seems like a pleasant, even idyllic locale proves anything but that in the winter, when the cold and the damp make all the residents terribly sick, and takes the life of her best friend, a young girl who Jane feels is the best human being who ever lived.
I understand where Michael Moorcock is coming from in his rejection of the term world-building. As he points out, he has no interest in knowing the social security system or gross national product of his character Elric's kingdom of Melnibone. But in creating Elric, he defined not only his protagonist's inner qualities, but demonstrated how Elric interacted with his surroundings. In that way, he created a world every bit as real as that of the Brontes, one Elric inhabited and cared about, one drawn as colorfully as that of his protagonist. And so, in that way, Michael Moorcock is a world-builder, whether or not he likes to define himself as one.
Someday, when I'm a published author, if he's still alive and we happen to meet, I'd love to talk with Michael Moorcock about some of the novels he's written. While complimenting an author often helps break the ice, I guess in this case I shouldn't attempt to kickstart the discussion by complimenting him for his abilities as a world-builder. Another usually-safe topic--discussing the weather--could also prove a fallacy in his case. But the idea of being granted an audience with one of one's writing hero's, and using it to discuss the weather, seems a rather pathetic move in any case.