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The Marquis de Leech

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About The Marquis de Leech

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    Blood-sucking Aristocrat
  • Birthday 12/15/1982

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    Dunedin, New Zealand

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  1. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    An eighteenth century gentleman like Edward Gibbon wouldn't imagine himself (or his reader) as a slave or a woman.
  2. The Marquis de Leech

    Social values in historical fiction

    Your post ended up getting me to write a musing on the subject: https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/uncanny-values-writing-attitude-dissonance-in-setting/ Another day, another comment on someone else’s essay. Today it’s my forum colleague and recently-published author, David Craig, who has written a piece on Writing Social Values in Historical Fiction. Craig discusses the challenge of writing settings where the social norms are… different… from our own. Not in a fun, alien sense, but in an “oh god, these people are a bunch of racist misogynistic bigots” sense. Craig identifies the difficulty in balancing authenticity with having unsympathetic characters, and potentially attracting readers who like racist misogynistic bigots. It’s an issue that I am actually dealing with myself at the moment, as I write a story about one Lionel Terry – but we’ll get to that later. Where in-story Values Dissonance (as TV Tropes calls it) really becomes a problem is not the truly alien setting. Writing an Aztec Priest who sincerely believes that sacrificing small children to Tlaloc will bring rain is not an issue – there is comfortable distance between the Priest’s world and our own. You aren’t going to run into people in 2019 who actually think like that, and getting inside the mindset of such a person can be an intriguing (if disturbing) adventure. Rather, the problem are those settings that are almost-but-not-quite like our own. The chief offenders here are eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and North America (the twentieth century is easier to fudge). In these cases, there is enough overlap between their views and ours that modern Westerners can relate to them, but enough difference that we can still spot the uglier aspects of the older culture. Uncanny Values, if you will – it’s the West’s proverbial (or maybe literal) racist grandfather in the attic. Worse, there are still people around who do have these sorts of views, even if they are less socially acceptable than they once were, hence the writer’s fear of attracting an unsavoury audience. The example Craig cites is his own book’s setting of 1893 Glasgow, a place and time we in 2019 simultaneously can and cannot relate to. While I have never met (so far as I know) anyone who was alive in 1893, my parents (born in the 1950s) have. This is the world as it was when my great-grandparents were children – in one sense, it is not distant at all. Yet for all that I have immense fondness for the intellectual enthusiasm and boundless curiosity of the Victorian era (I also live in a city dominated by gorgeous Victorian architecture), we all know that some Victorian social views have aged badly. Hence the setting being a prime candidate for Uncanny Values, and why Craig ran into it when writing his book. Thinking about how I have dealt with the issue myself, Wise Phuul – set in a world of approximately 1900-level technology – gets round the problem by virtue of being secondary world fantasy, rather than historical fantasy. Since accuracy is of less concern for secondary world fantasy (it’s made up whole-cloth), there is much greater freedom to play with social attitudes – though not infinite freedom, since I do want to evoke a particular time with my setting. This means I can drop the real-world ugly bits (why would the Viiminian Empire care about gender and sexuality when all that matters is necromantic power?), and give them a whole heap of imaginary ugly bits (the necromancy thing). There is values dissonance in Wise Phuul, but I think it is of the Aztec Priest sort, rather than the racist grandfather sort. My short stories that have historical elements are not so lucky. My taniwha/railway story, An Extract from the Diary of Peter Mackenzie, is set in North Otago in 1896 – so, yes, Victorian. I get round the problem by focusing on the less offensive aspects of the Victorian world-view – Religion (Wilson) and Progress (Mackenzie), though the occasional bit of mild period prejudice is there, treated more as a decorative turn of phrase to evoke the time-period. In The Happiest Man Alive, set in Britain in the 1960s, I also include the odd bit of deliberate values dissonance (a certain reference to a tea-caddy) to remind people that Sam is not quite from our era. The point is that in both stories it’s there in the background, but not something I go into in any detail, because it’s not important to the story. This brings us to my story about real-life Lionel Terry (strictly Edwardian, not Victorian, but close enough). Fascinating guy, in a train-wreck sense, one of the most famous inmates of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, and someone who would be a potential story gold-mine for a historical New Zealand piece, were it not for complicating factors. Namely that the guy was more than just a mad self-made messiah with some painting ability and a taste for white suits. He was also a convicted murderer (he was in the Asylum having escaped a death sentence via insanity), and a lifelong White Supremacist. Sadly, local far-right nutters still consider the guy a hero. So he’s an unlikable, morally reprehensible, protagonist – what of it? There are plenty of those in all forms of literature. Well, leaving aside that Terry, as a historical figure who never changed his views, can’t have a redemption arc, and the additional issue of wanting to avoid giving him any sort of glamour, the biggest problem I have encountered in writing this short fantasy story is that (sadly) the majority of the real-life New Zealand public were quite sympathetic to his cause. He was basically New Zealand’s Edwardian-era Ned Kelly at one point, only with industrial strength hatred of Jewish and Chinese people, and with what was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. This sense of culturally normalised racism prevents Terry’s views from being thrown into appropriately sharp relief when he interacts with others in the setting, and when dealing with a figure like Terry, I think you need in-story contrast. If everyone is defined by being racist in the story, then he loses a key distinguishing attribute, quite apart from the writer’s fear of producing a text that inadvertently condones racism. My solution – time will only tell if it works – is to have the narrator be a fantastical entity of some description (think Gil-Martin from James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner). This narrator is safely outside the value constraints of the historical period (fantasy rides to the rescue of history…), and thus able to give a critical perspective on events, even as Terry confides in him. Not that the narrator is sympathetic either – he’s quite clearly capital e-Evil, and unreliable as anything – but he at least serves to deflate the main character. I don’t want Terry to be a glamorous Hannibal Lecter-style villain, and I don’t want his genuine mental illness to be a moral excuse for his actions. At the same time, I don’t want to present Terry as a moustache-twirler. I find those uninteresting, and Terry may be many things, but uninteresting is not one of them. It’s a strange tightrope to be walking here, and I normally would not describe my ideas about a half-finished story in such detail, but I ran across Craig’s post, and though I’d untangle my thoughts a bit…
  3. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    No-one reads Gibbon for the history. You read Gibbon for the writing style and amusing prejudices. He's great fun - and very important to the development of historiography, as well as looking at how the British Empire thought about itself - but he's otherwise obsolete.
  4. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    I have a fondness for the Fourth Crusade. Yes, it screwed up the Byzantines, but it did result in a flood of priceless manuscripts into Europe, giving a massive boost to learning.
  5. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    The guy blamed Christianity for destroying the Empire. Of course he's going to idolise the old pagan days.
  6. The Marquis de Leech

    UK Politics : Groundhog May

    The SDP won... 6 seats in 1983. Yes, they utterly screwed the British Labour Party - which was their big legacy - but in terms of actually establishing a major competitor to the duopoly, they really did disappear without trace. First Past the Post and all that. The continuity SDP is still around, and got 469 votes in 2017, total (about one-eighth of what the Monster Raving Loony Party got). As for the far-left, the ones I have interacted with never bring up Jews (and Jews have played a significantly smaller role in the development of the New Zealand Left than the British Left - as I have said, the British Communist Party really did have a large component of Jewish people). They much prefer denouncing social democratic "traitors" and "reformists" (by which they don't mean the Blairites of the world. They mean everyone who does not completely adhere to their particular view of the world, and most of the people who do). The best analogy for the far-left is not the far-right, but rather religious institutions who believe in a One True Way or You Will Burn Forever. The far-right doesn't care about dogma.
  7. The Marquis de Leech

    UK Politics : Groundhog May

    Obsessing about international finance being controlled by a shadowy clique is the domain of the far-right, not the far-left. The far-left is inherently internationalist, and in terms of conspiracies, it tends to see fascists everywhere, not Jews.
  8. The Marquis de Leech

    UK Politics : Groundhog May

    Corbyn's a democratic socialist (in his case an unreconstructed Bennite), not a Stalinist. Chucking that around makes as much sense as calling Rees-Mogg a fascist (which he obviously isn't). Meanwhile, despite media hype, the Seven Dwarves will disappear without trace. Much like their predecessors did thirty years ago.
  9. The Marquis de Leech

    UK Politics : Groundhog May

    "Always been rife" is a bit silly, considering who formed the backbone of the British Communist Party for decades (bonus points for Trotsky himself being Jewish). There are idiots out there who have slid from Anti-Zionism into Anti-Semitism, and Corbyn has done a terrible job at dealing with them, but it has been blown out of proportion by the anti-Corbynites (looking for a stick, any stick, to whack him with), and by those with an interest as portraying any critic of Israeli foreign policy (which Corbyn is) as anti-semitic.
  10. The Marquis de Leech

    UK Politics : Groundhog May

    SDP 2: Electric Boogaloo. Honestly, join the Liberal Democrats and be done with it.
  11. The Marquis de Leech

    Tolkien 3.0

    The trailer for the Tolkien biopic is now out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Girzu81oS8Q I'm on the fence about this project - but we'll see.
  12. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    Bilbo's mother was an aristocrat. His father's side is middle-class (Belladonna Took married down). The result is that he's comfortable upper-middle-class himself. https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2018/08/25/cracking-the-social-code-class-in-tolkiens-shire/
  13. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    I really wouldn't push the Dwarf-Jews thing too far. Bombur munches on a pork pie, for instance. Back in October 2016, I wrote a blog post addressing one academic paper on the subject - https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/tolkiens-dwarves-and-alleged-anti-semitism/
  14. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    Feudalism did not create stagnation, but was rather the product of stagnation. The cities of the Western Roman Empire - in contrast to the East - were basically unsustainable, to the point where at least one historian has suggested that the real mystery is how the hell the Western Empire lasted as long as it did. So, over the centuries, the elites relocated from urban to rural, because that was where the wealth was. Ergo, you ended up with Feudalism. It wasn't as if a bunch of moustache-twirling nobleman sat down and planned the thing out. Also - one aspect of real-world medieval/early modern society that does not get anything like the focus of nobility in fantasy fiction: the Church. Every bit as hated as the aristocracy, to the point where the French and Spanish Lefts still have an instinctual anti-clerical streak, but much less likely to get blasted in your average fantasy novel, except when there's some faux nature-loving pagans getting oppressed.
  15. The Marquis de Leech

    On realism, grimdark and childishness

    I wonder if the modern treatment of the Evil Aristocrat trope is down to three factors: (1) Popular Whig History. Modern republicanism and democracy and freedom (and two hardboiled eggs) were the masses shaking off the darkness of the evil aristocracy. The aristocrats were the ones who opposed this progress, ergo they're history's bad guys. (2) They're safe targets. Unless you're in Saudi Arabia and the like, aristocrats are a group that can be demonised without losing whole swathes of your audience. Going after, say, capitalist factory owners - who actually do exert meaningful power in the West - is going to alienate people. (3) The unique history of the fantasy genre, with its obsession with rightful heirs, and so forth. For anyone looking to do some deconstruction, there is copious low-hanging fruit. Rather than doing the hard work of actually breaking from the medieval/early modern formula, it's so much easier to serve up the same setting.... but DARK.
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