Tuesday, May 29, 2007

D is for 'don't know'...

I like Roald Dahl immensely, but I can’t say that he’s been any kind of influence on how I think or write. Reading his autobiographical books made me feel terribly inadequate when I was young, that’s about all. I am still in awe of the matchless self-confidence and chutzpah of the opening paragraph of ‘My Uncle Oswald.’ I know you need matchless self-confidence and chutzpah to put such an opening paragraph before your readers, because when I first read it, I said to myself: ‘Oh, for the love of God!’ and cast the book aside for another eighteen months before reading further.

Philip K. Dick? I don’t think he’s really been much of an influence either. I was surprised, rummaging through boxes on the weekend, just how many of his books I own, but I have always gotten kind of lost in his novels. Stanislaw Lem thought he was the best science fiction writer in English (unless I misremember), and I feel bad contradicting such a great authority, but I still get lost. I like his short stories better. From one of Dick's short stories- actually, from an aside to the reader in a collection of his short stories- I guess I got the habit of using Martin Luther’s phrase ‘Hier steh ich, Ich kann nicht anders.’

Dante? Someone who knows him only through the mediation of Dorothy L. Sayers, and derives most fun from the footnotes and appendices, surely ought not to be allowed to go there. Besides, ought he not to be filed under ‘A’ for Alighieri?

Arthur Conan Doyle? I guess he qualifies as ‘D’. Once more, I can’t think of any way he’s changed me significantly. My public persona isn’t entirely based on Professor Challenger…

I was reading some of his pirate short stories last night. They’re very much plot driven. The plots are ingenious, but on reflection are also generally silly. And the characters in them are ultimately more interesting. Just like the Sherlock Holmes stories. I have always been keen on them, but re-reading some of them recently I found they didn’t hold together as well as I remembered. I guess once you get in the habit of thinking quantitatively, the long chains of probabilities that Mr Holmes relies on become a little too improbable for suspension of disbelief.

So, I can’t settle on anyone for D.

6 comments:

winstoninabox said...

I've read the Holmes stories, the Challenger stories and "The White Company" from Doyle, and found them all so beautiful to read. He just seems to pick the right word to use. Doyle was one of the few authors that I read one book after another without taking a break between them.

Jenny said...

Alan Dean Foster? Pip and Flynx adventures got me early on. Though he might really be an F, though I file him under D.

BTW Stanislaw Lem always left me cold.

Dr. Clam said...

Yes, I was thinking of Alan Dean Foster as an 'F'! For a short time when I was 12 'Nor Crystal Tears' was my absolutely favourite book.

Stanislaw Lem usually left me cold, too, until I managed to stop myself from stripping off my clothes and dancing in the rain while reading his books. :P

Dr. Clam said...

D is for d'oh...

I forgot all about Lord Dunsany, else I probably would have written about him.

I like to hope that I do not so much write faux-Dunsany, which Ursula Le Guin warned was the first great mistake of fantasy writing, but that like Dunsany and Lovecraft I have been influenced by the historical books of the Bible, which I read long long before Dunsany. (Only the more prosaic NIV by preference, rather than the archaic KJV).

The library here is much less stocked, Dunsanywise, than the one in Devil Bunny City: all I could find was Unhappy Far-off Things. However, I did pick up 'The White Company' from an adjacent shelf, so that deficiency in my education will soon be remedied, winstoninabox! :)

Dr. Clam said...

Curses! I have just checked, and great slabs of my Book of Ninety and Nine Lost Cities seems to be nigh-unreadable faux-Dunsany. I plead 'no contest'.

winstoninabox said...

"The White Company" is a bit of a strange beast. I got the feeling I was reading a "Prince Valiant" comic strip. It felt half adventure story / half travelogue. And the conclusion seems so abrupt, like he suddenly realized the publishers had set a word limit. Nevertheless I still love his prose.