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Sword and sorcery
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Contents Page: 72 (Special Section: Star Trek)
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L. W. Currey, Inc.
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Taxes may be applicable at checkout. Learn more. Return policy. Refer to eBay Return policy for more details. You are covered by the eBay Money Back Guarantee if you receive an item that is not as described in the listing. Sex also has its place in the tales, though not as prominently or explicitly as in Delany's other works. Unlike Hogg or The Mad Man , Tales of Neveryon cannot be described as pornographic, though it shifts easily between heterosexual and homosexual sex and does not judge desires and kinks that take on some of the symbols and relationships of slavery.
As for alternate literatures, well, even in the age of fantasy television shows and bestselling doorstoppers, a fantasy novel that premises much of its movement around early civilization's economic developments isn't at the center of popular perceptions of what a book is or should be. I didn't think much about Delany's place in contemporary literature while reading, though. Instead, what caught my attention on this third time through the tales was the manipulation and revelation of information.
There's a lot we don't know at the beginning of Tales of Neveryon. Some of this is the basic ignorance we have before the first word of any book: whether we are reading fantasy, realism, or something else entirely, we read for clues that tell us when and where, who, and what. Sometimes the narrator tells us flat out, this is the story of so-and-so. Often, though, we are dropped into the middle of names, emotions, actions, and descriptions and must place them into an ever growing context as we read. With fantasy, these answers may fit into a context we have already encountered -- a pseudo-medieval realm, perhaps, or a realism into which magic or the uncanny will erupt unexpectedly -- or they may form a new context that we learn word by word.
Tales of Neveryon is of this latter variety. Take, for example, "the red and unmentionable ships from the south," which arrive in the city of Kolhari in the spring.
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The threat of these ships is implied in their color and that they are unmentionable in a place where, we have already learned, slavery is a casual fact of life and violence has led some of our protagonist, Gorgik's, childhood friends to death. But the cause of fear is not so readily linked to its reality: these red, unmentionable ships, which will not truly be explained until the last of the five tales in the book, bring toys to the city of Kolhari.
Balls, in fact, that the children bounce on the stones around the cisterns while reciting a rhyme whose meaning, like the ships' source and purpose, is unclear. Later, the substance of the balls will acquire a name: rubber. Later still, those rubber balls will become the center of an economic scheme foiled by political maneuvers.
And as the tales continue, the balls will bounce through them, roving through a supply and distribution chain of which the participants are never more than partially aware. This is "postmodern sword-and-sorcery," as Washington Post Book World calls it on the back cover of the Wesleyan Press edition -- here there be the dragons, monsters, palace intrigue, and swords expected of sword-and-sorcery, but contra expectations, the primary sorcery is the strange magic of the transition from a trade economy to the abstraction of money.
In their first appearance, the rubber balls are enstranged, or defamiliarized. These terms both come from attempted translations of ostraniene , a word coined by Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky.
L. W. Currey, Inc.
In Theory of Prose , Shklovsky argued that the purpose of art is to force us to engage with an object rather than merely recognizing it, and therefore "the device of art makes perception long and 'laborious. Delany enstranges the rubber balls simply by describing their substance rather than naming it: "The balls were small enough for a big man to hide one in his fist and made of some barely pliable blackish matter that juvenile dissection revealed hid a knuckle-sized bubble. The rubber balls are strange and magical to the children -- the description attempts, at least, to make them strange and magical to us.
Whether it works on us whether we allow it to work on us is another question. Enstrangement seems to me to work partly through redirection. Our attention is shifted from the name of the object to its qualities and how they are experienced by the characters, and through those experiences we rediscover the name and, we hope, see it anew. Delany attempts this redirection in broader ways throughout Tales of Neveryon.
Gorgik and another of the characters, Small Sarg, both pass from freedom to slavery and back again throughout the course of the tales, each movement redefining the relationship of freedom to mastery. Another character, Norema, passes from being the student of an old woman who may be the first to invent writing, to wife of a man who hates her difference from the others around them, to secretary of a merchant in the same city where Gorgik grew up, and finally to traveling partner with a woman from a distant matriarchal country.
She experiences swift personal changes against the backdrop of slower cultural and societal changes, the two sets of movements acting in counterpoint. These transitions overlap and, as one character observes late in the tales, "come together in a logical pattern, immensely complex and greatly beautiful, tying together slave and empress, commoner and lord -- even gods and demons -- to show how all are related in a negotiable pattern