DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD Two Points of View: Farmer
The parallel Leiber discovered between Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: Thor and Loki is, I think, true. Some of us had seen it before Fritz's sudden discovery; it had always existed in his subconscious; suddenly, while he's writing, the illumination. Now, knowing this, will he consciously strive to make the Leiber heroes more nearly resemble the Teutonic? I know we don't think of Loki as a hero, but, for all we know, the ancient Teutons did, He had many traits they must have admired, except for his sneakiness. Though they seem from this long distance in time to have been forthright characters who longed for glorious death in battle, they must also have admired any means which would put one over on the enemy. And Loki did this as no one else could. Of course(?), when Leiber speaks of the similarity, it is mainly of the companionship of the two and the fact that the two take different means to effect the same end; the defeat and discomfiture of their enemies.
Leiber's analysis was in the main true; especially when he notes the disregard of most readers for this type of fantasy. And, he might have added, the disregard, indeed the contempt or scorn, of the literary critic for this genre. Which brings up another point. If an author loves this genre (with good reason, I think), I he spends so much time lovingly building up this world in every conceivable aspect, if he creates and perfects and adheres to the rationale of this world, if he creates something of value, then he must be satisfied with his own contentment and joy and that of his small audience. He will derive few financial benefits or fame; if he wants these (and who doesn't?) he must write mainstream. Yet, men like Dunsany and Cabell and Eddison and Tolkien write as they please, play the Demiurge to their fantastic universes, bid the world kiss their ass if they don't like it, and take a long chance on gaining recognition. Some make it through accident (such as Cabell's Jurgen being denounced by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice), some gain a deep but not broad recognition (Dunsany). None of these made any real money from their books, and none gained any significant critical praise. Cabell and Dunsany got a certain amount, but the total effect is deprecatory. And how many literati know them? The number who don't is amazing.
Which brings me to another point. There is a feeling, voiced by both mainstream critics and in the s-f field, that the men who confine themselves to writing s-f and fantasy, who do this because they love the two fields, are second-rate artists, if that. Time and again we hear from s-f critics and fans that the s-f field has never produced a first-rate writer. Also, the implication that it never will. There is something second-rate about the field, so say or imply the critics, that attract only the mediocre or incompetent. These may flourish in this field, but they will never produce anything worthwhile outside it, nor should they try to do so. (Yes, I know Bradbury might be pointed out as the one who has, but he has never written a mainstream novel, never created any three-dimensional human beings, was adopted as the pet of the intellectuals when others as good (see Sturgeon as an example) were neglected.)
All these remarks in the mainstream critical journals and books and in the s-f magazines and some of the fanzines have their effect. They sting. They make the authors wonder if shouldn't get out of the field, write, or try to write, something worthwhile. Even if the implications are that they might as well not try because they haven't got what it takes. (This argument doesn't include mainstream authors who have occasionally tried their hand at s-f or fantasy: Huxley, Graves, Orwell, Werfer, etc.) Unfortunately, the mainstreamers seem to have much force and evidence on their side. Who among us has gone on to the so-called big league? Who among us could get up the nerve to try after being taken to task by our own native critics: Bester, Knight, Blish, etc.? Who among us has given any evidence that he could become a star pitcher or batter if he did quit the bush? I can think of Sturgeon. But he has confessed that he has tried it and just could not reproduce the same effects in the mainstream as he could in fantasy. Why? I think because he does not love mainstream as he does fantasy; he is like the genius in oils who tries to become a sculptor. And fails because he loves to paint but hates the medium of stone. Heinlein might have the stuff. He is almost the only author in the s-f field who has the ability to wring tears from his readers (at least, he does from me) when one of his characters dies or is involved in some high-tension emotional predicament or scene. I believe he could do the same if he were to write a mainstreamer. But Heinlein doesn't care to; he loves s-f, he believes in it as a serious and worthwhile branch of realistic literature. Also, he seems to be making some money at it; there is no economic pressure to force him to move on to a more rewarding realm.
Which brings up another point. Time and again I read in the s-f magazines and in fanzines that the financial rewards are too small for any writer worth his salt to linger long in s-f. That any writer who does so because he can't get out, he's stuck like a fly on stickum because his literary wings aren't strong enough to free himself. This, it must be admitted, is true in the case of many. On the other hand, many s-f writers are not full-time writers. They have regular jobs, and they write s-f and fantasy because they like it. And some of them do a damn good, even superb, job. (But could they do the same if they tried mainstream? That is the nagging unlodgeable question.) Anyway, all the implications, and outright statements, are that if a writer was any good he'd be going after the big money: SEP, Playboy, New Yorker, Harper's, etc. Perhaps. But what if a writer also wants to write noteworthy literature? How many memorable stories have been published in the above markets? How many classics? Damn few. And of these few, the fantasies are prominent. What about The Lottery? This is one of the few stories published in the New Yorker that I can remember; it could just of easily been in the MoF&SF; would have probably if Shirley Jackson had been content with much less money and a much smaller audience. Yet, other stories, just as strong in impact, have been published in MoF&SF. But only the aficionados know of them; stories as good as The Lottery are doomed to die because they don't reach the big audience.
Which brings up another point. Financial urgency. Perhaps, too many s-f and fantasy writers don't reach a high literary peak in their works because of money urgency. Of course, if this is true, it doesn't suffice as an excuse for bad writing. The critic must go on what is produced, the end result, no on what the writer might have done or on what circumstances prevented him from doing his best. So, we get back to those writers who did their best, took their time, told the world to buss their buttocks. These may have been men financially independent, men who didn't have to depend on their writings to pay the butcher and the doctor (synonymous?). But they could have been money hungry. Men who have more than enough but want even more are legion. Well-off men can turn out crap, crud, mediocrities because they want to add to their bank account.
After all is said, the sting remains. Too many have said the same thing. A first rate writer does not continue to make s-f or fantasy the bulk of their efforts. A first-rate writer is destined to a small audience and thin paychecks if he remains as a big frog in a small puddle. If he has any guts, any belief in own value, he will make the big leap, sink or swim, eat or be eaten, be a big bull among other big bulls or else jump back into the small pond. So...?
Bester, in various of his critiques, however, has said that any writer will not dally long in the s-f field if he has the ability to get out. This is a realistic attitude. One of the main reasons for writing is, of course, because one wants to get a living from it. And if one can get much more money writing in mainstream, one automatically does. One would be silly if one did not. Therefore, one who stays in the s-f field does so because he doesn't have the ability to leave. Is this true? I leave that up to you.
Philip Josť Farmer