Bankrupt Nihilism

February 15th, 2011

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while (I am reasonably confident there are at least two) will be aware that at times in the past I’ve picked up and examined negative criticisms from around the web, but always in a positive and respectful way (ahem), using them as a springboard for a deeper understanding of my own work (ahem), keen, always, to engage with critics in meaningful discourse.  I must confess that I’ve become jaded of late, though.  The internet brimmeth over with stuff, and after a while it all starts to look the same.  I just don’t feel the slings and arrows like I used to.  Which is why I am deeply grateful that Leo Grin has jerked me from my self-satisfied stupour with his searing indictment of modern fantasy over at BigHollywood.  He sure is unhappy about something…

“The mere trappings of the genre do nothing for me … when placed into the hands of writers clearly bored with the classic mythic undertones of the genre, and who try to shake things up with what can best be described as postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage.”

It’s a very simple argument he advances, really.  A kind of literary battle of good against evil, you might say.  On one side are the towering mythic geniuses of Tolkien and Howard, who wrote “in blood and lighting” according to Leo, although presumably on extremely hardwearing paper.  On the other side are, well, me, Steve Erikson, Michael Swanwick, and Matthew Woodring Stover, apparently.  I’ve never met those guys, or read any of their work, I must admit.  But that doesn’t mean they’re not down here with me in the evil postmodern myth-destruction bunker.  It’s a big old bunker we’ve got, and there’s lots of us down here.  Though I’m not entirely sure who.  

I’m a little suspicious, I must say, of any argument that lumps Tolkien and Howard together as one thing, although Leo has made the photos of them in his piece point towards each other in a very complimentary fashion.  I think of them as polar opposites in many ways, and the originators (or at least key practitioners) of, to some extent, opposed traditions within sword-based fantasy.  Tolkien, the father of high fantasy, Howard the father of low.  Howard’s work, written by a man who died at thirty, tends to the short and pulpy (as you’d expect from stories written for pulp magazines).  Tolkien’s work, published on the whole when he was advanced in years, is very long and literary (as you’d expect from a professor of English).  Tolkien is more focused on setting, I’d say, Howard on character.  Leo’s point is that they both celebrate a moral simplicity, a triumph of heroism, but I see that too as a massive over-simplification.  Howard celebrates the individual, is deeply cynical (could one even say nihilistic) about civilisation.  Tolkien seems broadly to celebrate order, structure, duty and tradition.  And I celebrate, well …

“Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.”

That sounds … kind of interesting to me, actually, but I dimly percieve that Leo doesn’t like it.  Your mileage may vary, of course.  But why all the fury, Leo?  Relax.  Pour yourself a drink.  Admire your unrivalled collection of Frank Frazetta prints for a while.  Wrestle the old blood pressure down.  When an old building is demolished to make way for a new, I can see the cause of upset.  Hey, depending what’s lost and what’s gained, I might be upset myself.  Let’s all take a look at the plans together and see if we can work something out.  But books don’t work that way.  If I choose to write my own take on fantasy, what gets destroyed?  What loss are we bewailing here?  If the mere notion of moral ambiguity, explicit violence and some swearing chills your very soul, I daresay you can still find something on the shelves with “the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves” as Leo has it.  You want Tolkien and Howard?  I’ve got a very handsome leather bound Complete Conan and I’m reasonably sure Lord of the Rings is still in print.  Something newer?  There are still plenty of established authors very succesfully writing very traditional stuff, if that’s your bag, and many more authors of what might be called these days a somewhat more YA-ish bent (absolutely no disrespect intended) writing interesting work without swearing or graphic sex and violence.  I wish the best of luck to them and their readers.  Many of their readers, after all, will be my readers too.  And I think that’s the key point here.  This argument is so cartoonishly simplistic.  There just aren’t two neatly defined camps in this.

“The other side thinks that their stuff is, at long last, turning the genre into something more original, thoughtful, and ultimately palatable to intelligent, mature audiences.”

We’re on sides, now?  No one told me about sides.  What are the sides?  Of what?  And on which side am I?  I love Tolkien, after all.  I’d like to be on his side.  Grew up with The Hobbit.  Read Lord of the Rings every year.  I’m a great admirer of his.  Without Tolkien there’d be no fantasy as we know it, and certainly no First Law.  When it comes to an epic tale with moral clarity set in a supremely realised fantasy world, he pretty much knocked it out of the park.  But that means there’s not much point in my writing it again, is there?  Forgive me for saying so, but it feels as if folk have been writing Lord of the Rings again for a while now, and I think we could probably, you know, stop.  Howard’s less of a personal influence for me, except at distant second hand through the film Conan the Barbarian, D&D and so forth, but there’s no doubting his tremendous influence on the genre, and I’m a big fan of some of the guys who picked up the sword & sorcery baton from him, like Fritz Leiber.  Hell, I’d like to be on Howard’s side too.  Can I be on his … oh.  Apparently I’m on the other side:

“bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten. In the case of the fantasy genre, the result is a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and Howard willed into being with their life’s blood.”

I’m in the bored middle class, college educated liberal creative camp, apparently.  Unlike Tolkien, who would have had no truck with that middle-class educated creative crap.  He was the son of a bank manager and the Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Merton college, with a fistful of honorary degrees and fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature, by the way.  This adverserial picture of the world just doesn’t seem, to me, to stand up to the most casual scrutiny.  In the words of Mr. Pink, “fuck sides, man, what we need is a little solidarity here.”  To me, it’s not really about politics, and it’s got nothing to do with sides, just various writers coming at a genre with their own set of unique concerns, influences, interests.  Why must it be steak OR chicken?  Can I not enjoy both?  Can I not think the two compliment and improve one another?  Can I not even think that a solid diet of steak, however much I may enjoy it, may become dull and boring, and long for chicken to explode upon my jaded palet?  Hell, let’s go mad and add vegetables too!  Where’s the harm in a varied diet?  If rocket’s worthless, the fad will soon be over, we can all go back to lettuce.  Don’t like something?  Eat something else.  And why be so upset about what other people choose to eat? 

“Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing.”

It’s so shrill.  So absurdly over-the-top and apocalyptic.  Surely the hallmark of western civilzation is variety, richness, experimentation.  If we all settled for repeating the same-old we’d still be stuck in the dark ages, no?  We’d certainly have no Tolkien and Howard, who were bold enough to try to do new things with established forms, cook up new combinations of influences with their own stamp.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  I don’t honestly see myself as nihilistic, really.  Cynical, for sure.  Surprising, I’d hope.  Occasionally filthy, no doubt.  Bankrupt, certainly not, thank you, baths in my literary sewer are in great demand as my new four book deal certifies.  But it’s got nothing to do with tearing anything down, and certainly not with suicidal self-loathing.  I see myself as working within a form.  Experimenting with the same stuff Tolkien and Howard pioneered.  Tweaking, commenting, examining, hopefully in the sort of way that Sergio Leone does with John Ford, and Clint Eastwood does with Sergio Leone.  That’s how genre works, no?  Darkness, despair, and lack of moral clarity in fantasy isn’t even anything radical.  Look at Lovecraft.  Look at Howard, for that matter.  Look at Tolkien’s Silmarillion.  Neither is filth and grime a new development.  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, anyone?  But shiny and simple had long been in the commercial ascendant.  A correction was bound to come.  Grit, slime and moral ambiguity seem popular now.  Probably the pendulum will swing back (if it ever really swung away).  What’s the big deal?  Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend, and all that jazz.  My favourite quote from Leo, to be found in the comments, on The First Law:

“That’s not realism, it’s nihilism, and it’s poison to both the reader’s mind and culture.”

I can only scratch my head at the insidious power I appear to have amassed.  Whether or not my own work is nihilism seems to me very arguable, but poison to the reader’s mind and culture?  Really?  If you feel your mind and culture might collapse under the weight of a surprising ending involving an unpleasant wizard, a rubbish king and a couple of swear words, it seems to me you really need to dig them some deeper foundations. 

Incidentally, Adam Whitehead gives his own take on some of the issues here, and SF writer John C. Wright seizes the overwrought football of Leo’s argument and runs it into the end-zone of strangeness on his blog:

“It is my judgment, shared of many ancients, that there are certain proper emotional reactions and relatins one ought to have, and improper ones one ought not. A child raised to curse and despise his parents, trample the crusifix, burn the flag, abhor kittens and Christmas scenes and motherhood but adore torture porn and satanism and deformity, that child’s tastes are objectively perverse and false-to-facts. He has been trained to spew his mother’s milk and drink venom. Fair to him is foul, and foul is fair. In the same way that to say A is not-A is an offense against logic, to hate the lovely and love the hateful is an offense against aesthetics, a disconnection from reality … the literati (or, to be precise, anti-literati) make inroads into the realm of elfland itself, to erect the smog and graffito of their beloved Mordor.”

Okaaay.  I’m stepping away now.  I’ve gone on far too long and now I’ve got Stover AND Swanwick on the phone demanding I get back to the bunker to plot the downfall of western civilisation.  Load the kitten-powered zepellins with defaced Christmas scenes and set course for elfland!  Mwa ha ha haaaaaah, fools!  We’re coming for your myths!

Oh, and usual comments about comments apply.  Let’s keep this clean and respectful please, people.

EDIT: I have returned to my computer after a day away and see there’s been all kinds of interest in this post.  Apologies to those first-timers whose comments have not been moderated until now.  I try to keep a light touch on moderation, but some are sailing close to the wind.  A couple I’ve had to strike for overstepping the mark, as I see it.  Peter Collinson, your comment was fascinating and highly perceptive but, I would say, a touch too inflammatory for this particular forum.  I encourage you all to comment in future, though.  Some specific fallout:

I may find John C. Wright’s views outlandish but he takes it in good part and shows dignity and a sense of humour in his reply, so kudos for that.  Perhaps, to paraphrase his own comment, I am allowed to find the blog insane without necessarily doubting the mental health of the blogger

Further discussion at Black Gate, at Ominvoracious, from author Scott Bakker (who I daresay might be down here in the bunker somewhere), of the lack of female authors in all this at Floor to Ceiling Books, of … something relating to it … from the inimitable BC Woods, and that’s just scratching the surface…

FURTHER EDIT: A lot of comments dwell on the politics, which is inevitable I guess as Leo made that a centrepiece of his argument.  I’ve let pretty much everything stand that isn’t beyond the pale, but for my own part I’d rather this did not descend into a partisan slagging match.  As I’ve said above, I don’t see this as a political issue, and I feel that Leo’s assertion that “new” and “old” fantasy are utterly separate camps, and further that one camp is fundamentally of a different politics, or level of education, or class to the other is the most utterly bogus part of a bogus argument.  Likewise there’s a fair bit of ad hominem about.  It is the internet.  But it doesn’t help.  Let’s keep it calm going forward, please.

Posted in opinion by Joe Abercrombie on February 15th, 2011.

230 comments so far

  • Kreso Dokaza says:

    I read those “reviews”, your blog and the only logical explanation to me is you got “trolled”.

    Because really… Those reviews can’t be for real, right?
    The whole crucifix comparison… Whoa. Mind. Blown.

    Seriously, it has to be trolling!
    I mean, if those reviews are for real…
    Well, let’s just say I won’t comment anymore ’cause you asked for clean and respectful comments.

    Anyway, fantasy world’s changed, and I’m not sure if Martin started it or not, but in today’s world, there’s definitely a larger audience out there waiting for the dark, grim, realistic yet still lovable and fun(ny) characters.
    Basically, it’s real(istic) people with real(istic) character traits in a fantasy world.

    Personally, I’ve lost interest in the fantasy of old, with unrealistic black and white characters, overpowered god-like main protagonists, completely evil villain with no appeal to the audience at all, etc.

    Give me Joe, Martin, Erikson, Bakker, etc. any day over those.

  • Jim says:

    As you say, surely there’s room for everyone / every style? For me, its all about the story and the writing (both preferably). I love your stuff as its interesting and a rattling good read. I love KJ Parker as he/she writes so wonderfully about stuff you never imagined in a fantasy work (engineering standards anyone). Totally different styles but I buy both.

    Live and let live, and keep the stories coming Joe.

  • Jonathan says:

    What’s inherently nihilistic about a story featuring a bunch of entertaining shades-of-grey bastards? Nothing, I think, unless you find the notion of the good guys losing* every time to be abhorrent.

    Thing is, accepting that bad stuff happens to good people, and vice versa, and that everyone’s intentions are always compromised to one degree or another (blah blah blah) because HEY LIFE IS COMPLICATED, well, that’s part of growing up, right? The universe ain’t give a flaming care about you, angry hero dudes. Suck it up. Art mirrors… uh… anyone remember?

    * [Foot-shot myself with my first try. Whoops. I meant, of course, ‘losing’.]

  • Melmoth says:

    In something that probably approaches irony, I think Howard himself summed-up the reason for such people on the Internet:

    “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”
    — Robert E. Howard, Tower of the Elephant

    I think the issue with sword-fantasy ‘purists’ is that believe that theirs is a world which should be perceived to be untainted by the one we actually live in, that it should be preserved as somewhere to which they can escape, away from the harsh realities of life. Many people, however, aren’t afraid to face up to what being human actually means, perhaps because they don’t harbour the same level of hatred for their own race.

    Keep up the fantastic work, Joe. There are plenty of people who enjoy both steak and chicken; there are even some people who like vegetables too. But they’re scumbags, obviously.

    “He shall defend their ways, yet shall violate them. He will be their saviour, yet they shall call him heretic. His name shall be Discord, yet they shall love him for it.”
    — Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn

  • Sam Sykes says:

    Giving this review a totally legitimate response, it’s an opinion piece that revolves around selective reasoning and No True Scotsman arguments. The only good fantasy is True Myth and Prose Poetry, which only Tolkien and Howard did (I note he doesn’t mention the narratives that tried to recapture those styles) because he says so and everything else is not legitimate art.

    This post doesn’t really deserve a legitimate response, though. It’s a Breitbart column, which is why I didn’t say anything about it. Because there is nothing to be discussed here. If I’m totally generous, it’s old people being scared. If I’m not, it’s a lot of paranoia and hatespeech masquerading as a discussion.

    Read the comments for such bonus tidbits as praise of the Gor novels for “turning Women’s Suffrage on its head,” blaming women and their “desire for debasement and fornication” for ruining the genre, and (my favorite) crediting “nihilistic” fantasy (as well as feminists and human rights advocates) for destroying our ability to recognize the evils of the Middle East.

    The review is lunacy. The comments are worse.

  • Great response to Leo’s world view.
    (loving Heroes by the way, just two chapters to go)

  • Chris says:

    Very entertaining Joe… Elfland is ill-prepared for the onslaught! I loved The Heroes by the way (despite Amazon losing my pre-order and subsequently having to buy it again), although I now have the strange urge to trample flags and burn crucifixes… (I still love kittehs.)

  • Shane S. says:

    This sums it up for me……What The F*ck

  • Rachel says:

    I’ve always thought that most authors tend to sit down and write the story that they feel like writing … the trends and the classification and the analysis seems to be done by the readers/reviewers/bloggers. I also don’t understand why he thinks your work is so offensively dark … most of the old, original myths are pretty grim. Is there a “nice” way to hack someone’s head off with a sword? I dunno … was Alan Moore “defiling” comic books when he wrote Watchmen?

  • Davieboy says:

    What a wally that chap is. Should I feel bad for hugely enjoying your books? I read some of the comments, anticipating a few laughs as his views were taken apart & ridiculed, but most actually seemed to agree with him. WTF?
    Still, at least we got a nice little essay from you in response!
    You obviously relish writing in your own individual style; loads of us love reading your work – what more needs to be said?
    “it’s old people being scared” – hell no, I’m in my 50s; we need good new stuff to re-invigorate us. I don’t want to only hear ’60s songs all my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love ’em.

  • tlw says:

    Breaking down the tropes of the genre is probably more accurately a form of postmodernism, not nihilism. If you were a nihilist, what would be the point of writing at all? If your writing were nihilism, there might not be an ending to the story, it might not be worth finishing.

    I suspect your critics are being a bit liberal with the term, which is much more powerful by definition than what your novels seek to accomplish. You’re still attempting to entertain, which nihilism would not seek to do.

  • Gavin Smith says:

    I struggle to think of a character more morally bankrupt than Conan. I remember the character sexually assaulting a female character because it was either that or turn her over to (Gasp!) black people.

    “bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten. In the case of the fantasy genre, the result is a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and Howard willed into being with their life’s blood.”

    Never have I more wanted to write a pornographic version of Lord of the Rings.

  • Chad says:

    I read that article the other day and was tempted to send it to you, but then I thought “will I be the guy that forwards negative criticism to the author?” I decided against it.

    Anyway, I’m glad you saw it and responded to it, because it surprised me too.

    Like many, Tolkien hooked me on Fantasy, but the genre is awash with farm boys destined to save the world from the dark lord (in whatever form that takes). Most fantasy is boring, because the outcome is certain from page one. And the characters’ actions are basically predetermined based on whether they are cast as “good” or “evil.”

    I don’t need grit or filth for its owns sake, but I think that reading about characters that have to make their way through everyday evil and difficult “lesser of two evil” situations is a lot more interesting than easy black or white choices throughout.

  • Swainson says:

    I’ve not started The Heroes yet so I’m staying away from reviews.
    From the tone of the comments taken from the review that you put in your post I can only assume he has, and his mind seems to have broken into a thousand tiny pieces under the stress.
    I say count the amount of unit sales you have made and smile a twisted little smile and forget the twerp.
    (trying not to use bad words)
    Keep on writing, we’ll keep on reading.

  • tlw says:

    Postmodernism in its various forms has frequently drawn the criticism of nihilism, so there’s actually quite a bit of precedent for it – going back as far as Marcel Duchamp who of course is famous for sticking a urinal a gallery and declaring it “Art”. For this he was (justifiably) cited as the most influential artist of the 20th Century. He helped launch a veritable creative *epoch*.

    But boy were some people pissed at the time.

  • james mansfield says:

    I recently recieved a waterstones gift voucher. I spent close to half an hour trying to find something within our wonderful genre worth spending it on. This was after exhausting Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss(role on march 1st), i did my upmost to find something didn’t involve the word ‘dread’, weather it be preceding ‘legion’ or ‘lord’. I did my best to find soomething where a unifrom character wasn’t the saviour of something…and i literally couldn’t. It was a small waterstone mind(I’m not genrealising…much).
    If Leo enjoys reading repetitive plagiarism then he hasn’t got far to go, so why bother reading something he doesn’t enjoy, but then feels the need to write about why. The man seems to be making himself miserble unneccesarily, and so i didn’t read much further after his insults.

    It seems to me the new wave, if you like, of modernist fantasy writers have developed something that is destroying fabled, classical fantasy. With joe at the front, take it to elfland, destroy their imortality!!!

  • Todd says:

    I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but after I read Leo’s article I felt like not only he was missing a bigger picture, but that the reaction to him might swing just the other way as well.

    Leo used to run a website called The Cimmerian, which labels itself “A website and shieldwall for Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Best in Heroic Fantasy, Horror, and Historical Adventure”. Very often there were really interesting scholarly looks at those and other authors, and believe it or not, it’s where I first heard about Joe Abercrombie. (Irony cha cha cha.) Although Leo wasn’t the author of the article in question – – as editor he knew what was coming up for publication. And this article gives a very fine review to Big Joe indeed.

    So I’m at a bit of a loss as to where he might be going with this. It is *just* one guy’s opinion, but I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand. Is he making sweeping generalizations? Yes. Have I seen some nihilistic writing in this genre lately. Yes. But A+B /= C here.

    Frankly, I love the low and the high, and because I read *so* much high in my youth the “low” is just such a breath of fresh air. Does that mean I don’t enjoy the high anymore? Not in the slightest. I might still love it more, actually, because it does lend itself to some of the more heroic (in the classical sense) ideas. But I’m also a child of the late 20th century, and I love me some gettin’ dirty.

  • Tyson Perna says:

    The fun thing about conservatives is that in their mind there is “The Way Things Are.” They have no concept of the evolution of ideas. It’s always a cultural war with them. I wonder what it is that makes them always feel under attack, and so quick to take up a “them vs us” attitude.

    I’m not going to waste my time reading his article you linked to. I will say though, that from what you quoted it appears he is missing several themes in your book. There is a struggle in The First Law series where your characters are trying to deal with the moral ambiguities of the world as best they can. They don’t always make the right decisions, but I found their attempts to be human and affirming of life in their own way. Maybe that concept is too deep for our critic, who is eager to find fault with things that don’t meet his expectations. His loss.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gollancz, Civilian Reader and Darren Nash, Scott Andrews. Scott Andrews said: This is a must read blog from Joe Abercrombie: […]

  • Smartcat says:

    Immediate reactions…. the fox and the grapes……those who can do those who can’t become critics.

  • Peter says:

    Yep, silly article. Also, why leave KJ Parker off the list for depressive nihilism? Would Joe let him/her into the bunker?

  • Jan says:

    Aye, just remember folks what Dr. Paul Ekman said about “negativity” – “there are two kinds of haters, the ones who are stupid and the ones who are jealous. The stupid ones will like you in a year. The jealous ones will hate you for an eternity.”

  • Dave says:

    I can’t comprehend this review and the rebuttal was amusing to say the least. If people (like me) prefer grittier and darker fantasy how in the world does that harm the classics or the genre as a whole? Perfectly good versus perfectly evil is boring, shallow and fake to me because it’s unrealistic. Moral grayness adds intrigue and depth to characters in my opinion, and I’d rather read Abercrombie any day.

  • […] LATER: Mr. Abercrombie at his own blog takes exception to Mr. Grin’s rhetoric, as is only fair, but f… (apparently for claiming that there are proper as opposed to improper emotional responses to […]

  • […] (I’m not going to link directly to it because it doesn’t deserve the traffic, but if you really must read it please go there via Joe Abercrombie’s extremely funny rebuttal.) […]

  • Tim H says:

    Bizarre. I thought that with the story of Beck Joe came dangerously close to affirming that there’s some beauty in life, even perhaps a bit of meaning.

    There was an interesting article in the New Yorker last week about how George Eliot (Middlemarch etc.) transcended Dickens and Austen by avoiding pat, happy endings and trying to eke out some small meaning in her flawed characters after they make terrible, often tragic decisions. Her defining characteristic according the article is her warm sympathy for her deeply flawed, ambiguous creations.

    But some people just want A Christmas Carol over and over, so at least their stories, unlike life, have an absolute moral clarity. I think that modern fantasy is moving beyond that simplistic view into the harder, murkier view of George Eliot. It’s not always pretty, but isn’t it truer? And if anything, The Heroes seems to be the first book where Joe is going after some sort of meaning. I certainly want to read more about Beck and how he navigates the shithole Abercrombian realm he’s been dropped in.

  • “I’m a little suspicious, I must say, of any argument that lumps Tolkien and Howard together as one thing, although Leo has made the photos of them in his piece point towards each other in a very complimentary fashion. I think of them as polar opposites in many ways, and the originators (or at least key practitioners) of, to some extent, opposed traditions within sword-based fantasy”

    I agree. It is sort of like lumping Jack Vance (“Dying Earth” or “Eyes of the Overworld”) in the same category as John Norman (“Willing Stewardesses of Gor”). Conan stories particularly emphasize a pagan grimness absent from Tolkien — in a Conan story, the god Crom is not coming to help you.

  • Phil says:

    What the…?

    Those guys are insane! I mean it has to be some ellaborate hoax right? Right??

  • Jo Hall says:

    Does anyone else find it ironic that someone named Grin could be so humourless and po-faced? He seems to have a very limited and old-fashioned idea of fantasy as a genre. My god, swearing? Moral ambiguity? That makes it sound like real life! Shouldn’t be allowed…

    I’m happy to wallow in your sewer of moral torpitude any time.

  • Mike says:

    Wait a second, this guys job is to do what exactly? Review books?

    I mean, who did he impregnate and sire that makes him the father and moral compass of fantasy literature?

    I like to think that Tolkien would be a big fan of the evolution of storytelling in the fantasy genre. Instead of the same story arc repeated over infinum, we now have tragedies, comedies and satires. We have a cornucopia of fantasy works to choose from. And this man, nee, this scared shell of a man, is pushing the choice into the far corners, making it the monster under the bed, and holding aloft the one ring like a beacon of light in the darkness. Which is strange in a way, as the eye is always watching.

  • Eric says:

    Joe, we want you in that bunker. We need you in that bunker.

  • Tim H says:

    I get it now, this is an Andrew Breitbart website and you’ve come up against the puritanical strain of American conservatism. I come out of this world and have some sympathy for it, but it can be harsh and often angry. It’s deeply wound up with religion, and they believe that their values are under attack by a secular, liberal world. The hyperbole isn’t for effect, many of them actually believe they are at war with demonic/secular/socialist forces out to destroy their values and corrupt their children. Civil debate isn’t an option, because what’s the point of politely discussing things with the guy who wants to send your kids to hell? More ambiguity, doubt, the “liberal” point of view pave the road to damnation.

    My family are all caught up in this, and I myself am recovering from it. My parents deeply regret ever giving me the Lord of the Rings for my ninth birthday, because it got me reading nonstop. And before you know it, you’re reading George Eliot or Thomas Hardy and asking yourself, what if, just by chance, the truth I’ve been given isn’t the only game in town? Reading is dangerous stuff.

  • Thule says:

    I tend to agree with him on the state of modern fantasy, however, I do not think it is going to be the end of the world. The lowest common denominator and all that…It is to be expected is it not?

  • Scott says:

    Mr. Abercrombie. You are brilliant sir. This rebuke is the best and funniest thing I’ve read today! So awesome. The guy is clearly a troll, but I love that you are able to put him in his place so succinctly.

    I agree that we want you in that bunker sir, hanging out with my other fave fantasy authors!

    An Aside: Currently reading my copy of THE HEROES and loving it!

  • Casey says:

    I am absolutely astounded, once again, by the venom and anger that people have considering the tastes of others. It’s almost like this person believes that you, personally, came over and force fed your books to him Clockwork Orange style. I mean…it’s entertainment. It’s art. It’s subjective. I *sobs* just don’t understand why we can’t just get along!

  • mus42 says:

    Sounds like a sad “look at me” whiner. I think in future you shouldn’t rise to this kind of nonsense.

  • Dave says:

    Wow. And here I was so thoroughly enjoying “The Blade Itself” that I thought I’d visit your site. Little did I know I was being a party to my own satanic demise and the doom of western civilization.

    Luckily I still prefer a great story over pedantic, self-delusional rantings, and let’s face it: civilization is overrated.

  • Tim H says:

    msu42, I agree that the review is sad, but the guy isn’t a whiner and his point of view is not nonsense. He’s representing a point of view and a set of values that he feels is under attack by a secular/liberal world. I would argue he’s trapped by two dogmas, one political, the other religious (and he would argue that I’m trapped by mine, though my principal dogma is a permanent state of confusion and doubt).

    And it is worthwhile to respond and explain why The Heroes isn’t an attack on his way of life — that it is, in fact, a morality play disguised as a hard-boiled fantasy book! He may not listen, but there are probably at least a few kids of this background who love fantasy and may need to hear it defended in all its guises.

  • JonathanL says:

    I’ve never understood why people can’t just live and let live. I know some people want nothing but optimism from their stories, but I don’t, and I don’t hold books that are optimistic to that same worldview.

    I like to be surprised when I read a book, and if I know everyone will always live, it kind of takes the sense of danger out. Game of Thrones, The First Law, and Locke Lamora were all great books and series that surprised me because nothing was a given. Good things happened to bad people, and bad things happened to good people. For me, it’s a lot like life, and it’s comforting to know that even in fiction, the evil often prosper, and being good is its own reward, because it’s very rare for it to lead anywhere else.

    Keep poisoning minds, Joe. You’re great at it. Too bad there’s all that “eternal conflict of bettering oneself in a harsh reality that pities none” teaching us real lessons about life in an entertaining form.

    As an aside, I would love to meet the Bloody-Nine’s father, someday. In written form, naturally. What a treasure trove of wisdom.

  • Tim H says:

    Ever been religious, JonathanL? It’s hard to live and let live when you’ve got God on your side and damnation to those who disagree with you. It leads to things like Proposition 8 and 9/11.

    It’s hard, nearly impossible, and deeply painful to escape this kind of thinking if you’ve been raised in a strongly religious family. I can’t talk with my mother without having her weeping and begging me to repent because I’ve been corrupted by writers exactly like Joe.

    And she’s a good, kind woman and she loves me. It’s all so sad and morally ambiguous, someone really ought to write a story about it.

  • Dolly says:

    I just don’t understand anyone who loves books, but can’t understand nor appreciate the variety, because it is through variety that even in fiction we see humanity.

    I love Lord of the Rings. But I also love your books. Just as I love many Urban Fantasies, totally different Epic fantasies, and even some low fantasies. How could one simply put authors in camps? Each writer tells their own story. Some do it well, and others don’t. But what would be the point in writing and publishing different books, if we are all meant to be in either Tolkien’s or Howard’s camps? I love LOTR, but I don’t want to write something “just like it” because that would not be my story. Perhaps if Leo spent little more time reading with open mind, and little less time polishing his criticism, he might find himself a happier human being.

  • Jordan R says:

    I figured I’d put my two cents in, being one of those evil conservative Christians and all. Joe, I love you books. Keep writing! They don’t offend me in any way. Honestly, there are more truths in your stories than those black and white fantasies Leo seems to long for. Life, even when looked at from a “conservative” point of view, is never so morally easy.

    I’m almost finished with Last Argument of Kings, and can’t wait to get to BSC and The Heroes! Thanks for the entertainment!

  • […] has responded to this description with typical humor: That sounds … kind of interesting to me, actually, but I […]

  • I agree Leo Grin is being perhaps a bit hysterical, but hey, a little purple prose makes for good reading. As I see it, his points boil down to these:

    1.) Novels can have moral implications.

    Whether ALL novels have moral implications is iffy, but I don’t think this is an irrational statement. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Austen, Rand, Dickens, Pullman, and any number of others wrote works that (often conciously) were meant to carry some moral weight. Randites and Tolstoyans (both actual movements) seized upon an author’s corpus as suggesting a set of moral guidelines.

    Whether you think a given novel _does_ have a moral message, or _ought_ to have one, is a different argument ;).

    2.)Leo likes a certain kind of fantasy more than another kind.

    AKA, for him, novels that revel in fuckwords, hot n’ heavy sex, graphic torture scenes, and other trappings of “grittiness” do not float his boat, and from his view, miss the point of what makes fantasy awesome.

    3.) Leo feels the “gritty” movement in modern fantasy ultimately undermines the appeal and unique beauty of the genre.

    Obviously, not everyone agrees. That’s why the internet exists.

    For my part, I am a little confused as to how the “Tolkien is simplistic and black/white” meme spawned in the first place.

  • JenMo says:

    Wow…. Joe you’re tops in my favorite fantasy author list. You and those like you, expanding the genre, throwing off the chains of Tolkien, make this an exciting time to be reading. Thank you sir.

  • JonathanL says:

    TimH, I was indeed raised in a Christian home with that kind of upbringing, though perhaps not as fundamental as yours. I’ve since set myself free, and it never ceases to amaze me at how rabid and defensive the truly convinced are.

    I do feel like Joe’s work deserves a defense, absolutely. It is being mischaracterized and butchered for not being a sunshine and lollipops kind of fantasy, or the kind of historical tale where few good people die that Tolkien tales. I love “rings”, but if it was all like that I wouldn’t be a fantasy fan. People like Joe are what keep me interested in the genre.

    I just don’t understand why someone feels the need to shred it AND then turn that critcism into some kind of class warfare, while also casting down the educated and open-minded. My own stance is a response to Leo Grin, who seems determined to spread the word about this kind of muck and filth. It’s a darn shame that he can’t just admit that it’s not for him and move on.

    It’s good to see people standing up to it, though. We should never allow ourselves to be brow-beaten by those who would call our interests evil and perverse. I mean, have these people really ever read the Old Testament? There’s a chapter in there about getting adult men circumcised so you can sack the town while they clutch their crotches in agony.

    A power-mad Gandalf pales in comparison.

  • Yulwei says:

    I’ll confess to having been somewhat corrupted by reading your books and Erikson’s. I now expect a fair share of tragedy to befall the heroes and the contents of my bookshelves have become considerably darker

  • Tim H says:

    Well said, JonathonL.

    I agree with you completely. But I still somewhat understand the context they are coming from — I used to be quite the zealot. And these days I’m probably guilty of an entirely new set of prejudices. So I want to keep some sympathy for that point of view (or at least its underlying motives, this feeling that their values are somehow being undermined).

  • Michael Gibbons says:

    The thing I don’t get about the bloggers take on good fantasy (tolkien and Howard) vs. evil fantasy (Abercrombie and company), is Howard’s work isn’t all roses and puppy dogs. It is very dissimilar to Tolkien in almost every respect. In fact I think it is more like what Abercrombie would have written if he had been writing in the 30’s. It is gritty and full of violence. Conan is not out to save the world. He is out to save himself and becomes a king in the process.

  • Drance says:

    Ugh. Another guy (Leo Grin) who just sounds like an uber-nerd who thinks he needs to prove how much he loves the genre by, paradoxically, tearing it apart (the old “hurt the one you love the most” complex). I have made it a sort of personal crusade to “call bullshit” on these types of navel-gazers whenever I come across them.

    When will these types learn that everything, EVERYTHING in this life is subjective (including fantasy fiction)? When will they stop the madness and understand that there is wondrous variety in this old world, and what is old and hackneyed to one is a new discovery to another? IMHO, it is the pinnacle of childishness to be unable to comprehend that one’s opinion is NOT fact! When one becomes an adult, one usually learns that one is NOT the center of the universe, and that one’s beliefs are not the beliefs of everyone else in the world. We are supposed to realize that other people are not players on the stage of our lives, but rather going through their own personal daily dramas.

    Leo Grin, PLEASE channel your obvious creative energies into something positive. If you, in your opinion, believe that something is wrong with this genre, then DO SOMETHING CREATIVE ABOUT IT! Be part of the solution, and stop just spreading around your opinion. But also be prepared for a lot of other people to disagree with you. What does all your heart-felt writing accomplish? What do you hope to accomplish? Do you think you will change many minds to your side? Come on now. Stop the futility, and stop just being a critic, which is the easiest thing in the world to be.

  • […] Joe Abercrombie and R. Scott Bakker have all had a stab at demonstrating why this is wrong although […]

  • Michael: I think you’re missing the point. As I read it, Leo Grin was upholding both Tolkien and Howard as writers who put the “fantastic” in fantasy and believed that courage and heroism were real things, not just delusions papering over essential corruption and cowardice. I don’t see him arguing that the two are peas in a pod 😉

    My main issue with most gritty fantasy is the sheer mundanity of it. There might be times I want to read about mud and dogshit, but I don’t think either is the strength of fantasy–give me a solid historical novel instead, and maybe we can tango.

    If you want an example of fantasy that manages to be complex and dark while remaining otherworldly and fantastic, I can’t recommend James Enge’s Morlock books highly enough.

  • Liam says:

    Worry not Joe, Leo and most of those in the comments describe themselves as “not really fans of the genre,” so what more can we really expect from them? They have fond memories of reading Tolkien in their youth (as do we), but their genre experience never got much past that.

    One can only read so many stories about the “farm boy who is the chosen one destined to wield the mighty artifact against the evil forces from the dark lands.” Once we tire of the men in white vs the men in black, we need stories with more grey. Where the good guys don’t always win. Where things are a little more complicated, and our minds and sensibilities are challenged.

    (Ps. finished the Heroes yesterday afternoon. A++ work, couldn’t put it down. Gorst is easily now my second favourite character, falling just behind Glotka. Now I just pray you don’t turn into another GRRM and leave us waiting years before the next instalment 😛 )

  • Andy says:

    “I would argue he’s trapped by two dogmas, one political, the other religious (and he would argue that I’m trapped by mine, though my principal dogma is a permanent state of confusion and doubt).”

    “I’ve never understood why people can’t just live and let live.”

    You guys do realize that in addition to disliking Joe’s books, Leo Grin also published this review – – on his old blog, right? Disagree with his points if you like – I certainly don’t agree with all of them – but he’s hardly some quivering zealot who doesn’t know how to “live and let live”.

  • Bloody Nine says:

    Loved the bit about what the lord of the rings would have looked like written by your hand. Definitely sounds interesting. Depressing, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

    How boring as would A Song of Ice and Fire be if the good guys always won, the bad guys always lost, and main characters seldom died? I don’t know, I’m getting off track. Thanks for the humorous post, Joe.

  • Liam says:

    Worry not Joe, Leo and most of those in the comments describe themselves as “not really fans of the genre,” so what more can we really expect from them? They have fond memories of reading Tolkien in their youth (as do we), but their genre experience never got much past that.

    One can only read so many stories about the “farm boy who is the chosen one destined to wield the mighty artifact against the evil forces from the dark lands.” Once we tire of the men in white vs the men in black, we need stories with more grey. Where the good guys don’t always win. Where things are a little more complicated, and our minds and sensibilities are challenged.

    (Ps. finished the Heroes yesterday afternoon. A++ work, couldn’t put it down. Gorst is easily now my third favourite character, falling just behind Glotka and Cosca. Now I just pray you don’t turn into another GRRM and leave us waiting years before the next instalment 😛 )

  • Michael says:

    I read the first few paragraphs of the piece and mentally translated it to “I have little experience of the genre, by by gum that will not stop me venting my opinion on others’ pastimes!” And finishing it, I was pleasantly pleased to see I was right.

    But look at it this way, Joe; if you’re narking people off who haven’t read your work you’re doing something right.

  • Joe,

    Your book, unfortunately, was not on my radar. Now, it’s on my ‘to buy’ list. Thanks, Leo Grin. 😉


  • I can’t even read right now (health reasons), and this post still tempts me to go buy your books 🙂

  • The interesting thing to me is YOU, Tolkien and Howard are my 3 favorite fantasy writers.

    There are no sides.

  • Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I love you for this, Abercrombie.

  • Sedulo says:

    I wasn’t “strung along” by The First Law trilogy only to be shocked by the end. I figured I knew what I was getting into fairly early on. So the LOTR comparison is ridiculous.

    The people who follow the source of that review are typically not going to read your books in the first place. It is the religious right preaching to the choir. I can see how you might be shocked by it, but it is common. I am amazed he didn’t drag the American Revolutionary War into it since you are English. Oh wait, he wouldn’t because the men we in the US call “The Founding Fathers” were a bunch of those “College Educated Liberals”.

  • Dan says:

    Tim H and a couple others, I’m not sure why you believe this is the time and place to spew your anti-religious views. But it’s not. Please stop.

  • Jim says:

    Aside from the possible misuse of the word “compliment” (I think “complement” works better there, but that’s just me), this was almost as entertaining as one of your books!

    And yes, I’m being complimentary–but not complementary…. 😀

  • Nick Sharps says:

    Well he’s certainly entitled to his beliefs and you’re certainly entitled to write good books. I’m a conservative and a quasi-christian and I can’t say I’m offended by your work. And if I was I’d probably just elect not to read it and go on my merry way…

  • gilmae says:

    I imagine The Last Ringbearer would make that guy’s head pop off.

  • Sedulo says:

    I read your books for fun, you know, recreation. Am I missing something? Naw. I’m fine. But the newspaper…whoa, that stuff can really freak me out!

  • Tim H says:

    Hi Dan, I’m simply speaking of my own experience with religion and the difficulties I had with it and still have with my family today. I apologize if I’ve given offense. I do think that there is an element in the born-again Christian community that feels under attack from the secular world (at the least in the community I came from). I think this is unwarranted and worth discussing and trying to understand. I’d like to hear your opinion.


  • JonathanL says:

    Dan, I do not mean to offend anyone who can live and let live. This critic is using his religion as a weapon (or shielf) against the work of an artist instead of crtiquing the work itself, and I think it’s close-minded and unfair to do so. I do not intend to degrade any religion or offend any of its respectful followers.

    This blog, after all, is about Mr. Joe Abercrombie & His Fantastickal Works.

  • Doug says:

    For what its worth, the reason I prefer your fiction is because you use well used tropes and spin them on their head. It always baffles me when people are personally offended by some piece of entertainment or art. Don’t care for it? Don’t read, view or engage it. Simple.

  • Ace of Knaves says:

    Oh please, The Heroes wasn’t nearly as cynical as I expected. That may speak more to how nihilistic I am as opposed to how optimistic the book is, but still.

    In fact, now that I think about it…but no. If I try to provide further insight I won’t stop until I’ve spent four hours hammering out and articulating some kind of frighteningly obtuse essay on morality, and that’s something for another day.

    Damn good book, though.

  • mia says:

    To require that fantasy be written in a Tolkienesque/Howardesque style/theme is to have a myopic view of the genre. Fantasy has far-reaching arms that can embrace all degrees of satire, cynicism, and profanity together with the more traditional moral dichotomy, dragons, and swordplay. I doubt Tolkien or Howard would want the genre to just parrot their theme/style or simply churn imitations of their work.

    To veer from their theme/style is not an indictment or rejection of Tolkien or Howard. I’d hope fantasists strive to be unique and to speak with their individual voices. To aspire to be a Tolkien/Howard clone is an exercise in futility.

    I daresay there’s enough room in fantasy for stories where good guys don’t always win, or where nobody wins, or even when there are no absolutely good guys.

  • Dan says:

    TimH and JonathanL, respectfully, I’m all for live and let live. I love Joe’s work. I love me some grit. I also love some wholesome Brandon Sanderson and David Gemmell. I’m all for choice and if you like it great, if not move on. But I read the piece by Leo Grin and I read Joe’s response. I didn’t see where either writer brought up religion other than a brief mention for an example. So I don’t see why it needs to be brought up or criticized here. It seemed out of place to me. What am I missing?

  • Tim H says:

    Dan, I see it in expressions like this.

    “Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten…. the result is a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and Howard willed into being with their life’s blood. Honor is replaced with debasement, romance with filth, glory with defeat, and hope with despair.”

    I can’t help but see in this sort of language the Christian conservative ethic that I was once part of. A desire for ideological purity, and the view that anything that departs from that is somehow depraved. Perhaps because of my background, it’s hard for me to separate the deeply conservative view from the deeply religious view, at least in American life. I believe his horror of Abercrombie and modern fantasy has to do with both his politics and his religion. His language and tone are so extreme they are either risible or understandable only in that context.

    At any rate, you seem like a very reasonable person, and I am sorry if my own particular hotbuttons and hobbyhorses have been disturbed you.

  • Matthew Graybosch says:

    Do you think we should chip in and buy Leo Grin a case of Preparation H? He seems a bit butthurt.

    As worthy of respect as Tolkien and his legendarium are, I’m a bit tired of high fantasy. I suspect that The Lord of the Rings might have been a bit more entertaining if Tolkien had included an exchange similar to the following:

    Frodo: Sam, what does the map say?

    Sam: (unfolds map and sees that Mordor has “You’re fucked!” in parentheses underneath) The map says we’re fucked, Mr. Frodo.

  • Tim H says:

    And it’s an Andrew Breitbart website. Googly googly.

  • Connor says:

    I laughed out loud when I read poor Leo’s description of Joe’s works, comparing them to Lord of the Rings if so and so happened… Gandalf setting himself up as the new dark lord? My God, that actually sounds like a pretty badass twist to me. The thing that I really love about LotR is not the struggle between good and evil, but the temptation that power poses, even to the “good.” The corruption of power is the real theme, as far as I see it, and if Gandalf decided to take the ring and rule Mordor with an iron fist… well, that would be spectacular.

  • […] I can’t agree with Mr. Grin for a number of reasons.  His assertion that gritty fantasy constitutes “postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage,” should make that point clear enough.  Joe Abercrombie, ironically, addresses many of my concerns in “Bankrupt Nihilism.” […]

  • All I can say is indignation becomes you- What a lovely rant- fully enjoyed every word of it- Amazing that you are engineering the downfall of all that is dear to us- the pen that writes about the sword is…

  • The Other Peter says:

    Joe, buddy, your works are far from optimistic. You mirror cynicism as though it were the human reflection. And guess what; it is. In your world, at least. The setting in which your characters have been placed are often (if ever) devoid of warmth. I empathize with you, recognize and understand what you’re trying to do. Reality is bleak. One must struggle, must wrestle life itself to achieve even a shred of happiness. Not many people are willing to reconize the ugliness of reality.

    At any rate, I know there will be a happy ending in one of your books. I’m absolutely sure of it. How else will you end the saga? Good must triumph over evil. Though it doesn’t hurt to make good suffer just a bit. I know I tend to do just that with all of my characters.

    Face it, you write about human beings. What other organism in the universe can you say is as psychologically complex and multifaceted as man? If there is one thing you’re certainly lacking in, it’s flat characters.

  • missoularedhead says:

    Uh huh. , Because all those people, after reading The First Law, immediately decided that they wanted all their bones broken, repeatedly, so they could become sadistic, twisted torturers. Behold your power, Joe Abercrombie. Because apparently, you and other writers like you (I quail to think what the world would be like if Leo had read Morgan’s Steel Remains), are leading us all straight to hell.

    Good thing it’s an enjoyable ride, eh?

  • axe says:

    Steven Erikson dude – Steve Erickson is a different author.

  • Shadowjhunter says:

    Ahahaha! Oh man. This had me in stitches. I’ll be sitting in the 10/10 review(s) for your new book, me thinks.

  • bta says:

    Joe, if you’re upsetting self-appointed arbiters of fantasy then you’re obviously doing something right. Fantasy does not belong to them, never has and never will – and any writer who comes along and reminds them of the fact by ignoring their delusional strictures by producing something different and good is a very welcome thing indeed. Perhaps they should read the original version of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ as an example of what traditional myths are really like.

    This lot reminds me of that row in 1887 when Ruskin accused Whistler of ‘flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public’ because he didn’t like Whistler’s canvases.
    Who do these types think they are?
    More power to your writing elbow, says I.

    btw – I’m waiting for the publication of a new book on the Battle of Towton so I can compare the body counts between it and your latest epic. I suspect that in some respects ‘The Heroes’ might be a touch on the wimpish side of reality, since at Towton both sides gave instructions up front that there was to be ‘No Quarter!’

  • Duncan says:

    Stop feeding the cave trolls

  • Ryan says:

    I don’t get what that guy is blabbing on about. If we applied his logic, we would still be living in caves as they were the best houses ever, be listening to the Ug Ug Ug Rhapsody and wearing beaver skin as it’s just so fashionable.

    You should be proud that you aren’t the same as Tolkien, you’re writing what you want to write and people love it; what else could you ask for? Don’t rise to petty, sad and no doubt very lonely individuals on the internet.

    Keep on sitting on your bunker doing what you enjoy.

  • lucifel says:

    I like every side of this storm in teacup. I love Tolkien, but while reading it found some of heroes too perfect (maybe it was all that poetry). Silmarillion is my favourite as it has elves on each others throats.

    Still, I started yearning for some old fashioned morals and “big damn heroes” while giving a (very short) try to Stover. Same happened with Martin (whose “Fevre Dream raises some very interesting moral questions). It might be just about that divide between people who like ideas and people who like characters – a lot of modern fantasy, Martin included is awfully soapy with all those scheming nobles and murky morals and as a history student I really don’t see any novelty in that.

    I like people sticking to old fashion morals, high ideals and saying that stories should be about beauty and truth. I think they should too. But cynical satire and darkness is good too. I guess the perfect fantasy story would be balancing this both human tendencies.

  • Phil N says:

    “bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals)”

    I’m not bored, I may-be middle-class but I’ve never been to college and am definately not a liberal.

    This guy lost me when he put Howard & Tolkien in the same bed, the two don’t go together. I love both their work, but they are polar opposites.

  • Adam Roberts says:

    “…Tolkien’s work, published on the whole when he was advanced in years, is very long and literary (as you’d expect from a professor of English)…’

    Speaking as both a professor of English and a man fairly advanced in years, I would just like to say: RAAAAAAAAARGH!

  • Rachel Swirsky says:

    I had no idea that the ancients were all into crucifixes. In fact, I think if you go ancient enough, none of them were! Quelle horreur.

    Thanks for the essay. Bought a copy of THE BLADE ITSELF because jerkpants’ description made your work sound pretty interesting. 😀

  • Dan says:

    So, when are you re-writing the Lord of the Rings for us?

    I want to read how’d you portray Gandalf setting himself up as a Dark Lord, sure you’d do it justice.

  • Jen Fiddes says:

    I read Mr. Grin’s article and the comments. Almost killed another keyboard spitting coffee. It read like he thinks you are “proper” fantasy’s murderer. Ridiculous.

    That being said, don’t write too fast because my book budget is slim and I still need the First Law Trilogy and The Heroes on my shelf. Best Served Cold will not be living there.

    I have too many friends that want to read it after I described it as Gemmel with swears and strong women.

    There are no sides to fantasy, just an unending sea of stories. Fantasy is boundless. My duo of favorite modern authors is Sanderson and Abercombie. Because you both, you know, write good stuff, and at a rate that makes it hard for me to keep up. And are still alive. Thus the “modern”.

  • “When will these types learn that everything, EVERYTHING in this life is subjective (including fantasy fiction)?”

    Wait. If everything in this life is subjective, then the statement “everything in this life is subjective” is not a true/false statement, but merely a report on a matter of your personal taste. If so, the sentence contradicts itself.

    If everything is subjective, logically therefore preferring objectivity to subjectivity is also subjective, a matter of taste, and cannot be criticized.

    Perhaps you meant everything in art is subjective. If so, this does not save your statement from paradox: because then those who prefer a pro-objectivity philosophy praised and glorified in art cannot be criticized by those who prefer a pro-subjectivity philosophy praised and glorified in art.

  • Tim H says:

    I don’t that The Heroes is bleak or cynical. It seems to me the most hopeful of Joe’s books. It even has some beautiful and tender moments. The entire book revolves around Beck’s moral dilemma. I think it was a risky move because it’s hard to write that sort of thing without being treacly, especially for this audience. But it does work, and The Heroes turns out to be a deeply moral story.

    Ironic that Leo Grin admits he hasn’t read it. He might have learned something.

  • Susanne says:

    “postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage”

    If I’d stumbled across Leo Grin’s piece (heh, I said “piece”) on my own steam, I’d have stopped right there. This is the stuff off Eng Lit 101 papers, legendary only in that we all did it, and we all thought we were *awesome*.

    But this, this!: “Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth.”

    This deserves comment. Grin claims he’s read the First Law trilogy, and he thinks Bayaz is a Gandalf figure? WHAT. And that Jezal is anything like Aragon? DOUBLEWHAT.

    Also, can someone remind me of where the “hobbits” die, in First Law? As far as I was concerned, pretty much all of the major players lived (includingtheBloodyNinehebettercomeback). Has Leo Grin got this confused with the Malazan books, do we think, where pretty much everyone dies (sadly)?

    It would appear that Leo reads books very differently from the way I, and I’d hazard, most of your fans do, Joe, and thusly is richly deserving of your smack-down. He also seems to say that he wants all of his fantasy literature to be the same, which has to be the most ridiculous line of argument I’ve ever heard.

    Oh, and one more thing, regarding “Honor is replaced with debasement[…]” This is blatantly not true. Look at the Dogman. Look at Craw. Also, look, Leo Grin, at Erikson’s Bridgeburners. And then come back to tell me modern fantasy doesn’t celebrate honour. You wally.

  • […] I try to leave Joe Abercrombie alone, given that he has already been a more than generous sport toward me,* but he had a very eloquent take down of the article in terms of fantasy that is well worth reading. […]

  • […] might be imagined there were several responses to Grin, most prominently from Abercrombie. Abercrombie notes that Howard and Tolkien are “polar opposites,” one considered the […]

  • Don’t like something? Eat something else. And why be so upset about what other people choose to eat?

    For much the same reason that Islamic fundamentalists blow shit up, and the American Christian Right wants Darwin out of school textbooks and classrooms. Bog standard Tribal One Truth dynamic – there is One Truth, I (and my tribe) have it, and if you don’t agree with me, you are necessarily the enemy, and an abomination. Exposure to said abomination can only contaminate and weaken our tribal strength and unity (though certain Key Cadres like myself can survive exposure and live to tell the tale and issue vital warnings) In short, Grin’s not interested in the literary aspect of this stuff (one reason why his lit. crit. is so ropey), the framing is purely political. See also Threatened Masculinity, Patriotic Pride and Wilful Historical Ignorance…..

  • Tim H says:

    More context on Leo Grin. This is from a review he did in the National Review on biblical epics on blu ray.

    “It’s worth noting that stars like Richard Burton, Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, and Peter Ustinov all immersed themselves to various degrees in the miserable culture of drugs, alcohol, affairs, bisexuality, and leftist fellow-travelling that soiled Hollywood then as today. Nevertheless, they collectively rose to the occasion in this pair of wholesome, God-fearing pictures.”

  • He used so many *words* … He could have just posted this, and shut the hell up.

    Seriously, though, this “How dare you like things that I don’t like! There must be something wrong with you!” crap is ridiculous.

  • BC Woods says:

    In the interests of fairness, I’m imitated every day by crazy people on corners who shout at traffic. I just have a website.

  • KatG says:

    Given that John C. Wright believes gay people and Muslims live in Mordor, I don’t pay much attention to anything he says. As for Big Hollywood, it’s one of Andrew Breitbart’s sites, hence why you are being accused of destroying Western civilization from the utopia that it once was.

    Which is kind of impressive, actually. Now fantasy fiction is being dragged into America’s atavistic, totalitarian political propaganda campaign, and you, Abercrombie, a decadent, socialized Brit, are at the forefront. (P.S. Howard isn’t nihilistic because he was against gun control, or something like that. The fact that Conan split people’s heads open with an axe and was called the Destroyer is totally irrelevant when it comes to nihilism, you black-hearted myth swallower, you.)

  • […] Joe Abercrombie on internet discussions (before wading into an excellent one): I must confess that I’ve become jaded of late, though. The internet brimmeth over with stuff, and after a while it all starts to look the same. I just don’t feel the slings and arrows like I used to. […]

  • Kike says:

    Your words, sir, are brilliant. But I fear that I’m not agree with your point.

    I’m pretty sure Leo can made his arguments without bringing some nasty political issues. I’m a leftie and I find some of his opinions really outrageous.

    But the problem here is disrespect to the mythopoetic creation (the conscience building of new legends). This is something I feel since a couple of years. And something that, unfortunately, EVERYONE is forgetting in this debate.

    Most of modern fantasy works have soap opera or history books structure, INSTEAD of a Saga structure. This is why “Hobbits diying by cancer” is a bad idea. This is why Robert E. Howard is important. Conan fights for survive but his stories are not built like a modern action movie.

    The problem is not that fantasy is “darker”. The problem is that some works made fantasy a “mundane thing”.

    Imagine that you want to create a new legend. Fine. You can kill your main character. You can transform a good guy into an evil villain. You can ruin an entire kingdom. But you cannot use “real world logics” to made it. You cannot use “modern” language. You cannot use “magic” as a simple plot device.

    Excalibur is legendary. And is dark. Harry Potter is mundane. And is much more a “good vs evil” thing.

    Sex, violence and decay is always needed. But must be glorious. Must be THE BEST sex, the MOST horrifying violence and THE WORST of decays.

    This is the difference between, for example, “The broken sword” by Anderson and “Clash of kings” by Martin. Both are depressing. But the first one is based on myth. The second one, in the history of England. Anderson wrote an “old tragedy”, while Martin is writing a “modern drama”.

    This is the difference between “The Hobbit” and “Wheel of time”. The fist one is a modern vision of old tales. The second one is a rehash of a novel based in the modern vision of old tales.

    Conan the barbarian is a classical “Saga” character and Howard language made us think on old chronicles. “The heroes” is a novel that, independently from its quality, brings the fantasy genre to a more mundane lands.

    I don’t know if I explain myself correctly…

  • Kike says:

    Sorry my english, pals. I’m from Spain. By the way, congratulations for the selling of your book.

  • Forrest says:

    @Liam: “Once we tire of the men in white vs the men in black, we need stories with more grey. Where the good guys don’t always win. Where things are a little more complicated, and our minds and sensibilities are challenged.”

    Well, then, why not read history — where twilight is forever, and the good guys never win, even when the bad guys lose?

  • […] wave of darker or gritty epic fantasy as “bankrupt nihilism.” Several epic fantasy authors have countered, rightly rejecting this shallow criticism of their approach, but none have noted […]

  • brandon S. says:

    Guys,If I may be so kind to ask: is there anyway to forward the article to steven erikson. being one of my favorites besides joe, im just really curious and interested about what he would say about this brainfail of an article.

    Joe: believe me when I say this: the ‘bunker’ is all the better because of writers like you, lynch, erikson, weeks, sykes, and others.

    And who knows. the bunker may be a dark one, but at least your in good company there.

  • lucifel says:

    Kike, your comment explains perfectly my problem with most of modern fantasy.

    “Most of modern fantasy works have soap opera or history books structure, INSTEAD of a Saga structure. This is why “Hobbits diying by cancer” is a bad idea. This is why Robert E. Howard is important. Conan fights for survive but his stories are not built like a modern action movie.”

    Hear Hear!

    I just finished a hollow-earth type British fantasy novel called “The Fade” and really loved it. It had all the gore and adult themes of modern novel, and very dark, desperate world, but at the same time this sense of beauty and otherworldliness, in both surroundings and characters. That’s what separates fantasy from other genres. Some fantasy stories seem to be about chavs in funny clothing and exotic weaponry (like a lot of historical fiction too, for that matter)

  • Brett From Southampton! says:

    I glance in horror at my book case… two favourite authors nestled gently beside one another……….Gemmell and Abercrombie…should I feel ashamed? I fear I must be a simple minded man. I’ve merely bought and read books for the pure enjoyment of it. I truly am ashamed of my abhorent behaviour.

    Sorry everyone.

  • lucifel says:

    Brett, when I look at my bookshelf I see a row of Star Wars novels and comics. Feel any better? 😀

  • JonathanL says:

    Man, R. Scott Bakker breaks it DOWN in his response. If you all haven’t read it on the trackbacks link “Jagged Page”, go do so.

  • DAVID ELLIS says:

    “Wait. If everything in this life is subjective, then the statement “everything in this life is subjective” is not a true/false statement, but merely a report on a matter of your personal taste.

    There are truths concerning the subjective just as much as there are truths about objective, external reality. Take, for example, the statement “agony is, in and of itself, an undesirable thing”. This is, any reasonable person would agree, a true statement. And it is true precisely because of the subjective content of the experience we name “agony”.

  • B^4 says:

    bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field

    This is the problem right here- the narcissism that makes them think that anything they don’t like is a personal attack. Uh, Leo, you’re not important, nobody would go out of their way just to tweak your beard.

  • Joe says:

    I posted this on R. Scott Bakker’s post on this same topic ( It still applies.

    I read Grin’s article and it seemed to boil down to something very simple: using a bunch of flowery, pseudo-intellectual buzzwords to say he doesn’t like Abercrombie et al as much as he did “The Lord of the Rings.” Wow. Brilliant.

  • […] Joe Abercrombie is somewhat confused by his apparent membership in the secret cabal of nihilists for… I don’t particularly care for his books, sorry, but I really love this post. […]

  • Al Harron says:

    I feel a bit weird coming onto a website of an author whose work I haven’t read, but I feel the need to nonetheless.

    Some background information on Leo is necessary. For one thing, Leo is undoubtedly very right-wing, and proud of it: however, he should not be mistaken for some sort of totalitarian who does not tolerate dissenting opinion. The most potent example of this is on The Cimmerian, the Robert E. Howard website he created and ran for years, concurrently with the print journal. Among the contributors for that website was the late Steve Tompkins, a staunch liberal. Yet in all the years the two wrote together on the blog, I can think of only a single instance where the two’s different political positions come into play on the public platform, when Tompkins made a dismissive remark regarding Sarah Palin.

    Leo was adamant in keeping politics out of The Cimmerian as much as he could, precisely because of the divisive nature of political discussion. However, I note that when he retired from active involvement on the blog, he handed administrative duties to none other than Steve. Leo handed over a site which was his baby, his creation, to a man with vastly different political beliefs, to say nothing of opinions on other matters. When Steve died, Leo passed the reins to Deuce Richardson, a centrist. One would think that if Leo is indeed some sort of fascistic tyrant not open to any views he does not share, that he would rather see The Cimmerian website close down than in the hands of a non-conservative, let alone a “damn-dirty liberal” like Steve.

    Leo’s hysterical, shrill tone is hyperbole, and designed to be provocative and confrontational. Because, as he well knows, people react more vigorously to being called The Enemy Of Reason and Western Civilization And Tiny Fluffy Kittens than they do to well-reasoned and polite discourse. Similarly, the best counter-arguments are those which are measured, insightful and polite – like Mr Abercrombie’s response. Look what’s happened: the blogosphere is abuzz with comments seeking to refute his statements, defending their favourite authors with energy, enthusiasm and indignation. In other words, people are thinking about things, reassessing fantasy literature, and debating – which is, no doubt, exactly what Leo wanted.

    Make no mistake, Leo’s very well read. In addition to Howard and Tolkien, he’s on record as enjoying Charles R. Saunders, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as appreciating Lloyd Alexander. A lot of people question if he’s even read Howard, which is anathema to me, being as he’s one of the most highly-regarded (if controversial to a certain subset of scholars) of Howard scholars, and is one of the few who considers Howard and Tolkien as equally great and influential.

    In the end, I dearly hope people don’t make judgements on Tolkien or Howard, or their fans, based on an individual’s personal politics. As stated, Steve Tompkins and Deuce Richardson, both JRRT/REH fans who are not right-wing. Rusty Burke, one of the most prominent Howard scholars today, is also not right-wing. There are others. I myself have no real political leanings, and so am not a great example. Leo has opened himself up to criticism on that front, but not Howard fandom in general.

    Oh, and I fully intend to read Mr Abercrombie’s work, but not because Leo accidentally made his warped version of LotR too cool (though I admit a morbid fascination with the idea). I intend to read his work because Steve Tompkins loved his work – and expressed his appreciation on The Cimmerian, a website made possible by… Leo Grin. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

  • Greg says:

    I’m a huge Robert E. Howard fan myself and the more I think about it, Robert E. Howard’s awesome stories seem to me to be the seed and the fertile ground where these very stories that Mr. Grin is bashing took root.
    What about Bran Mak Morn? You don’t get much darker then the last pure-bred king of people that are sinking back into savagery. Bran Mak Morn knows he and his Picts are doomed, but he fights and kills anyway for the pure spite of it. The violent crucifixion of Mak Morn’s tribesman at the beginning of Worms of Earth and the nightmare that Bran Mak Morn let’s loose against the Romans, not to mention the sex Mak Morn has with the witch as the payment for the monstrosity, is pretty damn gritty. Especially when you consider Howard didn’t have access to the realistic movies and news footage that we have today.
    Yep, I think it’s rather presumptions for Mr. Grin to think Robert E. Howard wouldn’t embrace what Mr. Abercrombie is doing. I kinda think Two-Gun Bob would love it.

    Another thought for what it’s worth; maybe Mr. Grin should go look at the Frazetta Conan paintings again. You don’t get grittier than Frazetta and his imagery is credited with one of the first big Howard resurgence, and I think Frazetta’s vision would be a perfect match for Abercrombie’s imagination.

  • David Ellis says:

    “The problem is not that fantasy is “darker”. The problem is that some works made fantasy a “mundane thing.””

    I love stories that evoke a sense of numinous mystery. I’m all for it. But I also sometimes enjoy stories that treat fantasy worlds as real places rather than settings for the shadow plays of Jungian archetypes.

    It’s not an either/or matter. Both are worthwhile. Both can be rewarding reading.

  • Björn says:

    I love pie, but not at every meal. Why can there be only one kind of fantasy?

    I’m wondering what Leo Grin is reading, because how many variation can there be on a “boy grows up, not knowing his parents to save the world from a terrible evil”

  • James Webster says:

    Preach on, Brother Abercombie.. you have the right of it.

    The Lord of the Rings was good, in my opinion. But I couldn’t sit through it again.

    Most fantasy after that was tedious rehashes of the same thing, The Splurgs of Mogg, the XXX of the YYY, Wielder of the yadiyadiya. In my opinion. I thought it unlikely I would ever read fantasy again.

    Then people starting writing more realistic, new, interesting fantasy. In my opinion. With real, interesting characters. In one summer I picked up tomes by Scott Lynch, Alan Campbell, and Joe, and my faith was restored.

    The key point here is In My Opinion. There is still plenty of Splurgs of Mog stuff being written for those that enjoy them (..and Star Wars books. A burn! ;o) )

    For those of us who wonder exactly why good should always triumph over evil, who think about the shades of grey, who are sick to the back teeth of simplistic moral absolutes and don’t accept they are necessary constituents of heroic fantasy, and who loved the ending of The First Law, we have Joe and his ilk.

    Of course, this guy is entitled to his opinion, even if it is unfounded, poorly argued, and politically motivated.

    But thankfully, very few will take any notice and people will continue to buy and enjoy authors like Joe. Hence the sales rankings of The Heroes.

    Congrats, Joe. And please do bring back Ninefingers and Ferro.

  • mike says:

    You know what they say Joe, when someone picks on you it’s only because they fancy you!

    Take comfort in that 😉

  • Chris says:

    EDITED – The content of this comment most definitely crossed the line.

    It’s apparent to me as a fantasy reader that Grin is wildly out of his element. But because he detests Joe’s work so madly, he’s actually made me decide to give it a try. The First Law trilogy has been added to my Amazon wish list. Good job, sir.

  • Brett From Southampton! says:

    Thanks Lucifel, As long as you enjoy them though eh?

  • Leslie says:

    I apologise in advance for an analogy that may seem to have nothing to do with this topic but I assure you is most apt. Amongst fans of Heavy Metal Music there are those wizened old figures mostly encountered in spit and saw dust rock pubs, they sit clad in denim and leather hunched over a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale muttering through their grey beards about how Metal aint Metal no more. How you will never get better than Sabbath, Maiden, and Motorhead etc. They then go on to damn the likes of Metallica, Anthrax and Faith No More, saying that such bands have music lost touch with this ephemeral force that is the so called ‘soul of metal’.

    To the genre of Fantasy literature the not so smiley Mr Grin is one of these be patched dark ale drinking grognards. The way I see it the works of Tolkien and authors like him (I’m not lumping Howard in with these authors and I find it bizarre that Mr Grin did) are like the songs of Iron Maiden, sprawling bombastic epics that deal with mythological themes and ideas. Whereas the works people like the talented Mr Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and to some extent George RR Martin are more like songs by Metallica, fast paced, brutal and heavily based on issues felt by society. My point is both the fantasy and heavy metal are genres that have evolved over time and have taken inspiration from works that have proceeded them. As Mr Abercrombie says there should be no division, if this was a festival I am more than sure Tolkien and Abercrombie would share the same stage alongside such acts as Howard and Erikson. At the end of the day all works of fantasy fiction are part of a great cycle of creativity, I don’t think any other genre of fiction promotes creativity more than fantasy, you only have to look at the plethora of role playing games, artwork, video games etc that have been inspired by the genre to realise this (we don’t see table top battle games or RPG’s based on Pride and Prejudice or Enduring Love now do we). Fantasy inspires us to contribute to this mythological world and create our own legends. For example I know many people who got into Tolkien through playing Warhammer (myself included), Warhammer was inspired by Lord of the Rings (alongside other books), in turn Warhammer has inspired many fantasy writers as have games like D&D, thus the great Ouroboros of fantasy continues to consume itself, enfolding more and more devoted fans into its coils, who ultimately create their own worlds and adventures in their own unique ways.

    So I say to Mr Grin, if you want your fantasy sweetened with a happy ending that’s fine fair play to you, if you want fiction more akin to the Great Myths of Old well fine, why not try the great myths of old. There are quite a few out there, why not look up The Prose Edda, The Havamal or The Iliad hey if you are feeling particularly adventurous why not even try the Enuma Elis, though I warn you it may be a be a little bit too subversive for your tastes. But don’t knock us so called middle class liberals, this is fantasy for our generation and it’s bloody brilliant!

  • KatG says:

    Al Harron:

    1) Leo works for Andrew Breitbart, who similarly used to hang out with liberals while calling them traitorous perverts, and wrote the piece for a Breitbart site — Big Hollywood — that specifically exists to attack “liberal” artists and try to destroy their “influence.” (I honestly don’t know Abercrombie’s politics. He may in fact be a staunch Tory.) Whatever his personal life and hobbies, Leo wrote the piece as political propaganda about how liberal commies are using nihilism to destroy fantasy fiction and proper western mores, not to have a nice discussion on the Internet.

    2) Saying that a completely false and hyperbolic argument is necessary for impassioned and reasoned Internet debate to occur is ridiculous. If he doesn’t believe they’re murdering fluffy kittens, don’t say it. But in his political world, it is necessary to do this to paint dissenters as vile enemies and people who aren’t actually his dissenters as dissenters. The idea is to vilify random targets, not discuss. That Abercrombie is smart enough not to take the bait doesn’t particularly make Leo look like a genius. That there is wide ranging discussion on the topic is not really because of Leo or the details of what he said, but because this is the sort of topic fantasy fans go over every few months, exercising their collective nostalgic amnesia.

    3) Leo arguing that Conan the Destroyer is heroic and not nihilistic does not make a good argument for him being a Howard “scholar.”

    4) Swanwick did his novel in 1993. Stover started his Caine series in 1997. Abercrombie started his series in 2006. Lumping them together as an example of current mores or a concerted movement makes almost as little sense as pairing Howard and Tolkein together. It’s the worst sort of confirmation bias cherry-picking.

  • Tim H says:

    EDITED – Sorry, some of this crossed the line.

    The fact that so many in the fantasy community have responded with thoughtfulness is a testament to the broad-mindedness of most fantasy readers. We don’t have Leo Grin to thank for that. And I do think he misunderstands Howard. He may revere Howard, but he’s imposing his own views on him, leaving the rest of us scratching our heads because there’s not much in Abercrombie that would be shocking to Conan. That’s the difficulty with absolutist dogmas — everything gets viewed through a single, distorted lens.

  • Greg says:

    Hey if I go all Logen Ninefingers on one of the execs at the corporation I work for, do you think I can blame it on Abercrombie’s books causing the downfall of western civilization and I’m just ahead of the curver? No?
    Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to read about ass-holes getting the shit kicked-out of them and that be enough. 🙂

  • Brett says:

    I read Leo Grin’s blog post and was moved… Amazon to buy The Heroes. Suck it, Leo!

  • fish says:

    just been reading up the responses on the original article – looks like the pinko liberals are fighting back and Leo’s getting a bit of a tonking. Personally I find the alomst homererotic (did you see what I did there) tone risable and woefully simplistic – but hey maybe that’s the point and it really is for nothing more than upping the readership of the site…..hmmm that gives me a cynical thought – you sure this isn’t just a put up job between you two thought up by the publisher to drum up some sales….ohhhh perish the thought 😉

  • Chris Upton says:

    Brilliant! I’ve been off line a few days and this happens!
    So basicaly this guy’s saying its blasphemous to try and move away from the tropes of the genre!? That fantasy is generic and conservative is one of the biggest criticisims leveled at it.

  • Chris says:

    Leslie: I enjoyed your heavy metal analogy. Truly, I have met fans of Ozzy and the old school Metallica who give me blank stares or horrified gasps att he mention of modern titans of metal like Lamb of God or Heaven Shall Burn. But I alsso still think this issue goes beyond mere tastes.

    EDITED: Sorry, some of this crossed the line.

  • Haakon says:

    Funny old world, back in the day playing rpgs and reading fantasy and whatnot was one step away from satanism, burning churches and whatnot… And these days liberals are ruining it?

    I guess Elric is oh so new and liberal ruined too…

  • Tim H says:

    I just noticed that Joe updated his post recently and asked us to avoid the politics and ad hominem attacks. I’m guilty of both, especially in my last reply — apologies.

  • Dan says:

    Joe, thanks for asking for people to leave the politics out of this discussion. Like you, I never thought this was a political or a religious matter. Unfortunately your request came after 134 posts of an absolute lefty meltdown. Sad that many of you attack someone so personally and viciously when they say something contrary to your beliefs. Someone even attacked him because of how his picture looked. Really? Good thing this crowd is so enlightened and open.

  • KatG says:

    Dan: You say lefty meltdown, we say reasoned argument that old Leo doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to fantasy fiction, which he characterized inaccurately as a political struggle between “new” writers as liberals and “old” writers as conservative myth makers. We’re saying it isn’t a political struggle and that dragging political cant into it is unsupported by the actual fiction. A lot of fans have made arguments about differences between current and past fantasy, and even though those also often ignore large swathes of fiction, they certainly make more sense than Grin’s political argument. It is not an “ad hominem attack” when the person who wrote the piece specifically talks about authors being conservatives and liberals in the article and that this is his main view of their work. And it is this choice by Grin, to characterize authors’ political views, wrongly, by their fiction, that people are pointing out is completely inaccurate.

  • Tim H says:

    Dan, I hope I wasn’t vicious. If so, I apologize.


  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I believe in giving the greatest latitude but some of these comments are very close to crossing, or have very definitely crossed, the line. I very much dislike being schoolteacher here but I’ve had to prune some comments and cut some others entirely.

    No more personal attacks. That should go without saying.

    No more stuff that tars whole groups with the same brush either.

    Please, everyone, simmer down.

  • Tim H says:

    I won’t cross the line here, I promise. The one good thing about this debate (aside from the fun of it) is that I’ve been inspired to start reading the Robert E Howard Conan Omnibus I’ve had on my Kindle for more than a year. Here’s Howard with an intersting thought that seems pertinent:

    “Poets alwasy hate those in power. To them, perfection is always just behind the last corner, or beyond the next. they escape the present in dreams of the past and future.”

  • Chris says:

    Well, it looks like it was mainly my comments that crossed the line and were edited, at least for today. To quote the Internet: I ain’t even mad.

    As you are an author trying to reach as many readers as possible, Joe, I can understand your actions. Alienating people because of their political positions won’t net you any readers. That’s cool. I’m still planning on buying your books, so no hate here.

  • Tim H says:

    Oh, I managed it too, Chris. In fact, moments after I pressed the submit button on my last comment, I was looking for the Delete button. Joe’s been very decent about it. I hope Dan forgives us.

  • Tim H says:

    And, dangit, I really wish I’d learn to proofread my posts. Here’s Howard with the inept typing errors:

    “Poets always hate those in power. To them, perfection is always just behind the last corner, or beyond the next. They escape the present in dreams of the past and future.”

  • Chris says:

    Tim H: I make no apologies regarding my political stances. I’m sure if Joe and I sat down and had a chat, we’d find most of our opinions in politics falling along the same lines. But as I said, I understand Joe’s position: alienating his conservative readers isn’t going to net him any sales, and people taking it personally can go a long way in damaging one’s sales in any field.

    Anyway, I guess I’m not Richard Morgan, so I’m not allowed to make politically-themed comments on Joe’s blog. It’s all good; I just ordered The Blade Itself.

  • Dan says:

    I suggest everyone here jump over to the linked article by Leo Grin for the read and, more importantly, to read the reader comments below. There is actually a lot of very open minded discussion going on about, you know, fantasy!? Not so much politics.

    Regarding one of Leo’s points that id like to talk about. Leo says “Abercrombie’s freshman effort, the massive First Law trilogy ….concluded with a resolution worthy of M. Night Shyamalan at his worst, one that did its best to hurt, disappoint, and dishearten any lover of myths and their timeless truths.” He then goes on to give the LoTR parody which is pretty funny and, if we are being honest, not that far off of a comparison of how Joe does things. Now whether or not that is a bad thing comes down to your own likes and dislikes, not if your a liberal or conservative.

    I have to agree with Leo about being disappointed at the end of the First Law. I was pissed, as we’re some friends of mine. Yea, I wanted something of a “happy ending” too. But what I think he is also missing, is that the story is not over. Clearly Logen, West and Ferro are not dead. Joe has no trouble telling you when someone is dead. He has not told us these characters are dead even though he has had two more books to do so. I believe this is because their story is not finished. I think these three will be the characters in the upcoming books. There is what, a 8-9 year gap from the end of First Law to the end of Heroes? There is a lot of story to be told in that period about these characters.

    Bottom line, I still have hope for a triumph on the part of Logen at the very least and possibly all three. Now, will that change Leo’s opinion of Joe’s story telling? Who knows, who cares, I just wanted to talk about the actual books, story lines and my theories on what’s to come.

    Even though I did not care for the end of the First Law, I CARE about these characters. Joe has done that. And so I keep reading no matter who gets killed off. I just might not be happy about it…

  • Tim H says:

    Chris, I’m apologizing because I let my personal views bog down Joe’s blog. And it was not my intent to upset people. I do think that politics and religion are very germain to the discussion, just not in this forum. And I’m not even a lefty, just a failed libertarian.

  • Dirk FLinthart says:

    Joe: as a minor (Australian) fantasy writer myself — well, I couldn’t make it through Leo’s diatribe. By the third paragraph, he’d disappeared so far up his own fundament I suspect he has to call his proctologist when he needs his teeth cleaned.

    Your piece, on the other hand, expresses quite a few ideas I’ve entertained for myself. Like you, I grew up on Howard and Tolkien. Like you, I see them as near-opposites, each embodying a particular strain of the genre. And much like you (I suspect) I think fantasy is a genre in which one explores the imagination. New thoughts, new ideas, new ways of approaching old tropes — I like these.

    Aside from Tolkien and Howard, I have also enjoyed Zelazny and Leiber — and from the moderns, Garth Nix and China Mieville. Why not? New and different outlooks. True ‘fantasy’.

    Reheated Tolkienesque leftovers give me diarrhoea.

    Joe, I have deeply enjoyed each of your books, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I note that I cannot say anything similar for the works of one “Leo Grin”.

  • Joe,
    I must say I did enjoy your rebuttal. Whilst I can understand the point Leo is making, and even empathise with his position to a certain (albeit very small) degree, he’s committing a fallacy no fan of literature and art should ever make.

    Nothing stays the same for ever and it’s a mistake to try and keep it that way. If authors stuck to the ‘pure’ we’d still all be reading Bibles (or whatever religious text might be relevant). Sure, we’d probably be very moral and spiritually enlightened, but I’m picking we’d also be immensely bored.

    Change is good. If Tolkien had not chosen to take a new approach to Anglo Saxon folk lore we would never had got his works. If authors such as yourself don’t push norms and test boundaries then the genre will stagnate and die.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Chris, and others,
    Politics is one thing – KatG’s comments are political but, borderline though they are in terms of the confrontational, they address the article – this is not the forum for more general soapboxing, especially if it lumps whole swathes of people, “conservatives”, “liberals” or whatever, together as one homogenous thing. It’s not a question of appealing to readers as widely as possible (though that’s no bad thing in my book) so much as that I refuse to be stuffed into Leo’s ridiculous liberal educated middle-class destroyer of society sausage skin for no other reason than that it suits his worldview to stick me there with a set of other authors who fundamentally have little in common.

    Richard Morgan is on thin ice in that regard – he likes the thin ice – but I’m giving him some latitude because he’s not anonymous and hence his comments don’t reflect on me in quite the same way. Maybe that’s a fine distinction but I don’t want to edit or cut any comments unless I feel I have to. Fair enough? Obviously I remain delighted if anyone wishes to buy any of my books as a result of this debacle. Burning them, of course, remains an option.

    Personal comments are not cool. Leo may have opened that door a crack with his overwrought tone about mouth breathers, self-loathing and literary sewers, but that’s up to him. Maybe this is something that’s become common in American political discourse and I’m not familiar with, so I’m misinterpreting the tone, but I don’t see how it can possibly be helpful. The way I see it, it’s encumbent upon me to act in as even-handed and reasonable a manner as possible, and address the arguments. Probably I’m failing, but what else can you do?

  • Tim H says:

    Perhaps the best response is to maintain a sense of humor and decency, and you are doing a good job that. Thanks for the reminder to keep it sane.

  • Sorry to splinter your pond ice there, Joe – didn’t realise it was that thin. 🙂

    To clarify, I should point out my post was not ad hominem caricature, but balanced – albeit somewhat tart – psychological profiling. Further to that, have a look here for a quick primer (the relevant areas for Leo Grin in this case are numbers (3) and (5), and probably a little bit from (4) as well:

    @ Dan

    Joe, thanks for asking for people to leave the politics out of this discussion. Like you, I never thought this was a political or a religious matter.

    I can’t speak for Joe on this, but I think Leo Grin’s phrasing very clearly made his diatribe a political one. There’s simply no other way to make sense of what he says. His – somewhat amorphous – target is a fantasised political class, and his treatise is the imagined self-abnegation of western political culture. On this, he is fairly coherent. On literature, by contrast, his apparent credentials notwithstanding, he comes across as ill-informed and confused. To lump Howard’s southern racist tendencies, lurid psychosexual palette and atavistic brutalism in with Tolkien’s donnish pan-Catholic middle class wistfulness and longing for nobility and peace is a category error of gob-smacking proportions.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    My ice is indeed wafer-like, but it is no pond but yet a mighty lake of oblivion that waits for he that rashly plunges therethrough.

    I don’t doubt that Leo wants to see the fact that over the last twenty years or so four books have been published that he doesn’t like (though he proudly asserts he hasn’t read one and relies on cherry-picked amazon reviews for his expertise on another) as the latest deadly stealth attack in a holy war of liberals versus conservatives, but I have no interest in reinforcing any such cockeyed notion by making a raft of political points myself, or necessarily seeing them made in comments. I don’t necessarily agree with your dismissive assessments of Tolkien or Howard, but I totally agree with you that the two don’t seem of a piece at all, politically or otherwise, and Leo’s attempt to co-opt them onto one side of a spurious argument – in which Oxford don Tolkien becomes somehow opposed to college education and Howard an enthusiast for western civilisation – is absurd.

  • SwindonNick says:

    Joe, I think your stance is spot on – keeping a dignified distance from the debate. Instead of wasting your time in debate with the terminally stupid, I presume you are just looking at the sales of The Heroes and the chart position and letting that do your talking?!

  • Chris says:

    Fair enough, Joe. I’ll try to keep the political discussion sterile. But suffice to say, this is highly indicative of American political discourse. Some of us really do want to make the world a better place – and that unfortunately entails responding to the lunatic diatribes of the self-righteous as well as feeding the homeless, and resisting the urge to kill kittens, depending on your personal political leanings.

    But to get away from politics: usually the first indicator that one should not be taken seriously is the mention of Tolkien outside of an already engaged discussion of Tolkienesque topics. It was trendy there for a bit for fantasy authors to either declare that all modern fantasy was . . . well, nihilistically bankrupt I suppose, and that only Tolkien held the master formula, and that only they (the indignantt authors), having acquired the master formula, were worthy of the title ‘fantasy author’; or better yet, to declare that Tolkien did not write fantasy he wrote MYTH, and the author refused to be bogged down into that category. Because he writes MYTH.

    I think it was obvious to all involved that this was nothing more than marketing strategy, or marketing strategy that took advantage of the author’s cartoonish ego. The trend seems to have passed, and now we have returned to that age of comparing autthors to Tolkien via reviews on dust jackets.

    I felt much the same way upon simply reading an excerpt of Grin’s article at another blog. I think it has largely backfired, as well; reading the responses to his piece, I see a lot of folks mentioning Ice & Fire, The Name of the Wind, and other great modern works. I think many of them lean in Leo’s political direction, so the conversation isn’t really political for them. Mr. Grin, to me, is definitely out of his league; someone decrying the death of the classic American muscle car which has been replaced by fuel-sipping, corner-cutting, 0-60-time-smashing beasts from Japan and Germany.

    Oh, well. It’s sad that someone would want to inject their politics into literary discussion.

  • PW Shea says:

    I just think it’s a bit silly that of all people, he chooses you to demonize. From reading your stuff and, specifically the way your writing is often quite cynical of power and large societies contra the “free north” I’d always taken your bent as being of a libertarian sort (with whom someone like Leo might find a fair amount of truck). It’s part of what made reading your stuff so enjoyable.

    And yes, to lump REH in with Tolkein shows either very poor reading skills or, I don’t know what… maybe an example of a person’s politics crowding out there critical (if not common) sense?

    *SIDEBAR: I live in a pretty politically savvy area (Washington, DC) and I’ve universally recommended your books to them (regardless if they read fantasy or otherwise). Of those that did pick up one of your books, the more liberal they were the more they tended to think you were bemoaning what happens to a society without a moral order codified in a strong central government whereas the more conservative they were they tended to think you were championing libertarian virtues and bemoaning what happens to society that kills their god. I can see how either side would come to those conclusions.

  • KatG says:

    If you take the politics and the website location out, the article makes even less sense, is the problem. But I totally understand why you would not want to be stuffed into a sausage, Mr. A., and yes, this is the state of American political discussion, so out they go.

    Conan the Destroyer has become one of literature’s icons because he’s a kick-ass antihero. He’s a thief, outlaw and killer who builds his empire ruthlessly, sometimes doing heroic deeds that are mostly for his own power and glory while civilization collapses around him and through him into nihilistic barbarianism. He is smart and talented, but can be manipulated and is in many stories defeated. In Lord of the Rings, Tolkein presented power and glory as corrupting — what the One Ring offers. Galadriel survives temptation and rejects the power and glory. Boromir, desperate for his country and prideful, does not, betrays the cause and dies. The big task falls on someone who doesn’t want power and glory — an ordinary middle class burgher, a village squire and his ordinary servant. In the hobbits, Tolkien eschews epic myth and goes for folklore instead.

    What’s Mr. A doing? Well, he’s got Logen, who is basically Hercules, and Jezal, who is basically Oedipus, and Glokta, who is the tortured imp archetype — the malformed, abused, but often clever personage — the Norse god Loki, Shakespeare’s King Richard III, Stephen Donaldson’s bitter leper Thomas Covenant, etc. Mr. A is not wandering from the mythic poetic at all, nor is he dissecting it just because he’s using tragic myths instead of conquering ones. Tolkein used those too.

    Is he poetic? Well, Tolkein certainly was in the sense that he wrote like the don he was and affected a mythic, bardic style certainly. Howard had a different, more blood and thunder style that is not without poetry. Mr. A uses repetition, alliteration, symbolic and mirroring imagery and foreshadowing, metaphors, word play, etc. to bind his characters into the narrative that he wields with a less blunt cudgel than Howard.

    Mr. Grin’s main objection really isn’t the lack of mythic figures or the poetry of the narrative, though — it’s that Mr. A. is writing a noir tragedy, (which is kind of funny since a lot of noir tragedy writers have been very conservative.) Noir tragedies are mythic, back before we used the term noir, and noir is certainly a romantic, poetic style. The wisecracks and telling truth to power and getting crushed by power of the form (again, see Oedipus,) are certainly not absent from either Conan or Lord of the Rings. Conan deals with collapse again, Lord of the Rings’ ending is bittersweet, with victory but also tremendous harm and loss, magic and elves leaving the land, and shell-shocked, scarred soldiers coming home. Mr. A ends his noir tragedy also with victory, probably temporary, over barbarian Northmen and the cannibal wizards who want to unleash demon Armageddon, and the survival of civilization, unlike the more nihilistic Conan, but also great loss and consequences.

    Is this a new, recent thing in fantasy — the cynical political skullduggery, the dark personal corruption, the collapse of the world? Not unless we want to ignore an enormous number of authors, including Edgar Allen Poe, T.H. White, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, Ursula LeGuin, Tanith Lee, Robert Zelazny, Stephen King, Stephen Donaldson, Tim Powers, Gene Wolfe, Guy Gavriel Kay, Glen Cook, Stephen Brust and Howard’s pal, H.P. Lovecraft, as well as numerous pulp writers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Mr. A. has not reinvented the wheel; he has not even reinvented a cupholder, but he has produced a dark, mythic, poetic, sword and sorcery epic tragedy worth reading, as have other authors before him (Cthulhu and Frodo live!)

    Mr. Grin’s article makes…no….sense. And it also raises the obvious question, politics included: why in the world didn’t he go after China Mieville instead? 🙂

  • Eddwigg says:

    Blah Blah Blah Blah Why don`t you people just chill and read a book.

  • @KatG:

    “And it also raises the obvious question, politics included: why in the world didn’t he go after China Mieville instead?”

    Probably because China could *totally* kick his ass, on pretty much every level.

  • Chris says:

    One does not simply walk into China Mieville.

  • Dan says:

    Hot damn, I’ve been quoted by Richard Morgan! Yea, he thinks I’m a real doucher, but still…

    And thanks for staying out of the politics Joe and trying to stay on the literary points of Grin’s article. As Cuba Gooding Jr said in Jerry Maguire…”I love that about you!”

  • KatG says:

    Elspeth Cooper: “Probably because China could *totally* kick his ass, on pretty much every level.”

    Oh I don’t know. Didn’t Joe get into it with a bunch of street kids? But seriously, how do you attempt to make the “literary point” that modern fantasy writers are liberal commie nihilists and not lead with China Mieville? And why grab Swanwick’s 17 year old steampunk cross-dimensional fantasy novel that doesn’t even technically belong in the sub-category he’s lambasting? Also, didn’t Brandon Sanderson kind of write the Gandalf dark lord, radioactive cancer hobbits with Mistborn? Not that the concept couldn’t be revisited.

    We have numerous authors who are not doing dark tragedies with their fantasy, and often do well with it, but apparently they don’t count either. Strictly on literary terms, Grin has no leg to stand on. He’s just taking random potshots and claiming it’s a theory.

  • Chris says:

    Considering Mr. grin’s ‘literary pedigree,’ Mieville is probably ‘beneath him’ . . . or, more likely, he’s never heard of him. Seriously, where did this guy get his information? The more I think about it, the more astounded I am that he picked Joe as the target of his . . . well, I can think of lots of unseemly words for his diatribe, but we’ll leave it at that. GRRM is a self-admitted hippie, achieved conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War, and it’s apparent in the overwhelming majority of his work that he’s too open minded to be a social conservative. Why Joe?

  • Bazooka Joe says:

    Mr. Abercrombie,

    Just because some idiot says something does not mean it is worth listening to, let alone giving a rebuttal. People like that are just looking for attention – say something scandalous, it turns heads – and have no interest in being sensible or correct, only in drawing hits to their website. Pay them no mind.

    Joe Smith

  • Sedulo says:

    Perhaps LG hoped it would be read and posted on Joe’s blog…voici!

  • @KatG:

    I don’t think Leo was trying to make any kind of literary point at all. It was spittle-flecked quasi-political posturing. Very little of it stood up to any kind of objective scrutiny. I think Joe caught the flak purely because with a new bestselling book out, his light’s shining pretty brightly at the minute, and that always attracts the moths.

  • […] Abercrombie had a reply to Grin’s article here at his blog in which he said the following. Note what I said in my last post about the use of […]

  • Ryan says:

    read the big hollywood article. found it slightly amusing.
    it’s like going to a restaurant and going mad at the fact that they serve chicken dishes AS WELL as beef dishes.

    the fact that a medium can encompass so many different viewpoints is something to be celebrated, not to be derided.

    However and Joe I hope you are listening.

    The bit where he said…

    “Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sew”

    sounds absolutelt brilliant Joe get writing and do a lord of the rings rewrite to show how to truelt subvert the genre…

  • Tim H says:

    Bazooka Joe,
    Leo Grin is worth rebutting because there are parents out there right now who are checking their kids’ bookshelves because of what he has to say about modern fantasy.

    My parents made me smash my Rolling Stones and Rush albums when I was a teenager. Rush! The decentest band that ever was or ever will be! But there’s a crucifix and flames on the cover of Moving Pictures, quite enough to damn them in their eyes. At the time I couln’t argue with them, and I felt horrible for falling under the sway of that kind of music.

    Someone else out there may need to hear why modern fantasy matters and why it’s worth reading. I’m probably too emotional on this issue, but we can’t just dismiss it, and I’m very glad that Joe took it up. I’m going to go listen to some Rush now. And call my mom.

  • Tim H says:

    A new peice by Leo Grin is up on Big Hollywod, Sanctity and Sanity: The Ennobling Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien. The first half is actually a really lovely paeon to Tolkien, then it’s back to the usual. I could like this guy if he stuck to writing about Howard, Tolkien, and Lewis.

    I really wish Grin would read The Heroes. I don’t see how anyone could find it anything less than deeply moral.

  • Mr Optimistic says:

    Joe, if I may refer to you in such familiarity, I would just like to add my two cents. I feel the criticisms cited in your article is not worth any time beyond scoffing at it belligerently. Bringing politics into any discussion, especially one centered on literature aimed to entertain, is pointless and more importantly it’s destructive.

    You should spend more time on criticisms that hold water. In my mind this includes things that you can improve and that in turn improve the reader’s entertainment value. An example of such criticism would be:

    “Throughout your 5 books I’ve immensely enjoyed the moral battles that transpire, especially the ones where you take a man we clearly would hate and despise from any other author’s version of a hero and turn him into someone we care deeply for. Of course my favorite example would be the moral dilemma Ninefingers faces upon returning to the north.

    With that being said however I must say that your fourth book, BSC; lacked the magic of the first 3 books in that the protagonists seemed to be clearly lumped into “dislike me” and “like me” categories. I can only speak for my own personal feelings but Heroes returned me to a state of affection for your work with a huge show of force. Centering heavily on the “Is this man a hero, or is he a villain” question.

    However, and now we reach my final criticism worth mentioning; in your latest books I feel a certain loss of the trait that really drew me to the First Law Trilogy. The question of (after displaying the question of “villain or hero”) does it matter if someone is a villain or a hero becuase it’s only what people remember/know you as and not what you actually are. Is it more important to be at peace with yourself for what you are? or to be forever conscious of what people think of you and react accordingly. Those are the questions that I want you to expand upon.”

    I love your books becuase I always like thinking that men like Ninefingers and Gorst (and women like Monza) are good men who simply don’t have the pleasure of living in a civilized world. Just don’t forget that for me at least I don’t subscribe to your books for the gore or even for the story (though it’s pleasant storytelling), I come for the moral problems and the villains who think they’re heroes. More please.

    Very sincerely,
    M. Optimistic

    P.S. When do we get to see more of Kanta? The country seems to be the most unknown and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

  • […] Abercrombie’s good-natured response to Grin’s astute observations was  woefully insufficient as it amounted to little more than […]

  • Luke says:

    Does anyone else hear the echo of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind when reading Grin’s piece? In particular, I have in mind part two: Nihilism, American Style.

  • Tim H says:

    MrOptimistic, regarding your final criticism, don’t Craw and Beck show how characters in these situations attempt to find some peace with themselves rather than be regarded as simply heroes? Craw is the old veteran and Beck the green recruit, but they face exactly the same moral choice.

    To borrow from Leo Grin’s quotation of Tolkien, wich might apply to Craw and Beck: “At the same time one knows that there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible beauties of word or deed or face — not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there.”

  • simon bull says:

    ‘descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer’ must surely be a shoe-in for a the back cover of the next four books? Surely? No? Go on, I dare you.

    Ps. ‘ loved The Heroes.
    ‘what kind of a fucking wizard are you?’. Brilliant. Keep up the good work.

  • […] upadku fantasy, którą rozpoczął swoim wpisem Leo Grin, na zarzuty odpowiedział na swoim blogu Joe Abercrombie, a głos w dyskusji zabrali również R. Scott Bakker oraz Paul Charles Smith. Warto również […]

  • Mr Optimistic says:

    I did enjoy Becks ending significantly but it wasn’t what keeps me coming back to these books. Both Craw and Beck have (from a removed viewpoint) very direct choices; they know what makes them happy and they can both return to it easily.

    The men like Ninefingers, Jezal, Shivers, and Gorst are the core for me becuase the choices hey make are not always clearly for the better. And yet they make them and for the most part each of them attempts (no matter how pathetically)to be “a better man.”

    I’ll site my reasons at the end for saying this so that anyone who wishes to avoid a spoiler can do so easily.

    Craw and Beck never bother about whether they are good people, they simply want to be happy. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying them but in truth the questions they face respectively are:
    “Do I want to always be scared waiting to die? OR should I return to what I now love and appreciate for the lack of that fear and death?”

    and then:
    “Do I want to die as a token warrior for some people who know nothing of me? OR should I live as the warrior I’ve always been?”

    Both Beck and Craw face no dilemma, it’s clear as glass what makes them happy and what they’re comfortable with. They know themselves. While “knowing oneself” is novel in Abercrombie’s books it isn’t something I ascribe to them for.

    Semi-Possible-Spoiler Ahead:
    To broaden what I meant in my first post I’ll try to demonstrate more clearly through examples what appeals to me about Ninefingers and the bunch.

    Ninefingers is effectively happy on his journey with bayaz becuase he isn’t concerned with anyone’s past or anyone’s future. He forges a connection with a woman and finds himself almost (aka completely) happy. Yet when the journey ends he realizes he’s been a terrible man and he should account for that. To simplify (at the danger of oversimplifying everything haha):

    Ninefingers knows what can make him happy yet a part of him (his conscience perhaps?) will not let him be simply happy, he has wrongs he needs to put right. Now it’s debatable wether that is exactly what the author intended us to see, perhaps Ninefingers was just a coward unable to love again ect. But the reason isn’t important. It’s the fact that someone could turn away from what makes them happy in an effort to do the right thing. In effect and to sum up:

    This is the appeal:
    “Someone who thinks the right thing means more than just personal happiness.”

    I don’t think that applies to Beck and Craw. Beck makes an effort to atone for his sins but Craw effectively absolves him easily. Until more (if ever) of Beck is revealed I just don’t see him facing this dilemma. Craw is a bit more complex and arguably his code is evidence of a conscience but once again, just not enough evidence.

    This is dragging out so I’ll sum up Jezal, Monza, Shivers and Gorst.

    Jezal is a coward and impotent and yet at the end of the LAoK you hear him still trying to be a good man while speaking to Glokta of rebuilding. Even a jaded man-child still wants to do good even if he is incapable. In BSC Jezal (though all think him a fool) is still trying to help everyone.

    Monza may not be directly responsible for her crimes yet she holds herself accountable and accepts the dark name people have given her. Nothing is ever for herself (until she wants revenge) and yet she always finds those she tries to help corrupted and/or dead. I loved Monza for her mercy at the end of BSC. Revenge gave her no pleasure, and the only way for her to be a even a shadow of a good person was to grasp at every chance she could to be a good person. The difference perhaps (the author seems to hint to us) between good and bad is that a bad person ignores the opportunities to be good, while a good person leaps on those opportunities.

    I’ll skip the rest, I clearly can’t control my tapping fingers.

    M. O.

    PS: Glokta, Cosca, and Calder are unmentioned becuase for some emotional reason I like them, and I cant begin to put that into words. 😛

  • Tim H says:

    MrOptimistic, maybe Craw does know himself and makes his decisions accordingly, but Beck is still learning himself. I really think he’s the lynchpin of the whole story in the end. In horrific circumstances, what do you do? What’s the point of it all? I loved the contrasts between (and choices of) the two characters, but it’s the same hard wall they’re up against.

  • Tim H says:

    Though I admit there are those who would call Beck the linchpin and not the lynchpin of the story.

  • Sean says:


    Good book. The guy is expressing an opinion, and we all know what opinions are like… everyone has one.

    Looking forward to your next book.


  • Mr Optimistic says:

    I think, and pardon me for assuming anything MrH, that your feelings on war in general mirror those of Beck’s.

    Beck’s war: Horrors and needless killing

    Craw’s war: A job

    The difference there is of course Beck enters war as a romantic and leaves it with the viewpoint I’ve listen above while Craw held his even since he passed his bloody days.

    But the whole idea of a warrior’s “bloody days” is that they didn’t see war as horror after the killing and shock. My point was that instead of acting like the name he was given had been earned Beck immediately shrunk from it and the baggage that came with it. That’s wisdom way beyond his years in my opinion and the reason I had little taste for beck when compared to people like Jezal (given a “name” in a manner of speaking by bayaz thanks to his deeds) who acted far more human in my opinion.

    With Beck there was nothing for me to wonder about beyond “why did this boy not grab at the chance for glory like every other boy in the north?”

    I’m not saying his wasn’t an ending that I truly enjoyed though, it’s nice to see that the author can still write simple, good people into his world.

    This is what I meant when i criticized the heroes. Only Gorst really captured me in the way multiple characters have in previous books. In the first law trilogy everyone in fact held the hero or villain viewpoint depending on how you looked at them.

    The fact we can agree that beck and craw made peace with themselves and ended happily is PRECISELY the problem! There is no moral question they both made the right choices for themselves. Of course they did. Only Gorst really made me wonder in this book… and even he seemed weighted down to a simple villain.

    So while you may like Beck’s ending as I do, I feel as a whole Abercrombie is moving away from this feeling:

    “As I read, I suddenly realize that this man who I’ve come to root for and love could in fact be a monster.”

    And that feeling is what captured me completely in his first three books, and even significantly in BSC. If you’d like to frame a rebuttal please address this, since on the whole I feel we’re moving away from my meaning if we keep focusing on Beck and Craw.

    Sincerely, M.O.

  • […] argued Grin, was a function of modern writers’ desire to tear down heroic ideals of the past. Abercrombie wrote a post responding to Grin; so did a number of other people, including John C. Wright (pro-Grin), R. Scott Bakker (mostly […]

  • Stefan says:

    On a completely unrelated note. Why is the UK cover of THE HEROES so much cooler than the US cover?

  • Mr. Insight. says:

    Being insightful, I will get right to the heart of the matter.

    Fiction is fact wrapped in fun and fantasy to make the fact less abrasive. This is ALWAYS the case because even the most absurd work is a product of the mind that wrote it and is a truth of that mind. So, what stories we read transmit the truth of that work into our minds. If we embrace it, then it will affect our behavior.

    If you don’t believe that, then familiarize yourself with how propaganda works.

    So, the author of the article was complaining that the classic books taught the reader courage and honor and the current crop teach the opposite, or worse. That’s a disservice to society.

    That leads us to a real life test of values! And, it can be answered by Mr. Abercrombie or any writer of fiction, which is exciting, in my opinion.


    I have found all of Mr. Abercrombie’s novels on several torrent sites and could have them all for free in a matter of minutes. Alternately, I could travel to the book store, spending gas money, and about fourteen per book, and that would be a seventy plus expense for me.

    Now, based that info, if I rest my decision on the lessons I’ve been taught by reading Mr. Abercrombie’s books, which option do I choose.

    As a famous ancient superbeing once said, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”

  • Anoraknophobia says:

    Just finished The Heroes, and deffo your best work to date. Easily. Two other points:

    1) Leo is a bit of a spanner, IMHO.

    2) Chapter heading “Just Deserts” in the UK hardback. Is that a typo or was that an intentional play on words I missed? The North has a notable absence of sand, is all…

  • Sol Invictus says:

    Had Grin’s article linked, heard mention of this rebuttal, felt there were some things to say not so much about the tone of the piece, but some of the content.

    He brings up Serrano’s Piss Christ, for example, and the recently-censored video by (the late) David Wojnarowicz, “A Fire in My Belly.” I guess because there are crucifixes in both, that makes them the same damn thing. …Except that Serrano was a cheap provocateur and Wojnarowicz was expressing his own personal suffering with a crippling and widely stigmatized disease. (Elsewhere in the film, the artist sews his mouth shut with red thread. HIV-positive, he died before the work was completed.) The comparison is overtly simplistic, essentially meaningless, much like the quite literary Tolkienn and the more pedestrian Howard being, somehow, on the same “mythopoeic” playing field. (Howard, whose stories consist largely of rippling thews, heaving bosoms, and things being cloven by sharpened phalluses.)

    The funny thing about his argument is, as you’ve said above, that deconstruction is exactly what fantasy authors have always done, beginning with the guys he praises. Tolkienn did it with Norse tales which, in addition to being “mythopoeic,” were actually mythical. More than one element of Middle Earth (or “Midgard”) could be derived directly from the myths regarding the exploits of Sigurd. He has Regin the dwarf reforge the fragments of a broken sword (as Aragorn would later) into the sword, Gram, which he uses to slay the dragon Fafnir (or Smaug) and claim his vast treasure. (The origin of Fafnir the dragon, who was once a dwarf but was transformed by greed, also borrowed by C.S. Lewis for a set of events in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) Among Fafnir’s treasures is a ring, Andvaranaut, which has been cursed by Loki to destroy its owners; Fafnir murdered the king of the dwarves, Hreidmar, to obtain it.

    Of course, even that could be a reinterpretation of the Ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic. Certainly Tolkienn was aware of this story, even if the authors/recorders of the Volsunga Saga weren’t. Although personally I think a magical ring that makes you invisible but presents a singular temptation toward evil deeds is a little more interesting than a magical ring that makes you rich. (On the other hand, Sigurd already has a helmet that makes you invisible. Maybe helmets are cooler than rings.)

    That is, I think, the final nail in this argument’s coffin. Our mythopoeic heritage consists, by and large, of rewriting stories from other times and other places to suit contemporary grammar, interests, and attitudes toward gore and full frontal nudity. Andrew Lang even schlocked together some Greek myths without polytheism, in the midst of his fairly intriguing retellings of fairy tales. It seems to me that if you can do that with actual myths – and there are many-many myths which owe their origins to this, just ask Utnapishtim about that Noah business – then you might as well be able to do it with modern reboots of ancient myths. Certainly Tolkienn shouldn’t mind, as long as your magic follows its own rules and the fantastic happenings you describe are never dismissed as dreams or falsehoods.

  • Sam F G says:

    I think Mr J A writes like a dark angel. But I have more pressing concerns. Is Cas Shenkt a certain brother of an extremely powerful ‘someone’? As Yoru says in BSC as ‘he took a shocked step back…..”You,” he whispered..’ And who is Shenkt’s sister? And when will Logen and Ferro return? Would love to see a three way battle between Ferro, Monza and Ishri…..And yes Mr Abercrombie, I agree with the wise person who stated that the naysayers are just jealous. They arel entitled to their opinions, however bitter, misguided and wrong of head.

  • fish says:

    very liberal of you Joe to link to the Psycosmic site. Seemingly another one of those bloggers who seems to confuse “different” with “bad” or “wrong” And anybody who bigs up Stephen Donaldson deserves (imho)our deepest sympathy 🙂

  • Greg says:

    I’m sending Leo a copy of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. That should warm his cockles.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Tim H,
    I saw Leo’s new piece. Much less controversial, though he does still insist on speaking of the “backed-up commode” of books such as mine and Martin’s (with whom I am always delighted to be mentioned, of course). For a man outraged by the scatology of modern fantasy, the toilet-bowl of his critical writing really does overflow with poo-based metaphors, doesn’t it?

    Mr. Insight,
    Aaargh! Stabbed by mine own morally-absent knife! Or not?

    Mr. Optimistic,
    What’s a man with a name like yours doing in my cynico-nihilistic filth-sewer, may I ask?

    Sol Invictus,
    I think your arguments have the ring of truth about them.

    Trackbacks are good. People may follow them, and decide for themselves the validity of the arguments they find therein…

    I would think “Just Deserts” to be the correct spelling. Unless you were describing some very even-handed macaroons, or some such.

    No need! He can comment on it without reading it, like he did with the Heroes. Or consult it’s worst scoring amazon reviews, as he did with Erikson.

  • […] amount of comments. The comebacks, for and against were quickly written: Joe Abercromby’s response. Followed by this, and this, and this, and this, and this, oh… I’m slumming for […]

  • mia says:

    Everyone has a right to their own opinion but there should always be a modicum of respect even in giving a critique. If someone reads a book and doesn’t enjoy it, why can’t he/she just say it’s not his/her cup of tea and leave it at that? Why is there a desire to insult and destroy the work and/or the author to such dramatic extent? It’s one thing to criticize plot, characters or other story elements, it’s another to claim it’s causing the downfall of western civilization. I didn’t even realize western civilization was so fragile it could be endangered by the works of a handful of authors. (I’m actually a bit envious of Mr. Abercrombie and his alleged co-conspirators — you must be feeling quite powerful.) It isn’t just the actual opinion expressed that matters. The tone and spirit of expression matter equally if not more so. The world would benefit from much more restraint and self-editing and much less hyperbole and incitement.

  • Chris Upton says:

    Greg- I’m sure Bullington will be right up his street.Especially that naughty scene with the witch! But as Joe says not reading a book hasn’t stopped him from trashing it before.

  • Brett From Southampton! says:

    Making sweeping comments about peoples books without reading them is the way forward people!

    Why allow trifling matters such as plot,characters,realism or dragons (Not fantasy without a dragon eh?)to influence your opinions of people such as this ‘Abercrombie’ chap who has clearly ruined society and all humanity as well!

    (btw my mum was over the moon to receive her signed copy of the heroes thanks Joe)

  • Vladimir Stamenov says:

    I think that he should have been more respectful in his article (this Leo fellow that is), and that he shouldn’t have compared him to Howard to modern fantasy authors. It’s just that while Conan IS in fact sword&sorcery, it’s still far form the diversity of styles in S&S today. And even though I was a big Tolkienist when I was 13 years old (I’m 16 now :D), I can now see that a lot of people are right to say he wasn’t writing fantasy or literature, he was writing a mythos. And if this Leo chap wants some oldschool fantasy why not buy Mistborn!
    P.S.I can’t wait for Before They Are Hanged and Best Served Cold to get translated in Bulgarian!! Keep up the good work Joe!

  • Anoraknophobia says:

    Re: Just Deserts

    Well don’t I feel stoopid. Hat, coat, taxi for one…

  • PSMH says:

    I’m sorry, what? Really, Leo? May I call you Leo, Leo?

    I’m going to have to ask to you to take your first world problems and invective and move to the back of the line. Please try to get a grip and some perspective in the interim. Some people like vanilla. Some people chocolate. That does not make those who like chocolate, or, dare I say, pistachio, the enemy.

    Seriously. Take a deep breath.

  • Toby Holmes says:

    nice rebutal and a good discussion showing that reason and good sense have not completely left humanity. We can leave Leo in his simplistic world suckling on his security quilt as he has every right to do.

    Really just wanted to say congratulations on the success of Heroes, I enjoyed it very much and it was the first book I have bought via Kindle on my ipad. Very impressed that it was available on the same day as in print (delivery was somewhat quicker) rather than as an after thought as most new kindle titles are. I am not sure if I will always buy by kindle as I like books and the cover art is largely wasted in ebooks. That said it was a pleasent experience all round. A minor suggestion for a book like Heroes where the map was more than just a place filler a sub menu in the ebook where you could call it up again without loosing your place in the text might be useful. Good to hear that you have a new contract and I will await more productions floating downstream from your jaded littery sewer.

    I have always held the view that the more sacred the cow the riper it is for slaughter so I guess I wouldnt be buying Leo a pint if I ever met him. Apologies for the txt like writing, ipads are great to view stuff but useless to type anything on.

  • […] Recently he blogged about a certain reaction to his work that, at least in spirit, I am tempted to agree with. After all, can’t we have some more uplifting stories in this day and age? Do we know how to write for the sake of hope any more, or leastwise, do so in a way that doesn’t come off as hollow, or schmalzy? Do we know how to do epic in a way that is groundbreaking or truly moving and not simply hamhanded? […]

  • Matt says:

    To me this basically sounds like someone saying “You kids and your rock and roll!!”

    Except…Grin is only 40.

    I don’t get it.

  • Ben C says:

    I have to agree with some of the other comments this big hollywood writer is just trying to get some more hits to his website and maybe a bump in his paycheck. Today is the first time i ever heard of that website.
    I basically stumbled upon the First Law Trilogy on a Amazon “recommended for you” page. I quickly burned through the trilogy and then Best Served Cold. I found it enthralling.
    I believe what the author of that article lacks to pick up on is the reality in Joe’s (can I call you Joe?) fantasy work. I have had very long discussions with my grandfather who served in WW2 and my uncle who was an vietnam pow, and war is a nasty, perverted thing (admittedly i have no personal experience). The wars and skirmishes that these characters go through seem much more plausible than the unscathable characters that appear in many of the more classic works. (Don’t get me wrong i am a big fan of the classics too.)
    Keep up the good work Joe, the numbers don’t lie. You have a large fanbase.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Ben C,
    You may call me Joe.

    I make that 200 comments and 17 trackbacks. People sure do love a scrap, don’t they…?

  • Luke says:

    Hi Joe,
    perhaps we should simply burn all of your books. Maybe then Leo would be happy. (Plus, just think how much you could charge for them on the black market!)

  • JonathanL says:

    Joe, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I think your books need to be in the genre of “Postmodern Blasphemy.” That sounds way more intriguing than fantasy or speculative fiction.

    “Oh, you’ll find that in our ‘Postmodern Blasphemy’ section. It’s right past ‘Young Adult.'”

    Love it.

  • Luke says:

    I just stumbled across this article and thought it was pretty apt

  • […] SF/F community may be aware of the recent debate about contemporary fantasy between Leo Grin and Joe Abercrombie.  They and their followers argue over fantasy as art, social construct and moral fable totally […]

  • […] is now the way of the world, Abercrombie himself weighs in: I’m a little suspicious, I must say, of any argument that lumps Tolkien and Howard together […]

  • SteveWinsor says:

    I find it funny that the literary arts tend to be the literary arts’ worst enemy. Rather than intellectuals writing unsolicited criticisms of an author’s work, I’d much prefer to hear their opinions of work they like. I am more likely to pick up a book that, for example, Mr. Abercrombie recommends than to ignore one he bashes. I agree with the few posts that assert he is only writing it for the attention it will bring his column, which makes me sad we’re actually talking about him.

    Mr. Abercrombie, the next time you see an article that is as clearly ridiculous as that one is, just ignore it. I’d much prefer to see an (as always) interestingly discussed piece responding to what you think are legitimate criticisms of your work (that may boil down to personal preference or style or whatever)

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well, people do love hyperbole and an adverserial approach on the internet, as the two hundred and odd comments and twenty trackbacks to this post seem to demonstrate. It’s my most commented upon post in four years of blogging by a factor of more than 2:1. The two runners up, incidentally, are a less high pressure discussion about a review that found the cynicism of The First Law too much but without all the ridiculous hyperbole, and my story about being hit over the head by a banister. I think there is an interesting discussion to be had about the value of grit, realism (whatever that is) and cynicism in epic fantasy, but the political grandstanding and ludicrous exaggeration don’t help the case. Or rather do, if it’s attention you want…

  • SteveWinsor says:

    I think I see a new Joe Abercrombie back cover:

    “Josephine Aebercrom, philosopher of the Realist kingdom, has sworn to defend the values her people hold true, by any means necessary. She will set out to prove that, while her pen may be mightier than her sword, her prefered ink is red.

    Leonard Smiles, belligerant priest in the ancient religion of Tolkhow, has been preaching against the evils of Realism for years. However, a chance encounter with a forgotten race of metal opens a whole new world of posibility, one that will see the Realist kingdom fall.

    Over 3 years the battle for supreme ideology will be decided. But with both sides riddled by political grandstanding, ludicrous exaggeration, and attempts at character assassination, it is unlikely that the most mature, or even the sharpest mind, will prevail…”

    (Said completely tongue in cheek, of course :P)

  • travis says:

    This is my favorite (from part 2 of the overly verbous rant).
    “The author [Tolkien] himself disliked academic dissertations, seeing them for what they usually are: examples of the writer trying to preen and peacock his intellectual superiority over the reader, not by understanding or empathizing but by dissection and vivisection. ”

    Interesting Leo, very interesting…

  • Bazooka Joe says:

    “On the other side are, well, me, Steve Erikson, Michael Swanwick, and Matthew Woodring Stover, apparently. I’ve never met those guys, or read any of their work, I must admit.”


    Mr. Abercrombie, I cannot recommend Steven Erikson’s “Gardens of the Moon” enough. Devastating in scope and impressive in it’s (fictional) cultural depth, it is not a series (The Malazan Book of the Fallen) that you should miss. I’m a little surprised you haven’t read any of his stuff. Though George RR Martin is certainly skilled, unlike him Erikson can actually finish a series – book 10 just came out a week ago. Erikson has been writing, on average, a ~900 page book a year. Every year. For the past ~8 years. And they’re good. Now that is a feat.

    If you haven’t read Glen Cook’s works… for one, don’t admit such a travesty to anyone and two, correct it by picking up “The Black Company” immediately.

    I’m now curious to see who Michael Swanwick and Matthew Woodring Stover are; gonna look them up. Thanks.

  • James Morton says:

    In my humble opinion Joe like many before him, came along and gave a jaded and tired old genre the right royal kick up the backside that it needed. I remember Tolkien in his preface, saying had he written the book as some sort of statement about current events, in other words had he intended it to be realistic…then the Ring would have been used as a weapon, Saruman could very well have forged his own and Mordor would have been occupied. In many ways this is what Joe Abercrombie has done with his books. When the second book saw the end of the “typical” fantasy quest for the sacred maguffin of evil doer smiting…and it had all the principal characters staring at the contents of a certain sacred box, I just about fell off my seat laughing.
    The books aren’t poison but an honest and engaging tale, were he has put all human frailties on the table. Heroism, cowardice, good old fashioned greed. Vested interests, egos, real-politic and some good old manifest destiny. In other words he made a fantasy world that is actually believable.

    I think the whole attack at Joe’s work is really nothing more than a cheap shot from an author who churns out by the numbers fantasy drudgery which is nothing more than cheap Tolkien rip off’s.

  • Clarke says:

    I must raise the pint glass in praise to your thoughtful response to Leo’s criticism. However, I can’t help thinking of Wesley Snipes’ character from the movie Mo’ Better Blues responding to Denzel Washington’s character when he complains about a lack of black people in the audience, “Bullsh*t! Everything you just said is bullsh*t!” would have sufficed just as well.

  • […] Joe has been busy since the release of The Heroes – the fifth book set in the world of the First Law trilogy. He was interviewed by The Sword and Laser today. It’s definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan and/or a writer. He gives some great insights on his writing process as well as some commentary on the recent controversy stirred up by Leo Grin at BigHollywood. […]

  • Catriona Campbell says:

    Might I congratulate you, Mr. Abercrombie, on achieving Sauron-type status? I knew you were good, but I’d no idea you’d achieved the position of Evil Overlord Intent on Ruining the Universe and Encouraging the Kiddies to Watch Porn, Not Brush Their Teeth Before Bed, and Similar Naughtiness.

    It’s reassuring to know that I finally have somewhere to lay the blame for my moral decreptitude, and the decline of civilisation as we know it. All those years of blaming fast music, and colourful computer games, when actually it was the bold books I was reading that were playing havoc with my fragile little mind.

    By all means, let us return to the days of fluffy unicorns, somberly-dressed damsels in distress, and barbarians that are never more vulgar than “Oh fooey, I burned the muffins”.

  • Katrine says:

    Dear Mr. Abercrombie

    I have no idea what this argument is about because I just read fantasy books, where my judgement doesnt go beyond wether I was entertained and to some extent brought to think (it happens on occasion).
    Anyway I was just stuck on a small part of your post where you wrote about Steven Erikson, saying you had never read any of his books. I am wondering wether you are a nutcake or just a masochist? (I mean that in the nicest way possible, Im a nutcake, and proudly so) If you truely have not read any of the Malazan books I will think of you as that author (whose books I love) but who has this delicious chocolate cake sitting on his desk when he writes, and refuses to eat it. Honestly, eat it!

    About Tolkien, I recall that he was a professor of linguistics, and to me it seems very much as if he wrote the Lord of the rings for himself, and not for anyone else. It is frankly a very unmanageable story in the way its edited and imo, is not that well written. Im not going to deny the fact that it had a profound influence on bringing fantasy litt. to a mainstream level, and that he had an amasing imagination. I also think he had a deeply felt motivation to do something other than write a fantasy novel. Im not sure what it was, but the books never felt to me as an authors desire to entertain, share or even bring me into his mindscape. Its allways felt like a deeply personal endevour to me (but then Im a nutcake).Celebrating Tolkien as the end all and be all (in fantasy litt.)to me is like celebrating the wheel in its original form. The first ones were made of stone, but isnt it ok to say the rubber ones are a vast improvement?

    sorry for my english, Im not a native 🙂


  • Ben Cooper says:

    I’d like to know Mr Grin’s take on the Thomas Covenant books. For me, Donaldson’s world was a bleak and frightening place where even the hero was a self-loathing rapist and yet the stories still kept me entertained and probably are the reason that I enjoy darker fantasy.

  • fgalkin says:

    I find it fascinating how Mr. Grin managed to confuse realism and nihilism in Mr. Abercrombie’s work. While there are certainly dark themes present in his books, I never felt there has been any real misanthropy or pointless darkness. Likewise, if Mr. Grin laments the decline of the heroic character, perhaps he should read and examine the motivations of a certain Conan “crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women” the Barbarian.

  • RagingClam says:

    For some reason Grin’s piece made me think of how much I miss the skills of Sam Peckinpah at his best – so much talent wasted because he drank himself to death.

    Now that would be an awesome prospect, an Abercrombie novel filmed by Peckinpah!!!

    I find it informative that conservative bastion, Charlton Heston, fought to keep Peckinpah on as director of “Major Dundee”, and offered to waive his salary to see shooting completed on key scenes (the producers kept Heston’s check AND reneged on the scenes), when the studio balked at what Peckinpah was doing.

    I guess I have too much tolerance for all kinds of fantasy, from virtuous heroes to dark “noir” nightmares. Grin can stay safely in his corner, while I wander through the varied landscapes of the genre.

    If the characters are great, and plot fascinating, I’ll read it.

    — Seattle

  • […] Grin discusses The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists. Fantasy author Joe Abercrombie […]

  • […] Fantasists, for supposedly trashing the popular tropes in fantasy literature. Joe responded with this piece on his […]

  • […] they filled in certain usual parts in fantasy. Joe Abercrombie has a great rebuttal to this at his own website which I generally agree with. Reply With Quote + Reply to Thread […]

  • […] few months ago I came across this very interesting discussion by Joe Abercrombie. I had become a fan of the writer since my review and his account of how he was unfavourably […]

  • […] erityisesti Abercrombia kohtaan sai mielenkiintoni heräämään. Lopulta, kun törmäsin vielä Abercrombien Grinille kirjoittamaan vastineeseen, niin miehen tuotanto oli pakko ottaa […]

  • […] books, books that reinforce our feelings about justice.  Abercrombie wrote back on his blog here.  For a time, the debate spilled over into the confines of several popular literary websites.  […]

  • […] in particular.  And a proper storm in the internet teacup ensued, didn’t it, though?  My own response became my most commented-upon post of this year or, indeed, ever, by some considerable margin, with […]

  • C. Sandlin says:

    Loved this rebuttal, which said (with more panache) much of what I sputtered at the screen after slogging through the awful argument presented by Mr. Grin.

  • Chestertonian Rambler says:

    Coming late to the argument, but thought I’d throw out my 5 cents.

    At the end of the First Law trilogy, I felt more than a twinge of disappointment. The characters–especially Ninefingers–had satisfying (if often less-than-ideal) conclusions, but the metafictional game of “Let’s Turn Tolkien on His Head” left me a bit cold. I could psychoanalyze myself and say that I expect a certain hopefulness in my heroic fantasy, that I turn to it for encouragement and a world in which political agency exists and can be used for good. In short, a genre that often is associated with idealism (and, at best, the resultant drive to make the world a better place) was turned in on itself–and I found that my desire for the old story overwhelmed the legitimate cleverness of this ending.

    This doesn’t, in my opinion, make it a bad book. I think the ending’s departure from fundamental expectations of the genre enlivens the field as a whole–if nothing else, it helps authors like Robin Hobb convince me, if only for a second, that their works will end on a similarly pessimistic note. And even if the ending were a failed experiment (which reactions of other readers make me doubt), it’s not like the First Law trilogy was the only book published that year. The Lies of Locke Lamora, for instance, exhibited a more earnest conventional morality (and even piety) beneath its brilliantly foul-mouthed surface. The Name of the Wind came out in 2007, and that may be the most respectful, rhythmic, mythic, and gentle-spirited fantasy book since The Last Unicorn. Tolkien’s influence–and conservative mythmaking–is alive and well.

    I have an odd sympathy for critics who feel deprived of a certain expectation of the fantasy field, even if his complaints are unfounded. Most people pick up fantasy books with the expectation of being treated to a constellation of delights. I wanted political intricacy, heart-pounding adventure, lovable characters, and an uplifting ending. I got three out of four, and was happy. If I had only wanted the ending, I might have felt much more betrayed.

    But the answer to the discovery that an author doesn’t give you what you want should generally be to read someone else, not to rant about the end of the world.

  • Leona says:

    I guess he never read the 19th century Russian classics, Albert Camus, or the Greek tragedies for the matter. Nihilism, grittiness and moral ambiguity are nothing new and have been written to death since the dawn of civilization, starting with the Sumerian epics written in cuneiform on clay tablets.

  • Big Fan says:

    Just thought I would point out that your link to the OP goes to Breitbart now… kinda alarming.

  • Glenn Murray says:

    Ok. So am I still allowed to like Logan? All these rules are so confusing.

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