One of the authors who delights my soul is George MacDonald (1824-1905). He wrote faerie tales and children’s stories and poems and these weird Gothic romances that are also Christian, my favorite of which (so far) is The Baron’s Apprenticeship.
Often, when George MacDonald begins a story, he begins it with description, and it’s magical, although I admit it was a little confusing to get into as a kid:
“I don’t care about this mountain – where’s the action?”
“I don’t care that it’s raining – who’s the story about?”
As I got older, though, and better at reading, I grew to love those opening pages, where we’re simply looking at something. “Patience,” these descriptions say. “We’ll get to the goblins and the Fae and the witch-angels and the skeleton-people and the crazed painters plotting murder in due time.”
I began my first few stories with description, and then found out in writing classes and in books-about-writing and in reading more fiction from my own century that beginning with description is no longer fashionable. Save it for later, if you don’t cut it out entirely. Now I try to begin with character, with strong voice, with someone doing something or wanting something or whatever.
Part of me misses those old stories, though, and their mist-riddled glades and silver moonlight or blazing daybreak over the mountains onto isolated farmland.
Anyway, Hyperion is not a book by George MacDonald, as you can see from the cover. But it does begin with some pretty heavy description. And while the part of me that paid attention in my writing classes is a little annoyed, the part of me that loves George MacDonald feels welcomed:
A thunderstorm was brewing to the north. Bruise-black clouds silhouetted a forest of gymnosperms while stratocumulus towered nine kilometers high in a violent sky. Lightning rippled along the horizon. Closer to the ship, occasional vague, reptilian shapes would blunder into the interdiction field, cry out, and then crash away through indigo mists.
~ Hyperion, Dan Simmons
I don’t expect to like Simmons’ “vague, reptilian shapes” as much as the ones George MacDonald brought to life. I also don’t expect any other aspect – any other part – of this book to remind me of George MacDonald’s writing in any way; I expect Simmons will be wildly, perhaps violently different. But maybe I like the story itself.
Or maybe it simply makes me wish I were reading a 19th-century Scottish author instead.