The Poetry of Good Prose

Since the enormous popularity of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy books have been multiplying like mice in an abandoned grain field. Often they appear as trilogies and even longer combinations. The library stacks have whole sections for them, but how do you tell the mediocre from the best? I would certainly like to know because I find fantasy very entertaining and diverting when it’s good and very boring when it’s bad. Actually there is no way to tell these books by the cover. You have to dip into them and see if they come up to your expectations.

For me, good writing is an important criteria and good writing is a very subjective matter. I require a certain lyricism, a certain literary music that I can hear when the writing is my kind of writing. The best prose has to contain a certain level of poetry, and you may have noticed that the best fantasy books are often filled with the author’s poems. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle the poems are crude and tongue in cheek, but they appear nevertheless and they add a great deal to the veracity of the fantasy. Somehow they make it more real.

In The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, the music and the poetry is in the writing. As in the best plays, the dialogue, though completely realistic, has a lyric rhythm and flow. It moves smoothly and we can enjoy the unbroken flow, like taking a rowboat down a placid river and being carried along by the water. By the time I had read several pages of that fantasy I felt certain that I could trust that author, that he would not let me down. It doesn’t take me long to try out a fantasy book because I either get that feeling of security in the writing right away or I quickly put it down.