Thursday, February 03, 2011

Donaldson and Clavell?

I've often wondered whether JK Rowling took inspiration from reading the work of American SF/fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson. Some of the phrases in her Harry Potter books seem to indicate such inspiration. Lately, however, I find myself wondering whether Donaldson himself might have taken inspiration from a fellow novelist: James Clavell, author of Shogun, which I'm currently rereading.

The evidence is sketchy, I admit, but as I've been rereading Clavell's novel, Donaldson's tropes and diction have occasionally come to mind. One example is the locution "God-rotting," used by a Dutch sailor in Clavell's novel and also by a character in one of Donaldson's novels, Darsint in A Man Rides Through. These are the only two instances of "God-rotting" that I've ever read.

Then there's the behavior of Toranaga, the daimyo who spends most of the story denying any ambition to become Shogun. Toranaga has never lost a battle, and somewhere just after the middle of the novel, he feigns capitulation to his enemies, doing such a convincing job that even his own minions are convinced they will have to follow their lord into ignominy. This closely resembles the ploy used by King Joyse in both books of the Mordant series, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. Joyse plays the doddering fool for most of the length of the story, revealing only toward the end that he had been in control the entire time, having pretended weakness both to draw out his enemies and to keep his own people in close orbit around him, where they would be in a position to do what was necessary when war finally broke out.

I had one or two more data points I wanted to add, other bits of Clavelliana that may have been borrowed (or merely referenced-- no need to accuse anyone of underhandedness, here), but they've slipped my mind, dammit. Gotta learn to take notes faster.



Surprises Aplenty said...

I read and enjoyed the Thomas Covenent (sp?) books but never read Donaldson's other work. Oh, did he write a crime noir series under a pen-name?
...Why, yes, he did:

Anyway, I also read Shogun and enjoyed how taxing Toranaga's deception was on him. I think he once felt near heart-attack by acting defeated.

Maybe I should read more Donaldson.

Kevin Kim said...

I haven't read any of Donaldson's Mick Axbrewder novels (written as Reed Stephens), but I'd like to.

Yeah, I only recently got past that part of the book where Toranaga has chest pains.

Donaldson and Clavell are, generally, total opposites in terms of writing style: Clavell's prose is rather dry and clipped, with some events happening very suddenly and described with almost too much concision.

Donaldson, by contrast, has never met an adjective or 50-cent word he didn't like, and while it's tempting to dismiss his overwrought style, he puts words and ideas together so meticulously and evocatively that it's hard to get mad at him.

I was careful to refer to "tropes and diction" for that reason: in general, it's impossible to confuse the two writers because they're such polar opposites, stylistically speaking. Occasionally, though, certain images or brief turns of phrase in Donaldson create echoes of Clavell.

A bit of chronology: Shogun was published in 1975 (the paperback novel was, anyway); the Mordant's Need two-book series was published in 1986. Plenty of time for Donaldson to have read some Clavell.

Not that I have enough data to really press the point, of course; I'd have to go back and reread Shogun from the beginning to find those other excerpts that put me on this train of thought.

Meanwhile, yes: I'd recommend Donaldson's five-book Gap Cycle, which I recently reread. I've also been reading his Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; the newest novel has been out in hardback since last October, but I'm waiting for the paperback: one thing I've learned from reading novelists' interactions with readers is that publishers use the switchover from hardback to paperback to correct any manuscript errors that were found after the hardback was published-- typos, story inconsistencies caught by avid readers, etc. So for me, the new rule is: never buy the first printing! (JK Rowling, who interacts regularly with her readers, has a lot to say on that subject, too: plenty of errors have been caught by fans of Harry Potter.)

The Maximum Leader said...

Consider this an edit for the paperback version of this blog...

Blackthorne was English. He was piloting a Dutch ship.

Kevin Kim said...

Maximum Leader,

Was I somehow in error? The phrase "God-rotting" is indeed uttered by "a Dutch sailor": it's not even obvious which sailor it is, since they're all trying to talk to Blackthorne at once (this is the part of the story where Blackthorne, in all his hatamoto splendor, is finally reunited with his crew, who are being held in the eta village; "God-rotting" is the adjective used by one sailor to describe Japanese green tea applied medicinally-- Chapter 48, page 828). Best guess as to who utters the phrase: Johann Vinck (who mainly has the floor at that point) or Sonk or Van Nekk or Croocq (who've been interrupting).

I didn't mention Blackthorne at all in the above post because I didn't see how he was relevant to the point I was making about Clavell/Donaldson. Apologies if I somehow made things unclear.