I mentioned Tolkien in a previous post, and it’s true that we all labor in his shadow who write any sort of fantasy. I’m certainly conscious of the Old Perfesser’s influence on The Honeythief—in some of the atmospherics, sure, but also in the dialogue. I think Tolkien’s dialogue skills are pretty underrated, especially his deployment of various levels of diction, based not only on who is speaking but to whom. I’ve got the BBC radio production of the Lord of the Rings on CD, and listen to it about once a year, all thirteen hours of it; and while the action scenes are sometimes hokey or silly, for the long sequences where the script simply looses the cast of British stage actors—Michael Hordern, Ian Holm, Bill Nighy, and Sir Robert Stephens among them—onto Tolkien’s language, it’s never less than riveting. That those same lines also stand up to the more naturalistic performances of Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood et al. is testimony, I think, to the sturdiness of their construction.
So yeah, there’s something from Tolkien, but less than you might think. I’m less interested in linguistic consistency than he, for one; the Professor famously invented his languages first, then cooked up his stories basically as an excuse to use ‘em. Me, I’m mostly in it for the puns. And thematically—politically, even—The Honeythief reaches for conclusions in reaction to Tolkien, an argument or rebuttal to his themes. I really don’t want to get into it now, because it specifically relates to the ending, but I will say that if you think you know how this is all going to wrap up, you may be surprise, disappointed, or even angry. I’ve had the ending in mind pretty much since I first started this, and while it may not be the outcome you’d hoped for, it is, I think, the right outcome. Again, more on that when the time comes.
Standing also at my shoulder as I write, I feel the presence of Gene Wolfe, who in his Book of the New Sun created a world of remarkable depth and scope from the materials of suggestion and vocabulary, who understands better than any other writer now living how stories both reflect and shape a culture, whose love of language helped to form my own; Cormac McCarthy, another writer of remarkable learning, whose Blood Meridian does everything this book sets out to do—being all at once a coming-of-age narrative, a horror story, a meditation, a travelogue through a brilliantly-drawn alien landscape—all of it rendered in prose that begs to be read aloud, and most of it, astonishingly, true; Lovecraft, for sure, for the tone of lurking, otherworldly terror that keeps creeping in around the edges; China Miéville, who, with Iron Council especially, finds new directions for fantasy fiction while simultaneously hearkening back to its weird-pulp roots; and dozens of others, whose echoes, direct or indirect, have seeped into the song that is The Honeythief.
The next book, whatever it is, will be something extremely different, and will show a different set of influences. That’s as it should be, I think; every job requires a different set of tools, and every journey provides its own companions along the way.