Crossing Genre Lines

originally posted by Angela Bawden

First, I want to say that I love Janny Wurts’ writing style - her prose is close to poetry in a way that I adore. I had just decided that her writing was something I wanted to own, and so when Traitor's Knot came out, I bought it without reading it first (which I rarely do) with the intention of buying up all the other books of the series I'd already read, to make a complete collection. But then I was disgusted by a section, only two pages long (yes, I counted) that has turned me off reading anything more of hers. (She could have fixed it by deleting only one sentence, actually…maybe.)

In Janny Wurts' last book released in the USA, Traitors Knot, there is a section in which (I think) she crosses genre lines to an unacceptable level. Sci-fi/Fantasy can get graphic, but when I want explicit sex scenes, with specific sexual functions described (even if "prettily"), then I'm going to go to the romance genre. The part is when the main couple are having a tryst in the forest…and then the fat prophet comes and breaks it up. If Wurts had stopped there, I would have felt she had crossed over into the romance genre, but not to unacceptable levels. (lets face it, genre lines are meant to be blurred to some degree.) But then Wurts went a step too far. I wont include any spoilers, but those who've read it know what I'm talking about when I say "spurt". Grows!!! I know it's adult fiction (and I am an adult, so no "read for your age" quips), but I was offended! So much so that I immediately took the book to the local thrift store and dumped it in their donation bin (my respect for the written word being too great from me to throw it away).
I just want to know, am I the only one who felt that way? I felt she betrayed her readership. She had been careful in all of her other scenes describing potentially crass material to couch it in non-offensive language. I know America traditionally has stronger moral compunctions than Europe, and having liven in Japan for 9 months, I know that morality has several different definitions. But still, there are (or should be) limits. And I feel she crossed it in this book.
Janny Wurts, if you read this, know that I want to read your books, I really like your style, but I refuse to own something that I would be ashamed to share with my children when they grow older. To other readers, do you feel this way too? I'm honestly curious. (please no "hate" replies…though with a topic this controversial, maybe that's asking too much…)

originally posted by RapierIan

While I wasn't offended by the scene, I would say that I thought there was considerably more detail than needed to be. Usually I appreciate the amount of description Janny puts into every scene, but sometimes (and definitely especially that scene in particular) I think that not everything needs to be spelled out. The other scenes that this sometimes annoy me a bit are when some work of spellcraft is being performed and it's being reiterated for the nth time that the characters have to hold the spellcraft just perfect or the world will end or something. I think enough grand sorceries have been cast this series that we can assume that's the case when they're gearing up for another large piece of magic.

originally posted by Derek Coventry

To be so offended that you have to get rid of the book !!! Someone has serious 'hangups'. I presume the children were adopted.

originally posted by John Parsons

Presumably you are a Christian? If so what do you think of Genesis 38 verse 9? Perhaps today we sometimes mistake a desire not to be corrupted by this worlds obsession with sex as if it were just recreation (a desire I share BTW)and the other extreme of viewing it as somehow 'unnatural and unmentionable'. Its very clear that God's people in the past had neither view.


originally posted by Greebo

I didn't find it offensive at all, just overdone, but that would hardly be the first time I've thought that about a scene in WOLAS. But not so overdone that it would stop me reading it voraciously or loving the series. :wink:

As far as "genre crossing" goes, that I don't really get. Books are about life, and life doesn't carve stuff up into parcels with labels on, quite the contrary. Genres can be a useful way of trying to describe a story in general terms, but I see no reason why a story should be molded to fit solely inside one or the other. The best stories have a bit of many, I think, just like life. Thats how I see it, anyway. I wonder if you would really find a scene like the one Angela didn't like in a romance book?

originally posted by Susan C

As the mother of two children I would NEVER be ashamed to have my children read Janny's books. I would be THRILLED to see them read such outstanding prose. They are teenagers and old enough to read the material. The material is not intended for young children as the writing is too advanced. These are not children's books.

The scene in question, in my opinion, was not too graphic and without the whole scene included one could not truly understand Dakar's squeamishness. When an author makes you feel something-anything-then the author has done her job. The scene was not comfortable, but then, that is what gives it more of an emotional impact.

S P O I L E R S ************* S P O I L E R S

When I read that section I felt Elaira's pain and humilation of having an intimate moment that she has been waiting for decades interrupted. I felt Dakar's pain and embarrassment. I hurt for Arithon losing this moment of happiness.

I have never found anything in any of Janny's books to be offensive. Janny's writing goes into detail about the violence to show how horrible war really is. She does not hold back and allows us to experience from both sides. This is important for adults to read and understand.

The scene was not really that graphic. It was written in a way, we all clearly understand what was happening, but I have read things much more graphic. I thought is was a well-written scene and to have deleted any portion of it would have significantly changed how we understood things that happened in Stormed Fortress.

Good books are not one that never make us "squirm" in discomfort. Good books make us think and feel. A scene that caused me great pain was in WOV-the Havens. The horror and pain of the slaughtered men and clansmen and tribesmen ripped through me. I understood how Caolle felt. I also knew the great suffering Arithon was experiencing. I understood Arithon reasoning. But it was a painful to read, but it did not offend me. It did what is was supposed to -it made me THINK and FEEL. It was exceptional writing at its best.

Since Angela was so offended she could not keep TK, then I would not recommend she read SF.

originally posted by Hellcat

I agree with Susan the scene made me squeamish and uncomfortable, like I had interrupted that wonderful intimate moment, and as such it served its purpose. The fact that I have problem reading it says that it was well written.

I didn't find the written particularly adult, although the biology is reasonably obvious this wasn't and erotic piece (I read some erotica).

I also don't have a particular problem with WELL WRITTEN cross genre books, (Janny's one of the few who manges to mixed Fantasy and Sci-Fi) being in love is such a big part of all our lives, that perhaps it should be treated with a higher regard, than "trashy romances"?


originally posted by Brittani Pasek

I disagree with you Angela.

I don't remember who said it but I'm sure it was an american president, who said, "People like literature that BITES"

A lot of us like the fact that Janny's words bite. They make us think, imagine, and feel. That was a wonderfuly written scene that was written just to the perfect point of biting without actually tearing off any flesh, if you get my idea. The writting of this scene deserves nothing but praise.

As far as RaperIan's comment about too much detail in some of the other scenes of spellcraft. I disagree there too. I think it is important to remember, every single time, how difficult some of the undertakings are. Not to mention that the detail in which Janny writes gives a whole new perspective of the awsomeness of each new event. Janny knows what she's doing when she writes the way she does (other wise we wouldn't like her so much, remember!!)

I do agree that life is not divided into genres and therefore good books are not specifically one genre. Personally I think "Janny Wurts" should be a genre all her own, but thats just my opinion.

originally posted by motley

I actually smiled as I read this scene, and thought, bravo Janny. The reason I did was that I have seen too much pain and angst in the world over sex and sexuality. The squeamishness and the grossness of what is a totally natural thing is a sign of massive healing needing to take place. It's time such issues were dealt with, and a huge amount of moralising and judgement dispensed with, and power over our bodies and feelings taken back into ourselves. God/Universe/Creator/Divinity does not punish for what is essentially crafted in a Divine image.

Add to that, the squeamishness felt by many over male anatomy. I haven't heard any comments about Elaira's naked form or Talith's or Glendian's breasts. Why?

You might as well be grossed out by the pollen from plants, whilst you are at it.

I'm female btw.

originally posted by Lyssabits

Wow. Of all the reasons to be offended by this scene, the "explicit" nature of the scene I don't really understand. All things considered, this was one of the LEAST explicit sex scenes I've ever read in a fantasy novel. :wink: (Seriously, the description was ACCURATE, but not EXPLICIT in my opinion. You knew what was happening, but it's not like we were getting a play-by-play there.) And I think the argument that she couches crass material in more acceptable terms is pretty offensive… insulting to both the act of physical intimacy and to Janny's writing.

There's nothing crass about Arithon and Elaria's relationship and that's not because they're physically separated. Even if they were making out on every other page, there would be nothing crass about their relationship. I think the notion that love and intimacy are different, that physical love and emotional love are somehow unequal, is poisonous. There's a difference between love and lust, true, but physical intimacy is both appropriate and necessary in the context of a healthy relationship. Arithon and Elaira's love for each other, their ability to connect to each other, is being hindered by their separation. It doesn't make their love "pure", it handicaps them.

Physical intimacy is not crass. The circumstances under which people engage in it can be, but the actual act? Embarrassing, maybe, sometimes kinda gross with all those fluids everywhere… but crass? No. That scene was definitely offensive, but not in the ways you've said. Exactly the opposite, the actions of the interrupters were crass, the action Dakar was forced to take were crass because they violated Arithon and Elaira's intensely personal moment. It was the violation, not the… ahem, spurting result that was crass. The love the two of them were attempting to share was beautiful and when the others come crashing in like they have some right to interfere… that was the offensive part.

Arithon and Elaira are a wonderful example of exactly what sort of role physical intimacy should play. This is a deeply respectful relationship, the two of them loving the other for exactly who they are. They are engaging in an activity with their eyes wide open, Arithon completely respectful of the dangers this could pose Elaira and taking every precaution they can to make sure she remains unharmed and comfortable. Neither one asks more of the other than they are willing to give, and the act of giving to each other is where they get the most pleasure. That's pretty much exactly what I think the model for a relationship that's ready to become sexual should be. It furthers a relationship built on trust and respect. There it's a means to greater connection. I think sex is only crass when it's the end goal of being in a relationship. It's crass if I decide to be with this person because I want to have sex… not I want to have sex because I love this person, and I want to express that love in every way and on every level I can.

originally posted by Lyssabits

Also slightly off topic but… RapierIan, I'm totally with you about the magic scenes. :wink: While I guess I see that maybe "new" readers need to be reminded that the magic is dangerous, it's getting a little tedious for loyal readers. Same thing for me with how Arithon is constantly having to prove himself to the various clansmen that he meets… Yes, yes, he's very impressive. The characters (and prose, judging by the way the incidence of italicized phrases seems to go up in every book) remain constantly surprised by his abilities but I, admittedly, am getting less and less impressed every time with the urgency of the descriptions. Seems like he spends a lot more time doing things like this and less time goofing around like he used to… he's always been intense, but found plenty of time to be amusing in earlier books. Seems like he becomes more and more grim as the series wears on and his straits actually improve. He's in a much better position in this most recent book than any of the previous ones and yet I found him to be more joyless than in all the other books. Maybe that's just me. I guess I just wish there were a way to ease up on the exposition, but I doubt since there's new readers to take into account and new generations of characters too. We're sort of getting it from all sides. :wink: I suppose it's the curse of multivolume works. Too little and no one can keep the story straight from installment to installment, too much and too much of the book is just a rehash of previous volumes. In other books I tend to skip that stuff but it's hard to know where it's okay to skip in Janny's works, they're so complicated you're afraid to miss anything because that teeny detail on page 10 is suddenly relevant on page 5000.

originally posted by Brittani Pasek

I am not entirely sure I would say Arithon is in a better position in SF. He and half the people he loves and cares about are stuck in a city that is being attacked. How is this better than before? At least in the other books when he was being amusing he was usually just endangering his own life most of the time. Plus he was normally tring to be coniving. In the newer books he is just trying not to let anyone else die. I agree though he was more amusing in the earlier books. But you gotta figure he is under a lot more stress in the newer books. Might be kinda hard to be chipper when you go from one possible catastrophe to the next.

originally posted by Susan C

I must disagee concerning the spellcraft scenes. I don't find them tedious or annoying. I am extremely pleased and awed at the amount of knowledge and research that went into these scenes. I find them to be wonderful scenes. There have been many scenes involving magic that haven't gone into extreme detail. The ones that have been detailed are important. They add texture, knowledge, and provide insight into the characters. Think of the scene in FP with Traithe. We learned a great deal about him and Raven in those scenes. It may be that for each individual reading the books-that individual's personal beliefs on magic and energy (dare I say religion) color their perceptions on these scenes. I don't know-this is a thought I am tossing out for discussion.

As for Arithon having to constantly prove himself to clansmen, this is important. Many clansmen have had little contact with him, and we have reached the 3rd generation, so many clansmen only know of Arithon through the stories of their elders. It shows that some people must always learn for themselves and trust the older generations word. Also, it was stated in FP that Caolle spoke very little about his time with Arithon in WOV and I assume others were quiet about it too. Arithon spends very little time among the clans-years-decades go by so most never really get to know him. Arithon is still a mystery to most of the clans. I learned never to skip a word of Janny's -you will always miss something. I find something new everytime I read the books.

originally posted by Angela Bawden

Wow, I really did get a respectful response. Thanks everyone for your restraint. :wink:
K, now to address some of the comments:
Many of you commented that you don't think she crossed genre lines, and that such thinking is off base. Your arguments have been very good and persuaded me to agree with you. I still don't like the scene though. :wink:
RapierIan and Greebo, I think you may be right, perhapse it was the excesive detail, and not the content itself, that turned me off so strongly. which leads to the comment by John Parsons - I am Christian, but I've also been to an Onsen in Japan. (look that up online and you may get an eyeful, just to warn you.) I view human sexuality as something beautiful and very special, even sacred. And because it is so special and sacred, it should be handled (and discused) with respect.
Which leads to Susan C's comment that proof of good writing is to make the reader feel what the characters are feeling. I completely agree with you. and Janny Wurts is one of best authors I've found for evoking emotion by her skilled manipulation of language. And I view that as a talent that should be handled with care. And it doesn't change my thinking. As I said before, Sex is something very special and sacred. But everyone's experience leads to different conclusions as to what "too far" is, so…

Which leads me to the conclusion that I have been outvoted :slight_smile: haha! I'm ok with that. But I also got confirmation that I was not the only one to be made uncomfortable by this scene. There is a theory that Humanity has a common conscience, and when many people share a same feeling (regardless of where they think that feeling originates from) then one can assume that one has touched on universal feeling. While the modern trend is to explore the traditionally forbidden, there are many that still hold that tradition is based on the wisdom of years. Call me old fashioned, but I believe this.

PS: I agree with those who state that her intense detail is great…the first five times, but after that it gets tedious. the only time i found this repetition tedious was when he's re-living all the worst battles and tragedies he's been a part of. Any reader who's reading that book has already read about those events, and it's just an unnecesary, annoying (to me) repetition.

originally posted by Auna

I actually giggled at the start of the scene because it was way over the top. I had a hard time taking it seriously and had a few eye rolling moments until the race against time and the final humiliating end.

However, I saw this as a great lesson for Dakar and the reader about trusting Arithon to handle things. I didn't really find the subject matter squeamish, but then again I've seen a lot worse in other fantasy writing.

I find myself having a hard time reading the older stuff because the characters have progressed so far… revisiting their old state is painful. I'm super excited to read about them now and can't wait to see what's in store for the future.

originally posted by Lyssabits

I actually loved Peril's Gate… it was like watching the cast commentary on a movie or something. :wink: I think the difference there for me was that while I knew that story, the details were being refined, we got to watch from other perspectives, see where Arithon was being effected by the curse, etc… For some reason, repetition of the same information about specific events bothers me less than what feels like repetition of the same sort of event in different situations since we don't really learn anything new, we just watch Arithon do the same thing for different audiences. Like going to the same play night after night. It's always a little different, sometimes different lines get the laughs, sometimes the audience is with the performers and they give an inspired performance, sometimes the audience is bad and the performers start flubbing their lines, but you don't learn anything new about the play. I was an usher once for a show… I was always intensely grateful when the guys started ad libing, even when the lines didn't work, just to give me something new to watch. I could have played any of the roles by the end of the run, I knew all the lines.

originally posted by max

While I was not offended in anyway manner or form, I can't imagine poor Arithon and Elaira having to look at each other with that memory in their heads. And Dakar should be more than ashamed, he should have absolutely refused!! I mean…EW…EW…EW,EW,EW! I am frankly glad that Janny does not shy away from TELLING HER STORY!! That story is not meant for children. And if that story bothers one, there's alot in the same genre that are just plain porn. So one has to toughen up a bit, the real world is alot grosser than that passage. smiling at ya!!

originally posted by Susan C

Reading the comments on tedious, repetitive sections in the books, I am perplexed. I know somethings are repeated, but they usually are from another character's perspective giving the orignial scene more depth. One of the most important aspects of the books is to get us to think and realize that each individual's perspective on an event changes the meaning. Finding truth or understanding can be more difficult than many people imagine.

Reviewing the scene in TK that is in question-I can not find how it is sexually explicit in anyway. It is written in a way the reader knows what is going on without it actually going into explicit detail.

Angela, yes it made people uncomfortable, but for many it was not because it was sexually explicit, but because it made us feel for the characters. I read a variety of books and many of the books I read have sexually explicit scenes. This scene is so tame in comparision to other books found on bestsellers lists.

Hi Angela - welcome here.

I respect your view, entirely as is.
And, in fact, you have stimulated a wonderful discussion. (ignore me, people, keep going, please!)

It's well known on this forum, though perhaps not to you, that I will answer direct questions IF I am asked.

Therefore, given my complete respect for your feelings, which does not in any way make me want to change them - in the interest of understanding, though, you May ask - why did I write this scene in the manner I did, and what part does it play?

In that regard, I can emphatically offer the assurance - it was NOT done frivolously, or with intent to shock out of hand, or to whack people's entirely beautiful sensibilities for no reason. I would NEVER! put such sensitive matter on page just to "fizz" the storyline with "porn" to titillate a reader…or to stimulate through "forbidden" ideas by commercial intent, period.

There is an underlying template and purpose (and yes, I can promise, you won't see another scene like -this- one again in this series) and yes, you may, if you like, e mail me privately if you would rather inquire that way, although I have no qualms about answering honestly presented queries directly, right here.

If you look quite carefully at the writing, I THINK I took pains to be certain a child without explicit knowledge would not be able to second-guess what is actually happening. If that does not play true, then, assuredly I did fail on that point.

originally posted by Angela Bawden

I admit I am new to this discusion forum, though not to forums in other places. I actually joined beacause, after two years have passed and after an eye-opening sojourn in Japan, I've been debating whether to pick up this series again. This scene is the obstacle I have to overcome, so I wanted feedback and input, which I have recieved and am grateful for. I'm still deciding. :smiley:
Janny Wurts, I am quite grateful and happy to have you comment on this discussion! You're right, I didn't know about the direct questions getting answers. If I had I would have asked why…but you just answered that. :smiley: So, thank you. I didn't think you had included that scene just "to 'fizz' the storyline with 'porn' to titillate the reader", but I couldn't see the reason for it. It shows that Arithon is physically, deeply connected with the earth, which we already knew. And, as Auna said, "I saw this as a great lesson for Dakar and the reader about trusting Arithon to handle things". I saw those two points, but I already knew them. I am intensely curious to know if there is a deeper purpose than these for this scene. Am I completely off base, or is there a reason I'm not guessing at? I would be intensely interested if there was.
If questionable content is included for a specific purpose, then I am willing to accept it.
Honestly, I guess I'm looking for an argument that will reconcile me to this scene. Otherwise, I loved Traitor's Knot. I thought it regained the vitality of the first two books that were my favorite of the series. Oh, and let me add that the necromancy scene made me uncomfortable too…but in a horror genre kind of way. Which is to say it sent chills down my spine…and though I hate getting scared, I could see the purpose of it, and therefore it didn't "bother" me. I actually was quite caught up in it. :wink: