I on and off listen to Jenna Moreci, and the last video I heard, she displayed some lack of culture on part of the editors she knows.
Let's take a less big deal first, just to warm us up. She denies that an author can honestly and competently arrive at his book being more than one genre. She claims those who think so are taking everything rather than the basic plotline into account.
However, cross-over genres exist. Fantasy, for instance, is a recent cross-over between modern novel and romance / epic. Especially in the stages where supernatural elements were added for fun, rather than because they were believed to be historical (in this sense, closer to certain Arthuriana than to Homer, for instance).
If you decided to make a novel sized and novel style managed version of Camaralzaman, would you define it as fantasy, because the love interest is a Jinn, or as a love story, because what he does with the Jinn is fall in love with her? I'd go for both. Similar observations can be made about the European stories where the bride is not completely human ...
But, to the main point, and I am doing a detour, by 9th City District of Vienna, Alsergrund. There is a certain stair that is called Strudlhofstiege there. It is a monumental stair. Now, imagine a very modern architect, imagine he was building some time in the 70's (a fairly low ebb for architectonic beauty), but he was building a stair on a fairly broad hillside. He replicated the general form of Strudlhofstiege, but exchanged every detail that was harmonious for something more of a broken harmony, and on top of that painted the whole shebang in rainbow colours. Could he claim to have completed a piece of monumental architecture? Yes. It has nothing to do with whether he succeeded in making it beautiful or even deliberately tried to make it ugly. It is not a totally utilitarian stair, but one with bigger and more symmetric arrangements than a stair actually needs to allow people to get up and down. Hence, it is a monumental stair, he is a monumental architect. However ugly he managed to deprave this genre of architecture in this case.
Some may guess where this is going.
Jenna Moreci (it's not just a private person, it's a published author, THE SAVIOR'S CHAMPION, THE SAVIOR'S SISTER, soon upcoming, THE SAVIOR'S ARMY) took an example (again, not a private conversation, but a public video on advice on how to become a published author, or in this case more how not to spoil your chances), and this example was a man who considered his works as being similar to Homer and Beowulf. She found two faults. A, claiming to be an "epic" writer is self praise, so totally arrogant, B, if the claim is anywhere near true, the genre is dead.
I'll deal with both, and first A.
What does it take for a narrative poem to be in the ballpark of Homer and Beowulf?
- 1) It should be written in self-similar, variedly repeating, verses, of a sufficient number - the Odyssey is over 12 000 hexameters long and Beowulf is, while much shorter, at least 1/4 of that, but counted in Anglo-Saxon verse (3182 long verses*) - each versification, like the Sloka and the Catafractic verse, being capable of lots of variation, while still being recognisable, as you are doing a specific thing to the speech rhythm;
- 2) It should describe recurring characters and situations in recurring formulas (the genre was originally meant for oral recitation, and while bis repitita placent, they also stick into memory better);
- 3) It should, whether the ending be happy or horrible for the character of sympathy, deal with people high up like royalty and with serious situations, like such occurring at war, at voyages among dangers, possibly monsters, and with murderous intrigues, and it should kill off someone horribly, at least a baddy);
- 4) It should have a unity of action that allows for a diversity of episodes, contrasting with the main action (if it just features the main action, it's an epyllion);
- 5) It should avoid psychoanalysis, except perhaps at a level that can be easily comprehended in terms of supernatural influences (the setting should also be pre-modern or at least an archaic setting within the modern world).
If all these requirements are met, yes, it can very arguably be an epic. It can very arguably be close to Homer, close to Virgil or close to Beowulf.
And it can still be bad. There are several reasons why a project to make an epic could fail:
- 1) author is more steeped in another genre than the epic (note, Tolkien and CSL never actually tried writing full length epics, they preferred the fantasy novel, which is another genre, perhaps because they were aware of ultimately owing more to George McDonald and to William Morris than to Homer and the anonymous Beowulf poet) and it shows too much;
- 2) author takes a theme that doesn't really fit epic poetry, like a too recent war still arousing partisan passions;
- 3) author takes a theme that is at least at a tension with epic poetry and prefers doing justice to the theme over doing so to the genre;
- 4) author has no sense of rhythm, and only counts syllables, not even noting where the mid-line pause should be;
- 5) author starts off well, and from the first parts of the story, by the time he reaches the end he is in a time pinch and rushing the narrative into bare outlines.
Or the setting could be a specific historic one which he hasn't at all mastered, like he is giving Vikings helmets with horns on them - and everyone who knows Viking helmets will bite their tongue over reciting a passage where he considers a Viking has a horned helmet.
Or he is trying to do away with history as a basis - that's more Romance than Epic.
Or he's too goodnatured to do the obligatory dastard really well. Yes, both Homeric epics, the one by Virgil, and Beowulf feature some major dastards, and Mahabharata and Ramayana are no exception.
So, claiming it is "like Homer and Beowulf" doesn't mean claiming it is good as they are good, it is just the description of the genre. Precisely as the modern architect who mistreated the Strudlhofstiege as a model for sth very non-baroque, has the right to call it monumental architecture, without that being self praise.
The other claim was, it is a dead genre. Verse drama, verse romance (usually rhymed and with shorter lines than the epic) and verse epic are indeed what one could call "non-current" forms. Verse drama was recently revived in French, by an author loving Catafractic verses, and dealing with the Second Siege of Vienna. I'm not sure whether it has or ever will be performed. But it is there in print.
Now, just because a form is non-current, one cannot conclude it is dead. If a form was current two years ago, and suffered 4 flops and no success since then, yes, in that case the form may be for the moment not just non-current, but dead as a doornail. An inept author or two or three just beat it to death. But for non-current forms to be revived is rather a kind of staple in the history of literature, drama, music and related, even architecture and sculpture. Heard of the Renaissance?
So, there are some culturally challenged people that Jenna Moreci is adressing as editors. I'm not saying her editors need to go, just, we need other ones. Fortunately, in a free society, becoming an editor does not require a specific licence from the ministry of culture, it requires the licence from your town to open an enterprise.
If you are interested, you can be the next editor tomorrow ... and if you don't know whom you would edit, try asking Jenna about the guy who described the genre of his work as close to Homer and to Beowulf.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
St. Clare of Assisi
* It can be noted, Tolkien actually didn't quite class Beowulf as an epic, but more like an elegy - a poem of grief or mourning. The shortness may have contributed.