Humor in a Violent Universe

I’ve written in a prior blog that the *feel* of Lovecraft’s mythos (though none of his concrete details) was a huge influence on the world of my fantasy novel Siana’s War. But I added to that mythos a most un-Lovecraftian thing: a female protagonist, who has pluck, sass and a penchant for swear words.

She also has a sense of humor, something it’s tempting to say Lovecraft lacked.

I’m not sure that’s wholly true. I was surprised to find in Barnes and Noble’s H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction a number of non-fantasy, non-science fiction short pieces that were straight-up humorous. I also found it humorous the way Lovecraft had the commonplace cats of the town of Ulthar polish off adversaries, leaving the cats sated and purring the following morning. But humor is definitely not a prime element in his tales, with their sense of alien threat and ever-present risk of looming insanity.

I often find that Art which blends and integrates disparate elements is more enjoyable. This is why, for example, I like symphonic metal. The Fifth Element is an excellent example of a movie that has a wacky sense of humor but simultaneously utilizes an epic sci-fi tableau and high-concept metaphysics. Used well, the humor doesn’t detract from serious elements; it can deepen the value of both.

Here are just a couple of parts of my novel that make me laugh. I hope the fact that they still make me laugh after multiple re-readings is a good sign…at least I hope a sign of something other than self-indulgence. The bottom line is they prove I had fun writing my story and I think that’s important. C.S. Lewis said that his childhood fantasies were dreadfully humorless. It was only as an adult he discovered how to lace humor into his work.

Siana’s War excerpts:

“My liege.  I am Raff, pledged Legionnaire of the Orange Guard of the Sojourners.  And you are my liege, whom I am sworn to serve and protect.”
“Surely a sojourner of your reputation must know of the famed Orange Guard?”—he sounded hurt—“but it is of no matter.  I will serve you faithfully, my lady, and die for you if need requires.”
Raff bowed deeply, almost falling from his ringmail link perch.
“But you’re only four inches tall,” Ellie said.    

I sat down across from Ghislain again. Apparently, I would confront my doom not as Siana, Princess of Time, but Jacqueline, twenty-first century hippie. I surveyed my face in the cafe’s mirrors. At least it was my face the pigtails framed.
A soda had appeared in front of each of us. I considered tossing it in his face, but I couldn’t bring myself to use a soft drink as a weapon against the Aedolae.

 Another frog-like face wheeled near.  Its shiny black visage was a pincushion of the Qoe’s silver flechettes.   There was no blood.
“We are the Blackened,” it croaked at me, “We do not fear death, for we suffered the Great Fire and we did not burn.”
“Nifty,” I commented, and took off its head.

 “Assav”—he bowed back—“at your service.”
“And what service might that be?”  I inquired. Despite myself, the Orsian’s infectious grin was beginning to spread to my face.
“I heard you talking of escape,” Assav answered, “and I have what you need.”
“And what is that?”
“A patchwork ox with ultra-dimensional saddlebags.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.

 “It is dangerous,” I argued, pointing at the same, “Doesn’t this worry you?”
 “What is there to lament?”  Zolboo countered.  “It is a realm now emptied of the foul dominance of an Aedolae.   A place reclaimed for dreamers.  We are liberators you and I.”
“All we’ve liberated is that,” I said, pointing at the distant volcanoes, which were now spouting darkness instead of fire.   Great clouds of darkness that swirled into the heavens to mix with the rainclouds, setting up an endlessly revolving maelstrom of dark energy.   “Daphne’s power bound and shaped this realm.  What is the Great Enhbold going to do with it now?”
“I will rule,” Enhbold answered instead, “And rid Zoorn of its cruelty and foul tortures.”
“Good luck with that,” I said.


  • Scott August 4, 2017 Reply

    Charles, you know I’m not a humorless guy – even if it’s sometimes dark or cutting – but I’ve developed an aversion to humor in science fiction. Stories of lovable rogues caught in predicaments of their own making, or oddball just-deserts consequences for evil deeds are staples in SF and fantasy – good light reading. But what I look for most ardently in my reading is that Sense of Wonder. The more I read, the older I get, the harder it is to find, of course, but I think it’s a big reason why so many new readers are attracted to the genre – that new idea, that built world rich in imagination – something that stretches the mind beyond the reader’s skull. And for all I love humor – in its place – I just don’t see it as compatible with a sense of wonder. It’s just a totally different thing. It may be true that no subject is immune from humor, but if you think humor works everywhere, try it during sex, basic training, the pledge of allegiance at a ball game, Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing – OK bad example that. It still leaves open the question, how long can a novel keep the reader moving from one Wow! to another – isn’t some relief in order? Maybe humor has its place there – comic relief as they say – along with character development, scene-setting, all the other elements. But I still think you’ve got to be very careful with it in shorter SF and fantasy, where the reader is often looking for one takeaway emotion – and that’s usually the Sense of Wonder. The stories that fail hardest in my book are the ones that mock genre tropes or use a whole story to get to a bad pun – twenty minutes of my life wasted. Enough said!

  • Charles August 15, 2017 Reply

    thanks for commenting! I think the length of Siana’s War (each volume is a good sized read) might answer your concern, at least in part. I definitely see the humor as a small sparkle in an epic story that is generally pretty heavy and sometimes quite dark. I also see it as a humanizing element making my protagonist a more real, fully fleshed character.

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