Friday, June 5, 2009

Ah, Grasshopper ...

Two passings this week deserve a note here, actor David Carradine and fantasy novelist David Eddings.

Carradine was the star of the TV show Kung Fu (1972-75). So far as I know, Kung Fu was the first, or nearly the first, instance of what has since then become pervasive, the incorporation of East Asian themes into our pop culture and adventure mythology. Sure, the evil Doctor Fu Manchu is much older, but he was a bad guy, and probably not one the audience was expected to learn anything from. But the Shaolin monks in Kung Fu did have useful lessons to teach - even if, true to Hollywood, these were mostly about how to beat the crap out of people.

Now we speak of 'Google fu,' kids probably know more about ninjas than knights, and manga/anime has become integral to comix culture and I suspect to our visual language.

I never read any of Eddings' books. Whether fairly or unfairly I had the impression that they were Tolkien knockoffs, and if I wanted a fix I just pulled down LOTR again. Plus, the 'high fantasy' elements are not what most appeals to me in fantasy lit. But - not unlike Kung Fu - Eddings' work helps mark the absorption of those tropes into our popular imagination. This was not inevitable. LOTR might have remained one of a kind, a book everyone into SF/F read, but never giving rise to genre fantasy as we now know it. I hope he rounded out all his series, not leaving his fans to ponder loose ends that can never be tied down.

Requiscat in pace.


Anonymous said...

I've never read Eddings either; however, my wife and daughters have and they think his works are great. I guess that's what being a professional writer is all about; pleasing someone you don't know with your stories.
David Carradine's character was iconic. For an actor to have such an impact on a culture through one of his characters, is amazing and powerful.

Rick said...

Yes, having people 'out there' who want to read your work is surely the chief satisfaction of writing.

In Carradine's LA Times obit they say that he felt like a fake at the time, because he didn't actually know any kung fu (though later he learned). As the title of this piece indicates, the show obviously stuck in my mind!