Enough with the Titles Already!

When I was a young kid I thought the literary fantasy world revolved around Piers Anthony. Huge fan of the Xanth series. Reading them as an adult will likely induce migraine-inducing eye rolls. The puns! Such a good premise for a world, utterly compromised, seemingly by the region of madness mentioned in the books. Castle Roogna, Night Mare, and a few others are worth reading, even now. His series, the Incarnations of Immortality, is fantastic (skipping the unnecessary abomination that is the eighth book). They are sexist, but if you read anything of Mr. Anthony’s, you are going to be appalled by that aspect, but those books are wonderful. He was an amazing writer and had an imagination that is truly staggering.

As an adult I started branching out more, reading science fiction and more fantasy and realized there was a whole world without puns. It was amazing.

Within the past few years I started getting into historical fiction and biographies, mostly about the Tudors, Catherine de Medici, Isabella of Castile, etc.

So, then I get to the my most recent fantasy read (whose title I will not name). I can tell that the woman did a shit-ton of world building and it pays off with the story elements. The book itself is great, but the titles she assigns these people are extensive to the point of lunacy. I am familiar with the extensive titles given to the nobility, particularly through the Tudor dynasty, where most of my reading has centered. But this woman…Jesus freakin Christ. She adds more than anyone ever had in reality. And she mentions them all very frequently.

It got to the point where I was frustrated. I don’t give a shit if this goddamned prince has seven mufukin titles (yes, I counted). I don’t need it to be told to me one time, much less three times within the first 40 pages. It does not matter for the course of the story (imagine how pissed off I was when I realized I had concentrated on all these titles just to have them never matter at all in the whole series). It never comes into play. I don’t have to remember any but two–that he’s a prince (I got that), and that he can control fire. That is told to me within the story, the way most people think it should be.

Every person in this story has a minimum of three titles, and they are mentioned every time these people come “on stage”. When four people enter a room, I am tempted to skip ahead three pages so I can get to why they are in the freakin’ room in the first place. I don’t need all that. It’s not like the world of the real Tudor dynasty where everybody was named Mary, Anne, Catherine, or Thomas and you used *gasp* their last names to tell them apart. The people in her novel have vibrant, distinctive names. So why all the titles?

This woman is a good writer with amazing talent. Putting that many titles in the text so frequently seems, to steal a quote from Silence of the Lambs, “like the elaboration of a bad liar.” Having read so much about the actual people in the times most fantasy books draw from, it comes across as exactly that: like she is trying too hard. It worked for Tolkien, but tossing seventy-five titles into the mix means nothing anymore. We no longer care. But if you are going to make us read it, it had better have fucking relevance later, not just some nonsense to give your book the illusion of depth.

Am I the only one who this bothers? Has anyone heard of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedic opera, The Mikado? Love it. It’s goofy, fun, etc. Early in the operetta one of the characters talks about all the heads of state quitting and how he took on all their titles (and the salaries attached to them). Reading this aforementioned novel I am reminded of Poobah’s speech about his ill-gotten titles. I leave you with this speech (drawing from other performances where they added more titles for comedic value), which is what this book seems like between her otherwise amazing writing.

Poobah: It is consequently my degrading duty to serve this upstart as 
First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commancter-in-Chief, 
Lord High Admiral, Commander General, Master of the Buckhounds, 
Groom of the Back Stairs, Head Groom of the Imperial Polo Ponies, 
Lord High Snitch to the Mikado, Arch bishop of Titipu, and Lord Mayor, 
both acting and elect, all rolled into one.

~ by Darren Endymion on November 7, 2013.

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