Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Essay: Associating Authors with Books

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

It's typical to associate books with their authors. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first pops to mind whenever you mention Sherlock Holmes. The same goes for Middle-Earth and Tolkien, Narnia and C.S. Lewis, Hogwarts and J.K. Rowling. By the same token, some series are written by authors under a unified pseudonym whether it's Carolyn Keene for Nancy Drew or Franklin W. Dixon for the Hardy Boys. That's not always the case however.

Take the Cthulhu mythos for example. Sure, a lot of talented (and not-so-talented) authors contributed to the cosmology yet for many fans, the definitive Cthulhu is H.P. Lovecraft's works. And the same goes for Conan (a few years ago, I was surprised that as a Wheel of Time fan that Robert Jordan wrote a Conan novel). In modern times, a closer example are Dungeon & Dragon's popular franchises. Take Dragonlance: the line has over 200 books yet for the most part, it's always been associated with Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The other authors I can name off the top of my head are Richard A. Knaak and Jean Rabe (sorry other Dragonlance authors!). If you were a writer in that series, you're simply contributing to the greater whole rather than Dragonlance being your own unique baby: you're not the brand (as opposed to other fantasy authors where Terry Brooks IS Shanarra, where Raymond E. Feist IS Midkemia), merely one of its agents (but that's said not to downplay an author's contribution but rather more of the overall editorial goal by the publishers). When it comes to Forgotten Realms, things aren't as bleak as Dragonlance (where there is just the pair of creators) but it can get as confusing. I mean I know R.A. Salvatore and Ed Greenwood are the big two in Forgotten Realms (and I've only been reading the former). I once asked a friend who else she'd recommend in Forgotten Realms and the answer I got was Elaine Cunningham (but I never really got around to reading Forgotten Realms novels). Just recently, I read one of Paul S. Kemp's books, Shadowbred, and I didn't realize until later on that I had previously read another of his books set in the same world. Another similar instance was when my writer buddy J.M. McDermott threw P.N. Elrod at me and I later discovered that hey, she wrote a Ravenloft novel!

This is all an interesting dynamic for me because when one usually speaks of novels, they usually associate it with an author (Dune = Frank Herbert, Ender = Orson Scott Card, etc.). Here, the authors tend to remain in the background save for their cult followers. The ones who tend to get the credit in such works are the big names, whether they're the creators or simply the more popular authors. What would be interesting to see however is a dynamic where the series has no real authorship associated with it. In real life, the closest analogy I have are myths, legends, and folk tales which have many variations and are not attributed to any single author. I haven't really read Thieves World (I'm too young! But feel free to send me books if you want.) so I'm not sure if that qualifies or whether people associate it with Robert Aspirin or Lynn Abbey (or Marion Zimmer Bradley). What I'm curious as to how it'll evolve is The Wandering Men's first book, Skein of Shadows in which five different authors work on different parts of the book. But then again, they might not be the best example as all five authors are part of The Wandering Men brand and future novels might eventually be associated with the group rather than the individuals (whether that's a good or bad thing, I don't know).

Well, at least the scenario above beats ghost writing...

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