I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s Dreamsongs (I and II) recently and I just have to go fangirl.
I adore these books on so many levels that I knew I needed to recommend them strongly to my fellow readers, to my fellow writers, and to my fellow teachers. Yes, they are that good and work on that many levels. Just the title of the collection is marvelous: Dreamsongs as it evokes for me the Aboriginal practice of singing dreamsongs to celebrate their sacred interrelation with the land and all its inhabitants (see Aboriginal movement and Aboriginal culture).
First of all, they are full of stories about Stories. This is the sort of Metastory I wish I had lived and written, but alas my life took a different path (and became a Metawriter and Metateacher instead). Martin tracks his life as a reader from early childhood and explains how those early stories (and Stories) shaped the person he became as well as his career as a writer. Many of the stories (most/all?) he has chosen to include in Dreamsongs work on multiple levels. They are entertaining journeys in fiction from horror to science fiction to fantasy with lots of fun little side trips here and there into fictional cul de sacs where the genre is a bit unclear but that doesn’t matter. If you are a genre purist then this might be a struggle, but for someone like me who focuses on the story and the characters more than the package it was all fun. However, more than sheer entertainment, these are Stories about people, about humanity, about the human condition. These are Stories that transcend genre but stay with you and make you think about big questions and big ideas. For example, he wrote “The Hero” while in college and submitted it to his draft board as part of his application for conscientious objector status and reading it today (many wars and decades later) I still found it relevant and thought -provoking. And interesting fact, “The Hero” was his first sale as a writer.
I honestly think this is a great reader for a creative writing class and any writer interested in writing fiction as a career should study these stories, Martin’s publication history, and really read all the commentary. That commentary is important for writers because he includes many details of his career progression. I have always tried to stress to other would-be authors how much luck and sheer hard work play a role in publishing success — much more so than talent. As a writer and a reader, I found it fascinating to understand the making of the writer who created so many delightful characters and worlds (yes, folks, he wrote more than A Song of Fire and Ice aka Game of Thrones). Without the stories, the commentary makes a compelling and interesting story about the forces that feed and shape a writer of this caliber and with the stories you can learn so much more about how to become a published author by journeying a long and difficult path. His career is no overnight success story and he held a wide variety of jobs to support himself on this journey. Also, as noted above, the collection includes a variety of genres and cross-genre examples which could make for a delightful study of how a story earns one genre label over another.
Finally, in addition to being useful for creative writing classes, I think Dreamsongs could be wonderfully useful for a variety of thematic classes from literature to writing to liberal arts. I currently teach a First Year Seminar class focused on comic archetypes, but I am already thinking about how I could teach a Dreamsongs FYS as it encompasses so many interesting themes from war and peace, equality and racism, environmental issues, and law and government as well as our core need to understand humanity (and inhumanity).
Have you read Dreamsongs yet? I strongly recommend reading these books if you are a reader, writer, or teacher!