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The Purple Thread

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
A recent conversation inspires me to start this thread. I'm hoping I'll discover an author or two.

Purple prose comes in for its share of thrashing and then some. Often it's merited. But there are also examples of ... let's call it poetic prose. You can call it purple if you prefer. Or ornate prose. As you please.

I'm looking for examples of good to great fantasy whose prose can be described in colors over in the longer waves of the visible spectrum. Violet. Purple. Positively plosive poetics. Not the garbage, mind, but the Good Stuff. I'll offer a couple examples to get us started.

Robert E. Howard, and in more than just the Conan stories
Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast.
Ray Bradbury ... pretty much anything he ever wrote

As a codicil, we'll allow in a limited number of examples outside of fantasy. Just to show the range of purple.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
Angela Carter’s book of fairy tale re-tellings, The Bloody Chamber. For example, the opening of the story The Company of Wolves, which was adapted into film in the 80s:


One beast and only one howls in the woods by night.

The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he’s as cunning as he is ferocious; once he’s had a taste of flesh then nothing else will do.

At night, the eyes of wolves shine like candle flames, yellowish, reddish, but that is because thepupils of their eyes fatten on darkness and catch the light from your lantern to flash it back to you – red for danger; if a wolf’s eyes reflect only moonlight, then they gleam a cold and unnatural green, a mineral, a piercing colour. If the benighted traveller spies those luminous, terrible sequins stitched suddenly on the black thickets, then he knows he must run, if fear has not struck him stock-still.

But those eyes are all you will be able to glimpse of the forest assassins as they cluster invisibly round your smell of meat as you go through the wood unwisely late. They will be like shadows, they will be like wraiths, grey members of a congregation of nightmare; hark! his long, wavering howl . . . an aria of fear made audible.

The wolfsong is the sound of the rending you will suffer, in itself a murdering.

It is winter and cold weather. In this region of mountain and forest, there is now nothing for the wolves to eat. Goats and sheep are locked up in the byre, the deer departed for the remaining pasturage on the southern slopes – wolves grow lean and famished. There is so little flesh on them that you could count the starveling ribs through their pelts, if they gave you time before they pounced. Those slavering jaws; the lolling tongue; the rime of saliva on the grizzled chops – of all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches that fatten their captives in cages for cannibal tables, the wolf is worst for he cannot listen to reason.

You are always in danger in the forest, where no people are. Step between the portals of the
great pines where the shaggy branches tangle about you, trapping the unwary traveller in nets as if the vegetation itself were in a plot with the wolves who live there, as though the wicked trees go fishing on behalf of their friends – step between the gateposts of the forest with the greatest trepidation and infinite precautions, for if you stray from the path for one instant, the wolves will eat you. They are grey as famine, they are as unkind as plague.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Ooh, samples are good!

I was so in love with The Martian Chronicles that at age 14 I typed out entire chapters, just to feel the words. Here's but a single example from hundreds in that book.

They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle.


It still nearly makes me weep with how good it is.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
From a new discovery. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff...


People often shit themselves when they die. Their muscles slack and their souls flutter free and everything else just … slips out. For all their audience’s love of death, the playwrights seldom mention it. When our hero breathes his last in his heroine’s arms, they call no attention to the stain leaking across his tights, or how the stink makes her eyes water as she leans in for her farewell kiss. I mention this by way of warning, O, my gentlefriends, that your narrator shares no such restraint. And if the unpleasant realities of bloodshed turn your insides to water, be advised now that the pages in your hands speak of a girl who was to murder as maestros are to music. Who did to happy ever afters what a sawblade does to skin. She’s dead herself, now—words both the wicked and the just would give an eyeteeth smile to hear. A republic in ashes behind her. A city of bridges and bones laid at the bottom of the sea by her hand. And yet I’m sure she’d still find a way to kill me if she knew I put these words to paper. Open me up and leave me for the hungry Dark. But I think someone should at least try to separate her from the lies told about her. Through her. By her. Someone who knew her true. A girl some called Pale Daughter. Or Kingmaker. Or Crow. But most often, nothing at all. A killer of killers, whose tally of endings only the goddess and I truly know. And was she famous or infamous for it at the end? All this death? I confess I could never see the difference. But then, I’ve never seen things the way you have. Never truly lived in the world you call your own. Nor did she, really. I think that’s why I loved her.
Kristoff, Jay. Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle) (p. 2). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
Going back to some of the classics, we could include Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith. On the other hand, Eddison does go over the top at least occasionally. Jack Vance, whether fantasy or science fiction (or even his mysteries), did poetic language well.

Sometimes the earth stretched up towards them with peaks of mountains, sometimes it fell away in steep ravines, blue rivers sang to them as they passed above them, or very faintly came the song of breezes in lone orchards, and far away the sea sang mighty dirges of old forsaken isles. But it seemed that in all the world there was nothing only to be going South.

It seemed that somewhere the South was calling to her own, and that they were going South
. ~ from Lord Dunsany's 'The Gods of Pegana'
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Upvote for Lord Dunsany and another for Vance.

I've seen Clark Ashton Smith's name too many times to have a good excuse for not having read him. Happily, several of his short stories are not only online but are on a website dedicated to him.
Short Stories by Clark Ashton Smith
 

Jerry

Scribe
Ooh, samples are good!

I was so in love with The Martian Chronicles that at age 14 I typed out entire chapters, just to feel the words. Here's but a single example from hundreds in that book.

They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle.


It still nearly makes me weep with how good it is.



This is awesome!
 

Kalessin

Dreamer
Every sample given here was a gem for me, but I gotta say the Martian one was something else.

Hot, warm, steam. These words here were solid. And I love anything that makes reality and imagination/memory/dreams react together. That passage is a great reminder of why this stuff is so great. Books I mean.
 
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