January 26, 2020, 11:54:44 PM

Author Topic: Unreliable narrators in fantasy  (Read 505 times)

Offline Eclipse

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Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« on: August 06, 2019, 07:49:54 AM »
Who are your favourites?
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Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2019, 07:52:09 AM »
I always have a problem with this description, I mean, how do we know they are unreliable? Is it just because the book is First Person POV? ???
« Last Edit: August 06, 2019, 09:56:43 AM by ScarletBea »
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2019, 08:58:08 AM »
I love love LOVE an unreliable narrator, it is my favourite literary trick, and in fact I find myself disappointed when a first-person narration isn't unreliable to at least some degree. (Because if someone is consciously telling a story, then they are colouring it subjectively, that's just the way it is.)

The two examples that immediately spring to mind for me are both in YA urban fantasy--Liar by Justine Larbalestier (where the main character tells you straight up that she's lying, and then you have to piece together what's probably going on between all the wild fabrications) and White Cat by Holly Black (where the main character is both smudging the story to dodge things he feels guilty about, AND genuinely doesn't understand some of what is going on).

A great example in grown-up urban fantasy is Peter Grant, especially in Moon Over Soho, where Aaronovitch does really well showing us stuff that Peter isn't admitting to knowing/understanding through Peter's first-person POV.

Trickier to think of non-urban fantasy examples, because first-person is so rarely used. Alexandra Rowland's A Conspiracy of Truths does pretty well at it, with a first-person narrator who both tells you that he twists stories to suit his purposes, and doesn't care/isn't present for some of what's going on.

I think unreliable narrators do have to be first-person for the sleight-of-hand to be subtle. Kay does somewhat similar tricks in third-person POV, by gracefully eliding details and bringing them back later, but it's obvious that he's doing it. (I'm thinking of a specific instance in A Brightness Long Ago wherein the narration notes something like, "She spoke to him, and went away, and left him shaken," and then doesn't tell us what she said until later. But he does a lot of similar things with shifting POVs, showing things from different angles, but you know he's doing it. It's not quite the trickery of a good unreliable narrator.)

Sometimes, perhaps, it can be done through third-person or omniscient, especially in a heist story, but I feel like that's more the author pulling a trick on the reader, whereas with a good unreliable narrator, the reason the character is lying is a big part of the story and therefore not quite so much a "trick".

I have many thoughts and feels about this, sorry. ;D

Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2019, 09:36:44 AM »
Besides Kvothe, I haven't even suspect or thought that any other narrators would be unreliable. Heck, I haven't an inkling of suspicion for Kvothe until a huge bunch of people start pointing that out for me too. I guess I'm pretty gullible.  ;D

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2019, 09:56:27 AM »
Besides Kvothe, I haven't even suspect or thought that any other narrators would be unreliable. Heck, I haven't an inkling of suspicion for Kvothe until a huge bunch of people start pointing that out for me too. I guess I'm pretty gullible.  ;D
Don't worry, I'm the same ::) ;D
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Offline Eclipse

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Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2019, 10:01:49 AM »
I think K.J Parker had a few.

Orhan from Sixteen ways to defend a city just being the most recent.
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline Eclipse

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According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline DrNefario

Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2019, 11:30:41 AM »
Severian in the Book of the New Sun.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2019, 05:22:28 AM »
For more discussion and examples of unreliable narrators, I'd like to recommend the Be The Serpent episode all about them, charmingly entitled The Bastard's Lying To You!

Offline isos81

Re: Unreliable narrators in fantasy
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2019, 10:43:13 AM »
Besides Kvothe, I haven't even suspect or thought that any other narrators would be unreliable. Heck, I haven't an inkling of suspicion for Kvothe until a huge bunch of people start pointing that out for me too. I guess I'm pretty gullible.  ;D
Don't worry, I'm the same ::) ;D

Me, too ;D
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'