The Choppy Waters of Crafting Titles


I came across an unusual review for Legion of the Damned a couple of days ago. It's from a video review site called 'Choppy Reviews' and run by a reader / presenter called Cocolito. A great deal of thought goes into the reviews and even more into the presentation. Cocolito had many nice things to say about Legion of the Damned , which were nice to hear. It would misrepresent his review, however, if I didn't identify a key issue he had with the novel: the four words of the title. Cocolito is not the first to identify this and I've talked about this a few times. Cocolito addresses his issue with great humour and fairness. He deserves a response for that alone, even if I don't agree with him.

While considering the book very good, he doesn't like that 'Legion of the Damned' occurs on the front cover. To justify the title, he would like even more Legion of the Damned in the book. It's not an unfair expectation. We live in a world where many book publishers and authors expect little of their readers. They give their books Ronseal does-what-it-says-on-the-tin titles because they don't expect their readership's attention span to be able to handle anything else. Meanwhile, authors who respect their readership's intellectual capabilities have been using titles as literary devices in their own right for hundreds of years. How does this work in respect to Legion of the Damned? In two ways.

Firstly, there are many books and series that utilise titles that relate to forces, phenomenons and presences that are always present in the book / series but actually spend little time 'on screen' as point-of-view characters. The best example I can think of is the famous title 'The Lord of the Rings'. The 'Lord' is always present - but not always 'on screen'. The Legion of the Damned work in a similar way. They are present in almost all chapters of the novel (read it carefully) before entering and performing their literary function. I won't give away spoilers here. If you haven't read the book, let me encourage you to do so. Not all titles are Ronseal titles. Legion of the Damned isn't. Are the Legion of the Damned present throughout the book. Yes. Do they act in accordance with the background that everyone knows and loves. Yes. Their function necessitates a group requiring their intervention. This allowed me to bring in the Space Marines Excoriators Chapter. I build them from the foundations up in the novel and many readers have loved that a Space Marine chapter could be presented in depth, at the same time as narrative intrigue and action is maintained.

Secondly, the title is a metaphor. There a several legions presented in the novel that are unequivocally 'damned'. Again, without introducing anything that isn't covered in the blurb, there is the 'Legion of the Damned', the Excoriators - who believe themselves damned and doomed to failure - and the World Eaters: a Chaos Space Marine legion enslaved to the god of bloodshed and hatred. All of these legions are damned. The title could relate to any one of them but in fact relates to all three. Titles are literary devices and a good author will make four words work hard for him. A lazy one will slap a Ronseal title on their book and underestimate their readers. It also does raise the issue of the blurb. It is the blurb's responsibility to accurately convey the content of the novel it is introducing. Check it out: it does.

Anyway, Cocolito put a good deal of effort into his review and I believe that he deserved a response. I encourage you to check out his review here. Beyond his issue with the title, he says many nice and insightful things about the novel. Beyond even that, it is a funny and entertaining review that is well worth watching. I've also put a link to Cocolito's review site - called 'Choppy Reviews' - on the side bar blog roll. He deserves to be part of 'the Scene'.

5 comments:

Neil said...

Philip K Dick's 'man in the high castle' doesn't start with a man in a castle, and makes no reference to what the height of the castle would be if he were in one. It's never ccurred to me before that this would be a problem.
Personally i blame Shakespeare, romeo & juliet, macbeth, dumbing down of our youth!

Blitzspear said...

Glen Cooks book Titles for some of his Black Company novels are deffinatly not ronseal titles. Bleak Seasons and Water Sleeps being the 2 that jump to mind. Not typical fantasy so not typical titles. And i did get the idea behind using the LOTD title to suggest all the astartes are Damend in the book.

Bellarius said...

Sorry to ask but would I please be able to add a link to this when I get around to reviewing Legion of the Damned?
Usually I wouldn't request this but the article does deal with the most obvious criticisms of the book and it would prevent reproducing what people have seen before. Plus it is always helpful to see an author's own detailed view of what they have produced.

ROB SANDERS said...

Absolutely, Bellarius. Or perhaps I should say: will it be a good review? : D

Bellarius said...

It'll be a positive one overall when I finally get a chance to write it, though I am going to cover the flaws I saw of course. Thank you for allowing me to use this article.