Not long ago I read The Lord of the Rings to my son — or most of it; when books get exciting he usually takes them away and ends up finishing them himself.
The battle scenes, though, were often parts that neither of us found exciting. We ended up skipping some of those pages to get into a section that was not merely about hacking orcs to pieces.
This seems a bit ironic as battles would seem to be thrilling events, by definition. But I confess that in narratives I find them dull. Whether it’s the Battle of Waterloo in Les Miserables or the interminable Red Ship Wars in Royal Assassin, as soon as the fighting starts my eyes begin to glaze over. I just want to know the results and get back to something other than troop movements and slashing at enemies.
So if a book is too much about warfare, it loses my interest completely. That applies to war-obsessed characters as well, like the young Alexander the Great in Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault. I stopped reading partway through, unable to care about such a fighting machine. It may have been a highly accurate portrayal of Alexander, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend time with him.
There are exceptions — I love a good swordfight, which can be as much about mental as physical combat. But lengthy scenes of brutal and traumatizing torture, and opponents who are evil incarnate, cannot hold my attention for long. The more physical abuse there is, the less room for psychological development, and while this in itself can be an important statement, it’s always the same and I think I get the point by now.
In terms of what I prefer to read about, I would choose the inner battles over the outer ones. And while wounds are necessary for healing, the latter is what I want to focus on.
How do you feel about battles in books?