Do you like books about fighting?

Posted April 12, 2020 by Lory in discussions / 42 Comments

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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?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

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42 responses to “Do you like books about fighting?

  1. Christopher Lovegrove

    Hmm, it’s been a decade or more since I last read LOTR and it’s not the battles I remember, in fact I have no recall of them at all despite reading the trilogy at least four times. The Battle of the Five Armies in The Hobbit is a little more vivid, though most of my focus was on what Bilbo was doing, I seem to remember.

    Like you, I glaze over battle scenes. The one in Jonathan Strange was more arresting in that it was again mostly focused on one individual and their confusion. There was one very Tolstoyan battle in Brian Aldiss’s SF Helliconian trilogy which bored me, and a filmic one in Duncan Kyle’s Black Camelot which was like every WW2 action movie you can remember (or might like to forget). So, like, Trish, it’s the individual conflict that interests me, not the war games described in strategic or even gruesome detail.

  2. Well, if it is a battle of the minds, I do like those. Also, I read quite a bit of historical fiction, especially those that are set during one of the two world wars, so there is some fighting in them. But I don’t want to read about the battles themselves, more the behind the scenes stuff – spies, nurses or doctors near the front lines – stuff like that.

    • It would be a rare author who could interest me in military strategy. I cannot think of one example! Yes, the behind-the-scenes stories can be more interesting. And it’s okay if someone comes and reports “they’ve broken through our line” or whatever when something important happens. It’s the blow-by-blow description that I find so dull.

  3. I staggered through LOTR once, and once was enough. As for the movie: way too much hacking and bashing. And don’t even talk to me about J Strange & Mr Norrell : it bored me rigid. Yes, battles are part of historical fiction – but an abbreviated version is fine by me. Agree with other comments about the inner battles being of greater interest.

    • Haha, LOTR is not for all tastes. And I adore Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, footnotes and all, but I know some find it boring. Every reader is different, and there must be some who even enjoy battle scenes or I don’t know why so many writers would put them in.

  4. I love The Lord of the Rings and the battle scenes in it, but it is one of the few books that I have enjoyed battles in. On the whole I don’t have much taste for long battle scenes and especially no taste for blood and gore. So I can agree to an extent with you, but for me Tolkien got the balance of personal journeys and battles just right. 🙂

    • I was okay with the battles happening, but the description could have been abbreviated as far as I was concerned. However, I’m glad you found them enjoyable.

  5. It was a revelation to me when I watched the LOTR movies by Peter Jackson that the battle scenes were not boring. I understood more of their significance, especially Helm’s Deep.
    I first read the books when I was eleven, and I’ve reread them multiple times.

    • Yes, we just watched the first two movies and I agree about the Helm’s Deep battle. I think part of my boredom with the battles in books is that I have a hard time visualizing complex maneuvers from written descriptions. Much easier when someone has done that work for you.

  6. I’m with you, doll – I have no time or patience for extended fight scenes, in books OR in movies. The only exceptions that come to mind are the Harry Potter books (because magic – but even the Battle of Hogwarts or whatever the last show-down was called kind of dragged a bit), and that time in Bridget Jones when Colin Firth and Hugh Grant had it out.

    • Agreed about the Battle of Hogwarts, it lost me there. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant fighting, though, will always be worth seeing.

  7. I have mixed feelings! Really, anything where I have to picture what’s going on is a challenge for me, because I’m not great at making pictures in my head. On the other hand, I love both Lord of the Rings and Fire from Heaven, so clearly I’m a little further down the “willing to read about battles” spectrum than you. As with anything, I basically just need the action parts to have an emotional component, like when Eowyn confronts the Witch-King of Angmar over Theoden’s injured body and I am a weepy mess.

    • I’m so glad I am not the only one who has trouble picturing these things.

      I really don’t know why I didn’t get on with Alexander, as normally I love Mary Renault’s historical fiction. Maybe I was just not in the right mood. I should try again at some point.

  8. I didn’t mind the Battle of Helm’s Deep when I was a kid but after feeling so bored by the movie version, I vowed never to watch another one of the films.

    • For me the battles were all right in The Two Towers film (which I rewatched recently), but I’m somewhat reluctant to go on to The Return of the King, which I know will have way more battle time and I’m afraid will be more boring. I think you made the right decision.

    • It’s those descriptions that lose me. I want to know what is important, like a news summary, but I don’t need to go through every point of the action.

  9. I have real trouble understanding spatial description in books, whether that is a fight scene or a chase scene or what ever. I have to see it to “get” it usually. I remember not understanding exactly what happened in Bridget Jones’ Diary when she slid down the fire pole so when the movie came out, I went, “Ah, so that’s what happened”.

  10. I’m kind of on the fence about battles in books because some can be excruciatingly drawn out to the point that I lose interest, and then there are some that go by so quickly that once I get to the end of it and find out something huge has happened, I go flicking back to make sure I didn’t miss something. That happened to me with Mockingjay and it kind of made one character’s death less impactful to me. I think I tend to prefer to watch battles rather than read about them 🙂

  11. I never really thought about it before, but I don’t mind battles as long as they are short. And one-on-one combat is a million times better than just general war scenes. Like you, if they are long I tend to lose focus on them. Great post!

  12. Ah, I have the opposite impression when reading The Lord of the Rings. Because the movies were so ingrained in me before I read the book, I found the written battle scenes far more abbreviated than I expected (given how they are presented in the movies). Generally speaking, though, I think I’ve read more about battles in non-fiction than fiction. In those cases, I also find the human experience most interesting (ex. decisions made, emotions felt, aftermath experience, etc.), rather than descriptions of maneuvering and violence.

  13. I think it really depends on the writer. I’m not massively grabbed by Conn Iggulden as a writer in general because I find his characterisation quite flat but the way the man writes battles is second to none. I actually kind of visualised it in a way that I never had before. But I think I’m just not really into military fiction so it’s not something I typically seek out. I remember skipping over a lot of the poetry in Lord of the Rings – I was reading solo when I was about 12 and was just trying to give myself a fighting chance of making it through.

    • We also skipped most of the poetry at my son’s insistence (not sure if that was a comment on Tolkien, or on my own poetry-reading abilities).

  14. Helm’s Deep is not my favorite part of TTT, but I certainly don’t find it boring. The chapter right after it is better (Saruman! and the Ents!) As for the movie version, I wasn’t exactly bored but I found TTT really unsatisfying on rewatch and Helm’s Deep is part of that… too much screen time, and strayed too much from the book, IMO. I *really* did not like RotK, which I have only seen once. I loved the Gondor parts of the book though, including the war bits. Also, my fave chapter of The Silmarillion is possibly the Nirnaeth… I wish it was longer but I still think its awesome.

    Also, I loved Thucydides!!! Read him in 2018. Book 1 was probably the hardest to get
    through, and Book 8 (the last) is a bit weird because there is no dialogue, the whole thing is basically a summary. it is a long summary because of all the stuff that happens, but Book 7 feels like the real ending.

    I have a hard time visualizing as well, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me.

  15. This describes me exactly! I definitely find my mind wandering (or myself skimming) when it comes to actual battle scenes. I’m basically only interested in the emotional ramifications, not the battle itself. And books that rely too heavily on warfare lose me completely. I’ve occasionally had a series where I loved it until the final book—because that’s the book that focuses on the battle with the “big bad.” It’s always a disappointment when that happens!

    • Exactly, the battle with the “big bad” is what should seemingly be the high point of the book and yet it often leaves me cold. A strange phenomenon!

  16. I feel the same as you. The battle scenes get tedious, and the only medium that draws them out more than books is film. We watched the first Hobbit movie a few nights ago, after reading the book, and my eyes were glazing over in the same way. I’m sure they’re not meant to put people to sleep, but that’s the effect they have on me 🙂

    • The first Hobbit movie was awful! The trilogy seemed to be created purely for the reason of inserting battle scenes. One movie would have been plenty!

  17. Hmm…certainly something to think about. I’ve never much thought twice about battle scenes in books. For me, because I’m a writer, I end up studying the scenes; analysing how it was written so I could better my own writing.

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