Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Escapism in the Coronavirus Crisis

Sometimes I am asked where in Tolkien's Middle-earth,
or any Fantasy world for that matter, I would like live.
Naturally barring worlds of my own creation,
I think the answer would be Dol Amroth in southern Gondor.
As a rule I have always abstained from commenting on current real-world events here on Stars Uncounted unless I can relate them to Fantasy literature in some manner, so with this post I acknowledge the Coronavirus Pandemic that has quite literally shut the world down. The anxiety is real. Social-distancing requirements keep us at least six feet apart from those not in our household and many are buying enough food and medical supplies (such as masks and toilet paper) to withstand a siege; and even then all groceries must be wiped down, and we can forget about ordering take-out all together. People are fearful and with reason, the anxiety literally making some people sick (though not with COVID-19).

This is the world we live in at the moment and, housebound, we all must find a way to deal with the crisis. How do I do so? Well, a few days ago I posted this to Facebook and Twitter: "Pandemic quarantines do have one silver lining: lots of time to read." Indeed, that is why I finished Winter's Heart when I did. But this post is more than about me, it is about how this crisis illuminates the glory of the Fantastic for, in the immortal words of J.R.R. Tolkien, "Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" And has not the Coronavirus been called (and is) the enemy? 

Menaphos, also known as the Golden City,
is a city located far south in the Kharidian Desert.
Hence I am dealing with this Pandemic by embracing that escapism that is the wondrous heart of Fantasy; by, while still taking the necessary precautions, not thinking about it and treating this near-lockdown as an atypical Spring Vacation. I cannot enjoy the world outside my window, so I dive with the greatest delight into the worlds of others and avail myself of the opportunities this crisis has so unexpectedly given. Naturally I recognize that I can only do this because of fortune's favor; because my financial situation is stable and none in my family has the virus. I recognize it, but am not going to loose sleep over guilt at my own fortune or by following news updates on the Pandemic constantly. In times like these one must exercise self-care, and there is no better method than to escape altogether and have fun.

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Stories of the sort I am describing…they cool us…hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never wholly understood it until my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.” – C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tolkien Reading Day

Naturally here on Stars Uncounted we celebrate Tolkien Reading Day, an annual event launched by The Tolkien Society, the date of March 25 being chosen for the simple reason that that is when the One Ring was cast into the Cracks of Doom and Sauron fell. Traditionally one celebrates by posting a quote The Lord of the Rings:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of The King.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

I have just started Crossroads of Twilight

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started Crossroads of Twilight, Volume #10 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
"And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight, and all that is, all that was, and all that will be shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow." So states the Prophecies of the Dragon and, as the world enters a new era, the many Thrones of the Westlands struggle against the Crystal from across the Aryth Ocean even as the fates of those and other thrones and forces hang in the balance. A balance between words and swords, between the White Tower both true and false with the Dragon Reborn, between Asha'man and Aes Sedai,
and, ultimately, between the Shadow and the Light – as is the definition of twilight.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, March 20, 2020

I have just finished Winter's Heart

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished Winter's Heart, Volume #9 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
It was said that during the Age of Legends the greatest feats of the One Power were accomplished by women and men working together, Saidar and Saidin united, hence the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai. Until that unity of Power was broken by the Dark One's counterstroke that ended the Dragon and broke the world after he saved it. Now that damage is undone by men and women working together even as, far away, the Daughter of the Nine Moons is revealed and taken by the gambler per the prophesy from beyond the doorway. Even as the Red Wolf searches for his beloved Falcon, Asha'man betray their name as others confirm it. Yet the Shadow lingers, dark knives and worse hearts threatening the Daughter-Heir and even the Dragon Reborn himself. Only one thing is certain: the Time of Illusions has come to an end.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Art of Magic: the Gathering

The Temple of Serra at Epityr. Art by Christine Choi.
The illustrator Ted Nasmith once described the wonder and power of Fantasy in but a single sentence: "It opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend." Naturally, specifically, the quote refers to when his sister introduced him to The Lord of the Rings. But I have already posted on Nasmith and his renditions of Valinor and Valyria, and indeed one can see his work scattered throughout Star Uncounted. However, I am in an artistic mood and thought to myself: What is some underappreciated Fantasy art that I could post? Something well-known in its own circles but perhaps not beyond? The answer was obvious, the justly popular card game Magic: the Gathering. In fact Mtg is more than popular, it is downright world-famous, but that does not mean people know much about it. I knew about it since I was small, but only that it was thematically related somehow to Dungeons & Dragons. Yet even after seeing a few game played I did not truly appreciate what for many players include me, now   is a matter of critical importance. The art on the cards. Above you can see one of my favorites, the Temple of Serra at Epityr where the town is cradled in the lap of the of statue while the towers of temple itself can just be made out between her wings.

Quite elegant and in my mind no less worthy of wonder on an aesthetic level than Mr. Nasmith's depiction of the Argonath. Indeed, I would bet that The Pillars of the Kings directing inspired both the temple and the Memorial to Genius. But it is not just statues carved into mountainsides, oh no, for when Magic players think of the games art one of if not the first thing that comes to mind is the wondrous world of Zendikar, images of which flank this text. To be clear, gravity does exist in this world as otherwise the Elf to the left would not bother with ropes. Granted that I do not know how it works on Zendikar save that it affects everything except the floating chuck of terrain. (Those floating angular things are called hedrons, are not natural formations, and are another story.) I could include more, but posting solid walls of art is something I try to avoid, particularly when I can provide a link to a fair bit of it. Anyway, the point is that just as great Fantasy authors bring their created worlds to life in the minds of their readers, great Fantasy artists can do the same regardless of whether the world they depict comes from a book or game.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

My father and I just finished The Valley of Fear

My father and I just finished The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and with it we have completed the last of the Sherlock Holmes novels. 

Masterful in every sense of the word, it was easily his greatest mystery - plot and counterplot woven in intrigue, love, loyalty, and murder with surprise that the great Diana Wynne Jones herself could not have better. I also had a great personal moment for I actually solved the mystery before Mr. Holmes did 😊 Ironically because it involved a trick that GRRM played several times. All of which again shows that mystery and Fantasy are literary kindred.
And yet, even on the last page, Professor Moriarty left a bloody fingerprint. We may have finished the novels, but we are not yet done journeying with the consulting detective of 221B Backer Street.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Quote to start the month

A sparrowhawk
"Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky." - Ursula K. Le Guin