Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Golden Age of Fantasy

How fortunate that we live in a Golden Age of Fantasy! I mean, truly, is there any doubt? Fantasy literature has passed from a little-noted genre to a mainstream phenomenon, given large sections of all bookstores and libraries, a whole theme park in the case of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, with GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire recently breaking into the world of TV series in the form of HBO's The Game of Thrones. Indeed, following The Game of Thrones came the The Shannara Chronicles as an adaptation of Terry Brooks' Original Shannara Trilogy, and now BBC is developing a TV series for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Then one has phenomenally popular authors like Garth Nix,  Brandon Sanderson, Patricia A. McKillip, Rachel Hartman, Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, Patrick Rothfuss, Diana Wynne Jones, Christopher Paolini, Michael Scott, John Flanagan, Kristen Britain, Kristin Cashore, Alison Croggon, Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton, Kelly Barnhill, Brian Jacques, Jonathan Stroud, and so many others (and these are just the ones I personally have heard of). All of whom have in the last decade or two written amazing works with substantial and dedicated fandoms.

Furthermore, all the while the old masters remain readily popular and available. The Founder of Modern Fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings of course, but also others just as the recently passed
Ursula K. Le Guin whose
Earthsea Cycle took a different approach to the genre. Much like Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence and Pullman's aforementioned
His Dark Materials. Actually, several of the authors listed above are old masters; I merely listed them up there because have until recently or still are writing.

But now I think a bit of history is in order. How did we find ourselves in this wondrous Golden Age of Fantasy? The answer, unsurprisingly, begins with J.R.R. Tolkien.
No one denies that Fantasy literature owes its bones to The Lord of the Rings; it essentially swamped all previously written works of Fantasy, and it unquestionably created "Fantasy" as a marketing category. Indeed, all the author's I have listed site Tolkien as a defining influence, from GRRM to Jones, from Rowling to Paolini, from McKillip to Croggon. Knowing that Tolkien came first, you cannot read any other books without seeing his hand-print. Indeed, in the immediate years following LOTR, its popularity created an enormous number of Tolkienesque works (using the themes found in The Lord of the Rings).  
Then, in 1977, Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara came out. Some now call the it a LOTR imitation, but I disagree utterly; it is Tolkienesque, for a certainly, yet is its own story and the Four Lands has a  history/lore unique to that of Middle-earth and populated by engaging characters; furthermore, to call the two subsequent books in the Original Shannara Trilogy LOTR imitations is nothing short of madness. Regardless, however, the key fact is that Brooks' was breakthrough success that publishers had been yearning for: the first true master Fantasist since Tolkien and Shannara became the first Fantasy novel to appear on, and eventually top the New York Times bestseller list. As a result, the genre saw a boom in the number of quite popular titles published in the following years, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Then came The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (which is one my to-read list) and The Blue Sword and its companion The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

Yet the Golden Age had yet to begin. It needed a push. Well, several pushes, actually, and the next of those was Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time (which took decades to complete and is my current book), followed by the more swiftly finished Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Both international bestsellers, with Williams' work setting the seeds of inspiration in the mind of George R. R. Martin and the much later and regrettable rise of Grimdark Fantasy.

Yet still the Golden Age had not begun. Fantasy was present and popular, yes, but it needed, frankly, another Tolkien; another The Lord of the Rings. Another undeniable literary classic to inspire another whole generation of readers. And we got it in The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling...hence my name for her, the Heir of Tolkien. One does not need me to list the virtues of Harry Potter nor how it differs from LOTR, but it was the classic that started the Golden Age of Fantasy – pushing the genre forever into the canon of Great Literature increasingly intertwining with mainstream fiction. A process aided by the international popularity of other works such as Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan, and so many others that have have listed.

Now, with both Rowling and Tolkien to draw upon, Fantasy has blossomed into a still-growing and flourishing garden of authors and worlds one can spend literal decades reading (I speak from experience). Truly the popularity of the Fantastic is not lessening but rather the opposite, as noted in the first paragraph. Let us glory in this Golden Age of Fantasy! This Golden Age of Imagination!

"At its best, fantasy rewards the reader with a sense of wonder about what lies within the heart of the commonplace world. The greatest tales are told over and over, in many ways, through centuries. Fantasy changes with the changing times, and yet it is still the oldest kind of tale in the world, for it began once upon a time, and we haven't heard the end of it yet." - Patricia A. McKillip

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." – Albert Einstein 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Dragon Age Inquisition - The Dawn Will Come

I have never played the game Dragon Age: Inquisition so there is little that I can say about it. But I am always searching for inspiring music regardless of the source and, upon finding this, was moved in a way few songs ever touch me. And why not, for it in many ways encapsulates the values and spirit of the High Fantasy: a sense of moral high-minded optimistic realism, wisdom, and personal integrity. Trust me, you do not need to understand or have any knowledge of the game's story to feel the power of this scene and song.
Shadows fall and hope has fled
Steel your heart, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

The Shepherd’s lost and his home is far
Keep to the stars, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

Bare your blade and raise it high
Stand your ground, the dawn will come
The night is long and the path is dark
Look to the sky for one day soon
The dawn will come

Friday, August 24, 2018

Gandalf the White, not Wight.

Why does it keep coming back to the Bridge of Khazad-dûm? So, in brief, George R.R. Martin says that J.R.R. Tolkien’s killing of Gandalf was influential in his decision to kill off his own characters:
“By the time I got to Mines of Moria I decided this was the greatest book I’d ever read… And then Gandalf dies! I can’t explain the impact that had on me at 13. You can’t kill Gandalf… Tolkien just broke that rule, and I’ll love him forever for it. The minute you kill Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is 1,000 times greater. Because now anybody could die. Of course, it’s had a profound effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat.”

I have always said that GRRM got the wrong message from Tolkien, but this is pitiful 😑 Gandalf was reborn as Gandalf the White, not Gandalf the Wight. Frankly, this statement is senseless per GRRM's own previous words saying that Tolkien should have kept Gandalf dead. I would say more but, seeing as I already have in an earlier post, there is no need.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Wheel of Time

So it begins...
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Long have said that I would not read this series. I now eat those words to read countless more. I have just started The Eye of the World, book #1 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. 

I have just witnessed the tragic death of Lews Therin Telamon, called the Dragon, Lord of the Morning, and lastly Kinslayer.
(Unlike usual, I do not silently swear to finish this series, but by the Light I mean to try!)

Friday, August 10, 2018

My father and I just finished The Cygnet and the Firebird

My father and I just finished The Cygnet and the Firebird by Patricia A. McKillip, the final book of her Cygnet Duology.

I am in awe. Again. Again yet more so. Again. If the first book was of stars and time, this one was of Dragons. Far from Ro Holding there lies the Luxour Desert where Dragons shift themselves out of time and legend, literally. A landscape so vast, wondrous, and timeless that it defies description save that it pulses with the ancient, beautiful, primal wonder and majestic power of the Dragon.

In this distant place Mequet and Nyx found riddles and puzzles writ not in stone but in the human heart for, more than any other book, this story is driven by the question of whom to trust amid a crime that cries as a Firebird and hunts the Cygnet as a Dragon. Most books are driven by events that in turn shape the characters' personalities; yet under the Cygnet it is the opposite, the personalities that drive all which in turn results in the most brilliant conversations I have EVER read. Brilliant, unpredictable, and so filled with human heart.

May the stars guide your paths Meguet Vervaine (& and the Gatekeeper), Nyx Ro & Brand Saphier, and Rad Ilex.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Just finished The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Just finished The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill.

I can only say this: Off all the countess books I have read, few possess the heart of this one. It is a fairy tale. Death of family, an ancient and wild and tempting magic managed by a Witch, an Enchanted Forest, a Bandit King, an aging good Queen, a wolf, and Nine Speaking Stones.

And Ned the Witch's Boy. And Aine the Bandit King's Daughter. It has been an absolute delight getting to know you both, sharing in your joys and terrors and heartbreaks and forged friendship. To the sea!

(Caitlin, thank you so much for suggesting this way back when!! It has earned a special place on my shelves)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fantasy morality

In the intro page I say that my morality, manner of speech, style of writing, and building blocks of thought may all be traced to Fantasy books I have read. Well, perhaps I ought to compile some of that morality to show, in sum, what said fantastical literature can do for a person. Naturally I am limited to what I have long called "nuggets of wisdom" within books and a more complete set of quotes (not limited to Fantasy literature) can be found on the Quotes page. Yet there is something to be said for conciseness, a simple set of strictures to go by, and this, or near enough as makes no matter, is mine:

The sentiment of the Abhorsens: "For everyone and everything, there is a time to die." 

From Ogion of Gont, Wizard of Re Albi: "To hear, one must be silent." 

Faramir on purpose of war: "I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness, nor the arrow for it's swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend."

Silvia of Innail: "The law is that the hungry must be fed, and the homeless must be housed, and the sick must be healed. That is the way of the Light."

Chrodechild of the Blades of Night's Veil: "The responsibility of rulers is to protect their country and their people. To that end, naturally, they must employ various techniques. Different faces that depend on the time, the situation and the people with which they are dealing."

The last words of The King under the Mountain: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

Landen, Prince and slave and swordmaster: "Killing the strong to prove your strength is foolish weakness. Killing fools is easy weakness. Killing the weak is evil weakness. Accomplished your ends without killing, mastering your mind when you want to kill - that is strength!"


Cadvan of Lirigon: "To love is never wrong. It may be disastrous; it may never be possible; it may be the deepest agony. But it is never wrong."

Gandalf on legends: "Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know."

Herald Dirk of Valdemar: "There's no such thing as 'one, true way'; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good they're the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren't willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race."

From the witty and not quite moral scholar: "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge."

Kerowyn the merc: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch."

Merriman Lyon, sometimes called Great Uncle Merry: "For ever and ever, we say when we are young, or in our prayers. Twice, we say it. Old One, do we not? For ever and ever ... so that a thing may be for ever, a life or a love or a quest, and yet begin again, and be for ever just as before. And any ending that may seem to come is not truly an ending, but an illusion. For Time does not die, Time has neither beginning nor end, and so nothing can end or die that has once had a place in Time."

Od: "Power shaped by wonder and curiosity; even love. Not by fear and laws that shut out instead of inviting it."