Friday, May 18, 2018

Gandalf lives

Recall how George R.R. Martin believes that J.R.R. Tolkien should have killed Gandalf permanently because he had such a great death scene in Moria and because the characters should have been made to go on without him? (In fact I just finished reading that part again today.)

Well, that dependence on Mithrandir was exactly why Professor Tolkien had him fall in Moria and constantly otherwise vanish on some errand or another. In The Hobbit, Gandalf disappears before a certain scene with three hungry trolls, swiftly returning, and then again left Bilbo and Dwarves as they entered Mirkwood to appear again just before the Battle of Five Armies. 
Then, in The Lord of the Rings, he fails to meet Frodo as he sets out and is thus gone for the better portion of book one (until Rivendell), falls in Moria and does not reappear until Fangorn in book two, and leaves again until after the battle of Battle of Helm's Deep. Being Gandalf, he is always doing something of critical import that is usually revealed later, but the point is that the characters are constantly forced to go on without him. Indeed, Frodo and Sam believe him to be dead from Moria to after the Ring is destroyed. 

The lesson? That Tolkien found an ingenious way to counteract any over-dependence on Gandalf without having to kill him. George R. R. Martin, on the other hand, seems to rely on killing to remove such characters; goodness knows any and all Gandalf-figures in A Song of Ice and Fire are cold and buried or cold in anOther sort of way (with the possible exception of Doran Martell, who was introduced fairly recently). Indeed, I have little doubt that GRRM would have found it more fitting if the wizard had come back as Gandalf the Wight.

Monday, May 14, 2018

My father and I just finished The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip.

My father and I just finished The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip.

Enter into a dream born upon the tides... Where a dark-haired prince watches and hears the call of the sea; where a sea-dragon wearing a chain of gold emerges to watch the humble fishers at works; where a pale-and-tangled-haired tavern girl who walks with bare feet finds herself in the midst of a grand mystery born of love and anger out of the depths.
Enter into a fairy tale of the sea, not the forest. One which proves yet again that Patricia A. McKillip ranks alongside the great J.R.R. Tolkien. This a true classic. An epic out of the ocean that surpasses my wildest dreams. Long have I sought a book that captures all the wonder and power of mystery of the sea. This book ended that search.

Farewell and lots of love to Peri, Prince Kir, Aidon, mage Lyo, Mare, Carey, Enin, the King, and the sea-woman.

“It’s an odd thing, happiness. Some people take happiness from gold. Or black pearls. And some of us, far more fortunate, take their happiness from periwinkles.” - Patricia A. McKillip

“Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.” - Patricia A. McKillip

“What a dull place the world would be if all the mysteries in it were solved.” - Patricia A. McKillip

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

I have just started The Two Towers

“'Do I not say truly, Gandalf,' said Aragorn at last,
'that you could go whithersoever you wished quicker than I?
And this I also say: you are our captain and our banner.
The Dark Lord has Nine. But we have One, mightier than they:
the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss,
and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads.'”
Started I have again and to my joy The Two Towers, second of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Home to arguably my favorite scene in all of Fantasy, the unlooked-for return of Gandalf the White.

"Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon."

Monday, May 7, 2018

I have finished The Fellowship of the Ring

I have read them half-a-dozen and more times and still the skill and majesty and wit of the Founding Father of Fantasy amazes me. Frodo and Sam depart East to Mordor, while Aragorn and the rest desperately seek the Ring-bearer upon Amon Hen, the Seat of Seeing.

One again I have finished The Fellowship of the Ring, first of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” - Haldir of Lothl√≥rien

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

MtG Deckbuilding

So, as is well established by this point, I am an avid fan of the Magic: the Gathering (mtg) card game. Avid fan and avid player who now has many decks built in all colors and color combinations save for anything Black-related, Colorless, and Red-Blue; Fantasy morality forbids me from necromancy (i.e. Black) and I have not gotten around to building the others. So say around eight decks in total.

As the game's website confirms, "each color has its own strengths, weaknesses, and personality" and "one of the coolest aspects of Magic is its unlimited freedom. With so many cards and combinations to explore, a huge part of the fun is discovering your own decks and using them to confound your opponents. Fewer things are more satisfying than playing a deck that nobody’s ever seen before, especially when you win with it!" 

Any mtg player worth their planeswalker spark knows this to be an incontestable truth, yet I have found a special Deckbuilding approach (for 60-card standard format) that works for all colors and color-combinations – one which has won me far more games than lost. Hence I thought it would be nice to share it:
  1. A minimum of 23 lands (24 if a two-color deck, with 12 of each color).
  2. No more than three cards with a mana-cost of 5 or above.
  3. Exactly seven cards with mana-cost of 4.
  4. The remaining cards are all of 3 mana-cost or lower.
  5. Several creatures with Flying and/or cards capably of stopping flyers.
  6. Make sure every card has a special ability (i.e. no throwaways).
  7. (It is not strictly necessary, but, if possibly, a couple cards capable of destroying Enchantments & Artifacts can be helpful.) 
My overall rule? A clear majority of low mana-coast cards as, if nothing else, they will defend you well and for long enough until you can get your big ones out. Frankly, though, I prefer to give my rank-and-file warriors a wing up and let them carry me to victory, but that is another story. The key to these guidelines is that, again, they allow for all the diverse strategies that make mtg so much fun. My Red (dragon) swarm, Blue mill, Green lifegain, and all my other decks were built using these. As was my first and main White deck, which is arguably built around the cards at the corners. 

Anyway, just thought I ought to share this and end by saying that this Deckbuilding style is based off something I learned from John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series: In battle it is better to do a few simple things really well than count on the success of a long and/or complex strategy. The enemy will not wait for you.
(The four cards at the corners are those that I consider to be my signature cards, though some might argue that the Preserver should be replaced by a certain Lunarch Marshal. More to the point, thought, the one that has annoyed by friends most often is, at face value, the weakest of the lot: Dauntless River Marshal.)

Friday, April 27, 2018

My father and I just started The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just started The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip.

McKillip, of course, is a master of the first order, with a writing style that literally forces readers to slow down and feel like they are hearing a distant voice echoing across time from beyond a foggy ocean. But this, even by her standards, rings of something special...for within four pages we were utterly enchanted as if by a siren; unable to believe that it was four pages instead of forty and ten minutes as opposed an age of the world. Truly we wandered around for the rest of the evening, clutching our heads, pretending like we had aged a millennia, feeling almost as if world history could be divided into two epochs: before and after those first four pages. Truly McKillip has bound us with a spell beyond the usual even for her as, while in her other a few of her other books invoke the ancient mystery and power of the sea in part...she has never dedicated a whole book to it. Yet if this is such a book...

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My father and I just finished the Howl Series by Diana Wynne Jones

My father and I just finished House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, the third and final book of her Howl Series.
So as usual a certain moving castle brings both chaos and good fortune in equal and mixed measure. So as usual Jones writes a book of unutterable complexity beneath a deceptive layer of charming simplicity...the climax resulting in us gaping in shock and me pounding my fists against the bed. Nothing new and different about that. Diana Wynne Jones is truly no less a genius than Tolkien - but in a wholly different way. And this time she showed her hitherto unknown ability to craft an insectoid terror.

Goodbye and best wishes to Charmain Baker, Wizard Howl & Sophie & Calcifer (neat work, as always), Peter, Great-Uncle William, the enchanting dog Waif, the kobolds, the royals of High Norland, and Jamal and his dog.
As always, our faith in Jones is well rewarded.