Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Neverending Story

It is less than 400 pages, yet is longer than Harry Potter. It is less than 400 pages, yet the entire Fantasy genre is captured within it.

My Father and I just finished The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

How to describe a book that is unlike any other, that robbed us of words almost nightly? All I can say is that if The Neverending Story is the only Fantasy book one ever reads, then one can call themselves a veteran of the genre. All I can say is that Michael Ende ranks with J.R.R. Tolkien himself. All I can say is that we supped with the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes within the Ivory Tower and drank the Water of Life between the black and white snakes who encircle and yet are within the Glory.

All I can say is thank you to Bastian Balthazar Bux and Atreyu of the Greenskins , to Falkor the luckdragon, to the The Childlike Empress who accepts all as they are and never uses her power, to Grograman the Many Colored Death, to The Old Man of Wandering Mountain, to Hero Hynreck and Hykrion, Hysbald and Hydorn, and, last but not least, to Carl Conrad Coreander.

I beseech all to read this book, to join Bastion on his first steps. But I warn you that
“If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger--
If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early--
If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless--
If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Literary kindred

I do not claim to be an avid reader of the Mystery genre – aside from a few kids' books and, more recently, the acclaimed historical murder mystery The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – but I have always had the deepest respect for the genre. In fact, it is fair to say, I believe, that Mystery and Fantasy are in fact literary cousins (with Sci-Fi being the Fantastic's only closer relative; a sibling, presumably).

One states this because, while a Fantasy novel may employ little mystery and a Mystery even less magic, both at their best utilize strategy/tactics, good vs. evil with relatively high stakes, and intellectualism. This is not to say that the two genres are not very different in several key ways, but these shared traits prove that they are enough akin to be called cousins. Further evidence of this is provided by the fact that supernatural (i.e. magical/Fantasy) elements are not exactly unheard of within the Mystery genre, and many a Fantasy author – such as J.K. Rowling – took great pains to add elements of mystery.

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." 
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle[1] 

"Caught between the riddle and its answer there is no freedom." 
- Patricia A. McKillip[2]

P.S. And if one still remains unconvinced, the two genres share yet another element: Pipes! Seems to me that the Grey Pilgrim and the detective of 221B Baker Street would get along quite famously, what with the former blowing colored smoke rings and the latter creating a (and I quote) "poisonous atmosphere" of tobacco smoke.

[1] Author of the Sherlock Holmes books (the Mystery genre's The Lord of the Rings equivalent)
[2] American author of fantasy and science fiction novels, which have been winners of the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and the Mythopoeic Award. In 2008, she was a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Palantír vs. Glass Candles

It appears that I have uncovered another leaf that GRRM took from Tolkien's book, a very subtle leaf that only one learned in the lore of Arda (Tolkien's fantasy universe) would spot amongst GRRM's thorns. And spotting, that it clarity of sight, is the exact nature of this discovery, for their is an unmistakable kinship between the Palantír of The Lord of the Rings and the Glass Candles of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Palantír were made by the Elves of Valinor in the Undying Lands, the acknowledge apex of civilization in Arda. Called the Seven Seeing Stones, they resembled large dark glass spheres with murky depths (but are in truth indestructible dark crystals) and with them those with the skill and will can gaze upon many things across the face of the world. Gaze and communicate with those looking into other, different, Palantír despite the Seeing Stones being scattered across the vast realms of Gondor and Arnor. These magical artifacts burn with a strange inner fire when used and were rescued from the Downfall of Númenor by Lord Elendil and his sons and taken to Middle-Earth where they were set up in various towers across the Realms in Exile.

As to the Glass Candles, they were made in Old Valyria, the acknowledge apex of civilization in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire (see my comparison of Valinor and Valyria in my GRRM the Anti-Tolkien page). Like the Palantír they are dark, though of twisted and razor-sharp obsidian as opposed to smooth crystal, and it t is claimed that when the glass candles burn the sorcerers can see across mountains, seas and deserts, give humans visions and dreams and the ability to communicate with one another half a world apart. Sound familiar? Well, if not, then I should also say that these Glass Candles were rescued from the Doom of Valyria and give off twisted light when they burn. In GRRM's universe their most noted home is the Citadel, the great tower home and HQ of the Maesters.

Again this is a subtle point, but an unmistakable one, and illustrates well enough that George R.R. Martin may have borrowed more from J.R.R. Tolkien than is commonly believed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Just started Court Duel

Just started Court Duel, the second book of Sherwood Smith's The Crown & Court Duet.
Peace has come to Remalna insofar as swords are concerned. Now the more dangerous fight begin...the battle of wit and words. Intriguing (pun intended).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Crown Duel

Just finished Crown Duel, the first book of Sherwood Smith's The Crown & Court Duet.
Congratulations, Countess Meliara Astiar of Tlanth, you learned that ignorance and grudges can kill you a bare fraction of a second before becoming a corpse, as opposed to Court, decoration. 
Royal intrigue is a deadly game, yes, but it does not follow that all the players are power-hungry fiends. Some actually have hearts, as opposed to wallets.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Open your eyes. Wake up, Link."

While I am hardly an avid Legend of Zelda player, I am a deep fan of the lore and the truly awe-inspiring quality of the latest Breath of the Wild game deserves special recognition. However, I write this post not because of that, but rather because the game illustrates – and animates – a Fantasy world-building point of mine.

As any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, Fantasy literature draws much of its inspiration from myth and legend, both of which are empowered with wonder and mystery. Robin Hood and his Merry Men (green clad archers of the forest who defend the common people) inspired Rangers such as Aragorn son of Arathorn (from The Lord of the Rings) and Halt of Araluen (from Ranger's Apprentice). Merlin is the archetypal wizard in flowing robes and bearing a staff. And Druids and Bards are subjects of proven history in addition to folklore.
And these do not even touch upon the classic tales of medieval knights and dragons, kings and princesses, that is one of the most common elements found in the High Fantasy.

Yet one notices that these stories of yore are all European based; all these tales rooted in the ancestral knowing of the West. Of course there is nothing wrong with this per se, but I am a big believer in experimentation and have a particular fondness for unique Fantasies that in some manner defy standard conventions. Fantasies that draw off other tales from other cultures.

Which brings me back to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which draws much inspiration from the little known Jōmon period – from Japanese prehistory – in regards to the power of the Shiekah clan. The creators of the game explain such in the video clip below.

The point I, and this game, makes is that the lore of Eastern cultures remains a largely untapped goldmine within the Fantasy genre. A goldmine that, when used, tends to immense popularity. Take the justifiably famous anime T.V. series Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the Avatar Universe, each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society, and within each nation exist people known as "benders" who have the innate power and ability to control and manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show's creators assigned each bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned.

Bryan Konietzko, the co-creator and executive producer of the show, said that he and his counterpart "were really interested in other epic Legends & Lore properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese Anime, Hong Kong action & Kung Fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar."

As one can see from the image featuring the original members of Team Avatar, namely from their clothing and the architecture of the town, this unutterably popular show drew its strength from the untapped goldmine I mentioned (and came out with more than a few gold bars for their trouble).
Sadly though, it is mostly TV and video games that puts Eastern lore to use, for in my extensive reading I have barely ever found it touched upon, and even then usually in a light manner.