Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Winter was coming

It seems only fair that, after all I have said about him, to let George R.R. Martin speak. As you listen, please recall the words of House Stark: Winter is coming.



He sounds wise here, but really there is a appreciable level of hypocrisy. The Others are beyond question an I-am-going-to-cover-the-world-with-darkness kind of evil race, and in a very literal fashion if the Long Night and their necromancy is any indication.
The cold winds are rising, and men go out from their fires
and never come back ...
or if they do, they're not men no more,
but only wights, with blue eyes and cold black hands.
Furthermore, and again, his books espouse the philosophy that one must needs be a hardhearted killer to survive per the fact that most everybody who does otherwise is either dead or in exile. And let us again recall that this is the man who wrote "love is the bane of honor, the death of duty." Anyway, and returning to the current point, GRRM can talk about not liking fell and inhuman races covering the the world in shadow, but in fact he did a better job of it than most fantasy authors creating chill horrors of ice and darkness that make Tolkien's orcs seem tame by comparison.

Demons made of snow and ice and cold.
The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.
"The night is dark and full of terrors" as I recall, and I definitely did not imagine the Night's Watch nor the various undead wights that Jon Snow and the rest of them are forced to deal with both at and Beyond the Wall. GRRM may claim his world to be something governed by the whims and social complexities of humanity, but throughout his entire work, from the prologue of book #1 and through all the black intrigue of the rest, he slowly but inextricably builds up the threat of winter and the Others. A trend confirmed not only by the trials of Jon Snow, but also by those of Bran Stark. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont once Samwell Tarly, "The Night's Watch has forgotten its true purpose, Tarly. You don't build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women. The Wall was made to guard the realms of men ... and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it. Too many years, Tarly, too many hundreds and thousands of years. We lost sight of the true enemy." Per the above video, it seems to me that GRRM may have forgotten as well, which strikes me as passing odd seeing as they are his most notable and unique creations. Why, he is even utilizing the classic ancient-prophecy-which-foretells-the-coming-of-a-hero-to-deliver the-world-from-darkness trick in the form of the legend/prophecy of Azor Ahai, the prince that was promised: "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone." A hero who is supposedly destined to fight and forever drive back the Others and the night they bring using the blade unimaginatively named Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. The issue of course being that his ingenious usage of this old trick coupled with the even older Flaming Sword archetype is marginalized by his ruthless High Lords playing their game of thrones.

The night is dark and full of terrors

I will not lie. When I first began George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire I was utterly hooked. How could I not be? The Prologue beyond the Wall, in the dark and cold of Haunted Forest alongside the members of the Night's Watch, was like nothing I had ever read before. Indeed, I believe that GRRM's great mistake was not putting the Others – the power of ice and cold and night – to proper and epic use; having his series revolve around the words of House Targaryen, Fire and Blood, as opposed to House Stark, Winter is coming. The power of the North, and such terms as King of the North, were and are not uncommon in Fantasy, but GRRM took it to the next and many levels higher. Recall the oath of the Night's Watch:"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."
In short, if he had stuck with the Others as his tale's principle foe a opposed to the Lannisters then, instead of birthing the Grimdark which amounts to a blood and porn with a nihilism overlay approach to Tolkien-style epic Fantasy GRRM could created one of the finest ever of the High Fantasies just as J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage

YYYYYEEEEESSSSS! AT LAST!! AT LONG LAST!!!😍

The Book of Dust was like a myth, like a fabled mist-shrouded castle one endless walks towards yet never reaches nor even sees clearly. For over a decade nearly all we heard was that Philip Pullman was "working on it," this message updated/rephrased every few years or so. We heard that he hoped for it to come out in 2016, yet the year passed without a word.
That it is here, much less in trilogy form, is truly surreal.


Oh, to see Lyra and Pantalaimon again!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

My father and I just finished The Cracks in the Kingdom

My father and I just finished The Cracks in the Kingdom, book #2 of The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty.

I hate memory magic. I hate malcontent anti-royal kidnappers and murders. I hate nonsensical similes. Still, despite having to deal with all three relative abundance with the odd color attack thrown in, I am ready and waiting and eager to start book #3 tomorrow.
Just a half-completed rescue mission relating to inter-dimensional rifts to finish. Oh, and a strange romance complicated by that aforementioned memory magic.

Friday, October 6, 2017

How many miles to Babylon?

Nursery rhymes. The first tidbits of old lore and Fairyland we learn as children, often from Mother Goose. Everything from "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", "Doctor Foster", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jack and Jill", "Little Boy Blue", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "Mary Had a Little Lamb ", "Old King Cole", "Ring a Ring o' Roses", "Rock-a-bye Baby", "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", and "Three Blind Mice".
Yet there are some nursery rhymes filled with a more primal, deep power, invoking a sense of mystery. Include one that appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (who of course uses it in an unforgettable scene that sticks out even by her top-tier standards) as well as in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Indeed, while my father and I have read countless books together, from the best of Fantasy to other such masterworks as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Shakespeare's Hamlet, we still remember that night from Deep Secret. We still judge the time Jones took us to Babylon as one of our collective literary high points. If I ever write a Tale of Faerie, I swear that I shall use them myself.

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If you feet are speedy and light
You can get there by candlelight.


Where is the road to Babylon?
Right beside your door.
Can I walk that way whenever I want?
No, three times and no more.
If you mark the road and measure it right
You can go there by candlelight.


What shall I take to Babylon?
A handful of salt and grain,
Water, some wool for warmth on the way,
And a candle to make the road plain.
If you carry these things and use them right
You can be there by candlelight.


How do I go to Babylon?
Outside of here and there.
Am I crossing a bridge or climbing a hill?
Yes, both before you're there.
If you follow outside of day and night
You can be there by candlelight.


How hard is the road to Babylon?
As hard as grief or greed.
What do I ask for when I get there?
Only for what you need.
If you travel in need and travel light,
you can get there by candlelight.


How long is the way to Babylon?
Three score years and ten.
Many have gone to Babylon
But few come back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You can be back by candlelight.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones

 Truth is the fire that fetches thunder - Diana Wynne Jones

Mistress of the Multiverse and Lady of Endless Surprises – whom I put second only to J.R.R. Tolkien himself. I know this sounds absurd, but the wit, skill, and pure genius of Jones can even go beyond Tolkien and J.K. Rowling at times. She has written countless books, mostly one-volume works which I believes accounts for her lack of fame in this Golden Age of Fantasy Series, and each one is literally and totally different from anything else you will ever read – including other Jones books! The ability to surprise is her signature and she will tear down literary arrogance like hurricane winds will leaves. I once judged myself wise enough in the ways of Fantasy to be able to see through basically any trick. Well, Jones first shredded the banner of my pride, then reduced it to mere threads, then a thread, then just a banner-less pole, and now (after reading her Dalemark Quartet) nothing! The pole is gone, leaving just an empty field where my pride once stood! Believe me, read all her books and by the end you will be able to pick up on other Fantasy author's tricks and subterfuges via instinct alone. 

Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman
Take Patricia A. McKillip, for instance. She plays many plot-tricks and had my father and I read she before Jones she would have gotten us every time. As it stood though, with our Jones-training we anticipated her several times; her along with Jones' dear friend and quasi-protégé Neil Gaiman. Ever read the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling? Well, Diana Wynne Jones came first and much of Rowling's writing style and plot-tricks bears an uncanny similarity to Jones' work. Frankly, I have always deemed it criminal that Rowling not acknowledge Jones' influence on her. Believe me, journey through the Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones and you will see and meet things you never even dreamed of. I still cannot fathom how any one mind can not only think outside the box but, by all appearances, exist beyond it as well. Well, this has certainly morphed into a long rant...I guess I had better get back on task. Again, I recommend Jones in general and as a matter of course, but her very best (more or less) are: Hexwood, Deep Secret, the Dalemark Quartet, Archer’s Goon, The Time of the Ghost, Fire and Hemlock, A Tale of Time City, and The Homeward Bounders. (See my Bookshelf for the rest, or check here)