Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve

As 2018 rolls away I think it is only fitting to look back on this year's accomplishments:
  • Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen.
  • The Howl Series by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Eye of the World, book #1 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
  • The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
  • The Cygnet Duology by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill
  • The Dark Is Rising and Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Healer's Keep by Victoria Hanley
  • La Belle Sauvage, Volume #1 of The Book of Dust trilogy by Sir Philip Pullman
 
(Somehow I do not think that this list will be as long next year, courtesy of the extraordinary length of The Wheel of Time. Frankly, I expect to finish the series in 2020.)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My father and I just finished Greenwich

My father and I just finished Greenwich, book #3 of the The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.

Lovely to see the Drew children again as we return to Cornwall to tack back something of the Light that was stolen by the Dark and the neutral Wild Magic. Lovely to see that sometimes a little kindness can do what great magics cannot, so a special salute to Jane.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Dark Is Rising

My father and I just finished The Dark Is Rising, book #2 of the Sequence of the same name written by Susan Cooper.

Yes it is odd for us to start a series with the second book, but Dad has read book #1 about as often I have the whole series, so we broke our usual rule. Regardless, The Dark Is Rising (both the book and series) is one of our oldest and highest pinnacles of Fantasy, an Arthurian Epic that helped forge our love of the genre and, for me, crafted my view of the world almost as much as The Lord of the Rings. Thus reading it again and basking in the quiet and unmistakable might of the Old Ones of the Light most particularly Will Stanton and Merriman Lyon was and remains the among highest of literary joys.

"When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.
-------------------------------------------------
Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.
--------------------------------------------------------
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree."

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A girl and her white snake

No longer do I think that the Universe is mocking me. Rather, I know! THE OLD BOOK SERIES' REFUSE TO END!! Now Edith Pattou has written a sequel to East, a girl and her white bear now becoming a girl and her white snake in a book entitled West. Of course I am not overly upset because it will be wonderful to see Rose again, but, by the Flames of Anor and Tar Valon, at this rate I will never read anything new (once I finish The Wheel of Time).

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Treason of the Intellectuals and Isengard

British academic, critic and novelist Adam Roberts describes the Grimdark sub-genre as one "where nobody is honourable and Might is Right," and as "the standard way of referring to fantasies that turn their backs on the more uplifting, visions of idealized medievaliana, and instead stress how nasty, brutish, short and dark life back then 'really' was." He critically notes, however, that Grimdark has little to do with re-imagining an actual historic reality and more with conveying the sense that our own world is a "cynical, disillusioned, ultra-violent place." 

Of course, one who has read my opinion of GRRM the Anti-Tolkien already knows that I wholeheartedly agree with this. However, this post is not just another long rant regarding A Song of Ice and Fire but, rather, an attack on the cynicism that fuels it and which goes beyond George R.R. Martin. A cynicism which amounts to another concept known as the Treason of the Intellectuals, in which academics accept and espouse cynicism because in a nutshell they believe that Power and Politics will near-always emerge triumphant over morality. Hence the best, wisest, course of action is to embrace this truth and put forth one's intellectualism to working with thus shaping the policies of the Powerful until they resemble/accomplish the political agenda of the academics.

Permit me to offer a quote from the J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
"A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means."
 

Sound familiar? If not, then recall these words as the ones spoken by Saruman to Gandalf when trying to convince him to join him in an alliance with Sauron. What is striking, however, is how neatly the Treason of Isengard matches the description of the Treason of the Intellectuals. Saruman and Gandalf had been sent to Middle-earth with the purpose of overthrowing Sauron, something that Saruman clearly still intends to accomplish, except that rather than fighting Mordor he now means to become Sauron's ally so as slowly twist and replace him on his dark throne.
Naturally Saruman is an very extreme case, as it would be far from fair to call cynical intellectuals ambitious agents of clear evil. Yet the crux of the matter is that, like Saruman, those academics who engage in intellectual treason believe that fighting Power and Politics with human determination and basic morality is a fool's errand and thus join the other side if they see any hope in altering it from within to suit their visions. In short, it is the temptation to accommodate oneself to the nature of the times, as Niccolò Machiavelli would have put it, and to ally cautiously but definitely with the Power that is rather than the principles that were. Saruman's mad vision may have been to replace the Lord of Mordor as the tyrant of Middle-earth, but, as can be seen, when striped down to their essential organs there is very little separating Treason of Isengard from the Treason of the Intellectuals.

Which, to bring this post to a full circle, is one of many reasons why I am the Enemy of the Grimdark. Because A Song of Ice and Fire and the genre as the whole offers a cold and cynical view of humanity coupled with the apparent lesson that the honorable and compassionate usually end with their heads upon a stake. It teaches that treachery is profitable; that morals do not pay and are near powerless to effect the wider world.

"Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost." - Charlie Chaplin

"Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us." - Stephen Colbert

"A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future." - Sydney J. Harris

"Cynicism isn't smarter, it's only safer. There's nothing fluffy about optimism." - Jewel Kitcher

"The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, December 1, 2018

I think the Universe is mocking me...

I think the Universe is mocking me. I finally start The Wheel of Time thinking that I have  the time to read it without other series I love dogging my heels. And why should I not? Christopher Paolini was writing a sci-fi series and thus was not going to return to the world of Alagaësia anytime soon; I had completed John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years (and he had confirmed that there would be no follow-up to book #12 of the main Ranger's Apprentice series); I finished Pullman's The Book of Dust, Nix's Goldenhand sequel to the Abhorsen series; and most of the other one-volume works in my possession.  
Plenty of time to read The Wheel of Time, right...?

Well, once again I see why getting to the new Fantasy books that have long graced my shelves is proving so difficult... IT IS BECAUSE THE OLD BOOK SERIES' REFUSE TO END!! On 10/10/2018 Paolini announces The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm out of nowhere. And today I go to the bookstore and find The Red Fox Clan, book #2 of the new Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger which is nothing less that an entire sequel series follow-up to the now-old book #12 (called The Royal Ranger) of the main Ranger's Apprentice series.

My reaction: YAY!! HELP!! AUGH!! (all at once). 
Seriously, the minute I finally begin moving through Robert Jordan's heavyweight what happens? All the my careful planning goes out the window as two of my dearest other series leap out like the unexpected ghosts of departed and beloved friends returned to life and calling to me 😲😵 Tis a cruel and unusual literary punishment and blessing by every definition of the words as I leap for joy and curse the skies with a single breath: the first for the sequels and second for the timing of this which is nothing short of maddening. Naturally I intend to follow my own long-held rules and finish The Wheel of Time before starting these others, but...😩

Monday, November 19, 2018

I have just started The Great Hunt

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started The Great Hunt, book #2 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
The Horn of Valere is found and travels south to Illian, yet the hunters and the hunted are each the other in this game. Darkfriends wearing white and those true to the Light in conflict despite the return of spring. As the
Prophesies of the Dragon state, "Let tears flow, O ye people of the world. Weep for your salvation."

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

I have just finished The Eye of the World

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished The Eye of the World, book #1 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
Thus have I entered a wondrous and truly vast world on a scale unseen since Tolkien. A world of Aes Sedai and Warders, Trollocs and Fades, lords, ladies, legends, and the Dark One bound by the Creator along with the rest of the Forsaken in Shayol Ghul until the end of time (more or less). Well met Rand al'Thor, Mat and Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve. I look forward to the rest of your long journey and the unfolding of the Pattern.
The prophesies will be fulfilled. The Dragon is Reborn.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The last of the Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones

My father and I just finished Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones.

This is it. This was it. The last the of the Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones - Mistress of the Multiverse and Lady of Endless Surprises whom I put second only to J.R.R. Tolkien himself. And, as usual, Dad and I ended up pounding our fists against the bed and crying aloud in the purest shock as her utterly unpredictably yet expertly woven story wound from quiet beginning to thunderous end.

This is the end of over a decade of reading. Since elementary school my father and I have laughed and learned with her, always knowing that another Diana Wynne Jones book lay on the horizon - another book we knew with every fiber of our souls that was good and moral and a literal roller-coaster ride to read.

Look on the list every Fantasy book I have ever read and Jones can be found spanning the whole of it. Our tradition of reading at night dates back to when I was a toddler and now I am in Grad School. We have read War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, most of Shakespeare's plays and so much else both of Non-fiction and Fantasy. Yet so many of our favorite reading moments to look back on occurred during a Diana Wynne Jones.

She knows every Fantasy stereotype, trope, and trick in the book – indeed, she lists them into an actual book called The Tough Guide to Fantasyland – and purposely subverts and/or circumvents them;  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 the plain it stood on to a smoking crater! The ability to surprise is her signature and she will tear down literary arrogance like hurricane winds will leaves! "We've been Jonesed!" was our agonized yet delighted yell whenever she got us (as she did at least twice each book). Yet she is also an excellent teacher and, while Dad and I never realized our dream of anticipating a Jones surprise before it happened
my signature line being "Well, since we've thought of it then it can't be right" – without her we would never have been able to barely anticipate Patricia A. McKillip as often as we do. Hence the students never matched the teacher, but we learned well.

 
Thank you, Diana Wynne Jones. Thank you so much for so many precious stories and reading memories. Our reading time and life itself will not feel the same knowing that we do not have a fresh world of yours to explore.

And Enchanted Glass was a stellar and most fitting ending; a classic that showed her ability to weave chaos and mind-bending complexity into an outwardly simple tale.

Happy days to Andrew Hope & Stashe, Aidan Cain, Tarquin, Rolf, Groil, Shaun, Trixie, and the unrelated Mr. and Mrs. Stock.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Great War that forged a Great Writer

I have always abstained from commenting on current real-world events here on Stars Uncounted but, today, I think I can make an exception. For a hundred years ago this day all quiet fell upon the western front as the armistice that ended the World War I was declared. 

A war that saw the service of a man who expressed admiration for his wife's willingness to marry a man with no job, little money, and no prospects except the likelihood of being killed in it. A man whose relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army, and who later recalled that "in those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage." But he did join, later writing that "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."

Today I pay tribute to the end of the First World War the only way possible on a Fantasy blog: by recognizing and paying homage to the particular service of the man I have described above. A man who fought in the trenches on the Western Front, most notably in the Battle of the Somme. A second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers named John Ronald Reuel Tolkien who, while recovering from an injury, began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin.

One has heard (at length) my praises of the author of The Lord of the Rings before, so today I will simply leave one to contemplate on how Tolkien's experiences of the true horror of war influenced his writings. With that in mind, let us look at these now familiar quotes of his again.
  • "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!"
  • “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.”
  • “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

And here are three that are new, the last perhaps the most poignant: 
  • "The most improper job of any man ... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
  • "The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism."
  • "One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead."