Saturday, September 22, 2018

A girl and her white bear

One often hears the time honored phrase "a boy and his dog." Well, I now coin a new one: "a girl and her white bear."

Lyra (& mouse-Pan) and Iorek Byrnison
To the left is Lyra Silvertongue riding her armored bear friend Iorek Byrnison (who gave her said last name), from Philip Pullman's unquestioned masterwork the His Dark Materials trilogy. This image is so striking, a girl riding atop an apparent polar bear, that it has for decades been ingrained within the Fantasy genre's psyche; as it should, given the unforgettable story it helps bring to life. Yet that is also why I was so startled years ago to see the image below as the cover of a book called East by Edith Pattou. 
Rose and the white bear
Indeed, I instantly called to my Dad over from a few shelves away (we we in a book store) and said, "Mmm, a girl with a polar where have we seen that before?" He replied in kind, saying that image had certainly been appropriated by Pullman. As a matter of fact we already had the book, but had more or less forgotten it, so seeing it served as both a reminder and sparked my curiosity, though I naturally assumed it must be at least somewhat based of His Dark least until I read the back-cover and then, a few years later, when Dad and I both read the read. Pattou's work is, as it turns out, little like Pullman's (save for the love and adventure part), East being an adaptation of an old Norwegian folk tale entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Which is interesting because the Iorek and his kin call themselves "panserbjørn", which is Norwegian and Danish for "armored bear".

I would thus speculate that His Dark Materials is derived more from old lore than is commonly thought. In fact, the proper name for The Golden Compass is Northern Lights, just as North Child is for East. Just as compasses also bear a prominent roll, and a far journey to the distant and mysterious and magical north. And, in both epics tales of loves and destiny, the girl and her white bear grows to share and unbreakable bond.

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