Tuesday, May 21, 2019

My father and I just finished The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

My father and I just finished The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman.

An incredibly short yet deeply stirring read, we saw prophesy, old sorrow, death and jealousy ride with the Amazon tribe through the eyes of and often directed towards the girl Rain, daughter of rape and a Queen. Yet times change and evil will always betray itself even as Rain feels the forbidden emotions of mercy and love towards that collective foe called men. More I cannot say save that the book thrums with a primal force that rings out in the echoes of myth and deep emotion.

Ride well, Dream Rider Rain, and you Astella, Penthe, Melek, Deborah, Usha the Bear, Io, and the Black Horse.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Thrones

I admit even I am a tad sorry that the Game of Thrones TV series has ended, for with it goes so many grand opportunities to make wry comments about GRRM. 

So here is the last one, done in honor of Ned Stark and Quentyn Martell: Hopefully the books have an ending just as happy, because there is no single Night's King to slay and I daresay that HBO is less bloodthirsty than GRRM.

Friday, May 17, 2019

His Dark Materials Official BBC teaser

Do I even need to say anything? πŸ˜ƒ Far be from me to judge a TV series by the teaser alone, but this looks excellent. (Might help those soon to be suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal as well)


"Lyra just came to me entire and complete, I didn’t consciously make her up with a list of attributes. But I had been a teacher for about 12 years working with children of her age and there were lots of Lyras - in every classroom in the country there is a Lyra or two. Or three. She’s a very ordinary child and that’s the point about her. If she’s unusual it’s in her capacity to feel affection, which she does very readily and very warmly." – Sir Philip Pullman

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

My father and I just finished Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Something Rich and Strange  by Patricia A. McKillip. (A novella within her Dreams of Distant Shores book)

The book is like a lullaby rocking you as gently with words as the tides do seaweed. I caught myself nearly falling asleep at times not because the story was in any way boring but rather because of the linguistic melody. A true siren's song. One has heard of not being able to see the forest for the trees, but in this book one nearly loses the story for the words. Frankly, I think it is a gross misconception that people even read books; say rather that books read people by projecting themselves onto those willing to open up to them.
That said and while the book did not in the end match The Changeling Sea, calling the story a siren's song is an apt comparison seeing as once again McKillip brought forth the great power of the fathomless depths; only she made it more fathomable as we actually entered the undersea realm this time. Searching for and lured by siren's songs and lost but true mortal love, we saw mer-trees with fishscale-bark and kelp for leaves. (And excellent work on the rescue mission, Megan.)


Ever look towards the sea and each other, Jonah and Megan.

"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange."

- Shakespeare's The Tempest

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

I finally completed RuneScape's Myreque quest series

Myreque sickle
Over a decade of work ended today as I finally completed RuneScape's Myreque quest series. The Myreque were a paramilitary resistance movement trying to liberate Morytania, the Vampyre-infested lands across the Holy River Salve, from the grasp of the vampyre Lord Drakan and his underlings. A dark and terrifying tale full of blood, death, horror, and truly heroic acts of selflessness in a beyond desperate fight against impossible odds to free humanity from being milked like cows for blood.
 

A tale which had my heart on a string almost as soon as I started the quest series over a decade ago.

Cheers to a dearly bought and partial yet true still success. Cheers to the living and the dead: Veliaf Hurtz, Harold Evans, Ivan Strom, Polmafi Ferdygris, Radigad Ponfit, Sani Piliu, Safalaan Hallow, Vertida Sefalatis, Andiess Juip, Flaygian Screwte, Kael Forshaw, Mekritus A'hara, Drezel, and Queen Efaritay.
Myreque prevail.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Tolkien estate disavows forthcoming Tolkien-biopic

Nicholas Hoult as J.R.R. Tolkien and
Lily Collins as his wife Edith
The title of this post says it all and one can read the details in this article from The Guardian. Frankly though, this sounds worse than it is seeing as the Tolkien Estate expressed noted distaste with Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies as well (which were as good if not better than one could reasonably expect a movie of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterwork to be). Honestly, the Tolkien Society is too perfectionist for their own good and I find it ironic seeing as Christopher Tolkien has spent his life compiling and publishing works that his father did not deem complete enough to see the light of day. Fitting really, I guess, and ironic, that the Estate should embody J.R.R. Tolkien's one standout flaw that I know of: taking
perfectionism to near-religious levels.


(As to the Tolkien biopic, I am neither excited nor otherwise myself. I have concerns, serious ones, but I want to wait and see the reviews first before casting a condemnation.)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My father and I just started Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just started Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip.

We always knew that McKillip was a master at invoking the ineffable power of the sea, and thought her book The Changeling Sea was her great work dedicated to it. We were wrong, for once again the author whose voice reaches her readers from across a mist-shrouded ocean pulls us into a myth on the shores of the sea, where creatures crawl into drawings of tide pools and old things promise to reach out from the depths.

"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange."

- Shakespeare's The Tempest

Friday, April 19, 2019

My father and I just finished Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

My father and I just finished Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, sequel-companion novel of her Seraphina Series and, judging by the end, the beginning of a new series all together.

A typically atypical Fantasy, Hartman writes a Quest not to slay evil nor save the world but to a guide an angry young woman back from grief and choking self-despair. Fighting against religious-based oppression of women and mental manipulation, Tess sought not only the World Serpent of legend but also, without knowing it, a way to face her demons and love herself again while being herself - and meeting friends both old and wise and odd (and any combination of these) along the way.
"The Road goes ever on and on", as Tolkien says, and Tess of the Road supports that idiom from Tess' motto of "Walk on" to thinking of the Road with the R capitalized. But this road was a deeply strange one even by my standards. Strange yet rooted in the ordinary and full of deep, heartfelt meaning.

Bon voyage, Tess, Pathka, Kikiu, and Jacomo. The great sea awaits!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

The banner of Brynden Tully the Blackfish
Castle Black and the Wall by Ted Nasmith ©
Given my penchant for (justly) lambasting George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I think it only fair to tell the other side of story, harking back as to why I was once one of GRRM's most avid fans, calling him – as many did and do – the American Tolkien. I have already told this tale in part, mostly about 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 – George R.R. Martin could have created one of the finest ever of the High Fantasies just as J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter. As I have said in the past, I have infinite respect for George R.R. Martin’s skill as a storyteller and worldbuilder; he is truly among the best, comparable to that of Rowling and even Tolkien himself. It is no accident that I quit the series only in the middle of book #5, A Dance with Dragons.

Yet, much as I would wish it otherwise, several of the hooks the series placed in my heart remain. I cannot help but still think about the my friends the Starks of Winterfell, Dany (Daenerys), Brynden the Blackfish, Jon Snow and the men of the Night's Watch, Ser Davos Seaworth, Meera and Jojen Reed, Doran Martell and his family, and many others (yes, even Tyrion Lannister). This is a tribute to them, an acknowledgment of the wise and good characters who kept me hooked until I found myself wading through blood:

"If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you can not do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die." - Ned Stark

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." - Jojen Reed 

"It seems to me that a queen who trusts no one is as foolish as a queen who trusts everyone." - Dany Targaryen

"Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you." - Tyrion Lannister

"Old stories are like old friends. You have to visit them from time to time." - Bran Stark

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." - the oath of the Night's Watch 

"Words are like arrows, Arianne. Once loosed, you cannot call them back." - Doran Martell

"Fear cuts deeper than swords." - Syrio Forel

"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." - Tyrion Lannister


"Why do the gods make kings and queens, if not to protect the ones who can't protect themselves?" - Dany Targaryen

Serve. Obey. Protect. Simple vows for a simple man. - Areo Hotah

"A book can be as dangerous as a sword in the right hands." - Haldon Halfmaester 

"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives." - Ned Stark  

"In the end a gentle heart may be worth more than pride or valor." - Doran Martell

If this does not seem like much out of five books, then know that it was no small job finding quotes which were wise, spoken by friends, and not related to war and shortening foes by a head. Rather telling, eh? As I recall, a certain Sansa Stark once said "There are no heroes ... In life, the monsters win." Which is exactly why I quit. Because I could not bear to see these dear friends put through endless torment, nor judge any possible ending for them happy if it required wading through blood, gore, and porn.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Redwall

The Redwall series by Brian Jacques: one of the most notable Fantasies in the genre not just for its length of 22 books, but also for its animal cast of characters centered around the peaceful sanctuary that is Redwall Abbey. Well, ideally peaceful were it not for its turbulent history both past and present in an Epic Fantasy world that fills the mundane with wonder.

Redwall has long held a special place it my heart not because I read it but, ironically, because I watched it – the first, third, and sixth books forming the Redwall animated series that, as subsequent research revealed, is a more than worthy adaptation.



So worthy that, having watched it as a small child, what scattered memories I had of it stuck out and year after year returned to me until, finally, I sought out and found it again online. A touching tale, perhaps, but now that personal history it out of the way one can delve into what makes Brian Jacque's work (both in ink and on screen) so evocative. Three elements that build upon and support one another: rhyming riddles, a true warrior code of peace, and limited magic of the subtlest kind.


The Tapestry of Martin the Warrior
Tomb of Abbess Germaine
Beginning with the first – and I am going to try my level best to avoid spoilers here – are the rhyming riddles left by long dead creatures to guide their decedents and/or spiritual heirs. Martin the Warrior for example, Redwall's greatest hero, is only slight less mighty in death as he was in life as his spirit often acts as a guide to creatures of the Abbey, usually its future Warriors, Abbots, and Abbesses. Generally, he appears in dreams and will present the young creature with a riddle or puzzle of some sort that they must solve in order to survive or save a friend. The quote I will note, however, is from Abbess Germaine, one of Redwall's founders and formerly the last Abbess of Loamhedge Abbey. As aforesaid, I am trying to avoid spoilers, so suffice to say that the ancient mouse left this to held future generations find the exact location of Loamhedge Abbey should they need it (which they did):

"Those who wish to challenge fate,
to a jumbled shout walk strait.
Sunset fires in dexteree,
Find where Loamhedge used to be.
At the high place near the skies,
Look for other watchful eyes.
Sleep not ‘neath the darkpine trees,
Be on your guard, take not your ease.
Voyage when the daylight dims,
Danger in the water swims.
Make no sound with spear or sword,
Lest you wake the Longtail Horde
Shades of creatures who have died,
Bones of warriors who have tried.
Shrink not from the barren land,
Look below from where you stand.
This is where a stone may fall and make no sound at all.
Those who cross and live to tell,
See the badger and the bell.
Face the lord who points the way,
After noon on summers day,
Death will open up its grave.

This may sound convoluted but, believe me that it outlines the dangers of a certain rescue mission fairly well. Read (or watch) Mattimeo to learn more.

Moving right along, here one of the best quotes I have heard in a long time. Simple yet deep and wise on multiple levels, epitomizing the morally of the High Fantasy as well as Redwall's true warrior code of peace:
"Always use the sword to stand for good and right, never do a thing you would be ashamed of, but never let your heart rule your mind." - Brian Jacques

Finally, the use of magic in the series at large is quite limited. Recall how in The Lord of the Rings one does not see Gandalf casting a lot of spells or throwing fireballs; rather, when danger comes Gandalf draws Glamdring (his sword). Yet there is still a steady presence of magic in Middle-earth, subtle yet bright, clear, and elegant. Much the same in true in the Redwall series, mostly in the form of Martin's spirit, though there are other examples such as the crow Mangiz being a successful seer. Granted that this magic is technically even more limited than that which Tolkien employs, yet its presence, elegance, and potent role in the story is no less.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Soundtrack Secret - "The Last March of the Ents"

We all know and agree that The Last March of the Ents scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie is epic in every sense of the word. Yet there is a secret in the soundtrack, for that is not mere chanting we hear but words in Sindarin, the tongue of the Grey Elves.

Rithannen I geven
Thangen I harn~
Na fennas I daur
Ol dΡ‹are ristannen
Eryn echuiannen
I ngelaidh dagrar
Ristar thynd, cъa tawar
Dambedir enyd I ganed
Si linna I waew trin ylf
Iso I dur I chuiyl
I ngelaidh dagrar


Words which, translate to:

Earth shakes, stone breaks, 
The forest is at your door. 
The dark sleep is broken, 
The woods have awoken, 
The trees have gone to war. 
Roots rend, wood bends, 
The Ents have answered the call. 
Through branches now the wind sings. 
Feel the power of living things. 
The trees have gone to war.

However much Peter Jackson botched The Hobbit movies, he did not miss a trick in The Lord of the Rings were it really mattered.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

I have just started The Shadow Rising

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started The Shadow Rising, Volume #4 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
Visions of disaster loom over Tar Valon as unanswered questions linger and fester, the Forsaken remain at large, and the Dragon Reborn rises. Long has the world dreaded and longed for the return of the Dragon. Long have the Aes Sedai been divided as to how to deal with him. Now the choices that shall shatter oaths and forge destinies must be made.


Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I have just finished The Dragon Reborn

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished The Dragon Reborn, Volume #3 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
The Stone of Tear has fallen to the People of the Dragon and the Sword That Cannot Be Touched rests firmly in the hands of He Who Comes With The Dawn, Rand al'Thor the Dragon Reborn. Meanwhile, the wolf rescued the Falcon from the hedgehog in the World of Dreams as the Horn-blower put his famous luck to the test, all against the Forsaken, Dark sisters, and the Lord of the Grave. As Moiraine Aes Sedai says, prophesies are fulfilled as they meant to be, not as we think they should be; and the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.

"And it was written that no hand but his should wield the Sword held in the Stone, but he did draw it out, like fire in his hand, and his glory did burn the world. Thus did it begin. Thus do we sing his Rebirth. Thus do we sing the beginning." - from Do'in Toldara te, Songs of the Last Age.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tolkien biopic trailer

The trailer of the upcoming Tolkien biopic. (I would say more, except that the trailer truly speaks for itself and, as the mage Ogion of Re Albi from Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle once said,  “To hear, one must be silent.”)


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Sir Philip Pullman vs. Lyra Silvertongue

The Book of Dust was like a myth, like a fabled mist-shrouded castle one endlessly walks towards yet never reaches nor even sees clearly. For over a decade nearly all we heard was that Sir 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. Then, in 2017 after over a decade of agonized waiting, we learned that The Book of Dust would be not one book but three that that the first volume, La Belle Sauvage, would be coming out that year.
We all exploded with joy. Both when we heard the news and doubly so when we finally got our hands on the book that had been the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. (And did we ever find rain.)

Now The Secret Commonwealth, volume two of The Book of Dust series is get to come out October 3rd of this year.

Why all the solemnity as opposed to excitement? Because...
I NEVER thought I would EVER even THINK about saying this, but I am not sure that I will be able to read this. Not sure that I will be able to continue with The Book of Dust 😭




Frankly, I cannot picture Lyra as ANY kind of cynic. Remember, that we did NOT, actually, leave her at the end of The Amber Spyglass but rather in the mini-sequel Lyra's Oxford – which took place two years later. How could five years have changed her so much? Yes, I know and recall full well how His Dark Materials ended and have visited the wooden bench at the back of the Oxford Botanic Garden. But I also recall Lyra's Oxford and how it ended. How we saw that Lyra had grown into a mature young woman who was still the Lyra Silvertongue we love. Older yes, matured as I said, clearly grown-up from the wild girl we knew and tempered by the heartbreak she endured, yet she was nobody who Pan of all entities would call a pessimist.Hence my belief that it is Pullman, rather than Lyra, who changed πŸ™ That Pullman gradually lost touch with her because I do not see how five years could have so changed the young woman we left at the end of the appropriately named Lyra's Oxford.
Recall how when La Belle Sauvage came out Sir Philip Pullman said that the collective Book of Dust series could be called "His Darker Materials" and that, as an author, "I’ve got older and perhaps more cynical, closer to despair...It is a darker book, I don’t deny that, but that’s the story that came to me and wanted to be told.” Recall how I thought that La Belle Sauvage made little contextual sense seeing as the political/general situation was nowhere near that bad in The Golden Compass. If it was then Lyra would have been kidnapped or killed years ago while running wild around Oxford. 
Indeed, the impression was not that the world was falling apart, nor was Lord Asriel a wanted man to the same degree. Recall that he was able to walk into and out of Oxford in The Golden Compass without the same life-threatening hassle as in La Belle Sauvage.
Recall how I previously posted about an article which revealed that, tragically, the great Philip Pullman is descending into a very dark, cynical, place and I, for one, have always viewed cynicism as merely a more sophisticated form of surrender; for cynics still fight for what they believe in – but they no longer truly believe. And how that selfsame article noted that "Pullman is famously an atheist, although he explores myth, legend and magic in all his writing and will do so particularly in the next book [of Dust], which sees Lyra losing her sense of magic as an adult and will be called The Secret Commonwealth."

"I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone,"
says Philip Pullman. "I’m just trying to stop
myself going mad."
Hence I believe that, grievously, Sir Philip Pullman is dragging Lyra Silvertongue down with him πŸ˜” As a writer of an as-yet unpublished yet complete Fantasy series – while I am not fool enough to compare myself or work with Pullman – I do know what it means to truly create a living world with heartfelt characters. I learned during my writing that the mind of an author is linked with those of their characters and the world they live, but also that that link can be broken. Broken or warped if the mind of an author changes. As stated above, Pullman himself said "I’ve got older and perhaps more cynical, closer to despair...It is a darker book, I don’t deny that, but that’s the story that came to me and wanted to be told.” Now look that the link (here it is again) that I provided above and read the extract from The Secret Commonwealth. Add that with the also aforesaid plot-line inconsistencies of La Belle Sauvage with His Dark Materials, and I see an author whose mind is in a very different place from where it was when he wrote Lyra's Oxford. I see that, over the over ten years it has taken him to finally produce The Book of Dust, his mind has fundamentally changed from the man who wrote Lyra into existence. He, by his own words, is "perhaps more cynical, closer to despair" and hence The Book of Dust reflects that altered state of mind; reflects and projects it onto Lyra, thus resulting in a distorted reflection of her.

"Lyra just came to me entire and complete, I didn’t consciously make her up with a list of attributes. But I had been a teacher for about 12 years working with children of her age and there were lots of Lyras - in every classroom in the country there is a Lyra or two. Or three. She’s a very ordinary child and that’s the point about her. If she’s unusual it’s in her capacity to feel affection, which she does very readily and very warmly." – Philip Pullman  

THIS is the Philip Pullman who wrote His Dark Materials
and Lyra the Beloved. THIS is a man whom I think would look
upon his older self with concern.
I know all this may sound dramatic, but Lyra has a very special place my heart. She was the first and only book character whose sacrifice tormented my dreams for days literately. I could not even look at the books for years without feeling a deep stab of grief. And I say all this with confidence because, as any passionate reader knows, the bond, the link, between the minds of reader and book-character is no less great and heartfelt that that between character and author. Like the author, we laugh and cheer and cry with them, knowing then as friends so close that they may as well be extended family. (On that note, if by small chance that I am proved wrong by
The Secret Commonwealth then I will gladly and indeed with the greatest joy eat my words.)
Finally, for all those who read this and want to throw that tired retort "We all get more cynical as we get older" line at me, then permit me to quickly nip that dark and thorny rose in the bud:

"For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more--remembering my own sins and follies; and realize that men's hearts are not often as bad as their acts, and very seldom as bad as their words." - J.R.R. Tolkien

"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

Friday, March 1, 2019

My father and I just started Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

My father and I just started Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, sequel-companion novel of her Seraphina Series.

Hartman is one of those masters who brings out the all the humanity in her characters from page #1, be they good or evil or a mix you feel instantly that they are alive as the protagonists seize your heart and pull you along for the ride. Or road, I suppose, in this case.
The first two books were a stunning fantasy that put racial tensions and religion on center-stage alongside love, self-acceptance, and the roots and results of hatred. A masterwork as unique as it is stunning, well written, and unpredictable.


Seraphina may have saved the world already and Tess may not be an ityasaari, but I have no doubt that whatever roads we walk with Tess will be as memorable as they are masterful and deeply meaningful.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

My father and I just finished Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip.

Sequel to Winter Rose, the book, while naturally superb, is markedly unlike any McKillip book we have read, as not only is it clearly set in our world but, astonishingly, is it not written in the mytho-poetic style that characterizes all of McKillip's work. Indeed, we did not believe that was possible for her to write a Fantasy book in a different style. That said, though, even if it was not recognizably a McKillip book in writing and setting, it certainly was in depth of plot and story: A wonderful, down-to-earth tale of Fae heritage and weaving magic and fear born from what happened to Rois and Corbet Lynn.

Congratulations for bridging the gap between forest and Lynn Hall, Sylvia, Iris, Tyler, Judith, Owen & Rue, Dorian & Leith. Love is truly the most powerful weapon against traditional fear.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tolkien biopic

First a film about Ursula K. Le Guin and now a biographical drama film about none other than J.R.R. Tolkien. Plus BBC and HBO are co-producing and dramatizing Pullman's His Dark Materials, Amazon is making a TV adaptation of Jordan's The Wheel of Time along with some form TV series set in Middle-earth that will explore new storylines that precede the events depicted in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Tis certainly a good year for Fantasy literature on the big screen and, on that note, here is the man to whom we ultimately owe it all:


Luck the filmmakers who seek to tell the tale of the Master. Tolkien was more than great writer, he was a great man in every respect.
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."

"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." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

Just got back from seeing the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin at Somerville Theatre.
It was amazing. Inspiring.

As I have said in the past, Le Guin was a titan, a wall breaker, in Fantasy, writing about Schools of Magic and facing our own inner demons long before anyone else. And I owe her my own book series no less than I owe Tolkien.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Fantasy Book Tiers

We all have our favorite books and it is no secret that mine is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, yet what happens when one finds a book that is clearly in the same league even is it is not one's favorite? Take J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, for example: it is very different from LOTR yet is still similar in many ways and, while Rowling did not found the modern Fantasy genre as Tolkien did, Harry Potter was an undeniable literary classic that inspired another whole generation of readers and began the Golden Age of Fantasy. All of which is why I call Rowling the the Heir of Tolkien.

That being the case, though, what do I do? Do I call Harry Potter my second favorite book? I could, given my above praise of her, but would it really be true. Sure I love Harry, Ron, and Hermione, yet, emotionally, I am no less attached and invested in the tales of Lyra Silvertongue and Will Parry, Eragon and Sapphira, Sabriel and Lirael, and Will Treaty & Halt; from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Sir Philip Pullman, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix, and The Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John Flanagan. I love those books (and several others) just as much as Harry Potter, yet at the same time recognize that they are not quite in the same league as Tolkien and Rowling. Close to, but not quite.

Thus, in reaction to this, my Dad and I gradually created what we call Fantasy Book Tiers to measure both a Fantasy author's skill as well as story. Below I will try to articulate what each tier means along with adding a few authors Dad and I agree belong in that rank, but it is difficult to do as authors of the same tier often write quite dissimilar books.

1st Tier: Those Fantasy Masters who break beyond the ordinary conventions of the genre, possessing a unique skill and writing style that regularly shocks and delights even veterans of the Fantastic. (Tolkien ranks as the highest of this Tier for obvious quality reasons as well as the fact that none of the rest would have existed without him.)
Authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, Patricia A. McKillip, and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

2nd Tier: Books such as I mentioned above, acknowledged classics possessing both story and characters you love, but are not quite in the same league (or tier) as those such as Tolkien, Jones, and Rowling. However, like the Top Tiers, these are crossover books that can be enjoyed and young and old alike.
Examples: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix, and The Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John Flanagan, The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud, The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Copper, The Noble Warriors by William Nicholson, and His Dark Materials trilogy by Sir Philip Pullman.

3rd Tier: Good page-turning books that leave you genuinely caring about the characters and awaiting sequels, yet are not what you would recommend to a friend trying to get into Fantasy. Average one might call them, though I think that term a tad harsh.
Examples: The Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr, The Annals of Drakis by Tracy Hickman, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, and The Echorium Sequence by Katherine Roberts.

Here ends the tiers, as Dad and I use the term "4th Tier" to describe books we deem unworthy of our time. (After all, why read a lesser book when you could be searching for undiscovered better ones or re-reading classics?) More to the point, these rankings are not ironclad for the simple reason that every book is different and may be of varying quality even if they rest in the same tier. Dad and I, for example, describe The Dark is Rising and His Dark Materials as "upper 2nd Tier" as we judge them as good as it is possible to get without being Top Tier. Furthermore, Dad and I have been debating whether The Children of the Lamp is "upper 3rd Tier" or "lower 2nd Tier" for years. Hence these Fantasy Book Tiers are merely approximate categories we created to sort our favorite books into a more organized literary canon

Monday, February 4, 2019

Profanity in Fantasy

It is amazing when one finds a truly insightful statement in the YouTube comments section (and no, this is not sarcasm):

"Swearing is lazy. It shows a lack of vocabulary and imagination when conversing with others. That's why it's all the more impressive when someone threatens or insults someone without using any curse words. Real thought goes into what is said."

I post this because it captures with perfect eloquence and clarity why I loathe swear-words, never using them in life and avoiding then when possibly in Fantasy. (Yes, I know I read A Song of Ice and Fire and that it was/is stiff with profanity, but recall that I was once GRRM's most avid of fans, calling him the American Tolkien, and judged his work just masterful enough to tolerate the language.)

Indeed, growing up reading Fantasy and having parents who raise one to genuinely despise profanity and other forms of crude language is a blessing. Why? Because you learn to speak elegantly and use archaic words with deft precision.


Also, in place of such base and/or simplistic words, one learns to be creative. I say "silence" and, in place of swear-words, oaths like "Thank the flame", "Gods and sacred Goddesses", "Darkspawn", "Freya's tears", "By all the gods above and below the Earth", "Bones, Body, and Blood", "Fire and Hemlock". Oaths which, I think, prove the validity of the above quote.