Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tolkien Reading Day

Naturally here on Stars Uncounted we celebrate Tolkien Reading Day, an annual event launched by The Tolkien Society, the date of March 25 being chosen for the simple reason that that is when the One Ring was cast into the Cracks of Doom and Sauron fell. Traditionally one celebrates by posting a quote The Lord of the Rings:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of The King.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

I have just started Crossroads of Twilight

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started Crossroads of Twilight, Volume #10 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
"And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight, and all that is, all that was, and all that will be shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow." So states the Prophecies of the Dragon and, as the world enters a new era, the many Thrones of the Westlands struggle against the Crystal from across the Aryth Ocean even as the fates of those and other thrones and forces hang in the balance. A balance between words and swords, between the White Tower both true and false with the Dragon Reborn, between Asha'man and Aes Sedai,
and, ultimately, between the Shadow and the Light – as is the definition of twilight.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, March 20, 2020

I have just finished Winter's Heart

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished Winter's Heart, Volume #9 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
It was said that during the Age of Legends the greatest feats of the One Power were accomplished by women and men working together, Saidar and Saidin united, hence the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai. Until that unity of Power was broken by the Dark One's counterstroke that ended the Dragon and broke the world after he saved it. Now that damage is undone by men and women working together even as, far away, the Daughter of the Nine Moons is revealed and taken by the gambler per the prophesy from beyond the doorway. Even as the Red Wolf searches for his beloved Falcon, Asha'man betray their name as others confirm it. Yet the Shadow lingers, dark knives and worse hearts threatening the Daughter-Heir and even the Dragon Reborn himself. Only one thing is certain: the Time of Illusions has come to an end.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Art of Magic: the Gathering

The Temple of Serra at Epityr. Art by Christine Choi.
The illustrator Ted Nasmith once described the wonder and power of Fantasy in but a single sentence: "It opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend." Naturally, specifically, the quote refers to when his sister introduced him to The Lord of the Rings. But I have already posted on Nasmith and his renditions of Valinor and Valyria, and indeed one can see his work scattered throughout Star Uncounted. However, I am in an artistic mood and thought to myself: What is some underappreciated Fantasy art that I could post? Something well-known in its own circles but perhaps not beyond? The answer was obvious, the justly popular card game Magic: the Gathering. In fact Mtg is more than popular, it is downright world-famous, but that does not mean people know much about it. I knew about it since I was small, but only that it was thematically related somehow to Dungeons & Dragons. Yet even after seeing a few game played I did not truly appreciate what for many players include me, now   is a matter of critical importance. The art on the cards. Above you can see one of my favorites, the Temple of Serra at Epityr where the town is cradled in the lap of the of statue while the towers of temple itself can just be made out between her wings.

Quite elegant and in my mind no less worthy of wonder on an aesthetic level than Mr. Nasmith's depiction of the Argonath. Indeed, I would bet that The Pillars of the Kings directing inspired both the temple and the Memorial to Genius. But it is not just statues carved into mountainsides, oh no, for when Magic players think of the games art one of if not the first thing that comes to mind is the wondrous world of Zendikar, images of which flank this text. To be clear, gravity does exist in this world as otherwise the Elf to the left would not bother with ropes. Granted that I do not know how it works on Zendikar save that it affects everything except the floating chuck of terrain. (Those floating angular things are called hedrons, are not natural formations, and are another story.) I could include more, but posting solid walls of art is something I try to avoid, particularly when I can provide a link to a fair bit of it. Anyway, the point is that just as great Fantasy authors bring their created worlds to life in the minds of their readers, great Fantasy artists can do the same regardless of whether the world they depict comes from a book or game.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

My father and I just finished The Valley of Fear

My father and I just finished The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and with it we have completed the last of the Sherlock Holmes novels. 

Masterful in every sense of the word, it was easily his greatest mystery - plot and counterplot woven in intrigue, love, loyalty, and murder with surprise that the great Diana Wynne Jones herself could not have better. I also had a great personal moment for I actually solved the mystery before Mr. Holmes did 😊 Ironically because it involved a trick that GRRM played several times. All of which again shows that mystery and Fantasy are literary kindred.
And yet, even on the last page, Professor Moriarty left a bloody fingerprint. We may have finished the novels, but we are not yet done journeying with the consulting detective of 221B Backer Street.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Quote to start the month

A sparrowhawk
"Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky." - Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rumors of the Wheel (updated)

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

Naturally I have been aware of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time for a most of my life, yet had long sworn not to read it for reasons of excessive length (even by my standards) and a glacial pace. That being the case, though, I would often browse through random volumes while in bookstores and in doing so noted Jordan's skill (for creating a world that rivals Middle-earth in scale and gaining such fame is no small thing). I viewed the series as a tragedy of Fantasy: an author who let his world swallow the story he was trying to tell at the story's expense given the glacial reputation. However, as my interest in The Wheel of Time grew I began to research it, looking at once for an excuse to read it as well as validation for my vow not to touch it. Paradoxical, I know, but such is the nature of the human mind at times. The six key rumors I found are as follows:
  1. That the first book, The Eye of the World, is a near-copy of Tolkien (as that was required to get published way back when).
  2. That Jordan really diverges and becomes his own writer story-wise in book #2, The Great Hunt.
  3. That the glacial pace does not start until book seven, A Crown of Swords, making the first half the series exemplary to the highest definition of the word.
  4. The the glacial pace was made far worse by the fact that each book took years for Jordan to write, making readers tear their hair out over getting slow book after slow book afters eons waiting.
  5. That, now that all the books of out, the rumored glacial pace is not half so bad because, rather than waiting years, readers can move straight from book to book.
  6. That the final three books written posthumously by Jordan's chosen successor, Brandon Sanderson, are masterful with the last book, A Memory of Light, being one long heart-stopping climax.
Thankfully, as I am now reading Winter's Heart (Book #9) and thus supposedly in the middle of the glacial pace, I can now answer as to the accuracy of most of these rumors. To start, The Eye of the World is not a Tolkien-imitation once one gets past the first quarter of the book. Again, back in the day everyone wanted a second LOTR so some Tolkien-imitation was required if one wanted to get published, but Jordan's story swiftly becomes a unique one in the first book and blossoms in The Great Hunt. In short, Book #1 was excellent, but afterwards is where the tale takes off in truly startling directions. As to rumors 3-5, while I can easily see how the story felt glacial when it was first coming out, reading it straight through negates that because one has not had years to forget characters' names and the many plot points both major and minor between one volume and another. A critical point, as Jordan has the depth of vision to lay gives key hints, visions of the future both large and infinitesimal, that do not come to full fruition for until several books later. That being said, I cannot deny that The Wheel of a Time is hardly a fast-paced series, but to call it glacial is wrong. In sum, I confirm rumors one, two, four, and five, deny three due to the lack of said glacial pace, and cannot speak to six because I have yet to reach those books. Meanwhile, and as the Aes Sedai say, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day!

All right, I would be lying if I said that Valentine's Day was special holiday for me. Indeed, the last time I did anything to mark the occasion was never, because today is the first time – and I do so within the context of this Star Uncounted blog (obviously). Anyway, I will celebrate Valentine's Day by reiterating just how important love is in Fantasy. 

Perhaps most famously these days, it is the one thing that Voldemort in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series did not understand and in the end was key in ending him. Indeed, we owe Rowling a great debt for making love such a powerful theme in such a masterful tale, for as said Albus Dumbledore, "Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love." Parents' love, the love between friends, between siblings, and the romantic kind that is what Valentine's Day celebrates. I prefer to acknowledge them all, though, as each is no less crucial than the other and should one be taken away it would leave the other two scarred (even if only slightly depending on the situation). 
Not that it cannot leave scarring in other ways on the characters and readers both, for as Cadvan of Lirigon from Alison Croggon's Books of Pellinor says, "To love is never wrong. It may be disastrous; it may never be possible; it may be the deepest agony. But it is never wrong." I wont get into specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but this quote is one of the truest I have ever encountered on the subject; that and one of Terry Brooks, "Love supplies a kind of strength that can withstand even death." Ironic, this quote, in the case of Voldemort seeing as death was what he had bent his soul over backwards trying to avoid but, as the great J.R.R. Tolkien notes, "To crooked eyes truth may wear a wry face." and "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." Why all these quotes? To make the point that love ties Fantasy literature together no less than the use of magic. That is why it is the Final Lesson. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

I have just started Winter's Heart

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just started Winter's Heart, Volume #9 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
Now the true tests begins for the Light as the Game of Houses shapes the future no less than the One Power, for the Shadow spreads and the Forsaken gather under the Nae'blis even as it corrupts and is routed out behind the Shining Walls. Yet while Rand al'Thor may be up to his ears trouble, it is Perrin Aybara I grieve for,
and then there is the matter of a certain missing gambler. As stated in the Karaethon Cycle, "The Seals that hold back the night shall weaken, and in the heart of winter shall winter’s heart be born, amid the wailings of lamentation and the gnashing of teeth, for winter’s heart shall ride a black horse, and the name of it is Death."

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, February 7, 2020

I have just finished The Path of Daggers

The great journey continues. The Wheel turns.

I have just finished The Path of Daggers, Volume #8 of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
So it is that the Dark One's hold is shaken by the Bowl of the Winds, yet for every victory against the Shadow new plots grow and treachery rises with winter wind. Madness seizes more of the Asha'man as the Dragon Reborn drives the Returned from the land of the Golden Bees. So it is that the true Flame of Tar Valon further confirms her rank and approaches the White Tower even as the rightful heir to the Rose Crown returns to her own city. So it is that the Wolf meets the Prophet even as the Falcon is captured. Great battles await before the smoldering slopes of Dragonmount and in the frozen lands to the south, as the pattern unfolds to a
future foretold.

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

But what about the mysterious good witch?

Angela the Herbalist and her werecat
companion Solembum
When reading my Females in Fantasy page I can hear you all asking me "But what about the mysterious good witch?" The wise women, the funny and sharp-witted women of power who appear at odd moments and/or are sought after by the protagonists for aid/advice. This is a trope we all know about and Angela the Herbalist from Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle is who come to mind for me when hearing it. Similar to the wise sage, what distinguishes one from the other is these white witches (for lack of a better term) are typically portrayed as having an agenda of their own, sporadically working with or fighting alongside the protagonists less because they see the necessity of it and more because they want to for their own personal and/or mysterious reasons. I cannot say more because this class of character is more a thing of fairy tales & short stories as opposed to Fantasy literature and, besides, such white witches are near-always so different from one another that trying to wrap them up any more tightly into a category together would be like trying to wrap a cactus in silk, the needles endlessly piercing and poking through the defined parameters one is trying to set.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

My father and I just finished West by Edith Pattou

My father and I just finished West by Edith Pattou, sequel to East.
It was delight journeying with Rose again over mountain and sea, to mythic isles and the castles of trolls! Her steady courage, great love, and resourcefulness are truly awe-inspiring as she faces evils far beyond her ken and yet comes out on top, albeit not unscarred, to rescue those she loves. And this time, thankfully, we saw the body and death of a certain pale queen as well as a decidedly unfriendly troll-snake.

Farewell and lots of love to Rose and Charles, Neddy and Sib (congratulations!), Estelle, Arne and Eugenia, and all the rest of the family who inspired my wind rose.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Fire Emblem: Fates - Revelation

I have just completed Fire Emblem: Fates - Revelation, a 3DS game that is worthy of a book, so poignant was the plot and ties forged with the characters. Justice, equality, charity, and peace are the best reasons to draw steel, and this time, unlike in Birthright, I saved the lives grievously lost (including one that nearly undid me), solved most of the Vallite mysteries left hanging from before, and ended the Silent Dragon for good and all. Tis a pity really, that such a once-noble deity fell so far.

Farewell Corrin & Azura, Silas & Rinkah, Kaze & Oboro, Ryoma & Felicia, Takumi & Mozu, Elise & (cough)Odin, Saizo & Kagero, (cough)Laslow & Hana, Subaki & (cough)Selena, Leo & Sakura, Xander & Hinoka, Flora, Camila, Fuga, Jakob...and those fewer who fell. And Queens Mikoto and Arete, whose dreams came true.

"You are the ocean’s grey waves
Destined to seek
Life beyond the shore
Just out of reach

Yet the waters ever change
Flowing like time
The path is yours to climb

In the white light
A hand reaches through
A double-edged blade cuts your heart in two
Waking dreams fade away
Embrace the brand new day

Sing with me a song
Of birthrights and love
The light scatters to the sky above
Dawn breaks through the gloom
White as a bone

Lost in thoughts, all alone

You are the ocean’s grey waves
Destined to seek
Life beyond the shore
Just out of reach

Yet the waters ever change
Flowing like time
The path is yours to climb

Embrace the dark,
You call a home.
Gaze upon an empty white throne,
A legacy of lies,
A familiar disguise.

Sing with me a song
of conquests and fates
The black pillar cracks
beneath its weight.
Night breaks through the day
Hard as a stone

Lost in thoughts, all alone

The path you walk on belongs to destiny
Just let it flow
All of your joy and your pain all fall like the tide
Just let it flow

Life is not just filled with happiness
Nor sorrow
Even the thorn in your heart
In time it may become
A rose

A burdened heart,
Sinks into the ground
A veil falls away without a sound
Not day nor night, wrong nor right
For truth and peace you fight

Sing with me a song
Of silence and blood
The rain falls but
Can’t wash away the mud
Within my ancient heart dwells madness and pride
Can no one hear my cry?

You are the ocean’s grey waves"

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Namárië, Christopher Tolkien

"As strange as it may seem, I grew up in the
world he (my father) created.
For me, the cities of The Silmarillion
are more real than Babylon."
RIP Christopher Tolkien. Namárië, as the Noldor might say ("farewell" in Quenya, though the word can be analyzed as na + márië, being a blessing and meaning literally "to goodness.")

We owe this man so much: The Silmarillion, The Book of Unfinished Tales, Beren And Lúthien, and much else, all of which amount to releasing to the world the vast and vastly complex history of Middle-earth of which The Lord of the Rings is only the tip of the iceberg. Though I did not not agree with him on everything, namely his disparagement of Peter Jackson's LOTR movies, Christopher Tolkien embodied the selfless drive and unrelenting moral dignity that is the heart of his father's work. Imagine dedicating your life to another's work, and to protecting others for as his father served in the trenches of World War I, Christopher Tolkien served in the Royal Air Force in World War II. He will be missed, for all the above reasons and for his steady presence at the vanguard of all things Middle-earth.

The Guardian: “Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95. The Tolkien Society sends its deepest condolences to Baillie, Simon, Adam, Rachel and the whole Tolkien family. Tolkien, who was born in Leeds in 1924, was the third and youngest son of the revered fantasy author and his wife Edith. He grew up listening to his fathers tales of Bilbo Baggins, which later became the children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit. He drew many of the original maps detailing the world of Middle Earth for his father’s The Lord of the Rings when the series was first published between 1954 and 55. He also edited much of his father’s posthumously published work following his death in 1973. Since 1975 he had lived in France with Baillie."

Namárië, and rest well in the Halls of Mandos.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Terciel and Elinor

Because we did not already know that the universe is mocking me. BECAUSE THE OLD BOOK SERIES' REFUSE TO END!!

About a year ago I wrote:
"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."

Then a few days later I wrote:
"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)."

Well, now it is 2020 and I am over halfway through the great journey that is The Wheel of Time. And Garth Nix has just announced another book in classic Abhorsen Series is coming out next year. Titled Terciel and Elinor, Nix describes his delight in returning "to the storied land of the Old Kingdom to tell another tale of love, deep myth, necromancy and Charter magic.” Though this time, unlike Goldenhand, it will be a prequel as Terciel is the name of Sabriel's father (the 52nd Abhorsen). I am assuming that Elinor is the name of Sabriel's currently unnamed mother.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Not alone

 “Old friend,' said Cadvan, filling another glass for himself
and sniffing its rich smell. 'If we do not trust one another,
we are already defeated.”
I think that among the most vital lessons Fantasy literature has to offer is the value of friendship. Think about it – the protagonist, if indeed there is only one, always relies on her/his friends and allies for support on both a personal and military level. The lesson being that, in the immortals words of Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender, that "there is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you." In short, friendship and the ability to make friends is more valuable than any magic sword.

Friday, January 3, 2020

To the Professor!

Today is J.R.R. Tolkien's twelfty-eighth (128th) birthday! As Frodo did for Bilbo, the Tolkien Society continues to celebrate Tolkien's birthday in his absence. Their tradition: at 9pm your time raise a glass and toast "The Professor!"