Sunday, April 19, 2020

Does the Wheel turn slowly?

"Is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series a slow read? It is rumored to have a glacial pace. I read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and liked it, but I do not think I could stand anything slower."
This is a common, or at least not uncommon, concern of Fantasy readers trying to decide whether or not to dive into the Jordan's masterwork. Long series, even fourteen volume ones, faze inveterate Fantasy readers less than books with a slow pacing, so I will now address that concern more deeply.

In short, while The Wheel of a Time is hardly a fast-paced series, everything matters. No matter how small the event or character may be, the odds are strong that it/they will in some manner be relevant to the future. The butterfly effect is real here, as characters you might forget, or believed to be localized to a subplot long finished, will likely turn up again far from where you last saw them. People may compare it to GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire, arguing that GRRM's literary bloodbath is far more fast-paced, but this is an illusion. How many subplots in Ice and Fire truly matter? How many gripping intrigues developed by the High Lords playing their Game of Thrones actually ended up shaking Westeros and making a real difference to the story? The answer is very few, yet the story seems fast-paced due to GRRM's immense skill in the art of storytelling. He creates a near flawless illusion of speed that keeps the reader hooked. Which is no small feat considering that GRRM's grimdark tale has no natural endpoint. (Yes, I am aware that the Others must needs be defeated, of the prophecy of Azor Ahai and the prince/princess that was promised, and of course that someone must finally sit the Iron Throne uncontested. But the Others and the prophesy are marginalized by ruthless High Lords playing their game of thrones, and who sits the Iron Throne one year may be dead along with all their kin the next. Hardly natural endpoints for an epic Fantasy of such scale, in my mind.)
This is not the case with Robert Jordan. As Verin Sedai says in book #2, "The Pattern puts everything in its place precisely, and when we try to alter it, especially if ta'veren are involved, the weaving changes to put us back into the Pattern as we were meant to be." Meaning that, while Jordan's story may seem slower than GRRM's, every ounce of movement is real. Not an illusion, but a solid and true step forward and towards the clearly defined endpoint that is Tarmon Gai'don (the Last Battle), for the Wheel does not turn backwards anymore than time itself. Even the court intrigues, believe it or not as before the Game of Thrones was played in Westeros the Game of Houses (also called "The Great Game," translated as "Daes Dae'mar" in the Old Tongue) was played in the Westlands are every bit as devious as those GRRM spins. As Moiraine Sedai once said, "Everything is a part of the Pattern." Finally, I feel inclined the mention that the title "The Wheel of Time" is not Jordan tacitly acknowledging the series' length. Rather, it is a crucial and one of the most unique elements of the world he created: "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.” (To see everything I have to say regarding the many rumors surrounding Jordan's work, please go to the Rumors of the Wheel page.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

My father and I just finished Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt McKenzie

My father and I just finished Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt McKenzie.
An absolutely magical story in a Fairytale Kingdom that consists of many of the usual tropes...except for one: tis the Jesters in Motley rather than the Knights in Shinning Armor that do the protecting and saving, which, in its way and most appropriately, stands every other trope on its head. A true hidden gem of Fantasy literature, we see the powers of evil in all their recognizable yet no less real forms, both magical and mundane, countered not by noble swords and true love's kiss, but by the cunning wit and common decency of court fools and ordinary people. Do not let the book's size deceive you. Like so many hidden gems the words seem to expand beyond the number of pages logic says should contain them. Deep, fun, and heart-stopping at times, Dad and I kept commenting on how surprised we were at how much we still had to read, and were riveted every step, leap, and jester's tumble of the way.

Absolutely stupendous work Taash, jesters Kashka and Piff, Bargah the witch, Lea, and Doro (and Nanalia). Evil may never be entirely slain, yet between the lot of you I doubt good King Aciam and Queen Ekama will need worry overmuch.

Monday, April 6, 2020

RuneScape's New Skill: Archaeology

"Dig deeper...war is coming."
Why am I still a proud player of RuneScape? Because of the game's book-worthy and more than unique story. I have posted about RuneScape in the past, such as when I completed the Myreque quest series, but this update is so very special indeed because it is an entire Skill, equal to others like Mining and Magic, yet dedicated 100% to story, to the incredibly intricate and undeniably rich history of the land of Gielinor. This past week I delved lost Zarosian fortress of Kharid-et to see how it fell at the dawn of the Third Age, then travel to Everlight to investigate the risen hope of the fallen realm of Hallowvale. I avoid the Infernal Source as I care little for Demonic Cults nor the promised power that comes from summoning them indeed I have spent half my life crushing such and similar Zamorakian things on various Quests and have not yet reached the level to ascend to the heights of Stormguard Citadel nor descend into the Warforge to see an old cave goblin friend. The lovely thing is that this fits right itnto the game because archaeology was and in a integral part of so many Quests. What mysteries lie below? What ancient powers both good and ill must we face or befriend? What puzzles lost to the ages must be solved in order to face what lies ahead or untangle a very modern mystery? Such is the glory of the game, to quote it, "RuneScape's quests are its pride and joy. No 'Kill 10 boars' here - each one is a hand-crafted slice of story." Nor am I the only one who agrees for, a full week now into the Skill, each Dig Site is as packed as it was on the day or release. Each player digging deeper.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Escapism in the Coronavirus Crisis

Sometimes I am asked where in Tolkien's Middle-earth,
or any Fantasy world for that matter, I would like live.
Naturally barring worlds of my own creation,
I think the answer would be Dol Amroth in southern Gondor.
As a rule I have always abstained from commenting on current real-world events here on Stars Uncounted unless I can relate them to Fantasy literature in some manner, so with this post I acknowledge the Coronavirus Pandemic that has quite literally shut the world down. The anxiety is real. Social-distancing requirements keep us at least six feet apart from those not in our household and many are buying enough food and medical supplies (such as masks and toilet paper) to withstand a siege; and even then all groceries must be wiped down, and we can forget about ordering take-out all together. People are fearful and with reason, the anxiety literally making some people sick (though not with COVID-19).

This is the world we live in at the moment and, housebound, we all must find a way to deal with the crisis. How do I do so? Well, a few days ago I posted this to Facebook and Twitter: "Pandemic quarantines do have one silver lining: lots of time to read." Indeed, that is why I finished Winter's Heart when I did. But this post is more than about me, it is about how this crisis illuminates the glory of the Fantastic for, in the immortal words of J.R.R. Tolkien, "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!" And has not the Coronavirus been called (and is) the enemy? 

Menaphos, also known as the Golden City,
is a city located far south in the Kharidian Desert.
Hence I am dealing with this Pandemic by embracing that escapism that is the wondrous heart of Fantasy; by, while still taking the necessary precautions, not thinking about it and treating this near-lockdown as an atypical Spring Vacation. I cannot enjoy the world outside my window, so I dive with the greatest delight into the worlds of others and avail myself of the opportunities this crisis has so unexpectedly given. Naturally I recognize that I can only do this because of fortune's favor; because my financial situation is stable and none in my family has the virus. I recognize it, but am not going to loose sleep over guilt at my own fortune or by following news updates on the Pandemic constantly. In times like these one must exercise self-care, and there is no better method than to escape altogether and have fun.

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Stories of the sort I am describing…they cool us…hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never wholly understood it until my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.” – C.S. Lewis