Sunday, September 12, 2021

I just finished Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

I just finished Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore, the fourth book of her Graceling Realm Series.
 
Such a delight to see Bitterblue, Giddon and Hava again, and making a new friend in Lovisa! I have learned to expect the unexpected with Cashore, for no book of hers is like the last regardless of them sharing the themes of romance coupled with political complexity. This was no different, and it was both heartrending and wonderful seeing the Royal Continent crew joined with the Keepish to unravel a knot of murder, kidnapping, self-interest in the name of personal freedom. To see that freedom attained and love found. To see the world grow.
 
Until next time, Bitterblue, Giddon, Hava, Lovisa, Adventure Fox, Nev, Mari, and Katu. Until next time, dear friends.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Here Be Dragons - Part 2: Dragons in Fantasy

Now that we know where Dragons came from one can see how the myths and legends they appear in influenced Fantasy literature. An influence which began, as ever, with the great J.R.R. Tolkien. Before I go on, if you, dear reader, have committed the criminal act of not having read The Hobbit then do so now because otherwise you will run into SPOILERS here. 

Now then, while who does Dragons best in Fantasy is an open and subjective question with no answer, Tolkien set the original standard with Smaug, the greatest fire-breathing Dragon of the Third Age who overran the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the humans of the adjacent realm of Dale, claiming the treasure of the mountain for himself. As one can see from the picture (drawn by Tolkien himself) and his bloody habits, Smaug the Golden is inspired off of European Dragons, yet is far an away smarter per his unforgettable conversation with Bilbo in which the brave Hobbit identifies himself with many riddling, yet not untrue, names.

"This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name which is wise, and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal which is also very wise. No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time to trying to understand it." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Hardly the description of a classic Western Dragon, none of whom were known conversationalists, with the single exception of Fafnir from the late Norse versions of the tale of Sigurd. As said Tolkien, "Fafnir in the late Norse versions of the Sigurd-story is better; and Smaug and his conversation obviously is in debt there." That being said, Fafnir cannot even be called the exception that proved the rule of his race since he began his life as one of Dwarf-king Hreidmar's three sons. I am sure Tolkien appreciated the irony of this fact, and all the more so since I have little doubt that Fafnir's behavior may have influenced Thorin's as well to a degree, but then, Dwarves and European Dragons both suffer from a lust for gold that Tolkien names the Dragon Sickness. Anyway, the point is that Fafnir was not a natural-born Dragon and thus hardly counts as an example of an intelligent Western Dragon. The quintessential member of that unenlightened species would be the likewise treasure-hoarding one from Beowulf, who Tolkien was far from fond of: "I find 'dragons' a fascinating product of imagination. But I don't think the Beowulf one is frightfully good. But the whole problem of the intrusion of the 'dragon' into northern imagination and its transformation there is one I do not know enough about." Another irony there, that the man who claimed little scholarly knowledge of Dragons ended up writing the first Old Worm in a whole literary genre. Yet while Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities may have been based primarily in Fafnir, from a strictly Dragon-lore perspective his intelligence is far more in keeping with an Asian Dragon, though it is naturally soured by typical European Dragon behavioral characteristics. Meaning that J.R.R. Tolkien created in effect a whole knew type of Dragon that, lust for gold notwithstanding, can be succinctly described as a Dragon with a Western-style physical form and non-Divine nature coupled with Eastern-style intelligence.

This Fantasy Dragon, as I will call it, began and remains the classic of the genre in books and games alike. Dungeons & Dragons came by its name honestly, and here are a list of books in which Dragons feature as important plot elements/characters:

The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin 

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini 

Dragonworld by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves 

The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones 

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien 

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (as much as I hate to use this as an example, GRRM's usage of Dragons cannot be ignored)  

The Seraphina series by Rachel Hartman 

The Annals of Drakis by Tracy Hickman

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell 

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

The Cygnet Duology by Patricia A. McKillip

And then, of course there all those masterworks that I have somehow not read (yet), such as The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.

I will not pretend that Asian Dragons – more Divine, wingless, and born of water – have not been left out of the picture. They largely have, yet not as much as one might think. The three elements I just listed certainly have, but Fantasy Dragons have evolved since Smaug. They are still predators, to be sure, masters of wind and flame, but civility has definitely gained the edge over more beastly character traits. Saphira here, for example, is bonded to the human Eragon in Paolini's The Inheritance Cycle as Dragon and Rider. She is blunt, kind, proud, protective, gentle, vain, caring, and as good if not better a friend and lifemate anyone could ask for. She also brings up the fact that Fantasy featuring Dragon Riders are now not exactly uncommon, which again shows that, unlike with European Dragons and Smaug, Fantasy Dragons have adopted the more Asian trait of being less antagonistic towards humanity. 

Indeed, Dragons possessing the Eastern Dragon ability to take human form is now almost commonplace, such as Haryman's The Seraphina series, Fire Emblem games, and D&D, and McKillip's The Cygnet Duology. Fire Emblem even takes it a step further by having many of the gods be Dragons. The left is Tiki, princess of the Divine Dragon tribe whose alternate form is a silver-white Dragon. She likes sleeping in, gets lonely easily, treasures her friends above all wealth, and spend most of her time in human form. In all honestly, Fire Emblem's Dragons are some of the finest, deepest, I have ever seen, flawlessly blending Asian-style high-mindedness with Western-style animalism. Such Dragons-in-human-form, saarantras as they are called in the Seraphina books, are absolutely fascinating in that they show their non-human qualities/mindset while in human form, having an outsider's observation and insights into the human condition. The overall point being that, when dealing in Dragons, Fantasy authors seldom simply pick whether follow a more Eastern or Western influence. I have often said that nobody, but nobody, does Dragons like Ursula K. Le Guin, because, in the Archipelago, a dragonlord it is not someone with a mastery of dragons but rather one whom the dragons will speak with, and Le Guin directly said that it took her a while to find her Dragons. Indeed, she stated that she drew influence from Smaug, Pern, and Eastern Dragons.

Valyrian dragonlords. (Art by Magali Villeneuve)
Very rarely do Fantasy authors these days employ the animalistic, speechless European Dragon, the most notable and, in my mind, poetic and not unsurprising exception being George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire where Dragons were made into weapons of war by humans, the dragonlords of Old Valyria being  brutal and shameless warlords and slavers who controlled Dragons with sorcery. Tis hardly a shock that GRRM corrupted even the mighty Dragon, since he tainted everything else. Sure one could rightly point out that Smaug the Golden was hardly a paragon of virtue, but it is safe to say, I am sure, that he would look upon Balerion the Black Dread with contempt for letting a human control him. And yes, I am well aware that GRRM is hardly the only Fantasy author to utilize Dragon Riders, but in all other examples that I am aware of, chiefly and again Christopher Paolini's The Inheritance Cycle, Dragons and Rider are equal partners who regard each other with unconditional love transcending all familial bonds. Meaning that, while Saphira and Smaug would surely scoff at each other, both would doubtless look down upon GRRM's Dragons. The picture above says it well enough for, though I admit it is only a hatchling and that perhaps this is petty of me, I find the image of a Dragon sitting on human's shoulder like a parrot would a pirate captain offensive; though I suppose it is appropriate seeing as the morality of the average Valyrian dragonlord was approximate to that of a corsair captain. That said and in the interest of fairness, GRRM does have one truly masterful quote which I will give now: "Once a man has seen a dragon in flight, let him stay at home and tend his garden in content, someone had written once, for this wide world has no greater wonder."

Why do I not mention Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time? Simply put, because there are no Dragons. Rather, "Dragon" and "Dragon Reborn" are titles for the champion of the Light against the Dark One. Yes the Dragon Banner depicts an Asian Dragon and Jordan certainly imbues the title with the critical cosmic importance consistent with Eastern Dragons, but the Dragon and Dragon Reborn, Lews Therin Telamon and Rand al'Thor, are human.

Do you understand that you must always fail, as long as your goal is not truth, but guidance? That as long as you seek dragons around you, you will never become the dragon within you? - Sarkhan Vol

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

My father and I just finished reading House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

My father and I just finished reading House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland. 

I am almost not sure what I can say about this book seeing that it describes itself quite well early on, so I will say the phrase I instantly and correctly sensed would characterize the whole story: it is where a fairy-tale meets a nightmare in a fever dream. Beyond that, I could and still cannot tell whether the tale made me feel interested or ill, lines which for me have never been so seamlessly or sickeningly meshed before, and I employ such terms because at times the book made me want to wash myself. Yet it kept me engaged - of that there is no doubt. For a book so stiff with profanity, I actually never wanted to stop reading it, which is no small feat seeing as the last and only other author to accomplish this was George R.R. Martin. I am equally, paradoxically, glad and sorry it is over.

Farewell Iris, Vivi, Grey, Cate, and Gabe Hollow, and goodbye Tyler Yang as well. Remind me never, ever, to say "meet you halfway" to any of you.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Amazon's The Wheel of Time trailer

It begins. The great journey on the big screen. Not the beginning because there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time, but a wind is stirring in the Mountains of Mist and that wind will be a beginning. Looks amazing too, though I saw one scene that would make Rand and Egwene go redder than the former's hair and I hope I did not just see Logain escape his bonds. They certainly seem to have taken some other liberties, but that, I suppose, is unavoidable given the length of the The Wheel of Time.
My only question is, where is Elayne? I must assume that our merry band does not reach Caemlyn in the first season, though that would be odd indeed. Unless they choose to introduce her later, when she meets Egwene, Nynaeve, and Min in Tar Valon.
 
"And the Shadow fell upon the Land, and the World was riven stone from stone. The oceans fled, and the mountains were swallowed up, and the nations were scattered to the eight corners of the World. The moon was as blood, and the sun was as ashes. The seas boiled, and the living envied the dead. All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon." 
from Aleth nin Taerin alta Camora, The Breaking of the World, Author unknown, the Fourth Age
 
"And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died. And men cried out to the Creator, saying, O Light of the Heavens, Light of the World, let the Promised One be born of the mountain, according to the prophecies, as he was in ages past and will be in ages to come. Let the Prince of the Morning sing to the land that green things will grow and the valleys give forth lambs. Let the arm of the Lord of the Dawn shelter us from the Dark, and the great sword of justice defend us. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time."
from Charal Drianaan te Calamon, The Cycle of the Dragon, Author Unknown, the Fourth Age.

The Nature of Middle-earth is out!

Today, tad later than expected yet no less welcome for it, The Nature of Middle-earth comes out. This could easily be final book by J.R.R. Tolkien to grace us now that his son Christopher has passed, and indeed this book is described as J.R.R. Tolkien’s final writings on Middle-earth. A perfect companion to The Silmarillion and The Book of Unfinished Tales.

Thus it is fitting that it should be published today, for on September 2nd 48 years ago did John Ronald Reuel Tolkien pass himself into the Halls of Mandos, leaving an enduring legacy in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that inspired a whole genre of literature. A legacy that has kept growing, thanks in no small part to Christopher Tolkien, but also to us: for all Fantasy lovers and authors since have held open the doors to the Fantastic that he, the Founder and Father of Modern Fantasy, first opened. Bilbo's door at Bag End, to be exact, from which the road to adventure goes.

 “Tolkien opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend…” - Ted Nasmith

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Here Be Dragons - Part 1: Dragons in myths & legends

Daybreaker by Todd Lockwood
"A constant image [in myths] is that of the conflict of the eagle and the serpent. The serpent bound to the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight – isn't that conflict something we all experience? And then, when the two amalgamate, we get a wonderful dragon, a serpent with wings."
- Joseph Campbell

 

Joseph Campbell, world-renowned scholar of comparative mythology and comparative religion, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, quite eloquently states above part of what Dragons so special in all our hearts, and I say ALL because Dragons belong not to a single literary genre or culture for the simple reason that they are EVERYWHERE. From the West to Far East, these majestic creatures soar over and through myths and legends, and from there glided into Fantasy literature where they are given life anew a thousand times a thousand times over, for if ANY creature personifies not only Fantasy but mythical/legendary creatures it is beyond all doubt the mighty Dragon. This is part one of a series of three posts in which we explore first where and how they appear in real-world mytho-historical accounts and then their role in Fantasy literature coupled with a description of all different types of Dragons. However, do not expect me to cover everything because that is, in a word and as we all know, is quite impossible - for the human who knows all there is to know of Dragons has stuck a knife in the heart of wonder.

"If the sky could dream, it would dream of dragons." - Ilona Andrews

Dragons in myths & legends

To start, Dragons are no more, and indeed arguably far less, universal in World Mythology than in Fantasy since beliefs regarding them vary greatly depending on the culture. However, since this is not a scholarly dissertation in purpose or length, I can for simplicity's sake safely divide Dragons into two 'species': European/Western and Asian/Eastern. (I apologize to every Asian reading this for lumping your cultures together, as I am well aware that distinct differences exist between, for example, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese Dragons, but this is a blog page, not a book, and Eastern Dragons share more similarities than differences.) 

Beginning with the former, since the High Middle Ages European Dragons have generally been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. The image to the left is the oldest recognizable image of a Western Dragon as we today would recognize it and comes from medieval bestiary dating from approximately 1260 AD. Recall that tired old trope of Knights in Shining Armor rescuing Damsels-in-Distress from the evil Dragon, and liberating helpless villages paying tribute to the evil Dragon? That is a European Dragon. Indeed, the whole Dragon Slayer concept was born from and evolved around European Dragons, the common theme being that these Dragons were in effect predators who ranked above humans in the local food chain but could be taken out by bold knights. Predator being the key world, because these quaint medieval-style Dragons were not credited with the intelligence Fantasy literature and gaming grants them today. No one would call a tiger stupid, for instance, but neither are they capable of discussing current events with humans. Such were these original European Dragons. In sum, Western Dragons were portrayed as monsters to be tamed or overcome, usually by saints or culture heroes, as in the unaccountably popular legend of Saint George and the Dragon, and typically have ravenous appetites and to live in caves where they hoard treasure. Sound familiar? Aye, we owe the Dragon's Hoard concept to European Dragons, and with it the trope of the great hero slaying the Dragon both for the treasure and to protect their people from further attacks; the Norse epic Beowulf is a perfect example of this, as is the tale of Sigurd from the Nibelungenlied, the Völsunga saga, and the Poetic Edda.

Now for Asian Dragons which, I might add, are far more civilized than their Western counterparts and look quite different as well – typically being depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. The image to the right shows two such imperial Dragons on the Nine-Dragon Wall in Beijing's Beihai Park. Note the word imperial, for in Imperial China, the Emperor near-always used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial strength and power, since in the East Dragons traditionally personified righteous, potent, power and were symbols of strength and good fortune. Meaning that that whole Dragon Slayer trope is generally absent in Asian lore since, to put in succinctly, Eastern Dragons did not look at humans and think of dinner. That said, they were higher on the metaphysical food-chain because, rather than mere creatures, Dragons were gods (or demigods depending). Shenlong, for example, is a spiritual Dragon from Chinese mythology who is the master of storms a bringer of rain, which makes him fairly typical as Asian Dragons were water-deities, rulers of seas and rivers as well as the makers of weather. The Dragon Kings of the Four Seas (the Sihai Longwang) were the masters of key bodies of water in Ancient China and were revered by those living near them. Note how the two imperial Dragons above are flying over a vast sea, while most depictions of European Dragons are of them coiled around towers (or princesses), in caves guarding treasure, or trying to toast a would-be Dragon Slayer with fire-breath. Not so with Asian Dragons who, in addition to not viewing humans as lunch, could not breath fire. Why would a water-deity breath fire, anyway? Furthermore and given their benevolent Divine status, Asian Dragons are far more intelligent and thus, again, infinity more civilized than their Western counterparts. Indeed, in Asian mythology they are often the key protagonists. One of my favorites is The Four Dragons myth, where the Long Dragon, Yellow Dragon, Black Dragon and Pearl Dragon save humanity from a crippling drought, ultimately sacrificing themselves to become the four great rivers of China. Which brings up the final key difference between Asian and European Dragons: Eastern Dragons could shape-shift, taking on various forms both human and animal. Tis no accident that various images of the Dragon Kings depict them as human.

“I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.” - Ursula Le Guin

Friday, August 13, 2021

Tess of the Sea

The human, dragon, and ityasaari minds all work differently and sometimes if not often strangely, a fact well known to Rachel Hartman, author of the Seraphina series. Which is why it is not at all strange that I love Seraphina and her sister Tess with a special care above many other book characters. For their struggles, their hearts, and the lengths they are willing to go to protect others they have never met or barely know.

Which is why I grin broadly and crow with joy on learning that on February 22, 2022 book four of the Seraphina series is coming out: In the Serpent's Wake, following Tess as she Pathka, Kikiu, and Jacomo go from road to open sea, setting sail to find and save Anathusia, the last of the World Serpents from those who would destroy her. The great sea awaits!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

I just started Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

I just started Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore, the fourth and newest book of her Graceling Realm Series.

I love all my Fantasy books, but few have my heart quite so firmly as Katsa, Po, Fire, and Bitterblue, and now both the adventure and the world itself expands for in this latest book we travel to the newly discovered land of Torla and its five realms, one of which is Winterkeep. Personally I think the Council, and Bitterblue and Giddon, will have its/their hands more than full as I know political deviousness and murder when I see it, much less when telepathic foxes and whatnot are added to the equation. Here we go again.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Just finished Flame by Sharon Shinn

Two days ago I began and just today finished Flame by Sharon Shinn, the final novella in her book Quatrain, which returns to the land of Gillengaria and its Twelves Houses. A prequel of sorts to her Twelves Houses series (but one that should only be read after the main series), it was wonderful seeing Senneth again as she navigates her desire to do good with her aversion to political intrigue and the unreasoning hatred many feel towards mystics such as herself. Seeing Kirra Danalustrous, Donnel, and her first meeting with Tayse was edifying as well. She certainly cleaned up a few sources of bad manners and mystic haters, as well saved many lives.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

I have again finished the Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin

I have again finished The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin, and with it her Earthsea Cycle. 

The crown jewel of the already priceless gem that is Earthsea, The Other Wind is so deep that of old it seemed almost esoteric to me – and I loved every syllable of it. Now I understand all those syllables where I did not before, and my appreciation of the book has doubled for it showed beyond anything Le Guin's unrivaled mastery of Dragons and her deep wisdom regarding what separated and separates them from humans.

Earthsea itself is a story like no other. Written without the intention of it becoming a series, Ursula Le Guin followed her pen, letting the winds of the world take Lookfar's sails and Ged where it would. From the School of Roke to the Place of the Tombs at Atuan, to Selidor the Farthest Isle and back to Gont, to Morred's High Seat in Havnor, repeatedly to the dry land and, lastly, to the other wind. I have always said that Fantasy takes care of itself, that the best stories are merely channeled by their writers out of some incomprehensible place, that writers follow their characters as much if not more than the other way around. A belief born out by the words not only of Ursula K. Le Guin but also of J.R.R. Tolkien (because he always enters the conversation one way or another). A belief born out of writing my own Fantasy series in my own Archipelago that was directly inspired by Earthsea. But all tales have their endings, for Le Guin herself has passed and with her the knowledge of what came after, and thus do I depart the wondrous Archipelago and the other lands (and winds) of Earthsea.

Farewell for now Ged and Tenar, Ogion the Silent, Tehanu, Master Doorkeeper, Lebannen and Seserakh, Orm Irian, Azver the Master Patterner, Alder, and Kalessin the Eldest. Until next time.

"Farther west than west
beyond the land
my people are dancing
on the other wind." - The Song of the Woman of Kemay

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Golden Sun celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Today I pay tribute to Golden Sun as it celebrates its 20th birthday. I honestly cannot fathom why a fourth game has not been made, as not a year passes when its large and dedicated fandom does not loudly clamor for it.

I raise a toast to the Warriors of Vale: Isaac, Garet, Jenna, Kraden, Ivan, Mia, Sheba, Felix, Piers. And to their children and their friends: Matthew, Tyrell, Karis, Amiti,  Rief, Sveta, Eoleo, and Himi.

Romantic Fantasy

It occurred to me recently that I forgot a Fantasy sub-genre in my Types of Fantasy page. So without further ado:

Romantic Fantasy: As the name implies, Romantic Fantasy is basically a Fantasy that focuses as much if not more on a budding romance between characters as it does the rest of the story, and, per the "official definition", one of its key features it that it involves the focus on social and political relationships, in addition to the romantic. Always married to another sub-genre, Romantic Fantasy combines itself with any of the above listed types of Fantasy to provide a setting. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, for example, is Dark Romantic Fantasy, while Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realms is Medieval Romantic Fantasy. I generally avoid this sub-genre since, while I have nothing against and in fact very much enjoy romances in Fantasy, I prefer it when they supplement the overall plot instead of dominate it to the point where it feels like the rest of the story is simply to drive and add tension to the romance. That said, I adore the Graceling Realms and very much enjoyed The Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. Of these two, however, I prefer Graceling Realms because, while Shinn created a worthy world and a rich cast of funny and varied characters (such as Senneth and Kirra Danalustrous), the I felt romance element dragged the story to a notably slower pace than it could have been. An issue Graceling Realms does not have for the simple reason that the rest of the plotline is no less important or gripping than the romance. (Some publishers distinguish between Romantic Fantasy where the fantasy elements is most important and Fantasy Romance where the romance are most important, while others say that the line between the two has essentially ceased to exist or, if it remains, is in constant flux. For myself, I agree with these others.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

My father and I just finished Juniper Wiles by Charles de Lint

My father and I just finished Juniper Wiles by Charles de Lint. 

I have learned to expect the unexpected, even by Fantasy standards, from de Lint, and a teenage former actress who once played a plucky teen detective being asked by a ghost to solve a real-life case certainly qualifies as such. A solid urban Fantasy that seamlessly blends the complications of personal life and past careers with magic that walks in plain sight everyday for all to see yet goes unseen, Juniper Wiles – both the woman and book – shows that the best way to take life is in stride, accepting past triumphs and failures while forging ahead even if you really have no idea where the road will end so long as true friends have your back every step of the way. And that life, regardless of how it came about, is always worth defending.

So long Juniper Wiles, Jilly Coppercorn, Gabi, Nick, Tam, Joe, Saskia, and all the many other quirky characters who call Bramleyhaugh home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

I have again started The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin

I have again started The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin, the fifth and final book of her Earthsea Cycle. 

This is it. This is the book that is the crown jewel of Earthsea, showing Le Guin at the height of her skill. For now does the matter and mysteries of death and Dragons, of Kingship, power and its price, and peace come together. 

"Farther west than west
beyond the land
my people are dancing
on the other wind." - The Song of the Woman of Kemay

Monday, July 19, 2021

I have just finished Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I have just finished Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I began for the very first time before deciding to reread the whole Earthsea Cycle in its proper, chronological, order; meaning I just finished the book's final novella, which was written as a dragon-bridge between volumes four and five of the main series. Twas a privilege and wonder to witness the founding of the School of Roke, see that love ranks higher than magery, how Ogion stilled the earthquake with his teacher and, at last, learning the origins of Orm Irian who journeys west of west. Frankly I cannot believe I never read this before.
 
“What goes too long unchanged destroys itself. The forest is forever because it dies and dies and so lives.” - Azver, the Master Patterner

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Golden Sun

 Stars Uncounted is a proud supporter and fierce advocate of Operation Sunrise, which is the effort to garner support for a reboot and fourth game of the Golden Sun gameboy game series. Golden Sun is, in my mind, the pinnacle of handheld RBG games, and not only because it was the first I ever played. Indeed, the game has a very special place in my heart and memories. When I was little I loved watching my older cousin playing video games as a rule, but my earliest recollections of such is of Golden Sun. We were all staying at our maternal grandparents house and he was always the first one up, and often I was the second; so I would tiptoe through that silent house, downstairs, through the dining room and kitchen to the Family Room where he would invariably be sitting with a Gameboy Advance in hand. I was lucky, for I joined him playing through the first dungeon, Sol Sanctum, and when I asked were he was he said "the Temple of the Sun," which is what I called the game for years afterwards. But even then, knowing next to nothing about the game, I was invested in it, for Kraden was my favorite character and him getting kidnapped mightily offended my young mind. I also loved watching him (my cousin) find and use the various Djinn and their Summons.

Eventually I was gifted the games and, with the Prima Official Strategy Guide in hand, I began playing myself. And fell in love. There is no other way to describe it, for the story was so utterly unique, personable, and gripping, all coupled and augmented by a brilliant role-playing-based battle system and puzzles which so inventive, brilliant and complex that even with the strategy guide I stumbled, occasionally having to ask my parents for help. Ask my mother about Air's Rock in Golden Sun: The Lost Age and she will remember how it took all we had not to get lost. Frankly, I could go on and on, for even now, with many and more games under my belt, I still rank Golden Sun as the crown jewel. I laughed and cried with the characters, for it was like a favorite book that just kept getting better and, to this day and despite never having played through it again, I still remember all characters' names and most of the conversations. I will not breathe a word more about the storyline, though, so as not to rob others of the chance to enter into the world of Weyard as I did, free of foreknowledge and ready for an epic adventure.

And yet, after two phenomenal games, no news ones came out until I was in high school - Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, which follows the children of the original heroes and was a solid game in its own right. But no new Golden Sun titles have come out since. Frankly, I still do not understand why nearly a decade passed between the first two games and Dark Dawn, much less why Nintendo has seemingly dropped the ball so completely since, because if we accept as true the aphorism that it is folly to change a winning game then it is doubly so for stopping one. Golden Sun still has a large and devoted fandom, and we want to see our dear friends again (and finally get a chance to fight Alex.) That is why I have made this a page as well as a post: to stand as undimmed reminder that Operation Sunrise must succeed.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Age of Legends - a The Wheel of Time movie trilogy

I will leave the dramatics aside this time. Along with Amazon’s The Wheel of Time T.V. series, there is to be three prequel movies set during the Second Age, the Age of Legends. As The Hollywood Reporter describes it, "Age of Legends will be set several millennia before the time of the books and in a futuristic utopia powered by a magical force shared by men and women known as the One Power. When an unspeakable evil is unleashed upon the world and men using the One Power become insane and destroy much of the planet, a small band of women unite under the White Tower and are humanity’s last hope of survival."

Not quite sure what to think of this, to put it bluntly, as the basic implication is that this triad of movies will feature the War of Shadow and the Breaking of the World leading up to the founding of the Tower by the surviving female Aes Sedai. Not that there is anything wrong with that from a lore prospective, but this will make for a harrowing set of films seeing that the Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon, did not have the happy ending his reincarnation did.

"And the Shadow fell upon the Land, and the World was riven stone from stone. The oceans fled, and the mountains were swallowed up, and the nations were scattered to the eight corners of the World. The moon was as blood, and the sun was as ashes. The seas boiled, and the living envied the dead. All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon." ~  from Aleth nin Taerin alta Camora, The Breaking of the World. Author unknown, the Fourth Age.

I guess it depends on taste. Reading about it is one thing, but watching a whole utopian world-spanning civilization collapsing first into horrific war against the Shadow and then back into the stone age in what can in slight understatement be called an apocalypse would be rather distressing, though seeing the White Tower getting founded might indeed be worth a venture into what is called the Second Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

I have again finished Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

I have again finished Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin, the fourth book of her Earthsea Cycle. 

I always had difficulty with this book before, yet now it shines bright and clear as the Sword of Erreth-Akbe atop the Tower of the Sword in Havnor where the King of All the Isles sits. For this book is about power and hurt, both its presence and lack, as Tenar helps a scarred child and the returned Ged against those who profited off greed, pain, and fear amid the farms and forests of Gont. The world recovers and is led out of the darkness, yet an overpowering mystery lingers... its answer spoken while the riddle is hidden. A matter of Dragons on the other wind.

“A wrong that cannot be repaired must be transcended." - Tenar


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Quote of the month

"It is marvelous to see them: the new lands rising from the sea as your boat comes toward them. The farmlands and forests, the cities with their harbors and palaces, the marketplaces where they sell everything in the world." - Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Power of Names

 One of the most common theme in Fantasy literature is names and the Power they command. Sometimes they are magical True Names – such as in The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle, The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud, and the Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon – to name a few, where to know a person or things True Name gives you great power over it.

"Who knows a man's name, holds that man's life in his keeping." - Ursula K. Le Guin

"To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name." - Ursula K. Le Guin

They are effectively the words in which spells are cast, the Truth behind the names being what gives the spells power, which means there is almost-invariably a language in which they are a part. In the Earthsea and Inheritance Cycles is it the Language of Making and the Ancient Language respectively, in the Pellinor Quartet tis the Speech, but no language at all in Bartimaeus (names simply have power here and that's the end of it). This theme occurs often enough that any inveterate Fantasy reader is familiar with it, for it reaches far beyond the four named series' above.

Then there are names in their other sense, bearing a different yet still potent power. Recall in Harry Potter how much fear in invested in Voldemort's name, how good wizards refereed to him as You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, while the Death Eaters and their ilk called him simply the Dark Lord because their master forbade them call him Voldemort. 

"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." - Albus Dumbledore

Well, Voldemort did this on purpose for he knew the power names have and, ironically perhaps, hated his birth name to the extent that it gave Harry and Dumbledore an emotional edge over him. Perhaps the name Tom Riddle angered him because it reminded him of his past, his old fears and vulnerabilities, so he crafted a new name for his new self and them cloaked it in fear so it could never be used against him. Who knows? But those such as Voldemort who rule by fear and death as a rule fear death and the erosion of that fear more than anything in the world. Indeed, fear of death was Voldemort's undying fixation. More to the point, it was no accident that Voldemort's past as Tom Riddle proved so crucial in Harry and Dumbledore's efforts to defeat him for, as Terry Pratchett once said, "Before you can kill the monster you have to say its name." Indeed, characters with many and secret names is even more common than the True Name trope, and Voldemort is far from the first Evil to fall because the Heroes of Light dug deeply into their past. Perhaps that was another reason he took the name Voldemort, to cover his tracks. 

However, the importance of recognizing something's name and nature goes beyond fighting the Evil thing. "The wise man knows his own name," as said Patricia A. McKillip, and just as if not more often the main protagonists have to come to terms with a name that goes hand-in-glove with a destiny they never asked for or wanted. Morgon of Hed from McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy where the quotes above and below come from is a perfect example of this, but almost all Chosen Ones feel the same. Other beyond excellent examples are ta'verens Rand al'Thor, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, and Maerad of Pellinor from Alison Croggon's Books of Pellinor.

"If you have no faith in yourself, then have faith in the things you call truth. You know what must be done. You may not have courage or trust or understanding or the will to do it, but you know what must be done. You can't turn back. There is now answer behind you. You fear what you cannot name. So look at it and find a name for it. Turn your face forward and learn. Do what must be done." - Patricia A. McKillip

These are of course FAR from the only poignant name-related quotes, so if you need more then I highly recommend ye look up Terry Pratchett since he created a small host of them. In the meantime, you can read the expanded version of this post on the page of the same name.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

I have again started Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

I have again started Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin, the fourth book of her Earthsea Cycle. 

Thus do we return to Tenar and Gont Isle, for while the world is saved from Cob's breach aftereffects linger and the matter of Dragons and the mystery of a burned child is still in question. But are these things as separate as they seem? 

"I served them and I left them. I will not let them have you." - Tenar to Therru


Amazon’s The Wheel of Time will debut in this year

The title, this link, and the below image say it all. The COVID-19 Pandemic delayed it but, as said Verin Sedai, "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."

Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar! (For the Honor of the Red Eagle! The Red Eagle!)