Saturday, November 27, 2021

I just started Prince of the Blood, book 1 of Raymond E. Feist's Krondor’s Sons Series

I just started Prince of the Blood, book 1 of Raymond E. Feist's Krondor’s Sons Series (part of his Riftwar Cycle).

A giant of Fantasy, I thought it high time I gave Feist a try albeit in a manner that was not committing to his proportionally large Riftwar Cycle. Hence I now enter the Kingdom of the Isles, a realm blessed by peace yet threatened by the Empire of Great Kesh in the south and two young heirs for whom responsibility is just a word. Threats which now appear to be on a collision course. Oh, and did I mention assassins and the game of intrigue?

Friday, November 26, 2021

I just finished New Spring, prequel novel to The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.
 
I just finished New Spring, prequel novel to The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
The Dragon has been reborn and, though the world lies ignorant of the fact, the first battle over his life has been fought against the Shadow and won by Moiraine and Siuan Sedai and Lan Mandragoran, the first and third now bound as Aes Sedai and Warder. A bonding that will, by the time they reach the Two Rivers over a decade later, long have reached the status of unshakable friendship. A meeting forged in blood, trust, and pond water.
 
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

My father and I just started This Coven Won't Break by Isabel Sterling

My father and I just started This Coven Won't Break by Isabel Sterling, sequel to her These Witches Don't Burn.
The Witch Hunters are back and with a new weapon more terrible than blades or guns, but Hannah and Morgan are not about to let that ruin their relationship or their lives and those of their loved ones. Far from from it, as the Hunters have much to account for and the Witch Clans will not go down without a fight. War is here, but this coven won't break.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Amazon's The Wheel of Time is out

Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time
For those of you who want another Game of Thrones, but without the senseless violence and pornography and torture and betrayals so regular they cease being a surprise coupled with the lesson that to survive you must needs be a heartless killer, this is the show for you.
 
"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.”
 
However, and this is for my fellow The Wheel of Time fans, this show WILL be different from the books. Brandon Sanderson, who posthumously completed the series after Robert Jordan died and has been closely tied to the production of this TV show, has said repeatedly that this is the next turning of the Wheel of Time; that it is the same events core that we read in the books, but seven Ages later. Same story, but different variations. A fact we should neither be surprised at nor upset about seeing as it would be quite, quite impossible both logically and financially to turn a 14 volume series into a fast-paced TV show while treating each page like a piece of script; particularly since the books themselves are not always fast-paced. This is a TV adaptation and, like Peter Jackson's justly acclaimed The Lord of the Rings movies and HBO's Game of Thrones, changes will be made. 

"Ages repeat, like the spokes coming around again. Each time an Age repeats it is the same in great things, but different in smaller ones, as two huge tapestries, when seen from a distance, appear identical, but when seen close up show differences of detail." - Robert Jordan

Thursday, November 18, 2021

My father and I just finished These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling

My father and I just finished These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling.

A fast-paced LGBTQ Fantasy, Hannah – high school senior, Elemental Witch, and firm lesbian – finds herself caught in a tangle of trouble, dealing with a devastating breakup and falling for a new girl just as something darker enters into their lives in Salem, MA. These witches don't burn, but someone is clearly trying to kill her friends, family, coven, and ex-girlfriend, and the suspect list is high. Rumors of Blood Witches and talk of the equally lethal non-magic Witch Hunters abound, and when rumor and talk gives way to awful truth... Well, the price was paid and war is coming. But this coven won't break.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

I just started New Spring, prequel novel to The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.
 
I just started New Spring, prequel novel to The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
"He is born again! I feel him! The Dragon takes his first breath on the slopes of Dragonmount! He is coming! He is coming! Light help us! Light help the world! He lies in the snow and cries like the thunder! He burns like the sun!" Thus Foretold Gitara Sedai at the moment of her death, heard only by the Amyrlin Seat and young Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche even as the Blood Snow ends beyond the Shining Walls of Tar Valon where fights Lan Mandragoran. This is the tale of their meeting, of Moiraine Sedai and Man Alone, and the quest which will lead them, years later, to the Two Rivers.
 
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Wheel Of Time Trailer - Nynaeve and Egwene

"It was about a woman who refused to believe that she could not help, could not heal those who had been harmed." 

"It was about a woman who would not bend her back while she was beaten, and who shown with a light for all who watched."


 

Monday, November 8, 2021

I have just finished Winterlight, book 7 in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain

clip clop clip clop clip clop....hoofbeats...
 
I have just finished Winterlight, book 7 in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain.
I swear my heart beat faster than horse hooves for most of book, but Rider Swordmaster Sir Karigan G'ladheon, did was she does best from start to finish, proving to herself that she is still a hero of the realm. And the land of the Sacor Clans needs heroes for, while one enemy is dealt with, one war over, the two truest threats rise. Dragons from the sea and Mornhavon the Black from the heart of the dark wood he despoiled in ages past. Rest well and until next time, Dama Cearing Asai'riel a'Santanara, and may you see both your fathers soon.
 
clip clop clip clop clip clop....hoofbeats... (receding into the distance)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

He Who Comes With The Dawn

"He is born again! I feel him! The Dragon takes his first breath on the slopes of Dragonmount! He is coming! He is coming! Light help us! Light help the world! He lies in the snow and cries like the thunder! He burns like the sun!" - Gitara Moroso, Keeper of the Chronicles

His coming was foretold according to prophesies.

His coming is feared by the world.

His coming is needed by the world.

He is Shadowkiller, Coramoor, and He Who Comes With The Dawn.

He is the Dragon Reborn.

Swear your oath. Watch this exclusive clip from The Wheel of Time. Coming Nov 19th

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Official Book Review: Eli and the mystery of the Hallowshine dragon by Eve Cabanel

Tis no secret I have a special fondness for stories out of Faerie; in fact, I am currently researching Slavic mythology and am beginning with fairy tales. But, as I detail in my page about Faerie, very few Fantasy authors truly sojourn into Faerie proper since capturing that fairy-tale/fable quality/world and atmosphere is difficult at best. The twins keys, I think, are beginning with the understanding that your story – however grand – is just one small segment of an incomprehensibly vast land, and of giving the reader a sense of that vastness. Indeed, this is why I have an unyielding respect for all authors who truly enter Faerie.

"Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold...The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien

But not all authors aim for grand tales, Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees, The Golden Key by George Macdonald, and Instructions by Neil Gaiman being perfect examples. Of these I think the third, Gaiman's Instructions, captures Faerie best – yet it only a picture book! A short picture book which can be read to and loved by very little kids; a fact I know seeing as I sent copies to my cousins' children. But they can be and absolutely are loved by adults too.

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” - C.S. Lewis

Which is why when Eve Cabanel contacted me requesting that I read and write a book review for her picture book Eli and the mystery of the Hallowshine dragon I could not refuse. Yes, you heard right; this is my first ever Official Book Review written on Stars Uncounted. I have always held Faerie to be roughly dived into sections: the lighter childlike area full of mystery and wonder tempered with real danger and grief, the regions seemingly governed by capricious forces with a cruel sense of ironic humor where humans are far more likely to encounter danger than not, and the places between. Tolkien calls it the Perilous Realm for a reason. And Eli and the mystery of the Hallowshine dragon by Eve Cabanel takes place in that first, lighter area, in the enchanted forest of Cucuruzzu where dwells a moon elf named Eli and her humanoid rabbit friend Luna.

But something is happening, for now each night strange crystals litter the forest floor the touch of which changes one into hard rock candy – and Luna's baby Doudou is so transformed! Thus begins a 24-hour journey in which Eli and Luna race against time to seek out the legendary and terrifying Hallowshine dragon, a great beast whose power alone can save little Doudou. But this is Faerie, and even natives to the enchanted forest must follow the rules and face the dangers, from a unicorn's riddle to a malevolent merfolk and, finally the Hallowshine dragon itself. A journey which solves the mystery of the crystals and teaches Eli not only what it means to be courageous for a friend's sake, but something about herself as well; indeed, I was left most intrigued about her moon elf nature. All told, this is a lovely little tale out of Faerie that fits all my qualifications as, while I do not pretend to compare Eve Cabanel to Neil Gaiman, she has successfully invoked the the vastness of the Perilous Realm.


(P.S. If you, dear reader, are an author/publisher and reading this review makes you want to ask me for a review too then PLEASE read my Contact Me? page.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Wheel of Time - Official Trailer

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.


Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Wheel Of Time – Moiraine’s Quest

"Yet one shall be born to face the Shadow,
born once more as he was born before,
and shall be born again, time without end.
The Dragon shall be Reborn,
and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth at his rebirth.
In sackcloth and ashes shall he clothe the people,
and he shall break the world again by his coming,
tearing apart all ties that bind.
Like the unfettered dawn shall he blind us, and burn us,
yet shall the Dragon Reborn confront the Shadow at the Last Battle,
and his blood shall give us the Light.
Let tears flow, O ye people of the world.
Weep for your salvation."

Commentaries on the Karaethon Cycle, Sereine dar Shamelle Motara, Counsel-Sister to Comaelle, High Queen of Jaramide, circa 325 AB, the Third Age.
 

"It was about a woman with a secret, a hope for the future. A woman who had hunted the truth before others could."

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A strange coincidence

Curious. The Wheel of Time TV series premiers the same day that the next Magic: the Gathering set, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, comes out: November 19th, 2021. The Shadow is truly rising.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Bladorthin and Trotter

I have spoken of the Power of Names in Fantasy but seldom about their creation, about how authors agonize in finding the perfect name for their characters. Ursula K. Le Guin, for example, would spend days id necessary to come up with a proper name, saying that without the name she cannot know the character. J.R.R. Tolkien was not quite the same to my knowledge, but in his many drafts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings his characters and their names took on many forms. For example, when writing The Hobbit in the early 1930s Thorin Oakenshield's original name was Gandalf. So what was Gandalf's original name? Bladorthin! Small surprise he changed that one. Then, in the earliest unpublished versions of The Lord of the Rings, the character who became Aragorn was a Hobbit named Trotter. One can actually read some of those drafts in The History of Middle-earth (a 12 volume series of books compiled and edited by Christopher Tolkien), and seeing Trotter interact with Legolas and Gimli is fascinating. But the name Trotter lived on by evolving into the name Strider.

So where did Tolkien get his names? Depends. The name Gandalf along with the rest of the names of Thorin & Company (save Balin) were taken from the "Catalogue of Dwarves"  section of the Völuspá. The Old Norse name Gandalfr incorporates the words gandr meaning "wand", "staff", "magic" and álfr ("elf"). Which shows that, for all that Tolkien is justly renowned for creating his own languages, he was not above using real-world ones since in Middle-earth itself Gandalf means in the tongue of the Northmen "Elf-of-the-wand" or more literary "Wand-elf". Why? Because in the early days of his wanderings Gandalf was taken for a very old Elf due to his immortality and deep friendship with them, and the name stuck.

"Many are my names in many countries. Mithrandir among the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves, Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incánus, in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not." - Gandalf

Beyond that, Norse mythology notes a Gandalf Alfgeirsson who was a legendary king from eastern Norway and rival of Halfdan the Black. Gandalf is also the name of a Norse sea-king in Henrik Ibsen's second play, The Burial Mound, and "Gandolf" is a character in William Morris' 1896 fantasy novel The Well at the World's End, along with the horse "Silverfax". Hmmm... Silverfax. Now why does that sound familiar and why am I thinking of Shadowfax, Gandalf's noble steed, friend, and chief of the Mearas horses? Jokes aside, it brings up the interesting point that Morris' book deeply influenced Tolkien. Interesting because these days we talk chiefly about how J.R.R. Tolkien founded modern Fantasy literature and not what books and other tales inspired him.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Wheel Of Time – The Winespring Inn

Tai'shar Manetheren! I just wish I knew the word for "excited beyond belief" in the Old Tongue.
 

 

Monday, October 4, 2021

My father and I just finished The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint

My father and I just finished The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint. 

Ever does de Lint delves in the Mysteries of Otherworld and the human heart, and this book fits that soul to totem-animal, showing what happens when a girl's trauma and rage are tied to the fate of something both more and less than human as well as her cousin's life. As per the old ways, one must die to be reborn just as spring follows winter – for life goes on and deserves to be lived to the fullest.

Good journeys to you, Ash and Nina. May the manitou, and Bones and Cassie, guide you well.


Friday, October 1, 2021

Here Be Dragons - Part 3: Other species of Dragons

Where Dragons came from and their use in Fantasy. Almost finished, for now we at last reach other subspecies of Dragons, species most typically found in gaming.

Frost/Ice Dragon: One of my favorites, Frost Dragons are of ice where typical Fantasy and Europeans Dragons are of fire. Wreathed in and white as frost, Ice Dragons live in intensely cold regions and can arguably be called winged blizzards for they breathe ice instead of fire and are thus frigid to the touch. Interesting, I can actually point to works literature that utilizes the Frost Dragon: Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath by Patricia A. McKillip, and Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Why are they my favorite? Purely personal taste, for I find them to be absolutely beautiful and coldly elegant. Fascinating too, since being of ice renders in many ways the opposite of the traditional image of the Dragon. I have loved them ever since I first read Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons in elementary school.

Forest/Swamp Dragon: One generally do not think of Dragons being at home in the wooded or wet areas, but what are human rules to a Dragon's tenacity? These Dragons vary, but are invariably more reptilian, resembling lizards and crocodiles more than aught else. With scales typically green or black, or dark green, for camouflage, or having a bark-like hide instead of scales, Swamp/Forest Dragons breath neither fire nor ice but, rather, poison that comes out as a toxic gas. One could say they are the evolutionary apex of a venomous snake. Some people classify Forest and Swamp Dragons as separate species altogether and, in a way, they are, but not there are not enough differences to warrant dividing them here.

Cosmic/Astral Dragon: These Dragons will really make you see stars, literally. Enigmatic as a rule, Astral Dragons are closely bound to the cosmos and glitter with the light of far off stars, their scales being all the colors of the night sky and the typical nebula - i.e. a ever-shifting shifting mix of blue, black, purple. Invariably highly intelligent to the point where humans rank as near-universal simpletons, they are the stuff of myths, hazy legend, and are chiefly concerned with high matters beyond human knowledge or comprehension. What do they breathe? Usually starry light made corporeal that looks benign yet is no less and often far more deadly that regular dragonfire.

Dark/Chaos Dragon: These are the Dragons who may be summed up by one word: evil. They take many forms and I am sure some question why I chose to merge Dark and Chaos Dragons into one sub-species as, technically speaking, Dark Dragons are merely evil Dragons of any species that deal in dark magic whereas Chaos Dragons are in effect the opposite of Cosmic/Astral Dragons, crazed beings of pure chaotic energy. I blend them because each serve the same function in stories: the evil Dragon whom the heroes need to slay or cripple. Unlike other species of Dragon they view humans with active, typically genocidal, scorn and their power draws foul and power-hungry minds to serve them. What do they breathe? Depends, but a Chaos Dragon generally breathes dark 'fire' that takes more than mere water to quench.

 

And that is just about it, though naturally there is much more. As I said in the beginning, if any creatures captures the majesty and mystery, glory and wonder, beauty and power of Fantasy literature it is the mighty Dragon. We all know what a Dragon is and instinctively react to the word, but there is so much more. I have seen Dragons that breathe lightening, light, and shadow. I have seen the above species blended, and have not even included Sea Dragons since I classify them as belonging more to the Sea Monster category. Nor have I mentioned wyrms, wyverns, metallic Dragons, Dragonborn, Dragonkin, or any other offshoot Dragon-like races found in Dungeons & Dragons, other games, and the rare book. What do you think I am, a Fantasy encyclopedia writer? If I tried to cover everything I would need a whole new website dedicated exclusively to Dragons. Ever heard of Dragon Ogres? They are from Warhammer and combine ogres with Dragons in the same way centaurs do humans and horses

However, if you are interested in learning more then I highly recommend reading the aforementioned Dragonology book or, even better, the Fantasy series' I listed, for when one immerses oneself in the Fantastic then, eventually, one will become a master of Dragon-lore. Do I know everything there is to know about Dragons? Hardly, though I admit that it is the rare author (or game) who can come up with new twists that I am unfamiliar with. The point being that do not for a moment believe that reading this page makes one proficient in Dragon-lore for, as said Ursula K. Le Guin "it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them," which in this context means that the only way to truly know Dragons is to dive headlong into Fantasy, meeting them as unforgettable characters on the printed page and the gaming screen. For truly there is no sight more wondrous, more awesome in the old sense of the word (i.e. awe-inspiring), than a Dragon in flight.

"People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within." - Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, September 18, 2021

I have just started Winterlight, book 7 in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain

clip clop clip clop clip clop....hoofbeats...
 
I have just started Winterlight, book 7 in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain.
A return to Sacoridia is always and by definition a joy even if that emotion is itself in short supply there. War with Second Empire intensifies and, equally pressing, the traumatic ghosts of Chief Rider Swordmaster Sir Karigan G'ladheon's past. I have no greater hope than a full recovery for her as, even by the standards set by my vast Fantasy experience, she had truly run not one but several gauntlets of the worst kind both mental and physical. Fortunately I am certain that all she needs to do to heal is do what she does best: be a hero of the realm.
 
clip clop clip clop clip clop....hoofbeats...

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