Thursday, February 24, 2022

Quotes of the month

"It needs but one foe to breed a war, and those who have not swords can still die upon them." - J.R.R. Tolkien

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Rings of Power – Teaser Trailer

That was fast. Now we have the Teaser Trailer for Amazon's The Rings of Power. Have to say that, judging from that brief look, they hit Númenor and Lindon nail on the head. Where Galadriel is, though, I cannot say, unless she is simply recalling crossing the Helcaraxë with her brothers.

"The Edain came at last over leagues of sea and saw afar the land that was prepared for them, Andor, the Land of Gift, shimmering in a golden haze. Then they went up out of the sea and found a country fair and fruitful, and they were glad." ― The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth"

"Gil-galad was an elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing;
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.
―The Fall of Gil-galad

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Characters old and new in Amazon's The Rings of Power

So we have finally gotten some solid tidings regarding Amazon's The Rings of Power series, courtesy of this Vanity Fair article which, though long, is in-depth and wonderfully informative, hence a must-read. I shall do my best to extract the core elements from it. 

Galadriel, presumably during the War of Wrath seeing as her armor
is marked with the star of the House of Fëanor
The Rings of Power "will juggle 22 stars and multiple story lines, from deep within the dwarf mines of the Misty Mountains to the high politics of the elven kingdom of Lindon and the humans’ powerful, Atlantis-like island, Númenor. All this will center, eventually, around the incident that gives the trilogy its name." However and per necessity, the writers are condensing the millennia-long timeline of the Second Age since, as one of the show's writer so aptly puts its, "if you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time, and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season four. Look, there might be some fans who want us to do a documentary of Middle-earth, but we’re going to tell one story that unites all these things." Who are these characters?

  • A millennia younger Galadriel still reeling from the War of Wrath that ended the First Age that was itself and end to the War of the Jewels which saw basically her entire family – naturally excepting her father Finarfin and her husband Celeborn – killed. She is described as being "far from the wise, ethereal Elven queen that Cate Blanchett brought to Peter Jackson’s acclaimed films", instead being as angry and brash as she is clever, and certain that evil is looming closer than anyone realizes and determined to save the future.
  • Halbrand, a new character not invented by Tolkien who is a fugitive from his own past and encounters Galadriel in rather wet circumstances (i.e. they are both struggling for survival on a raft in the stormy Belegaer.).
  • Prince Durin IV of Khazad-dûm (which later became the Mines of Moria).
  • Dwarven princess Disa of Khazad-dûm, a new character not invented by Tolkien and presumably Durin IV's sister.
  • Arondir, a new character not invented by Tolkien and a silvan elf in a forbidden romance with the human Bronwyn.
  • Bronwyn, a new character not invented by Tolkien who is a single mother and village apothecary in southern Middle-earth (which implies she might be Haradrim, since Tolkien described that people as Southrons) who has a forbidden lover in Arondir.
  • A much younger Elrond, whom the show describes as politically ambitious which might be accurate seeing as he is eventually  appointed regent of Lindon by Gil-galad, and The Silmarillion demonstrates in no uncertain terms that elves are far from above political ambition.
  • Two as yet unnamed Hobbit ancestors of a race called Harfoots but who are themselves new characters not invented by Tolkien.
  • All the rest of the big names like Celebrimbor, Isildur, Gil-galad, Sauron, and many others.

Beyond this, there is the matter of whether the series will stay true to the Spirit of Tolkien and not pivot into Game of Thrones style grimdark. A question I think McKay, one of the show's writer, answers by saying that goal is to "make a show for everyone, for kids who are 11, 12, and 13, even though sometimes they might have to pull the blanket up over their eyes if it’s a little too scary. We talked about the tone in Tolkien’s books. This is material that is sometimes scary—and sometimes very intense, sometimes quite political, sometimes quite sophisticated—but it’s also heartwarming and life-affirming and optimistic. It’s about friendship and it’s about brotherhood and underdogs overcoming great darkness." A clear sign that the writers fully understand what makes Tolkien great and that we are in no danger of mistaking Middle-earth for that cesspool of a continent called Westeros. What is my overall opinion? Same as before. Ultimately the show will either be a masterpiece or a confirmed failure; it will either be worthy of Tolkien, as the movies were, or it wont. As says the Vanity Fair article, it is "a TV series that, if it works, could become a global phenomenon. If it falls short, it could become a cautionary tale for anyone who, to quote J.R.R. Tolkien, delves too greedily and too deep." But these images, article, and the fact that the writers appear faithful to the high ideals and nobility of spirit that characterizes Middle-earth gives me high hopes for Amazon's The Rings of Power.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes

Tis no secret that I am a diehard fan of the book-worthy Fire Emblem games. I adored FE: Three Houses, and while I may have stated in clear terms why I deemed its Crimson Flower route the canon one, that does not mean that Nintendo cannot change my mind by releasing a "golden route", a true canon ending that ends well for all in the form of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. Now let me be clear, I am not a fan of the Warriors style of play where instead of battling using the turn-based tactical format that defines Fire Emblem and makes it phenomenal, players defeat battlefields full of enemies in third-person action combat using a single character. Indeed, I never played the original Fire Emblem Warriors precisely because having a single character slaughter dozens of enemy soldiers simultaneously is antithetical to classic and timeless Fire Emblem style strategy. That said, I am willing to give Three Hopes the benefit of the doubt there because, unlike the first FE Warriors, this one seems to, again, offer an alternate canon ending to Three Houses that leaves fewer friends dead. Which House will I stand with should worst comes to worst? Where I stood before and without regret stand now: alongside the Black Eagles and Edelgard von Hresvelg, heiress apparent to and then Emperor of the Adrestian Empire.

The beauty here is that not only does this look good, it – like all the Warriors games – is clearly just to tide us over until the next true (i.e. turned-based tactical) Fire Emblem game comes out. This is the ice-cream before the cake, and I cannot wait to dig into this and whatever the next true FE game is. Also and in fairness, Fire Emblem games could be taking longer to make because now every single bit of dialogue requires full voice acting and visual animation a far cry from Awakening or Fates. Three Houses set the bar to new heights, which logically means new games will take longer to make.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Sir Terry Pratchett's starmetal sword

As any Fantasy author would. Well...maybe not; but then, Sir Terry Pratchett had a reputation for being atypically amazing and stylish as well as just plain atypical, much as his Discworld books are. (No, I have not read them yet, but I plan to).
"The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks." - Terry Pratchett

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

LGBTQ & Autism in Fantasy

"It tells you the truth. As for how to read it,
you'll have to learn by yourself."
One thing Fantasy literature has always proudly stood for is the truth. Tearing down lies and deceptions to face the facts no matter how hard or twisted they may be; no matter how much grief they may cause, no matter what forces may at best try to tell you that you are wrong and at worst threaten you and those you love with death for daring to utter a truth that does not match their worldview and/or agenda.

"Truth is the fire that fetches thunder." - Diana Wynne Jones

"There's no such thing as 'one, true way'; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good -- they're the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren't willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race." - Mercedes Lackey 

"To crooked eyes truth may wear a wry face." - J.R.R. Tolkien 

"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

Such is the nature, the wisdom and morality of the Fantastic, but within all that is something more. Something that hits the highest peak, and is best summarized by Terry Brooks and Cadvan of Lirigon: "Love supplies a kind of strength that can withstand even death." and "To love is never wrong. It may be disastrous; it may never be possible; it may be the deepest agony. But it is never wrong." Where am I going with all this? That at the heart of Fantasy lies self-acceptance. Often this manifests with characters coming to terms with burdensome destinies, or accepting that they are not who they were when the journey began and trying find a path forwards. But, more than anything else, it supports love both self-love and loving another. Hence, to cut to the chase, Fantasy literature supports the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, however, there are scarcely more LGBTQ characters than female sages in the genre, making it an issue that Fantasy needs to tackle just as heartily as it has cross-eyed monster that is sexism. Now I can hear you saying, "Uh, Ian, you can Google LGBTQ Fantasy and get whole lists of books with solid and strong LGBTQ protagonists." Alas, therein lies my exact point. You have to look them up. I breathe Fantasy and am always looking for new books and there is seldom a method in my search save High, moral, Fantasy that is unique if possible. As I said in my Race in Fantasy page, when I am in a bookstore searching for new Fantasies I just pull out whatever looks interesting, read the back and/or inside cover, and if it passes muster I give it a try. How many of those are LGBTQ Fantasies? Precious few are even on the shelves, and those that are lean heavily into being LGBTQ. Where is the issue? In short, LGBTQ Fantasy should not be a sub-genre; rather, Queer characters should be as common as books with female protagonists. Hence you should not have to look them up. Once Fantasy was male dominated and one had to search for ones with female leads. Now Fantasy literature has more woman/girl protagonists than otherwise and does an excellent job skewering sexism. One does not have to Google strong girl characters, nor is the fact that they are girls made great issue of in marketing the book. That the character is a girl is just a part of the story, part of their character just as much as a boy being a boy is. Harry Potter is a boy and Luna Lovegood a girl. Important facts, yes, but hardly needing a banner to announce it nor for a reader to understand what it means.

Meaning a gay/lesbian romance should be no more remarkable than a 'typical' boy-girl one. And is that not the goal? To normalize being LGBTQ. In my Females in Fantasy page, I say, "Is this not the goal? A world free of gender biases and norms may seem alien and yet, when written, appears as nothing less than utterly normal. Girl? Boy? Man? Woman? We are all Human and that is the great lesson Fantasy literature so often seeks to convey and rejoice in." Well, the same stands for being LGBTQ. Bisexual? Heterosexual (straight)? Homosexual? We are all Human and that is the great lesson Fantasy literature so often seeks to convey and rejoice in. It should not matter and thus, when I go to a bookstore, pick a book and begin reading it, I should find gay or lesbian romance between characters no less often than heterosexual ones. It need not be a sub-genre, as most good Fantasy has romance even when it is not classified as Romantic Fantasy. Which is another reason I have not read much LGBTQ Fantasy. What reason is that? The same as why I generally avoid Romantic Fantasy: while I have nothing against and in fact very much enjoy romances in Fantasy literature, 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. Which is what I think Queer Fantasy as a sub-genre has become, Homosexual Romantic Fantasy in effect. Not that there is anything wrong with that per se, as books like Isabel Sterling's These Witches Don't Burn series are thrill-rides but, again, having homosexual characters in Fantasy literature should be as unremarkable and unremarked upon as girl-boy romances. It should supplement the overall plot instead of dominating it.

Have I read books which feature such, or at least heard of and plan to read them? Blessedly and absolutely yes. Here is picture of Vanyel Ashkevron from The Last Herald Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, and not only is Vanyel the main protagonist but also a legendary figure often spoken of by Mercedes Lackey's other characters in the subsequent centuries and series. Oh, and he is gay. Indeed, I think Mercedes Lackey captures the future of homosexuality in Fantasy because she normalizes it. Her The Heralds of Valdemar, Vows and Honor, Mage Winds and Mage Storms in addition to The Last Herald Mage Trilogy all feature LGBTQ characters. Tarma shena Tale'sedrin is asexual, Warrl is physically asexual but male-minded, Vanyel is homosexual as is...well, I would rather avoid giving spoilers, so I will just say that one of his also preternaturally handsome descendants is gay as well. To say nothing of plenty of important secondary characters and minor characters who are never named yet we learn are homosexual due to the natural arch of the story revealing that knowledge. At this point it is worth noting that Mercedes Lackey's iconic Valdemar books was one of the first to feature Queer characters as heroes. Something of an irony really, that since then Queer Fantasy has risen as a subset/sub-genre of Romantic Fantasy and yet Lackey's normalization remains, again and in my opinion, the key to its future. For, and here is the key point, none of her aforementioned series are classified as LGBTQ Fantasy (with the possible exception of The Last Herald Mage, possible because I have seen many lists omitting it). Why? Because Vanyel being gay is not the point of the story. It is important, to be sure, for the Kingdom of Valdemar was back then far more homophobic and his family gave him worlds of grief over being gay, but a Herald's duty is to protect the Kingdom and Valdemar needed Vanyel to save it. That is the prime plot, how Vanyel Ashkevron became a the most powerful, famous, and important Herald who ever lived. I think you get the picture. In short, in order to best combat hatred towards the LQBTQ community, Fantasy literature must not create a sub-genre around it but rather internalize/write Queer characters in existing ones. Indeed, Lackey's books are frequently cited by the LGBTQ community as inspirational or comforting influences on their lives as LGBTQ characters are depicted as both good and bad and range over all aspects of life without engaging in blatant stereotypes. In fact, Radar Pictures is bringing of The Last Herald-Mage trilogy to the TV screen, and the importance of adapting a fantasy series featuring an openly gay protagonist is not lost on producer Kit Williamson: “Vanyel in The Last Herald Mage series was one of the first gay characters I encountered, and as a recently out 16-year-old I can’t stress enough the impact that these books had on me. The Valdemar series was far ahead of its time in the portrayal of LGBTQ characters, and Lackey’s writing afforded them a level of depth and complexity that is still very rare, especially in genre storytelling."

Still very rare, especially in genre storytelling. My point exactly. Fortunately, rare is not nowhere and I can give other examples of exemplary Fantasy which gives Queer characters proper and normalizing literary treatment: The Graceling Realms by Kristin Cashore and House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland. While other books dip the toe in. Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time features some minor homosexual characters in its huge cast, as does, though I am loathe to mention him, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire in characters such as the apparently bisexual Prince Oberyn Martell and the gay Jon Connington.

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

Now I can hear you saying, "Ian, this is fascinating to hear, but you do know that LGBTQ is about more than one's sexuality, right?" Naturally I know, which is why this page is not finished yet and why I am introducing you to Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and Narset, the Enlightened Master and Transcendent. Yes, I know that Alesha and Narset are not even book characters but rather ones from the card game Magic: the Gathering, but that does not make them less strong, worthy, or important in regards to what, to who, they represent. Alesha is transgender (she was born a boy), and Narset is on the autism spectrum, but these traits are not roles they play as opposed to who they are. Their roles being leaders both figuratively and literally (in one timeline anyway) and the pride of their respective Clans. But their stories do not revolve around being transgender or autistic. Naturally they had to deal with these things and the obstacles they presented, but there is much more to both of them and I love their stories.


Yet, sadly, transgender and autistic characters are even less common than Queer ones, lacking even a sub-genre to call their own. Indeed, "autistic fantasy" is actually a medical term describing how an individual deals with external and environmental stressors by daydreaming and retreating into an inner fantasy world. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, "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." Do you not love how a medical term can be seen in a new light with a Tolkien quote? I know the term is valid, but the strict definition sounds similar what a non-autistic but very imaginative person does naturally. Anyway, back on topic, those on the autism spectrum are vastly underrepresented in Fantasy literature to the degree that, in all my vast reading, Narset is the only character I can point to. Sort of. Actually, I know for a fact that the justly famed and phenomenally popular The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson has several characters on the spectrum, but as I have not read it yet (though I plan to!) I cannot speak of it further save that Sanderson is doing exactly what needs to be done. That, by including them, he leads the Fantasy vanguard in fighting for all inclusiveness and understanding. Now I personally am not LGBTQ, and I reveal this for the same reason I say or reveal anything, to make a point – which is that fighting for LGBTQ inclusiveness should not only be no less important to those who are not as those who are, it should be especially important. Yes, especially, because while the LGBTQ are fighting to be included, those such as I who are not must be the includers (which may not be a word, but should be). That puts the battle on our soil. Hence it is our duty to proactively include them to the best of our literary ability in the manner I have described.

I call sexism the cross-eyed monster that Fantasy literature has basically if not utterly dealt with (for the lack of female Gandalf figures still needs rectifying), so I shall name homophobia along with all other anti-LGBTG+ sentiments and prejudice against the autistic the blind monster that the Fantasy genre is at this moment fighting and slowly but steadily besting. For it is said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, which means that truth always prevails. A sentiment that is backed by history as pointed out by Mahatma Gandhi: "There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.” Well, anti-LGBTG+ sentiments are tyrannical by definition since trying to tell other people who they are and/or whom they are allowed to love is despotic to a level Sauron would approve of; and Fantasy literature, guided by the Spirit of Tolkien and the will of countless authors since, has now and always will oppose such evils.

"The young must grow old,
Whilst old ones grow older,
And cowards will shrink,
As the bold grow bolder.
Courage may blossom in quiet hearts,
For who can tell where bravery starts?
Truth is a song, oft lying unsung,
Some mother bird, protecting her young,
Those who lay down their lives for friends,
The echo rolls onward, it seldom ends.
Who never turned and ran, but stayed?
This is a warrior born, not made!
Living in peace, aye many a season,
Calm in life and sound in reason,
'Til evil arrives, a wicked horde,
Driving a warrior to pick up his sword,
The challenger rings then, straight and fair,
Justice is with us, beware. Beware!"