Naturally I have posted many things over the years here on Stars Uncounted, some of which became full pages. Yet there were always those posts which, despite how much I loved the topic or how important I thought it, simply was not large enough to constitute a page. Thus this will be my page of old posts; a showcase of some of my favorites that I think should be more readily visible:

My people have a saying...

It is seldom credited, but one sign of a great Fantasy author is when, tucked comfortably within their works, are invented wisdom-sayings i.e. proverbs; one could also call these little nuggets of wisdom. It is not a rule, of course, as one can easily be a master of the Fantastic without employing such things, but those who do have – at least in my experience – always been masters.

Unsurprisingly, among the first and finest examples of this is none other J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Here are some of the best examples:

"He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." 
"Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon."
"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens."
"Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves." 
"Often does hatred hurt itself."

Another fine example, and one who directly uses the term proverbs and makes them a more integral part of the story than Tolkien, is Mercedes Lackey. She literally created dozens for her invented Shin'a'in (People of the Plains) and Tale'edras (Hawkbrother) cultures. Lackey's proverbs are notable in that they are reminiscent to those of Ancient Asia e.g. "Just because you feel certain an enemy is lurking behind every bush, it doesn’t follow that you are wrong" is like to "Before telling secrets on the road, look in the bushes."
Other fine examples of quotes from the wondrous world of Velgarth are as follows:

"My people have a saying..."

"Knowledge will always be the best weapon against tyrants."
"Professionals are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs."
"You cannot have a battle without getting your fur in a mess."
"If it gets caught, it deserves to be eaten."
"That was then, this is now; the moment is never the same twice."

I have also heard that C. S. Lewis created a dozen proverbs in The Horse and His Boy, a book in his The Chronicles of Narnia series. However, as I have never read The Horse and His Boy I can provide no examples.

 His name is Will (or Wil)

Will Stanton (The Dark Is Rising Sequence)
Will Parry (His Dark Materials)
A common tactic utilized by Fantasy authors is to give their main protagonists common, unremarkable names – likely so that the readers will be able to more easily identify with them. 
The name Will is perhaps the best example of this, as four of Fantasy literature's most noteworthy authors employed it: Susan Cooper in her The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice, and Terry Brooks' Original Shannara Trilogy.

One can almost feel a kinship between them just by looking and, in fact, I once wrote to Philip Pullman via his website asking him the following: "Did you name Will Parry after Will Stanton from Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence? I thought you might have because your Will leaves his mother with a Mrs. Cooper at the start of The Subtle Knife." His reply was brief and pointed "In a word, no." – but, frankly, I do not believe him. Naturally Will Parry is very different from his Stanton counterpart but, given the evidence provided in my question coupled with Susan Cooper's fame and the fact that the two even look alike, I take Pullman's brevity and word choice as a way to dodge my query. 
Will Treaty (Ranger's Apprentice)
Wil Ohmsford (Original Shannara Trilogy)

 As to the rest, three of the four had, shall we say and to avoid spoilers, issues with magical thingamajigs, two are orphans, three have blond hair, three had complicated love lives, three had somewhat gruff and unshaven mentors, and all four experience difficult journeys.

 It looms over the horizon...silent and dark as a grave

Whoever says that Fantasy literature and real-world History are unrelated has clearly never read the genre's best. Just as with world mythology, the finest Fantasy authors draw on real-world events for inspiration, making the genre a kind of mirroring allegory of humanity as it was and is.

As it is what gave me the idea for this post, that would be most recent and most fitting Fantasy-History simile I am aware of. In the card game Magic: The Gathering, the latest set Ixalan – is based off mesoamerican lore and history with a slight touch of Indiana Jones; hence filled with treasure-seeking pirates, people riding dinosaur, a lost city of gold, and a general sense of braving the unknown and uncharted jungles and seas. All very well, and an excellent idea, for it draws upon some of I hold what be Fantasy's greatest quality: the sense that one is exploring unknown lands.

Conqueror's Galleon
However, in this set, MtG also decided to add real-world conquistadors and colonizers to the various factions of Ixalan. Are they Humans? Close. In a a brutally apt analogy, they are Vampires. And why not? To quote the MtG developers, "Think intrepid Spanish sailors searching for spices from the New World, but instead Vampires searching for fresh blood. They discover an indigenous tribe inspired by Mayans, Incans, and Aztecs. Peace? War? Who knows—culture clashes always create conflict, and conflict is necessary for a compelling story." Naturally the picture of the Vampire Conquistadors' arriving vessel looks dark and menacing, which makes sense as Vampires are not known for their sense of cheer in both mood and decorative inclinations. 
But is it really so far off from how the European colonizers arrived in the Americas? Sure their ships did not look Vampiric nor carried a sense of dread, arriving in bright daylight upon picturesque beeches and whatnot. Yet is the above picture truly so inaccurate? Did the Europeans not truly bring greed and death the Native Americans, seeking gold and spices as Vampire seeks blood? Per my own lessons, for I love History no less than Fantasy, the analogy fits hand in glove. Not literally, but spiritually, making the ship picture an excellent foreshadowing of the eventual fate of many Native American cultures: a mighty ship comes from lands unknown beyond the horizon, the dark clouds marshaling behind it blotting out the sun.

A girl and her white bear

One often hears the time honored phrase "a boy and his dog." Well, I now coin a new one: "a girl and her white bear."

Lyra (& mouse-Pan) and Iorek Byrnison
To the left is Lyra Silvertongue riding her armored bear friend Iorek Byrnison (who gave her said last name), from Philip Pullman's unquestioned masterwork the His Dark Materials trilogy. This image is so striking, a girl riding atop an apparent polar bear, that it has for decades been ingrained within the Fantasy genre's psyche; as it should, given the unforgettable story it helps bring to life. Yet that is also why I was so startled years ago to see the image below as the cover of a book called East by Edith Pattou. 
Rose and the white bear
Indeed, I instantly called to my Dad over from a few shelves away (we we in a book store) and said, "Mmm, a girl with a polar bear...now where have we seen that before?" He replied in kind, saying that image had certainly been appropriated by Pullman. As a matter of fact we already had the book, but had more or less forgotten it, so seeing it served as both a reminder and sparked my curiosity, though I naturally assumed it must be at least somewhat based of His Dark Materials...at least until I read the back-cover and then, a few years later, when Dad and I both read the read. Pattou's work is, as it turns out, little like Pullman's (save for the love and adventure part), East being an adaptation of an old Norwegian folk tale entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Which is interesting because the Iorek and his kin call themselves "panserbjørn", which is Norwegian and Danish for "armored bear".

I would thus speculate that His Dark Materials is derived more from old lore than is commonly thought. In fact, the proper name for The Golden Compass is Northern Lights, just as North Child is for East. Just as compasses also bear a prominent roll, and a far journey to the distant and mysterious and magical north. And, in both epics tales of loves and destiny, the girl and her white bear grows to share and unbreakable bond.

The Force vs. the Federation 

Ever do people make comparisons between the ships and technologies of Star Trek and Star Wars, yet I now make a different comparison – one which explains why I prefer the former over the latter. I can hear you saying: "What? But Star Trek is pure sci-fi, which you avoid almost as rule, while Star Wars is almost a Fantasy in space given the never ending battle between the Jedi and the dark side of the Force." 
A very good point, and I do like Star Wars very much as it is an exemplary tale, a true coming of age story and hero's journey complete with brilliantly complex characters both good and evil. Even mythologist Joseph Campbell acknowledged it as such; indeed, George Lucas credited Campbell's work as influencing his own. Who could forget the revelations and inner conflicts regarding and within Anakin and Luke Skywalker? The wisdom of their mutual mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (who are cultural icons on and above the level of most characters in literature, on par with Gandalf and Dumbledore)? Han Solo wrestling with self-identification, caught between his roguish past and his relationship with Luke and Princess Leia? As said, a stellar tale by all definitions and, better yet, the Force brings a spiritual element seldom seen in Sci-Fi and on a level rare even in many Fantasies. It is no secret that Masters Kenobi and Yoda (and the Jedi in general) are based off the ancient Samurai and their Zen spiritualism.
Which again begs the question, why do I prefer Trek to Wars. The answer is in their names, added by a famous quote from one Ben Kenobi: "For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire." In short, and as of the pitiful Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars amounts to a near-pessimistic tale as the Jedi are always on the verge of being wiped out by the dark side. All the wisdom and power of people like Yoda and Luke amounting to just barely enough to keep hope for better future alive while the Sith terrorize the Galaxy. Not exactly a cheerful, nor hopeful, story.

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, however, is a different kettle of fish. Purely Sci-Fi and set in our own future and Galaxy rather than a long time ago in one far far away, it is not about war but rather exploration. About searching out the wonders of the universe even while trying to prevent interstellar wars and other similar catastrophes. About showing what humanity might develop into if it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence; an ideal epitomized in the United Federation of Planets that, in the words of Captain James T. Kirk, is "a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars." A reality that, unlike the Jedi Order, is not constantly on the verge of total collapse. 

This may sound simple, and it is, yet this is the key as to why I prefer Trek over Wars. Not only does Trek offer greater variety, as is natural being a TV series as opposed to movies, it explores themes Wars never touches. Lieutenant Commander Data is not beloved for his superhuman abilities that come with being an android so much as because he is Pinocchio: totally benign and desiring nothing so much as to understand humanity, to be human. As Captain Picard once said of him, "In his quest to be more like us, he helped us to see what it means to be Human... his wonder, his curiosity about every facet of Human nature, allowed all of us to see the best parts of ourselves. He evolved, he embraced change because he always wanted to be better than he was." Frankly I could keep going, not just about Data but about basically everyone, and not just Next Generation but Deep Space Nine and Voyager too. So I will be brief and just add that wise sages are not lacking even if Jedi-style spiritualism is, as wisdom is often just a solid and true moral compass built of deep compassion and practical experience. As to mysticism, characters like Guinan fill that need quite nicely.

In final ending, while Star Wars may have more Tolkienesque elements, Star Trek truly follows the Spirit of Tolkien because it not only embraces, but empowers and delivers on hopes for betterment on an interpersonal as well as intergalactic scale. In Star Trek, the most powerful, most thought-provoking, most memorable moments often have nothing to do with war and, when it does, it is trying to prevent one from starting.


Old as the hills

As we all know, Fantasy literature was born out of the countless folktales, myths, and legends that populate our own often mysterious world – tales which continue to inspire today and remain among the greatest and most evocative of stories.
“This is the mythosphere. It's made up of all the stories, theories and beliefs, legends, myths and hopes, that are generated here on Earth. As you can see, it's constantly growing and moving as people invent new tales to tell or find new things to believe.” - Diana Wynne Jones
As Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm collected Germanic folktales in the 19th century, they realized that many were similar to stories told in distant parts of the world. The brothers Grimm wondered whether plot similarities indicated a shared ancestry thousands of years old.
"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." - Albert Einstein

The Sea of Trolls trilogy by Nancy Farmer and The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott are perfect examples of Fantasies build upon the mythologies of our own cultures. Below is the poem Sherwood by Alfred Noyes, noted in that it truly captures the magic of one of the world's dearest legends: that of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake, 
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn.

Robin Hood is here again: all his merry thieves
Hear a ghostly bugle-note shivering through the leaves,
Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Merry, merry England has kissed the lips of June:
All the wings of fairyland were here beneath the moon,
Like a flight of rose-leaves fluttering in a mist
Of opal and ruby and pearl and amethyst.

Merry, merry England is waking as of old,
With eyes of blither hazel and hair of brighter gold:
For Robin Hood is here again beneath the bursting spray
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Love is in the greenwood building him a house
Of wild rose and hawthorn and honeysuckle boughs:
Love is in the greenwood, dawn is in the skies,
And Marian is waiting with a glory in her eyes.

Hark! The dazzled laverock climbs the golden steep!
Marian is waiting: is Robin Hood asleep?
Round the fairy grass-rings frolic elf and fay,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Oberon, Oberon, rake away the gold,
Rake away the red leaves, roll away the mould,
Rake away the gold leaves, roll away the red,
And wake Will Scarlett from his leafy forest bed.

Friar Tuck and Little John are riding down together
With quarter-staff and drinking-can and grey goose-feather.
The dead are coming back again, the years are rolled away
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Softly over Sherwood the south wind blows.
All the heart of England his in every rose
Hears across the greenwood the sunny whisper leap,
Sherwood in the red dawn, is Robin Hood asleep?

Hark, the voice of England wakes him as of old
And, shattering the silence with a cry of brighter gold
Bugles in the greenwood echo from the steep,
Sherwood in the red dawn, is Robin Hood asleep?

Where the deer are gliding down the shadowy glen
All across the glades of fern he calls his merry men--
Doublets of the Lincoln green glancing through the May
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day--

Calls them and they answer: from aisles of oak and ash
Rings the Follow! Follow! and the boughs begin to crash,
The ferns begin to flutter and the flowers begin to fly,
And through the crimson dawning the robber band goes by.

Robin! Robin! Robin! All his merry thieves
Answer as the bugle-note shivers through the leaves,
Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

"Open your eyes. Wake up, Link."

While I am hardly an avid Legend of Zelda player, I am a deep fan of the lore and the truly awe-inspiring quality of the latest Breath of the Wild game deserves special recognition. However, I write this post not because of that, but rather because the game illustrates – and animates – a Fantasy world-building point of mine.

As any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, Fantasy literature draws much of its inspiration from myth and legend, both of which are empowered with wonder and mystery. Robin Hood and his Merry Men (green clad archers of the forest who defend the common people) inspired Rangers such as Aragorn son of Arathorn (from The Lord of the Rings) and Halt of Araluen (from Ranger's Apprentice). Merlin is the archetypal wizard in flowing robes and bearing a staff. And Druids and Bards are subjects of proven history in addition to folklore.
And these do not even touch upon the classic tales of medieval knights and dragons, kings and princesses, that is one of the most common elements found in the High Fantasy.

Yet one notices that these stories of yore are all European based; all these tales rooted in the ancestral knowing of the West. Of course there is nothing wrong with this per se, but I am a big believer in experimentation and have a particular fondness for unique Fantasies that in some manner defy standard conventions. Fantasies that draw off other tales from other cultures.

Which brings me back to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which draws much inspiration from the little known Jōmon period – from Japanese prehistory – in regards to the power of the Shiekah clan. The creators of the game explain such in the video clip below.

The point I, and this game, makes is that the lore of Eastern cultures remains a largely untapped goldmine within the Fantasy genre. A goldmine that, when used, tends to immense popularity. Take the justifiably famous anime T.V. series Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the Avatar Universe, each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society, and within each nation exist people known as "benders" who have the innate power and ability to control and manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show's creators assigned each bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned.

Bryan Konietzko, the co-creator and executive producer of the show, said that he and his counterpart "were really interested in other epic Legends & Lore properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese Anime, Hong Kong action & Kung Fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar."

As one can see from the image featuring the original members of Team Avatar, namely from their clothing and the architecture of the town, this unutterably popular show drew its strength from the untapped goldmine I mentioned (and came out with more than a few gold bars for their trouble).
Sadly though, it is mostly TV and video games that puts Eastern lore to use, for in my extensive reading I have barely ever found it touched upon, and even then usually in a light manner.


The Treason of the Intellectuals and Isengard

British academic, critic and novelist Adam Roberts describes the Grimdark sub-genre as one "where nobody is honourable and Might is Right," and as "the standard way of referring to fantasies that turn their backs on the more uplifting, visions of idealized medievaliana, and instead stress how nasty, brutish, short and dark life back then 'really' was." He critically notes, however, that Grimdark has little to do with re-imagining an actual historic reality and more with conveying the sense that our own world is a "cynical, disillusioned, ultra-violent place." 

Of course, one who has read my opinion of GRRM the Anti-Tolkien already knows that I wholeheartedly agree with this. However, this post is not just another long rant regarding A Song of Ice and Fire but, rather, an attack on the cynicism that fuels it and which goes beyond George R.R. Martin. A cynicism which amounts to another concept known as the Treason of the Intellectuals, in which academics accept and espouse cynicism because in a nutshell they believe that Power and Politics will near-always emerge triumphant over morality. Hence the best, wisest, course of action is to embrace this truth and put forth one's intellectualism to working with thus shaping the policies of the Powerful until they resemble/accomplish the political agenda of the academics.

Permit me to offer a quote from the J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
"A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means."

Sound familiar? If not, then recall these words as the ones spoken by Saruman to Gandalf when trying to convince him to join him in an alliance with Sauron. What is striking, however, is how neatly the Treason of Isengard matches the description of the Treason of the Intellectuals. Saruman and Gandalf had been sent to Middle-earth with the purpose of overthrowing Sauron, something that Saruman clearly still intends to accomplish, except that rather than fighting Mordor he now means to become Sauron's ally so as slowly twist and replace him on his dark throne.
Naturally Saruman is an very extreme case, as it would be far from fair to call cynical intellectuals ambitious agents of clear evil. Yet the crux of the matter is that, like Saruman, those academics who engage in intellectual treason believe that fighting Power and Politics with human determination and basic morality is a fool's errand and thus join the other side if they see any hope in altering it from within to suit their visions. In short, it is the temptation to accommodate oneself to the nature of the times, as Niccolò Machiavelli would have put it, and to ally cautiously but definitely with the Power that is rather than the principles that were. Saruman's mad vision may have been to replace the Lord of Mordor as the tyrant of Middle-earth, but, as can be seen, when striped down to their essential organs there is very little separating Treason of Isengard from the Treason of the Intellectuals.

Which, to bring this post to a full circle, is one of many reasons why I am the Enemy of the Grimdark. Because A Song of Ice and Fire and the genre as the whole offers a cold and cynical view of humanity coupled with the apparent lesson that the honorable and compassionate usually end with their heads upon a stake. It teaches that treachery is profitable; that morals do not pay and are near powerless to effect the wider world.

"Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost." - Charlie Chaplin

"Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us." - Stephen Colbert

"A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future." - Sydney J. Harris

"Cynicism isn't smarter, it's only safer. There's nothing fluffy about optimism." - Jewel Kitcher

"The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism." - J. R. R. Tolkien

I would live in Dol Amroth

Sometimes I am asked where in Tolkien's Middle-earth, or any Fantasy world for that matter, I would like live. Naturally barring worlds of my own creation, I think the answer would be Dol Amroth in southern Gondor.

As Ted Nasmith's illustration shows, it is a scenic place with both natural and human-made wonders. Human and Elf, that is, for the place is also steeped in the lore and tradition of the Elder Kindred;  indeed, the first people to live the region were the Sindar (Grey Elves) escaping south from the wars against Morgoth that characterized the First Age. As to the inhabitants during the War of the Ring, the people of Dol Amroth are tall, grey-eyed, dark-haired, and the most skilled harp players in all of Gondor (playing at the coronation of Aragorn). Furthermore, and going back to Elf-lore, the inhabitants of Dol Amroth and in the lands nearby are some of the few people of Gondor who speak Sindarin (one of the two primary Elf languages) on a daily basis, and are generally regarded as having Elvish blood in their veins.
The Banner of
Dol Amroth

One may also recall Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth from The Return of the King. Bringing a company of his Swan-Knights and 700 infantry to Minas Tirith, he led the sortie that rode to the aid of his nephew Faramir whose warriors were retreating from Osgiliath when Sauron overran the Pelennor Fields, personally rescuing Faramir himself. He then aided Gandalf commanding the defenses, perceived that the Nazgul-stricken Éowyn still lived, and recognized that Aragorn was the rightful King. Finally, Imrahil led the city for a while himself before Aragorn's crowning, took part in the Battle of the Black Gates, and was recognized by Legolas as being of Elvish descent.

So there it is. I would live in Dol Amroth, the peaceful yet strong and noble, even idyllic, province of Gondor. I have always liked the sea, love music, and cannot think of a place that better blends the beauty of civilization at its best with the wonder of the natural world; all augmented by the lore surrounding the place. Also and on a side note, Prince Imrahil is one of my favorite secondary characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Saruman and Macbeth

All who have read or even just watched The Lord of the Rings knows that the March of the Ents in their successful assault on Isengard is beyond question both one of the most memorable and epic events in the War of the Ring. Yet, interesting, what is less commonly known is how that scene took shape in the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien, what planted the inspirational seeds, as it were. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is the name of another giant in English and indeed world literature, one whose works are admired by and an inspiration to countless people. That name being William Shakespeare. What will come as a surprise, however, is that those seeds of inspiration planted in Tolkien were not born of admiration but, rather and in Tolkien's own words, "bitter disappointment and disgust".

"What?" I can hear you asking in confusion. Well, I will answer but, before I do, I must offer a SPOILER warning as what I am about to say will spoil part of the ending of Shakespeare's justly famous play Macbeth. Moving right along now and short play shorter (Macbeth is the Bard's shortest play), the three witches give Macbeth a prophesy part of which states that he and his ill-gotten crown will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. A foretelling which relieves Macbeth, making him feel secure, because he knows that forests cannot possibly move. Interesting, is it not, that Macbeth has seen the witches' magic and yet instantly dismisses the notion of an army of trees coming to besiege a castle? Of course, Saruman had even less of an excuse since he had met Treebeard, knew the Ents to be his neighbors, and yet neither expected nor made a plan accounting for the possibility that they might take serious offense at his Uruk-hai going into the their forests with large axes. 

Anyway, Macbeth gets a rather nasty shock when his scouts report that the Great Birnam Wood is coming. Except that, while it was the fulfillment of the witches' prophecy, it was not the actual Wood. Rather it was a trick. His enemy, Macduff, is leading an army against Dunsinane Castle, and while encamped in Birnam Wood orders his troops to cut down and carry tree branches to camouflage their numbers. Hence, to Macbeth from atop his walls, it merely seems that the Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill.

Thus were planted the seeds of the March of the Ents, for in a letter to the poet (and his longtime friend) W.H. Auden, Tolkien notes that the Ents were possibly spawned from his own frustration with Shakespeare's Macbeth. In his own words: "Their part in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill'." It is also interesting to note that both Saruman and Macbeth were traitors.

Speaking purely for myself and, I believe, many others, I think the March of the Ents is far more epic – both as a piece of literature and on general principle – than the Great Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill in Macbeth. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the plays of William Shakespeare are so different that is impossible to compare the two authors; the works of both were and are literary masterpieces and cultural icons of the absolute highest order. Yet, in this matter of besieging forests, I think it is pretty clear that the Founder of Modern Fantasy did a better job than the Bard.

Mystery at the Lighthouse

One thing I have noticed is that people seldom think about how literature affects anime and gaming, mostly because such references to them as appear in anime and games are to literary works which are no longer in the popular mainstream. As I have stated, I avoid Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy more or less like the plague; not because I do not respect them so much as that they are simply not taste. However, the two merge with anime and gaming enough to warrant acknowledgement.

Recently I watched Mystery at the Lighthouse, the 13th episode of the original Pokémon anime (i.e. when Ash first sets out in the Kanto Region), and was again struck by its quiet majesty. In basic plot, omitting the ending so as to avoid spoilers, Ash & co. are lost but soon arrive at a lighthouse on a foggy coast where they meet its keeper, a Pokémon researcher named Bill who spends his time studying rare Pokémon. Namely, he says, one so unique and that no one had ever laid eyes on it; the last of its kind searching down the aeons for a friend. A Pokémon he learned of when he heard a strange noise coming across the ocean one night, a haunting, plaintive call echoing across the mist-shrouded sea, but that was the last time he heard it's cry. Then, in a benevolent attempt to lure the Pokémon, he broadcast a similar answering call across the ocean. Needless to say that before the episode's end the nameless Pokémon makes an appearance, wading through fog and sea to the lighthouse, its calls matching the fog horn. Of course, this was the very early days of Pokémon anime, so the writers made the mysterious Pokémon a super-sized Dragonite (it is not named so, but the outline is clear) instead of a truly unidentifiable legendary Pokémon that would later be revealed and play a role many episodes down the line, but knowing what it is does not take away from the haunting power of Mystery at the Lighthouse. A fact the writers were well aware of as the episode is purely based off acclaimed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury's The Fog Horn short story.

At this point, dear reader, I recommend that you read this short story here is the link – before continuing, as otherwise you will face serious spoilers (worry not, for it can be read in under ten minutes). Ready or not, here we go. The Fog Horn details a lighthouse keeper who observes the arrival of a gigantic, prehistoric creature emerging from the waves each year, coming in answer to the fog horn which tricks the monster into thinking he has found another of his kind, one who acts as though the monster did not even exist. The lighthouse keeper turns off the fog horn and, in a rage, the monster destroys the lighthouse before retreating to the sea. This may sound rather pedestrian, but Bradbury's reputation is well-earned and the story hooked me by the heartstrings in a heartbeat. Hence I will say no more so as not to rob one of the chance to read it if one has not done so already. Taking 30 minutes on Netflix to watch Mystery at the Lighthouse would be order too as one will note that I did not spoil the ending. 

Having read and seen both, one will agree that Pokémon did an excellent job evoking the primal, lonely mood of The Fog Horn, particularly given that it was an anime for young children. Children like me who grew up never knowing the episode's origins because the relevant short story is no longer in the popular mainstream. I only found out by, being curious to learn more about the giant Dragonite if possible, looking up the episode on Bulbapedia and saw this in the Trivia section: "The plot of this episode was likely based on the short story The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury, which also contributed to the creation of the Godzilla franchise. In the story, a sea monster who is the only one left of its kind, hears a fog horn that sounds similar to its own voice and it is attracted to it." (Yes, sadly I have heard of Godzilla and would like to keep my limited knowledge of it just that, limited, because my opinion monster movies and whatnot is low at best. It is interesting, though, is it not, that a franchise such as Godzilla which we all grow up hearing about whether we want to or not can maintain such mainstream fame while its progenitor, a short story, is out of the limelight.) 

"That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die." - H.P. Lovecraft

Rangers: From Merry Men to Dúnedain (and beyond)

Rangers. A well-known Fantasy designation now, an archetype found in many works of literature and role-playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons), they share many common attributes: Often wise and unfailingly hardy as well as cunning and perceptive folk who are past-masters in the arts of stealth, wilderness survival, and combat with a particular specialty in archery and other ranged weapons. But where did this archetype come from? Two places, the first of comes not from a single Fantasy author but from the ballads and legends of our own world. Namely merry old England for, as I have said in the past and as any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, Fantasy literature draws much of its inspiration from myth and legend, both of which are empowered with wonder and mystery. In the case of Rangers, take a guess. Green clad archers of the forest who defend the common people? If you are thinking Robin Hood and his Merry Men then you hit the bullseye straight on, for from their woodland abode in Sherwood Forest they are fit and basically founded all the key attributes listed above. I say basically because, to start, they were not called Rangers and, for all that stories of Robin Hood are serious in that they face a real tyrant in the form of Prince John, they are more comic in nature; the Merry Men are called such for a reason.

Today, however, the most common form a Ranger takes is a cloaked, grim-faced woman or man with an aura of mystery about them and who tends to be something of a loner, making them similar to the Merry Men, but different enough to be notable. Which brings one back to the question of where did this archetype come from. Two places, the second being where, also as any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, the Fantastic draws much of its inspiration: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. More directly from the Rangers of the North (who are the last remnant of the Dúnedain of Arnor) and their leader Aragorn son of Arathorn who in the town of Bree is known as Strider; and their southern Gondorian Dúnedain cousins the Rangers of Ithilien under Captain Faramir. Often grim, particularly the Northerners, and garbed camouflaging browns, greys and dark greens, the Rangers of the North protect the lands they wander although their secretiveness made other peoples look upon them with wariness and distrust. Whereas the the Rangers of Ithilien were a Gondorian special operations force that routinely harass and ambush Sauron's forces from several secret retreats. As one can clearly see, this covers all the bases the Rangers of the North exemplifying the noble community of mysterious loners type of Ranger, while the Rangers of Ithilien operate in a more official capacity in that they are an military unit within a larger country.

Of course, it is hardly a coincidence that I am writing about all this shortly after beginning The Red Fox Clan, book #2 of the Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger series by John Flanagan, and indeed I have thought and known all of the above for years. But it was only late last week that I realized with shock that I had not written it down. Which brings us to the glorious topic of Rangers in Fantasy literature, or rather what would be a glorious one if it was used enough to even be deem a topic. Strange at it is to say, while other Tolkienesque tropes and elements have been harvested and employed almost to the point of exhaustion in some cases, only John Flanagan took the Rangers and built something of them: his Ranger’s Apprentice books being an international bestseller and the Ranger Corps of the Kingdom of Araluen a flawless combination of both the Rangers of North and Ithilien in how Araluens view them and their official function in service to the Throne. If Halt is not based off Aragorn and Gandalf I will eat my proverbial quiver.

Fantasy morality

In the intro page I say that my morality, manner of speech, style of writing, and building blocks of thought may all be traced to Fantasy books I have read. Well, perhaps I ought to compile some of that morality to show, in sum, what said Fantastical literature can do for a person. Naturally I am limited to what I have long called "nuggets of wisdom" within books and a more complete set of quotes (not limited to Fantasy literature) can be found on the Quotes page. Yet there is something to be said for conciseness, a simple set of strictures to go by that built upon the Spirit of Tolkien, and this, or near enough as makes no matter, is mine:

The sentiment of the Abhorsens: "For everyone and everything, there is a time to die." 

From Ogion of Gont, Wizard of Re Albi: "To hear, one must be silent." 

Faramir on purpose of war: "I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness, nor the arrow for it's swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend."

Silvia of Innail: "The law is that the hungry must be fed, and the homeless must be housed, and the sick must be healed. That is the way of the Light."

Chrodechild of the Blades of Night's Veil: "The responsibility of rulers is to protect their country and their people. To that end, naturally, they must employ various techniques. Different faces that depend on the time, the situation and the people with which they are dealing."

The last words of The King Under the Mountain: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

Landen, Prince and slave and swordmaster: "Killing the strong to prove your strength is foolish weakness. Killing fools is easy weakness. Killing the weak is evil weakness. Accomplishing your ends without killing, mastering your mind when you want to kill - that is strength!"

Narset, the Enlightened Master and Transcendent

Cadvan of Lirigon: "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."

Gandalf on legends: "Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know."

Herald Dirk of Valdemar: "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."

From the witty and not quite moral scholar: "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge."

Kerowyn the merc: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch."

Merriman Lyon, sometimes called Great Uncle Merry: "For ever and ever, we say when we are young, or in our prayers. Twice, we say it. Old One, do we not? For ever and ever ... so that a thing may be for ever, a life or a love or a quest, and yet begin again, and be for ever just as before. And any ending that may seem to come is not truly an ending, but an illusion. For Time does not die, Time has neither beginning nor end, and so nothing can end or die that has once had a place in Time."

Od: "Power shaped by wonder and curiosity; even love. Not by fear and laws that shut out instead of inviting it."


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