Misc

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.



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.


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment