F is for FLCL


FLCL, which is pronounced “Fooly Cooly” in English or “Furi Kuri” in Japanese, is a very strange frenetic anime series of which I am exceedingly fond.  It takes place in the city of Mabase, in the shadow of a giant clothes-iron-shaped building, one of the plants run by the mysterious Medical Mechanica company. The story centers around Naota “Ta-kun” Nandoba and is largely about his coming of age and coming to terms with his own emotions.

At the beginning of the first episode, Naota says that nothing ever happens in Mabase. But things do start to happen when, as he is walking along with Mamimmi, the high school girl who he believes was the girl friend of his older brother, who is away in America playing baseball, and who seems to have quite an interest in Ta-kun himself, a bizarre woman runs him over with her Vespa. She proceeds to give him CPR, then when he comes to, smacks him upside the head with her limited edition, pull-cord-powered, left handed Rickenbacker bass guitar. When he gets home, he discovers this woman, Haruko, has become his families maid. He also finds out, over time, that the blow to the head has opened a portal in his brain-case, causing various things, mostly giant robots, to come bursting out of his forehead.

Sounds weird? It is. Many aspects of the storyline are never fully explained, such as Haruko’s exact origins, though we learn she is using Naota to try and capture the powers of a being known as Atomsk, the Pirate King. The show is chocked full of references, innuendos and in-jokes, covering both American and Japanese popular culture, especially anime and manga. The show certainly makes a little more sense if you’ve seen a few anime and have at least a passing knowledge of Japanese culture. But at the root of the story are themes of coming of age emotionally and coming to terms with ones feelings. There is a degree of sexual awakening innuendo as well-Mamimi and Haruko both flirt shamelessly with Naota and one of his classmates clearly has a crush on him…plus which, several of the protrusions that grow from his head have a vaguely phallic appearance and implications, but it’s all handled in a very humorous way.  There are also themes like juvenile delinquency, the breakup of the family unit and various concepts of self-determination explored.

For reasons I myself don’t really understand, many of the images and themes of the show put me in a strangely nostalgic frame of mind; the series seems to me at once very Japanese and yet also very American in a peculiar way. Though not the first suggestion for anime newbies, FLCL is a very enjoyable series with more depth than is obvious from it’s surface that I think any fan of Japanese culture will enjoy. It is currently available on Netflix Instant Viewing, and Hulu as well I believe.

So today I have received, so far, four rejection emails. Some were quite disappointing, submissions I’d had my hopes up about a bit.  But that’s okay. One of the stories rejected today has already gone back out. Some of them will be waiting a bit for the proper market to get freed up to send them in. But they will all continue to circulate, sooner or later.

Also today I’ve finally gotten started on the actual writing of my Jersey Devil story. Its coming along steadily, if a little bumpily. It’s not a story I fully understand-I’ve worked out a lot of the backstory for it, but less of the actual events of the narrative. So many aspects, it seems, I’ll be doing seat of the pants style, this time. But I’m hoping the results will be something interesting and meaningful and maybe a little different. Also, look for the “Letter F” post in my A to Z series soon.

The Earthsea cycle of novels and short stories, by Ursula K. LeGuin are among my favorite stories and a huge influence on my own writing. When I was a kid there was a battered old copy of “A Wizard of Earthsea” lying around which I finally read when I was ten or eleven. I’ve been hooked ever since, and that book remains one of my all time favorite novels (The image above, while also apparently used later for a boxed set of the original Earthsea trilogy, is also the cover of the copy of “A Wizard of Earthsea” I read as a kid and which I still own).

As might be deduced from the name, the world of Earthsea is a place of islands. The central grouping is known as the Archipelago, the outer areas are the four Reaches, one for each direction, and then you also have the Kargad lands, a few islands that are home to a separate  culture and ethnicity of people. The Earthsea setting is a little different from many other fantasy worlds-rather than the Middle Ages, the technology level and culture is more similar to an Iron Age one. Also, aside from the Nordic-like Kargs, the peoples of the Archipelago and Reaches are all dark-skinned peoples (with the possible exception of the people of Osskil who seem to have an Eastern European vibe. Most of the cultures of Earthsea are at least somewhat maritime; sailing, fishing and magic relating to the wind and sea are all important elements. Most of the residents of the Archipelago and Reaches are collectively referred to as Hardic Peoples, after the Hardic language they speak which is based on the True Speech.

The magic of Earthsea is very much a part of the world and one of my favorite aspects of the story. The magic is based on the True Speech, the language of the dragons and the tongue used to raise the islands from the sea. In this language all things and all people have a True Name that defines their nature. Further, it is impossible to lie in the Old Language (though the dragons, who are sometimes spoken of almost as embodiments of the language, are able to twist the truth in their speech) and so when a person of power speaks a thing in that tongue, reality is forced to comply and by changing the name of a thing its form can be shifted. People’s true names are generally given/revealed in a naming ceremony at the age of thirteen which is typically conducted by a wizard. People do not reveal their true names, except to people they trust implicitly, each person having a publicly known “use-name”, or sometimes several.  Magic, especially in the early books, is primarily the province of men; all of the full wizards are male and the majority of female magic-users seen are “village witches” with limited abilities and very little training. Women are bared from the wizard’s school on Roke Island, though it is revealed in later works that women helped found it. There are also sorcerers, a sort of intermediate rank of the Roke school between apprentice and wizard and a variety of folks with specific magical talents, such as the weather-workers found on many sailing ships and folks with skill in mending broken objects.

There is a strong element of Taoist and other Eastern type philosophy in the Earthsea stories, especially as regards the use of power and action versus inaction. Although I disagree with some of the philosophic concepts found in the series, they are all quite interesting and especially at the time of the original book’s publication relatively unusual for Western fantasy literature.

The original Earthsea series was a trilogy consisting of “A Wizard of Earthsea,” “The Tombs of Atuan” and “The Farthest Shore.” Years after the publication of TFS, “Tehanu” was added to what became the Earthsea Cycle, followed yet more years later by “The Other Wind” and the “Tales of Earthsea” short story collection. These latter works are somewhat different in tone and theme than the previous novels and some of them could be seen as “re-writing” a bit of Earthsea history. Or at least, presenting us with history quite out of tune with the impressions of things given in earlier books, having to do largely with the role of women, the history of the School on Roke and Hardic wizardry as a whole and also certain matters of the afterlife and human/dragon relations. I’m not personally quite as partial to the newer works, though as a writer I can sympathize with a writer wanting to use existing creations to express a changed or expanded worldview, but I did find the newer books a bit jarring.  The somewhat negative light in which the Hardic wizards and Masters of Roke are cast in these newer books is a little off-putting to me, but I still enjoyed them. I think that in the end, “A Wizard of Earthsea” will always be the epitome of what the world of Earthsea is to me.

The influence of Earthsea on my own writing is considerable. My word choice and style especially when writing high fantasy are influenced by LeGuin’s style in the Earthsea novels. The stories are also partially responsible for my obsession with the number nine and particularly with the idea of magic divided into nine forms with nine masters, since the school of Roke has Nine Masters, each with a different specialty.  The stories have also left me with a love of sea-faring wizard imagery that I indulge in my stories now and again.


D is for Dragon

Moving on to the letter D, we come to another of my favorite things: Dragons. Powerful, ancient and universal, legends of dragons are found in essentially every culture and every time, up to and including the present. Dragons have been used, in different cultures, to represent each of the four classical elements (Air, Earth, Fire and Water) being the only mythic being I know of to have such a distinction.  They’ve filled many character and archetype roles as well: Villain, hero, monster, god, adviser, schemer, embodiment of an abstract, good and evil, kind and cruel there is a dragon out there for every taste or narrative need.

Although many dragons, both in myth and especially in modern literature are intelligent beings capable of speech some are not and their are, to me oddly, some few people out there who are surprised when a dragon in a story speaks (I’ve actually had that happen to me with stories I’ve written.)

The biggest divide between dragons, in my view, is the geo-cultural one existing between dragons in the West and in the East. This divide creates various differences in the forms, personalities and morality of the dragons in question.

In the West, dragons frequently though not always have wings (Fafnir was a notable non-winged dragon or “wyrm” of Western origin although he was, of course, born a dwarf), usually have four legs and a more or less lizard-like body and often breathe fire/smoke/poisonous fumes. Western dragons are often, but again not always, evil,  frequently devouring humans-especially maidens-eating up livestock, burning down towns and generally carrying on. They are commonly greedy hoarders of wealth in the form of gold and jewels of all types. They tend to be associated with Fire or Earth on an elemental level, and in Christian contexts are often used as a symbol or metaphor, or seen as a potential form of, the Devil, Hell or the concept of “sin” itself. They were generally seen as beings of destruction and chaos, or else of cold cunning. However they are not always seen as bad…for instance, for many years “Y Ddraig Goch”, “The Red Dragon” has been the flag of Wales (particularly interesting to me, as my ancestry is partially Welsh-Williams is a Welsh name.) Notable dragons in classical Western tradition include Níðhöggr, Smaug the Dragon of Erebor, the dragon slain by Saint George and according to some, Grendel and/or his Mother.

In the East, most dragons can fly, but they are rarely if ever depicted with wings and tend to be of a more serpentine shape. Their heads also sometimes have a less reptilian form or aspect and often bear dear-like antlers rather than the horns often found on Western dragons. Eastern dragons are generally benevolent, sometimes even divine beings or the servants of gods and usually associated with the elements of Water and Air. Eastern dragons often had aspects of fertility (mostly via rain) protection and wisdom. In ancient China a dragon, usually with five claws, was the symbol of the Emperor. In Eastern myth dragons are usually part of the established order, rather than against it as in the West, although an aspect the two types sometimes share is that of guardians and also that of keepers of ancient knowledge or wisdom, however Western dragons often must be “paid off” to share their knowledge or power. Further, all Eastern dragons to my knowledge are conscious, speaking beings whereas some dragons in the Wester are depicted as non-sentient beasts. There are a few evil Eastern dragons such as the Japanese Orochi which is often depicted as a dragon, sometimes as merely a multi-headed serpent. Other notable Eastern dragons include Seiryu, the Blue Dragon of the East and one of the Four Sainted Beasts of East Asian folklore, and the Dragon King sea-god of China.

Dragons are common elements of modern fantasy literature, often fusing East and West; many literary dragons, especially in the last couple of decades, are like Western dragons in shape but there have come to be many such that resemble Eastern dragons more closely in temperament. Stories such as the Inheritance Cycle,  and the Pern books feature benevolent dragons as central characters and heroes. Others take a middle ground, such as in the world of Earthsea, where dragons and humans are related but took different paths, some dragons being malicious towards mankind, others simply wanting to be apart. In Dungeons and Dragons there are more varieties of dragons than colors in the rainbow, ranging from good to “neutral” to evil and back.  To many lovers of fantasy in modern times-and indeed I feel even throughout history-dragons have been, are and will continue to be symbols of all that is magical, mysterious and fantastic. Indeed many modern dragons of literature and games are just that, eidolons of magic or of all things primal.

I’ve always had a fondness for dragons, personally, that became much stronger when I was a kid and read the foreword of an anthology called “Dragon Fantastic”, that spoke extensively of Dragons as the archetypal creatures of magic and fantasy, embodiments of myth and wonder. That above all is what they mean to me. I don’t have as many dragons in my fiction as I would have expected, but they do pop up and are definitely a feature in the Universe of the Nine Roads. Many dragons are Node Guardians, protecting and regulating places in the world where the power of a particularly Road is especially strong and concentrated.


Copyright Disclaimer: The images in this blog post do not belong to me. I found them via Google search and they are the property of their respective creators/owners, whoever they may be. If you are the creator/owner of one of these images and you wish your work removed please let me know and I will comply immediately.

Cthulhu is perhaps the best-known figure from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed his friend August Derleth even used the name to refer to the world and stories collectively, calling them the “Cthulhu Mythos” a term which is now widely used by fans of Lovecraft’s fiction. According to the story “The Call of Cthulhu”, it lies dead but dreaming somewhere deep beneath the waters of the Pacific in the sunken corpse-city of R’lyeh, and is both high priest and cousin to the Great Old Ones. Though dead, as the couplet says “That is not dead which may dreaming lie, and with strange aeons even death may die” and so Cthulhu waits in his/its sunken city for the stars to be right, at which point it will rise again, bringing terror and madness to all of mankind.

Weirdly, I was having trouble coming up with a subject for my letter C post, until the obvious hit me. Its particularly strange given that a plush representation of Great Cthulhu is sitting on a shelf above my head even now. Cthulhu has become not only the most prominent symbol of and mascot for the works of H.P. Lovecraft but also an icon for fans of speculative and fantastic fiction in general and its darker, weirder more cosmic forms in particular. Indeed he/it has taken on the status of nearly a general counter-culture eidolon, being used in all manner of cultural satire such as the “Campus Crusade for Cthulhu” and various “Cthulhu for president” websites and merchandise, skewering religious evangelism and political foolishness respectively. Straight-up Cthulhu humor is also not uncommon, particularly involving Cthulhu transposed into various cute Japanese products and series such as “Hello Cthulhu” based on “Hello Kitty” or a Southpark episode featuring a Cthulhu based takeoff on “My Neighbor Totoro.”

Though I don’t know if it was consciously intended by Lovecraft or not, Cthulhu’s nature and circumstances echoes what seems to be a near-universal cultural theme of some sort of primordial and/or apocalyptic being residing beneath the sea who either will rise at the End of the World or who was present before it’s making. Other examples include Tiamat, the Kraken, the Beast of Revelations and the Midgard Serpent.  Some have also identified Cthulhu with “the Bloop”, an unidentified sound detected by hydrophones in the late 90s and matching the profile of a sound from a living creature, yet many times louder than even the sounds of a blue whale. However, although located in the Pacific, the sight of the Bloop sound is some distance away from the probable location of R’lyeh as described in “The Call of Cthulhu.”

Cthulhu stands (or perhaps lumbers) as one of the great mythic figures of weird fiction and a memorable creation of the imagination of one of the greatest creative minds in literary history. It is both disturbing and bleakly comforting to imagine Great Cthulhu dreaming in R’lyeh, sending out telepathic visions of madness and wonder to all those who are receptive.

Copyright Disclaimer: The images in this blog post do not belong to me. I found them via Google search and they are the property of their respective creators/owners, whoever they may be. If you are the creator/owner of one of these images and you wish your work removed please let me know and I will comply immediately.

B is for Blue

As some of you know-and as most could figure out from looking at this blog-blue is my favorite color. Indeed it’s one of the few things I have a favorite of. When buying or selecting things, generally speaking if there is a blue one to be had, that’s the one I’m going to pick.

When I first began developing The Universe of the Nine Roads setting, I did a bit of research into colors, physical color theory and the various symbolic meanings of different colors. The symbolism of Blue is quite varied, sometimes even contradictory. For instance it is associated with both happiness (blue skies, bluebirds etc) and sadness (feeling blue, got the blues etc.) Blue is also symbolic of the element Water and to a lesser extent Air, and of ice and cold, depths and heights. It’s associated with truthfulness and veracity and also with calm and serenity and is often considered a “masculine” color especially in terms of infants: blue is for baby boys, pink or red for girls (though according to Wikipedia, it used to be the other way around).  Blue also has an association with magic and mysteries; for instance in popular culture archetypal wizards are often depicted wearing blue robes.

Several Hindu deities and other important beings, such as Vishnu and Shiva are usually depicted as blue-skinned.

Blue is the next-to-last color on the visible spectrum, coming just before Violet and is a “high frequency” color. Despite frequent association with sadness or depression, blue seems to be the most common favorite color. Visually speaking, it appeals to me for its balance…vivid, without being overbearing as many of the low-frequency colors like Red are. And as anyone who knows me will attest, most of Blues symbolic meanings as association are both appealing and fitting for me; hence you find a lot of Blue popping up in my life and my work. That being said, I’ve made a conscious effort not to have all of my “heroes” be blue-favoring, and in the Universe of the Nine Roads, while the Blue Road does contain a lot of positives, like all the Roads it can have a dark side as well.

A is for Air

So, I have decided, using my mind, to do my own version of the “A to Z” thing that’s been going around. I will probably have to double up some days or something, but anyway I decided it would be interesting to pick something for each letter of the alphabet to post about.

For me, A is for Air, Air as in the Classical Element Air. It’s one of my two favorites of the four,along with Water, the ones with which I most closely identify. As some of you know, I tend to write a good number of air-magic-using characters, especially in The Universe of the Nine Roads, where Air is a part of the Blue Road.

According to Aristotle (who liked to group the Elements by temperature and moisture levels), Air is wet and hot. In Esoteric Tarot, the Element Air is associated with the Swords suite, considered to be masculine and tied to concepts such as the Mind, Communication, Law, Decisiveness, Independence and Discipline.  In many traditions Air is associated with freedom of both body and spirit, travel and movement, wanderlust and a general attitude of not being tied down or restrained.

Air is missing from the Chinese Five Element Wu Xing system of Wood, Metal, Earth, Fire and Water. However, although this system is often referred to in English as the Five Elements, in Chinese thought it is more properly, as I understand it, Five Movements or Phases and is used largely a mnemonic device.

It’s interesting to note that the chief god of several ancient mythologies was an air/sky/storm god, as were several gods who were prominent but not pantheon leaders. These include such worthies as Zeus, Odin, Thor, Indra, Susano-0, Uranus, Nut and others.

In fantasy, particularly role-playing games, magic involving Lightning is often considered Air-magic, since lightning comes from the sky and indeed is often the result of static electricity created within clouds.

I personally identify with Air through its aspects of the mind and thought, communication, freedom and travel. The winds cover all the world, and even beyond our planet there are solar winds that cross interstellar space and “blow” throughout the universe. I’ve also always been fascinated with weather and storms; I love me some windy days. Further, I am something of a talker, and for humans at least it is air that makes our speech possible and carries it to the ears of our listeners.