Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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So, last week I finished viewing the 13-episode anime series Kino’s Journey. I’d had it on my Netflix queue for ages and just hadn’t gotten around to it. It turned out to be considerably different from how I thought it would be or (I feel) how the description made it sound but it was, perhaps, better for that.

The series involves two main characters, Kino and the talking motorcycle (motorad) Hermes who are Travelers, roaming from one country to the next (though the “countries” often seem more like city-states) and spending exactly three days in each place. The series contains relatively little action and is very quite and meditative. It deals with a variety of emotional, philosophical and political issues, sometimes through the whole nature of a given country’s political or social systems, sometimes through the experiences of individual characters. Things often take unexpected turns-the storytelling is not formulaic and often exactly what you don’t think will happen is what does happen. The use, misuse, and avoidance of violence is an ongoing theme as to a lesser extent is the need people have for human contact and community…mused upon at times by the rootless always-moving Kino. For me however perhaps the most major theme of the series is the idea that the world is not beautiful…and therefore, it is (indeed the series is subtitled “The Beautiful World.”) Kino often makes comments about the unpleasant events that sometimes occur not creating any kind of discouragement toward traveling and continuing to see more of the world. This idea, that even the ugly and unpleasant things can be…and perhaps even, in a broad sense are what make the whole world, beautiful is very important to me and really resonates with my own recent lines of though.

I strongly recommend the series to anyone who is looking for something different and unusual that bucks expectations, and for all those interested in direct explorations of philosophical themes.

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So, I haven’t really been posting a whole lot. I’m still getting used to working again. I have been getting a little bit done. I finished what will now be Chapter 7 of the “Dawn Prism”. I know what happens, more or less, in Chapter 8 and I’ve more or less fully concepted the giant monster that will be needed for that chapter. I’m currently working on an extensive story-crit for someone, but when finished I will set in on that next novel chapter.

I’m waiting for one more set of comments on “Galateon” before applying the finishing touches and sending it out. Got several stories that’d been sitting around back out yesterday. I don’t like having stories sitting unsubmitting, but since I have so much material its been happening more and more lately due to market overlap. I have to let them sit until a good place to send them frees up. This is further complicated by the tendency for many markets to close to submissions for long periods, and the new and growing trend of magazines wanting you to wait a week after a response to send them anything else.  Strange Horizons seems to have really picked up the pace on their responses, though, so hopefully I will hear back from them soon about “Book of Sorrow, Tears of Hope.” I have a story, “Damsel in Distress,” in the second reading-tier with New Myths and a few other submissions that, judging from their time out, seem to be under deeper consideration, so perhaps I will have some good news to post soon.

Also, sometime soon I plan to put the two stories I’ve posted here on The Key of the Twilight on my old Elfwood page, along with a link to the blog in hopes of one or both getting a Moderator’s Choice and perhaps creating a little more traffic and interest. So, with that I will head off into the land of critting, and post when I have more interesting events to share.

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So, been a while since the last post. I’ve started working again, so that’s taking up a bit of my time and/or energy. It hasn’t been a total loss though…I revised my last short story, “Galateon” and after a run past a couple pairs of eyes to check for errors I’ll be getting it ready to send off, probably starting with Clarksworld.

My next trick will be to figure out exactly what happens next in “The Dawn Prism.” Actually, I know more or less what happens, I just need to figure out how and with exactly what.

At the same time I am mentally percolating the beginnings of a story involving the Jersey Devil.  I saw a Jersey Devil movie a week or two ago and while it wasn’t that great, it did inspire me. I plan to use the Mother Leeds legend and the Leeds devil to explore themes of shame.  In light of this, I ask anybody who is from New Jersey or has otherwise spent time in the Pine Barrens and/or is well versed in the legend to share any personal stories, insights, regional information or anything else you feel might be helpful for or should be included in a story set in the Barrens and dealing with the legend. I want to get the feel of the place right on all sensory levels, but I’ve never been there so its more difficult.

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So, the other day I was browsing Netflix, as I am wont to do. For some reason or other, I clicked upon the Common Sense Media rating of some movie or other. I’ve noticed those for a while, but never looked that closely. When you click the rating (which is described in terms of an age range and an appropriateness level, such as “Iffy for 13+”) you get a fuller and more comprehensive explanation of the movie’s content. I dislike that it is still a “rating” system, and I disagree with both many of the conclusions they come to and the overall perspective from which the comments seem to be coming. However, I really like the fact that what you get when you click is an actual disclosure of specifics-often even including comments for context-which, really, is what I feel we should have as a primary media guide  instead of any sort of “rating” system. I don’t think anybody should be trying to tell anybody what is or isn’t appropriate for them, for their children, or for people of a certain age range in general-rather, I think we should be able to know what kind of stuff is in a movie, and make decisions based on that.

That, however, isn’t the primary thing this post is about. The primary subject of this post is going to be me ranting about the Common Sense Media comments on a particular movie, last year’s “Red Riding Hood.” As some of you already know, I’m a pretty big fan of the movie. I saw it some months back, got it from Netflix and watched it twice, enjoyed it very much. It inspired me to write my own adaptation of the Red Riding Hood story, “Iron and Fire.” In the movie’s version of the story, the Red Riding Hood character, Valerie, is in love with Peter, a woodcutter like her father, but it’s been arranged for her to marry Henry, the blacksmith’s son. Along with the obvious werewolf issues, much of the movie is a love story centered around Valerie and Peter…indeed the first scene is a flashback to them flirting when they were about 12 and the second scene is Valerie telling Peter of her arranged marriage and the two of them making plans to run away together…until being interrupted by the horn-call from the village, indicating an attack by the Wolf.

So now we come to the Common Sense Media part. The article on the movie says various entirely valid and accurate things about the violence and other potentially problematic content, all presented, I think, pretty reasonably. Then, under the heading of Social Behavior it says that much of the movie’s message has to do with relationships, being focused on a message of “I’d do anything to be with you” which, they feel, is potentially dangerous for adolescents-that the message of love conquers all is dangerously mixed with the idea that a person should be willing leave their home and family for the one they love (I had previously posted a quotation of exactly what was said but I noticed it says “all rights reserved” so I removed it and paraphrased.)

First off, I think this is pretty out of context in terms of the movie. Valerie and Peter’s relationship is perfectly healthy and normal-until Valerie is told by her mother that she has to marry someone else. The reason initially given is for her financial well being-Peter is a poor woodcutter, Henry’s family is the wealthiest in town. However, we find out eventually that the REAL reason involves her mother trying to essentially clean up a mess left over from some poor life-decisions of her own (which, indeed, come about as a result of her being made to marry someone she didn’t love.)

Second, while I can understand why people might feel the “anything for love” message could be dangerous for young people who may be involved in unhealthy, even dangerous relationships…the thing is, that isn’t love. Of course I realize many people think young folks can’t tell the difference, but I personally disagree…people of ALL ages get, and stay, in destructive relationships for a variety of reasons. That isn’t what the movie portrays…it portrays two young adults one of whose parents are trying to force her into a situation that would in fact be unhealthy, to try and fix a problem of their own making. In the context of this movie, the message of “always do what your parents say” is the one that would in fact be dangerous. I don’t know much about the Common Sense Media people (I plan to research them eventually as I do like a lot of how the system works) but chances are they would find what I just said objectionable, and probably have issues with anything that suggested to young people that their parents may not know what is best for them. Now, no one is a bigger advocate for parents rights than I, but the simple truth is not every parent has their offspring’s best interest at heart at all times…and not all adolescents are ignorant, hormone-driven morons.

I must admit though that I may be a little biased…as I think many of us gay folks would be about this issue. I left home when I did (which wasn’t early at all, but it wouldn’t have happened when it did) because I fell in love with another guy and my parents (primarily my mother) were not about to let me participate in a homosexual relationship while living in their house…so I left. As with everything, it is about balance. Should a young person listen to and respect their parents? Of course. Should a person…particularly a legal adult…not be with someone they love because their parents (or society) don’t approve? I really, really don’t think so, and I think the real message of the movie is simply to follow your heart, which I don’t believe is ever bad advice.

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