Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

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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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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I’ve made the short story “The Open Hand” available for viewing in the “Stories” section and added a character profile for Sephias, the theoretical protagonist of “The Dawn Prism.” I also received an email today from Shimmer magazine. My story of family drama and giant monsters, “Silent and Still They Wait” has been passed on to the full editors board for further consideration. While not an acceptance-yet-this is rather exciting to me because this is the first time in eighteen prior submissions that this has happened. So please, cross all appropriate appendages for me, and enjoy the new additions.

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So, last night I was watching “The Dead Zone” on my beloved Netflix instant viewing and it got me thinking about a thing I’ve thought about before. Stephen King is (rightly) known as the King of Horror. However, a significant portion of his work is not necessarily, in my estimation, horror. Now as many of you know I have certain issues with the whole concept of genres, especially in their capacity as marketing tools. Horror is notoriously one of the most difficult in this regard because horror is an emotion, not really a genre. Any work may invoke horror or have elements that do so, and indeed many stories, books and movies have horror or horrible elements yet are not considered part of the Horror genre.  So, largely for amusement but also as an exploration of horror and the concept of genre, let’s talk a little about some of Stephen Kings works and why I don’t necessarily consider them horror (or at least not all horror.)

The Dark Tower series: King’s magnum opus and also one that most will agree does not fall entirely within the confines of the genre of horror, especially not into its specific sub-genres. While containing many horror elements, the series also has strong content of the Fantasy and Western genres as well, and even a number of elements that could broadly be counted as Science Fiction. Most particularly, the story is in large part a Quest tale, a structure or story type not usually considered part of the Horror genre.

The Eyes of the Dragon: A relatively lesser known work, The Eyes of the Dragon is set in a medieval-esque world and is primarily a Fantasy novel with a strong “fairytale” style and and plotline. It shares very little in structure or tone with what most folks think of as Horror, despite the presence of King’s oft-used, many-named villain who in this story is known simply as Flagg. 

The Dead Zone: Certainly more “horrible” in many ways than the last two, with a modern setting and with the relatively common, sometime-horror trope of psychic abilities, to me The Dead Zone is still not a story focused primarily on generating fear, terror or horror (though the sequences involving the Castle Rock Killer could be considered horror of the psychological/serial killer sub-genre.) I feel the term “supernatural thriller” would probably fit the story better. Really, the story has more political elements than horrific ones and could also, I feel, be viewed as a political thriller with a relatively light speculative element.

Firestarter: Like The Dead Zone, Firestarted is set in modern times (as is the norm for most works marketed under the Horror genre) and involves characters with mental/psychic powers. However also much like The Dead Zone there is little emphasis on creating fear, horror, or terror, though there are some scenes of such. Given the themes of government experimentation with drugs and the altering of people’s abilities it could, I feel, just as easily be classed as Science Fiction and/or Thriller as horror.

The Talisman(written with Peter Straub): Much like the Dark Tower series to which it is (even more so than most of King’s works) so strongly tied, The Talisman is, to me, more of a Fantasy Quest story than a Horror novel. While there are, as always, horrible occurrences and such, the book does not create a pervasive mood of dread or fear: the focus is rather on the achieving of the protagonists goals.

Rage: This hard to find short novel features absolutely no supernatural elements and, in my view, almost no horror elements; to me, it’s really more of a social drama.

I could add several more, but you get the picture. Now, before you say to me, “don’t you think anything he wrote was horror?” I’ll respond with a resounding, of course. IT is in my opinion  the apotheosis (a word King himself loves) of the “Kids face horror on summer vacation” story. Pet Sematary is unremittingly disturbing and chilling. The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot are masterful takes on classic horror tropes (The Haunted House and The Vampire, respectively.) Most of his short stories that I’ve read are also much more squarely in the Horror genre (which is, I have to feel, always the most closely wedded to the short form.) But the thing that is so interesting to me is, I believe pretty strongly that if the books I mention above had been written by someone other than Stephen King, they would likely have ended up in a different section of the bookstore. This to me is an indication that genre is at least as much about marketing as it is about anything else.

Genre is defined in different ways by different people; by content (the definition I find most useful and easiest to understand) by structure, by intent, by (strangely to me) “audience.” To me, the main use of genre names is as a shorthand to quickly and easily indicate to someone a few general bits of information about a book or movie or story. However, genres like Fantasy and Horror are so broad and contain so many permutations that their usefulness in this regard, alone, can be limited. If I tell you I am writing a Fantasy novel, all that really tells you more or less for sure is that there is probably magic of some kind in it.  It could also have elves and dragons living in a world approximating the Dark Ages, but it could just as easily take place in near-future New York and feature punks with supernatural powers. So we have terms like High Fantasy, Modern Fantasy, Hard and Soft Science Fiction etc to help us communicate a little more specifically. However, trouble ensues when people try to set absolute limits on these concepts and end up still have miscommunication. Likewise some genres/labels, like Magic Realism or Slipstream are either so broad or so poorly defined and contentious as to create more problems than they solve.

This is why when asked what I write, I prefer to offer a sample, rather than trying to explain it in terms of genre, for each story is a mix of elements that no one word can describe.

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So, some while back I’d rented the actual DVD of the classic movie “The Wicker Man” which I’d never seen but knew I needed to. It’s a great movie that I also recommend, as long as you can handle the mild trauma of Christopher Lee in drag. Anyway, that movie put me in the mood for British horror and “pagan” rituals and so when today I decided to spend a little time, as I often do lately, simultaneously reading and watching stuff-mostly low-budget horror films-on Netflix instant viewing, my attention was attracted by a movie called Wake Wood, which I had noticed before and seen being compared to “The Wicker Man.”

So I watched it and I was quite pleased. The film isn’t life-changing, but for folks who like British atmosphere and Celtic/Brythonic “paganism” its very enjoyable. The story revolves around a couple who have lost their small daughter to a very vicious and somewhat graphically depicted dog attack. They move to the small town of Wake Wood and over the course of events come to learn that the residents of the town are familiar with an ancient ritual which can bring a dead person back to life-but only for three days and for those three days, the resurrected person must remain within the bounds of the township. 

Of course, things wind up going terribly wrong, but I won’t go into the details. The movie features a really great performance by the ever-wonderful Timothy “Peter Pettigrew” Spall as the leader of the town (who is also the one who performs the main parts of the ritual) and some interesting, if lightly touched upon mystical concepts. I didn’t find it especially scary, but then it takes a lot to have that effect on me, though the squeamish should be warned there are some relatively bloody scenes, some of them involving animals, children or both. I wasn’t bothered by any of them but I, usually, have quite a high tolerance. The story and the acting are very nice and the end, now I think about it, is pretty chilling. I definitely recommend it. It is also, I came to find out, the first film produced in 30 years by Britain’s venerable Hammer production studio, responsible for so many great horror movies in the 70s. I think this film lives up to its august predecessors well.

On a brief writing note, I made a bit of progress with a section of “The Dawn Prism.” I finished a 2100-word sequence which may end up being part of Chapter 6, all of Chapter 7, or part of Chapter 7, depending on how things go, and overall, I’m pretty pleased with it. Next up, a brief stop in the city of Vierlion and then, off to the land of Kazephyria!

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