Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

I like to point out to my ten or so regular readers things that you might find interesting, or cool, or something of that nature. And also, I like to point them to things that you guys might not have heard of. That’s probably why I haven’t posted a big long review of the last Wheel of Time book (well, there’s that, and there’s the fact that I don’t like Wheel of Time). 

So I wanted to do a review of this book I read. And, because I was all busy with the schooling and the noveling, I only got around to it right now.

So.

The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison.

This is not the book The Worm Ouroboros. This is, in fact, Worm Ouroboros, which is a kickass doom metal band.

This is not the book The Worm Ouroboros. This is, in fact, Worm Ouroboros, which is a kickass doom metal band.

What is there to say about this book…? It came out in 1922, when it was completely ignored by the literary world, because 1922 was the height of modernism, and this book is decidedly not modernist. It went out of print after Eddison’s death, when it was republished in the sixties, in the brief period between the publication of Lord of the Rings, when the whole world WANTED MORE STUFF EXACTLY LIKE LORD OF THE RINGS RIGHT NOW, but before the publication of The Sword of Shannara, when a book that was exactly like LotR came out, and authors began a decade of wholesale Tolkien ripoff. There was some cool stuff published in that period, like the Earthsea and Elric books, but since there was more demand for fantasy than there were, you know, writers who actually wrote fantasy, editors basically brought every work of fantasy written between 1900 and 1960 and brought it back into print.

So, The Worm Ouroboros came out again, and was promptly ignored by the budding world of fantasy readers, because for one thing, it’s not like Lord of the Rings.

It’s been republished a couple of times afterwards. This is the cover of the current edition, which has been straight ripped from Amazon.

61J7RWEH2QL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

That’s not the edition that I read, though. I read this edition, which came out in 1990.

You can tell it’s from 1990, because it has a blurb from Piers Anthony. That is because in 1990, people actually considered Piers Anthony to be a respectable writer, rather than an unreadable novel-recycling hack.

You can tell it’s from 1990, because it has a blurb from Piers Anthony. That is because in 1990, people actually considered Piers Anthony to be a respectable writer, rather than an unreadable novel-recycling hack.

 

In any case, I mentioned that it’s not like Lord of the Rings. Which is fine, of course. While both novels were written by saga-loving Englishmen who were born in the late Victorian era, The Worm Ouroboros is really about as different from Lord of the Rings as two works of fantasy can really be.

Well, actually, there are some similarities. For one thing, they both have a fondness for archaisms. However, Tolkien actually knew archaic languages (I mean, come on: the man was fluent in twenty languages, most of them dead), which means that his prose has a certain glamour about it, which gives the story a particular sense of tragic dignity that most modern fantasy lacks:

 

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner flew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Eomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden would not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and thief, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

(The Return of the King, V.5, “The Ride of the Rohirrim”)

 

Tolkien has been criticized for his anachronistic language, but nobody can deny that he knew how to write in that style. (In fact, I would argue that this specific scene might be the greatest scene ever written in all of fantasy, if it weren’t for the fact that two other scenes in Lord of the Rings, the “death” of Gandalf and the ring-destroying scene, might arguably outpace it.)

In contrast, Eddison didn’t write archaically like Tolkien did. His style is like a chaotic mashup of The Faërie Queene, Christopher Marlowe, Norse sagas, and Victorian poetry. Compare the scene from Lord of the Rings with this passage, which appears early on in The Worm Ouroboros:

 

Now while they rested, a flittermouse flew forth from the Witchland booths and went widdershins around the wrastling ground and so returned silently whence she came. Lord Gro saw her, and his heart waxed heavy within him. He spake to Corund, and said, “Needs must that I make trial even at this late hour if there be not any means to turn the King from further adventuring of himself, ere all be lost.” 

Corund said, “Be it as thou wilt, but it will be in vain.” 

So Gro stood by the King and said, “Lord, give over this wrastling. Great of growth and mightier of limb than any that you did overcome aforetime is this Demon, yet have you vanquished him. For you did throw him, as we plainly saw, and wrongfully hath the Red Foliot adjudged you evenly matched because in the throwing of him by your majesty’s self did fall to earth. Tempt not the fates by another bout. Yours is the victory in this wrastling: and now we, your servants, wait but your nod to make a sudden onslaught on these Demons and slay them, as we may lightly overcome them taken at unawares. And for the Foliots, they be peaceful and sheeplike folk, and will be held in awe when we have smitten the Demons with the edge of the sword. So may you depart, O King, with pleasure and great honour, and afterward fare to Demonland and bring it into subjection.” 

The King looked sourly upon Lord Gro, and said, “Thy counsel is unacceptable and unseasonable. What lieth behind it?” 

Gro answered, “There have been omens, O King.” 

And the King said, “What omens?”

(The Worm Ouroboros, Chapter II, “The Wrastling for Demonland”)

 

If you’re not accustomed to reading Ye Olde Laynguaygge, don’t worry. There were a lot of times when I had to read a page four or five times just so I could understand what the hell was going on. Lord of the Rings is famous for being a difficult book, even for people who love fantasy, but The Worm Ouroborous is far worse. This is mostly because Tolkien chose to write in a deliberately archaic style, but he was actually fluent in Oldespeak. He knew that kind of writing inside-out. Compared to Tolkien, the Eddison passage is cumbersome and clunky. Tolkien’s writing was the pounding of hoofbeats over hard turf. Eddison’s was often the squelching of a Honda Civic getting bogged down in quicksand.

That doesn’t mean that The Worm Ouroborous is bad, though. On the contrary– there are parts that are actually quite good, if you can tolerate or understand the cod-Elizabethan prose. There are some quite memorable passages, including the dark sorcery worked in Carcë and the quest to Koshtra Belorn in search of Lord Goldry Bluzco. And, while I probably would have cut out about two hundred pages of the middle (which is a lot, considering that it’s a five hundred page book), it’s still an interesting read.

It’s just… different.

In this post-Tolkien world, we’re used to our fantasy worlds being “secondary worlds”. We expect maps and histories, languages and economies, court customs and peasants’ fables, so that if the story were to disappear entirely, we’d have a sense that the world would still exist. We even have an entire word for writing the setting-related backstory for a fantasy novel: worldbuilding (WHICH IS TOTALLY A WORD EVEN IF WORDPRESS’S SPELLCHECK DOESN’T ACKNOWLEDGE IT). You get this impression from Lord of the Rings. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, every step that the Fellowship takes on their journey kicks up dust that has seemingly seen thousands of years of history. Middle-earth is a world, rich and diverse, which means that if we stop following the Fellowship and instead just stay at the Prancing Pony or Rivendell or Meduseld for the rest of the War of the Ring, things would still happen. It feels like a place.

This isn’t the case with The Worm Ouroboros’ world, which is rather tellingly called Mercury. Yes, it’s the planet Mercury, but it’s not the cratered sun-baked world that we expect from seeing space probe photos of the actual planet, but instead a bizarre dreamworld. Also, notice that “mercury” is also an element, which is slippery and shiny and liquid, just like Eddison’s world of Mercury. (I ask you: have you ever tried to put your finger on a bead of mercury underneath a glass slide? I haven’t, of course, because mercury is HIGHLY TOXIC, but I’ve talked with people who have, and they say that it’s quite tricky.)

The whole feeling of The Worm Ouroboros being a fever dream or one massive acid trip is amplified by the fact that the story is actually being shown from the perspective of a person from Earth, an Englishman named Lessingham, who falls asleep and dreams about a hippogriff that takes him to Mercury, where he acts as a silent spectator for the events of the novel. The dreamlike state is amplified by the fact that the novel repeats itself, like the titular snake eating its tail (or a Dream Theater album). When we get to the end of the book, we start again at the beginning. And even more telling, the events of the first half of the book are mirrored as we get to the second half. It doesn’t feel like an organic story. It feels like a series of Jungian archetypes bouncing off each other.

While Middle-earth feels real and solid, like post-Tolkien fantasy worlds from Discworld to Westeros, Mercury is light and insubstantial. Even the myriad castles and palaces feel like Disneyland sets made of candyfloss and plaster. You could give them a good solid kick, and they’d crumble to reveal a fifty-year-old Korean woman furtively smoking a cigarette while half-in half-out of a Minnie Mouse costume. The characters feel like people who could never exist outside of Mercury itself, while you feel like you could meet Frodo or Aragorn (or, for that matter, Sam Vimes or Tyrion Lannister) while walking down the street. The Worm Ouroboros doesn’t have the solidity and realism that most fantasy worlds have.

And yet, I sort of like it anyway.

It’s strange. The Worm Ouroboros is a collection of things that should never work in a fantasy novel thrown together in a chaotic stew, and yet somehow it works. You don’t need suspension of disbelief to get through the book. You have so much disbelief that it circles around and goes right back to belief. Sort of an insane thing to say, but it’s true. There’s no other way to explain it. The Worm Ouroboros is so surreal and sheerly weird that it all somehow falls together.

Should you read it? I don’t know. I don’t know you, and “doing the Worm”, to coin a phrase, is hardly for everyone. In fact, I read a post on Tor.com recently that had Jo Walton, a Hugo-, Nebula-, World Fantasy Award-, and everything else under the sun-winning author, claiming that she’d never finished The Worm Ouroboros, even though she’d tried many times. (Or something of that nature.) It’s not for everyone, in the way that calamari or head cheese isn’t for everyone. But hey, I like calamari (not so sure about the head cheese), so if you’re a person with strange tastes who happens to want something unusual to try, you might as well try The Worm Ouroboros.

That’s a terrible final paragraph, isn’t it? “I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s certainly a thing.”

Meh. There are lots of things in the universe, and The Worm Ouroboros is certainly one of them.

For lack of a better term.

~ Ian

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I made a timeline for The Lotus Imperiate universe*.

It covers about 5000 years of history, is 1,797 words long, and takes up five pages. And yet, I still feel like it’s not long enough.

In other words: Preparations for Draft 2 are on.

~ Ian

*note: It’s called the Lotusverse. Or, at least that’s what I call it.

It’s always kind of interesting when I’m looking at my old writing, and I realize, all of a sudden, “This is good. Not ‘good for my age’ good, but actually good.”

I had that experience over Winter Break when I was looking at a script for a graphic novel that I’d been writing over the summer of 2011, about a year and a half ago. It was an epic fantasy story, taking place over millions of dimensions and universes, primarily concerning itself with the machinations of an ancient demonic power’s attempts to free itself from its dimensional prison using three ancient talismans: a sword, a mirror, and an amulet. In order to accomplish this, it takes possession of a failed poet named Aleister Caine in a steampunk/Victorian dimension, and uses him as a weapon to conquer the millions of dimensions.

I never got to the parts that I’d been imagining, though. I only got a third of the way through the script for the first book before I got bored with it and left it alone– until a week ago, when I looked through it.

And it was good. Yeah, the first two chapters were a little bit clunky, but by the third chapter, I seemed to have hit my stride, and I was making actual cool stuff. 

I thought I’d share this on Axolotl Ceviche, as a little bit of an indication of what I was doing before I was blogging, and because I think you might enjoy it, if you like the sorts of things I do. All you need to know about the third chapter is that our erstwhile heroine, a young woman from our dimension named Ashley Campos, has entered another dimension. A dimension that is completely alien…

~ Ian

 

CHAPTER 3: FARADOR OF FORN

 

Page 61 has six panels.

PAGE 61 PANEL 1

ASH starts to walk down the side of the ridge.

CAPTION: It was like the setup for a bad joke.

PAGE 61 PANEL 2

ASH climbs backwards down a steep scree slope.

CAPTION: So there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I didn’t feel sick anymore.

PAGE 61 PANEL 3

ASH steps over a narrow stream as it descends the side of the ridge.

CAPTION: The bad news was that I was trapped in a parallel dimension.

PAGE 61 PANEL 4

ASH gets to the bottom of the slope, where she looks ahead to the distance.

CAPTION: I was sure I had gone crazy, at first. It would have been like a bad dream, if it didn’t feel so real…

PAGE 61 PANEL 5

Closeup of ASH shading her eyes and looking off into the distance. Behind her, we catch a glimpse of a strange, many-eyed insectoid monstrosity, a bug-eyed monster with big, sucking mandibles.

CAPTION: I caught a glimpse of something in the distance…

PAGE 61 PANEL 6

We’re looking from behind ASH. The insect monster is behind ASH, where she can’t see it, and she’s waving and hollering out to a speck on the horizon, a barely-visible shape of a man riding a big, ostrich-like bird.

ASH: Hey! Over here!

 

Page 62 has five panels.

PAGE 62 PANEL 1

An arrow whizzes by ASH’s head, striking the monster behind her squarely in the eye.

ASH: Gah!

INSECTOID MONSTER: SQUEEEEL!

PAGE 62 PANEL 2

The MONSTER attacks ASH, grabbing out with its claws and stretching its mandibles wide. It reaches out, trying to attack her, but ASH dodges as it reaches out to grab her in its claws.

I.M.: GREEP! GREEP!

PAGE 62 PANEL 3

ASH drops to the ground and covers her head as a second arrow zooms out and hits the monster in the abdomen. Greenish-blue blood squirts out from the monster’s wounds, and it screams in pain and anger.

I.M.: GREEEEEEL!

PAGE 62 PANEL 4

The monster collapses to the ground next to ASH, who is crab walking away from it, trying to get away from it as the monster dies.

I.M.: agglagglagglagglaggl…

ASH: huff… huff… huff…

PAGE 62 PANEL 4

We see the head of a long polearm-type weapon hook ASH around her neck, enough to restrain her but not enough to cut her skin. The weapon looks like the crescent-moon head of a sickle attached to the end of a long pole, like a thin quarterstaff or the shaft of a spear.

VOICE (off-panel): On your feet, wench.

ASH: Gaaah!

 

PAGE 63: SPLASH PAGE

Big splash page here. We’re looking at a big, bold warrior seated on the back of an ostrich-like bird. The man is wearing strange clothes: a long gray-green cloak, a studded leather jerkin embossed with strange Celtic-type patterns, a divided blue kilt with a tartan-type pattern, and a helmet bearing the horns of a stag that hides most of his face (think of a Greek-type helmet with the eyes, nose, and mouth, but nothing else, exposed). He has a huge, bristling red beard, which sticks out from under his helmet, and is all we can see of his face. He looks something like a more intimidating version of one of the Knights Who Say Ni. At his side, a short sword and massive hunting knife hang. On his back is a bow and a quiver of red-feathered arrows. Behind him, on his bird, is a leather satchel, which is stuffed with something lumpy and misshapen. He is holding his sickle-staff up to ASH’s neck. ASH has a scared expression on her face, and is holding her hands up in the hostage position.

Okay, some description of the warrior’s bird: it doesn’t look like anything that is common on this planet. It might look like an ostrich, except for various features. It has black-and-light gray mottled feathers, a bare and fleshy neck, and red beady eyes with no pupils. It has a beak, but in this beak are small, sharp-looking teeth. The bird looks more like birds used to, when birds were feathered dinosaurs.

By the way, the warrior’s name is FARADOR OF FORN.

FARADOR: What is your name? Speak quickly, now.

ASH: I’m Ash Campos.

 

PAGE 64 has four panels.

PAGE 64 PANEL 1

FARADOR is still holding his sickle-staff up to ASH’s throat.

FARADOR: An outlandish name. Be you human or wight?

ASH: I’m human. I’m from another place. Another land, far away from here. A land beyond.

PAGE 64 PANEL 2

A close-up on FARADOR’s helmet. We catch a glimpse of his eyes, and they are surprised and somewhat shocked.

FARADOR: Another land? Beyond the Outer Wastes? These lands are the edge of the world, woman.

ASH (off-panel): Yes. I’m from a world beyond that.

PAGE 64 PANEL 3

FARADOR leans way over and nearly stares right into ASH’s face.

FARADOR: Give me your hand, woman.

ASH: What?

FARADOR: I must determine whether you are a human or some foul spirit. The denizens here are evil and devious. Give me your hand.

PAGE 64 PANEL 4

ASH reaches out and touches FARADOR’s hand.

ASH: Oh. Okay.

FARADOR: It is warm. Forgive me, Ash Campos. I simply did not expect to see another human so many leagues away from Forn, or any of the other free kingdoms. How did you come here?

 

Page 65 has five panels.

PAGE 65 PANEL 1

FARADOR has lifted his sickle-staff, and has placed it in a sheath that goes diagonally across his back.

ASH: It’s a long story.

FARADOR: No matter. I am willing to allow you to be my traveling companion for a while. I am traveling west, back to my homeland of Forn. Farador is my name.

PAGE 65 PANEL 2

FARADOR reaches out a hand to ASH, who takes it.

ASH: Pleased to meet you.

FARADOR: Come. If you wish to ride with me, then I will help you to climb onto my mountbird.

PAGE 65 PANEL 3

ASH climbs up the side of the mountbird, assisted by FARADOR.

ASH: That’s very kind of you. Really, it is.

FARADOR: Think nothing of it. I have been too long apart from the company of human conversation. There are no towns or keeps in the Outer Wastes.

PAGE 65 PANEL 4

ASH sits in front of FARADOR on the mountbird. FARADOR takes the reins in his hands, and kicks the sides of the mountbird. It begins to run, taking long, ostrich-like strides.

ASH: Then what are you doing out here?

FARADOR: You truly are a stranger to this land, Ash Campos.

PAGE 65 PANEL 5

The mountbird rides off along the horizon.

FARADOR: When a warrior succeeds to lordship after his father’s death, he must venture out and slay a dragon. Once, the dragons came even up to the Kyreesh Borderlands, on the eastern edge of Forn. Now they have been driven into the Outer Wastes, a land of nightmares and ghosts.

 

Page 66 has four panels.

PAGE 66 PANEL 1

The mountbird continues to ride along a high ridgeline as ASH and FARADOR continue their conversation.

ASH: So that’s where you’re going? To slay a dragon?

FARADOR: I have already slain one. What do you think is in the satchel behind me?

ASH: Oh.

PAGE 66 PANEL 2

FARADOR: Why do you ask this? Have you not dragons in your country?

ASH: No. Far from it, actually.

FARADOR: Then what do your warriors slay to prove their virility?

ASH: Middle Easterners, mostly.

PAGE 66 PANEL 3

FARADOR: So how came you to be in the wastelands? You have no food, no flint, no weapons. Besides, you are only a woman.

ASH: I can’t explain. You wouldn’t understand.

FARADOR: Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. In any case, it’s a long road to go before we see hide or hair of another human.

PAGE 66 PANEL 4

Aerial shot of the sun is setting across the vast plains, to the far west. Far below, ASH is sitting on a tumbled stone in the shelter of one of the standing stones that decorate the field. FARADOR is off nearby, carrying firewood back in his arms. The mountbird is off in the distance, off hunting for food.

 

Page 67 has six panels.

PAGE 67 PANEL 1

ASH is seated next to the fireplace, huddled tightly in one of FARADOR’s spare cloaks. FARADOR is carrying a bundle of firewood back to the fire. His helmet is still on.

FARADOR: Are you cold?

ASH: Yeah. I come from a much warmer place than this.

FARADOR: Be glad you came here in the summer. In wintertime, it is much colder. Icy winds scour this land, and bring death with them.

PAGE 67 PANEL 2

ASH: This is summer? Geez…

ASH: Hey, out of curiosity, what was that thing? You know, the one you saved me from.

PAGE 67 PANEL 3

FARADOR has set the cord of firewood down on the ground at his feet. He is taking off his antlered helmet.

FARADOR: A foul beast. It is called a wiggeman. They lay their eggs in fresh corpses, which feed on the carcass once they hatch.

PAGE 67 PANEL 4

FARADOR has taken off his helmet, and we get our first glimpse at his face. Most of his face is obscured by his shaggy red beard. But he has a proud, jutting nose; bushy eyebrows; and cold blue eyes. His long red hair falls down behind him.

FARADOR: You know, you are very beautiful. I have half a mind to take you as my third wife, once I return to my castle by the coast.

PAGE 67 PANEL 5

ASH’s response to this is, to say the least, a bit cold.

ASH: Wow. That was the least romantic proposal I’ve ever heard.

FARADOR: Ah, so you’ve heard many, then?

ASH: No. Not really.

PAGE 67 PANEL 6

FARADOR puts his arm possessively around ASH’s shoulder as she sits next to him.

FARADOR: It would not be a hard life. I have a fine holding, on the north coast of Forn. I already have two wives, and they are pleased. I could satisfy you. You could be happy there.

 

Page 68 has six panels.

PAGE 68 PANEL 1

Closeup on ASH’s face. She looks tired and cold.

ASH: Look, I’m thankful that you saved me. But we don’t do things that way where I’m from. Women aren’t property in my homeland. We marry only one person at a time. And I don’t intend to stay permanently in Forn. I want to go home someday.

PAGE 68 PANEL 2

FARADOR: I was not asking you, girl.

ASH: And I’m not marrying you.

FARADOR: Your life is beholden to me. I saved you; that makes you mine to do with what I wish.

PAGE 68 PANEL 3

ASH: That’s not true. I’m my own person. If you try to marry me by force, I’ll run away, or kill you, or something else, I don’t know what.

FARADOR: Hmm. You are very strange, Ash Campos.

FARADOR: No matter. You will one day come around to me. The road to Forn is a hundred days long, and there is still a long time to go before winter. You will come to me eventually.

PAGE 68 PANEL 4

ASH: No, I won’t.

ASH: And if you try to rape me during the night, I swear I’m going to pick up the nearest rock and bash your balls in.

PAGE 68 PANEL 5

FARADOR picks up a log of firewood and tosses it on the fire.

FARADOR: Why would I do that? I may be a warrior and a killer, but I am still no raper. Love is much better when the woman is willing.

ASH: Fine. But I’ve warned you.

FARADOR: Ash Campos, I swear that I will lay no finger upon you until you are willing to have me.

ASH: Okay. But you’re sleeping on the other side of the fire tonight, well out of reach.

FARADOR: I will.

PAGE 68 PANEL 6

Shot from above of ASH lying on the ground on her back, staring up at the stars, and FARADOR on the other side of the fire, wrapped up in his cloak and sound asleep, his mouth open and drooling.

CAPTION: The night was spent quietly. I was awake for most of the night, staring up at the strange constellations. When I slept, I didn’t dream.

As an aficionado of both hobbitses and metal, I was pleased to find this cover version of the Hobbit theme done in a prog metal style.

I’ll get around to posting more original content later. I’m still busy with work on The Lotus Imperiate, so I don’t have much time for blogging, but still, I should be able to blog more once I finish the first draft.

~ Ian

(J.R.R. Tolkien, “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold)

I watched a hobbit today!

Of course, because of the fact that my brain recently fragmented into two parts about a month ago due to the combined stress of finals and NaNoWriMo, I’m going to review The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in two lumps, and give it two grades: a Tolkien-nerd grade, and a general storytelling grade.

 

Tolkien-Purist Ian:

Overall, I have to say that The Hobbit did REALLY well with staying true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the books. And there was a surprising amount of it that was accurate to the books… although, really, it wasn’t all from The Hobbit. While I was watching the movie, I could literally count off the origins of the scenes: “this one’s from The Hobbit… now we’ve got one from the Appendices of Lord of the Rings… here’s one that’s a little bit of a blend of Appendices and Unfinished Tales… now we’re back to The Hobbit… the screenwriters made this one up entirely…” Basically, I could tell you where every scene of the movie originated, and most of it was accurate.

And even when they made changes to the book’s narrative, it made sense. I could completely understand why Azog was included in the movie– he acts as a main adversary to Thorin, and Thorin’s opposite (if you look at Lord of the Rings, it’s constructed around the fact that most of the main characters have their “dark mirrors”, visions of what they might be if they were corrupted– Gandalf has Saruman, Aragorn has the Witch-King, Frodo has Gollum, and so on). Azog is also important because he adds to Thorin’s story arc. (Okay, Storyteller-Ian intruding here. Who thinks that Thorin and Azog are going to kill each other at the Battle of Five Armies at the end of Movie Three? I’ll take bets, but to tell you the truth, I like my odds of being right.)

And what’s different about the changes to The Hobbit as opposed to the changes to Lord of the Rings is that they make sense. There’s no pointless and nonsensical changes like Arwen and Aragorn sharing a telepathic link because of the power of “twue wuv”; Arwen being a Xena clone in the first movie and then somehow having her fate tied to the fate of the Ring in the second and third; Elrond acting like a douchecanoe; Aragorn falling off a ravine in a needlessly-added clearly-stalling-for-time battle and having no one bother to look for his body except for his horse; the lack of Denethor’s subplot with the Palantíri– look, I could just go on and on, but honestly you get the point. (I’m not complaining about the omission of Tom Bombadil. That was a good change. What I have a problem with are the moronic changes that Jackson and Co. clearly put in Lord of the Rings to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator.) In contrast, the changes to The Hobbit make sense, and what’s more, even satisfy the Tolkien fan. (I might have been the only one in the theater who broke into laughter when Gandalf said, “There’s the two blue wizards, of course… You know, I’m not sure what their names are!”*)  There’s not really any egregious violations. It all works. Even Radagast being a mumbling, mushroom-eating hermit with birdshit in his hair riding a rabbit-pulled sleigh wasn’t a problem to me. After all, it’s pretty clear that Tolkien intended for all the wizards to be crazy in their own way. Some get megalomaniacal and want to rule the world, like Saruman, others just go a little woodsy-where-am and talk to hedgehogs like Radagast.

I did have two things that I didn’t like about the movie’s changes, though:

  • I didn’t like the fact that Thorin is clearly intended to be a broody Aragorn-surrogate. Jackson and Co. are clearly trying to have Thorin fill the same role as Aragorn did in LotR, and it didn’t work. They’re two different stories, and there’s no point in giving us characters that we’ve already seen before.
  • hated the huge warty ballsack dangling from the Great Goblin’s chin. Every time I saw it, I was tempted to yell, “Kick him in the balls! I mean, neck!”

Other than that, though, it was excellent.

Tolkien-Purist Ian’s Final Grade: B+

 

General Storytelling Ian: 

Literally everything in this movie was better than in Lord of the Rings. Better acting, better direction, better writing, everything. It’s almost as if you took the same team that made Lord of the Rings, gave them ten more years of experience, and set them loose in the same universe. (OH WAIT IT ACTUALLY IS.)

Martin Freeman was incredible. Unlike Elijah Wood, who was a wimpy fainting prick in the lead as Frodo in LotR, Martin Freeman embodied everything about the character of Bilbo. He was funny, charming, vulnerable, blustering, embarrassed, cheerful baffled, and brave, all at once. It was note-perfect. I can’t really think of any way that his performance could have been improved. Where Elijah Wood’s Frodo would probably have rolled his eyes and fainted at any sign of danger, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo faced up to it, and kicked ass. From now on, he’s the quintessential hobbit for me. Compared to the actors who played the hobbits in LotR (Sean Astin’s painfully-‘orrible British accent, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd’s relentlessly-grating comic relief, and Elijah Wood’s general blandness and suckitude), we had a hobbit that I can actually like

It also makes sense that Martin Freeman has played Arthur Dent, too. I can’t think of two characters more similar in all of literature: two middle-aged, middle-class Englishmen (or Englishman-surrogates) who get swept up unwillingly out of their rut and into a fantastical adventure by people who might actually be certifiably insane.

There’s still more of the same tricks that we’ve seen from Peter Jackson as a director. Specifically, I’m thinking about the defining shot from the LotR trilogy, the helicopter-mounted shot of people walking in a straight line through gorgeous New Zealand scenery. There’s some of that, although not as much, which is fine with me: too many of those and they’re going to start getting stale. But I could tell that Peter Jackson was varying his camera shots a little, and there was some pretty creative camerawork as well, even in scenes with just straight dialogue. (It’s easy for directors to fall into the boring old shot-reverse shot trap in dialogue-heavy scenes. You can do that, and it works, but I like to see a bit more creativity once in a while.)

I couldn’t have complained about the acting from Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee, of course. They’ve both been acting for longer than most people have been alive. Still, Ian McKellan was still the quintessential Gandalf, and Christopher Lee (even though he only showed up for a single scene) conveyed a different Saruman perfectly. Instead of Dark Lord Wannabe Saruman, we get a second, earlier view of the character, one of Third Age Middle-earth’s equivalent of the climate change denier.

What was better in this movie was the supporting actors. While there was broad physical comedy with the dwarves, it didn’t cheapen their characters the way it did with Gimli in LotR. Quite the opposite, in fact– it fit the lighter tone of the movie perfectly. And I can’t wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Necromancer. He’s been so good starring opposite Martin Freeman in Sherlock that I can’t wait to see them in a movie together, even if the two characters never meet.

(This is an interruption from Gaiman-fan Ian, speaking from another segment of Ian’s shattered brain. If a Sandman movie ever gets made, can we please have Benedict Cumberbatch play Dream? I can’t think of another actor with the acting skill, broodiness, and cheekbones who could pull off that role.)

(Ian’s appetite here. I’m getting hungry, guys. Can we get something to eat soon?)

Can we please not have interruptions from other sections of the brain?

(Tolkien-Purist Ian: Yeah! It’s really annoying! This is our post!)

(The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche: This article needs more gifs. Can we have some gifs in this post? Like, maybe one of Sad Gollum at the moment when Bilbo almost kills him?)

No! Shut up, everyone!

(Gaiman-Fan Ian: Sorry.)

(Ian’s Appetite: Sorry.)

(The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche: Sorry.)

(The Part of Ian’s Brain that Never Apologizes: I’m not.)

(Tolkien-Purist Ian and General Storytelling Ian: SHUT UP!)

Anyway, where was I? Oh– I should talk about the writing.

It was good. Like I said, more lighthearted– and was, in fact, as witty as a Joss Whedon production, which made me happy. It could have been a little less corny at times, but overall, it was better. The dialogue was tighter, the characters were better defined, and the lines felt more like something someone would actually say.

(Tolkien-purist Ian: And nobody said stupid things like “If you want him, come and claim him!” and “Let’s hunt some orc!“)

Quiet, you. This is my section.

Anyway, well done, actors, writers, and Peter Jackson. You’ve given us one hell of a movie.

General Storytelling Ian’s Final Grade: A

 

For those of you who are wondering, here’s the scores that Tolkien-purist Ian and General Storytelling Ian gave the Lord of the Rings movies:

Fellowship of the Ring: TP Ian B-, GS Ian B

The Two Towers: TP Ian F, GS Ian D-

Return of the King: TP Ian C, GS Ian B

That’s it for now. Have a wonderful Boxing Day evening.

~ Ian (Tolkien-Purist) and Ian (General Storytelling) (with unwanted assistance from Gaiman-fan Ian, Ian’s Appetite, The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche, and The Part of Ian’s Brain That Never Apologizes)

*Alatar and Pallando, by the way.

I’ve been taking a break from really strenuous writing for the last couple of days, mostly working on a few side projects that really need revision at the moment. I’ve got a lot of hope for The Lotus Imperiate, and I assume that it’s going to be my first novel (well, not really my “first” novel, but the first one that I’m going to have published), but even so, it’s nice to take a break from the world of the Lotus Lords, and the crazy whacked-out conflicts between gods and mortals that are brewing there. Madness, I know, but still.

Although, I’m looking forward to the next draft, mostly because of the awesome changes that I’m going to put into the world. I’ve got a whole lot of ideas for the culture of Koroshi, the Japanese-analogue empire that is one of the two main countries in the world of tLI, especially revolving around the complicated politics and the caste system. I have to do a lot of research into the actual history and class system of Japan, of course, but that’s going to be part of the fun. After class today, I’m probably going to head up to the McHenry library on campus, and find some books on feudal Japan. I’m aware, though, that Koroshi is not Japan, just like Tai Sho (the other main nation in the world) is not China, and the Northerners are not necessarily Europeans. I’ve got ideas for their cultures that have nothing to do with the real world. And, after all, this is fantasy. I don’t want to restrict myself to actual history. I want to go off into strange new worlds. Japanese and Chinese culture is amazing and fascinating, of course, but there’s only so far you can take reality before it starts to get boring. I need to do research, of course– every fantasy writer does, after all, even if they’re writing a standard Medieval European fantasy novel– but even so, I want the world to be fresh and new, not something people have seen a million times before.

And then there’s the other stuff. One of my characters, Mara, is a little bit dull at the moment, but that’s going to change in the second draft. I’ve got so many cool ideas for what I’m going to do with her character. The book is told from multiple characters’ POVs, so I’m thinking that I want to do something that I haven’t seen anyone else do in fantasy, and have each POV character’s be told in a different person and tense. For example, Mara’s story, and that of Kitt Ashlocke, the Northern thief, basically beg to be told in first person. We need to be inside their heads, hear their voices. And I’ve got great ideas for what I’m going to do with the Lotus Lords, the actual god characters… Just you wait! It’s going to be so cool!

*ahem* Sorry. I’m the only one who’s read any of The Lotus Imperiate so far. I understand that it has to be boring listening to some guy rambling about things that are in his head and his head only. But I’m just so damn excited. Knowing what this book already is, and what it’s going to become… well, that’s an amazing feeling.

It’s a good feeling, when you get excited about something that you made, all by yourself.

~ Ian

 

I like to read SFF-related blog sites, especially those that deal specifically with print SFF. When I see that there’s a post describing the first book of a new series, though, I usually see about twenty percent of the commenters saying something along these lines:

This series sounds good. However, I have a policy of not starting series until they’re finished. That way, I always know that I’ll have a complete story.

I always get annoyed with these sorts of posts. And yet, I can sympathize.

So, what are my problems with this?

Well, first of all, not all fantasy series are the same. Fantasy series can be broken down into two main types:

1. Open-ended fantasy series, like Discworld or the Dresden Files, in which each book is much more like an episode in a long-running TV show, and…

2. Series that are building towards an end.

Type 2 can be broken down further into two subtypes: those where the number of books is preset from the beginning, and the series only lasts for that many books (such as your standard fantasy trilogy), and those that the author says has a definite ending, but that ending is an indefinite number of books away (like A Song of Ice and Fire, or, up until recently, Wheel of Time.)

And when people say they don’t want to read series, it’s usually the WoT/ASoIaF kind that they don’t want to read. A series that ends up going for decades with no end in sight.

(Case in point: when A Memory of Light is published next year, the Wheel of Time saga will have lasted twenty-three years between publication and completion– outlasting both its author and original cover artist. The Game of Thrones books have been around for almost that long, with the first book being published in 1996, and it has no end in sight. Interesting fact– both Jordan and Martin both initially planned their respective series as trilogies.)

I can understand not wanting to pick up a new series and wait years, or even decades, to get to a conclusion. I’m a reader and a fan. I’ve been in the same boat.

But when I see comments from people online that they never pick up the first book of an uncompleted series, that makes the writer part of me a little bit freaked.

Let’s look at it this way: it’s an incredibly rare author who sells an entire series first cat out of the bag. Usually publishers look at the sales of a first book of a series to decide whether there will be further books. And when you’re looking at sales of first novels from new writers, it’s low. Fantasy is a lucky genre in that first-novel sales are typically higher than most other genres, but even still, that number is often in the low thousands. Writers like Patrick Rothfuss, who explode onto the scene out of nowhere and get to major positions in the genre with a single book, are incredibly rare. Writers often have to toil in obscurity before they can even begin to build a following.

And that’s part of the problem. Sure, it doesn’t impact the industry at all if just a couple of people choose not to read uncompleted series. But when more and more people choose to opt out of buying a book because it’s the first book of a series, that takes away from sales. And the higher the number of people that don’t buy a book, the bigger the chance that the publisher won’t ask for another book in a series.

What this means is, if enough people don’t buy the first book of a new author’s series, there will be no series. The first book will be the only book.

This wouldn’t be that much of a problem in another genre, like literary fiction (where stand-alone novels are most common) or mystery (where most novels are parts of open-ended series revolving around the same protagonist). But fantasy (and, to a lesser degree, SF) thrives on the serial. And it’s an unfortunate fact that in our genre, the standard unit of storytelling is the trilogy. I’d love nothing more than to see more stand-alone novels in fantasy. But partly due to writers, and partly due to the market, the market expectation is that any novel is part of a series (typically an open-ended series in urban fantasy, and a serial in epic fantasy).

I guess that sounds a little counterintuitive. I was just saying before that if enough people stop buying the first books of series, then no more series will be published. And yet I just said that the standard unit of a fantasy story is the series. How can this be reconciled?

Well, because when a publisher publishes the first book of a new series, even with no guarantee that there will be a second book, they’re publishing it in the hope that it will get a fanbase, or a following, or something, so that it can be a perennial seller. A publisher that publishes a lot of first novels is basically throwing a lot of darts up into the air and hoping that some of them will stick. Some of them do, and go on to become consistent sellers for both the author and publisher. And some of them don’t, and if that’s the case, then the publisher doesn’t have to waste time or money with publishing a second book.

If people don’t buy those first books, though, it means that none of the darts stuck.

There will be no new fantasy series.

There will be no new authors.

And that’s a problem for me. The Lotus Imperiate, my current project, is the first book of a trilogy. And a lot of the reason why I chose for it to be a trilogy is because that would be more marketable to publishers. And my hope is that one day, The Lotus Imperiate finds a home with a good publisher, and that people will read it and like it and buy it, thus giving me shiny gold rocks with which I can buy goods and/or services. But if nobody buys it, then I have no shiny gold rocks, and I can’t buy things. Which means that I’ll have to get a job as a telemarketer or something, and this will eventually end with me dying sad and unfulfilled. 

Basically, what I’m saying is that if enough people don’t buy book one of The Lotus Imperiate, that means that there’s no guarantee that books two and three will get published either. And it’s the same for other new writers too.

I know that people don’t want to get burned with a new fantasy series. They don’t want that book to break their hearts. They don’t want to wait years until they find out how the story ends.

I understand that. I do. But if enough people do it, it hurts the book market. It means that no new authors can enter the fantasy genre, which hurts the genre as a whole, until there’s nothing left but big-name authors who can sell their series because they’ve proven to be marketable. And this would be a terrible thing. What would the fantasy genre today be like if there were no Mistborn, no Kingkiller Chronicles? If nobody bought those first books, then there would be no series. And with that, the world would lose something.

So go ahead. Buy that first book of an unfinished series. Let it break your heart. Because broken hearts can heal, and you might just fall in love again.

~ Ian

November is almost here, and that’s when I’m going to be doing the bulk of the work on The Lotus Imperiate, which currently stands at about forty percent of the way done with the first draft. (Note to self: I should get a little “loading bar” widget on Axolotl Ceviche that shows how far I have to go until I finish a project. You know. Like Brandon Sanderson has on his website.)

Since I listen to music while I’m writing, I usually have several songs that go well with what I’m working on. These are them. If you like, you can make a playlist out of them, and pretend you’re reading a book that nobody has ever lain eyes on but me.

Actually, no. That would be kind of stupid.

 

“A Change of Seasons”, Dream Theater

“Breaking Into Heaven”, The Stone Roses

“Cantara”, Dead Can Dance

“Echoes”, Pink Floyd

“Hong Kong”, Gorillaz

“I Am The One (Dark Fantasy Version)”, Inon Zur

“Kids With Guns (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix)”, Gorillaz

“Modern Meat”, Animals as Leaders

“Piece for Solo Flute (Live)”, Dead Can Dance

“She Bangs the Drums”, The Stone Roses

“Sorrow”, Pink Floyd

“Tarata Women’s Working Song”, Joe Hisaishi

“The Battle of Evermore”, Led Zeppelin

“The Legend of Ashitaka”, Joe Hisaishi

“The Human Game”, Lisa Gerrard

“The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”, Dead Can Dance

 

Actually, you know what isn’t on this list? Traditional Asian music. I really should get some, since tLI is set in an Asian-themed fantasy universe. Or even some more modern music played on traditional East Asian instruments.

If any of my more musically-inclined readers know any good traditional Asian music for me to get, leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to get some suggestions.

~ Ian

This poem had its origin in the fact that I wanted to write a poem in a verse form that I’d never used before, the Rondel (a kind of repeating verse, like the pantoum or the sestina, but different in its own unique way).

It’s not bad, by which I mean I don’t loathe it. I wish I could have rhymed the word strange properly, but there you go. I happened to get the first line of the poem stuck in my head at one point, so I wrote down the rest of the poem. And I will say this: I love faeries, and I don’t care if society considers them girly. The old-school faeries are completely dark and badass in a way that Tolkien’s elves never even came close to, and they tend to be my preferred type of faerie. Even so, I still kind of have a softness for the annoying buglike little bastards that faeries have become in our modern day. Say what you will about them, I’m sure that if you pissed them off enough, they’d go right for your eyeballs.

Not much else to say, I guess. Ah, well. Enjoy.

~ Ian

I’m Going Into Faerie Where The Stars Are Strange

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky,

I go now to the place where my bones shall ever lie,

There forever lying, nothing save dust shall remain.

And should I walk forever down beneath this falling rain,

I’d never lay my burden down, never slumber, never die;

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky.

I’m passing now forever far beyond you mortals’ pain,

beyond suffering and madness. Now my child, don’t you cry:

I’ll never be returning, and before you ask me, “Why?”

Know that my body weakens, like the summer-drying grain.

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

This is actually a poem that appears as part of The Lotus Imperiate!

Or it will. Eventually. Once I actually write the scene it appears in.

Basically, at some point in The Lotus Imperiate, the characters summon one of the Elemental Powers, who can be thought of as being like gods– but in The Lotus Imperiate, the Lotus Lords (the equivalent of gods) personify abstract concepts, like justice or beauty or strength, while the Elemental Powers are all about the physical. One of them, Sharaasha, is the Elemental Power of the Sea. She is the personification of both the bounty and rage of the ocean, and believe me, when she appears, there’s no bounty anywhere near this shit. The summoning of Sharaasha will, in its turn, kick off many of the main plots of Books Two and Three of the trilogy (which I haven’t named… so sue me, I can’t come up with titles to save my life), and have Long Term Repercussions™ over The Length of the Saga®.

This is also an interesting poem because it’s in iambic tetrameter, which is by far the most common poetic meter in English poetry, and yet I’ve rarely used it in my poems. I wanted to convey the feeling of the rhythm of waves and tides and currents. I don’t know what an invocation to any of the other Elemental Powers would sound like. They would probably use different verse forms. I just haven’t thought out what they’d be.

~ Ian

 

Beneath the moon, the rise and fall

Like heartbeats rushing with the waves

And to the sea we live in thrall

To its sweet brine, we are its slaves.

 

For from the sea we crawled in times

When time itself was fresh and new

Our bodies, foam, our blood, its brine

We still remember, we the few. 

 

Lady of salt, we call to the thee

Where you lie dreaming in the deeps

Come to our aid, we set thee free

Awake, Sharaasha, from thy sleep.