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Of Magna Carta and Magnum Opus

In just two weeks, give or take, my greatest chronicling effort to date will start to unroll before the world as Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance hits the internet equivalent of the shelves.

And last week, following rare in-person meetings with my business colleagues in the UK, I took a completely uncharacteristic walkabout in the countryside north of London near the site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Think these two events are completely unrelated? How little you know me.

Business and Pleasure

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

Alleged Real World first. I was moping all the way to England for my business trip- no money, no way (I figured) to see any sights in a land of one hundred castles, and– this is the key– no idea where my business meetings were taking place. I  only knew Egham as the town that had my company’s offices, and also MI-6 (the British Secret Service) in it, somewhere. Turns out, Egham is the town next door to Runnymede. As in, the unknown field where King John had to put his Hancock on it eight centuries ago. My boss, unlucky fellow, was with me in the cab on the way in; I shout, “Look, there’s a memorial to the signing of the Magna Carta!”. He’s French, says “what ees thees magna carta?” No escape! I had him for ten minutes, poor devil, on and on about John Lackland and the barons, forced to sign a charter promising not to do naughty things anymore just to scrape up money. And over the years, that backroom deal between two dozen feudal lords somehow came to stand for the immutable rights of every British citizen, and on beyond that to all the rights of man.EuropeGoBargingB

My boss finally escaped the cab, but I was already determined- me, the guy who never exercises anymore, the dope who gets sore the day after playing golf ON THE WII- I was going to have my British sight-seeing vacation on foot. I went on a walkabout through scenic, charming Runnymede, got up close and personal with memorials to that famous signing and others. I walked for MILES. Me! Channeling Lewis and Tolkein, strolling through rural England and ruminating deep thoughts in search of historical markers. And the weather was perfect, I mean just cool enough, no humidity, bright sunshine, and a breeze that blew energy into you. I could have walked across the island. I stopped part-way along, folded my hands and thanked God for saving me from my own torpid idiocy.

So then, how is the signing of the Great Charter in any way similar to the release of another epic fantasy tale? Am I really going to try and convince you that my next book is some kind of milestone of world history?

My answer- it depends which world you mean.

Adventurous Times

In the Lands of Hope, I started watching a time where things were beginning to happen after a long period of peace and prosperity. The Age of Adventure was first signaled around 1992 (ADR, their SavillCt3calendar) with an incredible act of stealth unheard of since the days of the heroes millennia ago (see Three Minutes to Midnight). I spent a lot of time examining things that were going on in late 1995-6 when the curse lying over the Percentalion (the Land of One Hundred Castles in my world) was finally lifted. A band of despised adventurers was a big part of that wondrous deed, you meet them in this tale. So yes, history pivots on the events set down here, and all the other tales I’ve published come later, largely because of them.

But there was another character, just before that time, one everybody knew as The Man in Grey. I saw Solemn Judgement first, even before I saw the Lands of Hope. The image of this grim, erudite, reserved and skillful pariah was always clearly before me, more than thirty years ago. Everywhere that things went wrong, wherever adventurers argued about the best solution while “regular” folk moaned about the good old days, there he was; stalking briefly in and out again, a few words, a few blows, a miracle, and then gone. No hesitation, no explanations, and nobody sorry to see him leave, to resume his mysterious walkabout across an entire continent.UK_Windsor

But he never left my mind. Before I go any further, let me reassure you- my lovely wife is very knowledgeable about all manner of mental problems and keeps a close eye on me. If she ever says I need to put on the looonng sleeved cardigan, I will; just let me out for an hour a day to write some more, because that’s the only way Solemn Judgement leaves me alone.

My entire adult life I have worked in some way to placate him. Like him, every stitch of my clothing is a shade of ash, slate, charcoal or steel. Though much older than he, I feel a kinship now that my hair is coming to match the outfits. But these gestures do little to put him off, year in and year out- in my mind he is always standing there, not saying a word but only looking on me with that serious face that clearly says “what should be done”.

So I have done it. This is literally his tale, the story of how he came to the Lands and what drives him to be the way he is. Against all odds, against nearly everyone he meets, Judgement is determined to do what is needful. A mighty river of other peoples’ lives flows in one direction, but only he can swim, and chooses to fight the current. Nothing deters him; as he pressed on against undead and demonic foes, so too he bore down on my mind all those years. And as his story finally comes out, Judgement wins, over endless enemies and feckless friends alike. But if I know him, it will merely mean another task, more adventure that needs doing, and then needs telling.

Hoookayy then. What about the connection? You still don’t see it?

More than They Seem

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

John got in trouble because he was supposed to be a king and was doing such a LOUSY job. Notice there’s no number after his name? Eight centuries and no queen has dared try the most common of English names, there will probably never

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

be another John of England. A few of his barons finally made him sit down and put it in writing before they’d leave him alone- the Great Charter was a private deal, just to stave off immediate rebellion, and only later came to be seen as this mystical guarantee of the rights of every English peasant, and every citizen of the Alleged Real World. Not to mention the whole bad-guy-in-Robin-Hood-thingie, which was a bum rap but too fun to correct. Safe to say the Magna Carta became a much bigger thing with time. But John didn’t give a damn- he was just out for some peace.

And so it is for me. A few heroes, one especially, have been pressing me day and night for thirty years because I’m the guy, the sole chronicler of The Lands of Hope charged to tell their tales. And I’ve sucked at it. William Lack-hand, until recently: it’s no accident I chose July 4th for my first publishing date back in 2011. Writing for me is about shedding chains. With this magnum opus, the work of my lifetime I seriously believe, I’ve made a bargain with the leader of the rebels. His story starts. You can read it for yourself. Perhaps history in later years will make much of this beginning, more than I or Solemn ever intended. Hey, they only made seven copies of the Great Charter, I should be able to beat that! But Judgement takes no notice of what others think of him. Soon now, like John my name will be on it, my debt to him discharged, and perhaps he will leave me be awhile.

Cover Reveal- Games of Chance

If you’ve followed the tour, you’ve seen the cover already. I love the elemental simplicity- a pen and a sword, I wonder if they will come into play at some point. And if you haven’t seen the tour yet… LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_front

 

The Games of Chance blog ride is in full gallop with original material (only one repeated post in the lot). If you haven’t seen it I have an itinerary here which I will update as the links go live. Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance will be on sale July 4th at Amazon.

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Author Interview with Lori Fitzgerald- The Dragon’s Message Blog Tour

I never try to hide my methods: the horror of my interrogation chamber is so graphic it should probably come with a warning. Yet the victims keep trooping in- thanks this time once again to the offices of my good procurer, the Magic Appreciation Tour, we have ensnared Lori Fitzgerald making the rounds for her latest work, entitled The Dragon’s Message. I have eagerly anticipated her arrival, not just because I have a new branding iron I’ve wanted to try out, but for several other reasons. My spies inform me that Lori is a devotee of Medieval Lit (sooooo close to Medieval History!), has excellent taste in books and television, and even frequents Ren-Faires (one of the only places in the Alleged Real World where I can blend in). No more delay, let’s get cracking… and I do mean that literally

:: whip-cracking sound :: confess, benighted reprobate, and it will go easier for you!

 Q: OK, first of all… a novelette, seriously? I was barely seated, just getting warmed up on this cool tale, and suddenly I’m nearing the end. Is this some new form of torture for your fans? Perhaps I should take notes! Or is there a devious method to this idea of yours. Tell us how you hit upon the notion of publishing something so bite-sized.

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

A: Finding a peaceful block of uninterrupted time during daylight hours in a household with two young children is quite the dropping of the gauntlet. In fact, can you untie me for a second so I can break up the light-saber battle going on in my living room? (Anachronistic, I know, but explain that to a 6 year old and an 8 year old.) Perhaps one day I’ll be able to concentrate on a lengthier work (I do have novel ideas), but right now I feel a great sense of accomplishment with my novelettes. I find snippets of time here and there throughout the day to write, in between errands or while dinner is in the cauldron. This type of “scheduling” I think lends itself better to a shorter form. Never fear, there will be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Message. I have both a prequel and a sequel in mind. I would love to bundle all three stories together in a longer form, perhaps even a paperback.

Q: I can name one tale there had BETTER be a sequel to! At the risk of spilling all the magic beans, there be dragons here. I want you to rank these creatures in your world, along the following Eat-to-Greet scale: Tolkein’s Smaug = 1, LeGuin’s Sobriest = 4, McCaffrey’s F’lar = 8. Where do the scaly ones of your world rank in their relations to humans? (Ed. Note. The dragons of the Lands of Hope rate about a 2. On a good day.)

A: I would say that my dragons are most like LeGuin’s Kalessin. Although the details of their backstory is for another tale, I can tell you that dragons are scarce and mistrustful of humans generally because they have been hunted for the magic in their blood. Out of necessity for survival and to share their true nature, they have bestowed their knowledge to one human of each generation. One special human. In The Dragon’s Message, this is Lady Rhiannon, and she is the only human who knows their secrets and can decipher the language that is written in the Dragon Tome. Here be dragons (and an excerpt):

 When Rhiannon was small and had just learned to read, her mother brought her into the hall one day when her father was on campaign, and led her to the large table upon which a great map of their lands lay. She instructed Rhiannon to read the words of the landmarks: castle, road, mountain, forest, village. The young girl touched words inscribed over a place where trees met craggy peaks. “What does that say, my love?” her mother prompted.

“Here be dragons,” Rhiannon answered, glancing up at her mother.

Her mother nodded, smiling. She knelt down in front of Rhiannon so they were at the same height. The lady’s hazel eyes sparkled as she whispered, “I have a secret to share. But I can only share it with a little girl with red and gold hair,” she pulled playfully on Rhiannon’s braid,” who knows how to read.” Rhiannon giggled. “Are you a little girl such as this?” Rhiannon nodded eagerly, and her mother laughed. She stood up and gestured at a tapestry on the wall. “Come, child, the dragon guards our treasure.”

Hand in hand they walked to the tapestry of the sleeping dragon. “Your great-great grandmother wove this tapestry when she was an old woman. It took her a long time to complete, with her hands gnarled so, like the twisted oak by the drawbridge.” The dragon was curled up in front of a turret, with stone dolmens in a semi-circle behind it, interspersed with trees and a mountain peak in the background and bright blue sky above. The dragon’s scales were crimson and woven through with glittering gold thread, and its curved horns and talons were gold. As they paused in front of the large tapestry, Rhiannon looked closely at the eyes of the dragon; she thought perhaps she could see a slit of gold, as if the dragon were only pretending to be asleep.

Rhiannon’s mother stood on tiptoe and moved part of the tapestry to the side, revealing a slit in the stone wall. With her free hand she reached in and drew out a large leather-bound tome. She motioned her daughter to come sit with her on one of the benches that lined the walls. “Look and listen well, my daughter,” she said, and ran her fingers along the smooth cover, “this book is our special treasure, and it contains many secrets within its pages. I am going to teach you how to read them.” She opened the book as Rhiannon snuggled closer to her, her mother’s loose red-gold hair falling over the girl’s shoulder and brushing the crinkly parchment pages of the book which she turned until she came to the picture of a girl.

“The first secret is a story…”

 Q: I was very taken by the unfolding liaison between your two main characters. It’s an April-October relationship, quite touching- the girl who long ago gave a knight her scarf as a favor is now grown. We see a lot through Rhiannon’s eyes- what can you tell me about the knight Gwydion and his feelings? And importantly, how old would you say he is now? I wonder that he stayed unmarried in this society, especially as renowned as he’s become.

A: Gwydion is about my age…and no amount of torture gets a lady to reveal her age! In my head I have Gwydion around 15-20 years older than Rhiannon. When he takes the quest to bring Rhiannon to

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

safety he is simply fulfilling his liege-lord’s orders, although he has a fondness for Rhiannon from when she was a child, as readers will see from a flashback as well. However, on their journey Gwydion quickly realizes that she is not a child anymore and (luckily for him) is also quick to change gears and respect her as a lady. Once he sees her more as a peer he allows himself to fall for her. Sir Gwydion is the champion knight of Rhiannon’s father, basically his general, and so between fulfilling his duties to his lord and also running his father’s estate as the eldest son, he has had a lot on his trencher and thus never got married. And there’s also the dragon’s actual message to consider…you know, destiny and true love and all that written in flame can’t be ignored. It’s a scorching hazard.

Q: Yowch! Quite correct :: sucks fingers :: You’ve already given ample evidence of your guilt in this writing-fantasy matter. But now we come to the most grievous of crimes- you help to spread the word on the internet! Tell us more about your involvement with Once Upon a Fan.

A: I’m so proud to be a Staff Writer for the website Once Upon a Fan, the top-rated fansite for ABC’s show Once Upon a Time. One of the popular features of our site is the Origins articles, where we compare and contrast literary characters with their portrayal on the show. I’ve written Origins articles on Sir Lancelot, the Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, among others. I’ve tried to show how the symbolic landscape of the medieval mind comes into play in various aspects of Once Upon a Time as well. You can find the Origins library here. I really owe my publication to the show and the fandom. Once Upon a Time inspired me to create my own worlds again after 20 years (oops, is that an inadvertent clue?) in which I stopped writing to focus on my teaching career and having a family. The website and all the writers, artists, and crafters I met in the extremely creative Oncer fandom encouraged me that my lifelong dream of publishing could become a reality.

Once Upon A Fan Logo 1000px SquareQ: Aha, confederates, we shall have them arrested shortly. Where does all this leave you for your writing schedule? Have one, much? I see evidence of two children in my spies’ reports. Egad. Do you have a sacred space with a locked door? Set times to jot your thoughts? If I could take away any money-trouble with a wave of my wand- no wait, that’s my cat-o’nine-tails, hold on- there, supposing you COULD devote full-time to writing, would much change about your writing life?

A: I would love to have a sacred space, but alas, my laptop and I are wandering minstrels. Sometimes I write at the kitchen counter, sometimes in the attic, on rare occasions in the dungeon where the library and playroom are located. I would prefer to have a set time and schedule to write, maybe a few hours every morning, but that just doesn’t fit with my lifestyle right now. Sometimes the kids wake up sick and the actual storming of the castle has to wait a few days (after all, that’s what sieges are for).

Q: If I had to use the old infiltrate-through-the-garderobe trick, a mother of little kids is the one I’d send. I suppose that will have to suffice, for now. So many instruments, so little time… You may go. But be certain that you leave ample contact information here- your book and web links for reader-interest, should we need to drag you back for further interrogation. Thanks, Lori!

A: Thank you, Will…I think! But it’s never truly torturous to talk to a fellow medievalist.

The Dragon’s Message, a Dragon Tome Novelette, is available on Kindle and Nook for $1.99.

A dragon writes a cryptic message with its ember breath in the evening sky…

Lady Rhiannon watches from the turret wall with an ache in her blood. She’s the only person who can decipher the message as the sole keeper of the Dragon Tome. When an old enemy threatens the castle, her father charges his knight with escorting her to a safe haven—the same knight Rhiannon had a crush on as a girl. But she must now convince him to change his plans, for she has her own sacred charge to fulfill…

So begins a journey to hidden ruins where magic slumbers in the stones and love lies in the heart, waiting to awaken. As Rhiannon and the knight face seemingly insurmountable odds, only the dragon knows if they can fulfill their destiny…

 Here are the magic links:

Amazon: http://www.amzn.to/OCTcq9

Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1epYuBC

 

My blog http://www.whiteravenwriting.blogspot.com

You can also find me on Twitter @MedievalLit and on Facebook at my author page White Raven Writing.

 

Rafflecopter Link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YzZiMWJiNDVkMzNkOGZhZDZjMjQzNmEwZTJjZDFlOjE=/

 

Classics You’ve Never Read Part Five: Getting Better All the Time

First off, a quote I should have used to open the series back at Part One. But I didn’t know he’d said it.

“Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read” – Mark Twain

Now you know for sure I was right with the title of this series; you wouldn’t dare contradict the author of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a classic!

For the sixth book (trust me, I can count, we’re on book 6), I come at last to a deeply embarrassing confession. I loved the book, really. But not the way I expected, not as much as I hoped. And my expectations were set in this case, because I had seen the movie first! {Oh, the shame…} And LOVED IT! But that’s OK, because you probably haven’t seen the movie either (not the right one anyway- there has of course been a remake).

Now you need to thank me, because the easiest thing to talk about with this book would be, ONCE AGAIN, world-building. Or at least, society-building in its lowest common denominator. But this is a tale about how life continually improves, and why, when you land on … The Mysterious Island

You map something and it's real!

You map something and it’s real!

I heard that wise-crack- “enough with Jules Verne already”. Pipe down, you- do you realize all of his tales I could have used? And I will, if you don’t behave, you watch me. But I admit this is not one of his more famous novels, which is curious because he did what we’re all supposed to do as authors- went back to one of his most popular characters for a sequel. Even better, he hid him for half the book! Instead he follows more good writerly advice and whacks you between the eyes with a fabulous opening. Five remarkably-diverse but worthy men and one faithful dog escape a Confederate prison in the waning days of the war, by stealing a balloon Mys_Isl1which promptly gets caught in one of the most powerful storms of all time. Blown halfway around the world, marooned on an uncharted island… oh, you’ve heard this one before? Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson… guess what, Verne’s first draft of the tale was titled Shipwrecked Family: Marooned with Uncle Robinson. So, there’s some encouragement for you if you think the greats were never inspired by (read- cribbed from) what they read. Or never got rejected by publishers.

So yeah, it’s the whole we’re-alone-in-a-strange-place-what-do-we-do-now genre: at the bottom looking up. Ingenuity to the rescue- MacGuyver without phones, A-Team without helicopters: when you think about it, there’s a very  long standing tradition of we-can-do-without-almost-everything, one that can be really fun to contemplate. These five guys drop onto foreign soil with just one penknife and the scraps of the stuff that makes a balloon. No food, no orientation, no extra clothes or shelter or whiskey or  cigars. But they’re AMERICANS, by golly; once they create a fire, it’s all downhill from there.

Sure enough, they construct shelters (even becoming socially mobile and moving up to better and better quarters over time). They fire bricks, smelt iron, create explosives, herd cattle, determine their latitude and longitude- it’s the man-cave run wild. I kept waiting for them to make a toilet with no seat to have to put down. Which brings me to my first observation about this kind of story- survival and improvement tales are all about authority in your voice. If you do a ton of research about an historical period, or a scientific subject pertinent to your plot, you know you want to show it off to the reader. And that’s not wrong- it excited YOU, there’s got to be something there for them. But how?

Here’s how- the castaways are struggling for their very lives, and that’s an empathic situation for the reader, they wonder “what WOULD I do?”. Once you introduce an authority figure- in this case, the super-genius American entrepreneur Cyrus Harding- who starts to tell the others how to do a thing, it naturally translates for the reader. See that red earth there? Here’s what you do… and the reader is practically feeling like one of the workers now, going step by step, building it up and sighing with satisfaction when the job is well done. As the characters feel increasingly empowered, the reader is also carried along, thinking “wow, I could survive on a desert island”. If you get there, you’ve got them.

Lucky they teach guys so much as civil engineers! My credulity got strained when it became clear that Harding knew everything, like the combined reincarnation of Archimedes and Da Vinci. They build a boat, a serviceable sailing ship, and while discussing whether they could make it to civilization aboard, they get a mysterious message in a bottle from another castaway on a

Hey, sustainable.

Hey, sustainable.

“nearby” island. Me, I’m thinking “maiden voyage, nearby means I can see it from here!” but nothing scares these guys, and they duly depute a couple to sail over and pick the fellow up. Then comes the elevator, the telegraph- OK, now I can chuckle and relax into a more normal state of suspended disbelief. After all, what did Jules Verne know about “Gilligan’s Island”?

And that’s the second point- do you want to be a laughing stock with your story? Isn’t it kind of, you know, bad to portray nothing but uninterrupted progress throughout a tale? What about conflict, downturns, that terrific way you can play yo-yo with a reader’s emotions? Your sadistic cackle of satisfaction as you picture the reader alternately throwing the book on the floor with a scream, and then snatching it back up along with a tissue, to turn the page. Is that why Mysterious Island wasn’t a big hit, isn’t this something you should never do?

My unhesitating response is- let me get back to you on that. I can only speak for my genre, and even there not with authority, but I think it’s safe to say that epic and heroic fantasy are in a strong swing towards anti-heroes, deconstruction and morbidity right now. I’ve gone on and on about Game of Thrones, but GRRM is hardly alone and it’s hardly been just recently. We’ve become more hard-bitten as an audience generally, I think; all kinds of rather horrible things get lined up under the rubric of “realism”. Witness the incredible popularity of “The Walking Dead” on TV! There’s a point of view that your story needs to portray the world “as it is” which is to say, going to hell in a handbasket, in order to be serious or believable. So you certainly can’t afford to show the heroes constantly progressing, improving and having nothing but good times… right?

But there’s so much to be gained from a rise to triumph over circumstances, against all odds. All-time best survival-struggle-ingenuity tale in history- Captain Kirk, the 23rd century starship

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

captain, marooned on a worthless planet against a bipedal xenophobic gila monster, manages to cobble together a prehistoric shotgun that fires diamond ammo. Man, they learn almost as much at Starfleet as a 19th century civil engineer!

I guess the only right answer is, sometimes. If readers believe their own  alleged-real lives are going in the hopper- first of all, they might be right or wrong about that. And second, assuming they’re right they might want to see it played out straight (fist-raised, rock-musicked, drug-smoked anti-war movies for the Vietnam generation) or to escape it (Astaire and Rodgers skating around a richly decorated ballroom for mass audiences during the Depression). We seem to  be in love with bad these days, the only reason the characters get a lift is so the next drop can be even deeper. Me, I get about five hundred pages along, and realize the latest bout of good fortune is just another dead-cat bounce, and I’m done. So a movie like Mysterious Island should tank. I gather the remake in 2012 did; I didn’t even get past the trailers. But it wasn’t about things getting steadily better- it was another thrill-ride with crisis after crisis, you can tell.

Um, does the CRAB know it's on the menu?

Um, does the CRAB know it’s on the menu?

The REAL movie, from 1961? Man, what a fantastic flick. Same survival theme, manly men scraping for their lives and making it better. But hey- giant crab for dinner! My debt of pure joy to Ray

Harryhausen is vast… And I have to admit, once in a while Hollywood gets it right. They put two women in- another shipwreck- and it was the right move. No big romance, but more of a balance to this miniature society.

There you go. It’s not necessary to have the tale’s tone be all-down, or only-up-to-go-down. But it does have to point to something else to Mysterious-Island-2really succeed. Swiss Family Robinson always emphasized the family above all; Robinson Crusoe found out a lot about what he didn’t need (and what he still did). With Mysterious Island there is a strong aspect of what it takes to be a society: Harding is elected leader and his judgment always prevails. The members of this tiny nation have their parts to play, and work hard to reap rewards with satisfaction, overcoming their differences in the process. Others can be admitted if worthy- the castaway is a wrongly accused pirate, and while the handling of the former slave Neb is still stereotypical, it’s a big step that he is accorded equal’s treatment. The group even domesticates an orangutan and raises him to near-human status. Oy, give me the English ladies in the movie, who make the point perfectly well that you can admit new members who merit our interest, but still decide to reject the pirates (who show up in both the book and

Ah yes- tonight's special.

Ah yes- tonight’s special.

the movie). Yeah, pirates with cannons, not exactly a fun development- and by the way, lest you think this tale is Sunnybrook Farm without the little girl, did I mention the volcano is going to blow!!

The book and movie have a second theme as well- the eventual discovery of the island’s former total population, Captain Nemo. Once again I found the treatment of his character and his

Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and-  oops wrong movie.

Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and- oops wrong movie.

part in the plot was better done in the movie- his heroic sacrifice stayed with me since childhood when I first saw the film, and I kind of realized that he wasn’t all bad, but it was better he wasn’t coming back to the world. Pretty serious thought for a kid of eight watching a movie- maybe things don’t have to get better all the time, for everyone.

In The Plane of Dreams, the main party of adventuring heroes starts out having ejected one of their members, and admitting new ones to their society. Along the course of their new adventure, they run into some serious trouble, not quite marooned on an island but nevertheless bad. The party is looted and beaten up, and it’s somewhat a wonder why they haven’t been killed. Still, things are not good…

Zoanstahr was certainly surprised to awaken at all. Twice he had been the special target of an attack, and this time he had already seen the rest of the party fall before him. But the unusual fact that he was still alive paled to insignificance when he realized that he was completely naked.

Wm. L. Hahn. The Plane of Dreams (Kindle Locations 870-872).

Starting from there with literally nothing, the party starts its climb back up- and they must redeem their reputations as well as their belongings. It was a long haul for them, but a fun and ultimately rewarding one to witness. (That’s all I do, by the way, just watch them in action) Even the party member they rejected at the start helps to save them all,  by sacrificing his life unknown to the world. The more I think on it, the more I realize how much I’ve drawn inspiration from the work of others (and we both know what THAT word means!). For me, it was the movie first this time- but then, they read the book, so it’s all good.

And I didn’t have to wait to be rejected by a publisher before putting The Plane of Dreams out there. I guess it is getting better all the time, for me.

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part Three- A Whole New World

It’s not what you think.

"Not another post about WORLD-BUILDING!!"

“Not another post about WORLD-BUILDING!!”

True, we’ve hit on this theme before at the Independent Bookworm: I vented in the spring, and Debbie had a great post in 2012. Hey, sue me, this is what we do in fantasy. But don’t forget the series title, dear reader- this is about the classics, and I don’t mean Tolkein. Once again, you’ve never read it (be honest); a name as famous as Justin Bieber (now THERE’s another world for you). Everyone “knows” it, but not on paper. Hollywood and Broadway each took a swipe at this incredible tale: you ask me, they both missed by a mile. It’s not a horror story. It’s not merely a drama or a mystery and it sure as shooting is not just a romance.

No, Gaston Leroux built a world for you when he wrote… The Phantom of the Opera.

Never mind that condescending “sure, it’s all semantics” nod you’re making. Fantasy has to build a world for the reader, not just point at it. You can’t bluff world-building- so you wouldn’t normally expect a tale set in the Alleged Real World to need it. But as authors of historical fiction know, today’s readers are a spacy race, and anything before the assassination of Kennedy is formally classified as ancient history. Maybe before Lennon. Even so, you can assume gravity, taxes, the nuclear family- billions of “normal” things in many tales. And plenty of other instances, like the calendar of days, don’t need explanation even if they’re not important-  the author can just write “on Tuesday” and everyone’s fine. Think about what it means to have Conar’s Day (your Sunday) instead- when do you stop to explain that?

Phantom_soapOK, I’m off the soap box now.

But this is the genius of what Mr. Leroux did. His tale is set in Paris, late 1800s. He draws on a wealth of worldly knowledge you already have- the gentleman caste, police procedure, what an opera is- but even so, he takes you into an entirely different world.

Where? Inside the Opera House itself!

The Craft of the Tale

I don’t want to spoil this pleasure for you, so at the top I say- read the book, it’s marvelous. And since you haven’t done so before, take note of a couple of things I’ll point to here and illustrate with examples:

Where it (practically) all happens.

Where it (practically) all happens.

  • Leroux dovetails history into fantasy with seamless precision. The Opera House really was that big, the cellars truly were that many, and the fantastical underground lake is rooted in the constant pumping the builders had to undertake to drive the foundations of this massive edifice so deep. I’m not talking about the author’s mind- this is what really happened. When he “creates” an account from newspapers speaking to these facts in the building of the place- he’s practically plagiarizing! The world is almost completely there to begin with: just add Ghost.
  • Leroux compounds the believability of this tale with numerous “accounts”- which is a classic device of the period, you see it in Dracula and Frankenstein. A set of “facts” gains credibility because the author doesn’t rely on omniscient third person, but uses a character’s diary, or a policeman’s report to “back up” the story. He adds another layer- of complexity admittedly, but also of interest- with the terribly confused goings-on during that climactic night when the Ghost’s plans come to fruition and ruination at the same time. Folks in the Opera House are all pursuing their own mysteries, and colliding with, not understanding each other- it’s a meticulous description of bedlam. One person’s “account” takes you away from the story thread you were just reading, and into another. You may be vexed for a second- but this new tale generates its own interest. Meanwhile behind your back, the suspension of disbelief goes from strong to impregnable. It’s genius.Phantom_chandelier
  • Finally, Leroux achieves painless world-building through a wonderful vehicle, one I have had occasion to adopt myself: the ignorant narrator.

As the story opens, the Opera sees the arrival of two new managers- nice enough guys, who like the arts and love the idea of being managers. But they know diddly about how the place actually runs. So you get a box seat on the action, as everyone steps into the office to whine about something that’s gone mysteriously wrong- and in the process, fills them in on how the Opera works. At one point, the Ghost (Erik, the Phantom- you know, HIM) steals a white horse so he can carry off the lovely soprano Christine to his palace in the underworld. How do we find out? When the stable-chief goes to the bosses to complain. I want you to fire all these dishonest stable-hands, he shouts. The managers blink and respond- wait, we have a stable? Oh yes, twelve horses… and now you’re hearing about grooms, and the different operas this matched pair and that black horse get used in, the chariot… None of that directly informs the plot- but you begin to sense how incredibly LARGE this operation is.

How large? I’ve already told you- it’s an entire world.

There are 2,531 doors and 7,593 keys; 14 furnaces and grates heat the house; the gaspipes if connected would form a pipe almost 16 miles long; 9 reservoirs, and two tanks hold 22,222 gallons of water… 538 persons have places assigned wherein to change their attire. The musicians have a foyer with 100 closets for their instruments.

How the Story Changed

I look awful in the mornings! And the rest of the time, yes...

I look awful in the mornings! And the rest of the time, yes…

Look at what Hollywood has done with this epic- pumped the horror.  See Lon Chaney wrestling with his organ, and the poor girl fainting dead away? Great imagery: Beauty and the Beast, minus the happy ending. But a trip to Erik’s underground palace is usually given short shrift on film. The underground lake, so Stygian and remote, is a great element: people die there. But that’s below FIVE cellars- where do you see those? The second level, where those horses are housed; the third, where the poor scene-setter supposedly hung himself, his life forfeit to hide the existence of its secret trap door; the fourth, where the rat-catcher evokes a scene from Hades itself- THAT was spooky! But you can’t see it on film, evidently- because there is no world there.

Love Never Dies- at Least not Until Phantom 3

Love Never Dies- at Least not Until Phantom 3

What did Broadway aim for? Duh- romance of course. Christine is beloved of the rash young Viscount de Chagny, but the Opera Ghost poses as her Angel of Music- let the tug of war begin. This is also fine- but in the book, Christine and Raoul flee to every corner of the Opera for a few whispered speeches. She suspects Erik is listening in wherever they go. Finally, they ascend up above the vaulted ceiling into the rafters of the roof where stands an enormous golden statue of Apollo, until she finally feels safe enough to tell her lover the truth. But even there, a shadow flits between the god and heaven… from the sky to the underdark, the Opera House of Paris is a colossal setting that launches the reader into an Phantom_roofexperience so complex and far-flung as to need tons of explanation. Is Erik a charlatan, a mystic, a sorceror, a monster? You can’t decide- because YOU’RE NOT IN THE REAL WORLD ANYMORE. This setting was too vast even for film or the stage, so its directors cut away nearly everything to do with that other world and focused on just one aspect of the tale. Only in the book can you get the full picture: mystery, farce, the supernatural, all of it.

Reading The Book

Phantom_ApolloThe free Kindle version of Phantom had a few glitches- the author uses footnotes to reinforce that “real-world” feel which is great, but Kindle doesn’t distinguish the break between the end of the note and the resumption of narrative. I’m also pretty sure there are issues with translation here (as Steve Martin pointed out, “it’s like, those French have a different word for everything!”). No way I’m learning French- but there may be a better translation out there worth paying for. And of course the two-page drawings were sadly absent. I’ve substituted some in this article, providing dramatic proof that there’s no accounting for taste.

I could tell you this story has terrific characters and I wouldn’t be lying. It’s pretty rare for me to feel any empathy for the villain- usually I see that the heroes, though admirable, have flaws that can make me angry with them. And Phantom has all this- Erik is horrifying and pitiable, Christine can evince the pity but cannot insist on her own happiness; Raoul is impulsive, the Persian shrinks from what’s needful. But hold on- the most true thing I can tell you, going back to my theme, is that these characters come to life in a fully-realized, beautifully described and completely believable WORLD. Ninety percent of what happens takes place inside the same building, and you’re never done exploring it, meeting its denizens and understanding its culture. This is a kingdom of its own, where old stage crewmen are pensioned with the job of just walking about and shutting doors (to keep out drafts that could harm the singers); where Box Fido believe in spooksve holds its secrets through all manner of frenzied searches, and the gas-man needs two assistants just to keep the furnace going. I’m telling you, read about the encounter with the rat-catcher, and you WILL believe in spooks.

Lessons Learned

Writing epic and heroic fantasy means you catch hell from all sides about world-building: like a flu shot, your readers have to have it, but they complain whenever they detect the smallest pinch. We amuse them with a distracting joke, promise it won’t hurt, and try to get it over quickly. Your book is better for it- but don’t hold your breath waiting for appreciation. Gaston Leroux brilliantly points the way to building a world within a world; this is the most highly recommended of the classics I’ve reviewed so far. In Judgement’s Tale I make use of an ignorant narrator of sorts, in fact two. The sage Cedrith is determined to befriend the taciturn, driven orphan Solemn Judgement despite the shock and embarrassment his company entails. He knows nothing of the boy’s mind and tries to tease it out. By the same token, Judgement- like the reader- knows nothing of the Lands of Hope and Cedrith squires him from church to library and theater in an effort to educate him. How well it works I don’t yet dare allow the public to decide- but I’m mindful that a world can be as small as one person’s soul, and the story of it takes you through straight fantasy to mystery, horror, whimsy, erotica, in short, all the genres of literature.

All the writing in the world, because in the end you are writing about an entire world. A little spooky, truth be known.

Leroux, Gaston (1994-10-01). The Phantom of the Opera . Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Classics You’ve Never Read cont.: Why Pretend? Part Two

I might set a record for confusing new readers before they even finish the title. If you just came in, I’m blogging about works of heroic fantasy everyone would recognize, but few of us may have read. So you might wish to return to Part One before continuing, where I used the work of the Baroness d’Orczy to explore the theme of the secret identity. And I promised there, that this theme would cover two great works of heroic derring-do, fairly close in time but far apart in geography (though both are set in the alleged-real world). So, who ranks alongside The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of the earliest heroes with a secret identity? Of course, it’s the main character of that incredibly famous tale… The Curse of Capistrano!!

Subtitle: The Mark of Zorro

Indeed, one of the all-time bad title choices in history, I’d say. Johnston McCulley published this immortal yarn under a name that makes me think of swallows pooping on your car, back in 1919 as a serial in five installments of the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. I’ve been keeping an eye on the way the written works wend into other forms, and this is one of the great good luck stories for any aspiring author to remember. Who knows what would have become of this little tale with that title and publisher: but the great movie stars Fairbanks and Pickford saw it and decided it would make a great debut movie for their new studio. The rest is certainly history- a big hit for United Artists (!), causing McCulley to re-issue the tale as a novel, and the title we’ve all known has stuck ever since. Whew.

whisk-whoo-whask !

whisk-whoo-whak !

In the Solar System of Fantasy, Zorro clearly ranks as Cinematic Heroic for its rollicking style and humorous escapades. I smiled practically the whole time reading, much as I did during The Princess Bride. Where Percy plans, Don Diego seems only to act- he barges into a room, he conducts a duel, hurls an insult, whistles up his horse, rides like the wind. Both men, in their mild-mannered alter egos, refuse to duel a hothead in a way that makes them seem ridiculous. But The Pimpernel never once draws his weapon or throws a punch, whereas Zorro cannot seem to keep his sword in its scabbard.

This brings me to one main point- Zorro is REAL. I mean, he’s got a mask, he rides a horse- he’s actually THERE in the scenes, taunting his foes and daring to speak words of love to the gorgeous Senorita Lolita. People see him, take a shot at his back, duck his blade- the Pimpernel is a name, but there is no “him” there, just his many disguises. The contrast between Zorro and Don Diego Vega is shown to the reader, often within the breadth of a single fast-paced page. Time and again, the poetic, disinterested, weak Don Diego begs the need to retire and rest, trudging from the room- and mere seconds later, the dashing masked outlaw has arrived through a window, to announce another breathtakingly bold and honorable intention. The hero pledges his love, or promises revenge, laughs, leaps, disappears- and here just a moment later the tired caballero Don Diego returns, complaining of the noise and horrified to hear that Zorro just left.

So we come to another big point- our hero not only has a secret identity, he uses it to stay close to the action as well as far from suspicion. Don Diego complains of any exertion, even the need to woo Lolita, but most of all he bemoans how this masked menace ruins any chance for quiet contemplation. Seldom has an alter-ego been so openly disdainful of his heroic side. If this was a stage-play, you’d need your costumes fitted with velcro seams to get on and off in time. Though the action of the tale is fast-paced and seems random, we find by the end that Don Diego, like Sir Percy, has been planning this meticulously. Everyone believes he cannot be Zorro because he’s been acting this way since he was fifteen.

zorro1The differences between Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel are legion. Blakeney has a cadre of followers from the start, and acts to save them. Zorro only recruits the other young caballeros very near the end, and they play a key role in rescuing him. British and Spanish honor aim at somewhat different targets but both men pursue them with vigor. Taking a lady’s arm is about as far as they go in Britain, but the Spanish dare to hope that they may kiss her hand. Yeah, me either. I was surprised to note how many times Zorro wielded a pistol; the writer made it clear each time that he was only balancing the odds before forcing a man to duel him unaided (at which point the pistol in his other hand becomes a liability for Zorro). The Pimpernel leaves his mark in red, but only on paper, and he uses a pen: Zorro, of course chooses a somewhat more dramatic medium and settles for a single letter.

But the biggest difference, to my mind, is in the writing. Ms. D’Orczy really reaches some literary heights with her comparisons and descriptions, whereas Mr. McCulley aims only for a riotous romp filled with action but very little scene-setting and almost no reflection. Zorro would be sword and sorcery except the entire country is imperiled by the corrupt government and cruel soldiers who run it as the story opens. He is Robin Hood without the bow, breaking the law to serve justice. Blakeney risks his life as the Pimpernel but has an entire nation to run to for safety. Zorro has only his mask and wits to hide from his enemies.

I procured a digital copy of the original book from Amazon on my laptop Kindle; the full title is Zorro: the Curse of Capistrano and Six Stories, all by Johnston McCulley. The usual missed words here and there, a couple of repeated phrases- it happens with these quick transcriptions, but I’m happier with that when it’s free than this time when I paid $2.99. . I was interested in the other tales, but oddly, while the plots were interesting the level of the writing came nowhere near that of Zorro. The tone of McCulley’s other stories runs closer to Robert E. Howard and other pulp

OK, I surrender

OK, I surrender!

writers of the day- darker, less fun, and I’m sorry to say less inspired. Again, good plots and some nice touches but overall stick with Zorro.

I was just too young to enjoy the Disney TV serial version: I can only see Guy Williams wearing a spacesuit. I grew up expecting to see The Fox with the  bullwhip, not a pistol, alongside the rapier, and the movie-versions I’ve seen did not disappoint. Using Antonio Banderas in the most recent movies (as a “Zorro 2”) was as natural a choice as taking Michael Jordan for pick-up basketball: and as for Catherine Zeta-Jones… my Lord, what words could suffice? I really enjoyed those movies and think they truly carried the spirit of the book (in a somewhat different- certainly more explosive- setting). It’s hard to name a character from a century ago who has seen more rebirths on film, TV, comics and elsewhere.

In “straight” heroic and epic fantasy, the characters seldom resort to disguise or secret identity. Frodo and Sam try to sneak into Mordor wearing orc armor, and sometimes one of Arthur’s knights or Robin Hood would don a disguise for adventure. But to create another character or persona is rare- as a fantasy author, you have enough to do introducing a new person (and his or her world) to your readers, without layering on more! This is one reason Feldspar in Fencing Reputation can get away with his many guises- no one around him in the city of Cryssigens would consider hiding their “real” selves, they spend all their time and money advertizing exactly who they are for fame and influence. So the infamous stealthic can adopt not just one, but a dozen guises and no one is the wiser- including Feldspar, who comes to have a bit of an identity crisis in the tale when he decides to “just be himself”.

Secret identity as usually seen in the comics provides the hero with a safety-valve, a way to interact with people without endangering their lives, and sometimes a chance to collect information which they then use in hero-guise. Also, wearing spandex all day can raise issues in the mall bathroom. Finally, we’ve seen themes in the comics lately to indicate that if heroes “came out” on a more full-time basis, the world itself would react and change: becoming more of a straight fantasy or sci-fi setting. Keeping a hero under wraps and letting a regular guy do the work allows the author to stay grounded in a “default real world” background, and limits dreaded world-building to a minimum (things like hiding the lair, managing the costume change).  There could easily be fantasy stories where evil has run so far amok that a secret identity would be useful to the hero.

I’d be interested to hear your recollections of such instances in “pure” fantasy. I’m sure I missed some examples- after all, I’m only human. Which will lead me to my next theme…

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part One: Why Pretend?

I’ve wanted to do this for some time and I hope you enjoy my attempt to create a series of blogs around great works of heroic fiction that most folks haven’t read. Several of these I have mentioned before in one forum or another but now I want to try and do several things: amuse you, get you interested in checking them out, and perhaps find a window into the writer’s craft through these past works that resonate with us so well in other forms.

There’s no shame in seeing the movie, let me hasten to mention that. In nearly every case I can think of, I found the book to be better, but usually that was only after seeing the tale. When a classic is redone, it’s interesting to see whether the basic inner stuff of it has changed. I find, most often not; even Hollywood doesn’t always screw that up!

For my first theme, I want to look at two great classics that share one such common idea. Their heroes, set in almost the same time period but halfway around the world, do the same thing when faced with evil. They adopt a secret identity. This raises a great question, one that classic heroic and epic fantasy seldom touches on- why pretend?

Most folks know why Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent took on a mild-mannered alter ego- freedom to act and the need to protect loved ones from harm. But Superman and Batman, it turns out, were far from the first.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is widely thought to be the first hero in history to have a secret identity. It’s also one of the first heroic fantasy tales authored by a woman, the Baroness d’Orczy in 1903. There’s definitely something up with that, and if I say much more I’ll be accused (with justice) of chauvinism. But I’m here to tell you, guys aren’t nearly as interested in hiding their powers as women are in believing this dope before them truly has hidden talents. Deep water here, and I don’t swim well…

Tiny flower, BIG action.

Tiny flower, BIG action.

This is a gorgeous tale of death and danger in the blackest days of the French Revolution, when the Reign of Terror was eating people by the hundreds. Faking his disinterested, foppish life as a useless English dandy, Sir Percy Blakeney conceals from everyone- including his beautiful new French wife- that he secretly commands, as one of his followers puts it, “nineteen men who would lay down their lives” for him. Guided by his brilliant mind, the Pimpernel and his gang outwit the horrid, cruel, secular (!) French soldiers and agents to save dozens of innocent French aristocrats from the guillotine’s embrace. Then he returns to English society sporting the latest fashions, on the arm of his wife making witty remarks and annoying everyone- especially her- with his “inane laughter”.

We discover as the story moves briskly along that there has been a terrible misunderstanding crossing the main characters, one that probably won’t be happily resolved and which could lead to Blakeney’s death. He had only started his career of rescuing French nobility when he married the gorgeous Parisian actress Marguerite, whom he secretly still worships. For her part, Marguerite defended her beloved brother Armand by speaking down about a leading aristocrat, and her denunciation led to the death of that entire family- staining her with suspicion of sympathy for the Revolution. Blakeney adopts the guise of a flaccid fool, always honoring his wife and giving her every luxury but never letting on that he could be the mysterious hero capable of leading such daring and intelligent escapes. She is stung by the change in her husband and resorts to sarcasm, making fun of him in an effort to rouse the man she thought she knew. All this makes her look even more guilty to Blakeney’s heartbroken view. And when the dastardly French agent Chauvelin gets wind that Marguerite’s brother Armand may be helping the Pimpernel, he blackmails her with the young man’s life in order to enlist her help in exposing the enemy of the Revolution.

"Chicks dig that romantic crap!"

“Chicks dig that romantic crap!”

One remarkable aspect of this secret identity theme is that the hero is so obviously torn; he dare not let Marguerite know the truth because she appears to side with the enemy. Yet Percy is hopelessly in love with his wife still. After a moonlit encounter on their veranda where Marguerite implores him to be more truthful with her, he holds firm as the lazy, disinterested dandy until she turns to go. Then he throws himself to the tiles and kisses the ground whereon she walked. I’m telling you, chicks dig this stuff!

But the other aspect that may be of interest to the writer is that this situation compels us to see almost nothing directly from the hero’s point of view. For at least three-quarters of the story, you search for the Scarlet Pimpernel along with everyone else (you do better than they do). Nothing is told from Percy’s perspective until close to the end; there is a level of remove where you don’t read what he thinks or feels, only what he says and does. This increases the tension and reveals his character beautifully, whereas an omniscient third-person view would struggle hard not to seem maudlin or cute. Much of the heart of the tale is really from Marguerite’s point of view. The moment when the awful truth finally breaks down the doors of her mind- when she realizes that she has already led her husband, the man she always loved, into Chauvelin’s death-trap- is the height of the story.

Hugh Grant did well enough in the movie-version I would say, but the earlier flick with Leslie Howard (who played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”) sticks in my head. Ironically, it was Howard who immortalized the phrase “Sink me!” coming from the dandy Sir Blakeney; yet in the first book of The Scarlet Pimpernel Blakeney never uses that phrase. Also Merle Oberon perfectly matches my image of Marguerite.

Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?

Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?

In summary, we have a tale in which the hero adopts a secret identity specifically to prevent his plans from being overset and to keep his men from even greater danger. And he takes this foppish guise chiefly to keep the tale away from his beloved- not because he fears harm to her, but because he suspects she is his enemy. This sets up tremendous pathos and conflict in every scene they spend together, and d’Orczy exploits this original idea with fabulous prose that cuts to the heart of the scene each time. Her descriptions, dialogue and turns of phrase are uniformly apt and convey the emotion without slowing the pace too much. I think like any reader, I had moments where I “got it already” and was a bit impatient when she lingered on an image or reinforced an emotion, but there was nothing here to take me out of the tale for a second. I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as classic Heroic Fantasy (using my Fantasy Solar System taxonomy), shading towards Cinematic mood in places, particularly where Percy adopts an ingenious disguise despite his enemies knowing what to watch for.

Final bit of trivia- it was first put up as a stage play and evidently struggled, but the novel was published in the same year and did wonderfully right away. And I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of my top three ever Broadway shows- “Into the Fire” still makes me stand up and cheer out loud.

I downloaded The Scarlet Pimpernel for free to my phone from Amazon Kindle Classics- this is a wonderful value for me because I’m often traveling or without my laptop and can still read quite easily on the phone. I can change the background and font-size to suit my failing eyes, and the only feature I miss from the laptop version is the automatic dictionary. The free versions do suffer from imperfect formatting and there is the occasional mis-spelled word or even repeated phrase, but it’s nothing to pull down your enjoyment of the tale. Here’s another site to get it as an e-book, and you can also listen to it as an audio-book.

So, which tale is set at the same time, but far away and also makes use of a secret identity? Stay tuned for Part Two! And let me know how you reacted to any version of The Scarlet Pimpernel you may have seen or read.

The Compendium: The Safe Way to Build a World?

Epic and heroic fantasy, as cool as they are, do not consist of much that’s new. If you innovate at all in what you write about, you’re either trashed or hailed as an innovator. And then maybe trashed after you turn the other way. People expect heroes with swords, monsters with fire, life with magic, and adventures that save something. I’m cool with all that because in the Land of Hope that’s what I see.

But as Debbie wrote about world-building, there’s a constant struggle to “do” that correctly in the tales themselves. If I can take credit for trying anything a bit differently it was in this: I thought “hey, why not pretend I’m famous already and someone’s written up the Compendium of the Lands“. So I’ve been posting pages here as they appear relevant to the various tales, and as I limp through my draft of the upcoming “Perilous Embraces” I’ve taken the chance to reinforce the book with some more pages.

In this latest batch coming out now you can find information on various subjects:

  • A short piece on the Elven race, especially the concept of their Moments which plays a big part in my WiP
  • An enormous section on the Astrology of the Lands including the heavenly bodies and their influence over events. You will see some of this in Perilous Embraces and a lot more in Judgement’s Tale my infamous unpublished  monsterpiece.
  • A section on the Tarot cards and their relation to divination (sort of the common man’s astrology)
  • A quick look at the Argens feudal structure (who’s boss of what), which plays into the Shards of Light series but will really become important in a sequel to The Plane of Dreams, called The Test of Fire
  • A Brief History of the Lands (which you might have thought I’d have recorded first given my education!)
  • And even a treatise on what the bad guys might be like (for after all, the Lands of Despair no man living has seen- or so the legends say)

I hope you enjoy the material. And I do see that people “hit” the pages fairly frequently which is interesting and prompts me to ask you some questions.

If you’ve looked at the Compendium before, did you like what you saw? Did it give you what you were asking for?

Are there subjects you wanted to see more about but didn’t? It’s been thirty years of study, but my observations have been pretty focused on the current day and subjects relevant to the heroes of the tales. If you need me to look at something else, I’m listening!

Do you think it would be useful for me to publish this thing? As I’m adding pages I keep trying to organize them better, but if I e-pubbed it I could inter-link the daylights out of it- so every reference to Argens leads to the description of him in the hero-lists, etc. On the other hand, I could link every such mention in my current books to the Compendium HERE- but I thought that would be too distracting. What’s your opinion?

As for the rest of you who have every right not to touch the silly thing, let me just remind you once again that I don’t write, I chronicle. These pages are just in case you want to try and argue the Lands of Hope are not real.

I Remember Robin (Hood, That is)

Nerd confession, incoming.

I’m the kind of guy who re-reads the same book- and the longer, the better. Tolkein, maybe six times; even the Silmarillion a couple of times (which really isn’t fair, he didn’t mean for it to get published in that form! But I loved it anyway.). Count of Monte Cristo and Cyrano de Bergerac every three or four years, which at my age… a lot, OK, let’s just drop it. So these tales, many of them stretch back into my childhood. And this time around I’m beginning to realize, in my chronicling, how much they influenced my thinking from as early as I could remember.

I know you’ve seen the movie (one of them, anyway). Have you read Robin Hood? I mean the Pyle version with the fabulous illustrations. I had them read to me by my father around age five, and the illustrations might as well be branded on my forehead.

It’s been a revelation to me how much of my own efforts are really aiming to revisit the feelings I got from this version of Robin Hood (and if you’ve seen the movies, believe me, they’re trying to reach this same sentiment). I re-read it this time in the Kindle version.

  • Good news- it’s free!
  • Bad news- no illustrations.
  •  Good news- double-click on any olde-Englishe word and get the definition!!

Since I recall the illustrations anyway, that’s a win-win for me. Think about it- is your experience of heroic fantasy the same as mine?

Robin almost never kills anyone. One arrogant forester in the beginning (which makes him an outlaw), but he’s defending himself. Then Guy of Gisbourne near the end (who the tales make very clear is a monster). In the Lands of Hope they slay monsters without mercy- but other people are considered off limits until they prove their evil intent. And that reminds me…

Hardly anyone is that bad, and neither is their punishment. Pyle pulled his punches to make his tales safe for kids. So the worst that happens to the greedy sheriff or bishop? A little well-deserved humiliation, and he loses maybe two-thirds of his purse (one-third to Robin’s band, one third to the poor). Sometimes the bad guys stay for feasting and hunting and end up having a great time. Which leads me to…

The outlaws are called the Merry Men for reason. They’re having a blast- time and again, even people who have every reason to be furious can’t help but laugh. Check out the scene with Midge the Miller’s son, see how the four doughtiest warriors in the Midlands are defeated by a man with a sack of flour, and tell me you don’t chuckle. The stories just drip with good will- they tease each other and banter incessantly. Lord, how I love that, all my heroes banter like maniacs. And there’s an obvious contrast between living the high free life of the forest and obeying the laws of corrupt lords and selfish men of the cloth. Friar Tuck is, not to put too fine a point on it, a roaring, belligerent drunkard. But he’s miles closer to a proper priest than the establishment orders. Speaking of which…

– Filed away under I Don’t Know and I Don’t Want to Know“… there are many instances in Robin Hood where one of them declares another to be a fine fellow, which is great, but then follows up with a kiss. And plenty of embraces, and more than a few declarations of “I love you well” and sometimes tears. I’m thinking “wow, Victorian era book, are you sure?” I can only say that as a child I didn’t pay it the slightest mind. Even now, it’s only a cause for more smiles, in between the adventures. And that brings me to…

– Robin and his crew only get into scrapes because they can’t stand the lack of adventure in the forest. Once the Sheriff stops coming after him, Robin has to go into disguises, sneak back into the city, try the archery tournament with a patch on one eye, etc. for some excitement. That one trait, the desire to seek adventure when wealth and fame are already assured, is at the heart of the lives of the heroes in the Lands of Hope. Now that I see it in Pyle’s book, I’m struck with wonder. How did I not see that before?

So Pyle’s Robin Hood is right at the heart of me, right at the start of me. His tales, and others I could name, continue to inspire my work. {P.S.: One of the best computer games I’ve ever played? Legend of Sherwood– it’s thrilling and hilarious!}

Which books have driven you onward? Do you consciously write in another author’s style, or go for the same kind of characters? Is there a sense of right and wrong you believe someone else got perfectly? What’s there at the heart of you?

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