Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Apology and an Observation

First, an apology.

I've come to the conclusion that I just can't continue with the A to Z challenge this year. Too much unpleasant stuff in my life is making blogging at all extremely difficult. Blogging nearly every day and by theme has become impossible. I hate to admit defeat. You've no idea how much I hate it. But I've decided my sanity must come first. So, alas, as far as the Challenge is concerned I'm finished, over. Finished with. Over. Finished and done with.It's over. Completely finished.

On the other hand,  I do love the theme I chose for this year and the subjects I've explored and I know a lot of you have enjoyed it as well. I've appreciated your positive feedback so much because it's shown me without a shadow of a doubt that what publishers have been saying for years is wrong. Fantasy is still alive and well in the hearts of readers. We haven't lost our love of all things wide and wonderful, but it certainly does seem to me that the fare being offered to us in the Fantasy genre in recent years has been less than inspiring.

The Fantasy genre needs better ideas and fresh voices. It needs to break the fetters that have been placed upon it by the elite in New York and find its own way again. I am more determined than ever to be one of Fantasy's new voices.

So I intend to continue to write posts over the coming year that explore the ideas I chose for the A to Z. After all, there were so many good ones I never got to. I will be writing them at my own pace and doing a more in depth discussion than I meant to with the A to Z. So look forward to that in the future. In the meantime, I'm going to devote a little time to trying to get back into a writing schedule.

Good luck to everyone else still wrapped up in the A to Z! I'll be trying my best to follow along with your posts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's Fantasy without the Fantastic?

My apologies for getting so very far behind. It was a really busy weekend. Hopefully I can get caught up this week, but I'm still going to be very busy for a while so all I can promise is that I will try.

F is for all things Fantastic.

The clearest sign that you are in a fantasy story is the presence of the fantastic. Whether it's mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons, mythical races like Elves and Dwarves, the existence of elements with properties that would be impossible in our world, or characters who possess magical powers, fantastical features are the one requirement of the genre.

What I love about fantasy is that there are so many varied ways to use magic and the fantastic. Every author finds new and different ways to color the worlds they create with the supernatural. There's a huge range of possibilities from low magic settings to high magic settings and everything in between.

Did you know that Middle-earth, the quintessential fantasy world, is a low magic setting? There is actually very little magic in Middle-earth. In fact, Tolkien disliked using the word magic. As Galadriel says to Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring:

"For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"

Tolkien didn't really consider what the Elves were capable of "magic" in the way we understand the word. Rather, it was more akin to "art" or "craft", something that came as naturally to them as our more mundane activities come to us. The most fantastical aspect of Middle-earth was simply the natural presence of such beings as Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and of course the Powers of the world.

In contrast, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a very high magic setting. Nearly everyone that we meet is a magic wielder or a magical creature, magical tools and devices are everywhere, and magical spells are used for everything. Both types of settings can be highly enjoyable in the right hands. All we readers ask is that you give us an opportunity to feast on the fantastic.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Euphoric Eucatastrophe

E is for Eucatastrophe.

Today I am going to talk about another wonderful word invention of J.R.R. Tolkien, the philologist. Eucatastrophe is a storytelling device that he identified as a fundamental part of the Fairy Story and thus also as part of Fantasy as its successor. It is essentially a joyous catastrophe, a major reversal at the climax of the story which leads to a happy ending rather than a tragedy. It gives to the reader a euphoric feeling of release and relief and, again, joy. The Eucatastrophe is all about joy.

Far more powerful and poignant is the effect in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

The fantasy genre, as the literary heir to the Fairy Story, is, I think, the best place to find such sudden joy. Life rarely offers this to us, and most other genres are meant to be more true to life than fantasy. Because in fantasy it is possible to raise the stakes far higher than any other genre, the resulting reversal and happy ending can be all the more powerful.

Think of the reversal in The Lord of the Rings, when the ragged armies of Rohan and Gondor stand outside the gates of Mordor prepared to give their lives to protect the Free People of Middle-earth... and then the sudden reversal. The thing we have been waiting for has come to pass. The Ring has been destroyed and the tower of Barad Dur is toppled. The armies of Sauron flee in fear, for the Men of Rohan and Gondor have gained renewed strength from this Eucatastrophe.

Think of Harry Potter. (Spoilers ahead if you haven't read it.) Hogwarts is under seige, all of Harry's friends and loved ones about to be destroyed by an army of Death Eaters. All he has to do to save them is surrender his life. Harry dies at the Dark Lord's hand. But then... the joyous reversal. Harry's sacrifice not only allows him to return, but gives protection to everyone he is fighting for. Voldemort, who fled from death, can no longer stand against him who was willing to die for love.

The Eucatastrophe lends tremendous emotional power to stories that employ it. It gives joy in the face of destruction and hope in the face of tragedy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Delights of Discovery

My post for the letter "C", regretfully delayed, is below this one.

Today, D is for Discovery.

One of my favorite things about the fantasy genre is the wonderful opportunity for discovery. Living in this modern age, it sometimes feels like there's no mystery left to the world. Nothing new, nothing left to discover. Space is apparently the final frontier, but it's so full of vast spaces of nothing that I find it difficult to be interested.

But transport me to a fantasy world or show me how this world is really full of magic and mystery that modern man is unaware of and I'm hooked. Allow me to explore your imaginary world, to learn as many of its secrets as I can, make me feel like I'm in a real magical place and I can't resist.

A riveting plot, complex characters and thought provoking themes are great, but any genre can give me those. The real reason I read fantasy, in particular epic fantasy, is for the worlds to be discovered.

The Courage to Create

Apologies for not getting this entry up in time yesterday. Which means I'll be double posting today for C and D so let's get right to it.

C is for Creation.

The heart of man is not compound of lies,

but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,

and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,

man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,

and keeps the rags of lordship one he owned,

his world-dominion by creative act:

not his to worship the great Artefact,

man, sub-creator, the refracted light

through whom is splintered from a single White

to many hues, and endlessly combined

in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

Though all the crannies of the world we filled

with elves and goblins, though we dared to build

gods and their houses out of dark and light,

and sow the seed of dragons, 'twas our right

(used or misused). The right has not decayed.

We make still by the law in which we're made.
                                      ~J.R.R. Tolkien

You might guess from the name of my blog that creation through storytelling, or sub-creation as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, is a subject close to my heart. Perhaps above all others it is the real reason why I write: I am compelled to create.

Tolkien coined the term "sub-creation" to express the idea that we mere mortals have an intrinsic desire to create through our arts because we were made in the image of our creator. Like him, we want to bring things into being. Unlike him, it is only from our imaginations that we can do this. So we are not creators, since we have nothing to work with that was not created by God, but we are sub-creators.

Tolkien also saw fantasy as the best medium for sub-creation. Another term he developed was mythopoesis, by which he meant the creative act of inventing imaginary worlds with detailed mythologies. This is the closest, perhaps, that man can come to mimicking God's creative act. For though the things that we invent have no physical substance in the world, one only needs to look at the lasting impact that Middle-earth has had on millions of fans of Tolkien's stories (including me) to see that Tolkien's creations have achieved reality in the souls of those who love them.

This humble blogger hopes to one day become a true sub-creator and mythopoet in the same tradition that Tolkien began.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Belief without Bounds

Day two of the A to Z Challenge and if you don't know what that is you may need to spend more time blogging. Here's the incredibly daunting list. I'll be working my way through it, slowly, over the course of the month, but say hello down below and I'll find you sooner!

Today B is for Belief.

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" ~J.K. Rowling

 One of the things that I love about fantasy is that it opens up realms of belief that are no longer acceptable to modern society. As a rule, modern man has developed the idea that if you can't see it or touch it, it doesn't exist, though even sight is often doubted as smell, hearing and taste are. We demand that something has physical presence in order to exist.

This is the view that the inexperienced Harry Potter represents in the quote above. He wants to know if he is really, physically in the place where he speaks with Dumbledore at the end of Deathly Hallows or if he's only imagining it. (I won't say more about it in case any of you haven't read it.) But Dumbledore, wise in years, knows better. He knows that there is much that exists beyond what we can scientifically prove. The character Thomas Covenant from (wait for it) the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has a much worse case of doubt than Harry. Thomas is a leper who gets into an accident and wakes up in the world of the Land where people have magic powers and there's an evil dark lord that they believe only Thomas can defeat. Thomas' education as a leper (a condition that makes it impossible to trust even your senses if you want to survive) convinces him that this is all a dream. It can't possibly be real. He fights against what the people of the Land want him to do, never truly accepting his destiny to be their hero. (It's for this reason that I don't like the character much.) The books chronicle a constant struggle between Thomas and the people of the Land. Them to convince him to become what he is meant to become and save them from destruction. Him to fight with every ounce of his being against what he sees as a mortally tempting descent into hallucination.

But most fantasy accepts that there is more to the world than meets the eye or brushes the hand. From the reality of gods of all shapes and sizes, to strange mythical creatures, to the ability of humanity to wield forces unimaginable with no more than our wills. Fantasy is all about exploring that which is beyond our human knowledge and our mortal strength. It reminds us that reality is more than what we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Fantasy allows us to believe, even if only for the span of a book, in fairies and monsters and gods and demons. Fantasy lets us be more than we could ever dream to be in this "real" world.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ahoy, Adventure Approaches!

And.... go!

This year I've chosen to explore 26 aspects of the fantasy genre that make me a devoted reader and writer of it. Without further ado, our first topic is A for Adventure.

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. you step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Adventure is defined as an undertaking that involves danger and unknown risks.

Think of poor Bilbo Baggins who was a simple Shire Hobbit until a strange old man showed up at his door with 13 Dwarves and an ancient map. Who would have predicted such a fellow would soon be dealing with a fire breathing dragon and not one, not two, but five armies all after the treasure of the mountain? Or little Lucy Pevensie who hid in a Wardrobe and found herself in an enchanted forest full fauns and talking animals... and a wicked queen who wanted her dead.

There is no better genre than fantasy for throwing us head first into the most wild, unpredictable, and gloriously fun adventures. We get to sit at ease in our homes all the while experiencing the desperate search of a unicorn for the rest of her people, or an orphan boy's noble sacrifice to rid the world of the most powerful Dark Lord, or an assistant pig-keeper's attempts to become a strong warrior like his hero Gwydion, or the fight between brothers and sisters for the vacant throne in the greatest city in the world. There's no where you can't go and nothing you can't do through the pages of a fantasy book.

Fantasy: the Greatest Adventure.