Tag Archives: epic fantasy

Life Lessons in Fantasy



I’ve long believed reading fantasy books moulded who I am. I have no real basis for this belief except a bunch of things I don’t think I learned from my parents or anyone else, in particular a marked black and white set of ethics. That’s not to say I don’t recognise ‘grey’ areas, but not many, and for me this reflects the good-evil dichotomy of classic fantasy. I love the anti-hero, or the dark hero, but when I started reading fantasy in my formative years, he wasn’t yet in vogue. 

I thought more about this when I recently started reading Raising Girls, since I know find myself in possession of two of them – girls, I mean. The book contains two markedly different stories about young girls faced with their first sexual experience. One is heart-breakingly casual and unfulfilling, and the other never happens. The second girl tells her boyfriend she’s not ready, and he delivers the ultimatum ‘Have sex with me, or I’ll walk’. With uplifting bravery, she tells him to walk, and doesn’t look back, not even when he wants to get back together with her sometime later. 

I firmly believe in ‘if he really cares, he’ll wait’. I don’t believe in sex on a first date – not if the woman is looking for more than casual sex. Once you start having sex, it’s difficult, or impossible, to go back to filling in the emotional gaps, that ‘getting to know each other’ stage that takes place on the first dates. My informal polling of men (in my generation) generally indicates a lack of, or less, respect for women who don’t make them wait. I’ve posed to men the phrase ‘OK to bed, but not to wed’, and it’s met with general agreement. 

This isn’t something my parents taught me, and while I’ve refined all the above thoughts as an adult, I must have had some awareness of the concept as a teenager, because I sure did make him wait.

Then I thought of Richard and Kahlan from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, which I’ve been reading since I was thirteen. In the first book, Wizard’s First Rule, Richard falls in love with Kahlan. She discourages his affections, and his own grandfather tells him to ‘choose another girl’. He later finds out that any kind of physical relationship with her is impossible – if they were to have sex, her magic would destroy him. 

What does Richard do? He certainly doesn’t run off and pick up the first girl he comes across. Despite the fact he understands his love is impossible, that it can never be, he persists. In the end, he solves the problem. Even having solved it, though, it’s four books before he actually has sex with Kahlan, and despite constant setbacks, he waits. 

It occurred to me there’s a lot of important messages in there for any teenager who might sit still long enough to read it. Here’s a few that I spotted without even needing to think hard:

  • If it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for;
  • If at first you fail, try again;
  • Fidelity and devotion as virtues;
  • Anything is possible;
  • Follow your dreams;
  • Sex isn’t everything (although I grant it isimportant, and I think that message is probably conveyed by the diligence with which Richard and Kahlan pursue that goal).

Are there other messages in there that you can see? What life lessons or important messages have you seen in the fantasy books you’ve read? Did you learn something from fantasy? Do you hope your children learn something from fantasy?

I do. I’ll be off now to borrow Dad’s illustrated copy of The Hobbit, and my first introduction to fantasy.  



Humour In Epic Fantasy: A Look at Game of Thrones



With Season 3 of Game of Thrones just begun, I took advantage of my maternity leave to sit down and watch the whole of Season 2 over the last few days. As I did, I had cause to ask myself a question.

Why am I watching this?

Let’s face it, Game of Thrones is marvellously well done, but the story is downright depressing. I’ve read the books as well as watched the TV series, and I remember being desperately angry when I discovered I had to wait for Dance of Dragons. I bought it as soon as it was released, and 18 months later I’ve not read it.

Why not?

I remember almost nothing of the books, except that everyone dies. It’s as bad as a Shakespeare tragedy. Most of the characters are rotten, and there’s slim pickings when it comes to admirable characters. Every time you actually do decide whose side you should be on, that person gets the sword. I’m reduced to rooting for Tyrion Lannister who, despite being a Lannister, appears to be one of the nicer characters. He’s been hard done by as a child, unloved by his family, not to mention unvalued for the skills he actually does have, and appears to have a decent stab at being a good Hand of the King. He’s not perfect, he’s definitely self-interested, and he plays politics for the sake of it, but he has the basic decency to be revolted by the notion of killing babies.

And on top of that, he’s funny.

In fact, without the humour injected by Tyrion, I wonder would I watch the series? Without him, there is precious little uplifting about the story. A throne under contention. Good men, like Ned Stark, dying. Monsters like Joffrey in command. Babes torn from their mothers’ arms and murdered. Rape, and pillage, and greed, and dead men walking south from the Wall, and there’s no one I can point to who can save the day. No hero.

Epic fantasy does tend to run to grim, with worlds under threat, and lives in the balance. Most aren’t as grim as Game of Thrones. More usually the hopes of everyone, including the reader, are pinned on the likes of Rand al’Thor or Richard Rahl. With heroes to light the way, to give hope, there’s something to keep us reading past all the horror and fear. In fact, it’s the assurance that someone will save the day that entices many readers of fantasy; an assurance not present in the real world.

Even then, I sometimes find myself taking a break from the doom and gloom of a world under threat to read another genre, or to lose myself in the light-hearted comic relief of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Humour can be important in epic fantasy. A moment of levity can be used to highlight the horrors or to offer the reader relief from them. It’s not a necessary element of every fantasy, and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth has been successful without much in the way of humour, but it can be a useful part of the fantasy writer’s toolkit to avoid depressing the reader to the point where they don’t see the point in reading on.

When writing a story as depressing as Game of Thrones, I’d argue it may be downright critical.

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do you like Tyrion? How many of the other characters did you like – and how many of them are now dead?

How important do you think the humour is in Game of Thrones?

Arya Stark – one of the few other likeable characters

High Fantasy:What Is It?

Recently I was asked to explain what the high fantasy genre actually encompasses. Not an easy task, given the plethora of sub-genres abounding in speculative fiction these days, but nevertheless I had a crack at trying to make sense of how they all tie together and overlap. There is no real guide on how all the labels fit together, but this is my attempt at explaining what I think all these categories mean.

Click here to read the full explanation.


The Way of Shadows: Club Fantasci September Hangout

Club Fantasci met yesterday for its second G+ Hangout and first successful hangout! You can watch myself and co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry discuss The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks here. If you’ve read the book, join us on our Goodreads page – start your own discussion threads or join the ones already going. 

Reviews by all three hosts are available on the Club Fantasci website – follow the links to read reviews by Dionne, David and myself

The song I chose for The Way of Shadows is Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks. The song is a metaphor for how life without love is an empty existence. I chose it because this is exactly how Durzo tries to live, and how he teaches Kylar to live, for their own safety – but ultimately, the fire of love draws them like moths to the flame. Despite themselves, they can’t live in that empty, loveless existence. 

October’s Book of the Month is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. The book is in print, but so old you’ll likely have to order it online as you’ll have trouble finding it on the shelf. The copy I’ve stolen… ahem, borrowed, from my Dad is a hardback, so it’s like to be damn near as old as I am! 


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New “Club Fantasci’ Speculative Fiction Video Book Club

I’m co-hosting a video book club. Me. Wow. 
 
The book reviewers are David Lowry, author Dionne Lister, entertainment personality and model Shannon Million, and of course myself! 

Club Fantasci launched August 1, 2012, and is designed to help bring great books and great authors more exposure to the world at large. We are taking the stigma out of speculative fiction!

The book club will select a book each month for review, and the reviewers will then meet via G+ Hangout once a month to discuss the literary merits of the book – and we’ll be doing more than just telling you we liked or didn’t like the book. In an entertaining way, of course. So it’s just like an offline book club… except online… with wine… and stuff.

The first G+ hangout is scheduled for August 31st 7:00pm EST./CST For those of you in the southern hemisphere, that’s 1 September 10am AEST. So if you fancy joining us, go pick up this month’s book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and we look forward to seeing you there. 

You can learn more about us by:

Joining our group on Goodreads
Liking our Page on Facebook
Checking out our Website

And here’s a little more about Club Fantasci and what we hope to achieve:

We want to expose you to the full gamut of the speculative fiction genre, including science fiction, hard SF, militaristic SF, high/epic fantasy, dark fantasy, dystopian, cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, paranormal, urban fantasy, SFF romance and erotica, and everything in between.
 

We want to educate readers on good writing in speculative fiction, entertain with witty banter, and above all have a fantastic time. Fiction need not be literary to be well written, and good writing need not be boring or mundane! We promise you we’ll do our best to bring you a good book every month, and if not, we’ll tell you why it’s not! For a bit of light fun, we’ll also be featuring a wine of the month and picking a song that best fits the book.

Club Fantasci will introduce the “Wine of the Month” and each of the reviewers will pick music they feel best represents the current “Book of the Month.” So bring your book, keep that wineglass topped up, and don’t forget your iPod!

The “Wine of the Month” for August is a 2011 “Suited Muscat” from Sort This Out Cellars Winery in Las Vegas, NV.

Alternatively, you can connect with the reviewers
 
The Lowry Agency:
 
Dionne Lister

Shannon Million

Ciara Ballintyne

You can read the official press release for the launch of Club Fantasci here
 

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it’s OK to break them here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!