How to Create a Fantasy World/Have No Friends in 6 Easy Steps

Hello again!

It’s Sunday, it’s spring and it’s sunny. Most people my age are catching up on their Vitamin D or relaxing at home, staring out the window at blue skies, secretly filled with dread for the work-week to come. Very few (if any) are wondering what the weather’s like above the palace in a land they’ve invented. But for those who’ve always yearned to write fantasy (or for those who are just curious to see the thought process of those who do), I’ve decided to make a quick list of everything you should avoid  stick to rigidly if your fantasy world is going to take its place among the Middle Earth’s and the Narnia’s.

1. Place

The first rule of creating a fantasy world is to take out a sheet of paper, draw two to three medium-sized landmasses and immediately determine which one is ugly enough to be the nation of Evil Villain. Label this country “Blackened McScorchBone” and fill it with dusty mountains. Then, pick the largest country and colour it green. This will be the home of all the nice people, plentiful water supplies and the only functioning agriculture in the entire known world. Over in Blackened McScorchBone, they eat….rocks…scorpions? I dunno.

Next, take out a blue crayon and draw rivers everywhere. In woods, in valleys, in mountains-EVERYWHERE. Ask google on at least four occasions where rivers are supposed to start. Once convinced, run them across the whole map anyway. To be safe.

Now that you have at least 1 x mountain, 1 x forest and 1 x river, you can start adding in cities and other places of interest. Most of them should be huge castles, far from any source of food, water, trade. They ought to have names like “King’s Tower” or “Elfdorm”. In Blackened McScorchBone, names such as “Clawtooth” and “The Dead City” are recommended. For good measure, call something “The Valley of Fear” and something else “The Grey Waste”, and don’t even remotely address the latter at any stage of your writing. Roads should be as-the-crow-flies, even if they cross hills, lakes, whatever. Outside of cities, pretty much the entire country should be abandoned, filled with a bit treasure here and there and a village if you look hard enough.

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2. People

The world might be max half-Europe in size but there should probably be enough races to make the Olympics feel small. If there are dwarves, throw ’em up in the hills or under some mountains. And make sure to put all the pirates and the ugly things in Blackened McScorchBone. Ughh. Everything there has yellow teeth.

In green-means-good country, cities roughly a stone’s throw apart should have entirely different cultures, languages, ways of life. Literally no two cities should share any sort of common value or commerce. There will be one trade per city, please.

If your hero is <18, they must grow up in the only village you’ve got round to. If they’re an adult, they either live in the royal palace or “grow up in sight of it”. None of your characters should be different than, well, you and your friends. Diversity has no place in DragonLand.

Half of all people must actively serve in the military. How a nation like that is supposed to feed itself? Damnit, man, I’m a fantasy writer not a politician. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Politics

All places will be monarchies except Blackened McScorchBone which is obviously ruled by  a dictator  evil itself. The Kings and Queens should be loved by all. Democracy should be shunned especially if it interferes with any sort of century-long conflict. There should never be peace agreements, only BLOOD AND WAR. Legitimately no ambassadors should exist between nations and there ought to be very little reason for anybody to be fighting in the first place. If there is, go outside and kick a football. You will never make it as a fantasy writer.

Have in place what you think is a “Medieval Economy” but under no circumstances actually research what that might entail. Just invent several peasants, as many knights and one lord who will be fat (*elbow* because he can afford to eat).

4. Politics (again?)

Everyone in your world should be religious. There are no atheists allowed. People should practice freely and there ought to be no clear link between religion and state (lolz why would there be?). Evil Villain should be his own religion and should have millions of ugly followers despite not offering much.

Twice per novel, there ought to be a festival celebrating some God. People that live in the mountains will pay tribute to their……Sea God? *Shrugs* Makes sense to me.

5. Purpose

It’s best practice to just drop things all over your world that have no discernible place there. A giant snake monster that evolved out of nothing? Can’t argue that’s not cool.

You might also place huge value on members of society such as poets and ship captains though *glances both ways* literally nobody in the world ever mentions the arts or talks about the importance of the shipping trade. Everyone should have a horse, a sword and a house to their name even if they’re poor and working as a farmhand.

6. Powers

Just dump whatever fantasy you want into the pot and stir for 30 minutes. Dragons, hands that shoot fire, lay-people marrying the Queen. Have as much magic as you like but still have everyone walk around like it’s just another day in the 15th century. Give Evil Villain enough power to destroy the world twelve times over and then just park him in a corner long enough for someone to figure out how to defeat him. Never use magic for everyday convenience. Only use it to solve plot holes and other sticky situations.

And there you have it. If you do all of the above (plus paint your map with coffee-it looks so old!), you too can create your own fantasy world and say goodbye to what’s left of your social life.

 

Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (Excerpt #2)

Marke shuffled through the dark streets of Mist Rock, ducking into alleys as city patrols wandered past. There weren’t many guards stationed on the path he’d decided to take to the gatehouse, but those who were would happily elect to stop him, try bleed a minute out of the long shift ahead of them. And if they saw who he was, they could open the whole night up at the neck.

In the lower quarters of the city, the rows of thatched houses bunched together, nestled one another as they slept. It wasn’t quite yet midnight, but almost all of their lights were extinguished, a single candle in a corner of Winden Street the only one left standing guard. In Marke’s own house, he knew his father would be doing the same, sitting on the third step of their stairs with his gaze fixed on the door. That was always how Marke found him. He’d been there when Uncle Derek died, when Nadia fell from Dawnbreaker and when his son came home late after kissing Lynia Duler at the summer festival. That last time, he’d winked, risen without a word and gone off to bed with a smile on his face. In some ways, Marke felt he’d always be on those stairs, watching, waiting for something that never seemed to come.

A couple of dimmed figures moved on the wall overhead, but they didn’t glance down at Marke as he passed beneath the shadow of the gatehouse. He pulled back his hood, wiped some of the trail dust from his clothes, and pushed hard on the oak door into Sir Ritchenn’s accommodations.

***

Inside the fire had sunk down to a few flames, waving lazy side to side, beckoning him into the small office. Marke saw immediately that he was alone, spied another closed door opposite him and wondered was Sir Ritchenn within. The air, heavy with the smell of smoke and charred meat, made his eyes water. He tried and failed not to cough. Listening for a reply, he heard nothing and decided to study the room.

A solitary shelf stretched across one wall, cramped with jars, scrolls and a bag of what once might have been food. A wooden chest sat underneath it, decorated with the marks of the Aelia, though much of the paint had been scratched off. On the wall opposite woven tapestries hung, their sewn images marginally more clear, one of them depicting the Great Northern Storm where the King had fought the rebellious Nareland lords. In the centre, a couple of worm-eaten chairs had been placed around a large table. Marke frowned down at the contents: a few plates of old meals and a cracked mug. Hardly fitting for the captain of the gatehouse, he thought.

Then, as he considered whether he should be there at all, he heard commotion in the room next door, noise like a barrel rolling from a ship. The door smacked open before Marke could escape, rattling its hinges and then the single largest man he’d ever seen stooped into the room.

“Luken, I believe?” he said cheerily.

Marke opened his mouth to answer, but came up with nothing, heard only the crackles in the fireplace. The knight took a step closer, looming up over him, his grin almost child-like.

“No, you can’t be Luken. He passed in yesterday. I presume you are here about the academy though?”

Marke nodded his head, watched the giant of a man turn and poke through his shelf.

“You know I have this list somewhere. I’m sure I can find some ink if you give me-“

“My name is Marke. I want to sign up. I want to be a guard of the realm and pledge my life to the sword.”

He winced. The words had spilled out before he could stop them.

The knight paused in his search, half-turning to look at him, “Yes. Marke. You’re the tailor’s boy. Yes, I do know your father.”

Marke’s heart quivered. Very few people knew his father, not in the friendly sense anyway. And Dad never mentioned Sir Ritchenn, he thought. Suddenly he felt naked, exposed against a man in full armour.

Sir Ritchenn sank into the battered chair, unrolled the long sheet on the table. He looked to weigh it down with a mug, saw it was wet and reconsidered. Casually, he passed Marke the ink and quill.

“Just sign your name and we’re out of here. Well, you are at least,” the knight said, looking around his office with obvious disappointment.

Marke cleared his throat. “On this day-“

“Give the formalities a rest, boy. Especially if you don’t mean them,” he added interrupting.

Marke gave a weak smile and nodded, unsure whether Sir Ritchenn was teasing him. His hands were covered in sweat. Wiping them on his cloak, he uncorked the ink, dipped the quill fast into the black pool and drew it out again before he changed his mind. Only then did he look at the list.

As expected, it was packed with names, none of which Marke could put a face to. He saw second names that were memorable enough: Helm, Dracus, Fletchen, Erden. He knew that a Drimmer served on the council, so it was interesting to see that signature scrawled down there too. He found space at the bottom and added his own, then raised his head to Sir Ritchenn. The knight was busy lighting a candle and kept his eyes on the task. But when he spoke, his voice was soft, almost honey-warm, taking Marke by surprise. “Well, go on. boy. Give your mist to it.”

Marke dropped the quill and knelt at the table. He pulled the list down in front of him and sighed, wondering had his dad been as nervous when he’d signed up. If there was a time to go running to the tailor life-to any other life-this was his final chance.

And then, quick and quiet, the single breath came, a small puff over his signature. It was done.

His hands trembled as he passed the page back to Sir Ritchenn. The knight ran his eyes down the scroll, grinned and gave him a thumb of approval. Marke bowed his head and turned, felt the knight slouch heavy into his seat behind.

“Boy,” he called out before Marke reached the door. “Hold your head up. If you let them think you’re ashamed, you should be”.

Marke paused, considering the advice as behind, Sir Ritchenn fiddled with his pages. Hastily, he made a gesture for him to wait.

“Your family name, does your old man really spell it like that? Always thought he wrote that with a K,” he said.

Marke smiled. In that moment, for whatever reason, he knew he had made the right choice. “As it is written, Sir,” he said, turning so the knight could see the light cross his face. “I am Marke Calin, son of Thyron Calin. It would be an honour to serve here when I finish”.

Sir Ritchenn stacked the pages neatly, measured Marke with his eyes and laughed. “The honour would be mine. Mr. Calin. Now, enough of the formalities. Go! Tell your father!”

***

Marke shivered as he met the night air, but decided not to pull his cloak any closer. Tonight, there would be no hooded disguise.

High above the city, the stars were stirring.

Arise a Knight: Social Justice and the Fantasy Genre

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking hard about the genre I’m writing in.

Perhaps that’s a curious way to open a blog post. You’re welcome to read it again.

It’s a sentiment that might seem a little odd, a little obvious, maybe even a little expected. But while there’s always a few sparks of fantasy to be found in my mind, lately it’s been a raging inferno. By the time the same fire burned out and I had a chance to sift through the ashes, I came to a single, disturbing conclusion.

I’m terrified that my words won’t matter.

You might wonder exactly what I mean by that. As always, I’m going to take a roundabout way to explain. But first, I’m going to have to ask you to kneel.

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You take another breath and stare at the altar in front of you. The stone, polished and white, is the only thing not covered in shadow. The candles the priest lit hours before have long since fallen asleep, leaving the room stuffy-dark, warm and cold at the same time. Your knees groan where they meet the stepped floor and you grimace, pray that soon they too will slip into slumber. The nightlong vigil yawns, drags, whispers a promise that it’s not long ’til dawn. And when the sun does rise, you know you may yet rise with it. A tap to either shoulder-that’s all that’s left to be done. You stare at your robes; the white, red and black cloth spills freely onto the floor. You wonder for a moment about the significance of colour, then sighing, you return to your prayers.


Social justice is a concept that has always found its ways into writing. As far back as Ancient Greece, Plato was wondering about the ideal state, a promised land of equal opportunity. That same idea, veiled by language and time, cropped up all over the world. The French Revolution, the Suffragettes, the Great March on Washington. All of these movements were born in hearts, then in pages, then finally out on the streets. Ideas, not all of them similar, were grown, documented and distributed by writers, many of them writers of fiction. Some were even writers of fantasy.

Today, multiplied in the information age, social changes are moving faster toward us, sounding different by the time they rush past. It’s becoming a sort of doppler effect, a wheel accelerating so fast that we’ve bought more personal freedoms in the last 200 years than we had in the previous 200,000. At the same time, this progress has left tension between generations in its wake. And though much ground has been gained by writers, it could be argued fantasy found it hard to keep pace.

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Part of this is due to the fact that up until fifty years ago, nobody would have considered it a genre to start with. The big names-the Tolkiens and the Le Guins and the C.S. Lewis’-changed all that, defined something that we now recognise. All the same, the genre was largely ignored by the popular masses until the turn of the millennium. But then the 2000s brought film deals and Rowling and the Game-of-Throne-lead surge of a grittier kind of fantasy loved by readers and TV producers alike. Suddenly the social justice of fantasy worlds was being debated. Long unchallenged (long ignored), they found themselves sadly outdated.

That’s not to say there aren’t fantasy novels out that broke the wheel while it was spinning. If you’d like a list, here is just one place you could get started. But many of the names here aren’t household (even by fantasy reading standards), and that’s where the genre gets shaky.

It’s only now that we see big fantasy novels emerging that challenge gender, race, sexual orientation etc. Long kept at the fringes of the campfire, these novels are now bathed in light, shining for all to see. In terms of the role of women, for example, one could argue that the biggest steps were made by urban and post-apocalyptic fantasy first. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight. All of them, merited by critics or not, made huge steps in terms of women both reading and writing fantasy, a genre long considered the boys-club of the literary world. More importantly, they littered the fantasy universe with characters these readers could identify with. Slowly but surely, ground is being made with other marginalized groups too.

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I suppose why I wrote this blog is that ultimately, facing into editing a novel, I know the time for voiceless pages is over. A first draft has to have a plot, characters, maybe even a twist or two. But edited work ought to have more than that (surely). By the time Mist Rock (and I) come out the other door of the chapel, I’d be hoping to see challenge, strength, meaning. I’d be hoping to see voice.

A lot of that, as it always does, will mean writing for the times. I often think that’s the wall fantasy writers have to climb: talking about one world when they’re in another. But all fiction (hell, all art), has to say something. And if it can say something relevant, something lasting, that’s enough to make a few words matter.

I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about my genre a lot lately. Kyle has a world to re-visit, and he knows now that the characters have to speak not only for themselves, but for the reader, for the world that they can’t see through silver-glass. They’re going to have to fight a lot more battles than they expected to. Oftentimes, they mightn’t win. But I’ll ask them to fight them anyway, even if only because there’s plenty out there who’ll oppose them. After all, some people are still growing up in a world where to ask for reasonable social change makes them an enemy of the state, a vigilante, a rebel. These “social justice warriors” have hardly a banner between them. What they will have, I hope, is armies of people to flock to it.

We can’t drown the worlds we create in the troubled social politics of our own. Even so, the very best fantasy is rooted in reality. That’s why Harry longed for his parents. It’s why Ned Stark kept to his honour. It’s why Frodo wasn’t destroying a ring.

It’s why Frodo was saving the Shire.

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Understand, the pen is not mightier than the sword; it is the sword, and you’re the writer who is wielding it. And though you have fought many battles with a fist closed round its handle, there was once a time it was new to you, a time you picked it up warily and tried to bleed a few scratchy lines about the whereabouts of dragons. But blunt though those first words were, right there and then, (though you wouldn’t know it for some time), that silver sword gave you a voice. A silent, shivering voice. A voice you hoped would grow louder.

And while there are no vows as a writer, there’s a wide world to fight for all the same.

So if you do rise, rise well. Arise a knight.

And should your sword prove as sharp as you hoped for, remember the promise to give a few voices back.

Mist Rock

When I was eighteen, I stood on a hill above the town of Ballyheigue, Kerry, and paused to look through a hedgerow. Far-off below there were houses, a beach, a row of mountains and a dark ocean meeting them. It was august; there was a cold wind pressed hard against me. Above, the clouds struggled across the sky, bloated with the promise of rain.

I stared at the mountains yawning over me and thought of the crown that they wore. Their peaks, so mysterious, knifed the blue-grey ceiling, disappeared from view as though to another world. And there, for a moment, that world was all my mind saw. A pale woman. A bright sword. Snow, blood, poison. A winter storm and a cloaked figure in it. A fortress ruined by time. 

To stop short of melodramatic, I kinda ran home to write it down. I didn’t even know what the idea was but thousands of words came with it. I kept them all, stored them, tried in vain to make some sense of them. It would be another two years before I sat down with it again, finding it by chance on an old laptop. That same night, I decided to start this very blog. Perhaps it’s fitting they one day met again.

The scene I saw in the hedgerow later became the first chapter of this novel, which for now is called Rise of the Exiles. It’s the first installment of Mist Rock, a fantasy series that all spiraled out of those five seconds on that hill in North Kerry. Of course that vision, six years old this summer, now has words to run with it.

Yet here he was now, his eyes as distant as a white winter sun, his smile as foreign as a strange summer flower. She could nearly pretend they were elsewhere and those features might have made sense, might have drawn her to kiss him, to love him, to know him as she knew herself. But they weren’t. They were in the depths of the forsaken mountains, breathing blue cold, waiting for her to die.

Over the next year or so, I’m hoping to edit the completed first draft, sending it out for feedback with the aim of deriving something worth publication. Yes, that is obviously a big ask, but the dreams we chase probably should be. Regardless of how it turns out, I’m currently just very excited to share this with you!

I’ll leave you with a map of this new world, a synopsis of the story and a quote from it that you can take with you 🙂

An empty throne is the best time for a war, they say.

 Farelia Aelia, Queen of Kraken, has been dead for nearly twenty years. The country she left behind, ruled by a council in Mist Rock, teeters on the brink of destruction. Saptors, a reptilian race long banished, look hungrily to their borders, as armies of Varen gather with them. Among these rebels, two claim a right to the crown.

 In Mist Rock, Marke Calin has his eyes set on a place in the Golden Lance Academy, a school that trains guards of the realm. His father was once a student there, though half the city now thinks he’s a murderer. But soon tension with classmates and exam struggles are the least of his worries; it seems the enemy has far greater plans for him.

 The dark corridors of the academy are not as empty as they look. Shadows are growing longer, students are being stalked, guards are sleeping in fear.  Something was lost with Farelia Aelia seventeen years ago.

 It appears the Exiles have come to find it.

You believe in a cause. Now give people cause to believe in you.

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The road goes ever on and on-Things I liked about the last Hobbit film [SPOILERS]

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I’ve waited until now to make my judgement on the last Hobbit film (well, at least the written version of it). Overall, it wasn’t particularly easy. I liked the first Hobbit film, and I disliked the second one. The third movie, called “The Battle of the five armies” was kind of like a mix of the two. So, to keep this short….er, and to make it easy for myself, I’m gonna tackle the good things in this post, and then we’ll look at what went wrong after.

1. The acting

Some moments of the Hobbit films have been guilty of the worst acting in the entire Middle Earth franchise. Mostly this has been down to a bad script, and a lot of the rest of it is either poor casting choices (Billy Connolly? Stephen Fry??) or working the plot wrong. Even so, it’s actually been overwhelmingly positive. In the battle of the five armies (BOTFA), Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Ian McKellen (Gandalf) give their usual five star performances, and it’s safe to say there will NEVER be another Gandalf quite like Ian.

Richard Armitage performs consistently as the dark and vengeful Thorin Oakenshield, who spends most of the movie lusting after the Arkenstone (or king’s jewel). Aidan Turner (Kili) and Ken Stott (Balin) play their respective role as dwarves in the company very well, and are given lots of screen time in this installment. Aidan Turner in particular has went from strength to strength with each movie, and he even somehow manages to improve on the overall feel of the elf/dwarf romance that is Tauriel and Kili. Himself and Richard Armitage stand out in the action scenes, with Graham McTavish (Dwalin) also good in this respect.

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I think one of the most memorable performances in the franchise is given by Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman, who is blessed with the liberty of far more to do than his paperback compatriot. His nemesis Smaug, who is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is also wonderfully portrayed, which brings me to my next point…

2. That first 40 or so minutes

It wasn’t until the second watch that I truly appreciated it, but the first half an hour/forty minutes of this film is actually well up there as a contender for the best portion of the trilogy, and even has a Lord of the Rings kinda flavour to it that has been so glaringly missing from these three movies.

There are many bad ways to start a film (or end it a la Desolation of Smaug), but BOTFA has to be an example of how to do the exact opposite. It opens with the imminent attack of Smaug on Laketown, which (and I rarely say this) is VISUALLY AMAZING. That’s right. These scenes was so well done that I couldn’t help but notice. The sequence is a bit marred by Stephen Fry, but other than that it is perfectly constructed. The interplay between Smaug and Bard gives the dragon the hubristic tone seen widely in the novel, and though in large sections of the trilogy the heroes seem impervious to danger, with these scenes there really is a constant threat raging amid the dragon fire. After the death of Smaug, we get a fitting introduction to Thorin’s lust and greed, and then it is off to Dol Guldur where in the second movie we saw Gandalf captured by the now revealed Sauron. The sudden arrival of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) sets up what is uncharted-but-touched-on territory in Tolkien’s work, with the concept of the White Council banishing Sauron being very real, but the execution of the scene obviously fabricated by Jackson et al. It turns out quite well on screen, outside of the epileptic inducing Sauron that has become a stereotype of this trilogy.

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3. location, location, location

It normally goes without saying that Middle Earth is beautifully represented by the New Zealand landscape, but hell, I’m gonna say it anyway. It is noticeable that there is far more CGI work in the landscape, yet even so, the city of Dale has an Osgiliath ruins-like feel to it, while Erebor itself is one of most vividly created parts of all six movies. Gundabad has a nice Cirith Ungol look to it, which for many LOTR fans was one of the best settings in the original films.  Dol Guldur is unique as compared to some of the other locations, and its effect is mirrored onto Mirkwood well to show the spread of Sauron’s sickness.

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4. Some of the action scenes

Although as a movie, there is way too much of a reliance on CGI, some of the action scenes do still have that LOTR effect. In particular Tauriel’s scene on Ravenhill was well constructed, and Thorin vs Azog on the sheet of ice was a great way to lead up to the finish. I think the most obvious reason the look of the battles (as well as their credibility) has improved is that Jackson cannot escape the ending of the book. It is inevitable that Kili, Fili and Thorin had to die, and so in the latter part of the movie there was more of a desperate feel in the battles with Azog and Bolg. Bard’s fight scenes alongside the other men of Laketown were reasonably well done, so that in the end they were not dissimilar from the Siege of Gondor fights in Return of the King. It was the “setup” parts of most battles that stood out, but once the armies engaged it was a little hard to keep track. Still, the battles hugely improved on Desolation of Smaug.

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5. The ending

The first time I watched this movie, I was really unhappy with the ending. I know people go on and on about the last LOTR film dragging on, but this ending felt like a purposeful attempt to do the opposite. The second time, it still is obvious the ending could use work. The resolution after Thorin’s death is far too quick, and much of the cast is just kind of rushed off screen. There is no real finishing of the Bard, Thranduil or Dain storyline. Saying all that, I think Bilbo and Thorin’s last scene was really well done, as was Gandalf’s goodbye to Bilbo. Including the auction when Bilbo arrived home was a definite boost for the “there and back” theme of the whole thing. The final scene, which is one of the opening scenes of the Fellowship of the Ring looked at from within Bilbo’s house, was a touching (albeit slightly cheesy) note to end on. It was not a bad way to end it, and they did provide the link between the trilogies they wanted.

Next time, I’ll look at all the bad things, which is likely gonna be a much longer blog with far less structure. Until then.

Tales From The Perilous Realm- A J.R.R Tolkien book review

If you ask the ordinary fantasy fan to think outside the box when it comes to Tolkien, most would return with answers such as The Silmarillion or The Children of Hurin. When imagining Tales from the Perilous Realm, one must command the fan to imagine themselves standing outside the room which holds our original box. In short, it wouldn’t be the first on anybody’s list, but having read it, I feel it shouldn’t be anybody’s last.

This novel features five unique short stories as written by Tolkien, each based around the world of Faerie, a land we commonly associate with The Brothers Grimm etc. In stark contrast to this land of pixies and toadstools, Tolkien presents a meticulous essay outlining concretely what Fairy stories actually are, and how we should consider them as literary pieces.

The first tale presented is that of Roverandom. Featuring a dog named Rover, the story revolves around the animal becoming caught up in wizard dealings and being whisked away from his normal country lifestyle. What Tolkien succeeds in here unsurprisingly (if one reads The Hobbit) is perfectly building a world for a child’s imagination. Rather than soaking the piece in meticulous detail or filling every corner with aspects of his higher writing, Tolkien maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, and manages to turn a very average plot into a memorable story suitable for all ages. Though not my favourite form the book, the piece deserves praise nonetheless.

Farmer Giles of Ham definitely feels far more like the Tolkien we are used to, with its slightly dark undertone and a plot brimming with swords, kings and dragons. Similar to a world of Frodos and Bilbos, the tale focuses on how the ordinary man gets caught up in a world of valour and higher powers, simply based on how much love even the smallest man can show for their own homeland. Farmer Giles is Bilbo-like showing quick wit and a good humour, while his exchanges with Chrysophylax the dragon are hauntingly familiar if one has read The Hobbit to the finish. Suspense was maintained throughout which kept the tale moving and so the whole thing felt far shorter than Roverandom itself. Perhaps for those who enjoyed The Hobbit this would be a welcome read.

The Smith of Wooton Major dabbled most in what Tolkien considered the faery world to be. Based around a master cook living in a small town, the plot takes us into a parallel world of Faery, all accomplished through the magical ingredients of a special cake! The further the story progressed, the more the tale stood out as thematically impressive and not just a easy read. If Tolkien had delved more into the adventures that did occur in the world of Faery, the story would have benefited undoubtedly. However,given it was intended as a short piece (in which connection to the early paragraphs seems essential to grasp the overall feel), he might have chosen correctly in keeping the length short.

The literature then shifts to poet format, with a series of nearly twenty short stories being fed to the reader on a verse by verse basis. Some of these tales seem by themselves interesting, while others leave much to the imagination but succeed from a poetic point of view. Of all the pieces in this book, this would probably appeal least to the everyday reader. However, for those Tolkien fans who understand deeply that this man valued language far more than he did archers and cavalry, the section is a valuable insight into Tolkien’s ability.

The final piece presented is that of ‘Leaf by Niggle’. Tolkien was always quoted as saying he hated allegory; that is the intentional pursuit by a story etc to give the reader some sort of message (and in many cases the value of the story lies solely in this message). That being said, it is often argued this tale is a highly allegorical one, with its entire plot echoing the recesses of an aging Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien did once quote that for many pieces allegory is itself not presented, and any meaning found in the piece by the reader is purely coincidental, and evidently down to personal interpretation (as given in a note to fans in later LOTR publications). This is reasonable, but one would be hard pushed to read Leaf by Niggle and not come away feeling the whole tale circles around a painter who mirrors Tolkien himself; a man who was awash with worry, unhappiness and regret with not having finished his epic Silmarillion before his death (with this book being if anything the primary part of his legendarium). Just like Niggle, Tolkien continues to tack pieces onto his original work, filling in details here and there as he goes, never really settling on a defined picture/image and always looking to expand when he should consolidate and finish. The ending is too good to spoil, if one really wants value for reading.

Overall, anyone who shows a good interest in Tolkien’s writing will enjoy this quick read, with Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham standing out as a top three in my eyes. Next time I’ll be reviewing The City, a fantasy tale by Stella Gemmell, wife of the late writer David Gemmell.

 

The Desolation Of Smaug-or how Hollywood can make a hobbit even smaller (spoilers-obviously)

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Hello again, been a while. Anyway, never mind that. Two nights ago I went to “The Hobbit:The Desolation Of Smaug”. This is the second film in the Hobbit trilogy, for those who missed out on popular culture for the last three years or so. To say I was excited would be a massive understatement. At the age of eight, I was first exposed to Tolkien’s world when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in cinemas. Since then, it’s been an explosion of Tolkien into my life. Over the following two years I saw the other two films, and simultaneously read The Hobbit. But since then, it’s gone logarithmic. At this stage, I’ve read the Hobbit about ten times, the Lord of the Rings perhaps five. Outside of that, I’ve gotten through the Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin and am currently finishing up the Unfinished Tales. I bought “Tales from the perilous realm” the other day, though that’s a whole other story. Not that this is very impressive, but I guess it highlights just how much Tolkien has played a part in my life, so when ten years later “The Hobbit” was planned for cinematic release, ya..I was excited.

Last year we had our first taste, and granted, it was no LOTR, but not bad Jackson, not bad. When three films were announced, I was skeptical. Three is a lot. But then, we heard the appendices et al would feature, so I felt a bit more at ease. I myself knew one film would be enough to tell The Hobbit, but not very well. To me, in two films you could faithfully adapt the book and make two very good movies. Perhaps the break could have come at Mirkwood, though let’s not argue that here. What we have to work with is what’s given, and that’s three films. The second film came with a whole roster of changes, including extra characters, new plot lines and changes to original material. This always happens with adaptions. A book works slowly, and can have its effect in that way. On screen though, we need constant visual stimulation. Otherwise we grow tired. So I knew the original thing wasn’t gonna cut it in cinema. It was too formal, too organised and too moderated. Cinema needs more freedom than books do. But too much freedom and creative control can damage original material a lot, which I felt was the problem with The Desolation of Smaug (TDOS after this).

I have too much to say on all this, so I’ll go with numbers and try keep it short (hah, unlikely though).

  1. Really childish action– This was probably the biggest flaw, one I’m sad to say carried over and multiplied from film one. Some would argue The Hobbit is a childish book, and so it’s OK, but since the tone has been adapted to fit LOTR, those people can go be wrong somewhere else. Every action sequence felt like a video game (that barrel one extremely looked like one too). There was no sense of danger like the Battle of Osgiliath, where anyone was fair game. Here the heroes felt invincible. There was no heroic and emotional sacrifice like Boromir, instead just a series of smiling dwarves killing orcs like they needed psychiatric support. It’s bad enough the poor characterization makes it hard to care for our heroes, but worse again that we know there is no chance they’re going to die. During the LOTR trilogy, I knew who would die and when, but even then I still doubted myself. Here, where again I know who dies and when, I sit completely calm as I know no number of orcs (of which there were many)  can stop our heroes picking them off in funnier and funnier fashions. That whole scene paved over one of the more well written and cherished chapters of the book, and replaced it with ten minutes of “kill orcs to win prizes NOW”. Orcs going down in twos and threes, orcs being flattened by barrels, and worst, orcs being catapulted up so Legolas can chop their head off. Did I say Legolas?
  2. LEGOLAS! Seriously though, why is he here? OK, I suppose considering they do go to Mirkwood, it is perfectly conceivable that a certain elf prince would be there. But that’s not why he is here. He is here, because somewhere out in the audience, people are going “he was in the other ones too!” Legolas was a good character in LOTR, now he has been cheapened down beyond comparison. No bit of his character has remained from the original trilogy, a fact I’m sure Jackson will say is due to “not being mature enough yet”. Yes, Jackson, I’m sure it’s perfectly conceivable that a few thousand year old elf would be obnoxious, reckless and all round annoying, but in seventy years completely change his entire personality because he “grew”. In the film series so far, he can only be described as a middle earth gatling gun, and a 2D one at that if we’re being honest. The fact he is given a love interest is even cringier, and no amount of “oh look he sees Gimli” is gonna make up for any of it.
  3. Tauriel- No, I’m not objecting to the presence of a girl in Middle earth (let’s face, we never see them). What I am objecting to is the idea that for the film to be good the producers felt she had to be there. And yes, that is why she is there. I’m sorry to anyone who loves this character, but her entire birth into the film is based on the fact that big corporate film makers think the normal population would be in uproar if a film ever went without both genders (because remember guys, Saving Private Ryan got horrible press..right?). What’s sadder is that in the modern generation, maybe they would be. Tolkien didn’t create Tauriel. Whereas Azog and the boys at least have some basis in the Appendices, this one is clean cut the creation of Jackson and co. When I heard it, I hated it, and then I was OK with it. After the movie, I hated it again. I think better film makers could have made it work, moulding the character into the story and making it realistic. I mean, real fans should have been worried enough when it was announced all her scenes were re-shoots. That just reeks of “We didn’t have it in their first, but then we showed it to our big producer daddy who said they wouldn’t put it on the fridge unless it had a girl”. I think Jackson went all out to show just how many orcs Katniss Everdeen Tauriel could kill in one film. We get it Jackson, girls can kill people too. Do they really have to carbon copy Legolas, who at this stage is a much better looking Rambo and nothing more, into a girl version just to spell out the most obvious message of the 20th century? All Evangeline Lily’s lines were weak, not her own fault, I mean after all, she had the huge task of convincing an audience this entire character fit into a story that they didn’t. But no, if only they stopped at the huge cliché that any girl in a fantasy film/book has to be either unbelievably attractive or a killing machine (bonus points here, they managed BOTH). Worse again, they stuck up their other middle finger to girls everywhere when they gave the character not one, but two romances. It is downright blatant sexism to include one girl in a movie, and then spend all of her lines having her fawn after elven Rambo and, well, what I would even admit is an attractive dwarf. As I quoted on another blog post, this was literally “I’m a strong independent elf who don’t need no other elf”. What she did need, it seems, is to cross cultural barriers put up by the author himself just to get across as many “nothing triumphs love” as humanly (should this be elvenly?) possible. There is really no end to the problems with this character, whose killing scenes well outrun any time given to Bilbo (remember him, he’s a hobbit isn’t he?). I feel most sorry for Evageline Lily, whose good acting skills would have been more than enough to portray Tauriel had she been included in a fair fashion. At the moment, she literally is stealing the show. If ever a character was so unflawed, it’s Tauriel. Her credits should literally roll as “Tauriel, played by (a) Martin Luther King (b) Mila Kunis (c) Mother Theresa (d) The entire team from the avengers (e) The concept of good will and kindness.” Arwen worked well in LOTR, but please Jackson, if you want to inject more girls into The Hobbit, please do it tastefully. (P.S. it is a huge plot hole to tell Tauriel she can’t have Legolas because she’s a lower class of elf, yet then have her as the captain of the entire royal guard…awkward).
  4. Bilbo…or lack thereof – Imagine my shock when, having watched TDOS, I walk out having seen nothing to do with a hobbit. On a serious note though, this film was the marring of the entire series, no matter how much the third one picks up. People will say the first one was long, granted, it was. But at least it felt like the book a little. Martin Freeman convinced me he was “on an unexpected journey”. It really felt like that childish sense of wonderment you get when reading the book. Film two abolished all that. Not only did Bilbo see as little screen time as possible (think Jackson’s cameo actually outran our eponymous hobbit), but anything with him was completely out of fell of the book. The only moment we even got close was during the Smaug scene, and even that was cut short by MORE action (more on that next). The whole second movie became for Bilbo what LOTR was for Frodo; a desperate struggle against the one ring. Only problem is that is literally not even close to what the books intends. The one ring wasn’t even “the one ring” when the hobbit was published. And yes, I’m aware Tolkien did later revisions to merge the books together, but still, only motivating Bilbo on the ring basically takes the entire book and shakes it upside down until all the substance falls out. It’s a shame that a chance at getting a real story on the underdog turned into “here are the overdogs doing their thing for the 234567th time this movie” (coincidentally, that’s exactly one tenth of the orcs that die in this movie).
  5. That last action sequence – If ever I thought in there Jackson had one more nail to drive in Tolkien’s coffin, I didn’t see it coming here. We were at the lonely mountain, all you have to do is put in those tantalizingly good exchanges between our dragon and bilbo and then send Smaug off to Laketown. BUT NO. Apparently the people need one last dopamine attack. Enter half an hour of unscripted action sequences involving a rather cumbersome Smaug chasing our dwarves (oh and Bilbo) around Erebor. If Smaug could breathe fire, he’d have killed them easy (oh wait he can! Are we sure?) But then it’s on to the grande finale. We’ve already accomplished destroying Tolkien’s work, we need something else to defy. Poor physics, never saw it coming. Watch as Thorin Oakenshield sails along a MOLTEN gold river on nothing more than an iron sheet. If dwarves can withstand this kind of heat, why not just bask in Smaug’s hell fire and get their tan on. I suppose their too busy trying to let loose an entire gold statue on Smaug by melting it (in the most ridiculous fashion of all time). Oh but look, heat didn’t kill a dragon. Damn, was sure that would work.

Reaction to “The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug” official trailer

Just seen it. Admittedly I thought it was something from a couple months back I’ve already seen. But this was all different. Good different…….? I’m not so sure. I’m a big Tolkien fan. Honestly it was the movies that got me into it. Realistically how many eight year olds dive into a book that big anyway. By big I mean The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is actually a pretty easy read. So when I saw the ad and decided that perhaps it was new and deserved two minutes of my time, it’s fair to say I was still somewhat excited (even if it was the old trailer). Afterwards I had mixed emotions. On the whole it looks more of the same from last year, which in general was “Well that is a fun,not-too-ridiculous adaption of a good Tolkien novel”. That being said the movie last year got away with a lot of stuff that fans were happy to brush over in favour of seeing big screen versions of their favourite books. But with the series already coming under heavy criticism for running into three monumental sized pieces, this time the producers could be less lucky.

Even from the first few seconds the massive excitement comes from hearing Martin Freeman coolly act out more of the lines of Bilbo Baggins. Playing the lead in the series, Freeman made much of the first movie better than it probably was. He’s got a certain connection to his character that makes Ian Mckellen seem to be in two places at once. But the excitement soon starts drowning in a couple of “really…..that?”. The first big thing the movie could flop in is TOO MUCH ELVES. My god, anybody who reads the book is like “why is Legolas here?” Granted the choice isn’t too farfetched with the storyline and serves to bring in more fans, but the fact that he features so much in even two minutes has me worried. There seems to be a lot of elves fighting orcs, elves discussing the plot, and elves in love interests with elves. I’m all for examining more of Tolkien’s favourite characters, but at the moment it looks like it could venture over the top. Evangeline Lily is a fairly talented actress. She was quite convincing as Kate in Lost. But having her in there as a token just seems like the movie is lowering its standards so the masses have something to jump in for. Some may say Arwen had a similar makeover for LOTR, moving up from her (I think) two lines in the book to having significant screen time. Even so, at least she was an original character, not just some idle flick of a film maker’s wand hoping to cast a female friendly aura over Tolkien’s work. An adaption shouldn’t have to dot hat. Take what’s there or go elsewhere.

The same applies for the evidence of a ridiculous amount of fight scenes. When this franchise stretched into three bits, I knew Peter Jackson was gonna have to invent a large amount of unscripted action just to keep us entertained. I was right. The whole thing seems to be full of orcs grappling with elves or dwarves escaping in arrow ridden barrels. Seriously, it takes from the plot to have it dumbed down to nothing more than a middle earth die hard.

The only extra that seems completely justifiable is the inclusion of the appendices reference to the necromancer. If Jackson wanted to help keep this tying up well to LOTR, he was right to throw this in. With like nine hours of film, why not? It happened and it’s a nice addition for real enthusiasts. Gandalf has delivered in all four films so far so having more of him may help move the whole thing along much smoother.

The section with the spiders looks like it could be well done, and the part at the lonely mountain seems worthwhile. I’ll be interested to see where they cut off and how Jackson delivers in his last installment. Until then, I’ll tell the purely fan side of me to shut up and enjoy the fact that a great story like this has come to light in such a way that a movie is there at all. An adaption can succeed in change if the change turns out good. In fact, without Jackson and all his little twitches of the tale, would I even be here at all as a massive fan?