Aeronaut’s Windlass

By Jim Butcher. Aeronaut’s Windlass. Great book. This is the first new fantasy book I’ve read in a long time that I genuinely enjoyed from page one to the finish. He created an imaginative, accessible world for this story. Solid, interesting characters that don’t feel like a fantasy geek’s typical stereotypes. Thoughtful, fascinating plot. Polished dialogue. I was further intrigued by the overall worldview he used as a foundation for the story: clear right and wrong, but still allowing for internal moral conflicts generated by decent characters operating in bad situations. No whiff of nihilism; refreshing, that, as so much epic fantasy these days is drowning in nihilism.

While I’ve read Butcher’s other books, such as the Dresden Files, I can’t recommend them for various reasons (despite how well they’re written). Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, I recommend.


Metal and Magic

Metal and MagicI’m currently part of a multi-author boxset of epic fantasy called Metal and Magic. If you’d like a bunch of books about magic and adventure and all those sorts of things, give it a try! It’s free! Get it before the world ends.

The bundle has 6 books in it, including the first book of my Tormay Trilogy (which I hope you’ve already read–if you haven’t, get busy!). Anyway, the boxset is free on most sites:

Amazon

Itunes

Nook

Kobo

Google Play


fantasy and a child’s point of view

Children see the world in such a profoundly different way than us adults. Most children. And most adults.

My three boys are still young. And with that youth they still have a clarity of eye in how they see life. They enjoy it. They’re delighted by it, surprised and pleased by it. They take a great deal of pleasure in simple things that most adults would not even bother noticing.

Life is still magical for them. I suppose it won’t be for long, and that’s a melancholy thought. But, for now, I can see their eyes light up over the smallest and oddest things. For instance, the other day I think I randomly mentioned the idea of cats secretly baking pastries at night (or something equally silly–silly from my adult perspective). They laughed uproariously at this, but, in a certain way, they took it seriously as well. I could see the wheels turning in their heads as they considered the idea of Duster (our cat) silently and sneakily baking croissants and bear claws in the kitchen at 2 in the morning.

I’ve realized lately, considering the perspective of my boys, and the sheer joy they get from that perspective, that the fantasy genre offers the same possibility. The possibility of a new perspective. Of joy in seeing things afresh again. Of seeing the world’s first day, of new vistas and quests and danger met cheerfully. Worlds beyond worlds.

Oh, yes, I know there’s plenty of anarchic, nihilist fantasy out there these days. More and more, I suppose, popularized by George Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and copy-catted ever since in dreary, factory output. Conveyor belts of the stuff coming through Amazon.

But I’m not talking about that kind of fantasy. I’m talking about Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton. Patricia Mckillop’s Riddlemaster trilogy, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I’d humbly include my Tormay trilogy in that tradition as well. Certainly not as one of the greats, of course, but with that same peek through the window at the world’s first day.

Unless you become like children, right? They’re the ones who still have a worthwhile way to look at things these days (not if they’re already preoccupied by that dreadful nitwit Miley Cyrus or glued to their iPhone or whatever, but you know what I mean), and, I suspect, that’s why fantasy as a genre has something going for it that you really can’t find in other genres. Not often, at least.

Some of you reading this might think I’m babbling like a soft-minded fool. That’s alright. Others of you might understand. If you do, well, think on it for yourself for a while. Promise me that.


The Dreariness of Fantasy…Mostly

I find myself closing most fantasy these days. Closing it before finishing the book. And this is something that is anathema to me. I can’t abide starting something and not finishing it. If you do that too many times in life, it starts to numb your soul. Eventually, it will leave you with little life left.

But I cannot finish most fantasies these days. They leave me in despair, just as most broadcast news, entertainment, politics, the things that pass for popular culture, they usually do the same. Darkness is winning the battle against hope.

There are no more Tolkiens left. He was a unique man, granted, born and educated during unique times. He correctly saw the fall of the West, despite two dreadful wars that were won against the evil of totalitarianism. There are other ways for countries to fall in battle than on mere and literal battlefields. The West, despite defeating Hitler, was losing its war to the Visigoths of culture within the gate.

And Tolkien saw that. He also saw that heroes were not to be found among the might of men, but amidst the humility of the weak waiting upon the divine rights of providence. Aragorn could not save the West. Even Frodo himself could not, but the inexorable and quite hand of providence could, leading the little hobbits along their unlikely path to a fixed appointment with doom and destiny.

If Tolkien’s perspective was not clear, then consider, in The Return of the King, his juxtaposition of Aragorn leading the might of the free West to the gates of Mordor and subsequent despair as the armies of Sauron are revealed, versus Sam and Frodo wearily making their way to the fires of Mount Doom. The message is painfully evident: the heroism of Man can only go so far (and not that far at all). The real cog of history is the tiny wheel that labors away in obscurity and, at the end of the day, must rely on much deeper strengths than itself: the crooked, providentially cursed life of Gollum, the Eagles, sacrifice.

Light in the darkness. As opposed to most stories these days, which are dreary variations of meaningless in the darkness, sex in the darkness, violence in the darkness, navel-gazing in the darkness, darkness in the darkness. When you’ve read one or watched one, you’ve read and watched them all.

Mind you, before you accuse me of complete despair and sweeping statements, I said “mostly.”

And what is my pompous recommendation? Read more of older books. Dip cautiously into newer books with a critical eye and ear. Be careful. Young trees do not have much to speak of in the roots department. But old ones do. And the old trees that had rotten roots dipped down into diseased waters, why, they’ve already fallen down and crumbled away.


The new Tormay tale: The Seal Whistle

Tormay TalesFinally. My newest Tormay tale is published and live on Amazon. Still have to get it up on B&N and other places, but Amazon is the gorilla we all have to genuflect before these days.

I’ve only published two stories so far in the Tormay Tales series, The Silver Girl and The Seal Whistle. Tormay Tales isn’t a proper series. It’s just a loose collection of stories that take place in Tormay featuring whatever characters have been whispering the most insistently in my head.

The Seal Whistle is of interest to me because it uses a small story from The Hawk and His Boy as its foundation. There’s a scene in the Hawk when Levoreth Callas is riding across the Scarpe plain and she muses about a certain notable family and one of its rather mysterious members. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin the story for you. It answered some questions for me, and I hope it does the same for you.


The Hobbit and Kardashian marketing

I must say I’m not that enthused about Peter Jackson spinning out The Hobbit into three parts. He’s taken quite a few liberties with Mr. Tolkien’s untouchable tale, some of them rather benign and some of them (girl elf-Fili, or Kili, whatever, love story) reprehensible. Jackson should have his beard shaved off for that one in the manner of the king’s emissaries who were humiliated at the court of Edom (or wherever).

At any rate, it’s galling that Sir Jackson (Sir Jackson? that’s what people get knighted for these days, as opposed to fighting the Moslems at the battle of Tours?) has gone the route of Kim Kardashian marketing with the good Professor’s wit. Spin it out, enlarge it, hash and dash it and repackage it with something shiny.

Yes, I’m going to go see the movie. Even though I’ll gnash my teeth from time to time (sans popcorn, as it doesn’t seem to agree with my health — little agrees with my health these days; save me, Jonathan Gruber!, or at least let me know when I’m supposed to die so I can schedule my dry cleaning accordingly).

And, yes, I’m almost ready to publish the latest Tormay story. Hopefully before my dry cleaning’s date with destiny. Wait. Am I talking about clothes or closure?

And, yes, winter is coming, and that has nothing to do with George Martin. It’s simply winter, a much more profound and persistent entity than any Stark.


The Rangers ready to start filming

woodland

Woodland location for The Rangers

The Rangers will start filming on August 15. I have to admit, it is much more peaceful to just write scripts and let other people film them. I get to lounge around in California while Ron Newcomb (director) and Scott Mathias (producer) and their teeming minions do all the hard work out in Virginia. I’m already feeling tired just thinking about their shooting schedule.

Anyway, like I said, they’re going to start filming on August 15 and will be filming for 9 absolutely packed days. Two crews, four cameras, breakneck speed. Quite a large cast, lots of extras, actors flying in from quite far away (Scandinavia, for some of the elves, I think). What’s more, this is a period piece.

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

The dwarf Tiberius from The Ranger

Yep. Period piece. The Rangers is not specifically a spin-off of The Lord of the Rings, but it comes close in look and feel. Medievalish setting. Elves. Orcs. Rangers. Wizards. Lots of weaponry. Fighting. Magic. A dragon makes a brief appearance. Definitely a period piece (those are much harder to pull off in terms of sets, costumes, etc, in case you’re wondering why I mentioned it).

Like I said, I’m lounging in California while they’re doing the heavy lifting. Filming, if you’re not getting the hint, is not glamorous. It’s a lot of work. Hard work. There’s a great deal of time that’s already gone into the pre-production phase: scouting, casting, a great deal of armor, weaponry and clothing had to be constructed, script development (I’m about to finalize the 9th draft), securing crew, finances…

Anyway, like I parentheticalized above, I’m about to finalize the 9th draft of the script. After that? Onto the next script. I’ve got a fairly goofy idea for a romantic comedy. If I can’t get Ron and Scott to go for it, I think I’ll shoot it myself out here in California. Which means I’ll be doing all the hard work…


Seal Whistle almost done

The Seal Whistle is almost done. I’m wrestling with the main ending scene. Tying loose strings together into one coherent finish. I find that the dramatic end of a story is quite different, can be quite different, from the personal end of the story for the characters. Which is why I wrote the end of A Storm in Tormay the way I did. It ended with what happened to the characters after the ending climactic scene. After, mind you. That’s the way I see stories ending (I’m writing primarily for myself). Not with a bang and a flourish and a crash of cymbals, but with the long, smooth legato of violins and the sun setting as smoothly and serenely as it always does.

Because that’s who I want to be. And how I want to die. Of course.

I have to bring up death in this context. A great deal of the fairytales, the genuine ones, have to do with death and endings and partings. Things changing irrevocably. The adventure over, the marriage begun, the evil vanquished, the wicked stepmother nailed into a barrel and rolled down into the sea (whatever happened to her next?). That’s exactly what Tolkien did at the end of The Return of the King. He was writing about death and dreadfully solemn endings to life. Things fading away with as much serenity as a ship sailing over the horizon from the Grey Havens. Because those things were even more important than the fall of Sauron.

But, in that, there is joy.

Not for the George R. R. Martins and Abercrombies and Patrick Rothfuss minions of the world. Nope. They’ve thought themselves into a box that is defined, described, bordered (up, down, top and sides) by human self. The style is well done–I won’t fault them on that–but the substance runs dry of hope. Which is logical. The human creature cannot find hope in and of himself.

Which is why you cannot will not will never can never find Tolkien’s eucatastrophe in any of their stories. For me, it’s like deliberately painting in black and white and steadfastly ignoring the dazzling panoply of color patiently waiting on the palette. Waiting and never used. Like going about with a blue plastic umbrella always over your head and thinking, this is my sky. This blue plastic curve is my sky, and that’s it.

And refusing to listen to the crash of thunder and the wind and the lightning and the rain and the sunset splashing down in more shades of purple and red and orange you could every find words to describe. All that true sky happening outside and above your umbrella, and you’re still steadfastly muttering “this blue plastic curve two inches above my head is my sky, the sky, the only sky.”

For me, that’s epic fantasy without eucatastrophe. Without joy.


Hawk and His Boy on Audible

The Hawk and His Boy, the first book in the Tormay Trilogy, is now available on Audible.com. If you’re an audio-book lover, click on over and get a copy. The very talented Wayne Farrell did the narration, and he’ll be narrating books two and three as well. I’m extremely pleased to have another format available. I suppose the next format to tackle would be a film or TV version. If anyone has Joss Whedon‘s cell phone number, please let me know.