12th draft just finished of the super secret script project. Not my idea, but my execution. Based on an idea thought up by an old friend. Fairly mind-blowing.
2/3 of a new epic fantasy done. 160,000 words and counting. It’s turning into a doorstop.
First song finished and recorded for next Inflatable Hippies album (just think of all those hippies floating through the sky–what a pastorally atmospheric sight, particularly during a beautiful sunset). Not a Christmas album at all. This one is more of a protest album. There’s plenty of things to protest on this, the third day of the new year. And the list will grow.
Every dream has got an end,
wake up in your bed.
But the light’s gone gray,
is this day
or are we dreaming instead?
Every story’s got an end
you know it in your head.
But the pages turn,
is there time to learn
before we wake up dead?
I’m kind of going in a Linkin Park meets Green Day, but in a more sensible fashion.
My eldest has recently become interested in the Marvel movies. So, under no great duress, I’ve been watching some of them with him. I’ve seen most of them before, but it is a pleasure to watch them again, chiefly due to seeing how he enjoys them.
For the most part, they aren’t bad movies. They’re fun. Worthy of popcorn and putting your brain completely on hold for a few hours. Though, I have to say, Marvel has become addicted to a particular sort of end routine. It usually consists of huge things blowing up in the sky while New York or the world is about to end (yet again). This gets old after a while. There are a couple Marvel movies that deviate from this ending, such as the two Ant Mans, Black Panther (a rather dull movie, in my opinion, other than the world-building of Wakanda and Andy Serkis’ character) and Spiderman: Homecoming, but the Avengers movies are the worst offenders.
Big hole in the sky? Check. Weird creatures from other dimension/galaxy showingup? New York City smashed to bits for the umpteenth zillion time? Check. Small country in the Balkans about to get nuked? Check? The first Infinity Wars faithfully followed this tried and true recipe, with the somewhat ritalinizing addition of people vanishing en masse and an open ending (due to the fact that Marvel and Disney are intent on squeezing more nickels from the turnip via the sequels).
Despite, the frivolous amusement of the Marvel movies, they share a collective vacuum, a narrative absence equivalent to a galaxy-killing black hole. The villain. There are no Saurons in the Marvel universe.
The villains, large and small, from Michael Keaton’s conflicted father-businessman in Spiderman: Homecoming, to Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Infinity Wars, are really a bunch of shallow, whining milksops. They behave badly enough, I’m not arguing that. They blow stuff up, murder people, don’t seem to recycle, etc., but they aren’t villains in any profound way. They’re villains because of dreary things like resentment (Adrian Toomes in Spiderman: Homecoming), greed (Darren Cross in Ant Man 1), environmentalism (Thanos in Infinity Wars), resentment (both Loki andHela in the Thor movies), lust for power (Hydra in various movies).
I’m not saying these motivations make for completely dull villains. They’re decent motivations. In fact, they’re humanizing motivations because all of us as individuals fall prey to these temptations in different ways and in different intensities. And, while I don’t subscribe to environmentalism in any degree that would prompt crime on my part, there are nuts out there who run amok accordingly due to love of trees, small rodents, plankton, etc. However, these motivations, recognizable in their familiarity (as we all have the potential to be wicked in the quietness of our hearts), cannot stir us much beyond our cinematic enjoyment, because of that same dreary familiarity.
Thanos, the most impressive of the Marvel villains, to put it mildly, is not Sauron.
Thanos, despite his dedication to wiping out half of all life in the universe, is a bit of a dud in the villain occupation. There’s not much more to his wickedness than that. There’s no profound depth of evil in him. There’s no articulation in the choices of his character that evil is an absolute thing, a thing of vile corruption completely devoted to destruction of truth, beauty and goodness, a brutal concept that has existed outside the universe from before time began.
Thanos is merely mixed up in his logic about natural resources and how their potential interacts with the purposes and needs of society. He went to the wrong college and took the wrong classes.
Tolkien had a much more profound grasp of villains and evil. He ran deep in his writing, plumbing the depths of what evil and good truly mean, while Marvel seems to find most of their material for villainous behavior on the floor of the psychologist’s office. Or, arguably, at best, ripped off from the dark nihilism of German national socialism. I have to admit, that’s probably been their best villain motivator, and they’ve certainly gone to that well plenty of times.
Hela, the goddess of death in Thor: Ragnarok, had tremendous promise. But she was reduced to a ho-hum motivation from a failed father-daughter relationship. Tolkien would have been wise enough to not use that color. He might’ve dabbled in it for some cosmetic dressing, but he would have scorned it as the dark foundation. He saw the world from an absolutist point of view, that good and evil are realities that exist outside of Man, that evil does not spring from the choices of Man, but that Man chooses evil. Or good, hopefully, from time to time. And this one difference, as opposed to the mindless materialist view of the Marvel universe, creates a great divide between Sauron and the spandex moderns.
Tony Stark would’ve died in Mordor. Sauron would’ve seen to that. All of today’s cheerful choices to defend freedom for the sake of freedom, built on an airy framework of nothing at all (at least, that’s what it’s become these days), would’ve crumbled into ruin on those dark plains. If they’d have even gotten that far.
The foundation stones of Barad-dur go down very far. Far below our everyday villainry. Far below even the best philosophies of our material world. And, as such, the hero who seeks to defeat such an evil must do so with something that is not a comfortable native of the world of men.
Which, again, is why Sauron would’ve easily defeated Ironman.
Noblebright fantasy love? What’s that? And what does love have to do with this genre? Practically everything. And if you take a peek behind the curtain, if you really look behind the curtain, not just practically everything, but absolutely everything.
Odysseus sailing home to Penelope. Romeo and Juliet. Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. From Homer to modern times, the stories of literature are often formed by the love between a man and a woman. And, in many instances, a story is not just formed by that particular relationship, but it is the heart of the story. Could Shakespeare have written Romeo and Juliet without Romeo and Juliet?
That sounds rather self-evident, but we sometimes need to re-aquaint ourselves with glaringly obvious truths. A great many stories are only possible because of love.
It’s important to note here that I refer to agape love (or sacrificial love) rather than erotic love. Agape love can, of course, refer to much more than merely the love between a man and a woman. It can be the love one has for country, family or friends. Despite the fact that Shakespeare found English handy enough to work with, it is limited in some regards, particularly with the word snow (as opposed to the Inuit language having more than a dozen variations of the word) and the fact that English has only word for the idea of love has caused many a stumble in relationships, writing and dreary high school literature classes.
A Reminder of the Noblebright Context
As you know (or should know), I write primarily in the epic fantasy, specifically in the noblebright category of that genre. I’ve mentioned noblebright before, but, for sake of clarity and the context of the point I’m underscoring in this brief essay, noblebright is simply fantasy in which life is portrayed via the worldview that absolute good and evil exist. The main character or other characters make choices or strive to make the right choice in the context of good and evil. This doesn’t mean, of course, that such characters always make the right choices like good little robots. It doesn’t mean they never fail. It doesn’t mean that everything is sweetness and light. Noblebright does mean, however, that choosing good is worthwhile, that hope, courage, nobility and redemption are worth dying for.
If you want to read a more comprehensive discussion of what noblebright is, I would point you to the site of CJ Brightley, a fellow noblebright writer.
Anyway, what does all this have to do with Odysseus and Penelope and all the other love stories of literature?
Like I said at the beginning, everything. Regardless of genre, the love relationship in a story has a noblebright heart if the relationship is ultimately defined by hope and self-sacrifice. The love between a man and a woman only truly works within the context of an absolutist concept of good and evil. The princess is only worth dying for if love means laying one’s life down for her, either in genuine death or the little, everyday deaths of preferring her above self.
Love has to mean something if it is worthy enough to demand sacrifice. If love is only defined by hormonal needs, physical urges, or the survival and propagation of the species, the continuation of king and country, then, honestly, at the end of the day, who really wants to sacrifice for that?
But if love means something more… This choice of laying down one’s life, as I’ve alluded to previously, does not only apply to the agape relationship between a man and a woman. It can manifest in equal beauty and power in love of country, family and friends.
This hopeful and noble impulse to lay one’s life down, to sacrifice one’s mirror-gazing impulses of me, mine and what I desire, has provided the beautifully powerful engine of motivation for countless stories. This motivation isn’t universal within literature, but it seems nearly so, once you take a hard look around the books on your shelf. The Count of Monte Cristo? Dantes’ desire for revenge is largely motivated by his grief and loss of his fiancée Mercedes. Tale of Two Cities? The story would collapse without the love between Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette and, more importantly, the sacrificial love of Sydney Carton for Lucie. The Lord of the Rings? A great deal of Aragorn’s motivation revolves around his love for Arwen.
Roald Dahl and Family
James and the Giant, or practically most any of Roald Dahl’s books for children, is underscored by a love of family. Rather, James’ primary motivation is the grief he suffers because of the death of his parents and his subsequent search to find a new family. This urge is so powerful for him that he is even hopeful, at first, in finding such a relationship with his aunts Spiker and Sponge, before settling on his unlikely insect friends.
Circling back around to the genre of epic fantasy, Aragorn and Arwen cast a long shadow across the younger fantasy writers of the 20th century and 21st century. While most modern noblebright fantasies don’t necessarily have romances woven through them, the qualities of sacrifice and agape love are common to them. Soldiers ride off to war, or adventurers sally forth on their quests, often for the sake of those they leave behind.
A Storm in Tormay
In my trilogy, A Storm in Tormay, I used love as a motivation for several of my main characters. With Jute, my lead character, most of his motivation sprang from his lack of family. He was an orphan, essentially defined by that loneliness, and always hopefully looking for a way to heal his heart. If you’re familiar with the story, this will explain his patience with the acerbic hawk and the irritating ghost, not to mention Ronan. And Ronan himself, the bitter assassin, his choices in the story are mostly motivated by his unrequited love for the sea girl Liss. Even though she could have forced him to spend his life protecting Jute, she wisely knew he would have more resolve if he made that choice of his own free will, a free will bowing at the altar of agape love.
The Odd Limitation of Grimdark
Interestingly enough, you simply cannot write a character capable of sacrificing his life for others outside of the noblebright context of absolutist good and evil. And this connective thread leads me back to my rather brash statement in the beginning that love has everything to do with noblebright. Not just practically everything, but everything.
Grimdark (George Martin and compatriots) is the epic fantasy genre counterpart of noblebright. While full of highly accomplished and amazing storytellers, grimdark tends to fall oddly flat in most instances of agape love. To be blunt, grimdark simply doesn’t exist within the necessary worldview to support such love. Its worldview is amoral, and genuine sacrifice made out of hope, faith and love, can’t find the oxygen to live within such a bleak landscape.
Noblebright, on the other hand, exists within an absolutist view of good and evil. That is, good and evil exist external to mankind. Mankind, of course, can certainly choose to devote itself to evil, but evil does not need mankind to define it, create it, or live and breathe to keep it alive as a concept or a thing.
The same goes for good.
And the good that exists external to mankind is love. Shining, triumphant, hopeful and patient in its sacrifice. Thus, Odysseus had enough hope to sail the long voyage home, Sydney Carton found the strength to make that last ride in the tumbril, and Arwen laid down her immortality to wed Aragorn.
A friend of mine, C. J. Brightley, is publishing two new noblebright books. The first, a Christmas novella, is called Twelve Days of (Faerie) Christmas, and will be released on February 27, which happens to be tomorrow. The second book, Fell Beasts and Fair, is an anthology that she edited.
Please take a moment and check both of them out. If you don’t know, noblebright is a new movement within the fantasy world of stories that are generally hopeful in tone, shot through with a certain amount of redemption and staffed with a main character that, while sometimes flawed (aren’t we all?), has the courage to eventually make brave and true choices.
This isn’t to say that noblebright stories are all sweetness and light and sparkly unicorns. Eeyargh, as the poet so succinctly said (back in the Neanderthal Era). Noblebright can be quite dark. Darkness is never the issue because, after all, even a little light shines brightly in the darkness.
Recently, I was involved with an anthology of Noblebright epic fantasy books called LUMINOUS. A superb bunch of authors collaborated on that project, and today one of them, L. Jagi Lamplighter, is visiting the site for a chat about the Noblebright genre, her book, and other stuff. Speaking of other stuff, before we dive into the interview with LJ, I need to mention that the LUMINOUS project is running a fantastic giveaway. You can win a Lord of the Rings “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” tote bag, a Harry Potter “I Solemnly Swear I’m Up To No Good” journal (perfect for any of my three rascally sons), and some other author stuff. Be sure to check out the end of this post for those details. Anyway, without further ado, let’s chat about Noblebright and fantasy and other things with LJ.
LJ, thanks for stopping by. We obviously want to talk a lot about Noblebright, as that’s becoming quite the burgeoning genre these days, so, first off, what does that term mean to you?
I am a founding member of the Superversive Literary Movement. If subversive is change by undermining from below, then Superversive is change by inspiring from above. I see Noblebright as a companion idea to Superversive stories. Both movements stress heroes, fair play, nobility, bravery, and moral virtue. They offer a tiny spark of light in the darkness, against the overwhelming dark and violent landscape that is today’s popular entertainment.
You’re right on the prevalence of dark entertainment. Entertainment, culture and society in general! We need an antidote. How do you portray the Noblebright ideals in your work in general and the Luminous selection in particular?
Some years ago, my husband (Author John C. Wright) pointed out that many modern books and TV shows have demons, but almost none of them mention angels and Heaven. (He did not count “angels” who claimed to be on the side of “God” but basically acted like demons.) They explore darkness but contain very little light. I try to write stories that have moments of brightness as well as darker moments, where wonder and awe bring joy as well as sorrow. This is one of the reason that I so enjoy writing the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment. Dark things happen in these stories, but there are also moments of grace and pure joy—moments that lift the reader out of the ordinary, reminding them that there is something greater—something far better—that occasionally reaches down and touches us transforming our lives.
I don’t know if you’ve finished reading the entire Luminous collection, but do you have a favorite book among them?
I have not read all ten yet, but my favourite so far is Wolfskin. I like the spunk of the girl who wants to be a pirate but who settles for being the apprentice of a witch. I like the subtle way in which the magic works, so that the forest seems to live and pulse around her. The story includes a charming romance, but because of the initial age of the girl , the story is not just a romance but also includes a solid mix of adventure and intrigue. I felt the characters were well drawn, and the magic system was very interesting. The girl had a good heart, which is what leads to her triumph. I really enjoyed the book.
You’ve written quite a few books, among them your Prospero’s Children trilogy based on Shakespeare’s Tempest, as well as the Unexpected Enlightenment trilogy. When you’re writing (and reading–though, I suppose there’s quite an overlap between the two perspectives), what’s your favorite sort of character?
I would say that this question depends on whether you mean favourite protagonists or favourite characters in general. For protagonists, I like intelligent and courageous characters who use their wits to solve knotty problems. I love spirited female protagonists, but I am not a fan of fighting women who basically act like pretty men. I want the girl to solve problems the way a real girl could. My heroines tend to have magic and to be able to do things normal people cannot, but it is usually their intelligence, their cleverness, and their willingness to speak to and occasionally trust people others avoid—rather than their power—that saves the day. My main character in the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment, Rachel Griffin, the thirteen-year-old daughter of an English duke, has a perfect memory. This means that she never forgets any clues. This, combined with her courage and fortitude, makes her a character who is a delight to write. I am also a fan of dark, majestic, impressive male characters. Picture Spock, Dr. Doom, Aragorn (book version, not movie), or Snape (movie version, not book.). I love this kind of character—particularly when they are menacing but noble. I try to make sure that the male characters in my stories actually speak and act like men, which is surprisingly rare in YA literature.
In the Luminous collection, you included your novel Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, the third book in your Unexpected Enlightenment series. Do you have plans for a sequel?
The Fourth Book of Unexpected Enlightenment, which will be called The Awful Truth About Forgetting, should—God willing—be out this October. Many more volumes are expected in this series. While the series is long, it will be divided into arcs. The first arc follows Rachel Griffin’s freshman year at Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. The book that appears in Luminous, Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, is the Third Book of Unexpected Enlightenment. It takes place during October and early November of Rachel’s freshman year and includes the eerie and delightful scenes of her and her boyfriend crashing the Dead Men’s Ball on Halloween night. (Since the book takes place in New York’s Hudson Highlands, this ghostly event includes a hair-raising run-in with the Hudson Valley’s most famous spook, the Headless Horseman.) Book Four follows Rachel’s freshman year from November to early February. I am particularly looking forward to its release because it is the first book in the series which gives the reader a glimpse of the dangers of the greater universe and the direction in which the series really go.
Noblebright is still a rather young genre in terms of it’s name, even though the philosophy behind it has been around for a long time (Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of Noblebright). That said, how would you describe Noblebright to someone who has never heard the term before?
Have you heard of Grimdark? Imagine the opposite. Noble heroes and heroines. Stories of courage and hope.
Being a writer myself, I’m always interested in how other writers operate. How do you like to write?
I write on a computer sitting at a desk. Once, long ago, that desk was in an office—but when we adopted our daughter, we gave her my office for her bedroom. Now, my desk is in the living room, so sometime it is hard to concentrate. Often, my best writing happens after midnight.
Most midnights, I’m sound asleep. Unless there’s a full moon. So, do you have a perfect writing day?
The kids and my husband are busy and don’t really need me. I go rollerblading—to give me some time to think about what I want to say. Then I sit down for hours and write with very little interruptions. Sadly, this has not happened in…a long time. I thought it would get easier now that the kids are teens, but the last couple of years, it has gotten harder. Currently, I am teaching a writing class three days a week for three teens (two of mine and a friend) so I have very little writing time. But…it’s wonderful, and we’re all learning a great deal. I hope once this year is over, I’ll have more days such as I described above again.
I think if a time machine ever gets invented, it’ll be invented by a frustrated writer who simply wants more time to write. I know that’d be my goal if I was a time machine inventor. Though, if I invented one, I think I’d go back in time and have a stern talk with Robert Jordan. “Robert, please, only seven books in the series. Eight, if you must.” Speaking of long books, are you a speed writer, or a turtle writer?
Both. I write quickly once all my mental cylinders are engaged. Sadly, however, this can take time. So I write quickly if I have uninterrupted periods of time… And if not, then not.
Do you find that music or silence or crickets chirping help you write?
I play music while I write, to help keep the other noises in the house at bay, but it can’t be in English, or I get distracted by the lyrics. So I look around for interesting and pleasant songs in other languages. I currently have in my collection that I play while I write a Japanese song, a Chinese version of an English song, an Islantic song, and a French one. What I need now is a Gregorian chant.
I think the whole world could use a Gregorian chant right about now. What is your favorite book to re-read on a rainy afternoon?
When I was a kid, if I stayed home sick from school, I always reread Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three. He still is one of my favourite authors. Other books I love include: War and Peace, Gone With the Wind, Nine Princes In Amber, Voyage of the Dawntreader, Harry Potter, and The Fellowship of the Ring. But really, if I actually had reading time on a rainy day—which almost never happens—I’d probably pick a romance by Mary Balogh, my favourite romance writer.
Lloyd Alexander is, in my humble opinion, one of the most under-appreciated fantasy writers of all time. I’m shocked at the number of fantasy readers that’ve never read his Prydain Chronicles. Those are wonderful books. Okay, I guess it’s about time to wind this up. One last question, for the drinkers among us: tea or coffee?
I used to be addicted to coffee. I thought about it all the time. I am sure that it didn’t help that the local Starbucks opened the day after I found out I was pregnant with my second son, and I had to walk by it every day for nine months without having any. Or that Barnes & Nobles has a coffee shop. My friend and I used to spend all our free time at the bookstore, and, as we were poor, a drink was about all we could afford. (I still remember the day I added up our weekly coffee bill and figured out what I was spending on coffee a year. I felt faint for nearly an hour!) However, one day, I was praying about something entirely different and I realized I had stopped thinking about coffee. I just didn’t want it any more. I took that as a sign from on High and stopped drinking it all together. I am now a huge fan of tea. I love drinking teas of all kinds: herbal, black, green, exotic. Mind is my favourite! Unlike with coffee, however, I seldom think about tea when I am not drinking then, which is a true blessing. Oddly, and rather eerie actually, about the same day I stopped being obsessed with coffee, my husband became obsessed with coffee.
My wife is a coffee and tea fanatic. She drinks enough for both of us, but I drink neither. Oh well, I suppose I’m missing out. Anyway, thank you for stopping by, LJ! Best of luck with your books!
Now, about that giveaway I mentioned! We have an awesome Lord of the Rings tote bag and a Harry Potter themed journal, both yours for the taking. Just click in through to Rafflecopter and toss your name into the ring. You can do it! a Rafflecopter giveaway