Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sickness, Class Work, and Party Prep

Have you already guessed what I'm about to post? Yup, I am going to have to push off my next promised blog post. Life never seems to run smoothly when I need it to!

And the 1950-1999 fantasy reading list will actually be split in two, since there are so many titles I have already gathered. It's great that there is so much wonderful fantasy to read out there. =) These posts might not be the next immediate posts, though, as I will be posting for NaNoWriMo, and I hope to post some reviews on the two new fantasy series on TV - Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Hobbit - The Adventure!

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Hobbit there are spoilers in this essay.

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I remember the first time I read The Hobbit. It was 8th grade, the same year I was exposed to "The Pit and the Pendulum". Perhaps Poe and Tolkien both influenced my love of writing dark fantasy, as it was the following year that I started working on my first (rather horrible) novel. I loved The Hobbit then, and I still do now. The songs, the riddles, the races, the world, and above all the adventure.

"The Hobbit's enduring appeal to children of all ages is exceptional; it is a book with ample craftsmanship and depth to reward repeated readings and a nearly perfect lure into the larger mythos of Middle-earth" (Mathews 60). I couldn't agree more with everything in this statement from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. I have read The Hobbit several times, and I don't think I will ever tire of it. Most importantly, though, it is a story that is a great read for children and adults, just like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I read through it this time, I really saw deeper into the appeal of the adventure and the dichotomy within Bilbo. First, there is the Baggins side of Bilbo. This represents the adult--serious, responsible, and happy to enjoy the comforts of home. Bilbo's Took side, on the other hand, is pure child. It's the side of him that is tempted by the idea of adventure, no matter how uncomfortable and dangerous it might be. "Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce" (Tolkien 18). Children can instantly connect to the Tookish side of Bilbo, the fun and adventurous side. And adults can recognize it too, since there is usually a little Took in all of us, even once we've grown up, buried deep within the responsibility of the Baggins half.

The Took side obviously wins out, with a bit of trickery from Gandalf, and Bilbo runs off on his adventure. And what an adventure it is! The Baggins side invades many times, yearning for the comforts of home, but Bilbo continues on. Throughout the entire book you have a constant rising and falling action: captured by trolls, escape the trolls, captured by goblins, escape the goblins, Bilbo stumbles across Gollum who wants to eat him, and he escapes Gollum as well. And that's in just the first third of the book. Right along this rising and falling action, Bilbo and party are going over and under mountains, up and down trees, through forests and down rivers. Their journey is a perfect mirror for that rising and falling action. Bilbo says it best: "I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led" (Tolkien 221).

Child or adult, it's easy to get sucked into Bilbo's adventures. "Tolkien married the adventure fantasy with epic: suddenly, the journey on which the participants embarked had world-shattering consequences" (Mendlesohn and James 48). This statement mostly refers to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit also has those world-changing consequences. How can a quest that would ultimately disturb an ancient and terrible dragon not? At the end of the book the goblins are nearly wiped out due to a war over the treasure. It's an epic end to an exciting adventure, and I look forward to the next time I read The Hobbit.

Works Cited

Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.

Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Ballantine Books: New York, 1989.

UP NEXT: A reading list of fantasy books from 1950-1999.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Allure of the Unknown in Black God's Kiss

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Black God's Kiss there are spoilers in this essay.

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The main thing that pulls you into the stories in Black God's Kiss is the description of the worlds that Jirel enters. C. L. Moore uses the character of Jirel as a vehicle to explore new and unknown worlds. I found myself dragged along by the need to discover just what Jirel would face next, since the worlds are set up so that almost anything can happen.

In the introduction of the book, Suzy McKee Charnas states, "Moore was clearly as interested in mood and atmosphere as in action" (18). And this is evident right from the first story, "Black God's Kiss". Instead of seeing a deep backstory or an emotional exploration of Jirel, the reader is presented with this weird portal into a strange world--a tube that twists and turns deep into the earth, where there is no up or down. Then, Jirel steps into a world with an expansive night sky, a place where gravity works differently, where strange human apparitions hop through a swamp, and a tower made of light greets her.

Every step Jirel takes in the story, she doesn't know what is to come, nor does the reader, and that's the great appeal of it. The reader looks forward to the new discoveries and the descriptions of this alien world. At one point, Jirel comes across a herd of white horses. It all seems so beautiful and majestic, something a little more normal, but we find out otherwise. "But as they came abreast of her she saw one blunder and stumble against the next, and that one shook his head bewilderingly; and suddenly she realized that they were blind--all running so splendidly in a deeper dark than even she groped through" (39).

In the second story, my favorite, "Black God's Shadow", Jirel enters that same world as in the first, but it's changed. The tower of light is gone, and there is a river where one wasn't the first time. At this point, we get the hint that this world is like a living entity in itself. And throughout the entire story, many of the descriptions hint at how this world is truly alive. "But it seemed to her that the ground against her body was too warm, somehow, and moving gently as if with leisured breathing" (75).

"Black God's Shadow" is the epitome of a story that pulls the reader along solely with the atmosphere and the strange discoveries Jirel finds. There are fields of flowers that grow with insects trapped in them, and if disturbed and released, those insects are vicious. The water whispers and sounds as if it is talking, and it attempts to reach out and grab onto Jirel. Even the trees she comes across cast strange shadows. "And one slim, leafless tree writhed against the stars with a slow, unceasing motion. It made no sound, but its branches twisted together and shuddered and strained in an agony more eloquent than speech. It seemed to wring its limbs together, agonized, dumb, with a slow anguish that never abated. And its shadow, dimly, was the shadow of a writhing woman" (71). Near the end, Jirel hears a strange music on the wind, and Moore describes it all so beautifully.

I could go on to point out all the alluring details in every one of the stories of Jirel of Joiry, but I think the previous examples are just enough to show the draw of Moore's atmospheric writing. The pull of the unknown tempts the reader to turn the page, and then there are wonderful descriptions when Jirel crosses paths with the many oddities. Darkness pervades all of these stories, and Moore is deft at reigning it in and making the alien worlds come alive.

Works Cited

Moore, C. L. Black God's Kiss. Planet Stories: Bellevue, Washington, 2007.

NEXT UP: One of my favorites - The Hobbit!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Classic Fantasy from 1900-1949

So, the last list I offered we left off with William Morris and H. Rider Haggard. Where do you think I'll start this list? I bet some of you will guess right.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
The Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany
Country of the Blind and Other Stories by H. G. Wells
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Moon Pool by A. Merritt
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison
Mary Poppins by Pamela L. Travers
Black God's Kiss by C. L. Moore
Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard
Retelling of the Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction started publication in 1949, and it's still going strong today!

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list! There are so many great fantasy classics, and some of these listed are also the beginnings of series.

Did I miss anything that you insist should be listed here? What is your favorite classic fantasy from 1900-1949?

Most of the list was taken from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews.

NEXT UP: A look at the Jirel of Joiry stories, including "Black God's Kiss", by C. L. Moore.