creators column: tolkien and literature
creators column: lord of the rings and adaptation
creators column: potter, tolkien, fantasy
Raymond Feist: Riftwar Saga
A Darkness at Sethanon
obviously the first two volumes - which constitute an extremely strong and charming fantasy - were conceived to be the whole work, as essentially all plot elements were resolved at the end of "master." it's the story of two boys pug and tomas - in a provincial outpost who are apprenticed to the mage and the swordmaster, and how they come into their own and help in a cross-world war. were i reading knowing what i know now, i'd leave it right there. i stryggled through "silverthorn" and am currently perhaps terminally bogged down in "darkness": and then i'm told there are many other books, sometimes co-authored. pug and tomas themselves by book 3 have mutated into such invulnerable demi-gods that there is no characterization anymore. and though some of the other characters- princes arutha and martin, for example - started out quite intriguing, they seem to lose their eccenticity as time goes on. the plot itself mutates into ever-higher levels of abstraction. and i don't think feist really has a way with a love story: the best was the puppy love between anita and pug in "apprentice."
David Farland: The Runelords
The Sum of All Men
Brotherhood of the Wolf
The Lair of Bones
Well now: this quartet pulled me along from beginning to end, sometimes short-circuiting my attempts to read the things
I should. It rests on an extremely absorbing premise: that through the use of "forcibles" (little branding-irons made of precious blood-metal)
people can give "endowments" to one another: they can bequeath their brawn, or their grace, or their will, or their wit, or their sight,
to another person. Of course they lose that quality in themselves by doing so, and become "dedicates" whom the runelord who receives the
endowment must protect; if the dedicate is killed, the runelord loses the endowment. If the runelord is killed, the endowment reverts to the dedicate.
In this situation, certain people can amass thousands of endowments, and become unbelievably powerful, like the nasty Raj Ahten.
Farland uses this idea profoundly, working it out with amazing depth and consistency across economy, ethics, politics, etc etc.
As if that's not enough, here's another concept. Runelords are followed around by their "days," scribes who write their lives, to be
published after their deaths. Days work in pairs, having exchanged endowments of wit, so that back at headquarters they see all and know all. The days are
sworn not to interfere in the affairs of normal people, but obviously they have the most amazing intelligence network of all. If only we could tap into it as
we try to save the world from evil...And of course the plot is epic, and also it's very well-made and coherent.
OK, now a couple of complaints. There is also an "elemental" magic of earth, air, fire, and water, which is as superficial as the
other stuff is profound. Gaborn, the earth king, is the main character. "The earth" keeps telling him things like "duck!" Yo. Also, Gaborn himself is a bit of drip,
a pure earnest goodguy, as is his wife Iome. Many of the other characters (Erin, Averan, Borenson, Anders, etc) are vivid personalities, but these two are just
Obviously, though, this wasn't enough to stop the momentum.
By a substantial margin, Patricia McKillip is the best living writer of fantasy, and she is one
of the best living writers in the English language. Her prose is a beautiful thing: by turns dreamy and precise,
always finely wrought and carefully polished. She leaves a long string of fine books behind her, and one epic: the Riddlemaster trilogy.
The Riddlemaster trilogy is the only fantasy work that stands comparison to Tolkien, for its compelling treatment of character, its epic scope, the
thoroughness with which its world is imagined. It is the work of a woman, and in general McKillip is far less concerned with the mechanics of battle,
weaponry, power, etc than Tolkien. Character is at the center, and magic: in every case profoundly thought-out and providing rich
metaphors for nature and the human place within it.
The weakness comes when things just get too dream-like. Sometimes I feel like the thrust of events could
be pieced together, only I can't quite do it. Now this in itself has an enriching effect, or it takes you into
a dream world. But it's also frustrating. Also I would say in her many short books, sometimes they are brought
to a close too quickly. And she has created many characters and worlds whom and which I would have loved to know more.
I hope one day she will write another epic.
Of the early books, along with the Riddlemaster, I would particularly recommend The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, aand the pair of The
Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird. Ace has been publishing her books one after the other in matching little hardbacks that
are sweet, and of these I recommend especially the last two: Alphabet of Thorn and the wonderful In the Forests of Serre.
Symphony of Ages:
This excellent trilogy pushes the idea of epic fantasy in some new directions. The basic
plot revolves around the world's most beautiful woman, a chick who makes every man's dick hard
at a glance. This sounds a bit annoying, and there are romance elements throughout that are
a mixed bag. But actually Rhapsody was a hooker who recovered her virginity by walking through the fire at
the earth's core, a concept exploited for its humor. Indeed, humor is one of the refreshing elements
of the whole thing. As is characterization: Rhapsody hangs around with Achmed the Snake and Grunthor,
deeply ugly and nasty folks, especially for heroes, but into the nonstop repartee. Basic ideas about magic
and the demonic and the religions of this world are handled intelligently and systematically. These books are
apparently Haydon's first. It shows, especially in the first volume, in which the exposition can be almost absurdly
indigestible. But the whole thing makes sense by the end, by which point Haydon is something of a virtuoso.
I guess I ended up believing the world; I k now I ended up believing the people.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
Well. My mom read these to me when I was a kid, and they're the first chapter books I've read to my going-on-4 daughter.
She got obsessed by the movie (and also, I must say, by the excellent, surreal, cool film "Return to Oz," which stayed closer to the books and
starred an astonishingly cute 9-year-old Fairuza Balk). They have their limitations. For one thing, they are very episodic, and
are really almost a series of discrete stories. But they are also, one must say, trippy as hell, idiosyncratic as one could imagine.
They are artifacts of their period in what must have been a pretty conscious approach. It's sort of like early industrial machines coming to life.
Truly freaky shit like Tick Tock the clockwork man and the wheelers. Much of the fantasy and the comedy revolves around the theme of inanimate objects suddenly coming to life - their naivete and unexpected sophistication. This, I must say, is something of a unique element. The illustrations are great and are incorporated into the text
in a beautiful way: the whole design of the books is classic art nouveau style. All this is especially true of
'The Wonderful Wizard," which was illustrated by W. W. Denslow, the later volumes being the work of John Neill. At any rate, don't get
any edition without the original drawings. I got a set of inexpensive paperbacks; my only complaint would be that what were originally
color plates were done in b&w. Anyway, Jane loves them very much, and I very much love reading them to her. One challenging aspect: the
boy Tip, hero of "The Marvelous Land" turns out really to be a girl: the beautiful Princess Ozma. Daring (and only one daring gender move in
Oz, wehich seems to be dominated by all-girl armies). Gender is extremely important to pre-scoolers, who I think are working on making
the social constructions clear to themselves. Jane just couldn't accept that Tip was Ozma. But I thought it was a good thing to hit her with.
There are many, many Oz books, and if or as we read more, I will duly report.
if i were king of the forest
Farseer Trilogy (Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin's Quest)
Tawny Man Trilogy (Fool's Errand, Golden Fool, Fool's Fate)
Hobb is certainly one of the best writers of fantasy working today. Both these trilogies revolve
around the royal bastard FitzChivalry Farseer (admittedly, the name sounds ridiculous, but names
in this world are connected to attributes, and it's actually pretty interesting). He starts as a child,
ends as a man in his forties. He has two kinds of magic, the Skill and the Wit, which are explored
beautifully, and end up being profound ideas. He is a great character: full of angst and self-doubt,
confused but fundamentally decent. In a way the books are really about Fitz's relation to the Fool,
a court jester and a prophet, and in some way or other the great love of Fitz's life. Both trilogies
are somewhat too long, and much time is expended waiting for something to happen. But when it
does, the momentum is irresistible. I was kind of hoping at the end for Fitz to marry Kettricken
(my favorite character in the whole thing), and for us to find out something about his mother.
Neverthlesss the resolution was lovely. Hobb can be an amazingly felicitous writer, and there s
philosophy in the fantasy.