Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Down to Middle-Earth.

Full disclosure: my first fantasy love was the Lord of The Rings.

Not the book , but Brian Sibley’s BBC radio adaptation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Peter Jackson’s adaptations. LOVE . THEM. But for me, Frodo will always sound like Ian Holms, Gandalf sounds like the grand Michael Hordern, Aragorn is the slightly fay, lispy Robert Stevens, and Peter Woodthorpe is the vocal Andy Serkis as Gollum.

One element the movie, radio, and book share is a sense of realism. Jackson’s trilogy is a movie about people first. The fantasy elements come second.  Brian Sibley’s version retained the elements of a simpler time that is dominant in Tolkien’s books. Middle Earth is our Earth. Granted, it’s during some nebulous period of prehistory, but the inhabitants of Middle Earth look up at the same moon as we do. They count the same stars and follow the same constellations.

Unfortunately for subsequent fantasy authors, Tolkien called “Shotgun” on Earth as the setting for classic fantasy. True, Howard’s Hyborean Age is also prehistoric Earth, but, for the most part, authors now set their fantasy adventures on other worlds: Krynn, Faerun, Westeros, The Land, and that place that Jordan set his books, but we’re stilled pissed at him so it doesn’t matter.

Wherever they are set, what I find myself responding to as I get older it that sense of realism – the idea that what freaks us out freaks them out, that if our heroes want to get from point A to point B, they have to walk, not use some magical doorway. (Although riding the Eagles to Mt. Doom wouldn’t have hurt).

As a kid, I wasn’t aware of any of this and after my first round of Tolkien, I spent my high school years branching out to other fantasy authors: Weis and Hickman, Brooks, Donaldson and many many many Forgotten Realms novels.

I used to eat them up. I loved them.

Then something changed. I don’t know when it was or why (age?) but I soon became less interested in magic-floaty lamps and more interested in wax candles.  Soon Drizz’t  Do’urde’s battle with yet another Ur-Demon from the 3rd Plane of the Universal wah wah wah was trumped by my fascination with the fact the Samwise Gamgee had never seen an elephant before, let alone an Elf. I began to appreciate that Conan’s cry of “Crom!!”, when he faced some devilry, was the Cymmerian equivalent of “What the fuck is that???!!”

When the fantastic elements of Classic Fantasy become commonplace, it’s less interesting.  One of my closest friends refers to it as “magic as science”. He’s right. That magic-floaty lamp is the fantasy equivalent of my halogen. It’s a tool. Mundane and commonplace.

It lacks a sense of wonder.

It’s led me to seek out fantasy stories which are more down to earth and grounded. It’s one of the reasons why I like Martin so much (but, seriously, dude, don’t pull a Jordan, wrap that shit up!) because his books are based in a believable world for the time period. Yes, there are dragons and magic, but both are rare and wondrous. When Gandalf faced off against the Balrog he didn’t say “Great. Another demon of the underworld. No problem, folks. I got this.” he said, “Fly, you fools!” while the rest of the Fellowship shit their pants.

Another side to this coin is characters acting appropriate for the time in which they lived. Whatever world the story takes place, it’s implied that it’s a simpler long forgotten period of history. The characters of a time long gone probably don’t have the exact terms to describe things they encounter. Their world view shouldn’t be the same as ours is in the 21st Century. My biggest example and pet peeve is the use of the term “humans” to differentiate us from elves, dwarves or whatever equivalent the author is using. For my gold,  “Human” is a relatively modern term that implies a more scientific understanding of humanity. For us in the real world, that concept didn’t begin until the Renaissance.  If you asked a hobbit what species that tall guy is from, he’d just tell you he’s a man. Sure, it’s dismissive of the female of the species, but these characters don’t mean any slight to women. They just don’t know any better. When it comes to sci-fi, it’s “humans” all the way, but when it comes to my fantasy, it’s the race of Men with a capital “M”.

So enough of the ramblings of a quickly aging member of the race of Men. What kind of fantasy do you like and why? Do you prefer the escapism of Drizzt? Or the realism of Ned Stark?  Do you like Wizard Wars? Or are you more of a cheese and pipe-weed Gandalf lover?

Gentle reader, we at the Starblog offices want to know!


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