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I love fantasy books

Today being Valentine’s day, it seemed appropriate that I should talk about my long-time love for fantasy novels. No, its not the same kind of love as I feel for my family or dear friends, but fantasy worlds have been a part of my life for decades now and I love it. Some of the fantasy books that are the dearest to me aren’t necessarily the ones that I would call the best written or the ones with the grandest world building. I think it more has to do with where I was at in my life when I first read each of these books. Now, when I go back and re-read them (which I do every few years), I think I get a little taste of those memories mixed in and it makes each book that much more satisfying. So here are some of the novels that I have most dearly loved over the years (in no particular order):

1. Lord of the Rings trilogy–  You can’t get any richer than Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with its imagined languages and grand sweeps of history. It is a land that can swallow me whole. I’m not as enamored with the Hobbit or the Simarilion, but LOTR is a true fantasy classic. What do I love the most about LOTR? Well, I would say the various enchanted lands (Shire, Minas Tirith, Rivendell, Lorien, Fangorn ), the humble hobbits and their camaraderie, and the terribleness of the evil. It is a black-and-white world where I certainly know who to cheer for. I’ll admit that I will sometimes skim through some sections (you have to be in a certain mood to appreciate Tom Bombadil), but it is such a great adventure overall.

2. Riddle-Master trilogy– This one is a little harder for me to explain. For some reason, I have found Patricia McKillip’s word to be haunting with its powerful, chaotic sea people and the struggling Prince Morgon who is trying to understand what is happening and looking for a way to resist these frightening attackers.

3. Wizard of Earthsea trilogy– This trio of thin books by Ursula LeGuin are magical. Somehow, she succeeds in entrancing me while keeping the writing sparse. She makes Ged very real, with some deep flaws but also some wonderful traits. I love the many islands with their unique cultures, the wonder of the wizard school, and the awfulness of Ged’s shadow.

4. Dragonsong trilogy– Another trio of thin books, this one from Anne McCaffrey, has caught my imagination even more than her more-sweeping Dragon Riders of Pern novels. Maybe it is because I get to become so close to vulnerable Menolly, but for some reason I find that I have re-read these three (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums) far more than her other books.

5. Saga of Recluse– This huge series of books by L.E. Modesitt Jr. is one of the few large series that I will re-read. Because each book is its own story, I can jump around and pick up the one that I’m in the mood for at the time. Most other series, like Jordan’s Wheel of Time,  just become tiresome in their size. The story never seems to end. There are many such long series that I haven’t even finished because the tales became bogged down in their side-stories. However, Modesitt wisely made each of these books independent of the others, so you can jump around without losing the story-line.  The Recluse world isn’t the richest or most- sweeping, but it builds with each new book and develops into quite a fantasy tale.

Are these five the best fantasies ever written? I’m not arguing that at all. I think there are some tales that are far grander. However, I do find myself going back to these five more often. It might just be because of where I was at in life when I originally read them, but they each have a special place in my heart and I’m thankful to the authors who wrote them. These authors have brought me with them into some fantastic tales.

I hope that my own novels will someday entrance readers in a similar way.

What are your favorite fantasy novels? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Story Lines world building

Why Read the Whole Fantasy Series?

One of the wonderful things about Fantasy noels is that many of them are part of an extended series of books. I love being able to dive into a new world and staying there for an extended period of time. It is one of the things I look forward to creating as I write more books for each of my two fantasy series (the Cirian War Saga and the the Ways of Camelot novels). With multiple books, there is the opportunity to discover so much more about a new world and to watch as characters grow and change. Done well,  a lengthy Fantasy series will gain my loyalty.

However, there are quite a few series that I have failed to finish. Some of them I really tried to enjoy but just couldn’t. I have the third book of a trilogy sitting on my nightstand right now that I have been trying to finish for months but it just cannot hold my attention. I greatly enjoyed the first book and I really wanted to like the whole series, but I found that it just became stale. The story couldn’t sustain itself over that many books.

Personally, I can think of five reasons:

1. Delays in Publishing. The longer the delay the greater the odds of readers moving on to something else. Whether the delay comes from a publisher wanting to space out their release dates or from an author being slow to produce, the result is the same.  Who wants to read a book when the next one could be years away from release?

2. Repetitive Stories.  I have abandoned numerous series because they start feeling like a summer rerun. I will leave when a story drags on, seeming to loop back to repeat similar quests or battles or wars. Life can be a repetitive drudgery; the books that I read shouldn’t be.

3. Stunted Characters. When the main characters never change or mature, then a series will start feeling like a soap opera: lots of words and fake drama but no real advancement in their life story. After ten years of sword fighting, your guy should be a changed man (older, more experienced, hardened, disgusted, crazed…  something, anything)  Trauma should alter a character’s actions, emotions, and life-goals.

4. Stuck in Glue. There are some great Fantasy series out there that have become bogged down in details. The forward motion of the main story arc almost stops. I get disappointed whenever an author writes a whole novel that is only a side-trip. Maybe the houses are nicer looking on a cul-de-sac, but you certainly aren’t going to get very far driving down that dead-end street. Get the main story moving! Leave off all those side stories that don’t really get us anywhere.

5. Betrayal. This is more of a complex issue. Whenever I feel that an author has set me up, then I will be hesitant to ever trust him or her again. I have had authors create worlds and then mock those creations (and me for naively believing in them). I have had authors lure me into caring for characters and then wantonly kill them off. I have started series where the first book creates a certain mood and then the author (maybe out of boredom) decides to do something completely different with the sequel. Radical change is fine for stand-alone novels but not within a series. Labeling that book as part of a series means that you (author) are promising to uphold the ambiance, the mood, the characters, the brand of the previous book(s).  A television series doesn’t shift from romantic comedy to police procedural to nature show each week. The TV show doesn’t alter its main characters halfway through the season. That TV show holds to a similar feel from episode to episode. Your Fantasy series needs to do likewise.

I love reading a good Fantasy series. I often reread the better ones. Sadly, though, there have been many trilogies and sagas that I have never finished just because the author failed to hold my interest over the long run. I don’t desert stories lightly, but I also cannot stand it when a Fantasy series fails to be entertaining or to be loyal to the world the author crafted in book one.

When it comes to my own Fantasy series, I will strive to be respectful of my readers and do my best to avoid the five shortcomings I mentioned above. Will I succeed? I hope so.

🙂

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays world building

Mixing Reality with Fiction

I love fantasy. I love reading fantasy and writing fantasy, for it is such a wondrous genre. My imagination can roam and romp through imaginary lands, sometimes for weeks after I’ve read a great book.

And yet I still want a fantasy tale to have some connection to reality. The protagonist doesn’t need to be from “here” like the leper Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s stories, but I still need some reality to help me cross the span of imagination to that fantasy land.

Here are three areas where I like to see our reality mix into a fantasy realm:

Anthropomorphism– This term is often used when describing the tendency to give the human attributes to Deity, but I think it can also be applied to fantastic creatures. Is the writer humanizing something alien so that we, as readers, can relate. If your main characters are mice, they had better be rodents with human characteristics like our emotions, our speech patterns, our societal structures. If your characters are elves, dwarfs, or dragons and you want me to relate to them, then show them to be human-like in some way.

I know some villains are distant and their alien ways are vital to the story, but then you can’t bring the reader in close. Tolkien understood this. We never get “into the head” of Smaug or  Sauron because they are too different, but we do get close to Boromir and sense his fatal flaw of envy when he tries to take the Ring for himself and his country.

Flora and Fauna– An alien landscape should have some link to our world in how its plants and animals look and act. Frankly, it is that connection that helps to make the truly fantastic stand out, be it the magical forests in Tolien’s the Lord of Rings or the Ranyhyn steeds in the Thomas Covenant books.

It is because their land is similar to ours, that the hobbits are awed by Ents just as we are. If every tree in Middle Earth walked or grabbed people, it wouldn’t be as startling without overwhelming the story. Because the living trees are unusual in Middle Earth, it is a wonder that doesn’t take over the whole tale.

In Donaldson’s series, the Ranyhyn horses are wondrous because of how they are similar to ours and yet so far beyond any earthly equines.  Their stamina is far beyond any normal horse but we can accept their power because it first awes the protagonists and then is accepted by them too.

Geography– This is an area where I think many writers stumble. I have seen too many lands where the terrain drastically changes without any good explanation or any connection to our world.  In reality, things like oceans and mountain ranges will alter weather patterns and temperatures. I think a writer should be aware of the basics of physical geography or face the danger of creating an unbelievable land.

Tolkien made Mordor different, but he was wise enough to separate it from the rest of Middle Earth by mountain ranges and to show that it was the exception to the land’s reality.  Outside of Mordor, the land follows the same rules as ours. You don’t encounter deserts abutting rain forests or balmy mountains towering over snowy lowlands.

Reality highlights fantasy. I feel that it is the reality, well-applied, that helps to make the imaginary creatures and locations stand out that much more. It is the mundane in a fantasy world that adds awe to the wondrous places.

Interest in how I’ve mixed reality with fiction? Learn more about my first two  published novels: Road of Leaves and Fallen King

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