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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Horselords by David Cook, Forgotten Realms 1990

This was a surprisingly good book for genre fiction of the time period. However two publication years into the forgotten realms books and still at the far outskirts of the world, places that haven't even heard of the great city of Baldur's Gate. Still with this, and the last Realms book I reviewed I'm seeing a pattern. The first two years of the Realms gave a snapshot of the interior of the realm. Now we are fleshing out the outskirts. This book reminds me a tad of Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts Empire series. It however is most definitely a vintage example of Orientalism. As I discussed here, I am on the fence about such uses of fantasy. On the one hand, done well it provides a welcome relief to standard European fare fantasy, on the other it imposes it's own set of tropes, stereotypes and racist or otherwise bigoted commentary. On the whole, I think Cook skirts the worst things about Orientalism and concentrates on character development and story. One last general note: as Iron Helm had been about the founding of the Americas, Horselords is about Genghis Khan and the The Great Wall of China. That is a history that I know nothing about. But it isn't hidden or hinted at, it is written very clearly as a parallel. Remember that Ed Greenwood's initial conception of The Realms was as a nexus or hidden world, a reflection of all worlds and a fairy realm to our own. Meaning that the epic history told in the Empires Trilogy is meant to mirror our own world.  Viewed in that light it is kind of neat, and readjusts our expectations for cliches.

Belive it or not, there is no fan art for Horselords
Character: there are basically four characters in the whole book. The lead is a priest character, a swami named Koja. He is a unusual in that unlike many D and D priest characters, Koja is entirely weaponless. That said, it doesn't matter since he is a hostage for the entire course of the novel. It is an unusual story in many respects: Koja is a weak character, indecisive and lacking in confidence. The main arc of the story is his Stockholm syndrome toward the Khan of Khans: Yamun. He abandons his church, and his nation. And he does not love the Khan either, like real life, we are swept forward by events with little in the way of epiphany. To be fair to Koja, he does wrestle with these demons, just not very hard.

The next character is Yamun, the great Khan. His character is fairly clich├ęd, forbidding barbarian King. If anything he's a little more cuddly then many such characters. One thing about Yamun's character, his desire to conquer the Dragonwall is inviolate. He is unable to even consider compromise, and never questions his own judgement. I feel this was a very deliberate choice by Cook, and I don't know, in the end if it reads as one-dimensional or as complex. After all not all characters have to be mealy mouthed and full of internal conflict to be interesting. Often in real life the most interesting people are the most blind. In many respects this novel surpasses the genre of stock swords and sorcery fiction. Much of the story is the interaction between Koja and Yamun, and it takes on the sort of oscar seeking biopic you might expect from Anna and the King. Koja is cut off from all he knows, but did not have too many ties to that world as it was, having lived as a monk. That said, there are many unanswered questions, why was he chosen as a negotiator, and what of his life before he is made captive by the Khan. We are never told, and while the book has many positive elements to it, the lack of background it evinces for its characters is a major failing.

Cliche: Orientalism is probably the worst, the book is replete with customs and inferences drawn from ancient China. As a white person, I don't feel overwhelmed by said stereotypes, but I'm sure I might feel differently had I even a jot of Ghengis Khan's DNA. That said, apparently, like 10% of the world's population has Genghis Khan's DNA so maybe I do have some claim there.  Fun fact, the term Khan, used in many fantasies is a Mongolian word for King. Although the web link is silent on which came first Genghis, or the Khan. Another cliche, The Good Advisor cliche, is highly evident for obvious reasons.  Koja's conflict over how to advise the Khan, particularly in light of the serious conflict of interest is only lightly delved into it.  It's the sort of thing that all of the Forgotten Realms novels tends to fail at: none of the characters have history.  We do learn of Yamun's ascent to power, and his relationship with his mother-in-law and first wife, Bayalun, but of the advisor we learn little beyond his cloistered life as a yogi of this temple.  I hate to cite the Stockholm Syndrome cliche, over played and tired as it is, but any discussion of Horselords has to at least mention the fact that Koja's relationship to Yamun should be a hostile one.  One cliche certainly not in evidence are the typical Dungeons and Dragons cliches.  There is not a single dwarf or elf in the place.

Completeness:  The world of Horselords is the outskirts of the traditional Forgotten Realms.  Even in Iron Helm, there was mention of the standard Realms, characters and outside influence from the realms we've come to know and love.  Not so Horselords, not even the gods are similiar, and the Shou Empire and the Tuigan hordes of Yamun seem to not take place in the same space at all.  Inspite of this, the novel is written well enough that this subrealm seems entirely plausible.  The Tuigan as a people are entirely tribal and believable as wandering marauders with little interest in outside realms, save war.  The Khazari, a tributary nation conquered by the Shou Empire provides some depth to the political landscape.
The Great Wall of China, of which this book is about.

One thing that disappoints about David Cook's Horselords is the ending.  A sort of standard double cross is planned, and SPOILER ALERT is never hatched, but is discovered well before the trap is sprung.  While the double-cross was standard stuff, it was the dramatic conclusion to the novel, and without it, the ending was sort of uninspiring.  I wonder what happened there.  It was all set up... The novel is the first of a trilogy, so perhaps it was hacked to death and given this rather contrived ending to pick up the drama in later novels.  Regardless, the next in the series, Dragonwall is next on my FR list.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Chronicles of Shannara on MTV, Season 1

The Sword of Shannara was the first big fantasy novel I ever read. I still remember walking into the Walden Books on Main Street in the New England town in which I grew up, and sorting through the titles in their tiny fantasy section.  I remember the glowing sword on the cover.  I remember turning back to that cover again and again, trying to imagine the three main characters fleeing the Skull Bearers in that flight to to the Silver River.  I remember hiding the book in high school in that same New England town so that I wouldn't get teased by my peers.  I remember that same book being thrown around a classroom while I struggled to get it back like some scene in a John Hughes movie.
   When I heard that the Chronicles of Shannara was being produced, I contained my excitement.  It's a new dawn for fantasy, or at least, it is compared to what I grew up with.  Given the success of Game of Thrones, it was no wonder really that classic fantasy was sought after to produce.  In fact, a television friend of mine even asked me for some recommendations.  That was back before I left the center of the universe, NYC.
When I saw that it was MTV that decided to produce it, unlike some fans, I wasn't perturbed.  I liked "The 100."  Now that I'm officially old, seeing teen melodrama doesn't irritate me, it amuses me, and I admit a certain enjoyment of the eroticism in shows filmed to titillate the chattering class.  I'd been meaning to review the Sword of Shannara for eons, and I am now doing a reread.  However, the Chronicles begin at the second book.  There is an interesting history to that second book, given briefly by Wikipedia.


   To begin with, since this is a film review, I am not going to adhere to my usual rubric.  I will simply comment on that which seems appropriate.  First, the style.  It is immediately apparent that this was filmed to capture the Hunger Games generation.  I admit that I have only seen the first movie, and have never read the books.  However, the starting scenes of the book show a very Hunger Games competition to become Chosen to the Ellcrys.  The whole thing is filmed to maximize on a teen audience, from broad declarations of love and loyalty, to sex scenes that never occurred and gratuitous kissing/flesh, etc.  None of this bothered me, and since I have not read The Elfstones of Shannara in twenty years I cannot yet comment on accuracy.  Though, it seems pretty obviously NOT accurate.  Again, I don't care so much.  I care for the lingering success of my genre, for its mainstream appeal, and for what I believe to be the ultimate benefit: chiefly, the liberalizing of America.
The Space Needle in Seattle
In another shameless appeal to the younger generation, the show really rams home the post-Apocalyptic nature of the Shannara world.  If I were a producer, I'd be saying, "Look at The Walking Dead, people LOVE this stuff!" At one point in the first season, the teens fall into an old ballroom decked out for high school prom (minus the skeletons).  Though the books are pretty over-explanatory, the Druid Alannon outlines the entire history of the world in the first 100 pages of "Sword," they do not reference a single ruin or artifact of the old world until the Scions of Shannara, the fourth Shannara book written by Terry Brooks.  The action in the Elfstones of Shannara (Season 1) occur several thousand years after the Apocalypse.  There isn't a single car, bridge, or building remaining.  Though the Hadeshorn lake is likely still a remnant of radioactive poison.  In Chronicles, Season 1, ruins are ubiquitous.  At one point, Will Ohmsford even asks his co star "don't you ever think about how remarkable ancient humans were?"  This just doesn't happen in the books.  Nonetheless, I like it, though it feels a lot less like fantasy this way.  And the imagery the shows creators show is stunning, if not quite as original as some of its progenitors.
 
Poppy Drayton. Just gorgeous.
Let's talk actors, the series stars, Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, all three of them pretty hot.  Though Poppy (I'm sorry Poppy, but if I'd rather be named Amberle than Poppy) is really stunning as the elf princess.  I can't say much for acting.  Not that it's bad, I just can't say much about it.   Hers is not a character inflected with obvious weaknesses.  She is a strong, smart woman, and she faces adversity with will and strength.  Strong characters can be somewhat boring, it's true.  Maybe she's a good actor, maybe not.  Even though I spent a decade as an actor in NYC, I've never felt qualified toIt's been too long since I read the book, but I'm pretty sure that Ivana Baquero's character is made up for the series.  Again, so what?  She's hot too, and gets to take Will's cherry in the first episode or so.


Austin Butler, I'll "spare" you the images without shirt
Will (Austin) is an interesting choice re hotness.  Granted, as a straight man, maybe I'm wrong, but I do not think he is a particularly good looking man-boy.  But what I like about him is his sort of soft, innocent, and caring appearance.  Will Ohmsford is sort of an interesting character overall.  In fact, all of the Shannara boys are, including Shea Ohmsford, (Will's father in the series, like great great great grandfather in the books), he is not a swash-buckling hero, he's not even a swash-buckling hero in training.  He isn't a mage, or sorcerer's apprentice either.  If he is anything at all, he is an apprentice healer.  An odd choice for a hero.  This grants a fair amount of depth to the young Will, allowing him to play the caring, feeling role normally reserved for female characters. On the otherhand, the two women get to enjoy more traditionally masculine roles.  Amberle, a young warrioress elf, and Eretria, a thief character.  However, this welcome role reversal does not make these characters particularly deep.  Far from it, but it seems like MTV certainly tried to have strong female roles.  Even if both women fall for one dude.  Like many MTV properties, they even had some lesbian foreplay at one point, titillation for the younger crowd.
Ivana Baquero, naked, in a bath, with Poppy Drayton
   One of my concerns about Shannara was going to be the casting of Alannon.  Alannon is a different sort of Old Wizard cliche.  Young seeming, but silent, withdrawn, and timeless, there is nothing funny about the dark druid.  He is a druid, and falls more under the Druid cliche, though these druids are not worshipers of nature, but worshipers of the old order of men, purveyors of the knowledge of the Age of Man.  I loved Alannon growing up, and having him as a fixture in a series whose faces changed with each book was a welcome sight, even if a grim one.  As one character states, "when Alannon shows up, you know you're in trouble."  Regardless, I can state with confidence that the casting of Manu Bennett is almost perfect.  He is strong, reserved, and stately.  He even brings a little bit of grim humor to the role.  He is a tad good-looking for the role, something I was nervous about at first.  But my reservations were quickly abandoned. Having begun my reread of the Sword of Shannara, I can state that Manu reflects the druid pretty well.
Manu Bennett as Alannon
   One aspect of the show that falls short for me is that there is something flat and one dimensional about the world created by creator's Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.  It's hard to define.  When you read the Sword of Shannara you can't tell that it's Earth until Alannon literally tells you. In my mind, this had the opposite effect you might expect.  The world is less familiar as a post Apocalyptic America then it is a world with a dynamic history and geography of its own.  The beautiful vistas Gough and Millar create make you think of High Apocalypse novels, not of High Fantasy.  I don't know why this matters, but it does.  In some respects many fantasies take place in a post apocalyptic vision.  The characters walk through ancient, haunted ruins, surrounded by a bygone era of grandeur, forever lost.  Tolkien's Middle Earth was very similiar in that respect.  The world of the Fellowship is a shadow of the world before The War of the Elves in the Second Age. Ruins are in the very bones of High Fantasy.  And the swords, torches, and horses are the very outcome of low tech society that has lost its way.
   I think perhaps that one of the Chronicles Season One's failings is that while it discusses the history and frequently alludes to events that have occurred, it skips the prosaic matters that make fantasy worlds real.  Traders on the road, the petty local politics of tyrants, the class struggles hidden, yet glorified by false visions of feudalism.  The world of the Chronicles is shown to be a dystopian vision of isolated communities and roving bands of killers.  While the Sword of Shannara actually makes a point of literally telling you that this decentralized version of the land is political choice (something in my reread I find unpleasant) it is ultimately lying about this because there are local politics and trade: decentralized political systems are a red herring.  Gough's vision of the land of Shannara could take place on the same set as The Walking Dead.  But it's just not true.  The Apocalypse happened two to four thousand years prior, and world wars, which the land has experience many, are not apocalypses--just terrible.
   Regardless, it appears that there will be a second season of the show.  And I'm glad.  There was a time, perhaps when I was both jealous of a younger generation taking fantasy on, and grateful that my preferred medium was successful.  But I am jealous no longer.  With a daughter of my own, I am thrilled to see fantasy living and expanding past what my generation had done for it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

I'm ashamed to admit that I had not heard of Elizabeth Moon until just last year. In an effort to get actual blog readers and to meet more like minded people, I kept hearing her name in relation to foundational fantasy literature: genre defining stuff. A new friend had some of her books, and I took her up on her generous "deed."  Having done some further research it is much clearer to me now, that Moon did much of her writing in the mid-to-late 80s and was merely part of the explosion of new fantasy at that time. 

The quotes on the back of the book don't help.  "This is the first work of high heroic fantasy that has taken the work of Tolkien, assimilated it totally, and deeply, and absolutely ..." Judith Tarr. (Whose life has taken a depressing turn for the worst, it seems.)

Still, I think Elizabeth Moon's reputation is based on a delightful though traditional approach to fantasy, and her works are certainly part of the firmament of the fantasy galaxy.  And if you've never read any Moon, you need to get yourself to your Indie bookstore and buy The Deed of Paksenarrion.  What makes fantasy, what really takes it from mere swords and sorcery, from plot-based fiction like Stephen Grisham, and much worse, the $2-3 ebook with 500 five-star amazon ratings, and turns it into something with impact, is it's ability to opine almost unerringly on what it is good, and right.  And this is something that Paksenarrion does exceedingly well.

Typically sold now as one volume, the book was released in three parts, the first of which is really the Deed.  After which the second and third book titles are almost meaningless, though they are where the true meat of the trilogy rests.  The book has sort of a slow start, and the first entire section if it, is devoted to a rather un-fantasy like treatise on the training of a mercenary company.  But fear not, if you can get past the first book, Paksenarrion truly blossoms.

Character:  The title character, Paksenarrion starts the novel as a teenage girl running away from home, and an arranged marriage, to join a mercenary company.  There are a few things that jar about this from the get go, but I think it important to note that an important act of fantasy is the concept of creating an equal world.  Not a world where everyone is equal, but one where equality is fundamentally valued by the author.  All manner of awful things may happen in such a world, but when it is apparent that the author believes this, the worldview is upheld by a kind, just, and generous spirit.  Such individuals create characters like them.  And it is these characters who teach us, who show us (by their acts of unspeakable giving, love and faith) that humans are fundamentally capable of good--that despite our flaws, we are redeemable:  that hope exist.

Paksenarrion is such a character.  She's not the sharpest tool in the shed.  She's uncurious, easily led, blind to her own talents, and blind to the shortcomings of others, and these qualities make her a frustrating heroine, though a real one.  Paksenarrion joins a mercenary company, and yet is surprised when the causes she is committed to are not always just.  This seems inherent to we, so wise in the world.  But she's a farm girl, fed on stories of soldiers, and living in a land far from the borders of any cohesive state.  Her actions are charmed, touched by the divine, and one thing she learns, quickly enough is that while she loves to fight, and indeed possesses no qualms about killing, will not fight for causes that are not just.  She loves her companions, and indeed never feels anything approximating lust or desire.  She is asexual, though never termed so.  I have mixed feelings about this, though I think it functions well for a paladin character--though the choice to abstain is in most churchy literature, it is not a consequence of disinterest, the choice to abstain is given as a sacrifice in god's name.  In Islam, it is the greater jihad, the fight to deny one's baser instincts.  Though more dark fantasy has embraced women as fully in-the-world, capable of desire as much as men (and not just mere foils to men's desires', trophies and patsies to the hero) Moon's beautiful rose is truly white. To wit, a modern asexual woman, is itself a massive break with stereotype.  
No author caption here: fell down the rabbit hole
However, the Deed of Paksenarrion is about paladins, and their becoming. In my Forgotten Realms readings, I have uncovered a few characters of priests, such as Adon from the Avatar trilogy.  Even the the Knights of Solamnia from the DragonLance series.  Or also from the Malazan epic, Shield Anvil's, the most devout servants of the gods of war.  Priests are a difficult caste in fantasy literature.  Indeed, books like Harry Potter, and others before it were shunned and castigated by religious organizations like the Catholic Church.  It's interesting to note that fantasy tackles religious matters, and religious organizations all the time, and yet issues of faith, issues that come close to proselytizing are almost always handled at arms-length.

But in a story about paladins, such discussions become central to the plot.  Let us not forget that original of all paladins, was also a female, Joan of Arc.  I found myself becoming uncomfortable at times by the direction Deed was taking. Ultimately, however, I feel that The Deed holds to what is True in fantasy while avoiding the snarls of dogma. And for most of the series, Paks is at best agnostic in her faith.

Artist Unknown.  Seriously, he probably died in a mass grave.


There are some difficulties.  For example, killing even if it is only killing for right is glorified, and there is never a moment of horror, a moment of self-recrimination for the slaughter of enemy combatants.  This is one of the reasons that I began to feel that Paks was not the brightest protagonist.  By the end of the third book, something happens to Paks, and she is broken, a cliche we will discuss later, but her personal struggle is caused by something external to her, something evil that takes root in her, and is then rooted out.  She emerges from the process in rough shape, but her main crisis is that she will be unable to wield a sword again, unable to fight, unable to kill.  Now of course, there are certain aspects of feminism at play.  For example, when Paks finds herself in a barn at night when two churls approach her.  Her inability to fight would have left her in poor straits had not the gods intervened on her behalf.  Now ultimately, the conversion, the self-examination that we want Paks to have, does happen.  But there again, it happens because a druid explains a few things to her.  It's difficult to parse, Elizabeth Moon may be one of those few, rare writers who does not write herself as the main character (not even Steven Erikson can say this).  Moon is a brilliant writer, and obviously a very smart person, but Paks is not.  Writing a dumb character, is I can say with all honesty, absolutely impossible for me.  It's not that I'm so smart, it's that as an intellectual I am constantly assailed by self-doubt and recrimination, things which make a character by nature introspective and thoughtful.  So let us at least say this:  Moon proves her writing chops not in the detail of her world, in the pique of her characters (that's all there) but in that she is able to do what so few writers even attempt to do, to write characters that do not exist within the range of her own "voice."

Cliche:This is 80s fantasy, so cliches abound.  We will touch briefly upon the obvious ones, elves, dwarves, orcs, magic. The first book of the trilogy mentions the other races in passing, as well as gnomes, and a few other beasties. However, unusual to fantasy, the first book is almost entirely devoid of extra races. That said, elves and to a lesser extent dwarves, play a crucial role in the overall arch of the story.  As usual, elves fulfill the usual Tolkien stereotypes.  Immortal, tall, otherworldly, slim, beautiful, musical, etc.  One neat thing about the elven component of The Deed is that it references something that other earlier fantasy works maintain, namely that the faerie dwell in a sort of shadow kingdom, a world within a world, different and similar to ours. Though Tolkien's elves left the plane of Middle Earth, during their time in it, they were squarely involved "in the shit" as it were.  Moon changes the Dwarven cliche nicely.  Instead of the beer swilling, anvil hefting, gold digging, creatures we have come to know and love, the Dwarves are very fond of ceremony, and have a peculiar dialect.  Unfortunately, we don't learn much more than that.  Orcs only really emerge as combatants, quickly slain, and with no real reason for being in the story, merely as a side effect of Evil Influence.

However, Moon, may have been one of the first to embrace the Dark Elf cliche, perhaps not even a cliche at the time. Tolkien's world explored the idea of the corrupted elf, Sauron, the ostensible reason for his long lasting evil.  However, Sauron was an exception, there was no race of like minded long-lived evil ones.  (I never did read the Simillarion though, so I can't speak to the whole of his work). Regardless, Moon's Dark Elves are unusual compared to the ones that the Dungeons and Dragons cliche embraced.  They have the fine elven features, pointy ears, are long lived, etc. that all elves have.  But they stink, and they intentionally corrupt all that is beautiful.  I thought this was a really great detail, Dark Elves are the anti-elf in EVERY way in this series.  The Dark Elves end up being a critical plot point for the series, though they make no appearance in the first book at all.
By Gerald Brom

There are dwarves as well, though they play only a minor role.  They fulfill some stereotypes, while trumping others.  Moon's dwarves are different they have a formal speech, though they are boisterous by nature.  A gnome stereotype exists which is quite interesting, though not much explored.  The gnomes of Moon's writing aren't the slightly silly, less strong version of dwarves that you often see in the Dungeons & Dragon Realms.  Their gnomes are fierce like Terry Brook's gnomes, but are strict adherents to order.  Like many creatures faerie (another cliche) they do not believe in gift giving, only in fair exchange.  It's an interesting dynamic, and explored more in later books.

Some of the cliche pages, like TV Tropes, point out that the Lawful Good cliche is in full effect here.  I honestly don't think that's enough of a cliche to pursue.  I do think Lawful Good characters are however, very interesting.  It takes a lot of willful blindness to the world to always follow the law and still be good.  Even a poor execution of a Lawful Good character can show this dialectic.

Adventure Time Cliche:  So in writing this post, I lost an earlier draft, wherein I noted how very much like classic swords and sorcery, dungeons and dragons gaming parts of this book were.  I have no problem with that overall, I've been trying to do the same for some time.  Real drama is created in such games (the good ones) and a story-teller's polish of such events can create real lasting value.  It worked for R.A. Salvator and Margaret Weiss afterall.  I noted that one of the scenarios was Paks meeting of a certain half-elf of ill-repute on the road.  The two join-up, explore a dungeon, and slay a wizard.  But I'd forgotten that they do almost the same thing later on, in Brewers Bridge, the TVTropes site pointed out that it is almost the complete scenario for AD Module 1.  For a more thorough listing of Paks cliches, check out this TV Tropes site.

Completeness: The Deed looks and feels like a complete world.  Throughout the novels, we explore a good portion of the world, and the interconnectedness of nations is well-demonstrated.  The wars of the south, for example, are in large part trade wars, defending various routes to various ports, and various choke points like the castle Dwarfwatch.  These are the sorts of things that real wars are fought over, and I appreciate that detail.  Moon has some military experience, and the battles are drawn in painstaking detail.  Some readers are turned off by this, it seems, but strong detail is never a problem for me.
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The religious aspect is well-developed without choking, and was not offensive for an old-time atheist like myself.  I've played a few paladins myself, and like I said, I find the character type pretty interesting.  The Gods are real, and come across that way--unlike the idiocy and petty squabling of the Forgotten Realms gods, and still ineffable and mysterious, unlike the gods of the Malazan epic.

There are a few untied threads.  Now, life is a series of untied threads held together by place, time, and financial obligation.  However, those things are tenuous at best in fiction, and untied threads can always be blamed on the author.  That said, many of these threads seem to be tied to these one off AD and D adventure modules that occur throughout the books. Mini-stories, that are engrossing, but ultimately have little to do with the arc as a whole.

The arc is a long one, and many readers get turned off by the slow start.  When Paks soul searching takes it's darker turn, and where it receives it's finest answer is where the book really starts to shine.  It's also where Moon takes the gloves off and shows us some of what evil is truly capable of.  In the end, I quite enjoyed The Deed.  I did find some of its characters to be in part unrealistic, but wasn't ultimately turned off by it.  The Deed of Paksenarrion is worth a read, and doesn't quite deserve some of the heated criticism its received.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Great Moments in Fantasy -- Paksenarrion Becomes a Paladin

Paksenarrion by Mandy Tsung
A fair amount of background is necessary for this great moment.  Note that while this is a spoiler, it may also be worth reading, regardless.  These are moments that define fantasy, and have intrinsic value.  If reading these snippets make you go and get the book, then surprise be damned.

This is from Elizabeth Moon's, The Deed of Paksenarrion, published first in 1988, though split into three novels. The story details the heroics of one Paksenarrion, a former sheep farmer's daughter, and paladin.  I will be reviewing this novel forthwith, but here is a taste of some of what this novel has to offer.

At the first instance, Paks is at the nadir of her relatively short life.  After having survived a number of harrowing challenges, and becoming known throughout the realm for her bravery, skill as a swords woman, and downright goodness, she has lost her way.  A variety of poorly healed wounds, and psychological damage have crippled her.  Lost, homeless, and starving, she finds herself at the glade of a Kuakgannir, a servant of mother nature.  He heals her, but doubts remain, will her pyschic wounds forever ban her from fighting for the cause of good?


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

GODSOL Redesign and New Banner!

Hi folks! I've wanted to redesign the look of the blog for a long time. While I have some artistic talent, I have not, and have never been, a designer. I shoot from the hip: I'm so excited about getting to the content, that it doesn't make sense to me to waste time on the window dressing. Of course, this is crazy. The rest of the world obsesses about design, and I've known that. I just never seem to have any time. Regardless, in getting my new banner, I tried multiple craigslist ads in two countries, and three states. I'd get people interested in it, but no one ever followed through. Since I wasn't offering any money, and since the money I could offer would be miniscule, it was finally suggested to me that I look for work already completed and ask permission for use. In my new career, I now have some access to graphic designers. I have not gotten permission to mention my designer, Naoko, by her full name, but if you like her work, I am happy to refer. The artwork however is by a fantastic, or should I say fantastique French artists, Sebastien Grenier. Sebastien granted me permission to use two images of his, and to combine them for the purposes of creating an awesome banner. Ultimately, I gave Naoko six images to work from.
I liked this image a lot, the colors, the brooding nature of Sebastien's Arawn.  But the character was front facing, and so was his awesome two-handed blade.  The battle scene below, was also particularly awesome, as are the titan-like creatures wielding the enormous, wickedly spiked maces.  I also liked the foreground, with it's panoply of armed creatures.  Still, moving these images around, in what is a very small space proved impossible.
Then there were the swords of light, which presented their own difficulties.  I found great swords, and great gals to wield them.  But few were in exactly the right position for a lengthwise web banner.  Ultimately, Naoko, chose two beautiful images, and then photoshopped them until they fit.  What do you think?  On the one hand, I miss the colors from some of the fire laced images.  However, given the dark colors of the new blog skin, I think the cold colors Naoko chose work well.  Excited for this blog's next chapters.  I have lots of good stuff in store!

So one final thank you to Sebastien Grenier and his beautiful art, and for his allowing me to use it.  And for the work of my wonderful designer.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Blog Word Cloud from Mathematica

Experimenting with my blog in Wolfram's Mathematica

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Iron Helm by Douglas Niles

This was the second Forgotten Realms offering by The Moonshae Trilogy's author, Douglas Niles, published in 1990. And again, the novel details a land that isn't even on the map.  Or maybe it's on some weird extended map. The novel was chiefly  interesting because of a very obvious parallel to the discovery of the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors. While this transparent comparison was so blatant that the cover featured a Spanish Comb Morion (Spanish infantry helmet) I enjoyed the comparison because I too, as a fantasy writer am interested in the time period because of the Spanish gold rush of the 15th century.  Overall, it was an exciting yarn, with lots of room to expand, (and it did) as the Maztica Trilogy.  Don't expect earth shattering character development, but for a summer read, it's not bad.

Character: Though the characters are leaps and bounds ahead of Moonshae's simplistic Tristan, Robyn, and Daryth love triangle, and the moronic impulses of the God of Murder, Bhaal, the characters are still not terribly sophisticated.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, the plot moves quickly and a number of unseen plot twists make the novel unpredictable (except for that which we know--the Spanish conquer America, and it seems likely that the Amnish mercenary company will do the same thing.
Yes, this is a Spanish Comb Morion
The hero's name is Halloran, a first level mage turned warrior in Captain Cordell's Golden Legion.  He's loyal to Cordell, a man of iron ambition with a drow lover.  However, events transpire to separate Hal from the legion and his loyalties are sorely tested, particularly when he begins to fall for Pocohontas, err, I mean Erixl, the female protagonist.  Erixl's story is rather interesting.  She begins as a girl, gathering magical feathers for her father, a craftsman of the local magic.  By the story's end, she has been a slave, escaped, enslaved, and released to become an unwilling priestess of Coexycoetl.  Possibly the most interesting character is Captain Cordell, the strongest one certainly.  A general of a mercenary legion, but one who inspires great trust and loyalty among his subordinates.  And yet, we're lead to believe he is capable of being quite cold, and then there is the mystery of his elf girlfriend, a sorceress of great power.

Hot elfess, that is completely unrelated
Cliche: The most obvious, and previously discussed cliche, not really a cliche per se, is the obvious parallel to history.  I enjoy such parallels in my own writing, and I feel that as a technique, you can unpack a lot of learning in a fun and novel way.  That said, while it deserves mention, it is by no means a traditional cliche.

Of course, like any Forgotten Realms book it uses enough of the Dungeons & Dragons Cliches.  Although, as this book takes place away from a more traditional fantasy scape, it has far fewer cliches.  Even so, it does have a dwarf and elf, and the dwarf at least conforms to all the usual stereotypes, tough, stalwart, grumpy, gruff, hard bitten warrior-type with a heart of gold.

Completeness:  Well... yes, and no.  This is the first book that touches on the City State of Amn, a place that is near and dear to my heart from my Balder's Gate days.  However, the introduction, again, of a completely new section of the map, seems premature.  I know all of these guys were friends, and that they all sat around the gaming table and talked this stuff over, but the map of the Realms is enormous, why did they feel compelled to write in this story a mere four years from the start of this completely new fantasy realm?

Overall, this was not the worst installment in the Forgotten Realms books.  Surprisingly, or not, the internet has not saturated this story or this book.  There may be only a handful of reviews of this book on the entire internet.  Which seems a shame, because it's not a bad book.  I suppose it's possible that some have found it distasteful because of the historical subject matter, shunning it because of its possible racial and demographic gauchness.  Still, if you're doing a Douglas Niles reread, this book ought to make it to your list.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The cover I got from the Long Lots Book Fair
Lloyd Alexander penned The Book of Three in 1964. It is a children's book, and I picked up my copy in the second grade bookstore. It was a formative book for me, but it was written in a time when fantasy was still almost exclusively written for children. It is a beautiful, simple book and it is without a doubt a classic. A lot of the cliches that I write about in this blog are present in this work as well, which gives rise to the possibility that many of the traditional fantasy cliches are much more generalized cliches adjusted slightly to a new medium.

Character: though a plot driven story, Alexander's characters are eloquently and completely drawn. The text is sparse, the sentences refreshingly simple. Not uncomplicated, just short and sweet. So character descriptions are to the point, yet cast a long shadow. Our main character is Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper. This title is cute, amusing and novel, however hidden in that gem is one of Fantasy's oldest cliches, the Diamond in the Rough cliche: namely the hero is a boy of dubious means and no prospects. Now the pig he keeps is an oracular pig named Hen Wen, and he lives in a village with an old wizard, and he's an orphan--all things which point to a less than ordinary heritage. That said he does at some point in the story, unsheathe a sword meant for kings and the blade's curse backfires on him. So there is some proof that he is not a Benighted Prince. Taran is stubborn and pig headed, however he does admit when he's wrong, and the boy does know how to apologize.
Dalben and Taran, beautiful illustration by Tim Probert
Another fantastic character is the girl Eilonwny. You could think of her as a precursor to Hermione, sort of a cross between her and Luna Lovegood. For you non-Harry Potter fans: read strong willed independent, quirky to borderline odd. That is admittedly a male perspective: she does fall prey to certain stereotypes, namely that of expecting Taran to speak to her in a decidedly female way.  For example when Taran asks her to stay with him he does so by merely assuming her interest and instead of asking he directly. Still her quirkiness makes her a very enjoyable character that certainly lives in her own right.
And who can forget Ffewdur the Flamm, a fulfillment of the Bard cliche, though of an unusual variety. Ffew has a magic harp that pops a string whenever Ffewddur lies, and strains the boundaries of credulity. Why is a twenty something former King, yes he gave up his kingdom to travel and live as an itinerant musician, ceding authority to Taran, a fourteen year old boy? He gives a reason, several times, but it still seems unlikely.  Regardless, he is a fun, stalwart addition to the team.

Eilonwy and Taran, no credit
Cliche:  one thing to note about all the cliches in this book: The Chronicles of Prydain were written in the early 60s, while Lord of the Rings was published in  1954. So at the time, these cliches were not cliches at all. The notion of dwarves and fair folk have been part of European lore for hundreds of years, but as writing tropes their existence was not nearly as well defined.  The Diamond in the Rough cliche is in pretty heavy use here. Taran is literally the lowest of the low, a pig-keeper. To be sure, he cares for a magical, world famous pig.  That ain't exactly nothing--but he knows nothing about that. Only that Hen-wen, the pig, is wise beyond her pig years and has the knowledge of the ages at its cloven feet. Still we know that Taran is destined for greatness.

Eilowny is a good example of the Quirky Girl cliche, and is probably a precursor for some of J.k. Rowling's characters. A quirky girl is slightly odd, she may be pretty but her youth obscures that fact. Usually quite clever and witty, quirky girls are good foils for over serious young men.  Eilowny's aunt fulfills another stereotype, that of the Ice Queen. An ice queen, harkening to one of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis originals, is a female magic user. Though there is no ice magic necessary to this stereotype, the coldness of the evil that animates their actions is palpable. It's interesting to note that evil male magic users like Sauron, are more often represented by fire. The ice queen breaks, or has a breaking point where her reserve flies into apoplectic rage. This is a common female stereotype.

Fflewddur represents the Bard cliche, though he is not your typical sort of bard, shrouded in mystery and a born lady-killer.  He is part of the story's comic relief and he fills another cliche in Humorous Sidekick.

The Big Bad, or Evil King cliche is also heavily prevalent. Alexander admits from the first that he has borrowed heavily from Welsh cliche, but he doesn't really get specific. Arawn and the evil realm of Annuvin seem direct analogs to Sauron and Mordor, but perhaps these cliches themselves were borrowed from an earlier mythology (I thought that Tolkien had adapted his Christian mythos--Fallen Angel, etc.) We don't see Arawn in this book, he is merely indicated. Alexander had intended to write a trilogy, so there is time to develop this plot. However the story has a more local Big Bad, The Horned King. Unfortunately there is very little character development for this enemy.
Another cliche would be the Animal Sidekick. Disney took full advantage of this when they adapted the second in the series, The Black Cauldron. Gurgi is a vaguely ape like creature loveable and hairy. He has hands and feet and can walk and ride. For example, in later books he even wields a sword. So a bit unusual for this cliche in that Gurgi is almost human. Alexander himself described Gurgi as on the awkward cusp between human and animal.

The Welsh cliche, King Arthur was a Welsh legend, and it's from him that we have the High King cliche. I spent an afternoon in Cardiff when I was a young man, and though in some respects it was a disappointment, owing to the fact that the castle is in a relatively modern town, but it did remind me of all those tales of King Arthur and King Math. The Welsh cliche, like the Irish cliche takes on a variety of naming standards like Gywdion, and Fflewddur, etc.  Thirty years later these cliches were used by ElIzabeth Haydon in her Rhapsody quintet: lots of unnecessary ys ls and cs. There is also, rather than the more modern divisions between elves and dwarves, simply a fair folk that encompasses all the strange and wonderful creatures of the natural world: including something of a Mother Nature cliche.
There is a powerful Druid-like humanoid who heals and protects the creatures of the forest. While he doesn't sprout leaves out of his ass or look like a giant tree, he serves as a popular fantasy link to a cult of nature worship present in most fantasy.

One interesting note: while there are no elves, per se, there is most definitely (spoiler alert) a link between the high King and his get, The Sons of Don and the Elvish summer kingdom, that is the concept, of a higher race of man, leaving the realms of earth for more commonplace men like Taran. This is evident by the end of the Chronicles, in The High King. There are many more cliches in the Chronicles, but I should probably save more of this material for the next book!

Completeness: this book represents an earlier era of fantasy. As such it's completeness factor stems more from good writing then from good world building. Alexander manages to pen, in very few words a world both convincing and complex. However, in retrospect it doesn't feel as deep as we've come to expect from even teen lit. There is no world map, nations are mentioned but not given a history. We know that the world of Prydain has many wondrous things: magical swords, baubles, old sages, fair folk (who appear to be dwarves) and an ancient evil, but in this first installment very little depth is given. Modern fantasy is very different. Now, I know that there are four other novels in this series, and that the world will grow with every installment, but this novel could really use an additional 150 pages; and if it had been written now, and not in the sixties, I am sure Alexander would have provided it.

For now, enjoy and treasure this piece of traditional and historical fantasy lit. Remember that so much of what we read today has Taran, Gwydion, Eilowny and Arawn at its great, warm, heart.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The GODSOL's List of Fantasy Cliches and Tropes

Ok, so the post title is a shameless attempt to grab a little piece of Internet. I started this post a year ago, and almost gave up on it. Rather than going for a complete list, I'm going with a running list.  Now my names for cliches will not always match with the literary community.  In fact, I can almost assure you that they won't. So, any English majors who read this, and aren't totally disgusted by my writing, please drop a note about what you think the correct cliche name would be.  I can't promise I'll change it, but I can certainly make a note of it.  .

I would also like to state that my intent here is far different from Val Kovalin's List of Most Hated Fantasy Cliches.  I am not terrifically familiar with Val's work, but the intent seems to deride cliches as things that must be avoided in writing.  I revere cliches.  There are no bad cliches, there is only bad, lazy, and boring writing.  And there is a simple solution to that.  Put it down and find something else.  Having now found this list, I am going to avoid copying it as a courtesy to Val's copyright, but these cliches are VERY common, and I'm going for commonality in the naming conventions.  Val doesn't own the cliche, or the name of the cliche, only the list and his conceit that the cliches are a negative and profligate. Having read a bit of his list, I found it very distressing.  Almost all of the "most hated" cliches are cliches that have been used phenomenally well by prominent authors.  The list, seems to essentially be a collection of internet trolls on the subject of fantasy.

First, I will list them:

The Cliches:

Achilles Heel Cliche
Ascension Cliche
Assassin Cliche
Band of Brothers Cliche
Beastman Cliche
Big Bad Cliche
Cataclysm Cliche
Chaos/Order Cliche
Chosen One Cliche
Coming of Age Cliche
Convergence Cliche
Christ/Christian Cliche
Dark Elf Cliche
Dungeons & Dragons Cliche
Diamond in the Rough Cliche
Dragon/Dragonriding Cliche
Dwarves Cliche
Going Crazy Cliche
Heroes Redemption Cliche
Elves Cliche
Evil Brother Cliche
Evil God Cliche
Fallen Woman Cliche
Femme Fatale Cliche
Hero's Redemption Cliche
Industrialization v. Nature Cliche
Innate Power Cliche
Kindness Cliche
Knight, The Cliche
Lord of the Rings (LOTR Race Cliche)
Norse Legends Cliche
Norse Peoples Cliche
Old Wizard Cliche
Play within a Play Cliche
Second Son Cliche
Shapeshifter Cliche
Sisterhood of Magic Cliche
Slave to Greatness Cliche
Sleeping Goddess Cliche
Telekinesis Cliche
Void/Abyss Cliche
Welsh Cliche
White, The/Good Cliche
World in Decline Cliche

Then I will group them:

General Literature Cliches
Achilles Heel Cliche
Big Bad Cliche
Band of Brothers Cliche
Coming of Age Cliche
Convergence Cliche
Christ/Christian Cliche
Diamond in the Rough Cliche
Evil Brother Cliche
Fallen Woman Cliche
Femme Fatale Cliche
Going Crazy Cliche
Industrialization v. Nature Cliche
Play within a Play Cliche
Second Son Cliche

Fantasy Specific Cliches
Ascension Cliche
Assassin Cliche
Beastman Cliche
Cataclysm Cliche
Chaos/Order Cliche
Chosen One Cliche
Dark Elf Cliche
Dungeons & Dragons Cliche
Diamond in the Rough Cliche
Dragon/Dragonriding Cliche
Dwarves Cliche
Elves Cliche
Evil Brother Cliche
Evil God Cliche
Fallen Woman Cliche
Femme Fatale Cliche
Hero's Redemption Cliche
Industrialization v. Nature Cliche
Innate Power Cliche
Kindness Cliche
Knight, The Cliche
Lord of the Rings (LOTR Race Cliche)
Norse Legends Cliche
Norse Peoples Cliche
Old Wizard Cliche
Play within a Play Cliche
Second Son Cliche
Shapeshifter Cliche
Sisterhood of Magic Cliche
Slave to Greatness Cliche
Sleeping Goddess Cliche
Telekinesis Cliche
Void/Abyss Cliche
Welsh Cliche
White, The/Good Cliche
World in Decline Cliche

Now I will post a brief description of  each.  The reason for the duplicative nature of this list is that I intend this post as a resource for writers, reviewers and other thrill seekers. This list is simply alphabetized:

Achilles Heel Cliche: Simply put, a fatal flaw, a weakness of character that may or may not be obvious, but will despite all odds to the contrary be exploited by the author to illustrate the illustrate the concept that the Greeks knew as hamartia

Ascension Cliche: The concept whereby a being evolves, grows or ascends toward a higher level.  Though this concept occurs often, it has been brought to an art form in the works of Steven Erikson, whose characters frequently ascend from mere mortal to demi-god, or greater, through actions, events, great suffering, purifications. Here is the TVtropes definition.

Assassin Cliche: the Assassin Cliche is a type of warrior.  The cliche includes the physical attributes of poisons, darts, daggers, stealth, tripwires, garrots, forced/stealth entry.  It also includes the mental attributes of darkness, cold-hearted killer, loneliness, unfriendliness, watchful, distrustful, suspicious, careful, depression, and, of course, the one job the assassin will not take: the last vestige of humanity.  Notable assassins include Hugh the Hand, Kalam Mekhar, Durzo Blint, Artemis Entrieri, Achmed the Snake. Juliana Haygert has assembled some popular TV and Film assassins here.  [MAKE NOTES IN COMMENTS AND I WILL ADD NAMES]

Band of Brothers Cliche:  A small group, usually soldiers, who face particular massive extremity together and come to certain understandings, either of love, trust, companionship, or loyalty.  The particularilty of the extremity matters.  Soldiers who went through one battle, or a series of battles, are not necessarily bonded to another group, even within the same army, or the same conflict.  This is a common fiction and non-fiction cliche.  In fantasy I would name certain companies of the Malazan Army (Steven Erikson), as well as Glen Cook's The Black Company.  In real life, I've met many soldiers who would sacrifice all bounds of commonality among people for their chosen brothers.  Again, TVTropes has an excellent entry on this cliche.  Note that I did not get this name from this site, but anytime my names match up with others', I am thrilled.

Beastman Cliche:  The Beastman cliche is an older fantasy cliche, a warrior, druid, barbarian, ranger type who bonds with a spirit animal, or several.  S/he can command the obedience of animals, communicate with them, and in some cases even inhabit them or transform into them.  Examples abound, the sorcerors of the Belgariad (David Eddings) who transform into wolves, Fitz from the Farseer Trilogy (Robin Hobb), Bran Stark with his Direwolf (George R.R. Martin). [MAKE NOTES IN COMMENTS AND I WILL ADD NAMES].  I was unable to find a direct correlation at TVtropes.  Which is a good thing.  There is the Resist the Beast cliche, certainly a part of the Beastman cliche, and also the Voluntary Shapeshifter (and Involuntary Shapeshifter) all of which share similarities to the Beastman.

Cataclysm Cliche:  This is a cliche often used to "explain" the genesis of a fantasy world from the present day.  Frequently used in Sci/fi and crossover fiction.  A massive earthshaking Cataclysm, sometimes man made, sometimes nature driven has destroyed much of the world's population, all of the world's culture, reshaped the entire planet.  It is linked often to the World in Decline cliche.  Some examples would be The Dark Tower Series (Steven King), Jordan's Wheel of Time, the DragonLance saga, various Final Fantasy videogames.  The Cataclysm Cliche allows an author to immediately posit an ancient history, while allowing a sufficient break between then and the present such that s/he need only allude to past greatness in the form of ruins and ancient artifacts.

Chaos/Order Cliche:  This is probably one of the most common fantasy cliches.  It is a more modern substitute for good and evil, popular since it implies less morality and more "certainty," as chaos has a pretty obvious and uncontested definition.  It also harkens to the D&D cliche of character alignment.  The forces of chaos are generally pretty bad.  This topic is worthy of a book of its own, so rather than discuss it here in full I will list some good examples.  L.E. Modesitt's Saga of Recluce has the most spectacular treatment on the subject, actually giving some credence to chaos. Erikson's the Crippled God, whose powers are essentially chaotic in nature.

Chosen One Cliche: [IF ANYONE KNOWS A MORE COMMON NAME FOR THIS I WILL CHANGE IT].  Fate has chosen this young person, either by heritage or genetics for greatness.  S/he has a power, often foretold by prophecy that will allow her to defeat the evil or Big Bad.  I would say 75% of all fantasy epics use this cliche.  Notable exceptions are George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, and Erikson's Malazan epic.  Some classics include Rand al'Thor (Robert Jordan), Shea Shannara (Terry Brooks), and Harry Potter.  Potter's "chosenness" is up for some debate, but he is literally called the Chosen One, and fate did make him uniquely capable of defeating Lord Voldemort.  The Chosen One cliche is a favorite of the teenage crowd, an homage to the idea that there is something special about "you." A comforting notion, that.

Christ/Christian Cliche:  I am not one, nor am I well-versed in the large amount of symbology of Christianity.  But there are a few obvious ones.  Resurrection, Rebirth, Saints, Temptation, 12 apostles, the Cross, the Betrayal of Christ, the West, Water to Wine, Miracles, His Life for Yours.  These are common memes in fantasy.  It's one thing to use ressurrection, it's something to different to ressurrect as Aslan did in Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis was a very religious man, his Screwtape Letters being tongue-in-cheek instruction manuals for young Christians.  Tolkien and Lewis bonded over their Christianity, and indeed Gandalf's transition from the Grey into the White, as well as both Saruman's and Sauron's fall into temptation reek of Christianity.  Fantasy is frequently moralistic, but modern fantasy has managed to segregate these themes from a belief in a Western style Christianity.                              

Coming of Age Cliche: This is a standard literature cliche.  There is very little fiction that doesn't use this cliche.  A young character, innocent and ignorant of the world, loses said innocence, becomes a little less ignorant.  Usually this occurs through a fair amount of suffering, physical, and mental trauma.  The upshot of the Coming of Age cliche is a character change that provides a vector for the story's growth, and allows fairly simple plot-based story to advance to something a little deeper.  Some examples in fantasy would include Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), Shea Shannara (Terry Brooks), the Eye of The World (Jordan), Garion (David Eddings)

Convergence Cliche: Though a convergence of fell forces is a common occurrence in fantasy, Erikson's Malazan Epic enumerated this cliche in a way that spoke openly and didactically about the nature of the tactic.  Simply put, a variety of powers, strengths, armies, warriors and spell casters find themselves converging on a single event, a battle, a quest, the search for an artifact, a defense against evil.  Spectacular forces are released, many are killed, everything changes and then denouement.  One neat thing about Erikson's world is that it acknowledges that history is a series of convergences, not the lead up to a dramatic and final conclusion.  In Terry Goodkind's

Dark Elf Cliche: A Black Elf, who instead of representing pure good, represented pure evil.  It's disgusting now, as a cliche.  And points to a continued and pervasive racism in common in fantasy memes.  It's a legacy of the 80s, and Forgotten Realms in particular, as evil Elves in the Tolkien era were twisted by Sauron into the Orcs.  Still, it's common enough to deserve mention.  Dark Elves are dark skinned and white haired, but have the same delicate cast to the features, high cheekbones, narrow chins/faces, slender of regular elves.  They also are magic users and frequently worship elven gods cast out of the pantheon by their godly brethren.  By far the most famous is R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden, who rejected the evil nature of his birthright and left his subterranean habitat.  Another example would be from the Marvel Verse, as enemies to Thor's Asgardian compatriots.

Diamond in the Rough Cliche: Another general literature cliche.  The concept of good buried unseen in a character.  Often used in tandem with the Chosen One cliche.  As the Chosen One is frequently a Diamond in the Rough.  However, the Diamond is a little less hackneyed, as it can be a character who is simply good, talented and hard working, rather than one fated for greatness.  Though there must be many examples, I can really only think of minor characters.  [HAPPY TO INSERT EXAMPLES, LEAVE IN COMMENTS]

Dragons/Dragonriding Cliche:  Dragons are smart, have two to four legs, independent of two bat like wings.  They range in size from that of a small dog to that of a two story house.  Dragons are one of the earth's oldest myths.  I won't pretend to scholarship, so here is a list of links from the Smithsonian.  One thing that is common in the cliche is that the magic inherent in dragons is that they cause immense fear/awe.  They also  can transform into humans.  Dragonriders of Pern, DragonLance, The Hobbit, Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Magic Ship Series are all good examples of common dragon use.

Dungeons And Dragons Cliche: There is a lot to unpack with this one.  It involves a plethora of different cliches, race, class, alignment cliches, heroes parties, dragon, orc, goblin, dwarf, elf, etc.  It also involves a battle system and a spell system that have been reproduced in videogames, television and film.  There is some dispute in the community about the genesis of D&D and the Lord of the Rings Cliche.  That original versions of the D&D gaming system borrowed heavily from Tolkien is undisputed, whether the borrowing was a lack of creativity or a blatant play to attract a burgeoning fantasy market is unclear.  Use the D&D cliche to evoke the LOTR cliches without the religious subtext, the One Ring to Rule Them All mythology, the age in decline cliche.

Dwarves Cliche: Solid, small, super strong, subterranean dwellers.  Long beards, helmets with horns, battle axes, big noses, long-lived but not immortal. Crusty, irate, drinkers of dark brewed ale. Never the main hero, never a love interest.  Have almost addictive personalities when it comes to gold and treasure. Great craftsmen, armorers and weapon smiths. Hate magic. Also, "they dug too deep" and discovered a great evil is a cliche within the dwarven cliche.

Elves Cliche: Lithe, skinny, strong, tall or short depending on the fantasy. Lovers of nature, worshipers of trees. Fantastic archers, skilled with swords. Invested with magic, beloved and symbolic of good. Skilled magic users. Great trackers, skilled at woodcraft and stealth. Lives in forest communities.

Evil Brother Cliche: the evil brother cliche is common in fantasy, but it can be seen elsewhere as well. In a medieval setting, two brothers one born to Kingship, the other merely a spare, the evil brother can frequently pair with the Second Son cliche.  Also, in some works the Evil brother can be a twin, or half brother separated at birth. Some Evil brother action: the Farseer Trilogy (Hobb), Various versions of Robin Hood pitting King John against his elder brother Richard. See also the Second Son cliche.

Evil God Cliche: evil gods are a staple in fantasy fiction. Given that fantasy is frequently posed in a medieval world, it is odd that a large pantheon of gods are so prevalent, when the historical
equivalent was monotheistic. Evil Gods exist within the pantheon of gods, frequently cited as the need for balance, or a response to that which is worst in man. Frequently they begin as merely gods of vanity, fallen by arrogance into depravity.  Some examples: Torak from the Belgariad (Eddings), Bane from Shadowdale (Awlinson), then Crippled God (Erikson), Shaitan from The Wheel of Time (Jordan). The problem with the evil god cliche is that even an evil god is still a god, and when evil gods start start talking, they sound a lot less godly and a lot more petty and contrived.

Fallen Woman Cliche: not a common fantasy cliche, though as the genre has grown up considerably in the last thirty years it is becoming more common. A Fallen Woman is a character, main or side, whose virtue is not merely tainted, but utterly and willfully compromised. For a genre that still uses old sexist tropes like a freeing a maiden from a dragon, or rescuing a princess from an evil witch, having a fallen woman, a woman who enjoys sex, and has it with more than one partner. Who is too cynical for love, or is so blinded by hatreds and jealousies. Expect to see the Fallen Woman more often. By far the best examples are within the Malazan epic (Erikson) Felisin and Scillara.  The first, a noble woman, cute, curious, and loving, was sent to become a slave in a mining camp. She becomes a whore and a drug addict, and even after she is saved from the mines, her attitude is irreparably damaged, and she becomes a true anti-hero. Scillara on the other hand, is a whore, born of a whore, who gains freedom, finds love, and chooses to give up her child literally minutes after the baby is born. There is much to say on this topic, and it is a difficult discussion to have without resorting to sexism of any type: offensive, blatant, implicit, second-hand, micro-aggression.

Femme Fatale Cliche:  A strong woman.  Honestly.  That said, to use more common language, a beautiful woman who uses her charm, intelligence, and sexuality to manipulate men.  She can be killer, but is not necessarily a killer as much as believer in justified expedience.

Going Crazy Cliche:  I have written of it before as the "Am I Going Crazy?" cliche.  In essence, the main character begins to experience things so strange and irreconcilable with reality that he begins to seriously consider the possibility of suspecting his own sanity.  This is a general lit cliche, though used frequently in fantasy.  Used by authors to explore the rational mind's capacity to handle that which is clearly impossible.  A variant of the Going Crazy cliche is the Acting Crazy cliche, made famous by Shakespeare's Hamlet.  In fantasy, this is typically used to explore character's burgeoning new skills and abilities, see Rand al'Thor of the Wheel of Time. And written about in the above link on Sanderson's Way of Kings.  It also supplies a useful foil for alienating characters from their friends and family.

Hero's Redemption Cliche: This is a standard lit cliche, and a fairly obvious one.  There must be a better term for it. If so, leave it below in the comments.  In fantasy, it occurs fairly frequently as a general story arc, in which a benighted character finds his honor, learns to love again, makes good on a promise, etc..  This cliche taps into the concepts of deep rooted shame, and is very effective for building character motivation, as well as for shaping story arc.  Think Sturm Brightblade, Rand al'Thor.  This type of cliche occurs in epic fantasy more often then not.  In more modern fantasy, or dark fantasy, there is frequently no, or little redemption offered (though the cliche is still operative by mere dint of expectation).

Industrialization v. Nature Cliche: A common fantasy cliche, the idea that "progress" loosely defined as an efficient means of doing things, including mass farming, factory production, munitions development and "horse-less carriages" leads to a rapid urbanization that destroys the environment, as well as destroying the rather bucolic idea of simple living.  Frequently, the cliche leads to a nature "striking back" in a typical man v. nature dialectic.  Sometimes this cliche is paired with the Cataclysm Cliche, it is a very moralistic take on fantasy, though as a meme it occurs quite often.

Innate Power Cliche:  This might be duplicative of the Chosen One cliche.  The idea however relates more specifically to the powers, attributes or magic system pertaining to the story at hand.  One thing is clear, power is internal, given at birth, and though it can be shaped, trained, developed and honed: you either got it or you don't. The One Power from the Wheel of Time (Jordan) is very like this.  Some people just win the genetic lottery.

Kindness Cliche:  I've written often that fantasy is by nature liberal.  Kindness isn't really a cliche, but it figures heavily in fantasy.  Kindness is the seminal virtue of Tolkien's hobbits.  They aren't tough, strong, quick, smart, or particularly nimble, but they happen to have big hearts and they see the world of Middle Earth through our eyes.  Almost every single great fantasy novel of the past fifty years uses Kindness as its fundamental virtue.  George R. R. Martin being an outlier, but that said, ASoIF's greatest heroes, Jaime, Tyrion, Jon, and Bran all are quite kind, though it wins them little.

Knight Cliche:  The Knight's physical attributes are obvious, full-length plate mail, shining armor, penants, chargers, lances, mustaches, beards, doublets, and sigils.  He believes that what is lawful is what is right, true, and honorable, and can be quite inflexible.  The knight is a militant cleric, though not a true paladin with healing powers of his own, belonging to an order steeped in a militaristic tradition with various ranks, and often believing or serving a single deity.

Lord of the Rings (LOTR Race Cliche): this cliche doubles with the Dungeons and Dragons cliche, and there is continued dispute on the provenance of such creatures as elves, dwarves, orcs, hobbits, and goblins.  However, the LOTR cliche doesn't come with any of the gaming nonsense, the binding to rules of spell casting, character alignments, etc.  The LOTR cliche is also tightly bound to the Dragon Cliche, the Evil God cliche, and the Christ/Christian meme.  But, in a sentence, the cliche simply includes the race types common in all modern post-Tolkien fantasy, and all the cliches discussed above and below.

Norse Cliche:  All modern cultures have a pre-industrial, medieval history, and it is these histories that are most often drawn upon in fantasy.  The Norse cliche, is used frequently, most recently in my reviews by Joe Abercrombie in his Shattered Sea books.  Think longships, oarslaves, throwing axes, men with beards, cold weather, etc.  The gods of course, made popular by Marvel, Thor, Loki, and a host of others.

Old Wizard Cliche:  The precursor for the old wizards are obvious, Merlin and Gandalf.  Men of mystery who are ancient, frequently living hundreds of years.  Long robes with arcane symbols, funny hats, staves, long beards and pipes.  There is also, in many of these Old Wizard types, a sly sense of humor, likely originating with Gandalf.  Their powers depend largely on the world created for them, and more modern Old Wizards tend to have at their command much more immense powers than their older counterparts.

Play within a Play Cliche: a non fantasy cliche, used often in the genre to provide backstory.  Either it's a story told around a campfire, a song, or a flashback.  Also, like in Hamlet, there is sometimes an aspect that is not merely historical, but meant to shine a crooked light on the current situation.

Second Son Cliche: The Second Son cliche is a medieval favorite, but it contains a lot of variance.  Historically, the first son stood to inherit, so the second son was inline to inherit some smaller portion of wealth, Or nothing at all.  Of course, given the life expectancy, and the tendency for first sons to die in war, or of a variety of other reasons, second sons frequently inherited.  Still, being second best, has been a meme in fantasy novels, and it creates a variety of different character types.  An excellent example of both of the most prominent types, The Loyal Son, and the Wicked Son, can be found in the excellent Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. The loyal son, is the one who was taught to be second fiddle to the first son, and embraced the position with great gusto.  The loyal son, forced to rule, is either forced to discover new character reserves within, or to wilt beneath the pressure.  The wicked son, obviously, attempts rebellion as a sop to his perpetually wounded ego. See also the Evil Brother cliche above.

Shapeshifter Cliche: This is a pretty obvious cliche. Usually part of the menagerie of a fantastic world, the shapeshifter is generally a monster that can assume various forms to employ deception.  Sometimes however, it is used very effectively as a main character trait: druids who can assume the shape of some totem animal, wizards who can turn into eagles, impossibly strong alien races who can transform into dragons (Anomander pu'Rake of the Malazan Book of the Fallen).  Though these are variants on the cliche, part of the basis of the cliche involves the distrust one would feel towards something that is not what it appears to be.  This entails some aspect of prejudice, particularly for those who do so for deceitful or manipulative ends.

Sisterhood of Magic Cliche/The Coven Cliche:  As with anything women oriented, this cliche is steeped in an ancient history of sexism that bears thinking about.  Just not here.  The cliche is simple, women with power gather, and those women form a society with rules, rituals, and history.  Sometimes those women are witches, and are hidden, fleeing from persecution: think any book or movie about witch craft.  Sometimes those women are sorceresses, and are adjudicators of law and principle, (Aes Sedai, from Wheel of Time, Confessors from The Sword of Truth), and sometimes they are nuns (which is likely another antecedent of the cliche) such as the nuns who take King Arthur's body when he dies.  In almost all cases, these cliches are steeped in a world history of sexism against women, even in worlds where they are revered.

Slave to Greatness Cliche:  Like the Diamond in the Rough Cliche, this cliche relates to someone who is as nothing, who becomes great, surpassing all that stands between him/her and glory.  Unlike the Diamond in the Rough Cliche, a slave is so much more downtrodden, moreover slaves, obviously have experienced such horror, ignominy, shame, backbreaking labor, and abuse, that their flowering is much more cathartic (though frequently riddled with pathos).  Such characters rise above their enslaved circumstances, but frequently the scars obtained during their time of servitude is impossible to overcome.  Some good examples include Raymond Feist's Magician Pug, Yarvi, from Abercrombie's Half a King, and Kaladin, from Sanderson's The Way of Kings.

Sleeping Goddess Cliche: The sleeping child is a very common religious theme, here's how it goes, the Earth is actually a dragon, or a titan, who settled down for a nap millions of years ago, and hasn't woken up.  One day he shall wake up, and the destruction of the world is assured.  I had difficulty tracing the origins of this particular myth.  I had thought it was Norse because of a review I read last year, but since then I have been unable to dig it up.  That said, it's existence in popular culture is very obvious.  For one, Steven Erikson's Malazan epic, is based on the idea of Burn's Sleep.  Burn is the being at the center of the earth, and it is she that the Crippled God has poisoned, because he wishes to destroy the world.  Transformers Prime, the cartoon, has Unicron, the Transformer God of Evil at the center of the Earth. Another good example would be the Hellfire Club of X-men renown.  The Hellfire Club worship the Phoenix, who they believe has been dormant in the center of the Earth, and will wake up one day, inhabit a young hot red head and "reform" the planet.  In Hayden's Rhapsody trilogy, the F'dor, the demons locked in a gravity well at the center of the Earth, want to wake up the Sleeping Child, in this case an enormous dragon.  The dragon will wake up, shed the earth around it, and raze the rest.  Sidebar:  Googling the "sleeping child/dragon at the center of the earth' was an education on just how crazy the internet is.

Telekinesis Cliche:  This cliche is misnamed, and I'm happy to change it.  Another way to phrase it might be David Edding's "Will and the Word."  It is a magic system where all that is needed to cast spells, and to exert magical power is will power.  It includes lifting objects and throwing them, often it empowers the user to flight.  Telekinesis is in direct opposition to the older and more classical view of magic, which uses spell components, arcane lore, and requires a lot of study and knowledge.  Possibly the best example of telekinesis is from the cult Japanese hit, Akira.  The character Tetsuo's powers of telekinesis destroys New Tokyo.  In modern fantasy Telekinesis is more normal than not, examples abound.

Void/Abyss: In recent years, as Dark Fantasy has taken root, and more sophisticated notions of good and evil have become mainstream, the notion of the Void, or the Abyss has grown in use as a fantasy cliche.  Evil wears many faces, but ultimately, as St. Augustine put it, "And even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new peace nearer to the “heart'’ desire; it is not because they dislike peace as such.  It is not that they love peace less, but they love their kind of peace more." Modern fantasy has greyed the lines of good and evil so thoroughly that the new evil, is to destroy the world.  Not to rule the world, not to commit acts of depravity, but to destroy it because the emptiness of the void is natural state of the universe.  There are other notions of the Abyss, of course, Hell, or Hell on Earth, but even so, Hell is rather busy, full of winches, and fires, whips and grinding gears.  The Abyss is simple, dark, cold, and utterly empty.  The Wheel of Time series promotes the Void cliche, as well as many others.

Welsh Cliche: The use of Welsh myths, names in fantasy.  That includes Arthurian legends.  Naming conventions use extra l's y's and f's in names making them generally unpronounceable to English tongues.  Good examples, The Once and Future King, The Chronicles of Prydain, Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody Quintet

White, The/Good:  The White Cliche is a term, I've stolen from Stephen King. From the wiki, "The White is the force of good that is led by Gan. The people of the White are allied together to protect the Beams and the Dark Tower from falling and stopping the world from moving on. It is the elemental force that represents wholeness, unity and health. They fight against their counterpart the Outer Dark which is led by the Crimson King." While that is all directly related to Stephen King's worlds (all of his worlds in fact) the point is clear.  Good is good.  It's in every fight and every fantasy.  The White applies even in dark fantasy where moral ambiguity abounds.  I could write pages on this cliche.

World in Decline: The World in Decline cliche is another popular sci-fi/fantasy cliche.  The entire genre of post-apocalypse fiction uses the cliche as a motivating concept.  In fantasy its application is used to explain why the society at hand is perpetually stuck in a non-progress loop, i.e. no technological development or liberalizing social movements.  A World in Decline was once great, and shows evidence of a truly majestic, but now dead society.  The current inhabitants of which dwell among the ruins.  One interesting note about the World in Decline cliche is that a happy ending in a declining world does not necessarily mean that the non-progress loop can or will end.  Perhaps because if it did, then it forces the recognition, both for the reader, and the author, that when they close the book and lay it down on the table, they are faced with the realities of what progress portends.

---- GODSOL, 2016


Though I did not use this list to create my own, this list of fantasy cliches is an excellent one, and should be viewed as well:
http://silverblade.silverpen.org/content/?page_id=73