The Power of the Bow

There is a children’s movie just come out, Brave, with the heroine sporting a bow and arrow. Katnis, from the Hunger Games, was lethal with one. Legolas was extremely handsome even in the midst of a desperate fight for Helm’s Deep and never missed when he let fly.

It seems that a bow and arrow are integral ingredients in fantasy, even when the setting is modern enough for guns and technology. Bows were, of course, around before fantasy. Who can forget Robin Hood in the archery contest splitting his opponent’s arrow, which had pieced the center of the bull’s-eye? Classic.

And then there are the Samurai with their beautiful longbow, the Yumi. They didn’t just shoot it with their distinctive technique, but held a philosophical discipline, kyūjutsu, akin to Tai Chi and other spiritual martial arts.

Even after the bow became outdated as an effective weapon it remained a form of training for its warrior code value. The yumi was also fired from horseback because of its asymmetric shape and this practice evolved into a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame. At the risk of sounding trite, there is a beautiful scene in The Last Samurai, with the yumi being explained and fired.

In the West we have also been drawn to the spiritual values of the bow. Eugen Herrigel’s classic, Zen in the Art of Archery, is still a classic fifty years after he wrote it. My 13-year-old has become obsessed with archery. He made his own bow and learned how to shoot it from a teacher. He takes classes at camp and has spent over a year saving up to buy a ‘real’ bow. When I wrote two scenes in the third Wycaan Master book, he provided me with a lot of excellent and rich information. 

I’m still struggling with why the bow is so captivating. For some reason, I am not questioning the sword in the same way. Use of the sword is elegant, noble and also has numerous philosophies and katot (martial art form), but there is something that sets the bow apart and keeps us coming back for more.

 Any ideas? Please share in the comments below.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks

Okay, he wasn’t exactly Seanchai (his ears were predictably round, and he wielded a briefcase and pen, rather than elegant Win Dow swords and a blood-wood bow and magical arrows), and in truth, it wasn’t Starbucks, but a locally-owned independent coffee shop with a lot of attitude.

But in my humble defense, I met a young man who totally encapsulated everything I imagined in Seanchai, my Wycaan Master and protagonist of the same-named series. He had a distinct look about him that suggested you could trust him with your innermost secrets while knowing he possessed the ability to take you down without breaking a sweat.

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When he spoke, his voice was soft but carried authority. He operated as the calm in the storm while others flurried around him, achieving much less and having nowhere near as much responsibility as him.

As others joined us, they tensed their assertiveness, told funny jokes, and claimed great victories. He listened magnanimously, happy to back up any exaggerated story. And though, over exquisitely crafted lattes and frappes, each took center stage, still he remained the fulcrum for all.

I was fascinated. Surely this young man could effortlessly vanquish evil Emperors, emancipate a race, and inspire a society to join together with his unique magic. Failing that, I would settle for eradicating hunger, declaring world peace, and inspiring my soccer team to win the English Premier League.

And this got me thinking. Am I yet to meet Sellia, Ilana, Mhari, Rhoddan or Shayth in the Financial District of San Francisco? The truth is, I realized, I have taken traits from many of my friends and acquaintances. There is one with naturally spiky hair who runs his hand through it like Shayth, especially when agitated, causing it to stand even more erect. I have a friend who is constantly trying to placate others and encourage them to do the right moral thing, often teaching (or preaching – depends who you ask), just as Ilana does, drawing all the time strength from her life-partner. But I don’t think I ever met Seanchai … until Starbucks.

It begs the question: are there also people wandering out there in the non-fantasy world, muggles some might call them, who are the real version of our fantasy characters? I believe that the magic of J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, for example, was that we all knew a Harry, a Hermione, and Draco.

There is a soccer player in my beloved Arsenal, who looks exactly the opposite from Legalos, short and dark-haired, yet shares the impressive trait that his hair remains perfectly coiffured throughout a physically demanding soccer match.

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Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a character from a famous fantasy book or one you have just read? Have you met a Seanchai, Ilana, or Shayth? How about Bilbo Baggins or Frodo, Gandalf or Legalos?

And no, you cannot compare everyone in the Senate to Gollum or Emperor Palpatine. Behave yourself!

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 But here is a fun exercise. Which famous person reminds you of an epic fantasy character? Answers in the comments, please.

While I have already given you homework, I do have another request: If you have read one, two or four of my epic fantasy novels (and it can’t only have been my mother who bought all those books), please take a few minutes and leave an honest review on Amazon. It is really important to me.

Have a great week.

Alon – Elfwriter.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Will My Stories Be My Legacy?

This post is dedicated to a dear friend and poet, Al Levinson, who just passed away after a long struggle with cancer, refusing to compromise on his retirement dream as he traveled around America in his old RV. Al was a constant source of encouragement and support for many, myself included. His belief in my vision provided a consistent source of strength when my proverbial quill went dry or my doubts threatened to drown me.

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I wonder if the ‘Old Professor’ looks down from his study in the skies as people continue to fall in love with Middle Earth, with his elves and dwarves, his noble humans, and of course, his brave and lovable hobbits. What does he think as he puffs on his pipe and stares from the heavens at the people who annually watch his trilogy of Lord of the Rings, and who attend conventions to argue nuances of hobbit genealogy? Is he baffled that the quartet of geniuses from The Big Bang Theory is so in awe of him? (I just watched, perhaps for the sixth time, the episode with the ring … excuse me – The Ring).
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I recently met a young man who is, I think 11 or 12 years old. He has read the first three novels of the Wycaan Master series, and his first question was when Sacrificial Flame would be released. He then proceeded to tell me what he thought should be in the book, sharing stunning detail from the first trilogy. I probably sounded like a bumbling fool to him and his mother, but in truth, I was reeling from the astounding grasp this young man has on the geography of Odessiya, of the culture of each race (he knew in his mind exactly what a pictorian looks like – I don’t), and the trials and tribulations they have gone through, including so many minor threads.

The fusion of my family’s summer ritual to watch the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit, the passing of my friend Al, me turning fifty, and hearing this young man’s enthusiasm, awakened in me a desire to create a legacy, not only as a conscientious soul mate and father, a decent human being, and a good friend to all, but absurdly, that my characters will not go to the grave with me.

Perhaps it is a symptom of my acknowledgement of my own finiteness, having just turned fifty this summer, but there has emerged a powerful aspect of my writing: that I am creating something that will outlive me, and perhaps in the eyes of future generations, define me. Will my stories become my legacy?

Professor Tolkien might, at best, be bemused at the desire of grown men and women to dress up as Arwen and Legalos, Bilbo and Gollum at every excuse, or while he might scratch his head when we vigorously argue the merits of including a (formally nonexistent) female character being invented for The Hobbit movie. But I wonder does his chest swell up with pride when his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, proudly hold his books and tell their friends that “Tolkien was my grandfather”?

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I can’t speak for the ‘old professor’, but I hope one day to peer down through the clouds and see my grown sons, sitting around the camp fire with their offspring as we do each summer, telling the stories of Seanchai and Shayth, Mharina and Senzia. As their children yawn, struggling to stay awake, and beg for just one more chapter, my sons will close the book and say: “Let me tell you about the storyteller. He was your grandfather and I helped him write these stories…”

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Rest in peace, Al. We are many who were touched by your kindness and will carry your inspiring torch forward for future generations. I hope that, as you look down from the heavens, you see this as your legacy.

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Al Levinson RIP

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Empowering Stereotypical Female Protagonist

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the sappy male hero, the protagonist who is can be brave without being too macho and who is in touch with his values and feelings. The post generated considerable discussion and debate, and since I am in the appreciating mood, thank you for your feedback.

But it also got me thinking about my female protagonists. With well over 70% of readers apparently girls and women, it would seem daft to ignore them. In truth, my inspiration for strong female characters comes from less altruistic motives. I am blessed to have been surrounded with strong women all my life, none more so than Mrs. Elfwriter, who continues after two decades together, to amaze me with her strength, vision and principles. I have come through a tough summer and she has been my rock throughout.

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Yesterday, a dear friend told me that it would have been his and his deceased wife’s 25th wedding anniversary, had she not succumbed to cancer a few years ago. My mind reeled back to her struggle, to the elegance with which she continued, right up to the end, to be a source of strength and inspiration, to her family and friends.

These thoughts are relevant to my female protagonists because I realize that I am creating similar (albeit female) stereotypes of common heroes and heroines. Ilana, Sellia, Mhari, Pyre and Mharina are all brave warriors. Fearsome with bow or sword, they might seek to solve a conflict without resorting to violence (as Seanchai did, to be fair), but nonetheless are not females you would want to pick a bar fight with (not that you are that kind of person, of course).

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When I began this post, a couple of days ago, I had hoped to pat myself on the back for my strong female characters. In Sacrificial Flame there is almost an absence of strong males (unless they are evil antagonists). In Book 5 (sorry for the tease) there emerged two males who are not warrior-types. As I begin writing Book 6, I realize that I have not given them much space in my initial plan. I will address this. Likewise, I have not given thought to the non-warrior, strong female protagonist.

Do any strong female protagonists who are not warrior-type come to mind from your reading of epic fantasy? Is it even compelling to have female who is not beautiful, thin, brave, and wicked with sword or bow? Would love to hear.

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Have a great week. Read something epic!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).