Fathers Get A Bad Rap

It’s true … at least in fantasy. Fathers get a bad rap. Luke Skywalker’s father hacked his arm off and tried to turn him to the dark side. I have to admit there are a few times when my kids were not doing homework that I almost reached for my light saber in frustration.

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Frodo didn’t really know his father, Eragon never knew his, and even my own Seanchai, leaves his father in the first chapter of At The Walls of Galbrieth and has to struggle through six books without parental advise, and then…well, let me know when you get to the fourth book, Sacrificial Flame.

Terry Brooks doesn’t offer much father: son/daughter love with his characters and Beowulf’s wouldn’t let his son tell anyone who his father was. Terry Goodkind might have spared Richard Cypher discovering who his father was and how he was conceived. Fathers are absent from the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and so on and so forth.

Here’s the mystery: all these books are written by men who, I am pretty sure, have/had sons. I myself would not even have ventured into the world of fantasy if not for a camping trip with my family.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Fathers, when they do appear, seem to be burdened by their responsibilities, often traveling to save crown or country, and seem somewhat at a loss how to be a good father. Somehow, this is no longer sounding fantastical. I spend a fair time away from my children, admittedly not slaying dragons or fending off hordes that want to invade my country, but doing work that puts food on the family table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully doing a little good for the world along the way.

Now fantasy is about coming-of-age, about the struggle of young people overcoming challenges as they grow into their full potential. Fair enough. We put our faith in our youth – this is an age old trope – and given how badly we adults have treated this world, each other, and what a mess we have made of society, it is only natural that we channel our optimism into the next generation.

But here on Father’s Day, let’s give credit to the gene pool. These young heroes and heroines must have received the hero gene from someone. No doubt their courageous and wise mothers had something to do with it, but so did we.

So head to the local tavern and raise a mug of mead: to all our fantasy heroes and the fathers who play their part, often against all odds and without an instruction manual (which we don’t read anyhow, being men). And if that spills out from the world of fantasy into the real world, well, so mote it be!

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Happy Father’s Day!  

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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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Genre Conventions .v. Originality

“But this is how it’s done in epic fantasy,” I whine to my writer’s group. “It’s part of the convention.”

We are a bonded group, anxious to support each other and so I receive sympathetic smiles and diplomatic silence. The silence screams in my ears. I know they are right. If I have to fall back on a sentence like that, I am in trouble. Or am I?

How important is originality?

Utter originality is, of course, out of the question.” – Ezra Pound

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” – Voltaire

I feel better already.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville.

Ouch!

Elves are tall, thin, have pointed ears, and excellent hearing. They look good in green, and shoot bow and arrows with exceptional accuracy.  Dwarves are short, rotund, live underground, mine and play around with axes. This is so because J.R.R. Tolkien put the epic in epic fantasy with his Middle Earth series’. Are the rest of us thus condemned to be mere recyclers of his work? Maybe. But I am not convinced how this is different from any other genre: romance has the same images and general plot arc. So does suspense and horror. And don’t get me started on dystopian thrillers.

So why do we so enthusiastically embrace conventions in a genre? It might be because some themes are simply timeless. I’m thinking Beowulf (maybe written in the eighth century) and The Odyssey (sixteen centuries before that!). Tolkien would concede that he was not the first, but when something works, you build your own version of it, and sometimes your version is good enough to capture the imagination of a very loyal readership. But it is not just enjoyment. It is pure escapism to a world we can get excited about, to values we can admire or fear (or both). It is also something familiar, something soothing. 

And yet when we embark on a new epic fantasy series, or try the work of a new author, we are seeking both something familiar and something original. What makes each author since Tolkien distinct is some aspect of his / her work. The relationship between Eragon and Saphira (his dragon), made Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series special. I have just started reading The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish (check out his cool book covers by Peter Ortiz) which is about two brothers (okay) who are not just orcs (hmmm), but half-orcs (ahhh). I was caught on page one. Dalglish has written a variance on the convention. So did R.A. Salvatore when he introduced Drizzt – a dark elf whose race were the opposite from the stereotypical elves. Five novels on, I am still intrigued. Daniel Arenson came up with his own original approach to dragons in the Song of Dragons series. 

Before I end, let me say how much I admire those who come up with something original – Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson – they capture us all and we devour their new approaches. But those who seek to ride their coattails are not so successful and I think this is very telling.

It says that while the fantasy readership will embrace a clever, well-written, new concept, that very concept might not establish itself beyond one brilliant author. Epic fantasy, however, with its elves, dragons and swords, continues to stand the test of time. This is not because our readership is lazy. Instead they demand depth – world building, characters, and a plot that offers a twist on a well-tested theme. They continue to surprise us with the familiar.

It’s a great genre to be a part of.

 Good Writing,

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).