Would James Bond Have Destroyed The Ring?

It’s a fascinating question. Well maybe not. I suspect 007 would have been more interested in nibbling Tauriel’s ears and held coiffured competitions with Legalos, but it opens the door to examine the hero in epic fantasy.

The James Bond stereotype – macho, sexy, deadly, fearless – does exist in epic fantasy, but more often than not, plays a supporting role. Consider Aragorn to Frodo, for example. What fascinates me here is that Frodo and his Uncle Bilbo opened the door to the imperfect, oft vulnerable and fearful hero.

And we love them.

Now my mother had a huge crush on James Bond, from Sean Connery onwards, and my father would certainly never fault her good taste, but at some point a new type of hero emerged.
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Why?

The Wycaan Master, Seanchai, began his journey as a simple, frightened village elf, bewildered and lost as he was forced to flee his village. In truth, many other characters pour scorn on him for his ineptitude, indecision, and lack of machismo.

We bind ourselves to him because Seanchai, and Frodo, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, all share something in common with us. They are continually faced with adversary, pressure, and a need to confront their fears.

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Most of us dream of being a James Bond, oozing confidence, sexuality, and infallibility, but somehow it appears more unreachable than a fleeing elf, a scared hobbit, or a bewildered dragonrider.

I suppose we might question our grasp on reality when we figure we have more chance defeating the evil all-powerful Sauron or Emperor, than seducing the sexy sidekick, fellow spy, or riding a dragon. But it is not what they do, but how they deal with it. This is where we connect to them and therefore where we root for them.

As I write this blog post, my beloved Golden State Warriors have just done battle with Lebron James for the NBA title. Lebron is touted by many as the hero, despite his incredible lack of humility – we don’t need you to remind us you are the best player on the planet, Lebron. The Warriors, led by a rather humble Step Curry, won because they are a team in a team sport. Sure, Curry is the Most Valuable Player in the league, but he continually credits his teammates, his coach, and shows his love for his family. Curry is my Seanchai, not that I would cast Lebron necessarily as the evil Emperor … unless the Cavs would have won, of course.

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Would James Bond have put the One Ring on his finger and admired how well it complimented his fine, perfectly lithe fingers? Would he have removed it – he did have a thing for gadgets! How about Lebron James? We need heroes. We love our martinis shaken but not stirred, but we still appreciate a good pint of stout at the village tavern, surrounded by our friends. It is what keeps us honest and what keeps epic fantasy relevant.

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We all need a hero.

Finally, thank you to everyone who sent good wishes with the announcement of From Ashes They Rose. I am very excited and will share more details as I receive them. It still feels so special and I hope it always will. And yes, to the gentleman in Texas, you can begin with Sacrificial Flame, but…

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame, all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose will be released in September 2015. 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).

Happy Hobbit Day!

To celebrate Hobbit Day tomorrow (the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo), I would like to share a post I wrote two years ago after the first Hobbit movie came out. There is so much depth in the Hobbits’ simple characters, especially in relation to the others around them – wizards, kings, princes, elf lords etc., that it is an amazing tribute to Tolkien how he weaved these unassuming and lovable creatures into our psyches. This was my tribute to the old professor after the movie. 

Happy Hobbit Day!

THERE ARE NO SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE IN THIS POST.

Last week I blogged about my expectation that a new generation were about to embark on an unexpected journey into the world of epic fantasy as they sat and watched the first Hobbit movie.

I mentioned with pride how my teenage son, moving into social independence, chose to see the movie with me rather than his friends. My first fantasy novel (and the three others to a lesser extent), At The Walls Of Galbrieth, was a joint project, and I identify our mutual love for the genre as one more log to grab as he flows down the river of manhood.

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We sat next to each other and whispered and compared experiences. It was everything a father could hope for.

But it was with my youngest son (10 years old) with whom I had an unexpected experience. I wish to thank the movie theatre for failing to fix the armrest between us (why does this never happen on a date?). We were able to push it up and out of the way and for three hours, we cuddled together as we watched the movie.

While my older son leaned over and whispered whenever he wanted to, I could actually feel my youngest son’s reaction by his body language. I was intrigued. I felt when he tensed, when he was amazed, when he was sad, and when he laughed.

Other people - didn't think my fellow movie-goers would appreciate the flash!

Other people – I didn’t think my fellow movie-goers would appreciate the camera flash in the middle of the movie!

As we made our way home after the movie, my youngest enthusiastically told me about how we should incorporate this or that into the fourth Wycaan Master novel. I think the Tolkien Estate might sue if we did what he was suggesting, but for the moment, I just basked in his enthusiasm.

Another epic fantasy lover. I’m not the greatest father, I know. But this evening I felt I had done my job.

Finally a shout out to Stephen Colbert. Depending on your politics, you may or may not enjoy his nightly show. But he is undoubtedly impressive with his ability to be satirical and hold his own with very high-level guests.

But he outdid himself with a week of tribute to The Hobbit. Turns out, Mr. Colbert is a major Tolkien fan. His elfish sounds polished, and his knowledge of The Professor’s work is awesome.

Colbert and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf)

Colbert and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf)

Check him out on You Tube – he has a different cast member as guest each night.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev 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+

How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

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I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

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I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

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The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

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The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

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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. 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+

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien

Everyone should have a mentor, a leader they look up to, someone who, when they are faced with a dilemma consider: What would XXX do? That person might be a religious leader, a youth leader, a teacher … or a professor.

A month ago, on another blog, I spoke of the loss I feel for Nelson Mandela and describe his influence at various times of my life. But I have another hero, not one who would, I am sure, compare himself to Madiba, but a man I think about all the time when writing. If I am faced with an issue in one of my books, I pause and try and imagine what a certain old Oxford professor would advise me to do.

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The old professor is, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and others. His books are legendary, his world-building stunning, and his ability to create languages simply mind-boggling.

But often what people forget is that Tolkien seemed, on the outside at least, to be anything but a fantasy writer. He was an academic, a somewhat stiff Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. One fine summer day, he was rather bored marking term end papers when someone had inadvertently inserted a blank page.

Tolkien, without much thought, scribbled on the white paper the famous words: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

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And he went on to change the world of epic fantasy forever. He should have realized what he was doing, for as he warned dear Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Today, J.R.R. Tolkien is, I believe, in a pub up there in heaven, celebrating with his illustrious friends from The Inklings  and raising a glass to celebrate his 122nd birthday.

In the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo celebrates his eleventy-first birthday, so it is only fitting to wish Tolkien a very happy twelvety-first birthday and to sing him Happy Birthday in elvish, the language he created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

So please, wherever you are, take a moment, pour yourself a glass of whatever does it for you and raise it to the following song:

Happy Birthday Professor – Oronnad meren allen! 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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+

Thank You!

It is 30 minutes before the end of Amazon’s KDP 3-Day Promotion of At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I hoped you enjoyed the blog posts, the tweets, and the messages over the last three days. 

If you downloaded At The Walls Of Galbrieth – thank you (if not – you still have 30 minutes!). I do not have results at the time of writing, but I so appreciate the amazing support I have received throughout this wild adventure since the initial summoning of the Wycaan Masters four years ago.

This is how it all began - deep in a redwood forest.

This is how it all began – deep in a redwood forest.

One door closes and another opens. We are celebrating a year when the second and third books came out and the first won a national award. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join me at Games of Berkeley on December 15 – details here.

In January 2014, the manuscript of Book 4 will go to the ruthless hands of my editor and I will begin writing Book 5. Such is the pace as the journey continues.  I never thought I would get here and know I could not have done so alone.

As our mutual friend, Bilbo once said: 

You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

Thank you for your companionship along the road.

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy

As a warm up for reading this blog, please  say the following five times as quickly as possible: The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy.

I shared some thoughts on Left Coast Voices regarding Father’s Day this Sunday. But it occurred to me that the father figures in epic fantasy gets a tough time. Here is a brief overview of a few of our beloved characters and their fathers (I acknowledge that I am encompassing a wide definition of the genre for this post. Purists – please excuse me this once).

WARNING: There might be spoilers here, so I am giving the name of the character first and won’t be offended if you skip that part.

1. Luke Skywalker:

I know this is sci-fi and not fantasy, but we have all hung there with Luke as his father, who had just chopped off his arm, now looms over him with a lightsaber. What a time to discover your father! As if it is not enough that your uncle and aunt who brought you up were murdered, now you discover your father is a metallic mass-murderer.

Suggestion: Do not buy Dad a lightsaber. It is the first step to the Dark Side and he already has plenty of power tools he never uses.

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2. Tyrion Lannister:

So your father abused you and openly hated and insulted you. As if you don’t have enough to contend with two older, beautiful siblings, who are bonking, or the fact that you were born stunted and are accused of killing your mother as she gave birth to you. Not hard to understand why A Lannister Always Pays His Debts!

Suggestion: Don’t give your father a ‘quarrel’ even if he deserves it.

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 3. Eragon:

Also grew up never knowing his true father and then, like Luke Skywalker, finds his uncle, who was like a father to him, is murdered in his stead. Of course, no sooner does he discover who his father really is, than he has to bury him, and take considerable blame for brave father’s death.

Suggestion: Giving your old man your dragon/porche just before he dies is classy, but do check your insurance policy first.

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4. Drizzt Do’Urden:

Gotta give the dark elf considerable credit. He grew up in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan. where all males were merely fighters and concubines. Of course his mother and sisters abused him and tried to kill him, and by the time he discovered who his father really was, well…I don’t think he even got to bury him.

Suggestion: a bit stumped here. When your father gave you a genetic sense of justice, enough to turn you against your mother and sisters, what can you really reciprocate with? 

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Artist – Noche

5. Frodo Baggins:

I admit, I had to look this up and cannot guarantee my sources. Frodo’s father was Drogo and we don’t know much about him other than he went and drowned in a boating accident. Hobbits should know not to participate in such dangerous and adventurous pastimes as boating. At least, Frodo had a nice secure upbringing with his first cousin once removed (and not his uncle as even dear Bilbo often referred to himself). It was not as though Bilbo passed on any artifact that was incredibly dangerous and held the fate of the entire Middle Earth!

Suggestion: Stay away from the jewelry!!!

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In epic fantasy we gravitate to protagonists who are the underdogs, who overcome adversary, and make great personal sacrifice. But we also seem to be sending out a message to our young readers that the absent/weak/villain father is the norm.

It must not be so. Every young man deserves a father who is a role model, imperfect and flawed as we may be, but a father who will teach him to fish, nock an arrow, believe in a just society, and to be a good human being…or elf…dwarf etc.

I’m sure if we were to meet Luke, Eragon, Tyrion, Drizzt or Frodo in a pub, they would all agree that they wished they had fathers they could truly appreciate and learn from.

Perhaps being the best father you can is the greatest quest any of us can embark on. It may not save Middle Earth or Menzoberranzan, but it will make our world a better place to live in.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.