Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts that were calorie-light. They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!
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Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarf Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and sharp! images-6

Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the Revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and coders and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. The definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed.

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.
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Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover.

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put my lance…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

BREAKING NEWS: Tourmaline Books have announced they are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of February though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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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).

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).