Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

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Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had past this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes we have. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, it is relaxing to ride a horse through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

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 The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to make the world a better place to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me, often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six day and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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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 @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

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Sword and Gun Control

Epic Fantasy, among many genres, has the ability to whisk us away from reality and send us into a world of noble quests, ancient swords, and magnificent mythical animals. It also has the ability to offer wisdom for the world we live in and I have written about this before.

Airship10But sometimes it is really hard to let go and enter this world – or to return to the one we live in. I needed to write a post for this blog a day or so after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and I couldn’t. What can one possibly write on a blog like this? 

I searched the Internet, found something amusing and pre posted it. It was a cop-out; admittedly perhaps some much-needed comic relief. But I’ve been thinking about this ever since. If epic fantasy is anything more than escapism, then we should have something to say? 

When National Rifle Association VP, Wayne LaPierre, blames violent video games, perhaps to deflect the debate on gun control, we need to ask ourselves whether we as fantasy authors and readers are also glorifying violence. 

The fact we use bows and arrows, axes and swords instead of semi-automatic machine guns doesn’t make it cleaner. I admire (begrudgingly as it is sometimes hard to read) the gruesomeness of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series. What he describes in his battle scenes are probably the closest we come to the reality of battle. 

imgres-8But I am stuck with the feeling that if we do not write about the darker side, how can we reach for the lighter? For a rainbow to appear, there needs to be a storm. We do have a responsibility not to glorify or keep the violence clean. I am not sure that I achieve this in At The Walls Of Galbrieth and especially not in the huge battles that take place in The First Decree. I am not sure how to even achieve this without excluding the young adults for whom I primarily write. I do not believe my 14-year-old son and his friends, who devour my books, should read A Game of Thrones because of the violence (and also the way he portrays sex).

How can we keep on moving forward after a tragedy? Does it not maybe become even more important not to give up? I’ll leave the last words to a couple of good friends.

FRODO: “What are we holding onto Sam?”

SAM: “That there’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Frodo and Sam

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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).