In Awe of George R.R. Martin & his Peer

I wrote this post last month but realized that, with the entire GoT community enthralled with Season 8 on HBO, it might not be a great time to exalt a book by the creator. Neither is it the first time I have written about Martin, either in awe or frustration.

I had not read what the book was about when I started to listen to the audio version of Fire and Blood. My initial reaction was that this was a bust, a clumsy attempt to get GoT fanatics to spend more money.

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This book is fictional history and presented exactly as one would expect when reading about the Roman Empire or the kings and queens of England. It is one person narrating about events, sprinkled with the occasional legend or rumor. But there is no dialogue and a very different angle on character development than what one expects in a novel.

And yet I was intrigued. I listened through the long and intricate history, getting excited when the origins of such things as how the Iron Throne and even King’s Landing came about. When I began to see a link forming between what was being read (and absolute kudos to the incredible narration by Simon Vance) and what I know is coming in ASOIAS, my excitement rose. I listened twice to the chapter about Bravos.

When I sat to write this post, my goal was to exult the world-building vision of George R.R. Martin. Who could possibly get away writing fiction without dialogue? Who would dare try? I came up with only a single comparable and the epiphany shocked me.

There is only one other author who could possibly have pulled this off, a certain Oxford professor for whom an incredible movie was just released and largely ignored (I think – did you watch it?).

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I have always considered Tolkien to be a one-off, an author such as we have never seen in terms of such comprehensive world building, and will never see again. Now, despite my frustration with Mr. Martin for allowing the TV series to get ahead of the books, and the general pace of his production (go ahead George – kill off my favorite character!), I bestow upon him the right to stand alongside The Professor in the pantheon of my legendary authors.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

I know this is a strange referral, but an anonymous reviewer on the Amazon page wrote exactly what I want to articulate. He or she refers to themselves as DM and their review is the first of 897 entitled The History Tolkien Longed To Publish (DM – if you read this, please reach out – I would love to properly attribute your excellent review).

Essentially, when he wrote The Silmarillion saga, Tolkien was attempting to provide us with the depth of the world he had built, something only hinted about in The Hobbit or LOTR. Whether he achieved this or not, I will leave to the Tolkien scholars to debate.

All I know is, as I reflect on the world I created in the Wycaan Master series, and now the Kingfisher Saga, I follow in the footsteps of giants … two giants who continue to motivate me to raise my own level of what we authors call The Craft.

Finally, in response to the Starbucks scandal (see 1st image) below, I loved this response (2nd image) of how the coffee order was likely made. Hopefully, I leave you with a laugh, and use as an excuse to boast that my eldest son is now officially a barista at Peet’s and, in my totally unbiased opinion as a proud father, rocking it!

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Good Writing,

Alon Shalev / 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 published by Tourmaline Books.

More at http://www.alon-shalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

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A Middle Earth Thanksgiving

During the later days of Middle Earth …

King Aragorn was fascinated. One of his emissaries had just returned from a land far, far away, where they celebrated a festival which commemorated a group arriving to a new world and being welcomed by the indigenous people who offered them food and grain. To show their gratitude, the explorers promptly conquered the indigenous people, crowded them into reservations, and reciprocated their generosity by giving them all kinds of diseases for which the indigenous people  had no immune response, along with almost sole rights to gambling establishment.

Who couldn’t resist making a holiday out of this? King Aragorn marshaled his army…of caterers and executive assistants.

Two weeks later, the king entered his great hall and a smile crossed his face. His beautiful wife, Arwen, sat at one end of the table, with three handsome longhaired, blond elves with narrow, distinct features, and jeweled headbands, sitting erect and aloof to her right (family was a big part of this festival, Aragorn had been told), and three thick-shouldered dwarves to her left. The dwarves were already drinking, though the food had not been touched. He would forgive them their transgression. It was Thanksgiving after all.

Next to his end of the table sat four, diminutive hobbits, small creatures who, Aragorn knew, had big hearts. Just seeing them made him…well, thankful. Hey, he was really getting the hang of this festival!

On the other side sat Gandalf, his huge mane of hair as white as his flowing robes, his long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, though recent city ordinances meant he could no longer smoke indoors. Aragorn frowned. Gandalf had asked to bring a friend, but really, Gollum?

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All rose when they saw the King of Middle Earth enter and he magnanimously beckoned them to sit.

“My friends,” he began and then as he glanced at Gollum, he forgot his next words. “My friends…um…thank you for joining me. Welcome to the first ever Thanksgiving dinner in Middle Earth.”

A huge cheer went up from the hired, union card-carrying and adoring crowd, packed into the corner and given generous barrels of beer and non-alcoholic refined sugar (for the designated cart drivers) – another discovery from the land of Thanksgiving.

“I have taken the liberty of adapting the traditions to suit us. For example, they eat a bird that has so been tampered with, it is no longer able to fly. I decided to genetically modify a dragon, which is both an excellent source of lean protein, and a low imprint and sustainable dish, since it can heat itself.”

“Cooked?” Gollum said. “Yuck!”

“Is there a gluten-free option?” Elrond asked, sending just the right message of disdain at the idea of meat.

“Avocado,” Queen Arwen snapped, wondering why you were expected to invite relatives to this new festival.

“I use that on my skin,” Legolas said, “as you can all see.” As one, they all glared at him.

The king knew he had to move on. “Thank you to Samwise for providing us with this beautifully colored corn. Such a decorative centerpiece.”

“Oops,” said a dwarf, his mouth full.

“Bloody dwarves,” a voice said and intended only for pointed ears.

“Excuse me?” An axe was quickly brandished.

images-2“Splendid idea,” King Aragorn said quickly. “Perhaps you would do me the great honor and carve the dragon?”

The axe came down hard and everyone spend the next ten minutes, wiping the fat and grease from their hair, beards, and fine garments.

At least, this festival will please the dry cleaners, the queen thought.

Legolas leaned forward. “You might not have noticed but the dragon was already dead.”

Gimli slammed his tankard down, sloshing beer onto the silk tablecloth. He leaned forward brandishing a yam. “Perhaps we should check if this is soft enough to eat. We could stick it up your tight–”

“Gimli!” Gandalf shouted and the table rattled with fear. “Sit down!”

“I am sitting down!” Gimli shot back.

“Oh. Of course. Sorry.”

“I believe,” the king said, “that those who made up this festival, would go round the table and share what each of us are thankful for. I will start. I am thankful for being a king and having everyone do everything I say.”

He glanced over at the hired cheerers, who raised their glasses and cheered.

“Don’t they love me,” Aragorn mumbled to himself. He then turned to the hobbits. “Who will go next?”

Samwise raised his glass. “I be thankful that me old gaffer has a beautiful garden full of blooming roses. Oh an’ I’m thankful for me beautiful Rosie of course.”

“I am thankful for my stunning good looks, my modesty,” Legolas offered, “and the hair gel that keeps me so manicured even during the battle of Helms Deep. By the way, I did kill twice as many orcs as you, Gimli.”

“How about you, Gimli?” the king asked quickly as the dwarf glared across the table.

“Gold,” Gimli said, “and more gold,”

And off the dwarves went with their favorite song: “Gold, Gold, Gold.” But they soon got confused with the lyrics.

“What about you, Gandalf?”

“I’m thankful for Peter Jackson, who managed to make as many movies out of the thin Hobbit novel as he did from three thick tomes of Lord of the Rings. Very considerate of him.”

“Gold. Gold. Gold.

“Arwen, dear?”

“I’m just happy that I have the opportunity to host such events. Tell me dear, how many of these Thanksgivings are there each year?”

“Just one, my Evening Star.”

“Thank goodness,” she mumbled into her napkin.

Aragorn felt a tug on his sleeve. “Yes Gollum?”

“Whatssss issss Gollum thankful for, you asssssk?”

“Yes, yes, I do. Please go on.”

“Thessse,” he said brandishing a long tube, wrapped in shiny red paper. “Itsss called a cracker. Pull with me pleasssse.”

Aragorn indulged him and they both tugged. There was a pop and a flash. Then a single shimmering gold piece flew into the air and Gollum deftly caught it.

“Look. A sssuprise,” Gollum said. “A ring. My precciou­–“

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He put it on and promptly disappeared.

“Oh bugger,” said Frodo.

“Well,” Aragorn said, signaling his aide to call up the entire army. “Let’s partake of this Thanksgiving feast before we march on Mount Doom. By the way, the next festival we will celebrate is the birth of a pacifist, who stood by his principles, got betrayed by his friends, and crucified by his rulers. They made so many wars in his name, I hear. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun. Tuck in everyone.”

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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 DecreeAshbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame (Wycaan Master Book 4) 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).

The Gods of Fantasy

Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

imgres-1Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents. 

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

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I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

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Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flys on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

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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.