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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Happy Birthday My Favorite Professor

Dear Professor,

Happy Birthday, sir.

You probably don’t remember me since I never took a class with you while you lived. Neither have I sat in the lecture auditorium at Oxford, nor a tutorial in your office.

But I consider myself a student of yours nonetheless. I have read most of your books (got a bit lost on the more obscure ones to be honest) several times, watched the movies (though I’m not sure you  would give academic credit for that), and read numerous books about you and your work.

 

When I write, I see you as someone to emulate, someone who has set the standard. It is not just you of course, please don’t get ahead of yourself; there is Terry Brooks,  Robert Jordan, and some new kids on the block: Christopher Paolini, George R.R. Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss – you would approve of the former, and latter, I am sure.

But as much as I admire them, when faced with an issue writing 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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But while your books are legendary, your world-building stunning, and your ability to create languages are simply mind-boggling, what amazes me is that you had it in you in the first place: an academic, a somewhat upper-crust Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. Was it the latter? Was what you witnessed on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War the seeds for LOTR? Was this the only way you could find to express the struggle of good .v. evil? 

What happened that fine summer day as you marked term papers? Were you bored? Looking forward to a vacation? Had a pint too many of Eastfarthing at lunch? When you stared at that blank sheet of paper a student had accidentally inserted, what made you scribble: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

Whatever possessed you, sir, changed the world of epic fantasy forever. Perhaps you should have heeded the advice you gave 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.

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I hope you are sitting in a pub up there in heaven, surrounded by wonderful friends – elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even a few humans, most likely friends from The Inklings.  and raising a glass to celebrate his 123rd birthday.

This student thanks you for everything you gave him as a reader and taught him as an author. A very happy twelvety-first birthday, sir! And to celebrate, here is a rendition of Happy Birthday in elvish, the language you created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

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, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

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+

 

Everyone Wants To Be An Elf

How many times have you uploaded an article or song on the Internet and then got lost surfing through hundreds of comments underneath? Whether discussing politics, sports, or comparing the lead singers of Nightwish, it gets ugly very quickly. If you need to stock your insult arsenal, You Tube comments is the place to go – but a shot of JW or an anger management course might be more effective, long term…just saying, calm down.

Earlier this week, I played a Gothic music play list (that I can’t find now) while I wrote a new chapter for Book 4 of the Wycaan Master series. I made the mistake of perusing the comments and they were eye opening.

Tens of people (and I did not check all 2,000+ comments) wrote why they would love to be an elf. Just for the record, I believe people were imagining Legalos and not Will Ferrell or any of his fine companions.

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But there they were: some frivolous, but many, well, I believe laced with a genuine desire. They seemed to resonate with something deep inside, something lost.

Some spoke of the physical attributes – tall and thin, healthy (have you ever seen an elf sneeze? – they even die beautifully – yes I’m talking about you, Haldir, at Helm’s Deep, I’m sure you remember), long living, nimble, coordinated… 

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Others mentioned emotional attributes – decisive, confident, calm, intelligent, loyal mates (I plan to research this – I did a quick search for the Rivendale Daily Enquirer but they only distribute in the Western Isles).

And there was also an interesting assortment of comments such as: they could trust their leaders; they were in touch with nature… 

When I began writing the Wycaan Master series, it was clear to my sons and me that we didn’t want to make the elves (most of our protagonists) perfect. They get angry, make wrong decisions, feel abashed at that first kiss, and seem more…well human (ouch!).

In fact, one of the comments that surfaced as I read At The Walls Of Galbrieth to my writer’s group wass that I failed to distinguish them as elves. I struggled to do this without stepping into the familiar stereotypes. As I write Book 4, things have become somewhat darker, with the protagonists facing greater personal challenges. I continue to find it difficult to strike a cord between making my elves special without them losing their genuine, vulnerable side.

Finally, as I write this, I am listening to The Hobbit soundtrack. There is a long thread of comments, disagreements, and debate. But this is the comment that caught my eye:

RobbieBjork17 wrote: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

It made me absurdly proud to feel a part of the Epic Fantasy nation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both 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 on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Quite A Week

It has been quite a week for me. First, thank you to everyone who left such beautiful reviews both on amazon.com and across the pond at amazon.co.uk. In fact, both At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree are doing well there. I’m not sure what happened, but I received over 300 hits on Wednesday in an hour in the early California light. So whoever sparked it – I thank you too. 

I finished my own edit of Ashbar, Wycaan Master Book. 3, and sent it under the scalpel of the Master Surgeon (or Mistress Editor to be more accurate), Monica Buntin. While I wait, it is an opportunity to get back to writing Book 4. I wrote over 40,000 words during the Xmas break and I can’t wait to hit that keyboard – so much easier than a treadmill. I also left a few characters hanging and I need to apologize to them and let them move on.

I discovered, and I realize that 90% of those who read this blog are about to roll their eyes, that J R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of a writers critic group at Oxford. It blew my mind and I scuttled off to find a copy of The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, who also wrote a great biography of the Professor. More on this when I actually finish his book.

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Finally, The Hobbit came out on DVD and BluRay. In case you have never heard of this movie, Yahoo Movies offered us two delightful caveats.  I particularly loved their chart to differentiate between the races, but their behind-the-scenes video was cool as well.

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I couldn’t see how to download it, so please accept The Song Of The Misty Mountain in its place.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both 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 on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

Why Epic Fantasy Can Be So Profound

The Lord of the Rings is a story (or several stories) about elves and dwarves and dragons and quests. And yet, professors sit in their Ivy League towers and dig deep into the story, seeking meaning, analyzing plot and characters, symbolism and analogy.

Grown men and women who read the books 20 or 30 years ago, continue to debate the values and meaning, while counting down the days from one epic movie to another. We reverently pass on the books, DVD’s and walk our children to the movies – a sacred rite of passage.

Here is a documentary that not only analyzes these aspects through a variety of knowledgable men and women with delightful accents, but also the symbiotic relationship between Tolkien with C.S. Lewis. Both men’s motivations and writing, for example, were shaped through their experiences in World War 1. They went on to create two of the greatest epic fantasy series ever. It is thirty minutes that are well worth the time.

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So please, grab yourself a mug of ale, light up the Longbottom leaf, and enjoy a revealing explanation of a unique man who blazed a path for so many who came after him.

As one who owes him so much, I am truly humbled.

One last point: if you have the energy,  browse through the comments under the You Tube video. It is amazing how many people had such difficulty reading the LOTR and yet still have a deep appreciation for the work.

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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).

A Poem In Elvish – J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a rare gem. That an author could possibly make up an entire language is mind-blowing. Yet we often forget that beyond the dragons, swords, and quests, J.R.R. Tolkien created an entire language. As a professor of philology (ancient languages) at Oxford University, Tolkien was already immersed in the mechanics of how a language is put together. 

But the professor took it to another level when he actually made up a language. With the hype beginning to build for The Hobbit movie, this poem surfaced read by the master himself.

Enjoy!

My own elvish is somewhat rusty, so here is a translation of Namarie (Farewell) courtesy of Josh Jones, who goes into greater detail about the when and where.  

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years
numberless as the wings of trees! The long years
have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue
vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the
song of her voice, holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of Stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like
clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies on the
foaming waves between us, and mist covers the
jewels of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost for
those from the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe
even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

And, in case you haven’t got enough, here is Tolkien again, reciting the Song of Durin (in English). 

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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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, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

What Would Tolkien Say?

I wasn’t that surprised when I heard originally that The Hobbit would be expanded into more than one movie. Harry Potter 7 and Breaking Dawn have set the precedence. But I was stunned (pleasantly, I must admit) that somehow the thin, children’s book is going to take as much time as Lord of the Rings, volumes of which are well-known for many attributes, not least that of a competent doorstop.

Still, I thought, in Peter Jackson I trust. LOTR is an amazing movie trilogy, so why not have the hobbit and dwarves trudge through countless woods and mountain ranges. Offer a few character insights, and smoke a few more pipes around the fire. Works for me and I doubt a particular Oxford linguistics professor would have minded.

But, now I hear that Peter Jackson has actually invented some new characters and I must admit to feeling somewhat perturbed. Is J.R.R. Tolkien sitting in his celestial study puffing his pipe furiously? 

It had occurred to me that we are a bit short on the females in this book, less noticeable for a book, but an issue for the screen. This has obviously occurred to Mr. Jackson as well, as he introduces Tauriel, an elven warrior, who according to the info released is head of the elven guard. Lost star Evangeline Lilly plays this fearsome (and no doubt sexy warrior) and she is quoted as saying:

“She is a warrior. She’s actually the head of the Elven guard. She’s the big shot in the army. So she knows how to wield any weapon, but the primary weapons that she uses are a bow and arrow and two daggers. And she’s lethal and deadly.”

While I am the last to complain about introducing any elf, I feel uneasy. And it has nothing to do with her resembling a Mord Sith. I’m feeling rather traumatized, having (after watching Legend of the Seeker on TV) just listened to Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind – on audio alone in my car, which fleshes out (excuse the extremely accurate pun), the Mord Sith techniques. Let’s just say that if any woman in red leather comes within 50 feet, I’m running.

But the question is not what this humble elfwriter thinks, but what Tolkien would say. I have a number of books on the master, but never met him. However, I can’t help feeling he would not be amused. 

I can’t imagine someone taking my books and inserting new characters. It seems to be one step too far. What do you think? How loyal should Peter Jackson stay to the original work?

When does The Hobbit become The Hollybit?

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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).