Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.

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But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.

Goanna_head2Stegosaurus_Senckenberg-1

But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.

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Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.

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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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The Gods Of Fantasy – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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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-1

Imagine 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.

220px-Birdandbaby

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?

lewis-and-tolkien1

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 flies on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

 =========================================

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 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.

220px-Birdandbaby 

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?

 lewis-and-tolkien1

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!

—————————————————————————————————–

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.

 

What’s With The Pipe?

When you write epic fantasy, you have the privilege sit before a blank page (well screen nowadays). You make up all the rules. If you want these creatures to have different colored skin, pointed ears, horns, or magic, go for it. If you want to have unicorns, dragons, or any creature you make up, it is your right.

So what’s with the pipe? I know, Tolkien smoked, but he strode around Oxford in tweed, talking languages no one else remembers. In fact, there are a lot of characteristics about the master that we can adopt.

I think the secret lies with those who puff. I used to smoke a pipe for several years, seeing it as a compromise, a halfway house between smoking cigarettes and not. I loved my pipe. I craved the taste, loved the touch of the warm bowl, and enjoyed packing the pipe correctly, even cleaning it. All day, I looked forward to that time when I could put my feet up and puff the worries of the world away. 

I succeeded in giving up cigarettes for the pipe, but giving up the pipe proved tougher than I could imagine. This is not an article about smoking cessation, but even eight years later, if someone passed by me with his briar, or even is sitting a hundred feet away (given the correct wind), I will smell it, yearn for it, crave it for the rest of the day …  maybe for the rest of my life.

Perhaps this is why we continue to give our characters an opportunity that we are denying ourselves. Are we being foolish? Indulgent? 

I recently read a scene to my writer’s group in which, shortly after a bloody fight, the characters (those who survived) sat down and puffed their pipes. A colleague questioned me having my characters smoking in a YA novel. 

Fair point, I thought, until I realized that she had not objected to me exposing my tender, young readers to battle, killing, blood and gore.

I guess that one man’s poison is…well poison is poison. I shall have to sit and think about this. Now where’s my pi–.

Why do you think pipe smoking is a mainstay in fantasy novels?

Good reading.

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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).