On fantasy and my love of it

I have yet to post about one of my favourite genres of book: fantasy. Yes I did recently write about Game Of Thrones but it is surprising that it has taken me such a long time to get around to this hugely incorporating genre. I read the Riftwar saga by Raymond E. Feist a few years ago now, but I have been thinking about it a lot recently and so here it belongs.

For those of you that are not into the dragons and chivalry, swordsmen and ogres, dwarves and elves then honestly I don’t know what to say. In my opinion reading is a method of escapism, whether you read a book set in Afghanistan or one set in an invented world full of mythical creatures they both fulfil their purpose: to escape. Fantasy is a realm of fiction that really grabs escapism by the reins and throws them out the window. I hear many people justify their dislike of fantasy with “there is too much unnecessary description, to the point where it is just no longer believable.” But can this not also be said for any classic? The older you get, the more descriptive you get; and in a round about way, fantasy is often set in a world comparable to the middle ages.

magician

This particular saga really is brilliant. The first in the opening trilogy is Magician and although a lengthy volume, is thoroughly enjoyable and fled by in no time at all. I remember feeling almost cheated by Feist after I saw that the second and third books were a third of the size. It can be incredibly difficult to create a setting for your story, let alone a whole world. It is very easy to write too much, use too many of those things we call adjectives and really force those sceptics to jump for joy at yet another failure. Or go the other way and fail at any description of any sort, no character depth or believability. But Feist got the balance perfect I felt. The various cities in Midkemia (the main invented world) in the novel felt so real that I wanted to dive into the page and join the fight. What I liked most was that because it was the Riftwar saga, it not only held one world but to joined by this rift. It really was a brilliant twist to a fantasy novel – a little bit of sci-fi to get everything going.

Yes there is a very heavy male presence throughout the books, but that is expected of these novels. I am not condemning them, or even agreeing that this is right, just that it was what was thought necessary for the book to be successful. There are some brilliant female characters in the novel, very powerful and fiery young women who are determined to get their own way. The male characters are just as excptional, and they range from all different walks of life. They don’t just focus on a poor orphan boy who raises to power like the majority of novels, but we also discover plot from those of wealth, nobility, power and the humble. Martin Longbow particularly tugged at my heart strings, he was such a believable character and I really felt myself spurring him on and happy when he finally found happiness.

But the best character has to be Jimmy the Hand. He is so brilliant in fact, that Raymond E. Feist even wrote a separate book just about him to accompany the saga. He is nothing more than flea-ridden gutter rat, scuttering along and stealing where he can to get by. But he becomes so much more than that as the story develops.

The stories are written through the eyes of various characters and so as the plot progresses the characters change and alter depending on the circumstances. So for those of you who are new to fantasy, a bit reluctant after watching Lord of the Rings and not particularly enjoying it, in my opinion you cannot make a judgement about fantasy as a whole until you have read one of the books. Give it a go. The dragons aren’t real so there is nothing to fear!

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On arranging a dinner party with my favourite characters

Have you ever had that feeling where you see something so exciting, so interesting, so fascinating that you cannot physically make yourself think about anything else? Your brain is trapped, unable to remain focused on anything else for long before it wanders back off to this new wonder. Yet you can’t work out the entire reason why you have become so transfixed on this object. It is just another image or thing, there are probably another million of them available. Other people have seen it too, it is not like you have a premium and have been granted sole access to this magnificent creation.

This happened to me yesterday. I was sifting through my facebook newsfeed, with no major expectations. I wasn’t on the search for a new blog topic, I was just wasting a bit of time. Then I saw it. Wham bam thank you m’am.

It changed my thought process.

It changed my thought process.

You see, the thing is, I know it is just an imagine of a round table. I know that it is a pretty badly taken image. I get that. But I just can’t shake the endless possibilities and the worlds of characters and people who I have grown to love and that have grown up with me all sat around one table. One of the other reasons why this image has changed my life is because I cannot, for the life of me, make a final decision on who the 7 characters would be. More importantly, sorting out the seating arrangement would most definitely be a nightmare.

So I decided to have a look at the comments. That was an even worse mistake. There were already some truly brilliant seating arrangements out there that it made my task even more daunting. The subscribers to the Nerds do it better site really had made great choices. But then I realised that I am at the cross over point. I have so many favourite tv and film characters that it would be difficult for me to choose only 7 of them just from the fantasy and science fiction genre; but I have so many other characters outside these genres that I love that the weight of the task seems to be increasing exponentially.

So I began the task. “The task has been appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will” Galadriel kept whispering at the back of my mind. So I started with the women, the most inspirational, important, fabulous, sassy, beautiful, intelligent, passionate, wise and just damn-right-ass-kickingly-awesome women I could think of. Once I had them in mind it was just a simple matter of deciding where they would sit at the table. I mean they would need to be able to hold a conversation with the people I placed beside them – much easier said than done I have to admit.

I knew that there were some people who would be definite. The other guests would have to be arranged around them. Yes that is favouritism, but this is my fantasy dinner party after all. So here it is. My dream dinner party.

1. 10th Doctor  2. Gandalf the Grey 3. Danaerys Targarean 4. Lara Croft (from the game, not Angelina Jolie) 5. Colin Morgan as Merlin 6. Jane Eyre  7. Mr Darcy

1. 10th Doctor played by David Tennant
2. Gandalf the White
3. Daenerys Targaryen
4. Lara Croft (from the game, not Angelina Jolie)
5. Merlin played by Colin Morgan
6. Jane Eyre
7. Mr Darcy

 

I don’t really feel like I need to justify myself in my choice of guests because they are truly awesome in their own way. However I will explain why I have positioned them where I have. David Tennant is to my right because I love him as the Doctor. He is my favourite Doctor and it would just be amazing to have him sit next to me and tell me stories of all the places in the universe he has visited, if he does run out of topics he is pretty dreamy. Gandalf and the Doctor would get on like a house on fire as they would both wish to learn what the other has to say. They are both wise men with long pasts, but more importantly, they can both regenerate! Dani would feel at home with a wizard like Gandalf and they could converse about her dragons and the magic that they possess. I believe that both Lara and Dani are the same woman just living in different worlds. Lara is an adventurer/explorer who like Dani has her own mission. They are also extremely powerful women and I have no doubt that they would not enjoy each other’s company. Merlin as a historical fictional character would be able to reveal all the mysteries of old England to Lara and help her with her research. Finally Jane Eyre and Mr Darcy are both characters from two of my favourite books, but more importantly the same era, written by women and I believe they would get on well. Having Mr Darcy on my left could potentially divert some of my attention from David Tennant long enough for him to speak with Gandalf.

The more I look at my seating arrangement, the more I wonder if I have made the right decision. I have so many favourite characters that have been axed from the dream team and I only wish that I could have more up there. But I guess I will need reserves, because they might not all accept my invitation! Who would you choose?

 

On catching up and feeling guilty about George Martin

I love going on holiday, I really do. I am sure most people will agree with me on this one, especially if you jet-setting off to an unknown place, full of places to explore and people to meet. The thrill and adrenaline you get from just not working, lounging around all day doing nothing. Visiting places of wonder and snapping them all so they can be shared on facebook the moment your hand touches your laptop once you arrive home.

The only problem I have is that there is an awful lot of catching up to do when you get back; especially if you completely switched off from the outer world on your holiday. All those episodes of the white queen I missed had to be watched straight away so I had enough time to catch the most recent one later that day.

I am also a big believer in reading before watching, but sometimes life just doesn’t work like that. You run out of time, work piles up, you have other things that have a higher priority, or you simply just can’t get hold of the text quick enough. Now I have to admit, I hadn’t read George R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones before I started watching the show last year. Yes I was even a late comer to the show too. I do feel bad that I put so much emphasis on the importance of appreciating the literature before the video, but that is just the way my preferences work. Book before look.

The book.

The book.

However this holiday gave me the leisure I needed to do some very serious catching up and the ability to remove some of the serious guilt that has been weighing me down for the last few months. Luckily my dad was a proud of owner of the set to date so I didn’t even have to splash the cash (something that also made me feel incredibly guilty about not having read them yet) before the trip abroad. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I knew the book would be, there can only be so much elaboration and dramatic enhancement to the original text to make it appealing to a wider audience. In my opinion the original is always the better version. I was proved correct once again.

The depth of character development, description and imagination involved throughout the whole of the first of the series of A Song of Fire and Ice was amazing. Although I already knew the story line and so I guess reading the books condensed my understanding of the story. I think that in fact, I am going to eat my own words right now, but perhaps watching the HBO show before reading the books was a good way to do it. There are so many characters and relationships, not to mention the characters that are never alive in the text and are mentioned to help us understand the history of the people; that watching them on a screen makes them more prevalent in our minds.

Aside from the potential to confuse, which I think is a necessary element of all fantasy writing because the history needs to be well-developed and believable; but the 800 plus pages disappeared like a flash. I have always loved a fantasy novel, trilogy, saga and have never really struggled with any of them, but A Game of Thrones was entirely different. The characters jumped off the page to me, I warmed to even some of the most venomous characters that in the tv show I could have easily burnt at the stake for their crimes. I even found myself disliking characters that I had originally admired and honoured (yes, I am talking about you Eddard Stark).

The show.

The show.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I am well and truly dumbfounded. I still stick to my opinion that you should read the original before you watch the adaptations, but this one has been different. The guilt will be carried with me for life, until i catch up and read book four that has yet to be adapted. But even so, the book and the HBO series evoked different emotions and pulled at different heart stings, even though the events were the same in each more or less. Unfortunately this seems a bit inconclusive, but I guess you will have to find out for yourselves and let me know if you have ever been a similar predicament.

The day Game of Thrones destroyed my soul

I think this may be the only means I have to express myself properly. The rage and anger and sadness and hurt and betrayal I feel from watching the most recent episode of Game of Thrones needs to be said. I was warned, but I did not listen. Oh why did I not heed those warnings and go back and wait till next weeks, just skip an episode, it will be fine. I mean how much devastation can happen in one episode? Surely the writers can only incorporate a certain amount of George R. R. Martin’s novels into one episode.

Oh hell no. They went and did. The Rains of Castamere is potentially the worst thing to come into existence since, since, I can’t even think of a good comparison. Death comes with the territory of Game of Thrones. We all knew that when we signed up for the show, we knew we would be watching a testosterone fuelled programme full of sex and bloodshed. We all knew that this would happen; but not in a million years anything along that colossal scale.

Robb Stark

It is one thing to kill one of your favourite characters in an episode. It is one thing to kill one character that you vaguely like because of what they stand for. It is an entirely different things to go and butcher them all in one sitting. And I mean sitting, because yes, they were sitting down at a feast. Even the pregnant queen was sitting when they crept up behind her and stabbed her five or six times in the stomach.

Not only was the butchery violent and painful to watch, even for the shows standards. But they really played at our heart strings. Twice in that episode the Starks were almost reunited after all this time. Since the very first episode. Jon Snow was just outside the tower where Bran and Rickon were hiding, and Arya was just outside the building whilst she realised her mother and brother were being slaughtered inside. We all knew it was going to happen. The scene where Arya stood watching her family in the distance as she spoke of her worry that they would slip away again foreshadowed it all. Yet we still carried on watching.

Death is not a surprise anymore...

Death is not a surprise anymore…

Why? Why do we become attached to things that are clearly no good for us? Game of Thrones used to be a laugh, sit down and play the drinking game, taking a shot every time somebody died. But not now. Those days are long gone. I don’t think they are coming back either…

Gendering in our society: Violence and Silence

I am honestly nearly finished reading the book. Some reason I just haven’t been able to find the time just to sit down and read for hours – I blame exams and revision for this. Whenever I begin reading All Change Please or my recent choice Birdsong, I feel immensely guilty and stop after 20 minutes or so because I should be re-reading Gatsby or Eliot in preparation for exam season.

But yet again in another attempt to procrastinate (and if I am brutally honest, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a professional procrastinator. I mean, the amount of stuff I am able to get done whilst not doing the stuff I should get done is impressive. I mean I watched all of Seasons one and two of Game of Thrones in anticipation of Season three in 3 days. I know, I understand your jealousy…) and prolong judgement day, I found myself on TED Talks earlier.

I came across Jackson Katz and his Violence and Silence talk. It focussed on the culture of our society where violence is such a prominent issue and yet gender violence prevention is still almost a taboo. He argued that gender violence is lexically viewed as a feminine one. Men seem rarely to get involved, they are women’s issues that from time to time receive help from a few good men. And that this needs to be changed – it is a male problem. Gender is not synonymous to women.

Now I understand that not all violent relationships are the fault of the male. In fact depending on the nature of the relationship, men may not even be present at all. But Katz’s talk focuses on the attitude of society and the attitude men take. And this really got me thinking about our society, not just from a feminist stand-point, but in general. Patriarchy is still such a dominant force that if you look closely enough, it appears in the most unlikely places. In the lecture, Katz gives an example of the nature of sentence structures and how in relation to domestic violence there is a tendency to focus on why the victim became the victim, rather than why the person who did it, did it. (Starts around 4 minutes) This completely altered my attitude towards literature. The active and the passive role that words play in sentences had never really been drawn to my attention before, other than in French grammar lessons.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

But also, if you think about it on a much larger scale, the sheer number of books, poems, plays, text, fiction and non tend to be patriarchal. It is almost like it is inherent in out being. The way we construct out views on Gender and the roles that specific genders play. The relationship between gender and sex. Is there even a difference? Do people recognise how important it is to differentiate between the two and that they are not just synonymous? A really interesting piece of literature that touches upon this is Fun Home  by Alison Bechdel, which I will review soon. By writing in the format of a graphic novel and not a traditional, archetypal novel she even does something to undermine the conventions of authority.

I also saw this status not long after watching this talk and although funny, and I can laugh about the casual sexism, there is still something prevalent within our society that makes it acceptable for such a statement to be classified as humour and not abuse:

BBQ RULES:

We are about to enter the BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity . When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.

(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.

(4) The woman remains outside the compulsory three meter exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.

Here comes the important part:
(5) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

(6) The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.

(7) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat

Important again:
(8) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

(9) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

(10) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes

And most important of all:
(11) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(12) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ‘ her night off ‘, and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

 

So whilst feeling bad about finding the humour funny after being inspired to such a degree I decided to write about it, I couldn’t help but think back to the video. I am sure that it will linger with any of you that watch it for quite sometime because I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

To see the entire video click here.