In times gone by . . .
Fantasy was high and it was still worth reading. I dreamed this golden age would never die. And if I saw tropes I’d be forgiving. For I was young and unafraid. Archetypes were made, and used and wasted. Around $7.99 was all I’d paid. Left no healing chant unsung, no gleaming sword untasted . . .
I was in 6th grade when I first read Lord of the Rings. Likely younger than that when Harry Potter first arrived on the scene. I conquered realms in Warcraft III and read the tie-in novels. I’m pretty sure I read all of the ‘Lore’ in the instruction manual too. And whether I played ‘Human’, ‘Orc’ or ‘Undead’ (yes I also played ‘Night Elf’) I waged war upon my enemies with the utmost fury. I sought every tome and magic ring, every cloak of invisibility etc . . . etc.
And as I got older so did the tales. King Arthur and his table of knights, MERLIN, and of course Guinevere. It didn’t stop there either, I kept going further back. Beowulf (eww), Grendel (more gross), Grendel’s Mother (can you tell I didn’t like this one? I mean he does slay a dragon at the end so I guess that redeems it). But I kept reading more contemporary (ish) writers as well. Brandon Sanderson, and Robert Jordan. I’ll say Christopher Paolini though I don’t really want to admit to reading him.
But the tigers come at night . . .
But eventually, it all began to run together. The constant ‘Epic’ of such obvious good, versus those who where so obviously evil. Always a dark lord or demon and without fail a young peasant who’s circumstance leads him on a quest against this evil. A quest against the longest, most impossible odds. But it’s ok. Our young hero will develop through the course of his journey with the help of a few unlikely companions who’s various skills will serve to teach and guide him. And if that journey should take us through nearly a thousand page volume or two . . . or four, or twelve, then so be it. After all, if you are going to tell the tale of one great hero, isn’t it necessary to give the history of an entire race of people in the next town over? (For some good farces of Fantasy I’d recommend Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett and Orcs, Bears, and Assholes by Robert Bevan. I’ve linked to my reviews.)
For me, Fantasy as a genre had become stale. I’d say stagnant even. It had become so formulaic that an entire industry of card games, guidebooks and roleplaying games formed so that individuals could perpetuate the formulas and mistake subtle variations in their content for true innovations. And so, I read page after page of tales filled with ‘magic’ and ‘wonder’, but all I wondered was where the magic had gone.
The part of the post where my metaphor fails me.
It’s true. The last lament of a dying prostitute is simply too depressing to continue on with. Especially because it would imply that I feel that my dream of Fantasy (Insert some quip about Fantine sounding similar to Fantasy) is going to die on some street, with but a single outlaw to mourn her passing. In fact I feel quite the opposite.
Because I’ve discovered a new well from which to draw forth water. A new spring (Not to be confused with New Spring). A new source of Fantasy Literature from which I can read and enjoy and dream . . .
Yes, BCS or Beneath Ceaseless Skies is that source. They are an online magazine specializing in ‘alternate world’ fantasy. Perhaps their own website describes it best:
” . . . adventure fantasy plots in vivid secondary worlds, but written with a literary flair. Beneath Ceaseless Skies will feature exciting stories set in awe-inspiring places that are told with all the skill and impact of modern literary-influenced fantasy.” – About BCS
And that is exactly what they do.
Take for example A Sword of Love and Kindness?
Yes, you read correctly. A Sword of Love and Kindness. Don’t make it weird. Just let it happen. This is a little story by author Chris Willrich that was featured in the Best of BCS, Year One. It tells of two thieves (well one is more of a poet) who break in to a bank, not to steal its contents but deposit some of their own. Of course they are caught and their punishment is to take an evil sword to the City of Pain. Sounds like a pretty nefarious and world ending plot to which they must agree or be killed. It is slowly revealed what power the Sword of Love and Kindness possesses over those who wield it. The master thief wonders at his rugged life style. Wonders that he should never have raised a child or run for civic office. The Poet is also effected by the sword. They are nearly killed by a group of spiders after Gaunt (the poet) admonishes the disorderly fashion in which they have constructed their webs.
But as we finally reach the City of Pain, it becomes apparent that while the sword pushes virtues of love, kindness, cooperation, etc. those who wield it to do not necessarily affect ‘good’ in the world.
Pretty clever right? I thought so too. And I can’t say enough about Willrich’s characters. Specifically Guant and Bone, but they are all well done. Expert descriptions, and great development. It’s easy for writers to get lazy with character back stories, alluding to them whenever it’s convenient for a turn of phrase or bit of rhetoric but never really giving you the whole picture. It is much more difficult to write with a character’s background firmly in place, then give it to your audience a morsel at a time, until eventually you understand the motivation between each character’s thoughts and actions. It is even more difficult to write plot which changes those motivations because of past events, or better yet, in spite of them. Willrich does all of this and in a short story to boot. Well done.
Anyway, I think this post has gone on long enough. If you haven’t already, please start reading Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and pay attention to Chris Willrich. He’s got a new book coming out (featuring Gaunt and Bone) in September I believe. Order it now. I’ve already ordered my copy.
Remember all, fantasy is not dead. It was just sleeping. Or something like that. Bye all!