Category Archives: Fantasy

Warrior of Light

(Guest post by William Heinzen)

Friendships play an interesting role in fantasy literature, and especially in epic fantasies, which feature large casts of characters. My novel, Warrior of Light, focuses on a young man named Tim Matthias who aids a group of refugees in their struggle against the evil sorcerer Zadinn Kanas. Tim is a figure of prophecy known as the Warrior of Light, destined to face Zadinn in an apocalyptic final battle. Tim’s quest is a true hero’s journey, beginning with him living in the relative peace of the South. Events outside his control, however, soon propel him into Zadinn’s domain within the war-stricken North. Along the way, Tim must come to terms with his own powers, facing a set of increasingly dangerous threats before ultimately facing Zadinn himself.

Many classic fantasy novels, from The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, contain variants of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Writers frequently use this framework because, as fellow blogger Nicholas Ploucha succinctly wrote, “it works”. However, as I was writing Warrior, I asked myself how I could include a fresh perspective on the hero’s journey. As I studied Campbell’s diagram, I noticed only minimal references to the hero’s companions. Oh, they’re in there – the archetypes in the journey include the hero’s “allies” – but such mentions are brief and easily overlooked.

I reasoned, however, that no victory happens in a vacuum. It’s all well and good to have a central character upon which the fate of the world rests, but what about the people around the character? In short, what about the hero’s friends? Every hero needs an everyman—the character the audience can relate to, the one without the power/mystique/destiny, the person who is simply trying to get by in life but nonetheless finds themselves caught in events much bigger than them.

And so I came up with the character of Boblin Kule, who is just as important to Warrior of Light as Tim himself. Unlike Tim, Boblin lives in the North. He has no magical powers, there are no prophecies about him, and if he had his way, he’d be sitting at home reading a good book. But he doesn’t have a choice—Zadinn has wiped out every last dwelling in the North, and so Boblin is on the run with a group of refugees, doing what he needs to do to survive.

Boblin’s friendship with Tim serves several purposes. He introduces Tim to the history of the North, and in doing so provides the same information to the reader. He keeps the action grounded—while Tim is using the Lifesource to burn his enemies to ashes, Boblin is fighting with sword, dagger, and fist (whatever gets the job done). He acts as a moral compass when Tim begins to question his role in the refugees’ quest, stepping in and reminding Tim of what they are fighting. Tim exists in the story to provide an enormous, heroic force capable of rising up and defeating the all-encompassing evil that is Zadinn Kanas—but Boblin exists so the reader has someone to relate to. After all, where would the great heroes would be without their friends? Sherlock without Watson? The Doctor without his companion? Frodo without Sam?

In each of the preceding examples, notice how the value the hero’s friend provides value to the reader/viewer. Ultimately, the friend provides a way to better understand the complexities of the hero at the heart of the story. The friend is a surrogate for the audience themselves, and it’s the same with Tim and Boblin. One has the Lifesource, the other has his sword, but both are an essential part of the Warrior’s epic journey.

When writing your own fiction, then, consider the ways in which the companions around the central character can enrich the story. In many ways, they may be the opposite of the hero, providing necessary balance and contrast to the tale, and providing a way for the readers to better relate to and understand the world within. When these friendships are crafted properly, however, I think we’ll find our stories are better for it.

***

William has been telling stories ever since elementary school, when he discovered the only thing better than reading about sorcerers was writing about them. He holds a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Jamestown in Jamestown, North Dakota.

William lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he enjoys hunting, fishing, being outdoors, and, of course, reading and writing. Warrior of Light is his first novel. Find him at www.WilliamHeinzen.com or www.Facebook.com/WilliamHeinzenAuthor.

Court of Thorns and Roses

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

bnci-square-origLet’s talk adaptions shall we? We all know what adaptions are, a retelling of sorts of a classic story. There are thousands, some are good…fantastic even. Others…not so much. If any of you know me, you know that my go-to story is ALWAYS Beauty and the Beast. Call me a sucker for romance, giant libraries, or broody heroes, I don’t care. Beauty and the Beast is, and will always be my favorite classic story. The wonderful thing about having it as a favorite, many other authors, film makers and story tellers love it too.
I have seen countless live action adaptions of Beauty and the Beast, and none have ever come close to the classic Disney animation film. That being said, the Disney film is well…Disney. Which means its very much a toned down, light hearted film. Another thing about me is that I like dark, gritty and tragic stories. So while I LOVE the Disney film, I crave other versions. I have read my fair share of Beauty and the Beast retellings, and I can say without a doubt, some are considered my favorite books of all time.
Let me start with A Court of Thorns and Roses By Sarah J Maas. While this beautiful, beautiful book is a retelling, it goes in such a completely different direction, that I don’t think I will ever look at Beauty and the Beast the same. There are sexy Fae warriors, a curse on a broody hero, an artsy heroine trapped with our hero, and a luscious and deadly villain. It is in fact, my favorite story of all time. This beautiful version of Beauty and the Beast works because it is enough of the classic tale, that you think you know the story-line, but Maas takes other worldly elements and gives them a home in this superb story, making it so new and different. The ending had me in tears, and fearing what happened next. That..that is what makes a retelling work. Where you captivate your audience so deeply with a classic story, and add in enough of your own elements, that it feels familiar and different at the same time. If you can do that, you can do anything. Successful adaptions are hard to find, but when you do find one, grab it and never let go.
cruel-beautyThe second adaption that I am head over heels in love with is Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. Cruel Beauty cast such a dark spell over me, with its intrigue and deadly mysteries that I finished it within one sitting. I could not put it down. It worked because again, it was so beautifully different that it felt like a whole new story. Many times, I thought that I had it figures out, but when I turned the page, realized I was very much mistaken. The curse and the beast are so dark and tragically sad, that I was in tears by the end of the book. It was so different from anything I had ever read, even being a retelling. It was delightful.
Basically, as someone who loves to read YA (Young Adult) books, which tend to have similar troupes and similar characters, I appreciate twists and being surprised. These books will never leave me, ever. They are so romantic, dark, and delightful that they hardly get like retellings at all. Both authors have other retellings of sorts, Maas, for Hades and Persephone and Hodge for Little Red Riding Hood.
Do you have any favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings? If so, please do tell me, I would love to read them!

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

Preorder Aubrie’s debut novel DARKNESS WHISPERS, here. 

The Classic, and Not So Classic, Fairy Tale

I’ve heard it said a thousand times that there are no new ideas, just old ideas recycled, rehashed, recajiggered and repackaged. Maybe that’s true, but there’s one niche of stories that never seem to get old, no matter how many times they have been retold. Classic fairy tales.

You know the ones I’m talking about: Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Not only have moscinderellat of these been turned into movies—including classic cartoons by Disney—but each of these stories have been rewritten again and again.

I won’t take you down the proverbial Rabbit’s Hole, but Google “Alice in Wonderland Adaptations” and go to Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

For now, let’s stick with Cinderella. I once sat next to a single mother turned author at a book signing that told me if she saw a gap in finances approaching, she would write a quick Cinderella retelling and put it up on Amazon. Instant cash. Unfortunately for me, Cinderella is generally free of fist fights, action scenes and random ninjas, so I have yet to try this tactic, but she swears by it.

Then again, what must a Cinderella story include? A lonely, mistreated young woman, living with an evil step mother, who only wants to go to the ball. I could work ninjas into that. Now that I think about it, Prince Charming is a bonus that comes with the ball. Hmmm.

Movies seem to be a good platform for adaptations. Here are just a few that feature the Cinderella story:

-Disney’s classic Cinderella. I grew up on this one, and was wary of shrinking pumpkins for ages.

The Slipper and the Rose. A comical, musical retelling that harnesses the charm of a young Richard Chamberlin dancing in his own mausoleum, and the fantastic idea of a bride finding ball. (There’s a song about that too.)

Elle Enchanted. Put a curse on Elle that forces her to do anything anyone tells her to and see what happens. This one was a book first.

Into the Woods. Insert a handful of fairy tales, squeeze, twist, shake and pour. This is what happens. It was a stage production before it was a movie, by the way.

Ever After. Set in historical-ish France, this version brings modern ideas (independent women, education for all and inventors) into the classic story. Funny. Snarky.

There are plenty of novels as well, Cinder being among the most recent and the most unique. A science fiction backdrop, cyborgs and more.

As the world moves on, these adaptations will keep coming. What if Cinderella had access to social media? #evilstepmotherssuck #opressedstepsistersunite #sneakingouttonightnomatterwhat

It can, and will, go on and on. Bring it.

Adapting the Past

I grew up on the Shannara books. I loved them. Oh, looking back I see them for what they were; Tolkien- ripoff hackery. They are not good books. But as a twelve-year-old just taking his first steps down this path, I loved them. And when I pick up those cliche tomes these days, I am still overcome with a sense of nostalgia.

So, last year, when I saw that MTV (of all channels) had decided to do a Shannara adaptation, I had two reactions, in sequence:

1. Sqquuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

2. How in the heck are they going to do that?

Now, I am not alone in my Shannara geekery. For books that would never see the light of day if they were written now, they have a strong following. A lot of us, young in the eighties and seeking some form of fantasy, devoured and loved them despite their flaws. And a lot of us are very, very committed to the books; even the parts that suck.

But not enough of us to make an MTV audience. Let’s face it; most Shannara fans are my age. You had to be young enough to dig fantasy and old enough to live in a time where there weren’t other options. And most of them are male, because the Shannara books aren’t particularly great about depicting women. MTV, of course, does not even come close to targetting my demographic. So who in the world thought it’d be a good idea to put this niche show there?

And, as I processed all of these factors, my third reaction began to dawn, ever so slowly.

3. This is going to suck.

Why did I think this? Well, let’s start with this. This picture, just to the left here. You know what that is? That’s the original group of adventurers from the first Shannara novel. It’s a pretty racially diverse cast; you have a dwarf, a couple of Valemen, some humans, a druid, and two elves. Of course, they’re all white males, but still…diversity, right?

Now, I knew MTV wasn’t about to put that cast up on the screen. I figured we’d see some gender-swapping, and some characters would end up being not-white. Which I was OK with, really. I am not someone who believes you can’t gender-swap a character. Obviously, there are series that have done this, and done it well.

So, the first thing that relieved me on this was where MTV decided to start. Oh, the great community of nerds had some things to say when we discovered that Sword of Shannara was merely backstory. That, instead, we would be dealing with Elfstones of Shannara, the second book in the series. Upon seeing this, it occurred to me that MTV had actually sat down, read the books, and figured out what the heck it was doing.

The Shannara Chronicles are not point-by-point true to the original book. There’s no King of the Silver River, Grimpen Ward is never mentioned, the Witch Sisters barely make an appearance, and the great mid-air confrontation between Allanon and the Dagda Mor is more of a couple of seconds on the ground. Special effects budgets, storyline, and the need to get some kind of episode-based rhythm account for much of it, but honestly, there’s something else.

The Shannara Chronicles is simply written better than the original books.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this article. The Shannara books are not well-written. They’re basically hackery of the lowest sort. I know, I know; if you’re an old-school geek like me, you remember them fondly. But you know what else I remember fondly? The Thundercats cartoon. I tried to re-watch it, once. bad idea.

The Shannara Chronicles cut down on the cast. Now, obviously there’s a budgetary reason for this; when you’re making a TV show, each new character is a new person you have to pay. But that also had the effect of streamlining the story, which the book very badly needed.

The series made the story one of the personal relationships. They did that for their demographic, of course, but doing it made us far more focused on the characters. Cephelo isn’t just a lovable rogue in the series; he is very, very dangerous. Eretria isn’t just “the other girl,” or “Wil’s second choice.” She’s a kick-ass survivor with her own set of priorities. And Amberle isn’t single-minded in her devotion to the cause; she has to examine what’s being asked of her again, and again, and again.

Wil, on the other hand, is all too aware of what happens after the heroism. He’s constantly worried about the price he’s going to pay long-term for his exploits, and he has the shadow of his father, Shea Ohmsford. Shea’s exploits from Sword are referenced, often in praising terms, but Wil’s problem is that he knew his dad as a worthless, drunken waste of humanity. And he fears, deeply, that he’s on the same path. Save the world, but lose yourself in the process.

All the characters are wrestling with their internal demons instead of just the external ones trying to kill them. And that kind of internal conflict makes the series simply better than the books.

***SPOILER ALERT – I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE END OFSEASON ONE. STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED***

The thing that most scared me when I saw that Elfstones was the adaptation was simple: Elfstones’ best story point is its ending. The heroes win, but there is a huge sacrifice to be made. Amberle must become the Ellcrys. She doesn’t die, no, but we’re talking about killing off one leg of your love triangle in the end of the first season. I was terrified that MTV wouldn’t have the guts to do it–and I’m really happy I was wrong.

***END SPOILERS***

The point, here, is that stories were a certain way in the 1980s. And they’re just better now. Our profession has gotten a lot more involved in the internal dramas, and beating the great evil thing using the Macguffin simply doesn’t cut it anymore. MTV took a story from the past, a beat-the-evil-with-the-thing work of hackery, and made it three-dimensional. It’s an exceptionally well-done adaptation, and it stands as an example of how to update an old, tired, tropey work.

Now that the season is done, we have a new question for MTV. Season 2 is in the works, and we know that it deals with the same characters. That’s really interesting, because…Wil doesn’t do anything else in the books. Wil Ohmsford, in the books, goes back to Storlock, finishes his studies to become a healer, and settles down with Eretria. They have a pair of kids, and those kids go on to have their own adventures. The next book in the series is Wishsong, and it’s not about Wil at all.

It doesn’t sound as though MTV wanted to rotate their entire non-Allanon cast to deal with Season 2. And I get it; you want your fans to become attached to a main character, not someone entirely new. But there’s another adaptation challenge ahead. Do they simply make up new storylines? Do they try to adapt the Wishsong storyline into Season 2?

I’m honestly not sure, but I’m interested to see where it goes.