Just a note to let you know I’m guest posting on Cirsova today. Just a few thoughts on some of my influences in fantasy literature and how they have affected me. I talk a lot about J.R.R. Tolkien. Check it out!
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies completes the story begun in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and continued in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The movie stars Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Luke Evans (Bard) and a whole host of other actors and stars including Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), and Christopher Lee (Saruman).
The story picks up where the last movie left off. Smaug is destroying Lake Town and only Bard the archer can hope to stop him with the last remaining black arrow. It is a tense scene, worth witnessing, but suffice it to say, Smaug’s screen time in this movie is probably less than five minutes. He’s in at the beginning, then he’s dead. Then the real challenges begin: for Bard, it is finding refuge for the survivors of Lake Town. For Thorin, it is keeping the Lonely Mountain in the hands of the dwarves. For Bilbo, it is being a true friend to Thorin and company, seeking the best for them, despite what they might think. Soon, there is an army of humans, and an army of Elves on the doorstep of the mountain. The entrance is walled off and fortified, but Thorin and company are only twelve in number. They send word to Dain of the Iron Hills via a thrush and shortly an army of Dwarves arrive on the scene. It looks like there is about to be bloodshed between the Elves and the Dwarves when an army of Orcs arrives. A foe everybody can hate. There is much bloodshed and chaos. Thorin has his final epic struggle with the pale orc, Azog. Some of the company die. The dwarf-elf love interest of the second movie is left unfulfilled and bittersweet as Kili dies. Then, the Eagles arrive, carrying Beorn with them. There is more blood and chaos, and the orcs are defeated. Oh yes, and all throughout this is interwoven Gandalf’s story. He is rescued by the combined efforts of Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman. Sauron is driven off, the ringwraiths are defeated. Then, Gandalf is off rushing to the aid of Bilbo, Thorin, and company.
Strengths: the acting was good, the special effects were good, the story kept my interest even though the bulk of it was about a battle and the build up to said battle. Tolkien purists might object to some of the liberties taken with the material, but I thought that all the modifications were still in keeping with the spirit of the tale. Weaknesses: Probably my biggest complaint was the fact that Smaug was killed in the first five minutes of the movie. If you’re going to keep the dragon around after the movie he should have died in (The Desolation of Smaug), then you should make ample use of him. Oh yeah, there also these things called werewyrms, or something like that, that showed up briefly, dug some tunnels, and then disappeared. I mean, what was that?
Anyway, I’ll give The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies four stars out of five.
I know, I know, I know … I’m in the middle of releasing “The Children of Lubrochius” so I should probably keep my eye on one target at a time. But I couldn’t resist. This week I uploaded a collection of three short stories to both Amazon and Smashwords. The title of the collection is “Of Dragons, Love, and Poison.” I kind of dig that title. Here’s a look at the cover:
And here’s some of the backcopy for each short story:
Of Dragons, Love, and Poison: The king’s daughter and her younger brother have vanished and the warrior Thrigon is tasked with finding them. Can he unravel the web of lies and dark magic surrounding their abduction? Or will he find himself a victim to the same power that claimed them?
The Red Archer: Return to the land of Athron in this exciting tale that pits the world’s greatest archer against a master thief.
Fate Unchained: In this tale, a young prince is denied his birthright by an inauspicious augury. Now an adult, the young prince must confront his younger brother for the crown of the kingdom and its ultimate fate.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin is the first book of the Earthsea series, a rather famous series that has been around for decades. The copyright on A Wizard of Earthsea dates it to 1968, so it’s stayed the course of time. I’ll begin my book by saying, I didn’t really like the first chapter that much. It was written in that older style (I don’t recall the technical name—it’s like 3rd person narrative, or something like that) where every scene runs into every other scene and it consists of a shallow narrative that simply seems to connect dots in a line to me. I much prefer the modern style, where you sink into the scene getting glimpses of even the thoughts of the characters. Anyway, from the outset it is quite clear that Ursula K. Le Guin has incredible skill with the written word. Although I didn’t like the style, I was very much impressed with her technical skill.
The story told is of the early exploits of the young wizard named Ged. It’s worth pointing out that Ged is his true name (in normal affairs he goes by Sparrowhawk). I’ve always wondered where the notion that knowledge of a thing’s true name gives one power over that thing came from. I’ve seen such referenced in Dungeons and Dragons, The Black Company books by Glen Cook, and now here. As this dates to 1968 it is the current winner in my experience. Anyway, the character of Sparrowhawk begins the book as a precocious, power-hungry wizard-in-training. He is so precocious, and so power-hungry he gets himself in trouble and inadvertently, in an attempt to upstage a rival, unleashes a shadowy being from the underworld onto the real world. The rest of the book deals largely with him dealing with this shadowy being with only a few side adventures. It’s a short book, so the side adventures make up a good portion of it. It’s got a dragon in it, which is always a plus in my view, provided the dragon is done well—and this one is.
Strengths: like I said, Ursula K. Le Guin’s skill with the written word is quite impressive. The main character evolves quite convincingly over the course of the book from a rash impetuous youth, to a more mature seasoned individual. I must stress again the writer’s skill: it is very difficult to write in the style she chose. She used that old English type prose that Tolkien did many times (you know, kind of a Yoda-speak: “strong, it was, and sleek,” etc …) and it didn’t come across as tiresome and forced. That is an achievement in its own right. Weaknesses: although I found the tale to be entertaining, I was not fully smitten by it. It was an okay story, written in an earlier, more difficult to read style, but written with incredible skill.
Ultimately, I’ll give A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin four stars out of five.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Peter Jackson’s latest attempt to translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful work to the big screen. And … if I never here the phrase “What have we done?” in a movie ever again, it will be too soon—just sayin’.
The movie continues the story that began with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You can read my review of that movie here. Bilbo is still on his quest with the thirteen dwarves to reclaim their home (Mount Erebor) from the dragon, Smaug. After narrowly escaping the clutches of Azog and his orc patrols (with the help of Beorn), the company sets off through Mirkwood. They encounter spiders and elves, are dwarfnapped, escape and travel on into the ruined lands surrounding The Lonely Mountain (a.k.a Erebor) where the dragon resides. There are other threads involved in the adventure. though. Gandalf must leave the group. In the book, he simply leaves and we are given no information (except in the Appendices) as to what he’s up to while he’s gone. In the movie, though, a good deal of time is spent on Gandalf and his doings. There’s an appearance of Radagast in the movie. And a whole new character spun from whole-cloth: Tauriel, a female elf captain. Anyway, there are a number of changes from the book. If I wanted to be a Tolkien purist, I might be offended, particularly by Tauriel, the character that should not exist and really wasn’t necessary. However, I’m not a purist. Some of the changes I liked, others I did not.
Strengths: the acting was good. The special effects were good (I only saw the 2D version—I have very little use for 3D movies). The plot and storyline were good (it’s still basically Tolkien’s story). The movie is clean, although violent. I think 10 year olds would enjoy it, but I wouldn’t go much younger than that. There were no comedic asides (that I recall) like in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and that’s a good thing. Plus, I did like the bit about Smaug and the One Ring. That was a cool addition. Weaknesses: well, there are a few. I have already mentioned the complete invention of Tauriel. She wasn’t needed. And, to a certain extent, she is a disservice to the source material. My biggest complaint was that the movie seemed to spend more time on the modifications of the original story as it did on the parts that came from the original story. Beorn was there. For a moment. If you blinked, you might have missed him. Same could be said for the spiders. Another big failing was the dragon. He looked like he was made out of rubber. I was expecting much more. Maybe he’ll grow on me like the Balrog from LOTR. But probably not. I have very high standards for dragons. J
Anyway, I’m not sure if I should give this movie three-and -a-half stars or four (out of five). I’m in a good mood, so I’ll give it four.
Note: From now until the beginning of January, I’m running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.
You know, I call this blog “A Toast to Dragons,” but I don’t write about dragons very often. I do, occasionally, but not so much that the title of the blog is obviously justified. I tend to write more about vampires… but that’s largely because I wrote a fantasy book about a vampire (entitled “Drasmyr”—hint hint)So, in the spirit of designing a blog-specific post, I’m going to rant a little bit about what I think constitutes the “standard dragon.”
There are typically two general variations of dragons: the Western style dragon, and the Eastern style (Asian) dragon. In the west, dragons were largely seen as evil creatures. They would capture fair maidens, sit on piles of treasure, and gobble up all the brave knights who came along trying to rescue the fair maiden or retrieve the hoard. Eastern dragons were different. And to be honest, I am not as well-versed in the lore of Eastern dragons as I am in Western. However, I know this much: Eastern dragons were largely regarded as powerful spiritual forces. Almost like quasi-deities. Generally, they weren’t evil, but they did demand a certain degree of respect and it was very unwise to anger a dragon. I also read recently on the web (here, in fact), that dragons are regarded as a strong Yang force. I used to know a little about Eastern philosophy, not a lot, but a little. The yin and yang were the two fundamental forces of the universe: opposites that germinate within each other: light and dark; male and female; etc… These days I kind of get confused between the specifics of yin versus yang, but it is interesting to note the connection with dragons. Anyway, like I said, I am much more familiar with the Western dragon.
Western dragons were universally evil. As this was the root of Christendom, Western dragons were seen as symbolic of Satan. And that’s not a good thing. There’s that whole bit in Revelations where the red dragon in the sky is waiting to devour the baby. You don’t negotiate with a dragon like that; you either kill it or run away. But if you are going to pit yourself against a dragon, you’ve got to be prepared. To that end, it helps to get an idea of what you might be up against.
Dragons are large reptilian-like creatures… I think I would actually hesitate to call them reptiles because they tend to have a number of “special” abilities. Anyway, like I said, they are huge. They give new meaning to the expression “terrible lizard” derived from dinosaurs. I would pit most dragons against a T-rex any day of the week. Of course, some myths have smaller dragons. I’ve seen old paintings of St. George and the dragon where the dragon in question is only slightly larger than a horse. To me, that’s just a drake. A dragon’s got to be the size of a house or it doesn’t count.
For weapons, they have a few. Specifically, they have clawed appendages (generally at least two sets, or four, or even more); they also have mouths ringed with large saber-like teeth (probably T-rex sized, at least); they usually have wings (this allows them to fly—which is a great advantage—and it allows them to smack the heck out of you if get too close); they can breathe fire (or some other breath weapon according to the tradition: going with the old AD&D dragons, they usually had one of the following breath weapons: acid, poison gas, frost, lightning, and fire—I’m sure there were actually more options, but I can’t remember them all); sometimes (again, going with AD&D) they can use magic… like they really need to, right?; some dragons can polymorph into just about whatever they want; sometimes the dragons generate fear—but that could just be an attack of common sense; and last, but not least, Smaug in particular had his voice: he could kind of beguile into divulging stuff you didn’t want to, just by talking to you. I’m sure the list can actually go on and on. I think the rule of thumb: if you see a dragon, run away. I think Smaug is my favorite dragon of all time. He’s just the classic beastie: great pile of treasure, nearly invulnerable (alas, only nearly), and with an appropriately arrogant and self-serving attitude.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on dragons for the day.
In the interest of furthering human understanding on such an important topic, and in an extension of my previous Fantasy Monster Fights, most notably of the Vampire vs. the Werewolf, we must contemplate the result of a fight between a dragon and… well, anything else. Perhaps I display my biases here, but to me, a dragon is the ultimate killing machine. Or at least, it should be. I have always loved dragons. In my early childhood, I was a great fan of dinosaurs, and this naturally evolved into a love of dragons. Dragons rule! Hence, the name of my website: “A Toast to Dragons.”
Anyway, back to the discussion. What makes dragons so formidable? Well, I think good ol’ Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” said it best: “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” Truly, a devastating array of attributes. And if we go further, and draw from the AD&D tradition, dragons are also capable of spell-use. As if they needed it. What could possibly stand before one?
A vampire? I think not. A full blast of flaming breath would reduce one to dusty ash. A werewolf? Him neither. The dragon has the size and strength to rip him apart with ease. A zombie? Heck, I’ll give you fifty zombies; nay, a hundred, and I’ll still vote with the dragon. Oh, I forgot to mention that dragons can fly. So, it could be a thousand zombies, and as long as they were land-bound (which zombies generally are), they wouldn’t stand a chance. The dragon would just fly above them, and breathe fire, incinerating them in large swathes until all were gone. To be honest, the only creatures that I think would give a dragon trouble, or might actually beat a dragon, would be a demon. Like… like… Lubrochius, the Eater of Souls (hah! I had to get a plug in for my book somewhere! J ) And if you are pitting them against demons, you could just as easily pit them against an angel or a god. But that’s really stretching the monster resource bag. I mean, really? Must we reach into the afterlife to find a sufficiently powerful foe to contend with?
No, dragons are the apex predators. They are just too big, too strong, too well-protected, and too-capable with their breath and spells. Oh, again with the AD&D tradition, there’s also things like generating fear and such. But that doesn’t seem to be so much a magical ability, as it is the preponderance of common sense that overtakes a victim once he sees a dragon. It’s a dragon! Run for your lives!
And so, the dragon is and always shall be the undisputed ruler of all fantasy worlds. In my humble opinion, that is.
I received the book “The Last Great Wizard of Yden” by S.G. Rogers as a prize from a web-site contest. I read it, and figure I’ll review it here. It was in ebook format, and I read it on my phone.
The book tells the story of Jon Hansen whose father is kidnapped and whisked to a parallel dimension by the evil wizard Efysian. It has magic, wizards, dragons, and a number of mystical beings.
I’m hoping it was intended for a young audience (13 or 14), because it would be an enjoyable book for that reading level. Not so much for a more mature or sophisticated audience. Although there was a lot of good humor in it, and as an adult reader, I don’t think it was bad, but the writing was a little weak. The story was there. All the sentences, individually, were perfectly respectable sentences (although perhaps S.G. Rogers used a little too much passive tense), but the whole was lacking something. The descriptions were not very vivid. On the plus side, because there was so little vivid description, a lot of ground is covered in the book. But the epic battle at the end, a perfect opportunity to show off one’s writing talent, took place in no more than two paragraphs.
Beyond the flaws in the writing, there were a couple flaws in the story. The most egregious was the character of Efysian. All sorts of references were made to him suggesting he was a great and powerful wizard, nearly invincible… but it was never explained why. I wanted to know how come he was so powerful; what was his story? Those details were lacking, and that had a significant negative effect on the book—not one that I think the very young would notice, but I, as an adult, found it somewhat irritating.
Overall, I would give this maybe two and a half stars to possibly three out of five for an adult reader. However, if the audience is a younger group (say 12 or 13), I’d give it four out five stars. It was funny, clean, and a decent adventure.
This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 3-26-2012.
I suppose I should dedicate at least one entry to my plans for this blog. As mentioned previously, it’s called “A Toast to Dragons” because, well, I like dragons. A lot. That said, I’m not going to blog just about dragons and nothing else. I am an author of fantasy stories. I have published a small number of short stories and am currently in the process of publishing my first novel… No, the novel isn’t about dragons; it’s about vampires and wizards and the epic struggle between them. Lots of blood, death and destruction. But no dragons… yet.
My intention is to use this blog to keep people up to date with respect to my literary endeavors. If I publish a short story, I’ll post a link here. When my novel is ready (which should be shortly), I’ll post a link here. I’ll also post information regarding the art of writing and publishing in the fantasy genre. Writing is hard work, and authors need as much help as they can get. Occasionally, I’ll post opinions on various literary subjects such as political correctness in writing, or the use of sex, profanity, or what have you. Finally, I read a lot and watch a lot of movies. I’ll review books and movies as I complete them–obviously focusing only on those that belong to the fantasy genre.
The plan is to post once a week or so. So, keep coming back. I’ll enjoy having you.