Archive | July, 2012

The Dark Tower

27 Jul

As a novelist, Stephen King needs no introduction. He is perhaps the bestselling, most widely read horror author of all time and among living writers he has no equal in any genre in terms of success, popularity and influence. What is perhaps less well known is that King not only writes fantasy novels, as well as the horror for which he is best known, but he is also an avid reader and fan of fantasy fiction. It was in fact an early reading of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that led in part to the creation of King’s own fantasy epic, The Dark Tower series. Far from being a mere side interest The Dark Tower actually stands at the heart of King’s imaginarium – as he has said on many occasions, this series is not only King’s magnum opus, it is the glue that binds together his entire literary output. In his own mind every single story that King has written is connected, even if there is no evidence in the story itself of this connection, and this makes The Dark Tower a very intriguing series indeed for any self-respecting King fan. Incorporating themes from multiple genres, including fantasy, science fantasy, horror and westerns, The Dark Tower has almost as many sources: the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning, Arthurian legends, the films of Sergio Leone and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings have all, at one time or another, been cited as influences on King. In spite of this, The Dark Tower is one of the most original, compelling and downright frightening works of fantasy ever written. It is also, even eight books later, far from finished.

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In the Company of Wolves

20 Jul

The wolf has always been a creature of legend and romance, of all animals one of the most invoked, celebrated and feared. In the Dark Ages, kings offered rewards, or pardons for wrongdoings, to those who collected sacks of wolves’ tongues. January, the leanest and harshest time of year, was known as ‘wolf-month’. Saxons and Danes used the word ‘wolf’ as part of the personal names of warriors and leaders, such as Aethelwulf or Cynewulf. A wolf was associated with St Edmund, the 10th century East Anglian king and martyr, who was for long the unofficial patron saint of the English. It was said to have guarded his head and helped monks and the king’s followers to find it. Despite this, the wolf was usually reviled by church scribes, carvers and illuminators. It is depicted as a sly and slinking beast, and as a symbol of evil and sin. But its fierceness and prowess was also acknowledged. Medieval lords took the wolf as their emblem in heraldry, while outlaws and renegades might be likened to wolves, and relish the comparison. As fairy tales began to be fashioned out of traditional and courtly fabric from the 18th century onwards, the wolf’s loping form was seldom far away. Little Red Riding Hood was by no means the only tale to feature a Big Bad Wolf. Wolves, along with ruined abbeys or castles, saturnine villains, immurement, phantoms, graveyards, decay and wronged heroines, were also very much part of the macabre landscape of the Gothic novel in the early 19th century. To begin with, wolves were also traditionally given the role of villains in fantasy literature; examples include J R R Tolkien’s White Wolves, who terrorised the Shire during an exceptionally cold winter, and the Wargs that are in league with the Orcs, in addition to Maugrim of C S Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. More recently, however, wolves have increasingly been given the role of heroes in fantasy fiction. Any journey into the fictional realm of the wolf therefore invokes no little trepidation, as well as excitement, in the heart of any reader.

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A Flight of Dragons

13 Jul

Fantasy lost one of its leading lights with the death last year of Anne McCaffrey. Over the course of her 46 year career she won both the Hugo and  Nebula Awards, her book The White Dragon became one of the first science fiction novels ever to land on the New York Times Best Seller List and she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. To readers all over the world, however, her greatest achievement remains the creation of one of the most beloved sci-fi/fantasy series of all time, The Dragonriders of Pern. As of June 2011 the series comprises 22 novels and several short stories, although it is by no means over in spite of McCaffrey’s death. Beginning in 2003, her son Todd has also written Pern novels, both solo and jointly with Anne, and aims to continue to do so. Two of the novellas included in the first novel, Dragonflight, made McCaffrey the first woman to win either a Hugo or Nebula Award. Original, inspirational and universal in its appeal, the Pern series has itself straddled boundaries that have not conventionally been crossed and broken all sorts of new ground in fiction. Pern is one of those rare fantasy worlds which almost seems to have a life of its own outside the novels – it has inspired board and computer games, music, art and graphic novels as well as, perhaps inevitably, constant rumours of a Pern film or television series. Let’s take a look at what made McCaffrey such a popular author and her world of Pern, its dragons and their riders such enduring creations.

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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

8 Jul

A ‘Knight’ of a different kind…

the m0vie blog

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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A Knight’s Tale

5 Jul

Knights – brave and doughty individuals trained in the art of swordsmanship, who fight on behalf of a lord or kingdom against great foes – are perhaps the most common and popular archetypal hero found in fairy tales and fantasy. Someone has to shine a light in the darkness, slay wolves and dragons and stand between all that is good and the forces of darkness. When predation rears its head and howls, a Knight may be all that stands between innocence and death. This character has a long and honourable tradition in the old tales; without his axe or sword, happily ever after might never come to pass. The typical image that immediately springs to mind when the word ‘Knight’ is used is that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, each clad from head to toe in a suit of armour. But don’t let the word ‘Knight’ fool you – these heroic figures are known by different names all over the world. They were Cavaliers in England, Paladins in Italy, Chevaliers in France, Caballeros in Spain and Samurai in Japan. Despite the martial stereotype, this character does not even necessarily have to be a soldier. There is much more to being a knight than simply wielding a sword, as the following quote from the film Dragonheart makes clear: “A knight is sworn to valour. His heart knows only virtue. His blade defends the helpless. His might upholds the weak. His word speaks only truth. His wrath undoes the wicked.”

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