Tag Archives: Fantasy

SCIENCE FICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

How Great Science Fiction Workshow-great-science-fiction-works

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Gary K. Wolfe

 (REVIEW IRONICALLY WRITTEN THE DAY AFTER DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.)

GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)
GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)

“How Great Science Fiction Works” is a rapid-fire exploration of what Professor Gary Wolfe argues is great science fiction.  No work of science fiction has achieved the heights of great literature represented by authors like Dostoevsky, Austin, Dickens, Nabokov, Roth, and others.  However, Wolfe shows that science fiction fires imagination by taking readers outside the boundaries of day-to-day human’ existence.

the roadRarely does a work of science fiction create characters that evoke deep emotion in a reader, or understanding about the individual.  Though one may feel a passing sympathy for the plight of Frankenstein or shed a tear for the fate of a child and his father in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a reader moves on to think about the story’s societal implication.

DOSTOEVSKY'S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN "CRIME AND PUNISHMENT"
DOSTOEVSKY’S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN “CRIME AND PUNISHMENT”

Science fiction creates characters in alternative realities.  The societal outcomes of imprecisely understood scientific discoveries make science fiction work.  Adding action to an alternative reality, enhances a work of science fiction, but not in the same way as a murder of a pawn broker in “Crime and Punishment”.  Science fiction’ actions are not focused on a character’s individual insight but on revealing more about an alternative reality based on partly understood science.  Science fiction’s action is not to evoke individual emotion like revulsion, love, guilt, or hate in a reader.  Character development is not a primary objective of science fiction writers (not to suggest these authors are incapable of eliciting those emotive qualities but character development is a secondary objective).  Science fiction drives to illustrate societal change from discoveries that go beyond current scientific proof or knowledge.

Names of science fiction writers and their stories are spread throughout the lectures, some well-known and others less famous.  Few readers have not heard of Shelley, Verne, Orwell, Herbert, Wells, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Asimov.  For the non-science fiction amateur, tidbits of information are offered by Wolfe.  Information like Asimov’s “Foundation” series being based on the history of Gibbons’ “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”.  Also, Wolfe recounts the “War of the Worlds” to explain that, contrary to myth, there is never a city-wide panic caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 telling of the tale in a radio broadcast.

A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)

For knowledgeable fans, Wolfe resurrects vintage science fiction stories like “Slan” (a book about a race of super beings) by A. E. Van Vogt and the development of space-ship science fiction by Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.  Of course, no lecture series on science fiction is complete without robot and cyber science stories.  Karel Capek, a Czech writer, and later Isaac Asimov, are early writers in those categories.

Another category noted by Wolfe is planetary exploration and earth invasions (noted above in Wells narration of “War of the Worlds”).  Wolfe suggests WWI and the earlier Franco-Prussian war leads to apocalyptic science fiction stories.  The advent of mechanized murder is first recognized in the 1870-71 war.

FRANKO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)

Professor Wolfe surveys the field of science fiction from its beginning with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” through today’s authors.  Wolfe describes some science fiction that slips in and out of fantasy with thematic cohesiveness that ranges from religion, to science, to philosophy.

DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950
DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950

L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction’ writing leads to the pseudo-science of Dianetics that morphs into a religion called Scientology; attracting famous people like John Travolta and Tom Cruise.  Wolfe reflects on science fiction’s history and how category’ markers mature as it grows.  What is meant by markers are discoveries; i.e. like an alien artifact on earth, an imaginatively created alien planet, or an invading alien force that precipitates human actions or reactions.

MARY SHELLEY'S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
MARY SHELLEY’S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)

Moving on to the sixties, Wolf notes science fiction addresses nuclear war and its destruction of civilization.  In the seventies, nuclear war fears are replaced with stories about environmental destruction caused by insecticides, tainted food and water, and other disasters.  “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi is noted as a modern science fiction writer that raises issues of global warming and writes about the exploitative use of the Colorado river by Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona.  At the end of his lectures, Wolfe speculates about science fiction’s future.

Wolfe offers a lot of information about the origin and growth of Science Fiction and recounts interesting stories drawn on new scientific discoveries that are only imprecisely understood by experts in the field; let alone, society at large.  Though this genre of fiction may not reach the level of Pulitzer Prize recognition, it certainly entertains its readers.  Fans of science fiction and dabblers in the science of the 21st century will be entertained by Professor Wolfe’s lectures.

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LUST AND LOVE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Undermajordomo MinorUNDERMAJORDOMO MINO

Written by: Patrick deWitt

Narration by:  Simon Prebble

 

PATRICK deWITT (AUTHOR, CANADIAN NOVELIST AND SCREENWRITER)
PATRICK deWITT (AUTHOR, CANADIAN NOVELIST AND SCREENWRITER)

Human lust and love simmer in “Undermajordomo Minor”.  From a male’s point of view, Patrick deWitt has written a fantasy about an ancient time of castles, counts, and countesses reflecting on lust and love through the ages.  The story suggests men are liars, and women are enablers; with the sexes meeting in lust and, at least in one case, growing into love.

The main character is a man named Lucy.  Listeners meet Lucy as an unloved child nearing death.  Lucy is visited on what appears to be his deathbed by a mysterious stranger that asks him what he wants out of life.  Lucy says he wants something different.  The stranger nods his head and leaves his bedside.  The next day Lucy feels better but his father rapidly deteriorates and dies.  His mother believes her husband’s death is related to Lucy’s recovery.  Never having shown much love to Lucy, she treats Lucy as a tenant more than a son.

Lucy grows into manhood as deWitt offers pictures of Lucy’s life.  DeWitt tells a story of Lucy’s relationship with a young woman near his own age.  The young woman is Lucy’s introduction to lust.  After a time, the passion of their conjugal pairing diminishes and the young woman moves on.  She becomes engaged to another man who is bigger and stronger than Lucy.  In the meantime, Lucy seeks counsel of a local priest about the visitation he had at his bedside when he was nearing death.  The priest discounts the visitation but takes enough interest in Lucy to send a letter to possible employers to recommend Lucy for a job.  Only one employer responds.  Lucy accepts because it is something different.

As Lucy is leaving his mother’s house, he chances to meet his former lover.  Lucy slyly explains that her handsome strapping young fiancé is secretly engaged to another woman in a neighboring town.  This is a lie delivered with such sincerity that the young woman leaves with a belief she has been misled by her chosen mate.  In this brief interlude, a listener/reader forms a guarded opinion of Lucy.  Lucy seems a liar and a less than decent, and somewhat cowardly, human being.  That assessment is reinforced when he boards the train; seeing his former lover and her fiancé coming toward him on the train platform.  Lucy shudders with fear.  Lucy escapes the confrontation but the reader/listener’s guarded opinion hardens to amused dislike.

A strange castle, which is Lucy’s destination, seems straight out of Edgar Allen Poe.  Upon arrival, Lucy meets an extremely handsome soldier.  Lucy asks the soldier about the castle. The soldier ridicules Lucy and then takes his money.  The extremely handsome soldier becomes an important character in Lucy’s supernatural life.

The bereft Lucy proceeds to the front door of the castle.  The castle’s owner is a mysterious unseen presence.  Lucy arrives to meet the owner’s castle keeper.  The castle keeper gives Lucy a tour and introduces him to the cook.  Each of these characters is odd; neither explain why the castle’s owner is so reclusive.

Lucy settles into his new job.  He meets a beautiful young girl in the village.  He falls in lust.  They become lovers partly because Lucy tells another lie about his former lover. Lucy suggests his former lover kills herself because he left.  Lucy goes on to explain a spurned and forlorn lover pursues Lucy for causing the young girl’s suicide.  Lucy confesses that he is compelled to defend himself and slays the unrequited lover.  Lucy is impressed but somewhat skeptical of Lucy’s story because of his diminutive stature.  Lucy explains that he is stronger than he looks.  Lucy’s new lover decides to tell of her loss of virginity.   She explains that a “Don Juan” like character visits the village and arouses subtle, if not lustful, sexual interest. Lucy’s lie about his former lover heightens a listener’s disrespect for Lucy. The virgin lover’s story reinforces an implied enabling theme; i.e. Lucy’s new lover seems to enable “Don Juan’s” fantasy.

Finally, deWitt introduces the reader/listener to the castle’s owner.  Lucy has been told by the castle keeper that he should always lock the door to his room at night without explaining why.  The castle owner is a lust-broken husband of a wife that has left him.  The castle owner’s broken heart has caused him to lose touch with reality; i.e. except for letters he writes to the absent Countess.  The Count artfully entreats his Countess to return.

Lucy eventually finds that the Count walks the grounds and castle naked and eats rodents like a beast of prey; i.e. he captures rodents, and eats them raw; with blood and fur dripping from his lips. He communicates with no one but lurks in the woods near the castle.  Lucy is charged with delivering the Count’s letters to a train conductor that delivers the mail.  Lucy surreptitiously reads one of the letters and is astounded to find how lucid and beautifully written the letters are.   Lucy chooses to correspond with the Countess to advise her of the Count’s condition.

The Countess returns, and the Count recovers his sanity but a turn of events causes the Countess to leave again.  The cause has to do with women’s enablement of men’s lust and the consequence of that enablement.  Here is where a supernatural event occurs that tells a story illustrating a difference between lust and love.

Patrick deWitt has written something different in “Undermajordomo Minor”. He shows himself to be a skilled teller of tales; an artist suggesting there is more to a supernatural story than entertainment.

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A DASH,A PINCH,A MEASURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Loch Lamora

Written by: Scott Lynch

Narration by:  Michael Page

SCOTT LYNCH (AMERICAN AUTHOR OF GENTLEMAN BASTARD SERIES)
SCOTT LYNCH (AMERICAN AUTHOR OF GENTLEMAN BASTARD SERIES)

A dash of Fagin, a pinch of Oliver Twist, and a measure of Robin Hood and voila—you have Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora”.

An orphaned boy is purchased by the leader of a school of thieves in a country of the very rich and very poor.  The orphaned boy is extraordinarily clever and resourceful.  He is an artful dodger who instinctively manipulates events to achieve objectives.  The Fagin-like leader of the school of thieves finds the boy an unmanageable threat to his gang and sells him to a bigger thief who masquerades as a priest.

The priest is a mentor and leader for young thieves.  If the purchased orphans pass the priest’s interrogative interview, which demands honesty, they are invited to join.  If they fail the interview, the priest is licensed to murder them.  The orphaned boy passes the interview.  He is Locke Lamora.  Locke becomes a man; the priest dies, and Locke becomes the leader of a gang known as the Gentlemen Bastards.

——-CHILD SOLDIERS OF MEXICO’S DRUG GANGS—–

This land of the rich and poor is other-worldly with myth and legend based on gangland ethics.  Everyone belongs to a gang.  The rich have fewer gangs, while the poor have many gangs.  These gangs specialize in different forms of mayhem; i.e. some are street thieves, some are avengers, some are murderers for hire, some are rich overseers who make their own rules; a few cross all boundaries of specialization by dissembling.  The Gentleman Bastards are dissemblers that wear disguises and cross all boundaries of society.  They can appear as wealthy merchants or lowly beggars, depending on the con.

The ethics of gangs differ with a common thread for each.  The common thread is self-preservation.

Examples of modern gangs and their ethical conundrums:

TRUMP’S GANG (Troubled by the ethics of economic self-interest)

 

THE POOR’S GANG (Troubled by the ethics of anarchic rule)

 

PUTIN’S GANG (Troubled by the ethics of imbalanced power.)

The Gentleman Bastards are a small group of young men that contribute to the don of a bigger gang.  This larger gang is being quietly attacked by an unknown gang.  The leaders of the don’s smaller gangs are being murdered.  Locke Lamora is on the murder list of the unknown gang.  Locke is a hero in this gangland culture because his gang exclusively steals from the rich without murder of either rich or poor.  Locke is compelled to modify his no-murder rule when attacked by the unknown gang.

Aside from the entertaining adventure and clever writing of Lynch, the story explains how gangs become so important and influential in society.  Society’s outcasts become part of a gang because it gives them identity, a quality of prestige.  Poor people become part of a gang for identity and a way of making a living, or at least surviving.  Rich people become a gang for similar reasons but with advantages in place; i.e.  they have money, power, and prestige. Gangs exist in all societies; i.e., gang existence is life; particularly in a Hobbesian world.

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PERFECT BEAUTY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes

Written by: Sabaa Tahir

Narration by:  Fiona Hardingham, Steve West

SABAA TAHIR (AUTHOR)
SABAA TAHIR (AUTHOR)

“An Ember in the Ashes” resurrects the myth of perfect beauty.  Like Helen of Troy, Sabaa Tahir creates Laia whose beauty seduces the high and mighty, the immoral and licentious, and the low and rebellious.  Laia is a beauty with perfect proportion and symmetry; without guile, self-awareness, or conceit.  A fan of life knows perfect beauty is a myth but, as a premise for a story, it is irresistible.  The myth launches a thousand ships in the “Trojan War”, destroys a life in “Anne Karenina”, and calms a savage beast in “King Kong”.  A fan succumbs to stories of perfect beauty’s mythical allure.

The course of a world’s history in Tahir’s “An Ember in the Ashes” is changed by perfect beauty.  Tahir creates a fantasy world where might is right and rebellion is imminent.  Like in Plato’s “Republic”, society is stratified with a ruling-elite, a warrior class, and everyone else.   The warrior class is built from children born of warriors; taken from their families, and trained through adulthood to protect the Republic.  Unlike Plato’s “Republic”, the ruling class is not meant to create philosopher kings but to mold rulers for a totalitarian state.  The ruling class is focused on training and selecting the next Emperor for “absolute power”, without any necessary qualification for the “common good”.  The “everyone else” is made of merchants, slaves, and the hoi polloi.

The perfect beauty, Laia, has a brother; i.e. one of the hoi polloi; who is arrested by the ruling class.  In the course of arrest, Laia’s grandparents are murdered which leaves her with no living relatives other than her arrested brother.  Laia seeks help of an underground rebel group, originally started by her deceased parents, to fight totalitarian government.  A mystery surrounds the underground group and the lives and deaths of her parents.  Laia finds the new leaders of the underground and is recruited to infiltrate the state hierarchy as a slave of the powerful and malicious matron of the warrior school.

Tahir creates a turning point in her fantasy world’s history.  The next Emperor is to be selected from the warrior class in a competition.  There are four selected aspirants for the position; i.e. one woman, and three men.  The woman aspirant is in love with one of the men, Elias, who considers her a best friend but not a matrimonial mate.  The other two male aspirants are twin brothers; one of which is a cruel, amoral tyrant, and the other a pliant follower of his sibling.

Elias is the son of the powerful and malicious matron who runs the Warrior school and owns Laia.  Elias despises his mother for having abandoned him in the desert when he is born–another mystery.  The hate Elias has for his mother grows more virulent with years of training at the Warrior school.  Elias first sees Laia in his mother’s presence and is emotionally overwhelmed by Laia’s perfect beauty.

To enhance Tahir’s fantasy world, there are mythical creatures; e.g. Ghuls, Jinni, and immortal watchers that manipulate this world’s culture.  The watchers are called Augurs, with the principal Augur named Cain.  Cain is a lynch pin between totalitarian government and individual freedom.

“An Ember in the Ashes” is an adventure and entertainment in the Marvel’ mode.   The book’s last chapters twist and turn to offer a tale told in different languages, cultures, and eras.  It is a comic book version of trials in human governance.  It is masked in the myth of perfect beauty.  The audio book version is well done and finely produced but the story is hackneyed; and ironically, a probable best seller.

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IMAGINATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Golem and the JinniTHE GOLEM AND THE JINNI

Written by: Helene Wecker

Narrated by: George Guidell

HELENE WECKER (AUTHOR OF HER FIRST NOVEL)
HELENE WECKER (AUTHOR )

Helene Wecker’s first novel opens a new world of imagination.  As in all stories built on myth or legend, “The Golem and the Jinni” draws on universal human interest.  Wecker explores differences between men and women, faith and religion, caring and not caring, love and friendship.  The choice of George Guidell as narrator makes a good story even better.

A golem is a legendary Jewish’ figure made of clay and mud that lives and dies by the magic of Hebraic’ spells.

 

GOLEM (FROM MOVIE BIRTH OF A GOLEM)
GOLEM (FROM MOVIE BIRTH OF A GOLEM)

A golem is a robotic slave designed by a Jewish magician to serve and protect one person.  It is stronger than five men and, when provoked, acquires a blood-lust that destroys all in its path.  At the beginning of Wecker’s story, the golem and its master are crossing the Atlantic, bound for America.  The golem’s master dies just before arriving at Ellis Island. The golem arrives in New York alone.

JINNI (AS A SPIRIT)
JINNI (AS A SPIRIT)

A jinni is a legendary Muslim’ spirit; it flies like the wind and is born of other jinn who have lived for generations. The Muslim’ spirit has many different personalities; ranging from the impish; to the lustful; to the terrifying.  Wecker’s tale chooses a jinni that carries the heat of hell but is more like an impish playboy than a demon. However, this jinni is enslaved by an evil alchemist.  The jinni is constrained in an iron bracelet, placed by the alchemist on the wrist of its human form, that denies many of its powers.  The jinni may be called upon from a metal lamp (a prison designed by the alchemist) to do as told by his enslaver.  In a jinni’s normal state it can take the form of an ephemeral spirit, a human, or an animal while possessing its consciousness.  But this jinni cannot change forms and is at the beck and call of its enslaver.

As Wecker’s story unfolds, the jinni’s enslaver dies at the time of the jinni’s capture in the metal lamp.  The jinni in Wecker’s story is released from the metal lamp many generations later when being repaired by a Syrian shop keeper living in New York.   Both, the golem and jinni appear in New York in the early 20th century; one is without its master; the other is without its enslaver.

Now, forget what you think you know about a golem or jinni as a monster.  In Wecker’s novel, the monster under the bed, or in your dream, is not a golem or jinni.  The monster is you, a human being.  Wecker cleverly reveals myths of Jewish and Islamic demons in a story that blends human nature with a perception of differences between masculine and feminine mystique.   Along the way, Wecker raises issues of faith and religion; caring and not caring; love and friendship.  Wecker creates two powerful mythological characters with a supporting cast that contrast and reveal the nature of human beings.  Wecker’s golem is feminine; her jinni is masculine.

The golem and jinni find each other in New York.  They immediately recognize each’s true nature; not in detail, but in general.  The golem can see the glow of fire in the jinni’s face; the jinni can see the earthen substance of the golem’s body.  Neither of these entities knows of the legends of the other but they recognize their kindred isolation from humans.  As their relationship develops, their characters change.

As the golem and jinni begin to know each other they reveal the mystique of gender; i.e. the masculine mystique of seduction and the feminine mystique of emotional attachment; each mystique carrying its own power.  Wecker trades on this chimera by creating a growing, possibly romantic, relationship between the golem and jinni.  The golem cares about others to the point of obsession.  In contrast, the jinni cares only about itself.  Both golem and jinni have extreme forms of equally destructive human characteristics; i.e. obsessive interest in what others think and obsessive interest in the self.  Part of Wecker’s story explains how the golem and jinni moderate obsessive caring and extreme narcissism. Moderation comes from time and familiarity; i.e. a realization that no one is perfect and imperfection is part of human’ life.

Faith and religion are tested by supporting characters.  When the golem first arrives in New York, a Rabbi rescues her from a belligerent New Yorker.  The Rabbi knows she is a golem because of his rabbinical studies.  The Rabbi takes the golem into his home and counsels her on how to behave in public to protect her identity.  The Rabbi knows of the blood-lust risk inherent in a golem and wrestles with destruction or preservation of her being.  The Rabbi dies of old age before making a decision but his faith is evident in the counsel he gives the golem.  The Rabbi decries the golem maker’s dangerous act in creating life with inference that life is only in the purview of God; not man.

Belief in God is challenged by the magic and myth of Wecker’s story. In “The Golem and Jinni” life is created by man.  God is questioned by the nephew of the golem’s helpful Rabbi.  A human’s reincarnation and magic are at the heart of the story; i.e. both conceptual constructs, antithetical to belief in one God.  The skepticism of the Rabbi’s nephew, the golem, and the jinni challenge the notion of God.

Human caring for others supplants much of the Rabbi’s devout belief in God.  However, the ambivalence of caring shown by the Jinni are a part of Wecker’s story.  Set in the early 1900s, when immigrants are entering the United States through Ellis Island, Wecker reveals how dependent new arrivals were (and still are) on the care of others who came before.  One wonders how there can be a God with so much pain and hardship in the world.

Finally, at the story’s end, one hears an echo of the author’s view of love and friendship. Love and friendship’s differences lay somewhere between trust in what one says and the reality of what one does.

The Myth of the Golem:

The Myth of the Jinn:

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FOUNDATIONS OF LITERATURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literatureheroes and legends By: Professor Thomas A. Shippey

The Great Courses: World Literature Lectures

PROFESSOR TOM SHIPPEY (AUTHOR AND SCHOLAR OF TOLKIEN TRILOGY, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION)
PROFESSOR TOM SHIPPEY (AUTHOR AND SCHOLAR OF TOLKIEN TRILOGY, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION)

Little is offered on the foundations of literature by Professor Thomas Shippey in his lectures on Heroes and Legends. He fails to show how hero and legend stories are unique, repeated, and expanded upon in new literature about similar characters and adventures. The Heroes and Legends’ lectures are grade school snapshots of literary heroes and heroines. Shippey disappoints the listener by not drawing on his vast knowledge of Heroes and Legends in literature to illustrate genre’ continuity.

Professor Shippey’ lectures span centuries of Hero and Legends creations, from Homer to Stieg Larsson. Structure of the lectures is barely thematic and not chronological. Shippey’s lectures are, at best, a “stream of consciousness” exploration of western literature.

To characterize Odysseus as a trickster and Aeneas as a straight arrow trivializes adventure and ignores issues of motive, justice, and revenge in the genre. The battle between good and evil is ubiquitous in Heroes and Legends‘ literature; good and evil have become equally seductive qualities in heroes’ literature.  Evolution of good and evil presence in heroes and legends is not explored.

The first lecture is about Frodo Baggins and the Tolkien’ trilogy which would have been a great introduction to the existence of good and evil in the genre but little is said about Baggins’ temptation by the power of the ring and how the temptation of evil is a recurrent theme in hero’ literature.

As Shippey points out Baggins is a different kind of hero. He grows into his role. He begins as milquetoast but grows into a Cincinnatus; not as a great warrior/leader, but as a person of conscience that understands the importance of rising to the occasion but returning to normal life when victory is achieved. Baggins is a hero willing to take a stand for what is right and then act upon it, but leave that persona when he is no longer needed. Baggins is a transitional character for the genre of heroes and legends but Shippey fails to build on that observation. How many more Baggins come after Tolkien’s masterpiece?

Shippey notes there is a foundation; i.e. a structural contiguity that supports hero and legend’ story-tellers. Shippey identifies some of the unique characters and vignettes of heroes and legends but often neglects the story-tellers’ contribution to literature. The lectures would have been more interesting if Shippey added more insight like his note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes creates a foundation for dual heroes. Shippey shows how Blomquist and Salendar in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” carry the legend of Holmes into the 21st century. That is insight a listener is looking for; not a book report on chosen hero and legend literature.

In his last lecture of the series, Shippey talks about a house of legends with prescribed foundations. That should have been his first lecture. He is intimately familiar with the books he discusses but he fails to bring heroes and legends together in a format that describes the foundation of hero and legend literature.

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GUILTY PLEASURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archrivethe way of kings By: Brandon Sanderson

Narration by: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer

BRANDON SANDERSON (BYU GRADUATE, WINNER OF TWO HUGO AWARDS AND WHITNEY AWARD FOR BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION)
BRANDON SANDERSON (BYU GRADUATE, WINNER OF TWO HUGO AWARDS AND WHITNEY AWARD FOR BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION)

The Way of Kings is a guilty pleasure: i.e. guilty for listening to 45 hours of an audio book; pleasure from a writer’s imagination that vivifies human strength and weakness. Brandon Sanderson teaches creative writing at BYU. Judging from Wikipedia’s bio of Sanderson, he uses three laws when teaching or writing creative fiction. Each of these laws helps explain why The Way of Kings is a pleasure worth its 45 hour length.

MAGIC

Sanderson’s first law is—“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” The Way of Kings is filled with magic. Sanderson skillfully develops characters while traveling back and forth in place, time, and dimension to explain the origin and meaning of magic; magic which is something like science or something like God. Magic’s meaning and the quest for a Supreme Being are explored with each character’s perspective and each leap in place, time, and dimension.

LIMITATIONS

Sanderson’s second law is that characters of a story must have limitations greater than their powers. Power wielded, by Sanderson’s characters, are limited by nature because nature contains and is conflicted by innate good and evil. Sanderson focuses on limitations of great power to contrast good and evil, viewed as the elementary force of magic or a Supreme Being.

Sanderson’s third law is—“Expand what you already have before you add something new.” Sanderson is a god of creation. Like Hemingway, he creates life on a blank page. Sanderson creates characters that make reader/listeners proud, happy, sad, and genuinely empathetic. He amplifies and explains the strengths and weaknesses of nature in an imagined world of sentient beings.

Books become popularly and/ or literarily accepted to the extent that writer-ly’ skills comport with or enlighten a listener/reader’s life. Sanderson’s popular success and literary commendation give literary weight, meaning, and value to his three laws of creative writing.

FLAWED HEROES AND HEROINES IN THE MOVIES

This is a story about flawed heroes and heroines; with a bias toward heroic men and subordinate women. (The “subordinate women” comment is not to denigrate Sanderson’s writing but to suggest Sanderson communicates, as all human’s do, with his own learned and inherited memes.) Men are Sanderson’s rulers and warriors. Women are helpmates, lovers, scribes, and caregivers–sustaining humanity but never in front; always in background (another reminder of Hemingway).

WARRIOR IN BATTLE

The hero of this adventure is Kaladin, the son of a surgeon that becomes a soldier. Kaladin reverences life, like his surgeon father, but becomes a skilled warrior and leader in battles that take many lives. For reasons that only become clear near the end of the story, Kaladin is a gifted healer and “magical” leader.

HEROINE IN BATTLE

A heroine of The Way of Kings is Shallan Davar, a daughter of an unscrupulous merchant and sister of three brothers. Shallan is a “Supreme Being” believer that plots the theft of a magical instrument to save her families’ reputation and fortune. Shallan is also an artist with a photographic memory that allows her to precisely draw what she consciously and subconsciously sees.

ASSASSIN 

Other important characters that offer reinforcement of the theme of The Way of Kings are the Kholin family and an assassin called Szeth. The Kholins are a royal family of great reputation for leadership, valor, moral rectitude, and scholarship. Szeth is a slave to whoever owns his Oathstone, a talisman that controls his actions. Szeth has a conscience but cannot disobey the Oathstone barer.

Sentient beings are not perfect; i.e. they are good and evil. The Way of Kings shows that some beings believe there is no God but God; others believe there is no God but science. The Way of Kings suggests there is a middle way. One might conclude from The Way of Kings that sentient beings live life by their own rules and suffer their own consequences.

The Way of Kings audio book will have different meanings to its listeners but the skill of Brandon Sanderson and the expert narration of Reading and Kramer will entertain all who listen to its 45 hour adventure.

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