Link-Every-Couple-Of-Days: Lone Wolf Adventures  

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When I started posting my bookmarks, I had originally thought I would go in alphabetical order. However, I first discovered that not all of my bookmarks would be interesting to everyone; some of them are things that probably only I would find of interest (at least among the people whom I know read this blog). I next discovered that, on the opposite pole of things, some of these sites are probably too good to hold off on posting, even if only in my opinion. Today's link is one of the latter; I took joy in it last summer (when I first posted about it, I think), and have done so again this summer.

If you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books, you may remember the variety of book which included more of a formal roleplaying game structure, where you would actually roll dice (or use a similar sort of randomizing element) and keep track of your character's statistics and belongings and such. One of the most popular of this sort of book were the Lone Wolf series of books. Joe Dever, the fellow who wrote these books, saw fit at the beginning of the decade to make them all available to the public for free online as a sort of "millennium gift", as he puts it. Thanks to Mr. Dever's generosity (and the work of a list of contributors and website programmers), you can go to and read/play through the entire series. It even includes the original artwork, which is a plus in my opinion. If you're in need of a good gaming fix, I find that these really scratch that itch. I'm currently on The Kingdoms of Terror, which is one of the two Lone Wolf books I once owned in print.

Over the Independence Day weekend Marilyn and I went to Des Moines to visit with her parents. We had a pretty good time, enjoyed lots of good meals (as we are assured of doing any time we spend time with them), and did a bit of shopping. Oddly enough, we never watched fireworks; the most that we got of that was catching the occasional glimpse of them across the city as we drove, or heard the explosions echoing in the backyard as though the city were under an artillery siege. We also got to experience the unique delights of a humongous projection widescreen television. We watched “LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring” on it, and the experience was a reminder that these films were intended to be seen on a large screen. There’s so much detail that you lose when you watch it on a smaller screen. Not that I’m suggesting some kind of artistic imperative to go out and blow $2000 on a television, but like the difference between VHS and DVD, there is a noticeable change in quality. We also watched a bit of satellite television, and discovered that the channel G4 (which is, as Marilyn put it, “the Geek Channel”) will be televising the San Diego Comic-Con International. I wish I could convince my in-laws to record it for me, just so I could have the vicarious experience. Then again, I’ll be going to Chicago’s Wizard World convention in August, so it’s not as though I’m being starved.

One of the places we went shopping was a store called Half-Price Books, which apparently is a chain of the nicest used bookstores I've ever seen. Their selection was incredible - not only books, but CDs, computer games, DVDs and videos, even comic books and vinyl records. There was quite a bit there that I would have liked to get - for example, a Marvel Comics adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda and a couple of hardbound C.S. Lewis compilations for $13 apiece - but common sense and budgetary concerns demanded that I whittle down my choices. In the end, I picked up a CD I'd been wanting to replace ("Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance", which sounds silly, but the music always reminded me of Campaign and there are several songs which I can't help but think of as the soundtrack to scenes in individual games we played or games I was planning), a copy of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, and (based on Dan's recommendation) a copy of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibon√©.

I started reading The Silmarillion, and in so doing I’ve been reminded of the singular vision of Tolkien. The introduction to the book, written by Christopher Tolkien, includes a letter J.R.R. wrote to his publisher in which he summarizes the content of The Silmarillion and goes into a little detail about his philosophy behind the crafting of it. As he says, he detests allegory, but his work is wholly Christian in spirit. His is a myth which springs from not only his love of the mythologies of Teutonic and Nordic cultures, but also and primarily from his love of “the True Myth”, the Biblical account of Creation and its Creator. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and I look forward to those opportunities when I can sit down and spend more time with it. Most of the time, I tend away from writing fantasy because I have a hard time escaping the notion that It’s All Been Done - Tolkien and Lewis did it best, in my opinion, and there are other big names that I enjoy (Lieber, Howard, Beagle, Le Guin, Alexander, King, Gaiman, and Smith), but when it comes to putting pen to paper and creating something of my own, I can’t help but feel derivative. I daresay the bulk of printed fantasy out there is either trying to emulate Tolkien (some more obviously and openly than others) or is trying to recreate historical Europe with modern-day sensibilities. Facing the former, well, Tolkien already did it; why try to create something that, at best, would only be remembered as a shadow of a greater work? Facing the latter, why manufacture something that could never be as varied, colorful, intriguing, internally consistent and accessible as real history, or the historical world? I originally chose to focus on historical fiction and historical fantasy because I was already quite interested in history, and I came to that latter conclusion: why write a story set in the Kingdom of Pretendia and try to make readers feel the impact and importance of that when I could write about Camelot, and everyone would already know what I’m talking about, at least to enough of a degree to make an emotional impact. I also feel as though I do creative work better when I have a foundation to build upon, a framework around which to construct my story. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of playing roleplaying games for most of my life or if it’s something I was already predisposed to do, but I suspect I have a better time of it when I’m creating characters and situations that take place in a setting that’s already been described to me than I do when trying to create a setting out of whole cloth. Either this means that I have a future of writing historical fiction, or of writing game fiction (which I think I fear more for the stigma of it and the poor quality I’ve seen in some of it), or of writing other people’s comics (which may be what I do for a career after all, if I happen to get a job with DC), or it may mean that I simply need to find a way to think outside of this box.

One of the things that started me upon this train of thought was something that Tolkien said in his letter. He was explaining that he wanted to create a myth for his own people, the English; something that wasn’t a product of one of the many cultures which invaded the British Isles over its history, but something which it could truly call of its own native culture:

“There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save improvised chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing, its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. [Here’s the part that really got my attention:] For another and more important thing, it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion. For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read). [Referring, I think, to his essay “On Fairy-Stories”]”

Anyway, he goes on to describe some of this reflection, how his tales reflect the themes of the Fall, Mortality, and what he calls The Machine, the use of ability and innate talent with the corruptive motive of domination.

These thoughts, then, have started me thinking afresh on the writing of fantasy. I can’t deny that it’s long been a desire of mine, and I certainly love to read good fantasy. When I think of the stories that have moved me the most, they tend to be of the fantasy genre; the Romantic blood that runs through them has a strong effect on me. After reading Tolkien’s thoughts on creating Middle-Earth (and thus being reminded of Lewis’s thoughts on writing Narnia and the Space Trilogy), I think I’ve felt a reawakening of that old desire, especially given the importance that they both placed on fantasy; I don’t think it would be a misappropriation of their statements to say that they stressed society’s need for fantasy. Not to mention, as I’ve said to Michael Slusser in our discussions on this topic, it’s not as though no one else is writing (and selling) fantasy. Even if we don’t do it, other people will.

I guess that leaves the next obvious question: how do I write good fantasy? Well, I’ve got Lewis and Tolkien’s essays to help out, the essays I read in Behind the Screen, and a class on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy this upcoming semester…

This entry was posted on Friday, July 07, 2006 at Friday, July 07, 2006 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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