Whoo-Boy. A lot’s been going on, so let’s get to it.
Ages of Aenya
As you probably know, Ages of Aenya finally became available last month, and sales have been brisk. It’s great knowing people from as far as Europe and the UK have read the story and have had nothing but good things to say about it. I do have, unfortunately, my pet troll to deal with. Like any loyal pet, he was the first to go barking on Amazon, giving the book a 1-star review. Funny thing is, he knew it was out before I did! I am still amazed by this, that some people have nothing better to do than to watch you like a hawk, ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity. Oh well. What Mr. Troll doesn’t seem to understand is that I don’t care about critiques from people who haven’t actually read the book, and I know he hasn’t, as his “review” came minutes after it was posted to Amazon. Even if Mr. Troll were to have dished out the money to give an honest opinion, I still wouldn’t care, because a troll’s viewpoint is worthless, in that it is inherently biased. Either way, art is subjective. There are always going to be readers who think what I write is garbage, and others who feel the opposite. Just look at the love/hate situation for the recent Star Wars! The fact that a majority appears to love what I do means I’ve succeeded as a writer. My only goal now is to keep writing and to find more readers. That means learning something about marketing. At the moment, I am planning book signings, reaching out to fiction bloggers, and networking with other writers, like Michael Sullivan.
The End of An Era / A Bold New Direction
This blog is approaching its seventh year, and I am beginning to feel that much of what I have wanted to say has been said. In 2010, my head was bursting at the seams with ideas that had been bugging me since high school. I wanted to play Devil’s advocate with regards to cliches, melodrama, and ‘to say’ verbs. I wanted to throw in my two cents about popular fiction, like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and a A Game of Thrones, and to contrast these works with the lesser known classics that I love, like The Last Unicorn and The Never Ending Story, in an effort to understand what makes good storytelling, and how literary conventions change over time. I also longed to express my more unusual beliefs, for nudism in particular, but about religion also. The Writer’s Disease has been a great platform to share my life story, and to showcase my earlier work. Telling stories has been the most important thing in my life, and I needed to make certain that the world knew that, that nobody would mistake me for a guy who wakes up one day, in a mid-life crisis, deciding to be a novelist. At the very least, I feel that I’ve earned the respect that comes from three decades of dedication. Having a blog like this has helped keep my mind sharp, for when I was too busy with work and kids to labor over a novel. But now that much of what I have wanted to say has been said, with one teenager in the family and my other business largely self-sufficient, I am finally able to commit to my true passion. Despite how hectic my life has been, I am ashamed to admit that, since Aenya’s inception c. 1999, I have only managed to produce three full-length novels, with one of those, The Dark Age of Enya, mostly redone. I need to devote myself to Aenya, not just to maps and biographies, but to honest-to-goodness books. Hopefully, I should be shelling out a new Aenya book every two to three years, from now until I hit the grave. This doesn’t mean I am quitting this blog; only that you’ll be seeing less of me here, and more of me in my books.
Book Review: C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew
I started reviewing novels as a means to learn from them. In college, we studied the classics, Shakespeare and Melville and Hawthorne, and while I have always been a fan of long-dead authors, modern-day readers seem to prefer people from *this* century. In essence, I have had to unlearn what I learned in college, to abstain from the flowery, poetic language with which I was so accustomed, and so adored (see?). This is part of the reason I ended up rewriting The Dark Age of Enya, to appeal to a modern audience. Some of Xandr’s dialogue still retains elements of Homer. In 2010, The Lord of the Rings was on everybody’s mind, thanks to Peter Jackson, and so every new author was accused of being a Tolkien-wannabe. I was accused of this myself, which was particularly infuriating. Bookstores are saturated by imitators, R.A. Salvatore chief among them, and even George R.R. Martin has been influenced by the Anglo-European myths that informed Tolkien. But I have never felt the need to explore tales of elves, dwarves or dragons. The Aenya series, for better or worse, is rooted in Greek mythology, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and the 80’s cartoon show, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. All writers borrow, but the great ones borrow from a much greater pool. Inspiration can be found anywhere, and from anyone, which is why I aim to become familiar with every fantasist out there, from Adams to Zelazny.
This leads me to C.S. Lewis. I picked up The Magician’s Nephew from a small bookstore in London. Being a literary nerd, I was excited by the prospect of reading an English novel in its original, un-Americanized form, but if there were any differences in dialects, I didn’t notice them.
The Magician’s Nephew is a simple adventure story, about two children, Digory and Polly, who are given magic rings (again, rings) that enable them to travel to other worlds. One of these worlds has been destroyed by an evil-witch, Queen Jadis. Eventually, they end up in empty space, in what becomes Narnia.
Anyone familiar with C.S. Lewis knows of his outspoken religiosity, and of the Christian-apologetic he penned, Mere Christianity. His faith heavily influenced his fantasy, and it shows, even in The Lord of the Rings, as Lewis and Tolkien often critiqued one another’s work. Tolkien rejected allegorical interpretations of his story, but it’s hard to ignore similarities between the Lady Galadriel and the Catholic Mary, the elves of Middle Earth and Biblical angels, Sauron (Melkor, specifically) and the Fallen Angel, Lucifer. Lewis’ faith, however, is much more pronounced, not quite beat-you-over-the-head blatant, ala A Wrinkle in Time, but apparent, nonetheless. Digory and Polly witness the creation of Narnia, as Aslan, the Lion, sings it into being. He creates the land, the mountains, the rivers, and the animals. Why use a lion to represent God, and not some other creature? Lewis doesn’t really say. I suppose he just really liked lions. Tolkien seems to have borrowed this idea when he described his own deity, Eru Illuvatar, singing not only Middle Earth into being (properly Arda), but Time itself, in The Silmarillion. Shortly after Narnia is born, the story ends, having established the setting and the villain, Jadis, for future books in the series.
The Magician’s Nephew is a well-written and a (bit too) straightforward tale, mostly for children. Through the Narnia series, Lewis helped introduce young people to aspects of his faith, much in the way I hope to introduce Aenya-readers to naturism, but in doing so, I am hard pressed to imagine him not finding the cracks in his beliefs, as his own story seems to fix many of the narrative issues found in the Bible. For instance, Aslan does not create Narnia’s Devil, Jadis, but rather, she invades and corrupts his creation from beyond, having come from another dimension. This makes a lot more sense than having an all-knowing, all-powerful entity bring Lucifer into being, whom YHWH must have known would turn against him. Put another way, if your own, made-up story makes more sense than what you believe actually, literally happened, I think you’d start to question your beliefs.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dammit. Just when I thought I was done talking about Star Wars, Episode VIII comes along to stir up more controversy. YouTubers are calling The Last Jedi the best since or better than Empire, while others are just as passionately arguing to remove the movie from canon. As someone who studies storytelling for a living, I am continually fascinated by divergent reactions to books and movies. I want/need to know why fans love or hate things, because I work hard to entertain them. Try as I may, however, I know I will always garner haters, because art is subjective. And yet people cannot seem to accept this. Armchair critics will argue endlessly in defense of, or in opposition to, some viewpoint, as if their arguments could be proven. It reminds me of the gold/blue dress debacle. People were incensed that others could look at the same thing and not see what they did. The Last Jedi is a lot like that.
I am one of the few on the planet who actually adored the Prequel films. And it has been hard for me to witness, from every corner of the web, the hatred spewed at something I so greatly enjoyed. When Episode VII was released, I was equally perplexed. Most people loved it. But Star Wars, for me, has always been about imagination, originality, and inspiration. The Force Awakens, while entertaining, felt like a retread of things familiar, a way to cash-in on nostalgia. It offered nothing new. Worse still, it seemed to retcon everything we loved about Return of the Jedi. Turns out, the Empire wasn’t destroyed with the second Death Star, nor when Palpatine was thrown down a reactor shaft by Darth Vader. It simply became the First Order. Palpatine was replaced by Snoke, Vader by Kylo Ren, and a brand new third Death Star was built. Luke is still the only Jedi in the galaxy and Han still works as a money-hungry smuggler. It forces one to wonder, what the hell was the point of Episode VI? Was anything accomplished?
When Rian took the reins from JJ, I think he recognized these flaws, and did his damndest to rectify them. He immediately did away with Kylo’s Vaderesque helmet, turning Ren into a much more interesting character, and he killed off the Palpatine-wannabe, Snoke, preventing JJ from copying VI with IX. More importantly, Rian gave us a *new* story, and much like Lucas with his sequels and prequels, offered something new with regards to the Jedi and the Force, giving Luke, Rey and even Leia powers we’ve never seen before. This is what, for me, a good sequel needs to do. It needs to expand on what we know about a story we love.
So what’s my verdict? I liked it. It still lacks Lucas’ visual flair. There were few moments when my jaw dropped in awe. In this regard, George is an unparalleled director. But Rian gives us plenty of genuine surprises, and he does it the old-fashioned way, via storytelling. Mark Hamill gives his best performance as an old, crotchety, and conflicted Luke Skywalker, and I have never been such a fan of the character.
The previous film killed my excitement for Star Wars, but with Rian at the helm, the old spark is coming back. I am eager to watch the movie again, and can only pray that JJ (why him?) manages to conjure some originality with his next outing.