Why writing (and reading) is important

Have you ever wondered why we push reading and writing as skills to teach our kids? Now I know most of you are writers so this is preaching to the choir but because I rant about things on occasion and use this as a venue to get stuff off my chest you’re going to get my take on it.

We hear it a lot “teaching kids to read is important”, “writing is something everyone should do”, “the early kids learn to read the more they will read.”

Okay but why do we want this? On a basic level humanity doesn’t technically need to read or write to survive. It would be hard and a lot of us would die and the population would decrease drastically but if push came to shove the species could survive as hunter gatherers where fire and flint spears are the height of technology. How do I know we can survive? Because we did for countless thousands of years until someone figure out how to plant grains and harvest it.

So what advantage does literacy give us?

To be honest yes we can survive as hunter/gatherers but that’s not exactly the ideal. We’re pretty effective hunters to be honest, but that’s not where our species has it’s advantage. Our advantage has always been, and always will be the story.

There’s the old joke that acting is the second oldest profession and prostitution is the oldest (I dispute that but that’s not for here or there). For acting to be one of the oldest professions, which I think it is, there has to be stories to tell. But why?

One of the things we find in early cultures and societies is evidence of story telling and music. We tell the stories of our peoples, over and over. We put them in form of music, of verse, poetry, stories, whatever. Because stories tell us about who we are and the lessons we have learned as a species. Without the stories we are no better off than a pride of lions or pack of wolves. Our ability to share stories is what lets us learn. We did this first verbally and passed them down through oral tradition. Of course this isn’t effective and anyone who plays telephone knows that messages and stories get garbled after just passing between twenty people in the same room. Now image for a moment passing a story along across thousands of people, over hundreds of miles, over centuries. I think that was the start of our myths. Pieces of forgotten stories passed on and on until we had these mythical beings who well different all seem to follow some various shared traits here and there.

But the important part isn’t the content of the stories, but our ability to share them. Eventually someone figured out that if we assigned symbols to the noises coming out of our mouths and put those symbols on something other people could look at we could share those stories more efficiently and maybe not make as many mistakes in the retellings.

Now mistakes were still made, still are made, but it also opened the way to new concepts and ideas to spread. We could trade, send information across vast distances. Rather than being isolated to tribes and close knit cities we could interact with cultures and people who lived hundreds of miles away from us. It allowed us to trade advancements in science, philosophy, law, war and more, sometimes through dry words of trade, sometimes through grand mythologies and stories.

Being able to read was considered important. So important in fact that the majority of humanity in the history of the world never learned. For a thousand generations only the richest most powerful people were allowed to learn. It was taught to the nobility and the clergy, but the majority of people who did the labor were rarely taught to read or write. This allowed the powerful to maintain power by limiting the access of information spread between the working classes. People were taught how to worship but never allowed to actually read the text that contained what they were suppose believe in.

Now I’m not here to bash someone’s religion or beliefs, but regardless of what you believe for thousands of years those with the power to read and share messages were able to control the majority of the population, from the Assyrians on down through the middle ages. Even in places like Greece and Rome where Western schools of thought will teach that literacy was higher often will neglect to mention this only was a privilege enjoyed by free men or very high class slaves (I know). Not the multitudes of slave laborers, women, lower class citizens, and many others.

This changed with the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration in Europe (I’m going to be real honest I don’t know much about the development of Asia and Africa because joy I was taught in American school systems). With a massive influx of money from trade, being run by merchants who belonged not to the traditional hierarchies of nobility and clergy, this newly formed middle class was able to higher tutors and learn to read and write at first for trade and later for other purposes. The spread of the printing press allowed for more access to books and written items. What once had to be tediously copied down by (priest) hand could now be down en masse at much faster rates.

If you want to look at the causes of the upheavals in society and revolutions that happened in the 18th century, look back to 1440 when Gutenberg made the printing press. Over the course of the next few hundred years writing became almost common place, with many reading and sharing thoughts and stories. The increased education of the population allowed for new thoughts and ideas not just to emerge but to thrive. Suddenly the power of the Church was seriously challenged in Europe for the first time in almost five hundred years since the split between Roman and Orthodox by a monk named Martin Luther who was able to spread his ideas without being isolated to those ideas only being told to those who had a vested interest in preventing that sort of thought from existing.

With philosophers and writers able to write on political affairs and satires of the day criticisms were leveled at monarchs who often could only respond by publishing their own rebuttals through the presses as their critics could hide out in other countries in safety and still get their messages out. It is my belief that this ultimate culmination of the mass communication made possible by the printing press and the spread of literacy came in the 18th centuries with the American, French and Latin American revolutions as political writings reached at zenith and the fiery of new ideas allowed for the creation of new countries, and indeed new forms of government and eventually economies.

It is still within our interest to spread stories. Writings from the beginning of civilization show us that as a species we still share a lot of similarities in 2021 as there was in Uruk. We still struggle with urban (Gilgamesh) and rural (Enkidu) differences, but find we can work together to be more than the sum of our parts and we still seek companionship as Gilgamesh and Enkidu found in each other. Still we seek challenges and adventures in overcoming adversity. We struggle against our ultimate destiny and seek to find that long sought but never found secret to immortality.

Though Gilgamesh never realized it, indeed how could he, he in a way achieved his goal. His is the oldest known story in the world, though it has been changed in many interpretations because writing is still not perfect. The name of Gilgamesh will live for as long as their are humans, even if we don’t always associate him with the story we are telling. Is that not a form of immortality? Does writing not give us a way to speak a thousand generations into the future where other voices are forgotten?

Reading and writing more than any other scientific advancement made gives us our best, our only, defense against that ultimate destiny of all living things, death. No other species that we are aware of has left stories for us to read. No other species has spread philosophical thought or ideas to others of their kind across thousands of miles and millions of years in the same fashion. The ability to read and write is paramount to our success not just as individuals, but as a species.

It is of course impossible for me to go on a rant like this without taking a pound of flesh from those who seem bent preventing people from reading and writing. They do it under the guise of morality, of protecting the sensibilities of children and “good people”. What they are saying is they want to return to a world where only the select few have the ability. Of course maybe they don’t call themselves nobles (often) anymore. But think about why they don’t want people to read things. Now of course there are things you might not want your own kid to read at certain stages of their life. I certainly wouldn’t think it would be a productive use of time to read War and Peace to my nine year old. not because of the sex or violence. It wouldn’t be productive to read it because it would be difficult for a nine year old to comprehend the story and it would be an exercise in frustration that’s he’s not ready for. But maybe there is a nine year old who is ready for it. That’s not for me to judge.

Every time in human history that reading and knowledge has been restricted it has been so as the last defense of the desperate and the depraved in an attempt to cling to power. Fortunately the worst of the offenders have been stopped, but the price has been high, and even now we have book bans and reading bans on certain topics and stories. What are they so afraid of that they want to restrict what might be found as challenging? Go back eight or nine paragraphs. Because when you allow knowledge to spread humanity grows, sometimes through revolution, but only because those who try and restrict knowledge won’t let us grow. Humanity thrives when people are educated and able to read. We fall back when reading is discouraged, when people rely on others to tell them what to think rather than to learn.

The antidote is to write, write everything. Write poetry, write fantasy, write romance, write comedy. Theses are what give us a reason, a will to live. Write on topics you have opinions on, write on scientific thoughts you’ve read and studied. Write philosophy and share it with others so they can think and respond, write history so the generations that come after can know who we are, to know how we stumbled, so they can overcome the mistakes we’ve made and work on new ones of their own. Write because it sticks it too the elitist who refused to not see the value that everyone can offer. Write for those who were denied the right to think for thousands of years.

Write, because you will advance the cause of our species to continue long after we are gone. Write because you will then walk with the immortals, and for a time your name will be remembered. I can think of no two greater causes in humanity then those, all done with power of written word.

The Darkness Dwells Within

Content Warning: This short story is pretty heavy and might be triggering as it contains assault and self harm.

It started out so innocuous so small that he didn’t even notice a change. It was a recess in second grade and a bigger kid from a few grades older pushed him down and took a ball away. Then the older kids laughed at the little kid and made fun of his skinned knees. As he lay there on the ground a small little spot of darkness slipped inside of him unnoticed, invisible to human senses. 

The darkness borrowed deep down inside the boy and made itself comfortable in his brain. Snuggled up deep and hidden it waited to be fed. It knew it would be, it had time to wait, the substance would come, then it could grow strong.

Not that it had long to wait. The little boy went home that night, the school had called explaining the skinned knees. His mother cried over them, his father yelled about him being weak and needing to stand up for himself. His mother yelled back at father about being too hard on the boy, father complained she was too soft on him and they were raising a sissy. The boy just sat there trying not to cry, he knew it wouldn’t help to try and say anything. They’d just get madder, he didn’t feel tough like his father wanted, but he didn’t want his mom crying over him either. The boy went to his room after dinner. Mother and father had resorted to drinking after more yelling at each other, but the alcohol had done its work and now they were giggling and tickling each other. 

The boy hid in his room and cried into his pillows and the darkness in his mind grew larger, it’s tentacles starting to stretch out into every path way down the little boy’s mind. The yelling and callous uninterested in it’s hosts’ feelings were what sustained it. This was it’s rich delicacies that let it grow strong and excrete the toxins that would fertilize the host’s mind to produce more food for it’s needs. It was a greedy thing with a hunger that couldn’t be sated, so it had to make sure it’s lair was ready for its gluttonous needs. But it was still small, it would need more. 

The darkness found another cache of nourishment a few weeks later. It was a Saturday and the boy found his mother’s nail polish out in her room. It was dark red and he liked the way it looked on his pretty mother. The boy, innocently enough, thought he might look pretty with nail polish too and meticulously painted his finger nail. He was careful not wanting to leave a mess as he was afraid of getting in trouble for that. When finished he was pleased with the result and like the dark red and ran to show his parents. 

The boy knew he had done wrong when his father’s face turned as red as the nail polish. His mother was roughly shoved aside as father roughly grabbed the boy and took off his belt. Mother just lay there on the ground crying as the boy’s bottom was turned raw by the lashings, tears flowing down his cheeks as father yelled at him to stop crying and to be a man for once. 

For the darkness inside the boy’s head it was a feast. It gorged itself on the yelling, the pain, the tears, the shame. It lusted for more, and it’s tendrils grew further and wrapped themselves around the emotional centers of the boy’s mind and whispered to the boy, telling him just how worthless the boy was, an embarrassment to his family and everyone. Nobody really wanted the boy, he was just a nuisance after all, why else would they hurt him like this? That shame and guilt grew in the boy and the darkness devoured the morsels like candy savoring in their sweet destructive nature. 

As the boy grew up so did the darkness, every time someone made fun of him or he was left out inside more and more the darkness tightened its grip. It had grown strong enough to control the boy’s actions. Fear of his father and being told to man up forced him into playing sports. He didn’t particularly like playing sports. He didn’t like being around the other boys, he didn’t like the culture, the couches. He hated being in locker rooms and seeing the disgusting hygiene of his teammates. But he endured it in silence. He played everything, football, baseball, basketball, soccer. Everything to prove to his dad that he was a man. It was all fake, he didn’t feel anymore manly playing any sport than when he wasn’t. The darkness fed on that fear, the doubt, the lies. The darkness was more and more in control, overwhelming every thought and emotion the boy had. Every triumph and moment that others found joy in when he won a game was overshadowed by the darkness. It wouldn’t allow him to feel the joy and pride in any of his accomplishments, because he hadn’t accomplished them for himself, but to please everyone else. 

Sports got him into college. It was about the only time his father was ever pleased with him, not having to pay for continued education. His father talked and raved about his son going pro someday and earning millions for the family to live off of. The boy hated the thought of having to keep playing. He wanted to do something else, he wanted to create art and stories, but nobody cared about that. Once he had tried to show a poem to someone he thought was a friend, but his so-called friend just laughed and teased him that he should be with the losers and theater nerds. The boy’s father didn’t like theater, so the boy’s shame made him hide away that part of him and the darkness crackled and delighted in it’s meal. 

It was in college, a party sophomore year. He had been drinking, alcohol was something he had learned about in high school. It sated the hunger of the darkness for awhile but it gorged off the shame and guilt and pain that would follow the next day so it whispered encouragement for the boy to drink more and the boy willingly obliged. This party there was another boy, smaller than the other young men, thin and wore eyeliner and had painted nails. Eyes were made at each other and our young boy thought this boy was pretty and was jealous of the painted nails. The darkness fed on the jealousy, but it wanted something more, it wanted the sweet delectable taste of hatred. It pushed that memory of being beaten for painting his own nails, of being rejected by his father. He saw the smaller boy smile at him and a moment later they were in a small room alone. The smaller boy pushed himself into the boy’s chest and kissed him. The kiss held for a moment. But the darkness didn’t want this. It didn’t want this much happiness and joy, it didn’t want the boy to reconsider what was shameful, it wanted the shame. Happiness and joy were the only things to be crushed, to marinate the negative energies that sustained it. The darkness reminded the boy that it was shameful to be like this, to have feelings and emotions. Father didn’t want a sissy, remember? What would he think if he saw the boy now. The boy roughly pushed the other away from him and punched the poor confused boy in the stomach. The darkness forced the boy’s face to contort into rage and hatred. How dare this person touch him? Hadn’t they been taught decency? 

The smaller boy looked hurt and tears streamed down his face. The darkness delighted in this feeding on both boy’s hurt and pain. Sorrow and regret overwhelmed the boy and the darkness danced happily shoving the emotions into its gullet. The boy whispered he was sorry and fled the party. He cried for the first time in years into his pillow that night, the tears which he had learned to hold inside him from when he was eight years old least it make things worse all flowed out of him pent up for over a decade all flowed out, he felt empty and alone and the darkness loved every minute of it. It loved the guilt and shame the boy felt as the kiss. It lusted from the further guilt and shame that came with physically hitting the other boy. It got off on the pain it had caused both boys in making them feel bad for themselves and denying them any measure of joy at their meeting. 

The darkness gorged so much that it dozed off for the first time in years and the boy felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time: determination. He had to make up for his actions. He found the other boy and apologized. To his surprise the other boy accepted it. It was already, the smaller boy knew that it wasn’t acceptable to everyone and should have no better. The boy reached out and they hugged, he felt the smaller boy in his muscle toned arms and looked down at the pretty face of the smaller boy who had painted himself in the makeup that the other boy had been so envious of. Would the smaller boy put makeup on him? Of course he would! They went back to the smaller boy’s room and spent the day playing with makeup and styles for the sports hero, a scene he never wanted anyone to see but took secret pleasure in. On the whole the boy thought it was the best day of his life and he felt genuine happiness for the first time since he was a child. 

But the darkness was well entrenched inside the boy and wasn’t going to give up. It had been caught snoozing but it’s hunger could never be sated and it had woken up famished. It was displeased when it found the harsh bright light of happiness and joy having cracked the reinforced darkness of the boy’s mind. The boys lay in bed having made love, the smaller boy was curled up in the boy’s arms, head using the boy’s chest as a pillow. But our boy was awake and staring at the ceiling. At first his mind was ecstatic with the joy of the day and deed he had just done. But the darkness crept back in and shame started to overwhelm him again. It was wrong he had been taught. His father, his teachers, other boys, the preachers. All had said that laying with another man was evil. The darkness forced him to start hating his body, to make it feel like he had polluted himself. In his mind he was overwhelmed as the darkness launched it’s counter attack and the meager bit of light and joy that had crept in was overwhelmed. 


For the boy as he lay there, his mind became the devastated battleground he felt the tears welling up on his eyelashes, covered in mascara. In the darkness he saw himself get up from the bed. It was a shadowy monstrous version of him, the version of him that had grown and fed over all those years and controlled him. It looked down at the boy in disgust, full of self-loathing and hatred. It grabbed the boy and dragged him out of bed despite his feeble struggles, all his strength from the field and weight room couldn’t help him now. The shadow was bigger than him, stronger, and meaner. It dragged him into the bathroom and locked the door. Cruelly assaulting him it mocked him, mocked his feelings, his weakness, his body. Did he really think that the sleeping boy in the other room loved him? Nobody loved him, hadn’t he learned that long ago? The darkness wasn’t going to let someone love this pathetic excuse of a failed man laying here in a bathroom crying like the sissy he had always been. The water in the tub turned on and filled with hot water. The shadow opened a full bottle of pills and forced the boy’s mouth open forcing the entire bottle down his throat as he gagged trying to plead for his life. The shadow disgusted shoved him into the filling tube and forced the boy’s head under the water. The darkness cannot know it’s hunger to ever be fully sated. In it’s frustration it can feed off a victim for decades if allowed to flourish, but if it’s threatened it will strike back and would rather kill its host along with it than let it’s host go on without it. The darkness hated that the boy had known joy and was going to make him pay. The humiliation of dying naked and alone in a bathroom of his lover only excited the darkness even more making it stronger as it gorged on it’s final feast as the boy’s life ran its course and escaped out of his body.

Just as he felt his final moments coming the door slammed open. A light shone so bright that the darkness howled and screeched in agony as this new light shattered the shadow being and drove it far away. The smaller boy emerged from the light, the joy of the day he had just spent with the strong but sad boy like himself had showed him hope and he had destroyed his own darkness and now came to save his lover. The adrenaline and power of this new found self confidence and happiness let him pull the bigger boy out of the bathtub. He cleared the pills from his dearest’s mouth and throat. The boy was breathing shallowly but still alive. His lover called 911, they had a long road to go, but they had both taken the first steps on the road towards something better.

End

*If you or someone you know is in danger of self harm please reach out and get help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by Texting ‘Hello’ to 741741

In which we talk about how Peter Jackson wronged the Dwarves

I really promise this entire site, blog, whatever isn’t just going to be me bashing LOTR movies and the poor creative decisions they made. Also I understand that many many people love the LOTR movies. However I think criticism is valid even for something you like. Especially for things you like. I could also go off about all the weak parts of the LOTR books (I mean be honest, did anyone besides me actually read ALL of Two Towers book IV?) but that’s not as fun as talking about the version that pretty much everyone is now familiar with and has a lot of nostalgic value. Also not everyone has read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings (and honestly you might not like it but you should read it.) so they might not be familiar with how the books present a very different view of some of our favorite characters.

Alright dwarves. Let’s talk about dwarves. In the books the dwarves are presented as artists, laborers, kings, princes, musicians, enchanters. The gifts of dwarves lie in their artistry, their heartiness, loyalty, and stubbornness as granted to them by their creator Aulë. They were granted knowledge of crafting by Aulë, the Valar of craft smiths, and he made them hearty and stubborn as they would be born into a world assailed by the Shadow of Morgoth and would need to be resilient.

Now some of you might be looking at that paragraph and thinking to yourselves “Artist? What? I thought dwarves were miners, jewelcrafters, and hoarders of gold. Yeah okay you know who else hordes golds? Everyone. even the elves like gold and have started several wars over the stuff. But dwarves tend to mine deeper and seek out more and more riches than other races. But I do not think it is just greed alone that drives the dwarvish heart as is so quickly suggested by most scholars of Tolkien or even from a broader fantasy sense. Within Tolkien we have several key moments that in fact push back against the idea that only greed is what drives the interests of dwarves.

The first comes from none other than Thorin Oakenshield himself. Now in the movies Thorin, played by the ever brilliant Richard Armitage, was certainly given into the greed of dwarves motif that they are often associated with. So much so that the movies introduced a concept called “Dragon-sickness” or “Gold sickness” to further the point that “gold is bad”. Pretty big concept coming from a company that is literally cashing in and dragged out a wonderful single book into three movies because of …money. Based on the movies you’d think the only thing Thorin’s entire line cares about is money and Thorin is saved because of love. (Side note: if your entire way of overcoming your scary magic is the power of love, your scary magic/disease/whatever sucks). But in the books Thorin is a musician as well having a fine harp and when they first enter into the Lonely Mountain when Smaug was gone, they come to the treasure horde and Thorin specifically is attracted at first not to look for the Arkenstone, but to the harps and comments on how they are still in good condition. It is with music that the dwarves use to cheer Thorin during the siege of the Lonely Mountain, not with gold. 

“Yes but he was still a jerk and didn’t share the gold with the Men of the Lake and started a war over it.” Of course I’m aware of that, but I would like you to really stop and think about the position Thorin found himself in at the end of the Hobbit. He was in the Mountain with a small company well outside was a host of men and elves (I believe it is stated somewhere there’s about a thousand elves and some five hundred men of the lake?). He has spent almost two hundred years living, for the heir of Durin, in relatively poor conditions with his energies, goals and resources aimed at retaking his home and restoring his people to their power. Now some might say “oh yes retake their home and get all that money, see money” but remember that as the heir to Durin it is basically Thorin’s life purpose to make sure that his people are strong and prosperous, the goal of any good ruler. 

Thorin is now in a position of finally getting home and the major hurdle in his mind, Smaug, is gone. He is now faced with a rather overwhelming force of which he knows could wipe him out. If he acquiesces to their demands they very well might demand more of him later. Thorin’s point of view is he is defending his home, defending the sacred land of his people. The presence of the wood elves only inflames his belief that he is trapped as he was held prisoner, in his mind unjustly, and having a host of elves show up at your door to demand reparations for another would probably feel threatening to anyone. I am not saying the Men of the Lake do not have just cause, but it is worth looking at things through the lens of Thorin as a ruler and someone who is proud of his lineage having been forced to be homeless for so long to suddenly have people, none of whom save Thranduil, were alive when Smaug attacked the first time, making demands of him for what he sees as the key to his people’s future. 

Thorin does cast off claim to gold in the end, telling Bilbo that he wishes that more people valued good friendship and company and a simple life thus showing us the noble spirit we all knew he had in him from the start. But I think it’s notable that the dwarves in The Hobbit book are all musicians, all bringing instruments to the party to play as a matter of course and culture. Indeed Thorin places the singing of song in a chief position, before even delving into the purpose of the gathering he feels song is important enough, perhaps as a mood setter, maybe as a sort of enchantment of binding on the group’s purpose. So moving was the music that even small Bilbo who had little interest in adventure, war, fame, or gold (being already quite wealthy himself) was moved by their song and awoke the Tookish side of him up. Remember also that in Middle Earth it is Music that is the foundation of all creation.

Our second and chief argument about the artisan aspect of dwarves comes from possibly the most celebrated dwarf of  the Third Age, Gimli son of Gloin. It is a shame this part was cut from the movies (maybe it’s in the extended editions but I honestly don’t remember it) as it’s one of my favorite moments of description in Tolkien, and anyone who knows his prose and ability to transport you into the world of Middle Earth knows this is high praise. After the Battle of Helm’s Deep the three companions, with Gandalf and an escort of Rohirrim, ride through Fangorn Forest that has been shepherded by the Ents to the battlefield. Legolas is taken aback by the trees and ancientness and wishes to spend time there. But Gimli counters with a description of the Glittering Cave of Aglarond, so beautiful the he describes them as one of the wonders of the Northern World:

    “Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in time of war, to store fodder in! My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm’s Deep are vast and beautiful?

‘And, Legolas, when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel.

There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, Legolas, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities. such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! a silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber and another dream. There is chamber after chamber, Legolas; hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair; and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains’ heart. Caves! The Caverns of Helm’s Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.’


‘Then I will wish you this fortune for your comfort, Gimli,’ said the Elf, ‘that you may come safe from war and return to see them again. But do not tell all your kindred! There seems little left for them to do, from your account, maybe the men of this land are wise to say little: one family of busy dwarves with hammer and chisel might mar more than they make.”

‘No, you do not understand,’ said Gimli. “No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamond and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap—a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day—so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a wood beyond fissures in the rock. And light, Legolas! We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Khaza-dûm; and when we wished we would drive away the night that has lain there since the hills were made; and when we desired rest, we would let the night return.’

-Gimli, The Two Towers, Chapter 8, The Road to Isengard

A description so moving that it stirs the heart of Legolas Greenleaf into wishing to descend and explore the caves to see the underground world as a dwarf sees it, and really marking in my mind the moment that Legolas and Gimli truly became friends making a pact to travel to both Fangorn and the Glittering Caves. This entire Gimli speech, his longest in the books, shows that for the dwarves there is a love of beauty in the caverns and halls of the dark places of the world, not something to be exploited. Legolas even claps back the idea that a family of dwarves would destroy a beautiful spot of the world; to Gimli though the idea of doing the wholesale mining Legolas believes only dwarves capable of as abhorrent. 

It is key to Tolkien that in many ways the dwarves are the least explored of the races, that even their language is held secret so that few men, elf, orc or hobbit would know more the war cries of the dwarves. This is interesting in that Tolkien in many ways built his languages first and then the world and the stories around those languages. But throughout The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings only Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! (Axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!) are shown as examples of the dwarven language within the main text at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. As such we have much more limited examples of dwarven culture then that of Elves, Men, or Hobbits. 

Now let’s talk about the movie dwarves. *sigh* I hope that in my discussion of dwarves in the books you’ll have noticed a very important missing factor. For everything else, if dwarves are greedy, if dwarves are stubborn, mean, unwilling to work with others, whatever it is, dwarves are not comic relief. The Fellowship of the Rings (being the best of all the Jackson movies) is probably the best handling and least comical relief from Gimli. relying on Merry and Pippin to provide that. By The Two Towers however with Merry and Pippin hanging out with Treebeard it seems the producers and director decided that the trio of heroes needed a comic relief man. Who better to provide that than the dwarf. “We can make short jokes!” you can almost hear the writers exclaim as they write the Battle of Helm’s Deep.This continues on through Return of the King with a lot of comic relief coming from Gimli with Legolas as the foil with Aragorn apparently being the only one focused on the task at hand. 

Then came the Hobbit movies. 

Okay the Hobbit movies are trash can we just all agree with that and move on? Please? Please? 

I just am too tired to dissect the utter bullshit and nonsense of those movies. Suffice to say the dwarves outside of Thorin and Balin and Kíli are comic relief. I’m not even going to start on the love triangle involving Kíli because…ehh. It makes it hard to get into the seriousness of the world when you’re on a journey with 13 dwarves and a hobbit and 10 of them are more like an acrobatic troupe than the chosen companions of a king. All the stories of Middle Earth, as Aragorn told four hobbits once, are sad. If there is nothing else you can take away from Tolkien’s Middle Earth is that they aren’t grimdark, they aren’t the grittiest, but they are sad. They should leave you feeling sad inside because it’s a world that feels Doomed, the heroes feel Doomed even as they fight and you know they will “win” it comes at a cost. Thorin will win back the mountain but never live to see his people restored to their glory. Balin will see the Mountain retaken and even reestablish a colony in Moria but will still fall to the Balrog. Frodo will save the Shire, and the world but is wounded and suffering from PTSD and won’t know peace in the Shire and has to leave. Arwyn will get Aragorn but gives up her immortality and will never see her family again. It is the recurring theme that the heroes might win, but the victories seem hollow. By introducing these comic relief moments you take away from the theme, and you reduce a noble and proud race to short jokes and barely above fart jokes (though I’m pretty sure there are a few from Bombur at least in the first movie). 

My conclusion to all of this ranting (hey he ranted, WesRants he said the thing!) is that dwarves are more than greedy misers. They are craftsmen, musicians, and artists. They have just as much love for natural beauty as any elf, but their interest lay in the caves and mountains of the world, not the forests and oceans. So if you are planning on including dwarves in your fantasy works I’d encourage you to think more then just smiths and miners and think what other elements you can add in to make them feel special and unique beyond the standard stereotypes.. 

The Case for Optimistic Sci-Fi Heroes

Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a few years ago and some of it is out of date though I’ve tried to update a few part of it but if it feels like I wrote this without taking into consideration some of the new movies and shows that have come out, well yes it did so …just enjoy it. Or don’t whatever.
Second Writer’s Note: SPOILERS for Star Wars, Sorta Flash Gordon, and Star Trek: Picard.
Third Writer’s Note: This got a bit ranty so like… just go with it.

A few months ago I watched Flash (AAHAAAA) Gordon as one does when grinding out levels in WOW and I was shocked. Not at the better then it deserved soundtrack by the amenable Queen, or the oddly high-quality casting of actors who obviously needed a paycheck (Looking at you Max Von Sydow and Timothy Dalton.) No, what was shocking, and quickly became a relief was the absolute positivity of the title character. Here was a guy, in the movie a professional football player, thrown into his descent into a fantastic underworld, otherwise known as Mongo. Mongo, a world of strange sci-fi creatures and duplicitous Game of Thrones esq rivals all looking to stab each other in the back to gain the upper hand even as it tears their own freedom and security apart. Instead of being snide, snarky, or sarcastic, we got someone who believed in optimism, someone who saw a positive way forward, a way to overthrow a despot, by not being a jerk and forcing everyone to go along with him, but by showing the people how to unite, the power of team-work and working towards a common goal.

My focus this edition as the title implies is to talk about something that is often missing in our modern-day sci-fi and fantasy, heroes who believe in a better tomorrow. If I asked you what Flash Gordon, Luke Skywalker, Jean-Luc Picard, Thor, Superman (not Zack Snyder) and The Doctor all have as a common superpower, what would you say? For me the answer is simple: Optimism. Not just optimism to the point of being annoying. But the simple fact that all of these heroes believe in that better tomorrow, believe they can win out the day and make things bright, not on a quest of vengeance, or redemption (well a bit of redemption for the Doctor depending on which regeneration), or doing it to show everyone how great they are, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

It seems to me there’s a lot of mocking of the optimistic hero of late. People will insist they love the dark and gritty Superman of the Man of Steel movies but by his very nature, this Superman does not inspire Hope as his family crest is telling us to have. By losing that optimizing, by losing his standing as that bright shining light as the man of tomorrow, he loses his greatest power. He loses the ability to inspire us to greatness, to make us believe he is going to help us into the future, and that’s Superman’s greatest strength is his ability to make us believe a man can fly. So where did we lose that?

Often we can point to the start of the Modern Age of comics starting in 1985 with the introduction of a more dark and gritty reality brought to us by writers such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison. Not to disparage their storied careers and the notable contributions they made to the medium but it feels like for the past 35 years across all media we’ve seen a darkening of the story telling. Heroes who were once inspirations and portrayed in a manner living up to the ideal of Heroism were now viewed as dark grim avengers, leading crusades nominally labeled as “Justice” that felt more like Vengeance. Though other media we have seen a rise in stories of grim dark futures were facist regimes have taken control and we see plucky rebels fighting back for freedom, but these aren’t the Luke Skywalkers of the Rebel Alliance who inspire us by being good. These are crass heroes who rarely smile, who can no longer tell a joke, where everything has become about the mission with little to no displayed human emotion beyond despair and rage. 

Luke Skywalker (A New Hope) is one of my favorite not just Sci-Fi heroes, but heroes in fiction. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking “Luke? A New Hope Luke? He’s so whiny and annoying.” Okay first off, he’s not nearly as whiny as I think most people remember him, also let’s look at the fact that in the first movie Luke was a 19 year old kid from an isolated farm on a planet on the far end of the bright point of the galaxy. Now for my readers who don’t remember what it was like to be 19, trust me you were annoying. For my readers who might currently be 19, trust me you are annoying and will realize that fact in a few years. But Luke, ignoring the whine, the ignorance, does something most other heroes fail to do. He steps up without making a big deal about being asked to. The only time he balks is when Obi-Wan first ask to go to Alderaan. It’s a big ask, it would be a big ask of anyone, but for a kid who farms moisture and’s idea of fun is bullseying womp rats in Begger’s Canyon, it’s a big ask.

Luke, as soon as he sees the farm is destroyed, doesn’t hestitate from that moment on. He is clearly sadden by the death of his aunt and uncle, but his he doesn’t set out on a path of vengance, but to try and save Leia and the Galaxy from the Empire that uprooted his life. He goes along with Obi-Wan and on the Death Star shows he’s all in, never spending a moment wishing to be back home or pining for the normal life (something that carries through all three movies), but knowing he has a job to do, he drives Han to save Leia on the Death Star, he volunteers for the Death Star mission even knowing what he is up against, and was given an out by Han to leave before the battle, Luke steps up. He believes in his cause time and time again and never complains that it’s unfair that life dumps so much on him. Yes he is later surprised and shocked by (spoilers?) Vader being his father and Obi- Wan lying to him, but so would anyone.

But the best Luke moment is in The Return of the Jedi. I know most people don’t like it as much as Empire, but we’re not here to talk about movies, but about the character. Return of the Jedi we see a much more mature Luke, from the first time we see him in Jabba’s Palace he is powerful, he is confident, in control, he has a plan. Previous two movies Luke is running on emotions from crisis to crisis relying on his youth and luck to get him through. by RotJ Luke is in control of his emotions and he knows what he has to do. It turns out what he has to do isn’t clear to anyone else. Throughout RotJ we see both Luke and Vader focused on their inevitable showdown, they both know it is coming and everyone but Vader and Luke expects it to be a fight to the death. In the ramp up we see both Obi-Wan and Yodi, the two most influencial and possibly most powerful Jedi of the series, tell Luke he must face Vader and defeat him. One the other side you have the Emperor and Vader who are very much the two more powerful Sith saying Luke must fall to the dark side (this was before that whole rule of 2 nonsense, remember the Emperor agreed Vader should try and turn Luke with no discussion of which one of them gets bumped off). There’s no middle ground offered to Luke.

Yet, Luke, positive, optimistic thinking Luke, the farm boy from nowhere who stepped up to the plate time and time again, his best moment wasn’t blowing up the Death Star, his best moment wasn’t fighting Vader, his best moment wasn’t defying the Emperor, his best moment was on the moon of Endor speaking to Vader for the first time. He insist he can feel the light in Vader, he defies the most powerful force users in existance, possibly ever, and says, “No, I will find a way to save my father despite what you might think.” That’s… that’s guts right there, that’s some next level hope and optimism that we just don’t see in Scifi, out side of maybe comic books and even then less and less. He knows his father can be saved, we see the conflict in Vader, and that’s not just what makes Luke a good character, but what made Vader such a good villian. The first two movies he is the unstoppable dark evil, he kills, he tortures, he maims, he shows no pity. But Luke, through sheer positive optimism and stubberness, redeems Vader, the dark lord of Scifi that all other dark lords wish they could be and are modeled after. Tell me that Luke is just some whiny farmboy again, he is not. (Just for the record the complete deconstruction of Luke in The Last Jedi was awful because for me they took one of the great champions of optimism and hope and just mocked it. UGH, I did not like that movie at all.)

As a direct counterpoint to Luke we have the ever popular, ever so cool Han Solo. When we meet the roguish smuggler he is the exemplar of snark and cynicism, the too cool for this galaxy type. But what’s important about Han’s arc isn’t that he remains a cynical realist but he comes to believe in the bigger picture, that he starts to have hope again, he finds that optimism in the cause. His exposure to the idealism of the Skywalker twins, a bit of prodding from his best pal Chewy, who we learn later is a veteran of the Clone Wars, and has been a slave and still believes in a brighter tomorrow, we see Han become that idealist fighting the good fight. Through A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back he barely believes in the Force, he seems to be more along for the ride and wants to get out and go back to his life of crime. But in Return of the Jedi we see Han not just fighting against the Empire, but volunteering to lead a critical, highly risky, nearly suicidal mission that all the hopes of the Rebellion relies on. Han is a great character because he does evolve and grow, and he becomes the hero we need in his optimism and faith, not the anti-hero we meet at the start.

I started this idea a few years ago but didn’t have a good forum and audience to post it to at the time, but it seems fated that maybe unknowingly that I am posting this now after CBS’ Picard series which has now wrapped up it’s first season and CW is giving us, thus far, a very good version of Superman. Without going into spoilers, Picard is one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. 

Now there are criticisms that I understand. (and just Spoilers) Some people don’t like the plot and some people don’t like a darker Federation, and that’s fine, I have issues with that as a Trek fan myself, but as a Sci-Fi fan I appreciate what they were trying to do, to show us a much fuller picture of a Federation that is stretched too thin with Romulan Refuges, questions about a terrorist attack that hit Mars, a Federation that is going through growth pains. The writers did take the grim dark realities that have become a mainstay of the sci-fi genre. A Star Fleet that is almost alien to long time Star Trek viewers, a paranoid, nearly xenophobic Federation. This isn’t a review of the show but a character article. The show pits this grimmer Federation not against it not some young snarky kid, not some grim avenger who no goals but his mission, but it gives us the Picard we all know and love. This is the same Picard who guided us through the final frontier 30 years ago in a calm rational manner, who for many of us was almost father-like, despite his insistence of disliking children. Picard still believes in the fundamental goal of a brighter tomorrow, who still believes in the foundations of the Federation, who still believes in better angels of humanity, inspite of all that’s happened to him, all the trauma, all the heart ache, all the pain. He believes in his causes without being overbearing, to do the right thing, but believing doing that right thing will have a positive outcome for all parties involved. He still has the optimism to carry us through the story, to explore the new darker landscape wel still giving us hope.

That’s what we need more of in not just sci-fi, but all genres. We need to see our heroes have regrets and rage yes, sometimes we need to see them feel despair like we would. But we need to see our heroes who can have moments of calm, good times, having a drink with a friend, playing a hand of cards, playing with children. We need to see them relaxed and having a good time too. Humans cannot be grim and on mission all the time, they need their downtime, and heroes, if anything, would need that release more than the rest of us. By robbing us of those  human moments in their world we think that we can never live up to their standards or ideals. We cannot have hope in a hero who does the bare minimum of saving someone and then rushing away to the next crisis or brashly ignoring the need of reassurance from the crowds.

 I challenge Sci-Fi writers and directors, heck all fiction and non-fiction writers to show us more of the optimism that we have lost. Because in today’s world things may look bad all the time, but the way to counter that is not with another brooding anti-hero, but with some optimism and hope. Let’s restore that hope and optimism even if it’s set against a grim backdrop.

Why book Aragorn is my favorite and movie Aragorn is dull

First and foremost I have mad respect for one Viggo Mortensen and his abilities as an actor, his rather down to earth nature, and all around signs of being a decent human being. So we’re going to ignore the acting portrayal of Aragorn because actors tend to do a pretty decent job in most big blockbuster films, but they are confined to directorial decisions, the whims of producers and writers who don’t understand the material so now that I’ve established that Mr. Mortensen is safe from ridicule in this article let’s dive in. 

    Movie Aragorn is dull, there’s no other way around it. Sure he’s got the rough rangerish look going on and seems like a man struggling with his destiny but the motivations for his character are overused tropes that resemble very little of the character he’s named after from the books. In fairness like much of the Lord of the Rings movies, everything starts out just fine. When we first met Aragorn in the Prancing Pony he’s dark, mysterious, and dangerous. Of course for anyone who has read the books we all knew that Strider was the one true king for Gondor blah blah blah, and for the first twenty to thirty minutes he seems to be a fair and passable rendition of the character. He leads the hobbits into the wild, Sam doesn’t trust him, he fights the Ringwraiths at Weathertop using fire, he searches out the athelas leaf to drive back the Black Breath in Frodo after he has been stabbed and then we reach Rivendale.

    Rivendale is probably when everything went downhill in the LOTR movies for me. Before that, sure they had changed some stuff, like there is no particular reason to wait twenty years between Bilbo’s Party and when Frodo leaves the Shire, there’s no particular reason to have the whole conspiracy plot of Sam, Marry, Pippin. and Fatty Bulger. There’s no reason to confuse audiences with a long drawn out hash and song session with Bombadil in the woods or have the DM’s hastily thrown together session of the Barrow-Wights so he could reprove Bombadil’s deus ex machina status in the world. It really doesn’t matter much for the story that needed to be told. But Rivendale is where the deviations from the books start to properly matter and have a lasting effect on the rest of the trilogy. 

    The major issue we see with Aragorn in the Rivendale is how he perceives himself and perceives his family. Movie Aragorn has a stark streak of self-loathing that would make Trent Reznor jealous. When he talks to Arwen about the Narsil and being the descendant of Isildur he complains of weakness in his blood of his whole family.  Strangely Arwen seems much more supportive of the idea of Aragorn reclaiming his heritage then Aragorn himself. Now things become clearer, or would be more clear, when you see Elrond and listen to him talk for more than like a minute. Elrond speaks about men in much the same way that Aragorn seems to perceive them, as weak children unable to take up the mantle of defending the world from its enemies since the Elves are wanking off to heaven because they got bored or something. 

    This is where a lot of context gets cut from the books to the movies because they never entirely make it clear WHY the elves are leaving Middle Earth in the movies, where they are going to (until like the very end), and I understand you have to pack in a lot in and that stuff has to be cut but it leaves this question for anyone who hasn’t read the books of “why though?” 

    Of course if you’ve read the books it clears it up (somewhat?) but you also won’t find a Man-hating Elrond or a self-loathing Aragorn and that’s the frustrating part. Of Isildur it is said that he was counseled by Elrond and others to destroy the Ring but kept it as his own. Not some dramatic moment where the “the strength of Men failed”. Elrond in the books then kept Rivendale as a safe harbor for all Free Folk (as Tolkien termed them) for like 3000 years or something offering counsel and rest for any who choose to seek it. Because Elrond is a chill dude in the books, and he agrees that something has to be done about the Ring of Power and knows the Elves can’t do it anymore. But in the books Elrond thinks ill of Isildur’s choice but he still speaks of men with a measure of respect, of the efforts of Minas Tirith and Gondor to hold back the host of Mordor. Now this distinct self-loathing of Aragorn might stem from the explained fact that after his father Arathorn II was killed, Aragorn’s mother took him to Rivendale to be raised in hiding since he was the last of the line of Elendil. Except this point is never brought up in the movie so we have no idea that Elrond was a surrogate father to Aragorn and so the connection of their particular outlook on the situation is lost to the moviegoer. 

    Continuing on the path of how Rivendale continue to give us a watered down shadow version of Aragorn, we see him trying to deny his heritage at the council of Elrond, or at least down play it, declining to claim his heritage or to have to sword reforged, which in the books is rather like King Arthur pulling the Excalibur from the stone. This plays into a lot of the symbolism of Aragorn taking up the legacy of Elendil, indeed Elendil is Aragorn’s go to battlecry showing he is embracing his family, his legacy, and his destiny, not hiding from it. Indeed one of the more powerful moments is Aragorn renaming Narsil to Andúril, Flame of the West. More than anything though the reforging of Andúril and the War of the Ring is not a thing that happens to Aragorn and thrust him into the kingship but is in fact the cumulation of his entire life’s labor in reaching his goals, and the goals of his family dynasty for nearly a thousand years.

See if you dig into the lore, which yes I know the movies can’t go back into the thousand years of backstory,you learn that Aragorn’s ancestor, who was King of the Arthedain a long lost kingdom, had made a claim to the crown of Gondor as the heir of Elendil after the previous king of Gondor died. This ancestor soon died in a war against the Witch King of Angmar and the kingdom of Arthedain was lost. The Dúnadans then worked for the following centuries to ensure the safety of the West until the time was right for them to reclaim the crown. Obviously blah blah blah prophecy and such, but  the point is that Aragorn knew that eventually the crown of Gondor would have to be reclaimed and the king reestablished. 

Aragorn reforging the sword and going on the quest serves three distinct purposes that get muddled in the movies. The first is the war his family has been fighting for over three thousand years and he knows there will be no peace with Sauron. He knows that Isiduar’s Bane needs to be destroyed and it is of his legacy to have a hand in seeing the job. He knows that when Isiduar’s Bane is found again that the time for the King to return is at hand and he is the guy who has to do that to create a united army of Man to fight Sauron and for Man to take the lead custodianship of Arda from the Elves.

The third piece of this is far more personal and gets a bit more coverage in the movie but the messaging get muddled in that Aragorn doesn’t want to be Isildur’s heir, he doesn’t want to be king. But that purpose is Arwen. Aragorn is like madly in love with her and they are betrothed, and Elrond in fact blesses the union, however he does so on the condition that Aragorn becomes the king of Gondor and Arnor and reunites the Kingdoms. So Aragorn has to prove himself worthy of Arwen, sure it’s a pretty high bar, but Elrond I don’t believe did this out of malice for his foster son, but because he put a high value on his daughter’s future, and also knew that a union of Men and Elf often results in tragedy (for more on this go read about Elrond’s family from Beren and Luthien and Tuor and Idril horrifically heartbreaking stuff) and that the King can only return if Sauron is defeated and if Sauron is undefeated there will be no peace or safety for his daughter. This leaves Aragorn knowing he has to correct the mistake of his ancestor and he very well is likely to be the guy to restore the line of kings and rule Gondor one day. So what does he do? The movies would have you think that he resisted all of this and just kind of wandered around hanging out with Elves or something. 

The book Aragorn instead spends his entire life training to be king. He sets off when he is eighteen and spends the next twenty seven years traveling the known world and serving in every military on the planet. He serves in the army of Gondor, rides with the riders of Rohan, he goes into the far east and south and lives among the Haradrim, the Corsairs of Umbar, to “explore the hearts of men good and evil” and to learn the “plots and devices” of the servants of Sauron. He cannot reclaim the kingship by just being the guy with the family blood, he has to be able to stop the most powerful enemy in the world since the imprisonment of Morgoth. He also knows that even should he be able to stop Sauron and win the war he then has to rule and doesn’t want to be a weak ruler or a cruel ruler, he is of long line the heir of almost every great hero of Man from the First Age, the last king of the men of Númenor. You talk about a guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders, look no further than Aragorn, and most men would probably shrink from their duty and not want to have to take on those burdens and be unwilling heroes with greatness thrust upon them. 

But I think when we analyze Aragorn’s life we don’t see someone who waits for greatness to be thrust on him, or an unwilling hero forced to go save it. We see a guy who was born into tragedy, who knows his destiny, knows he can fail, and instead embraces it, who fights for seventy years to make it a reality. Who trains and learns and waits for everything to fall into place. He doesn’t want to hide from the quest, he needs the quest to succeed, he needs to save Gondor and Rohan because his family goal is to finally see Sauron defeated, and he has a much larger personal stake in that he needs to marry Arwen, and let’s face it guys will do some pretty crazy shit to score the hot elf, chick, for Aragorn that just happens to be saving the world and becoming King. 

    Oh also by not having Andúril in The Two Towers kind of loses some of the effect on helping convenience the Rohirrim to throw in and trust Aragorn. He uses the sword and his name liberally as a “I am the king returned to save you” mechanism to win allies. This is all very Arthurian, remember how I mentioned the reforging of the sword was very much like Arthur drawing the sword from the stone? In the ancient Artherian legends it is said that when England faces it’s darkest hour that Arthur will return to save England from her foes. By openly carrying the sword of Elendil and declaring himself the heir of Isildur to everyone they met it would be like Arthur returning to England to save it. This reduction of Aragorn’s willingness to seize his destiny is also felt by the drastically reduced role of Éomer. The Two Towers and The Return of the King are very much about both Aragorn and Éomer coming into their rules. Éomer, who was not supposed to be king after Théoden until Théodred is killed during the war, finds himself having to take on the burdens of leadership. Them drawing swords together at the Battle of Helm’s Deep and later them meeting on the fields of Pelennor Fields to save Gondor and both being together at the Black Gate all serves to put both men through their final trials to earn their crowns and to forge a bond between both men who need each other’s support during the War of the Ring and who will need it afterwards when they will both be ruling their own kingdoms, we miss out on that friendship, first by Éomer being excluded from the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the movie and second by not having them meet on the Pelennor Fields and having the deus ex ghost army do a quick mop up job to win the battle it removes for both men of that bond of friendship and forging a trust between the future rulers of the continent. 

    Now look I get it they can’t fit everything into a movie, there’s no time to explain all of this, but I think we got robbed of some of the more interesting moments for Aragorn and his path to the kingship and especially of his history and motivations. There’s nothing wrong with the unwilling hero necessarily, but we have a long long, LONG list of unwilling heroes to read or watch movies about. There’s also a long list of wannabe heroes who end up failing pretty badly (compare MCU Steve Rogers with John Walker in the Falcon and Winter Soldier for example). But I feel we don’t get a willing hero who spends a lot of time not just being a willing hero, but training and working towards being the best hero he can be, and I for one would like to see more heroic characters who are willing to get the job done and spend less time whining about how life is unfair.

The movies very much present a guy who is an unwilling hero, they even say as much in the dvd commentaries, but looking at the books we don’t see an unwilling hero or unwilling king, but rather a man who knows his destiny and knows he is the future king and isn’t going to half ass it, but make sure he is the best king. 

Alright that’s enough rambling for now. Someday I might do a series of posts about why I didn’t like the entire LOTR movie trilogy but there’s so many issues that it’s a bit daunting and I really should focus on my own stories, so updates to this are going to be few and far between. 

Rules of Magic

So it’s a funny thing, I am a fantasy writer and I kind of hate writing magic, especially magical systems. It’s not that I’m opposed to magic as a concept or don’t love to delve into some fun magical words with some crazy spellslinging, but what I mean is that *I* find writing magic to be a bit of an exercise in frustration.

To be honest my first novel and world started out as a pretty low magic world, in fact it still is for the most part, the magic in the world of Silador is more simplistic magic, learning to go unnoticed in broad day light, learning to speak and hunt with animals; and there are Gods, powerful yes, omnicipant no. They have their domains of power to teach mortals and inspire them or make them despair. In a way Silador is a world caught at a turning point between an ancient world of magic and a world beginning to learn about science and rationality.

My second fantasy series is more complicated then that though in terms of magic and in a urban fantasy world that’s somewhere between the tv show Grimm and The Dresden File books, magic has to come into play far more strongly about how that magic interacts with the various inhabitants of the world, from the mythlogical peoples who live in secret, to the humans who know the truth and walk in their world, and even how humans without knowledge of the world of magic interact with it.

My problem with magic is when a writer doesn’t know what kind of magic they are writing and just throws magic in and hopes it all works out. Magic can be throughly complex and though in some worlds it can be a fix all for any issue, having it being part of your story is not a magical fix all for ill planned writing. As such I have come up with four classifications of how to write magic, the Schools of Magic if you will. When developing a new fantasy world, rather it be for my novels a short story, a RPG campaign, one of the first things I do is figure out the classification of the magic levels of that world presented below.

No Magic

This is pretty self-explanitory, no magic, just people doing peopely things maybe science, maybe not, who cares, there’s no magic, let’s move on.

Tolkien Magic

So this is named, obviously, after the grandfather of fantasy novels, J.R.R. Tolkien. The magic of Tolkiens world is what I’d consider fairly subtle. If you really dig into where most of the magic comes from it is from Gandalf and the Ring. Other magic is mentioned but it is limited. Gandalf himself uses limited magic during fights, the most notable examples being in the goblin cave and in the trees during the events of The Hobbit, and even then he stated later he was limited by the resources at hand. In The Lord of the Rings he uses magic to protect himself from the Balrog to a limited extent and a little bit against the Ring Wraths at Weathertop and before the seige of Gondor. However even in these moments his magic is enough to weather the attacks but he cannot stop armies or throw fireballs at will or summon great armies from nothing. Other magic seen is contained to the mostly visions, the Palantír, or seeing stones, or magic mirrors like that owned by the Lady Galadriel. Overall this style of magic can be summed up by a few key points: magic is prevelent through the world but is rare and not used in normal life situations, magic is undefined and does not have a “system” or set rules to control what magic can be preformed when, magic is not the key to solving the problems presented in the world.

Rowling Magic

Disclaimer Note: I came up with this theory several years ago before Rowling came out as a transphobic TERF. I do not support her views and hope that someday she can realize the harm she is causing with her views, however in the mean time the Harry Potter books continue to be the best example of this that will be known to the widest audiance of readers (even more then if I called it Gygax Magic which is my current contender, is Butcher popular enough to make this work?). I suppose we could call it Potter Magic, but the other areas are named after the authors so for continuality sake I want an author’s name. If you have another writer you’d like to suggest this be named for please let me know!

This is your flashy magic, your D&D magic, your fireballs and lightning bolts, your magic fixes all the problems and can do whatever you damn well need it too thank you very much. These magic worlds are brimming with magic, but in a way that’s front and center of the story, the main characters are magical, they throw spells around for every situation, from fighting the bad guys, to playing sports, to fixing the broken roof, to doing your laundry. There’s a magic spell for everything. Usually there’s some sort of loose system in place, a magic word, a specific air-drawn symbol, maybe a few ingredents mixed together properly, and unlike Tolkien magic, this magic is given some rules as to how it works. Harry Potter has his wand and magic words and mandrakes. Quentin from The Magicians they use drawn symbols and many magician have specialties as well. Harry Dresden has his blasting wands and staffs and latin words of power and circles of power. Just enough to make sense but all infuse a bit of something called “magic” into their spells to make them work, whatever that thing is sets them part from normies like you and me to be able to make that magic activate. There are occassionally harsher prices to using this magic but not for the ordinary every day uses. The issue with this type of magic is that often the rules have to get changed to fit the story. What might make sense as the big scary killing spell in book one of a series has to be watered down by book five because oh gosh darn it if it just instantly killed everyone the war would be over pretty quick. So that scary killing curse becomes the equivlent of a magic bullet which can be block by other objects or dodged by just running around. You know kind of like if you were up against a gun. Or something. Often this type of magic can lead to plot holes and lead to logic paradoxes since you can probably think about another solution to an issue from 3 books earlier in the series that the exhausted author forgot about 30 bottles of Jack ago. Other hallmarks of this magical writing include lots of spells easily recognizable by the reader (I mean we all STILL what wingardium leviosa does); well most of the time the big issues of the world can be solved with magic pluck, wit, and some good friends can often help save the day; most of magic of this kind is based in the urban and YA fantasy subgenres; and generally being very comfortable for readers to understand and settle into.

Sanderson Magic

Now I want to preferce this with I have not yet read the Stormlight Archive series because…time and life, so I don’t know if this holds up across all of his works, however I think most of us avid fantasy readers are familiar with the intricate magic system presented in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. This is the magic of rules, the magic of spreadsheets, the magic of you have to pay the fuck attention and remember what exactly does pewter do again? This is heavily thought out magic, it’s not lightfingered and fun spellsling like Rowling Magic, it’s not mysterious and moving in the back currents of the world like Tolkien magic. It is front and present in the story and those with magic have the advantage, and the problems presented in the world often require magical solutions to the problem, pluck and wit is nice but is not going to get your ass out of the fire when the stakes are down. This magic can still be fun and you can emmerse yourself in just learning the magic of the world as much as the character and plot. Unlike the other system this magic has very set rules, this is magic where you have to do very particular things to gain the abilities, there are defined limits to those abilities and there is usually a price to pay for that magic. The big thing about this magic is that is a known quantity and there are rarely surprises with this type of magic and it TENDS to be consistant throughout the series. This type of magic well very good for people who like the details and knowing how it works can be interesting for a lot of readers to see how someone with limited magic can over come a situation. However often this magic can get complicated and might not be as approachable and accessable for the casual fantasy reader or someone new to the genre.

Okay so that’s my list. There are some worlds that might cross the lines, because as most writers know most rules are best when they are being broken. However I think that you can see where most of your favorite fantasy worlds can fit into these catagorizations and might give you a general baseline of where to start when developing your own magic system (and then of course break the rules and make it unique!). So do you agree or disagree? Where do some of your favorite fantasy worlds fall, and do you have one that can’t fit into any of these? Let me know in the comments!

The Goddess of Twilight

2nd Day of the 3rd Month, 2498 Age of Kingdoms
Two years before Unification
Arden Dūnon 
The Kingdom of Diwāna
 The Dafydd of Diwāna, Llywelyn, sat in his high back chair at the head of the table. A large topographical map of Erebica was carved into the table in front of him which he stared at unblinking for several minutes. He sighed heavily and shook his head at nobody. He was facing a choice he would rather not make, to seal the fates of his people to the path of others, or to potentially have them all be dead by the middle of the next year. 
 He slammed his hand on the table, sending the carved models representing various armies and units flying across the room Damn the Siladorians, and damn the Therasicians and damn the rest of them too! He thought, They just want power and their political games will be the death of us all.
 The Dafydd, or the first Prince of Diwāna, had to make the choice. His father was dying, the king’s age was advanced enough not even the Goddess could save him now, all things must die, it was her first lesson, and now it was the king’s turn and Llywelyn had to make the choice for the future, for he would be the next king and everyone was looking to him to lead now. His eyes drifted over to the north western edge of the map. The rampaging savages of lands collectively known as Grenosia. Animals Llywelyn could understand, he had been taught to hunt with the wolf, to speak with the bear, to roam with the deer. Grenosians were not animals, animals were loyal, animals had patterns. 
 The so-called War of Kingdoms had been dragging on for thirty years now and it threatened to spill over into the surrounding nations everyday, and if it didn’t end soon the nations of the east would be too weak to defend themselves from the barbarous hordes to the west. 
 Silador, Llywelyn almost hated the word, in his mind the Siladorians were prideful people, full of their own boisterous self-importance. Listening to their diplomats talk was about as useful as listening to them flatulate, their double-speak and half kept promises were enough to drive Llywelyn mad. They were still better than the Therasicians or any of the smaller petty kingdoms, or worse having to talk to Cormerians. 
  He strolled out of his war room and out onto a balcony overlooking what could be compared to a courtyard in otherlands. Really the border fort of Arden Dūnon would have been nearly invisible to the eyes of an outsider as it was built into three giant trees, galleries and sleeping rooms were in trunks of the trees themselves, in the center of the three trees was an empty clearing the size of a parade ground where men trained. The Cult of Creirwenite did not rely on large armies, or metal armor, or large weapons, for them warfare was conducted to frustrate, confuse and sap strength of arm and will of mind from the enemy. Their goddess had taught them how to move unseen between the sunbeams, to disappear into background, they struck supply lines, harangued stragglers, until an army was cut off and surrounded with little supplies, and then the Creirwenites would dismantle their prey like a pack of wolves taking down a deer. 
 The Dafydd stood on a beautifully carved balcony, the carved details made it look like it was still bark and was a natural formation of the tree itself. He watched his men train in stealth and combat. His people were strong, but everyday war threatened to spill into their forests, all sides were looking at the lush green forests of his kingdom for resources. 
 Llywelyn sighed, “Yes Albrec, what is it?”
 “Sorry for intruding Dafydd,” the man seemed to detach himself from the tree trunk behind Llywelyn, “We’ve just received word, Cormerians have crossed into no-mans land, they are on the border between us and Calmörk, it seems like it’s almost half their army, we have to assume they are there to occupy the area.” 
 Llywelyn nodded, the choice was thrust on him now, there would be no more avoiding the war. If he allowed the Cormerians to set up in his forests he would draw the ire of the Silador and Therasicia, and the Cormerians wouldn’t just stop on the border they would want more and more. The Sons of Calder would also not allow such an army to sit on their border like that for long. But fighting Cormir wasn’t a good option either, they were well organized, well trained and would be able to do a lot of damage to the forests of Lleuaran before they could be driven out, and Cormir had her own allies. 
 “How soon can we mobilize?” 
 “We can have two hundred men ready in a few days, the fifty in this fortress day. By the end of the week, maybe seven hundred.”
“Let’s try and make it faster, split the men into ten packs and send them out, might as well get a lay of their intentions and where they make mistakes for us to exploit, but strict orders, purely recon, nobody is to take action or even be seen until further orders are given. Let’s not let tell the Cormerians if we’re at war yet, let’s be ready, also get some more scouts out on the western borders, the Siladorians and Therasicians will be aware of this move soon and we’ll want to make sure they don’t come through our forests when they mobilize a response.” 
 Albrec nodded and melted back into the foliage to see to his Dafydd’s orders. The air was cool, the frost was just beginning to permanently melt from the ground, winter was ending and the Cormerians were trying to take advantage of time when most armies wouldn’t be mobilized and the Sons of Calder would still be mostly held up in their winterholds. Llywelyn could see his breath on the air as he breathed out, and he leaned on the balcony railing and his head hung down wearily, his eyes closed.
 “Creirwen, why have you allowed this? Must we fight in their meaningless wars which will only end when one of them has the power over the others? Must we be shackled to their fates? Do we not deserve a fate of our own, free of the influences of outsiders?”
 The air shifted around him, ever so subtly but he started to feel warmer and comforted despite himself, the Dafydd caught himself humming a tune of a song he could not remember or place but still felt familiar to him, and he realized the music was softly in the air around him.
 He opened his eyes and noticed the railing was no longer the carved wood of the woodland mansion, but was gold and silver veined. His head came up and he looked around, it was still a balcony but it was round and gold, not a rectangle or made of wood. The floor there were intrigued silver veins running through forming pictures of heroes and monsters that Llewelyn was not familiar with. He blinked but the strange vision stayed, and he shook his head and tried to convince himself he had not gone insane. 
 There were two large double doors, white and carved into beautiful moldings of leaves and ivory, they swung opened and through the door a tall figure glided out, slender and graceful, robed in soft green that flowed in a way that made it seem like this being was floating above the floor. The figure had no face but instead was hidden behind a porcelain colored mask with a laughing face painted on. 
 The masked head tilted sideways for a moment considering Llewelyn, then a voice drifted in the air, mingling with the soft music, and it felt to the Dafydd that he was enveloped by the voice more than he was hearing it with his ears. 
 “I’m a bit ashamed of you Dafydd of Diwāna, you are the heir to my religion and the ruler of my chosen people. I task you with defending my people and my realms because you must learn and grow, if I did everything for you you would remain children forever.” 
 Llewelyn swallowed hard and realization of his reality set in, regaining his composure he sank to one knee before the goddess and bowed his torso in respect. “Goddess Creirwen, my apologies I didn't mean to disturb you with my ill chosen words.” 
 Silver laughter surrounded him and the smile on the mask seemed to have deepened. “You speak the words like a true courtesan, but be careful of giving yourself too much credit, I was already watching you when you said your prayer, I don’t listen to all of my disciples all the time, and it is only human to lash out and complain to the gods when something goes slightly wrong. We usually don’t listen or we’d do nothing but find lost spoons and dolls all the time.” 
 Llewelyn felt his face flush and felt embarrassed, “You mock me and the pain our people will suffer?” 
 Laughter again, “Oh get up, and no I don’t mock your pain,you should know better than anyone I care for my people, but I do find your manners to be of some amusement, I don’t need more people gravaling, besides we have to talk so shut down your pride Llewelyn, you do have a choice and I need you to come to terms with the choice that is correct.” 
 The tall goddess touched his arm with silk gloved fingers and the two of them floated from the balcony down to the ground and landed softly on gentle green grass. They walked together in a gentle meadow. It was warm and pleasant for Llewlyn after the long winter months. 
 “Llewelyn, you have to fight, and you have to win this fight. If you fail to do so it won’t just be your people dead and your land destroyed, it will be all land everywhere that could be destroyed, and your people will be in chains, all people will be enslaved, this war isn’t just a war of kingdoms but of gods, and we are at a turning point of the world.”

“If this is a war of gods then why are the followers of Lerubece, Crum Balceel, Banucyrewe and Wulisbrecil fighting each other? They worship and follow the teachings of those four gods; they should not be divided and warring.” 
 There was the gentle laugh again, “My followers have fought each other in the past, they have fought my husband’s people in the past, why should it be any different for them? Mortals will always fight over things beyond religion, but when the gods are involved it makes everything worse, and you can’t stay on the sidelines anymore, the war is at your door but behind that door are pieces moving that even your eyes can’t see. The Cormerians are no longer servants of the sons of Ruceb they have secretly thrown in with another god, a darker god. Let me show you.” 
Creirwen threw her arms wide towards the sky and in the eyes of Llewlyn it changed from blue to darkness like he was seeing a tapestry or painting in front of him. The image was that of a dark stone castle, Lleywen recognized the grey and orange coat of arms of Cormir on two of the men standing in a room in front of them was a tall dark robed figure, taller than the goddess who stood next to Llewlyn. He could hear voices, though they seemed distant and he had to focus to hear.

“With my help you will win this war in five years time, you have the numbers, you have the position and your enemies are weak and surrounded. But you need materials to win a war, and you have a large forest on your eastern border ripe for use. Take it and you can fuel your armies.” 
 “How will we deal with the accursed Creirwenites who hide in the shadows and strike only in the dark? The Sons of Calder won’t sit idle by either.” 
 The large figure hissed, “Do not speak the name of my accursed brother again. I have a surprise for them, something that will keep them distracted and unable to frustrate our plans. As for the kingdom of Diwāna, they die like any other man, they might hit and run, but they will only be able to run further into their shrinking woods and die tired in the end.” 
The tall figure turned suddenly and lifted an arm and there was a bright light and Llewlyn fell back onto the ground shielding his eyes with his arms. 
 “It’s okay, you are not harmed, that was merely a memory you saw.” 
 Llewelyn opened his eyes and realized he could still see, the sky was blue again. He breathed slowly, “What was that?” 
 “As I said a memory, one of my ravens watched this exchange three days ago, the poor dear was nearly killed but managed to get back to me in time. Now we know somewhat of what our enemies are planning.” 
 “Yes, that figure, he called Calder his brother, Bolverkr is controlling Cormir now?” 
 The goddess’s voice shook and cracked, “Yes, Bolverkr has turned his back on his family and friends, he seeks the destruction of all lands, the enslavement of all people.” 
“So we’ll fight the Cormerians, they are opening up another exposed front for them, we can focus against them and drive them back.”
 “It won’t be that simple and you know it Dafydd, Bolverkr will have a plan to cause discord in the other nations, and we know he plots against Calmörk. We must counter him, if he gains a foothold the world of mortals there are greater cosmic implications. If he should find a way to cut off the world of man from the world of the gods it would be ill for both. Just as the Gods need mortals and the mortals need Gods, you will need allies, those who face the same challenges and potential fate as your own.” 
 Llewelyn stared out towards the distant forests that encircled the meadow and the tower from which they had come. “You mean Silador.” 
 “Silador, Therasicia, and the Sons of Calder, as many of the smaller kingdoms and principalities as you can muster. You’ll need everyone for this fight.” 
 “But the Siladorians, they’re so...arrogant.”

The mask smiled deeply, “Maybe so, but you can also teach them some of our ways, the ways of the pack and the forest, the ways of honest animals and show them how it is better than the duplicitous nature of man. You’ll also find in their new Console, Justinian, a noble true soul, he is one you can trust, if you can get him to trust you.” 
 Llewelyn started to sigh but remembered whose presence he was in and stopped himself, there was a chill around him and he looked up and saw he was back on the balcony in Arden Dūnon. He shook himself, feeling stiff from the position of the sun and activities below he knew that it had only been a few minutes but he felt like he had been standing against the railing for hours. Stretching his arms and pushing in his back till it cracked a bit he strolled back into the galleries of the inner hold. 
 “Albrec, Albrec get in here.”  Llewelyn yelled sharply.
A moment later his attaché appeared, “Yes Dafydd, how my I serve?” 
Llewelyn paused, unable to believe what he was about to say, he sighed in full and then shook himself, it had to be done no use wasting more time on his feelings, “Albrect, arrange a meeting with the Siladorian ambassador, we have business that needs to be conducted.”

About my Writing Process

Hello there. Thanks for visiting my site and looking around. I hope you’ve gotten to know a little bit about me and have had a chance to read the short story(s) available. I promise there is a lot more content coming soon and I hope you will enjoy it. Right now I want to give you a bit of insight into the type of writing I do and how it comes about from the sluggy liquid mass that is my brain into that realities of my novels and stories.

For me I see other writers talk about being planners, and pansters, and architechs and gardners and none of those really feel like how I process. For me I think of myself more like a listener or an interviewer. In my first story, The Empress (currently in revision and seeking represenation) it started with the main character, Elyssa talk in my head. I can’t say exactly where she came from, though I suspect she was conceived more then a little off of a relatively minor character in the second episode of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who run, The Beast Below.

That’s not to say she is a rip off of that character or that her story resembles that plot in anyway shape or form, but certainly her dress, some motives and some activies could certainly be seen in between the lines of Elyssa I and Elizabeth X. But that’s okay, draw inspiration from everywhere. When Elyssa first started talking to me I must admit I was a little confused, who she was, where she was from, why she was bugging me to write her story. Before Elyssa writing was hypathetical daydream, “wouldn’t it be nice to be a writer? put some words on paper, become semi-famous, buy a cabin in the forest of the PNW or British Columba and become a weird recluse.” But to be honest I wasn’t doing much with it, there wasn’t a methodolgy that I was jiving with or really a writer’s voice in my head.

With Elyssa I got out of my own way, from time to time, and listened. Then I asked questions, clarified points. I asked about her family, her country, the surrounding lands, her religions, confidonts, what she liked to wear, what things she hated doing. I spent time and learned about her as a person. It wasn’t always easy, sometimes I didn’t know the right questions to ask, sometimes I wouldn’t learn about an aspect until much later in the story that would lead me to ask questions about an earlier point in the story. Also as I’ve recently learned I wasn’t told everything up front and honestly. There are aspects of the Empire of Silador that I am still learning, details I’m still having to drag out of Elyssa, she can be incredibly stubborn somtimes, and other characters in the world but in the end it’s giving me insight into a much fuller richer world then where I started about ten years ago.

Now some of you might ask “Okay Wesley, so you talk to the voices in your head and problably need to see psychiatric help, but why are your stories not written like an interview?”

Simple, that’s boring, and this isn’t a newspaper. If I just sat down and gave you:

“Now Elyssa tell me about your family.”

“My immediate family consists of my mother, Theodora, my Father Justinian, and my brother Belisarius.”

You would close the book on me a paragraph in. There is a reason why most fantasy falls into a 3rd person point of view (POV) or 1st person POV and tells a larger story. The characters are fine but with high fantasy you want to edge in the details of the world, to allow the readers to settle in and explore it and feel what it might be like to live in that world for a time and escape from the mundane into the fantastic.

This method of writing, possibly also called daydreaming, has served me well with my other realm of fantasy, the Soul Wizard series. An urban fantasy that would feel more at home next to Harry Dresden or Supernatural though it is nominally based on our world but under what is seen in the eye is a world full of magic and fantasy creatures from your favorite nursery rythems and fairytales. Once again it started not with me creating a world and characters to fill it but by “talking” to the main protagonist, a young man named Reeve, learning about who he is, what he does, what his motives are. As I learned about him and his experiences I learned about his world, his friends, other soul wizards. This serious is being written in 1st person POV but the idea is still the same, if you learn about who you are writing about and get out of your own way and let them tell you their stories, you might also find yourself in worlds you might not have otherwise imagined.

The Fall of Boverkr

A short story of Silador

10th Day of the 5th Month, 498 Age of Unification (A.U.)
28th Year of the Emperor Justinian III
Sanctum Wulisbrecil

Central Silador

“Long long ago, before the Age of Unification, before the Age of Kingdoms, before the Age of Ice, it was the Age of the New Gods. The earth and sky had been merged into one and the sun and moon had been hung in the sky in the Elder Days of the First Gods, but they had perished in the Age of Calamity destroying the Unspeakable Ones to save all of reality.”

The elder priest paused as he used a long stick to whack the hand of one of his pupils who was apparently dozing. The young man, barely more than a boy really, shot up and blushed embarrassed.


“Sorry Elder Alexios.” the young man said sheepishly.

“As I was saying, the Elder Gods had perished along with the Unspeakable Ones, and the New Gods, the first children of the Elder Gods inherited the universe and the responsibility to defend the mortal races from the servants of evil who had escaped the last battle. The New Gods set about setting the world back in order from the turmoil and healing the land from the torment it had endured.


“For untold years there was peace and harmony, and the mortal races grew up and grew strong, honoring the gods and learning to defend themselves. As these mortal races grew up different tribes grew closer to particular gods. Cults and Religions grew up and though most would honor all the gods particular attention was paid to certain gods according to the values of a people’s outlook on the world.”

Alexios stopped and pointed at a pupil, “What are the core values of the God Lerubece?”

The pupil’s eyes expanded being caught off guard, he found himself stammering. “Um...personal strength, overcoming one’s own weaknesses, to reach peak perfection both of mind and body?”

“Very good, above all he is the god of Perseverance, and he teaches us to bend and ebb with the tides of time but to make our own waves within the stream of our world. Lerubece and his brothers are the children of the Elder God Ruceb who was the strongest of the first gods.

“But today’s lesson is not about the Holy Four, for we as priests must know of the other Gods and how they interact with the world. Today we shall focus on three gods who have or once had worship in the Empire.”

There was a slight stirring among the trainees. One student raised his hand and spouted out excitedly, “Three gods? Calder is worshiped in the North surely, but Creirwen had not been worshipped in the Empire in hundreds of years and their rights are near blasphemous. There is no other god that was worshipped in the Empire since Unification.”

“Tsk tsk, You must learn to not speak out of turn Mikhael, listen to your teachers when they are speaking and you may learn something, interrupt and you will remain ignorant forever.”


Mikhael hung his head in shame, “Yes Elder Alexious.”


“Now let’s see where was I? Ah yes, the other gods who were worshiped in Silador. Most of you are familiar with Calder, he is the god of war and ice. He crafted his children from the cold and gave them white skin and fair hair like the snows of his cold abode in his own image. He has long been worshiped by those who make their homes in the far north, not just in Silador, but in the western continent of Odasus Calder remains popular with many who live there. Calder was born of the Great Bear Bruinus who carved the frozen fjords of the far north from the frozen oceans and lands with his paws and claws. It was Bruinus who smote the last of the Great Horrors down before dying of a thousand wounds that had pieced his great hide.”


“Calder is determined above all else to prove himself worthy of his father’s noble sacrifice and thus is also a god of hearth and home, of children who respect their parents and seek honor for their households. But Calder has a brother, and not just any brother, but a twin.” 


The room full of acolytes got suddenly very still and silent, the hum of a dragonfly outside could be heard.


Elder Alexios allowed himself a grim smile, “Yes you’ve all heard the old superstitions about twins, prevalent to this day within the Empire even by well educated people such as yourselves. This is where those beliefs come from, like most everything else, ideas started with the Gods. Does anyone know the name of Calder’s twin?”

The silence that followed was heavy in the summer air and more than a few students shifted uncomfortably in their seats and all of them tried to avoid eye contact with Alexios. Finally the youngest student in the class raised his hand.


Alexios nodded at him, “Yes Diocles?”


The lad turned pale and he looked like he might be sick, gulped hard and sputtered for a moment, “Bolverkr.”

Diocles looked as if he expected the world to swallow him up at that moment and the other boys were staring at him as if they were expecting it as well. Alexios nodded, “Yes, even now hundreds of years later his name is still a plague to the minds of civilized folk. But there is no need to fear saying it, Bolverkr is a god, and a powerful one at that there is no doubt, but he hasn’t cursed his name and doesn’t have the power to strike you down for saying it. Nay even if he wished to strike us down here and now for speaking of him he could not, for we are in the heart of the lands of the Sons of Ruceb and their power protects us from his wrath.


“Yet we must speak of him fore if we cannot name our enemy it gives him power and it means we view Bolverkr as something to powerful to name, and only the Unspeakable Ones are that powerful, and even they were destroyed.”


“Bolverkr was very much the opposite of Calder almost every way he did not want to live up to their father’s legacy, but to surpass it, eclipse the memory of the First Gods and establish himself as the leader of the New Gods. At first Bolverkr presented himself as a god of invention, innovation and progress. When Banucyrewe, son of Ruceb, God of Science, taught the mortal races about farming, it was Bolverkr who taught them how to farm the lotus flowers. When Crum Balceel, God of Merchants, taught man about commerce and trade, it was Bolverkr who taught man about loans.


“But Bolverkr was twisted by his envy and jealousy and went from a force of progress and good and turned into a god of lies and deceit. For every good thing he taught us something, that thing he used his malice and hatred to twist it into something that hurt us. The lotus flowers, at first thought to be a recreational activity that allowed those who used to experience heightened feelings and pleasures, it was soon apparent that the lotus was addictive and left users with weakened bodies and immune systems. The entire race of Miromors went extinct from over use leaving their kingdoms weak and unable to sustain themselves. To this day lotus blossoms are banned by every human kingdom and Empire on the known planet.”


“Loans, at first thought to be a way to help those in need get what they needed to survive, but soon it created financial burdens and fights amongst not just neighbors but entire kingdoms went to war over debts they claimed to be unpaid. More than one mortal race parished burdened by loans and the constant wars drove them to extinction, only the centaurs were unaffected as they stuck to the forest and the mountains and never adopted commerce.”

A pupil raised his hand and waited to be acknowledged, “But what happened to the centaurs? They are a lost race as well are they not? At least there are no reliable accounts of sightings since Unification.”

Alexios nodded, “True true, the centaurs are not known to inhabit any of the three known continents of the world, neither in Erebica, Odasus, nor Sonnersdoun are the centaurs known to roam. But the ancient texts do not speak of their demise. Merely that the last emissaries sent to their ancient homelands were abandoned. But there were no signs of battle or destruction, it is my hypothesis that they left for shores yet undiscovered by man.”


“But let us return to the lesson. Bolverkr was twisted by jealousy, envy and lust. Some say it was envy of his brother’s strength and conviction, others that he could never feel like he could escape the shadow cast by his father, the truth is more complicated than that and it involves a woman, and that woman was Creirwen, the Laughing Goddess.”


“Creirwen is the daughter of Gwace. Gwace was the Goddess of Thought and Wisdom, and was said to alone to have the power of foresight and prophecy, and was said to have known the time and manner of her death and the deaths of all the First Gods. Creirwen is the goddess of untamed nature. The tangled forests, impassible mountains and raging rivers are her domain, and her servants are the wolves and ravens, and her friends are the deer and the boar. Her fiery red hair is said to be the strains light in the dawn and the evening as the sun touches the horizons.


“Enchanted by her grace and knowledge of lost secrets, Creirwen was pursued by both brothers, the clever and progressive Bolverkr who tried to impress her with his cunning machines and ideas for civilization and improve the lives of the mortal races. But Creirwen cared little for machines and civilization and her followers tried to live closer to the nature their Goddess loved so much, so the fierce and wild Calder who was intune with the nature around him won out the heart of the Laughing One. In his rage and jealousy Bolverkr fell into darkness and hatred and plotted his revenge.”


“Young Diocles you have a question I see, go ahead.”


The young acolyte cleared his throat, “Elder Alexios, why is she called the Laughing One?”


“An excellent question. The face of Creirwen has never been seen by a mortal. In fact it is said only her mother Gwace and Calder have seen her true face. The Laughing One always wears a mask, porcelain in color that has a face painted on that appears to be fixed in a laugh. Why she chooses to wear this mask is not known but there are several thoughts. Some believe she is so beautiful that if any mortal saw her they should perish, and if any god were to see her they would be overcome with lust and the war for her in the heavens would devastate all the universe and she hides her face to protect all from this. Others say she used to go without a mask but after she rejected Bolverkr he attacked her and scarred her face so badly she wished to hide her scars.”


“What happened to Bolverkr?” Mikhael asked impertinently.


“Manners Mikhael. Bolverkr’s tricks were uncovered and exposed to the other gods. Banding together they drove Bolverkr from the Godswood into exile. Bolverkr lives now in the wastelands outside of realms of both man and gods but he sends his dark and twisted servants to do his evil bidding, yes Belstium?” he pointed to another student’s raised arm.


“Do you mean the Daladag?”


There was some slight laughter from the other pupils. 


“Yes I do.” Elder Alexios said flatly, the pupils stopped laughing. “They might be the creatures your nannies told you to scare you into bed at night, but they were real, the lost tribe of the North, cousins of the Sons of Calder. They fled with their master after betraying their kinsfolk, the most grievous sin a Son of Calder can commit against another. He twisted them into pale husks of their former selves, no longer human but they are not the worse of Bolverkr’s creations.”


“Are the Daladag still alive?” 

“No, they were wiped out over five hundred years ago during the Wars of Unification when the first Emperor Justinian united Silador, the Kingdom of Diwāna and the Kingdom of Calmörk and brought the other petty kingdoms to heal under their banners, under the banner of the Empire of Silador. The last battle, the Battle of Carronack, the last of the Daladag, fought and died to the last, run down by Siladorian spears and decapitated by Northern axe. Their black blood stained the ground and rock and the site of the battle is still black to this day from their unholy stain.


“That’s enough for now, I hear Elder Julian ringing the midday bell, let us take our meal in the courtyard in the sun. The warmth and brightness shall be welcome after such dark and gloomy conversation.”


The students put parchment and ink in their satchels and shuffled out of the room, but little Diocles stayed behind. Alexios glanced at the boy, “Do you have a question my son?”


“Elder what happened to the Creirwenites though? They were part of the Empire, everyone agrees on that, but they disappeared and now are called blasphemous by many. But if she was married to Calder and we accept Calder as a god, why do we fear the Creirwenites.”


Alexios smiled, “A good question. The Creirwenites were not interested in court politics, their hearts belong to the forest and the mountains, with the wild animals, not in cities of stone or farming grain. They joined Silador and the North for protection, but the treaty said they would only offer aid in times of danger for the whole. It was the fourth emperor, Arethas who wanted to spread the religion of the Holy Four, and the Sons of Calder accepted the additional worship but their first loyalties remained with Calder. The Creirwenites were less interested in this arrangement and withdrew from the Empire. Over the centuries as they were seen less and less stories of their old customs and practices spread, what is fact and what is myth is beyond our knowledge but I don’t think they sacrifice humans. They documented accounts of their ability to consort with animals and move unseen by mortal eyes might suggest they had some power granted to them by their goddess, but who knows? Nobody has seen or spoken to a Creirwenite in over two hundred years and they were never as numerous as other people.”


“It just seems strange they would disappear so completely and we think they died off?”

“Maybe in some forgotten hills of the Empire there is still a small village or two, but they would find ill welcome in the rest of the country, they would likely be attacked by superstitious villagers then welcomed as old friends. If there are any still hiding out, it is probably best they say hidden. Come now let us go and eat.”


The master and the apprentice left the room and joined the rest of the monastery in a fine lunch.
END