My Love/Hate Romance With Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

GandalfLet me state for the record that I am a fan of the film adaptation of The Lord Of the Rings. Jack Nicholson can complain all he likes about “too many endings,” but that celluloid trilogy managed the impossible: it successfully imbued a made-up world not only with turmoil and action but with genuine emotional gravitas. The Lord Of the Rings (2001 – 2003), against all odds, mattered.

Having just seen the third of The Hobbit installments (2012 – 2014), I fear I cannot say the same for these sequel-prequels. I want to. At certain moments, I’m convinced. At others?

Yes, the task of adapting a book to the screen is arduous, full of perils, and the fact that Jackson’s scriptwriting team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and (for these films) Guillermo del Toro have had any success at all is remarkable. Tolkien, let’s face it, was not an efficient story-teller. Given characters like Tom Bombadil, it would not be unfair to crown him as King Of All Digressions.

So let’s take it as a given that adaptation involves violence toward the source material. Additions will be made, and subtractions, too. So be it. The goal, typically, is to preserve the spirit of the original.

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My Overly Conscious Love for Pathfinder

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Pathfinder Tales Stalking the BeastLately I’ve been reading a fair amount of Pathfinder novels. Partly this is because I want to play Pathfinder and have no one with whom to play it, because all of my adult friends who are so inclined live too far away, and my children and I just aren’t in the same frame of mind. (Roleplaying with a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old is challenging, simply because logic, for all involved, works a little differently. For this audience, a straightforward dungeon crawl, like Fantasy Flight’s Descent, is a more viable option, but, with that, you don’t get enough freedom for story creation and character generation.)

Another reason I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because my oldest son has started reading them. If I read them as well, we can inhabit a shared text (and perhaps, in time, a satisfying Pathfinder gaming session).

And yet another reason why I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because they’re good.

This was announced not too long ago, at least in reference to Howard Andrew Jones’s Stalking the Beast, when Nick Ozment realized that that novel was “better than it needed to be.” I’ve read some Pathfinder novels by other writers as well, and I will say that most of them are quite good.

Nick made clear why he found Jones’s second novel for the franchise so good, but what do I mean when I say that, in general, I like the series? I will say that they are highly satisfying Sword and Sorcery novels. They are entertaining. They are escapist. They have cool things in them. And, above all, they are quite familiar. They are based on the 3.5 (or 3.75) edition of Dungeons & Dragons, after all.

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The Barbarism of Bullfighting and Archaic Diction in L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Rug and the Bull”

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

One of the many freedoms of Sword and Sorcery, it seems to me, is that it enables the adoption of a world that allows the writer to comment on just about anything on which one would want. One of Robert E. Howard’s purposes in the construction of his own Hyboria was to create a conglomerate of cultures, no matter how anachronistic their juxtapositions, so that his hero Conan might have any kind of adventure that Howard might think up. Whereas for previous tales, Howard perhaps had to construct different heroes for different historical epochs (Bran Mak Morn for the Celtic Picts, Solomon Kane for the sixteenth century, Kull for Atlantis), in the Hyborian Age Conan might be a thief, a soldier, a pirate, and ultimately a king, his adventures all the while providing Howard with powerful commentary on “civilization.”

So, too, writers after Howard have utilized this purpose. Dave Sim, through his creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins by commenting on the Sword and Sorcery genre itself (as well as the mainstream comic books of Sim’s time) and then goes on to explore High Society, Church & State, marriage – and this last, in Jaka’s Story, is as far as my reading has taken me, but I understand that Sim is so far reaching in his exploration of topics that in a much later volume he even explores the life and works of Ernest Hemingway through Cerebus taking on the position of Hemingway’s personal secretary!

Terry Pratchett uses the Sword and Sorcery milieu to ingenious satirical effect, cribbing directly (I believe) from Fritz Leiber in order to forecast to his readers, in the very first pages of the very first Discworld novel, just what tone and material his readers may expect. Pratchett’s initial perspective characters, soon abandoned, are Bravd and the Weasel (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, obviously). I quote the following description in order to give an example of Pratchett’s satirical treatment of Sword and Sorcery and to underscore, specifically, Pratchett’s debt to Leiber. For more humor, one might want to pick up this book and enjoy the way that these characters talk to each other – it’s impressively Leiberesque.

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A Look At The Year Gone By – 2014

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_624347x4h9YP6xBy my count, I published forty-two articles here at Black Gate during 2014. I reviewed thirty-two novels and over forty short stories.

While most of the books were older ones [e.g. The Eternal Champion (1962) and Year of the Unicorn (1965)], I did manage to sneak a few newer ones into the mix, as you’ll read below. The short stories, all from presently publishing magazines, reinforced my belief that there’s a continuing renaissance in swords & sorcery. There are talented authors toiling away despite the lack of commerical interest. I hope I convinced other S&S fans to investigate these books and stories and learn for yourselves how much good heroic fantasy is out there waiting for you.

As I’ve written in the past, one of my initial reasons for blogging about S&S was to get myself to read many of the books I had missed or neglected over the years. I managed to accomplish a lot of that this year.

Two-thirds of the books I read were brand new to me. Among the older ones were Darrell Schweitzer’s strange and intoxicating Echoes of the Goddess and Adrian Cole’s phantasmagorical Oblivion Hand. I’m very happy I finally read Keith Taylor’s great Celtic S&S book, Bard, as well as Teresa Edgerton’s The Queen’s Necklace. The best contemporary books I read were the densely constructed The Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell, and sword & soul founder Charles R. Saunder’s brand new Abengoni: First Calling.

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Adventure On Film: Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

three rideI can hear the protests already: “Don’t you mean Alexander Dumas’s The Three Musketeers?” Well, yes. In a way. But I refer here to the film, not the novel. This 1973 outing is one of perhaps eight full-length film adaptations of this grand French chestnut, and, as directed by Richard Lester, it’s essential viewing for all fans of action, swordplay, and pace.

Indeed, to cut and slash the weighty novel down to a manageable length, no small violence has been done to the text, and the film practically tumbles over itself trying to keep up with its own story-telling requirements. Lester fills each rowdy frame with visions of period France; in his crowd scenes, there’s so much going on that the film bears an immediate second viewing, just to keep up with the busy visuals.

Best of all, of course, are the fabulous, kinetic, and often hilarious sword fights. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis may be musketeers, but there’s hardly a discharge of powder and shot to be found; these heroes (dandies and drunks, really) live by the sword, full stop.

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Frodo Baggins, Lady Galadriel, and the Games of the Mighty

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

A classic image. Iconic. Frodo Baggins, Hobbit of the Shire, offering the ring of power to Galadriel, Elven Queen of Lothlórien.

Ralph Bakshi version:

Frodo and the Ring-small

Peter Jackson version:

Frodo and the Ring 2-small

Yet, as is often the case in JRR Tolkien’s writings, things are not quite what they appear. Allow me to bullet point the bites Mr. Baggins has had to take out of the crap sandwich served up to him by fate up to this point.

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AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Eleven Shades Of Evil

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Just in time for the holidays (not to mention the headlines), I bring you EVIL. The ultimate fantastical topic.Wrinkle in Time

Now, just so we’re clear from the get-go, I’m against it. Against evil, that is. As are we all, surely. But, once I’ve got my writer’s hat on (or, for that matter, my reader’s hat), evil becomes indispensable. I not only love it, I’ve just gotta have it. For writers, evil belongs in the same all-purpose toolbox as conjunctions, theme, and essential miscellany like the average blooming season of Agapanthus africanus.

Categories first. When it comes to speculative fiction, and its offspring in film, television, and the ‘net, I submit that evil comes in the following basic flavors, and in the following entirely arbitrary order:

1) Abiding
2) Petty
3) World-conquering
4) Internal
5) Atavistic
6) Alien
7) Humorous
8) Inscrutable
9) Insane
10) Passive and
11) Institutional

Let’s take these one at a time (because taking two at a time would try the patience of a saint).

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Book Pairings: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells and Royal Airs

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells-smallAh, a rainy night in December.

I was going to try to augment my blogging-to-raindrops experience by listening to Chopin, but after iTunes had been pianoing at me for a while, I admitted defeat, and realized once more that it’s difficult for me to blog and listen to music at the same time. (Hildegard of Bingen is, of course, an exception to this rule. Sometimes.)

Tonight I am feeling VIRTUOUS and TRIUMPHANT, for I have AT LONG LAST finished Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, followed by a reread of Sharon Shinn’s Royal Airs. I thought these two books would make a fine complementary pair of Gaslamp Fantasies You Might Like To Read.

Let’s start with Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.

First of all… It took me LONG ENOUGH! Sigh. Have I told you how long it takes me to read an anthology? Any anthology? I think I did, way back in my Welcome to Bordertown blogging days. But don’t worry if you never read those three monster blogs o’ mine (although you should, because they are CHARMING and INFORMATIVE, and also go ahead and read the anthology itself if you haven’t, because that’s GREAT TOO); like Inigo Montoyo, I will sum up.

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Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

A Book CoverIt’s such a predictable trap. In or near an elevator, I tell some newly met, well-intentioned stranger that I’m a writer, and they immediately ask, as if they’ve waited all their lives for this very opportunity to arise, “What sort of books do you write?”

And that’s the end, you see, or at least the end of any potential new friendship, because if I answer “I write fantasy,” which is true, they start sniggering and feel superior, or if I answer, “I write horror,” they run off, laughing hysterically at my bad taste –– and of course then they feel even more superior.

Worst answer of all: “I write literary fiction.” Then they assume I’m a genius and their eyes glaze over, because they feel they absolutely must pay attention to every single word I say, in hopes of gleaning a pearl. I become the social equivalent of bubonic CliffsNotes.

Thus Renner & Quist, and Check-Out Time, because I want to craft stories that employ elements of multiple genres and literary currents. The danger, I suppose, is that I wind up with tossed salad, but I don’t believe that’s been the result. What reviews there’ve been suggest that I’m correct to think I’ve avoided the splatter-punk of, say, Jackson Pollock.

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