Living in Spain, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the country’s castles.
The most stunning, and most popular, is the Alcázar in Segovia, an easy day trip from Madrid. It’s in great condition, mainly because it was never caught up in the Reconquista or blasted apart during the Spanish Civil War. Built on the end of the rocky promontory atop which Segovia stands, it’s literally cut off from the rest of the town by a deep moat cut through the bedrock.
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This past Christmas vacation, my wife and I headed down to Tangier so I could write a travel series for Gadling.
While walking the labyrinthine alleyways of this Moroccan port, I took note of the defenses that had been built up over the years. Tangier has changed hands numerous times between the Moroccans, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Because of its strategic importance on the southern end of the Strait of Gibraltar, it’s always needed to protect itself. The old town is surrounded by high walls, emplacements for sea batteries can still be seen, and high up on the hill overlooking the city stands the Casbah, where the Sultan once lived with his family and entourage, and which has fortifications of its own.
[Click on any of the images in this article for larger versions.]
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To the gods of the north, I pray
And raise my cup for the fallen ones
Then I cry
In Valhalla they’ll sing
–“Valkyries,” Blind Guardian
As a life-long heavy metal fan who also loves fantasy literature, it was only a matter of time before I got to the subject of Blind Guardian. About all you need to know about this wonderful, semi-obscure German metal band is that they wrote an entire album about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (Nightfall in Middle Earth).
Need I say more? I mean, look at the picture I’ve embedded — that’s a Blind Guardian album cover, and it looks like it could have been plucked off the cover of a Robert Jordan novel.
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SOARING ON THE WINGS OF MYTH:
James Cameron’s AVATAR revels in the grand traditions of fantasy
The other day I slipped on a pair of 3-D glasses and was transported to a primordial world of alien beauty and high adventure. I was watching James Cameron’s new film AVATAR, which has become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Much has been made of the film’s absolute perfection of special effects because Cameron creates a fantasy world that is truly believable. Thanks to his breakthroughs in computer-generated imagery and sheer breadth of imagination, AVATAR is more than a mere film… it’s an EXPERIENCE.
SKULLS starts right here at blackgate.com on Jan. 6
Comparisons to other blockbuster fantasy/sci-fi films are inevitable. Everything George Lucas attempted to do in his three STAR WARS prequels, Cameron actually succeeds at, i.e. building a fully realized and eminently believable fantasy world that is breathtaking in scope and packed with sheer wonder. But that perfection of simulated reality, that ability to make the fantastical seem genuine was NOT what I enjoyed most about this movie.
All the visual flair would be meaningless if the film didn’t draw upon the classic power and inspiration of the great fantasy tales. AVATAR is a fantasy fan’s ultimate cinematic experience. The fact that this fantasy is wrapped in the guise of science fiction only makes it more appealing and marktable to the average moviegoing audience. Both sci-fi and fantasy fans will be enraptured by the AVATAR experience.
Cameron’s inspirations for AVATAR span the gamut of everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ BARSOOM (John Carter of Mars) stories to Lucas’ STAR WARS (which were inspired by FLASH GORDON comic strips, among others), to the deep myths of the Old West, stone-age adventures, Jungle Tales comics, American Indian mythology, and wraps it all in a lush visual style worthy of the master Frank Frazetta himself.
One of the tropes Cameron plays with in this story–to great visual and emotional effect–is the riding of winged creatures by the Na’vi alien warriors.
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