I Think I’m Quite Ready For Another Adventure…
‘1st Rough In Tavern’: “The hunchback will have something to say about this!”
And to think this blog supposedly concentrates mainly on science fiction…!
Well, firstly, some classic science-fantasy (tales of far-future lands where no/minimal technology exists) novels have come my way and, somehow, my reading preferences have veered – harmlessly enough – towards full-blown fantasy.
Notepads at the ready – here they come:
David Farland – The Runelords 1: The Sum Of All Men
Robert E. Howard – Conan The Indomitable
Michael Moorcock – Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress
James Silke – Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer 1: Prisoner of the Horned Helmet (below)
“They came out of the sunblasted desert. Tiny dark specks wagging a tail of billowing dust at the yellow sky. Occasionally they glittered metallically… It was a mounted detachment. Nine riders with crossbows in their saddle holsters and sheathed swords, quivers and daggers riding their belts… The Kitzakk Horde…”
It’s amazing when you consider the quite impressive number of SF authors who dabbled in fantasy themes and managed to create some distinguished masterworks in the genre. Awaiting my attention is: Roger Zelazny – The Hand Of Oberon And a classic so monumental (not disclosing the author/title ‘cos it’s going to be a surprise!) will feature here in its own Post very soon! 😉
Carrying out spring-cleaning (while icy blizzards still surge past outside!) this doughty adventurer has uncovered notes and scraps of rough drafts pertaining to my stab (parry? thrust?) at a fantasy epic.
Initially concocted in 1986, at the height of my immersion in Fighting Fantasy, Scabrous Face – still reckon that sounds awesome! – tells:
The saga of Malcolan, demonic Overlord of the Coarselands.
Having led his Doragar Horde on a merciless and unstoppable sweep through the Western Lands, he decides to acquire what he has lacked throughout his reign of terror: a queen.
He conquers one particular kingdom just to seize the king’s daughter – the most beautiful maiden throughout all the realms. But, before being slain, the Grand Mage: Gaspar places a curse on the Overlord. His son is weak and sickly; branded “Scabrous Face” by the crestfallen demon, he banishes the child to the wastelands…
Malcolan is gradually subdued by unknown afflictions; as his health deteriorates, so the power of his dominion crumbles.
Eighteen years later, a mysterious hero emerges. With his bold band of bahadurs (“fighters”), he marches straight towards the Overlord’s fortress to restore peace and order to their world…
The original names do not appear here as they have been changed countless times over the years. After three decades, reading that very first draft again, it is not only… interesting, but forsooth! It’s a tad embarrassing…
Consisting only of the Overlord’s invasion of that kingdom (then known by a completely different name), these frantic scribblings form nothing but a turgid – and repetitive – gory hack-an’-slashfest! Turns out that teenage Brad happened to be a far more bloodthirsty lil dweeb than anyone had ever expected…
My epic consisted of endless battles because it was completely male-orientated – obviously, an attraction to girls had yet to materialise.
Concurrently, plenty of influential material (both writing and art) cowld be acquired monthly: Warlock served as the official Fighting Fantasy magazine, while White Dwarf concentrated on role-playing games. This cover (in particular (below) had a profound effect – the hero of my fantasy epic is based on that ferocious wolf-pelt-clad fella.
The music with which to accompany this Post comes from one of my fantasy favs: CONAN! (Not that recent poor remake starring The Sub-Mariner, but the original 1982 classic with Arnie). Basil Poledouris must have been a wizard…
Never mind the dodgy title of the second track – it is one of the most mesmerising pieces of movie music.
And as for this theme tune: Anvil Of Crom, Brad refuses to gallop into the local village without it:
“Treasures are not won by care and forethought but by swift slaying and reckless attack” – Michael Moorcock.
In 1979, while The Black Hole bewitched me with its laser battles, The Black Knight taught me how to wield a broadsword.
No conflict between sci-fi and fantasy. Not in my mind. Both genres played a substantial part in – how shall we say – my formative years…
During the mid-’80s, Fighting Fantasy became my obsession. Unable to find anyone willing to delve into role-playing games with me, Fighting Fantasy proved to be the perfect outlet for lone adventurers. Each book, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, contained a total of 400 numbered sections. YOU had to pick up clues; solve riddles; outwit traps; fight orcs, trolls, et al; navigate mazes and dungeons, etc. by choosing which section to Turn To.
“All you need is a dice and a pencil.”
Even devised some of my own Figjting Fantasy adventures…
Might write about them at some point, but there’s a LOT of stuff in that cabinet to sift through before they are uncovered…
Subotai: “We’re thieves! Ha! Like yourself. Come to climb the tower.
Valeria: “You don’t even have a rope! Ha! Two fools who laugh at death. Do you know what horrors lie beyond that wall?”
Valeria: “Then you go first…”
“I will allow you to live as long as you serve me. Betray me, and I will joyfully send you back to rot in hell” – Titus Cromwell.
At University, by far my most intriguing area of research concentrated on the art, numismatics and history of the Parthians and the Saka (the Indo-Persian name for the Scythian nomad warriors of the Eurasian steppes.) They not only directly inspired Tolkien’s Horselords of Rohan, but sparked a new and refreshing etymological and anthropological framework with which to reinvigorate my fiction.
Instantly fell in love with the mellifluous Old Persian language, and decided to rename my characters with some of these more evocative words. For instance, the name of Kulbahar (Old Persian, meaning: “like a rose in spring”) was bestowed upon the kingdom, while the ill-fated princess has come to be known as Ziba-Eszta (OP: “beautiful star”).
But just as renewed enthusiasm filtered into my writing, that spark almost vanished.
What could have cleft my fervour for fantasy in twain forever had to be this annoying repetition of the same old standard tropes: the indestructible (always white male) hero…
And those ever-so-noble elves…
“We have sat waiting like this many times before. Sometimes I tire… of the fighting and killing. At night, I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. When I join them, we will be forgotten” – Crow.
During the ’80s, countless fantasy movies were rented – some were cheap and cheerful cheezy classics; a great deal more twerned out to be agonisingly atrocious…
Hawk The Slayer (1981) is let down by an embarrassingly miniscule budget, but it holds personal importance as it provided my very first taste of a sword and sorcery film at the cinema. In particular, the elf: Crow (see above) captivated my imagination and set me on a lifelong fascination with all-things-elvish.
Naturally, my fantasy novel just HAD TO HAVE its fair share of elfkind, but avoiding the overdone stereotypical connotations of this race proved quite a challenge. Notably, my most prominent Silver Forest archer: Delanian has evolved to become quite unlike any other elf you have ever seen…
Itching to tell you more about this nonchalant supporting player, but, you know: spoilers! 😉
And those other tropes? The mischievous Goblins; the grumpy Dwarfs; the malevolent Orcs…
It occurred to me that a radical rethink of these other races is required by all fantasy writers to keep the genre fresh and original. In fact, from the very beginning, Orcs would play no part at all in my work. Instead, my massive unputdownable compendium of Fighting Fantasy Monsters: Out Of The Pit (1986) offered me an exciting alternative in the form of the Doragar.
Described as a sorcerous interbreed between Orcs and Trolls, these berserkers fight tougher on the battlefield and work faster in the ore mines than their Orc cousins. Equipped with spiked armour and huge serrated weapons, the task is unto me to “bring them to life.”
“I don’t hate ALL men, Grandmaster…” – Red Sonja.
“Over a year ago I was first introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) but the more I have played it the more concerned I have become about the presentation of women with it,” wrote a disgruntled (Miss) S.A. Carbery in a letter published in WD#70 (October 1985).
“The whole fabric of the pseudo-mediaeval games appears male-orientated. The female fantasy characters encountered (the few that show up) seem more likely to be serving wenches or prostitutes.
“I nearly brained my Dungeon Master when he told me the rules of choosing to play a female character and the restraint of not being able to attain the maximum strength of 18 – unless I was a Half-Orc. Not exactly a fair rule…
“Illustrations within WD involving over the top females verge upon soft porn. I will NOT be fobbed off with excuses of historic nostalgia that women have been portrayed like this in pulp fantasy since 1920. RPGs could be very educational and highly entertaining. I think it is a great shame considering… that so few women seem to be involved and playing them.
“Surely now it is time for change?”
From that moment on, such changes were implemented in my fiction – female characters would play more decisive roles. More specifically, the seemingly-endless Game Of Thongs trend of subservient female representation in the fantasy genre (alluded to by Miss Carbery) seemed at odds with the intelligent, headstrong and assertive young women who were rejecting me on an almost-weekly basis…
So when this fantasy novel received a belated revision during the Summer of 1990, the first – and most significant – alterations came in the addition of a number of female characters.
Over a decade ago, to try and quell the sheer monotony of my job in Southeast Asia, during one of my regular Yuletide return trips to the UK, the dust was wiped off my fantasy fiction file and various vital notes taken back with me to the tropics…
After finishing my job, greater concentration could be afforded to my writing and – oh yes – this project in particular. TWO dramatic changes were made: the addition of an extra female character who – you’ll be pleased to learn – has been promoted to main protagonist; while the other major revision proved equally pivotal: a new and improved title.
The enchanting Old Persian term: Vindahfarnah translates as “Righteous Ruler” – this encapsulates perfectly the core theme of the story!
Alas, Malcolan’s fate came to another abrupt halt in 2013 due to – strangely enough! – the instigation of this blog.
On this site, you may yet be treated/subjected to an excerpt from this sprawling epic 🙂
Once more, Brad must ride with his bahadurs to defend what was, and the dream of what could be…
Evil Witch: “Where is Deathstalker?!”
Deathstalker: “Somebody lookin’ fer me?”
Princess: “You came back?!”
Deathstalker: “By popular demand!”
Princess: “Dayethstalker…? Is that your first name or your last name…?”