Sunday 27 February 2011

Tolkien Fanfics A-Go-Go - Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien

I feel I may as well talk about the other big Tolkien story this week, get it out of my system.

Steve Hillard's Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien differs from The Last Ringbearer in that it's written by an actual author, as opposed to a palaeontologist writing fan-fiction for a larf which took on a life of its own and got published in Russia and other non-English-speaking countries. It's also different in that it's actually been published in America.  However, the Tolkien Estate has swooped in again and said "no, sir, not allowed." As bloggers aetherwide would have it, this is yet another case of the Tolkien Estate's infamously protective stance against copyright infringement.

But is that really what's going on?

Thursday 24 February 2011

Howard and Red Sonja are Curious Bedfellows

In hindsight, I haven't been particularly charitable to Dynamite's treatment of Red Sonja.  Even the good examples, like Eric Trautmann's War Season, have been problematic; Red Sonja vs Thulsa Doom was a mess; and I don't think there's much point in me going on about the latter's spinoff that I haven't already run into the ground. That said, perhaps I'm being too hard on them for what I perceive to be an appropriation of Howard's name for literary credibility. After all, who's to say that they're not obligated to credit Howard as the creator of Red Sonja?

In any case, Dynamite are continuing their one-shots, with a follow-up from Jen Van Meter called Break the Skin. Howard fans will know why that choice of name has piqued my interest.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

The Last Ringbearer

I never thought I'd get to use this image again so soon!

This story's been making the rounds, as Ostatni Władca Pierścienia, Kirill Eskov's infamous 1999 alternate-universe Middle-earth novel, has been translated into English, and offered as a free download.

Now, those of you who've read my blog know I love alternate history, and equally love "evil Mirror Universes."  I'd be happy if the next Star Trek series was set in the Mirror Universe (the original one, not the watered-down Deep Space Nine version). So the idea of Evil Gandalf and Good Sauron is one that appeals to me on something of a morbid level - as long as it's treated as a mirror universe, and not necessarily as "historical" revisionism. That said, I could go with a bit of that, too, if it was well-written and consistent. However, there are certain things which bother me about alternate history, and one is using it as an unfair or facile criticism of the original work. Thoughtful, insightful criticism I could deal with - even enjoy - but unfair criticism, I oppose.

So where does The Last Ringbearer fit in?

Sunday 20 February 2011

He Is Legend: Richard Matheson

I'd been acknowledging dead authors recently, so it cheers me to celebrate one who's still with us.

Richard Matheson is 85 today, and his contributions to the realms of horror, science fiction and fantasy are considerable - not only in literature, but cinema and television. I think everyone knows the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of The Twilight Zone, which managed to be quite tense despite the disarmingly cuddly gremlin menacing William Shatner: that's a Matheson episode.  So too were "Little Girl Lost," "Steel," "The Invaders," "The Last Flight," and "Mute," all classic episodes. He also contributed to Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories and Star Trek, where he wrote the fantastic "The Enemy Within."

Friday 18 February 2011

Jonathan Bowden on Robert E. Howard: A Lecture in Seven Parts

(In the recent hubbub, I realised that I had written, but not published, something fairly relevant to the discussion. The reasons why will become fairly evident.)

Jonathan Bowden is an outspoken right-wing speaker, and was for a few years a member of the BNP. The BNP being a political party whose aim is to, through legal and peaceful methods, offer "firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home". Essentially, to kick all the non-whites out of Britain. So for him to speak about Howard is worrisome, to say the least. I have no problem with anyone from any political background talking about Howard, but the potential for him to be hijacked to make political points is there.

Thursday 17 February 2011

The Politics of Howard Fandom

That's it.  No more posts about "Bankrupt Nihilism" unless I'm seriously forced to.  However, the honour of The Blog That Time Forgot is at stake, and since I don't have the PayPal account with which to order a username at MetaCritic (which I cannot fathom, unless I'm doing something wrong), I'll have to do so here.

First of all, the comments here are naturally very critical of Leo's political leanings, which isn't really the crux of the argument.  I'm not going to argue with their assertions of Leo being a right-wing lunatic, because Leo's right-wing lunacy doesn't have a bearing on his erudition and wealth of reading experience, and I'm not very good at judging which point being right wing changes from "conservative" to "berserk craziness."

It's the comments which claim Leo is ill-read in the fantasy field - some think he hasn't even read Elric, ferchrissakes! - that I have issue with, not just because I know them to be true, but because it's patently absurd, unless this is the only Leo Grin essay you've ever read.  Fair enough if it is - though it would be nice if some people did a Google search to see if Leo has, in fact, ever written about Howard, Tolkien, or any other fantasy author before.  Just common courtesy, you know?

Wednesday 16 February 2011

"Bankrupt Nihilism's" running riot

Thunder in the black skies beating down the rain,
Thunder in the black cliffs, looming o'er the main,
Thunder on the black sea and thunder in my brain...
- "Red Thunder," Robert E. Howard

Crom, I have a thrice-murrained headache, my nose is a veritable Pheidippes, and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but Leo's "Bankrupt Nihilism" post is all over the internet.  While there are plenty who agree with Leo's point, there are a lot of people with a dissenting opinion.  That's fine, of course, but a couple of them seem to disagree based on a misinterpretation of Leo's post.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Wandering the Wertzone

Well, this is interesting.  I've posted my response, but as always, I'll provide it here in case Blogger eats it.

The problem with the essay is that its author has fundamentally misread Tolkien and Howard.

On the contrary, I feel that the problem here is that you have misread his position.

For one thing, you are missing one extremely salient point: that both Tolkien and Howard differ from the nihilists Grin mentioned because there is genuine heroism, hope and exultation in their works.

Tolkien is full of loss, sorrow and decline, but it's also full of great men doing great things, be they humble Hobbits, or heroic Kings of Men. Howard's stories are full to the brim of similar examples.

THAT is what Leo is talking about which is missing in the stories of which he speaks. There are no heroes, no beacons of humanity to show that while the universe is a dark, cruel, unforgiving place, there are those who defy it with shining beacons of optimism, altruism, and bravery. How can anyone describe anything like that as Nihilistic? Surely if a work is nihilistic, then there would be no victories, no heroism, no hope?

There are no Frodos, Aragorns, Theodens, Balthuses, Solomon Kanes or Kulls in the works Leo is decrying. In short, there are no heroes in these particular works. You say The Lord of the Rings isn't a happy ending: true, but vastly preferable to the alternative. It is an ending I can happily call bittersweet: victory and peace at great cost. Nihilistic? Certainly not.

Your mention of Grin's dismissal of Wheel of Time, and your similar argument that Grin seeks a more "black versus white" approach, is also inaccurate, in my opinion. I read his argument as being that there should be more distinction between the shades of grey going on. Black, white and grey, not just lighter and darker shades of grey.

I'm actually not sure if my rebuttal was sufficient: doubtless someone like Brian would do a better and more articularted job of explaining how, no, Leo did not misread Tolkien or Howard.  I'm convinced that the blog author has simply misread Leo's argument, not that he disagrees with his points.  Either that, or he really thinks Tolkien's a nihilist...

Special mention should be given to Maurice's comment, which is the most profound misinterpretation of a Conan story since Unhappy "Conan threatened to rape Yasmina in the burning ruins of her palace" Anchovy:

I remember also thinking about characters like Conan being chivalrous until a friend of mine told me to actually read an original Howard, The Frost Giant's daughter, where he basically chases and kills a woman's family of giants just so he can rape her.

I'm impressed with how easily you colour that story by the choice omission of several extremely important details to give a completely fallacious and disingenuous impression of the plot in order to make Atali and her brothers out to be the helpless, innocent victims of a brutish Conan.

You miss out the extremely important detail that the woman in question was hypnotically compelling Conan to follow him to his death. She has done this to unnumbered men through the millennia, appearing to dying men on the battlefield, luring them to their doom through sexual manipulation and supernatural compulsion. Men may be bleeding to death and exhausted, but a "strange madness" forces them to walk leagues upon leagues far from civilization in pursuit of a mocking, taunting goddess. Said family of giants, by the way, were lying in wait in preparation to murder him - once again, as they have done to COUNTLESS others - and sacrifice his heart to their father-god.

The guy who wrote the article must have never read one of Howard's works.

Leo Grin is one of the most respected Robert E. Howard scholars out there. His journal, The Cimmerian, is highly regarded, and twice nominated for the World Fantasy Award. He most certainly has controversial opinions not all Howardists agree with - many Howardists disagree on multiple subjects - but to allege he has never read Howard's work, or that he has misread them, is simply preposterous.

Given your grotesque misreading/misrepresentation of "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," I have to question how on earth you came to such a conclusion - or even if you've read the story at all.

In fairness, the near-rape aspect of "The Frost-Giant's Daughter" is often misunderstood: however, the way he implies that Conan just raged into a peaceful giant's town and slaughtered an innocent girl's family as a counterpoint to Conan's chivalry is actually rather nauseating.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Realism and Mundanity

There's been quite a bit of talk about "adult" and "realistic" fantasy lately.  I vaguely alluded to it in regards to the upcoming Game of Thrones. Fellow adventurers in the great realms beyond man's reckoning have chimed in: Michal "Taran" Wojcik, fellow Cimmerian Brian Murphy, regular Lost Soul Lagomorph Rex.

Another has stepped into the fray, and by Crom, it's a lion who casts a mighty shadow: Leo Grin is discussing Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien again!  Huzzah! While I don't dare hope that this means a greater leap back into Howardom, it's immensely cheering to see him return - especially when he seems to reiterate a lot of points I share.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

When a chap kills his father, and causes a lot of bother...

This is a very unsettling development.

If it does turn out that Marique and Zym's relationship is somewhat more involved than most, then that makes me worry an awful lot. Considering Marique's mother has been cast in the film, I wonder if we'll actually see some sort of play on Sophocles' Electra in the film, where Marique murders her mother to avenge her father, or some such variation. Yeah, the whole "villain engages in incest to make him seem even more depraved" has already been done in Gladiator, Chinatown, mythology and who knows how many other films, but let's go with it.

In concept, I could deal with it. Hell, I love the idea of mythological allusions in a Conan film to complement those in "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The Scarlet Citadel," The Hour of the Dragon and others, and it would show a level of sophistication the film would sorely need. And as we all know, mythology is rife with bizarre family situations. However, this particular myth, in conjunction with the horrible old ideas on Howard the Oedipal, I see bringing nothing but migraines.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Bon Anniversaire, Jules Verne!

183 years ago today, the Breton pioneer of science fiction was born. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From The Earth to the Moon, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Mysterious Island, Around the World in 80 Days: any one of these books are so important to the evolution of science fiction and adventure genres as to cement Verne in the pantheon. Verne wrote them all.

Even beyond the cinq grands, Verne contributed dozens of fascinating science fiction novels that are unlike anything before - or since, for that matter. Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World feature a man who attempts to take over the world using what amounts to a war-dirigible, forming the basis of countless steampunk fantasies.  Not to mention it inspired a film starring Vincent Price.

Where he commanded this magnificent steel monster.

All of science fiction and adventure fiction owes a debt to Jules Verne, and I raise a glass to the man who inspired us all.

Monday 7 February 2011

Fantasy Fans and Science Fiction Fans: Who Are Dumber?

Quite an elucidating article, and some rather hilarious comments. I particularly reccommend reading the comments of Steve Davidson, who offers this as his explanation as to why he openly criticizes fantasy and fantasy fans:

Why diss Fantasy? Honestly? …because it’s increasing dominance on the book shelves is a clear indicator that wish-fulfillment and living in dreamland has won the war over intelligence and reason and every time I see the word I’m reminded of how doomed we are and how increasingly fast the end is coming.

Speaking as a guy who loves his Bester, Asimov, Haldeman, Ellison, Stapledon, Matheson, Ballard, Wyndham, Wells and Verne, I can't laugh heartily enough at such a moronic generalization.  Because, as we all know, science fiction is completely bereft of wish fulfillment and living in dreamlands, and fantasy is similarly free of intelligence and reason.  Apparently.

Here’s an analogy: fantasy is the couch potato watching exercise programs on cable tv. SF is Arnold Schwazenegger pumping iron and turning himself into the terminator.

So SF is all about building up muscles that are purely for show? Great analogy, doofus.  Actually, that's a perfect analogy for certain types of SF fans: puffed up on their own self importance and sense of superiority over that escapist nonsense, much like Arnold's muscular hypertrophy distended his thews into massive dimensions, yet didn't actually make him any stronger for all that.

Weirdly enough, I spend my formative years reading both fantasy and SF.  Then I spent my teen years reading nothing but science fiction, eschewing fantasy entirely.  Now I read both, but tend to read more fantasy.  Does that mean I've gotten dumber with age?  Probably, according to this chap.

Friday 4 February 2011

Good Scot/Bad Scot: Tom Shippey on Robert E. Howard

I'm not sure if he's that Tom Shippey, but since that Tom Shippey is noted to write book reviews for the Wall Street Journal, it's a safe bet he is.

Well... brace yourselves, folks.

Thursday 3 February 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Grand orchestrals.  Viking chorus.  Max Von Sydow.

Yes, gentlemen, I do believe I'm out for the count.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Upcoming remakes that aren't actually remakes so can we stop calling them remakes please

Remake madness is starting to irk me. I'm not speaking of Hollywood's predeliction to stay with established intellectual properties: that's been with us since the dawn of cinema itself. No, I'm speaking of the internet's disfavour reaching somewhat excessive proportions, that remake fever has "gone too far," that Hollywood "holds nothing sacred," and "does nobody have any original ideas any more"?

A quick look at cinematic history would bely why Hollywood really isn't any more or less remake-obsessed than it has been in other periods.  Does anyone call Captain America: The First Avenger a remake of the Reb Brown or Matt Salinger films?  Does anyone call Jane Eyre a remake of the many other film adaptations?  Does anyone call The Hobbit a remake of the Rankin-Bass animation?  No, they do not.  So I would dearly appreciate it if people would take this into account before lumping films which are not remakes into those which are.  Fright Night is a remake.  The Mechanic is a remake.  Footloose is a remake.  Hell, you could even argue Black Swan is a remake of La Blue Girl.  The following are not.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

You're traveling into another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind...

Where boxing is fake, wrestling is real, actors are politicians, and fan bloggers are being interviewed by screenwriters.

I'm becoming a regular Harry Knowles now. I have the beard, hair and glasses, though I'll probably never attain his corpulence since I've been going to the gym. Hopefully that won't affect my chances of finding a gorgeous young Asian wife.

In Praise of Robert E. Howard's Works

Inspired by Deuce's marvellous thread over at the Robert E. Howard forums, collected herein are a bundle of quotes in praise of the Man from Cross Plains from those in the business.

I just thought it would be good to have them all collected in a single post, which I'll update with new additions whenever they come by. If anyone finds any good ones, don't hesitate to put them in the comments, and if you can, put a link to a source.