Traits of the Hero

There is something fascinating and truly compelling about the concept, however archaic and idealised, of The Hero. The Hero exemplifies all of the noble characteristics; discipline, virtue, prudence, wisdom,  courage, physical and mental fortitude, emotional resilience, patience, temperance, and an utterly indefatigable and incorruptible spirit. These heroic traits represent an all-consuming dedication, a peerless commitment to a higher ideal or goal, and a sublimation and subjugation of the individual’s wants and needs in service of something more than themselves.

One can find so many worthy and admirable traits in the brief list above, but I’ve often contemplated why these tenets of The Hero are so universally applauded, and yet appear only reticently or inadvertently embraced in much of the recent fiction I’ve read or heard about. Are there any true heroes left in fantasy, I wonder?

Those antiquated, anachronistic bastions of pure goodness and selfless heroism had something; a fundamental something perhaps that in our incessant hyper-critical and morally ambiguous cynicism we’ve lost, or resiled as the stuff of childish longing and fanciful imaginations. Yet everywhere reality confirms that it still exists, even if not in the same individuals consistently throughout a lifetime.

The front line of military service can be seen as exemplars, where brotherhood, camaraderie and commitment to their honour group drives them – the brother on your left and right is what you’re fighting for. The firefighter who dives headlong into an inferno, the police officer who goes above and beyond to extract a child from the grip of a violent and abusive parent, the ambulance personnel who weather assaults verbal and physical to provide critical care even to the undeserving – why are such grand testaments to human courage, duty, and discipline seen as something worthy of derision, or to be undermined by self-serving, hypocritical and predatory protagonists of our fiction?

Grey morality in the real world facilitates and propagates much that is unpleasant and unfortunate. What is good for the individual’s hedonistic impulses is not necessarily good for the civilisation, or for any bondmate, kin, or comrade to said individual.

Grey ‘heroes’ sometimes do the right thing because it suits them or is ultimately to their own benefit; true heroes do the right thing because they want to make the world a better place. And if such optimism is naive, misplaced, or a frivolous effort, what does the grey heroes’ world look like by comparison? What does a world, a future, bereft of hope, really look like?

With that in mind, the sequel to Anaimon: The Starfall, progresses rapidly.

A Man’s Legacy

A man I will never meet, once wrote in a book that does not exist.

“Every Rooster gotta die someday. What’s important some ain’t so much how he died, as why he lived. And that’s where his measure counts, mind, Gods or no. It’s what a Man left behind; what parts of himself he cut away in the long spans, and what he managed to keep, through and true, while marking his time. Every Rooster gotta die someday, and only his sons will remember why”.

The contemplation of a man’s legacy, what he leaves behind, when all else is cast aside, gives me pause for considerable introspection. I ruminate thus upon the lives and actions of characters like Wandering Star, Braiding Spectre; even Little Fire for all the precocious verbosity of his youth, and I marvel at the dichotomy between erudition and enigma that each displays, almost as if by another hand than my own.

What can a warrior hold to when all his wars have ended? In times of peace, is the warrior merely biding time for another conflict, emitting a secret breath of relief while all others regret the suffering and cost? The paradox of death being the only life he knows.

What does a scholar hold to when the very institutions that gave him his insight and wisdom are corrupted, dilapidated, and expunged from his world? Are the lessons he learned as important when the edifice of their very transmission has ceased? The paradox of memory being the sole key to his future.

What can a soldier, a family man, hold to when the cornerstone of his entire reason for fighting is gone? Does he lament the time lost, or cherish memories of the time he once had? The paradox of fighting against the one thing he cannot prevent.

Levity, Grit, and the Grey Man

Unseemly, dishonourable, villainous, immoral, vile, hateful, destructive; all manner of epithets and appellations pursuant to the ruination of one’s moral character in the pursuit of some warped destiny. Whichever form the abrogation of the common tenets of civilised man might take, it yet holds some macabre appeal; a morbid fascination with the excesses of human action, an often violent contrast against a perceived set of normal behaviours – a violation, deliberate, of the social contract and parameters therein necessary to ensure survival of the species. Harmonious living isn’t exactly the desired end-state for most villains.

Then come the justifications. Conflict is costly, but a necessity for change and growth. One must die, that the group may yet endure. Selfish, opportunistic gain at the expense of those who support you will likely not be allowed to occur a second time, so seize with daring all that you may. There is a price, and blood will call when shed. Overt truisms in many circumstances, but I marvel and wonder at the darker predilections of humanity, and why they make for such fascinating reading.

Oddly enough though, some of the most amoral and self-serving characters in Fantasy literature come across less as blooded, fell-handed conquerors and more as petulant, egocentric children in my reading of late.  The ragged scoundrel and the dust-knuckled drifter, even the proverbial grey-man at least are permitted have a genuine laugh or two along the road to damnation, a shared sense of gallows’ mirth in the face of their timely appointment with the reaper, and perhaps even find themselves a shred of redemption.

The wholly iniquitous can prove engaging (though rarely endearing) as characters, but many fail to find much appeal with me, particularly those who are not bereft of an underlying catalyst or tempered, tragic promissory note that excuses  much of the character’s flaws and abjuration of decency or honour. An emptiness in a villain’s motives can be both poor writing and oversight, or a thoroughly stimulating enigma to unravel  – in some circumstances,  the villain is so alien and utterly devoid of an appreciable perspective the reader can understand or relate to – in a sense, wholly evil, or Total Evil Personified. These magnificent, towering chasms of suffering and decay tend to be so ethereal and unconquerable in scale as to truly make any hero’s journey to extinguish such a force of destruction and despair truly epic.

What of those lesser ‘villains’? The hero undone by his own best intentions, cracked, and bitter? A broken hero, a failed hero, still has charm and appeal for my part. I turn thus to the unscrupulous and ambitious upstart, who might have been a force for good but for some harrowing personal tragedy that skewed their worldview and lead them to serve themselves, ignorant, apathetic, or scornful of any heroic code or honour, in place sacrificing at the altar of self-aggrandisement.

I appreciate the nuance and deftness of characterisation required for the grey man, as a staid template of a villain can easily plummet into an ignominious appraisal as cartoonish, lazy, or uninspiring, robbing the tale of essential conflict. The multi-faceted, extremely ‘grey’ villain or anti-hero who has been broken too many times, however, seems conditionally more vulnerable to their resilience being bested and destroyed utterly, than being merely malleable under extreme duress. A more nuanced, more complicated and detailed portrayal to be certain, yet it feels a chore in excess – and one that is, ultimately, forgivable, or a guilty pleasure for many readers because deep down they acknowledge the tragedies and injustices inflicted upon said protagonist that propagated and engendered a far harsher, realistic, or cynical view of the world where one’s selfishness is the only guarantee for a climactic synergy of destiny and free-will.

So at what point does the broken hero instead become an insipid little goon far too clever for his/her own good? I’ve grown to find this element in some Fantasy, particularly Grimdark, remarkably tedious, especially when much-lauded  works are more a character study than anything else; narrative and world-building eschewed to favour introspection, brooding, and the indulgent, gloating propaganda of the protagonist. Utilising elements of this Grimdark ‘grey man’ morality mandates a requisite, self-designated verisimilitude for my part, and also confounds and frays the enjoyment I might otherwise have derived from reading works that feature such characters.

Thus, a strong character study-as-narrative piece should be riveting, but where does that leave me when I find the character wholly unsympathetic, possessed of an overweening pride, and singularly dismissive of the multiple , deeply damaging traumas encountered and endured but for the commendable way such hardships have given rise to an arse-kicker of epic proportions? It feels… unbalanced.

So I think, in the end, I’d rather have a sardonic chuckle or two, and begrudgingly be along on my way with scalliwags and cut-throats who, after it all ends, are just bad men trying to do good things.

The Call to Adventure

In the Anaimon saga, more than one character experiences the proverbial ‘call to adventure’. Indeed, The Starfall itself begins with a call to adventure driven as much by circumstance and necessity as by an awareness of the changing self. In life, we can often remain blind toward or dismissive of such opportunities when they materialise, conspicuous and vivid, only to be shunted aside or rejected as an inconvenience, an extraneous risk, or an otherwise odious and unwelcome intrusion into the comfort and stability routine otherwise accords.

How each of the characters in The Starfall respond to their respective ‘calls’ is something I’d not analysed previously, despite a near-infinite tally of reads and re-reads. Cognitive dissonance and confronting the uncertainty of the future plays a key role for each of the main characters, as does the unique perspective and personal history each brings to their respective decision. That all embrace the call in some manner is indicative of both the fundamental need to progress (and the demands of the narrative itself), to establish something beyond what they currently have and know, and a willingness to embrace adversity; a drive to attempt a most daunting and perhaps impossible task. What then propels them, truly, into responding to the opportunity, the call? And in reality, what propels us to undertake or reject the same call? I wonder whether many of us often realise such opportunities and calls to adventure in our own lives when the veil of day-to-day life is permitted to lapse even briefly, or the corners of the canvas peel back but a little, and what lay beneath is stark and bare, enticing and horrifying simultaneously.

Necessity, fear, obligation, desire… each of these plays a small part in the heart of every adventurer, but I believe the truly unifying particle is that of hope, and and the search for an edifying personal truth. In considering this, I reflected upon the strange skews and twists of fate in my own life, noting those forks and branches of the unwritten path beneath me and where and why I’ve either locked-step and stayed the course that seemed true, or wandered and roamed farther than intended. And when one returns to what they presumed to be their path, that comforting resonance is replaced with greater awareness of the self, and a certain lens of criticality; the analytical prism for reflection and introspection both.

Thus my musings return to my beloved characters, and I try to imagine my own decisions and justifications were I in their respective circumstances, facing such momentous decisions. The Memory-Echo utilised by The Orders and their adherents in the Anaimon saga is a key aspect of this introspection and rumination; for it provides a resolute clarity and capacity for far greater self-analysis than the real world currently permits. All memories fade and dim with the passing of time, but for our heroes, those proficient in the utilisation and engagement of their various cognitive memory schema and Memory-Echo cycling, are able to almost re-live all of their formative, profound, and traumatic experiences of their lives. How this shapes them as characters, and informs their decisions as they undertake their great journey to restore their world, remains a thoroughly compelling and stimulating idea as I continue to craft and shape the Saga of Anaimon.

The call to adventure, at least in light of this brief contemplation, remains both a blessing and a curse, subjective as with so many other things in life. A call unanswered can be disaster averted, or compounded regret. A call responded to and eagerly undertaken can equally lead to misfortune and self-reproach, or can take one so far from who they were and how they viewed their world, that the person they were no longer exists, and is utterly subsumed by the new person that grows within, shedding external layers until they finally emerge, resplendent, terrifying, and disconnected from all that they once held as their personal truth.

If you recognised the call to adventure, the opportunity and nothing beyond it other than to leap into the obscure or to draw back from the threshold, what would you do?

Epic Pooh – a thought

Michael Moorcock wrote a fairly critical appraisal of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in 1978, one both dismissive and elitist in the way it condemned what Moorcock perceived as childish and pedestrian-minded content. Having read LOTR several times over the years, and Moorcock’s churlish reproach of the work, I noted one inconsistency that rather struck me.

Moorcock early on in the piece notes that Evil is not explicitly, and expresses his ambiguous approach to the sentimentality and rustic yearnings others find LOTR to inspire and engender, his rationale:

“This county, like many others, has seemingly limitless landscapes of great beauty and variety, unspoiled by excessive tourism or the uglier forms of industry.Elsewhere big cities have certainly destroyed the surrounding countryside”.

To my mind, the bucolic romanticism Tolkien captures, particularly in the Hobbits, as well as the sense of devastation and reprehensible ruin of the natural environment that occurs in Isengard to fuel Saruman’s war, and again later in The Shire, certainly stand as prominent examples of what constitutes ‘Evil’ in LOTR.

Moorcock also notes the sluggish and insular perspective of such simple country-folks as the Hobbits, noting:

“I think it is simple neophobia which makes people hate the modern world and its changing 
society; it is xenophobia which makes them unable to imagine what rural beauty might lie
beyond the boundaries of their particular Shire”. I think this is too swift and caustic a dismissal; after all, I think it both admirable and healthy for anyone to love their home, to be attached, and to want to preserve what makes it special. At the same time I can recall the sense of grandeur and wonder, very much a positive awe, that ensconced our humble hobbits when they came across such magnificent sights of Middle-Earth as Lothlorien; the Pillars of the Argonath along the Anduin; the glimmering radiance of the White Tower; the rough, rolling hills and grasslands of the Riddermark… hardly xenophobic or insular, and more akin to the same sense of joy and novelty one finds among any traveller, adventurer, or tourist.

It is only in the darkest hours and the most war-ravaged and desolate of lands, chief amongst those of The Enemy, that the protagonists can truly appreciate what is good and wholesome back home, and also reflect on the diverse beauty of other sights encountered in their journey; those lands not yet touched by the rapacious, malevolent forces of Sauron. There can be a morbid and sombre beauty to a scorched earth landscape, such as Ered Gorgoroth or the Emyn Muil, yet the heroes of LOTR find it not and never comment as such, which leads me to believe that the bucolic sentimentality exhibited by the Hobbits is neither something to deride or remark of with derisive scorn and conceit; nor do they strike me as wilfully ignorant of all the marvels and heart-stopping landscapes they wander through. Their love for the natural environment and magnificent constructs wrought by the hand of man seem equal, only desolation and waste draw their ire or fuel their sense of despair, so Moorcock’s criticism at least in this regard seems churlish and unwarranted.

 

Literary criticism has a place, as does the analytical and critical appraisal and deconstruction of cherished stalwarts or genre juggernauts. For my part, such activity holds little appeal, and I would prefer the simple contentment of the Hobbit; musing wistfully on his little backyard garden, or putting his feet up with a good book in front of the hearth, than to indulge and ply in the acerbic trade of the condemnation of such an endearing and enduring creation as The Lord of the Rings. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll even have an adventure or two.

The Appeal of Fantasy Literature

Elsewhere on the web I mused with a wonderfully engaging community of Fantasy genre aficionados, and the question was proposed as to the appeal of Fantasy, and why it eclipsed all other genres in enjoyment for everyone.

To begin, I postulate that no other genre can prove so uniquely engaging and rewarding. Rich, grandiose characters traversing millennia-spanning narratives of such monolithic scope as to subjugate one’s attention for hours on end and inspire and tantalise the imagination in the most profound and provocative of ways – no other genre does this for me. As a student of history I like seeing the echoes of ages long since past, resurgent atavism, myth-cycles and chiastic structures – and fantasy has all of these in spades. Good fantasy, that which is most compelling and connects on a very deep level, often reveals insights into the nature of the human condition and plays to those universal qualities which we can often gloss over in day to life; a good fantasy book cuts to the heart of the duality of sentient existence, the Apollonine and the Dionysiac, and that most wondrous and at times volatile cornerstone of humanity – our emotions.

On a deeper level we all enjoy stories and learning to varying degrees, didactic, aetiological, or otherwise – and fantasy as a genre has by far the most commanding blend of such critical elements of our own humanity and reflections and delineations thereof as to warrant and engender enjoyment and immersion both. The freedom of the genre too, I think, lends itself to marvels and miracles that nonetheless feel more acceptable and believable in such a setting – consistency. Fiction yes, but in an appropriate context, we can harness the grandeur, fancy, and colour of dreams, and make of them a self-contained reality. It’s not about escapism for me, it’s about enhancing the world I live in, enriching one’s self with knowledge of virtue and vice, or grand struggles and humble origins, of fate and destiny and everything betwixt and between.

Sagas, epics, fables. Fantasy does these so incredibly well that it feels simply a continuation of the ancient, fundamental digressions and campfire musings beneath a starlit sky our ancestors have enjoyed for aeons. The same can be said of any fictional story and genre broadly, but for me Fantasy captures the heart of such story-telling better than any other genre.

The freedom then in such expressions is twofold; in actually composing a work of near-limitless boundaries and sculpting the rules and internal consistency of a world wholly and solely born of one’s own imagination. I’ve read elsewhere that many authors actually find this to be the most daunting stage of crafting a Fantasy work – how big is too big? How fantastic and otherworldly can the elements within actually be? Intriguing questions to consider. The inverse naturally is the joy and inspiration that comes with a blank canvas – for some, it starts as a small, fleeting idea, and all too soon the canvas is an insufficient space for the delineation of the perpetually growing idea.

There are, of course, many appeals in Fantasy literature. Some appreciate the escapism, others enjoy the pathos and rumination of fallen heroes and epic quests for redemption, others the call to adventure, the sense of profound destiny and the machinations of fate. I try to read widely, particularly with non-fiction (history and autobiographies), but I’ve dabbled in crime lit, sci-fi, even one or two romance novels but outside of historical inquiry and Classics, no other genre quite engages me as Fantasy does.

Juggling is a remarkable skill

As a writer (if it’s permissible for me to identify as such yet), I’ve heard of the dreaded writer’s block. And perverse as it may sound, I cannot fathom it. My problem is the inverse; far too many ideas and options and avenues to explore and extrapolate into voluminous narratives that it can be a tad overwhelming at times.

Hence, my fascination with juggling. Balancing the various endeavours of one’s life to facilitate the optimal circumstances for writing one work is difficult enough; so it’s acutely bizarre to face the daunting prospect of multiple volumes across multiple series.

I would, however, encourage any budding writer to pursue their imagination relentlessly; invest in it, cultivate it, let it roam and wander through the early hours and the dusk thereafter. Having several ‘options’ isn’t a matter of hedging bets, more that relishing a passionate, cherished hobby and having commensurate good fortune and creative stimulation to craft several diverse worlds compel me to play in several sandboxes.

Constantine remarks that ‘God is a kid with an ant farm’. I would ratify that sentiment with regard to my own works – there are so many wondrously engaging things to explore with fiction, and it’s important to seek challenges to help growth and progression of your talents and style.

To that end, I’ve been working outside my usual genre and style pursuing a considerably valuable opportunity that will stand external to my Anaimon series. With Gods propitiated for their benevolence, I hope I am successful, though if I fall short, I am thoroughly grateful for having had the opportunity at all to stretch my creative inclinations beyond the trappings and comforts I am accustomed to.

Anaimon is also listed on Goodreads now with a few reviews, though I would politely  request your own respective appraisals and feedback. I enjoy the hell out of my book, but it’s always nice to know how others have received my humble efforts.

The New Year ahead

I inadvertently overlooked a post regarding the upload of the maps for the major continents of Renth, Heddenlach, Maetocra, and Tahnmoor. So, profuse apologies, they are now available via the top navigation menu.

The sequel to Anaimon: The Starfall is coming along nicely, with organic propagation and some intriguing twists that I had not anticipated. Creative extrapolations seem fuelled as much by happenstance as by the ephemeral, sub-conscious exhortations that inspire me. In essence then, good news for everyone reading The Starfall (and for those disconcertingly alacritous readers who’ve already consumed it!).

I’ve been tied up with the holiday season (as most people were/are still for the lucky ones) but I anticipate having some of the character fan art available in the coming weeks, along with some more detailed regional maps of the world of Anaimon.

Hope everyone had a scintillating and resplendent holiday season, and is ready to shed the trappings of the past and engage all of the grandeur and marvels that new opportunities can yield.

As a final aside, my amazing wife and adorable children indulged me for Yuletide – one of a kind, sumptuous, grandiloquent, and pride of place in the ever-expanding personal library.

Anaimon: The Starfall is now available!

After an extensive wait, the first exciting entry in the fantasy saga series of Anaimon is available and ready for purchase!

Make sure you grab a copy, and keep an eye on the blog for some promotions I’ll be running over the next few months – freebies, giveaways, and competitions along with the addition of maps, fan-art, and other extras.

Anaimon: The Starfall can be purchased from the following outlets, with more to come.

Happy reading!

Booktopia

The Book Depository

Angus & Robertson

QBD Books

Horizon Publishing Group