P – O – V What’s with point of view and fantasy?

So, for the uninitiated, just a quick primer on point of view in writing.
First person – the work is written from the perspective of the narrator.
I closed my eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Second person – the work is written from the reader’s perspective
You closed your eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Third person – the work is written from over the shoulder of the characters
Billy Bob closed his eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Okay, so I’m noticing more and more that epic fantasy is almost always written in third person. There’re some reasons why, I think. It allows for a lot more hopping between perspectives and the evolution of plots that hinge on being able to see events outside the view of the protagonist. I mean, can you imagine what GRR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series would look like from only one character’s view? I mean, which character would you follow? (Though I’d like to suggest a few less characters to follow.)

On the other hand, every urban fantasy I pick up lately is in first person. I often forget exactly who I’m reading or who the protagonist is, since the name hardly ever comes up. I’ll admit, as someone who writes urban fantasy, it makes me a bit nervous, seeing as I write in third person.

Maybe I should branch out. I think I’ll work on my second person high fantasy. Wish me luck.

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Being Trendy

Fads come and go. And then come back again. All the cartoons I watched as a kid are getting remade, though some are coming back as movies instead. Smurfs. Transformers. I saw an add the other day for a new Thundercats. And msnbc reported today that the Care Bears are making a return to TV next year.

The same seems to be true in fantasy. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to work in the publishing industry and have to sift through proposals. All it takes is one successful series and everyone starts writing a similar book. The prominence of Harry Potter brought about a host of imitators… And those are only the ones I saw. Remember the Lemony Snicket books? Every other book after that seemed to have main characters who were orphans.

Twilight and True Blood (based on C. Harris’ Sookie Stsckhouse books – which are really great reads, by the way) brought vampires boiling to the surface. Zombies and zombie mashups had their day in the sun the last couple of years. Even the Center for Disease Control got in on the act with a bit of fun on National Zombie Day.

Angels seemed to be making a flight toward the bestseller
lists, but I have to admit I havent seen much of that lately. I would anticipate we’ll see a big leap in epic fantasy submissions and self-pubications this next year or two, what with the huge success of HBO’s Game of Thrones and the upcoming publication of Dance of Dragons in a few days.

With the turn around time of a couple of years for traditional publishers, it’s really impossible to write to be on the leading edge of the next trend. And yet, people seem to try, forcing their story into a YA package, or stuffing a love story into their horror novel to improve marketability. But is that making the story more appealing to buyers, or ensuring a lack of readers for the next novel after they had to give up on a cobbled together debut novel?

What’s the next big trend in fantasy?
I checked my crystal ball. It said to ask again tomorrow.

Elves – Not Just for Making Cookies

It’s funny how the term ‘elf’ can mean so many different things. Keebler Elves, Santa’s elves, Tolkien’s elves, that ‘Elf‘ movie with Will Ferrell.

Tolkien was the defining example for modern fantasy. His elves were long lived, elegant, and knowledgeable. Pointed ears, aloof attitudes, and proficiency with a bow were common characteristics.

This is in stark contrast with the elves of Norse mythology. The dark elves of Svartalfheim have been described in a couple of ways. One had them as wise practitioners of magic who lived in the dark places of the hillocks, and the term ‘dark elf’ referred more to their place of residence.

The other connotation of dark elf in Norse mythology was of small, lumpy, misshapen creatures who dwelt in the deep places of the earth. In many ways, they sound like the precursors to dwarves. Known for their forging skills, you’d almost think they were the same thing as the dwarves, except they were the sons of Mimir. These were also called the black elves, as they were described in early poems as being black as pitch. They were also known for their foul attitudes and penchant for playing tricks on humanity. (Kind of odd for underground dwellers to become that dark, unless it’s just layers of grime. Perhaps they all just needed a good, long bubble bath. That and a few candles, maybe they wouldn’t be so grumpy.)

Then there were the light elves. No, not light on calories or saturated fat – though I guess you never know until you try… Anyway, they broke away from their shady cousins long before the ancient poems were written about the Norse gods, and dwelt in a separate realm entirely, Alfheim – one of the Norse Nine Worlds.

The light elves are interesting in that they were almost minor deities. People would pray to them for healing. And they were broken into categories, such as mountain elves, forest elves, water nymphs, etc.

For the most part, thought, the Norse mythology is mostly silent on the matter of the elves. They’re mentioned, and then play no real role in the few stories that have survived from the time Norse mythology was at its peak.

Roman culture associated elves more along the line with faeries, as small mythical beings who resided near springs, or under rocks, and in the hills.

The Anglo-Saxons of England viewed elves as beautiful, though mischievous, beings. Sharp pains of the body were considered being elf-shot, where the elf had fired a small metaphysical arrow at the person. Likewise, elf-stroke was where a person experienced a sudden paralysis. Elf-locks were tangles of the hair.

Elves make an appearance in Shakespeare’s ‘A MidSummer Night’s Dream‘, shown as a type of nature being, again akin to a fairy. Numerous tales abound in England around that time of elves, mostly in a negative light, where they intended to commit murder and rape. (Hey kids, have I got a story for you!)

The mythology of Santa’s elves started in the 1870s. It began with a work of fiction, a story that depicted toys being made by elves. The idea took off, and we’ve had Santa’s elves ever since. Before that, in 1823, Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas‘ described Santa as a jolly, old elf. You would know the poem as it is called today, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas‘.

And, of course, as I mentioned before, then came Tolkien. He reset the stage with his version of the elfin race, which has become a pattern ever since that fantasy writers have followed and fantasy readers expect to see.

Personally, the Keebler Elves are my favorites. Man, can those nature sprites bake!

Dragons and Treasure

We all have a traditional image of dragons in our heads, fostered by countless cartoons, children’s books, movies, and fables.  The dragon:  monstrously large, scaled, with wings, fangs, and an ability to breathe fire.  And, they sleep on a pile of golden treasure.  For me, that iconic image comes from The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins, cloaked by the One Ring, enters the lair of Smaug.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion:  dragons treat golden spoils as if they were a Posturpedic bed.

Kinda begs the question – what do they use as a blanket then?

Or toilet paper?  Yipes.

Two adventurers slay the dread dragon and begin sifting through the loot.

Adventurer 1:  Wow, look at this chalice!

Adventurer 2:  Amazing!  But, um… does gold usually look rusted?  (Holds nose.)  And smell that bad?

But, I digress.

So, let’s imagine, if you will, dragons in today’s culture.  What’s a dragon going to sleep on in the present?  I mean, gold’s not the easiest to come by, and it’s pretty heavy for the volume it occupies.  It wouldn’t take much to come crashing through the floor of an upper level apartment.  What’s a modern day dragon to use instead?  Dollar bills?  Have you ever smelled a wad of used cash?  That greasy sour smell can’t be easy on the nostrils, especially when those same nares have a tendency to blow fireballs when sneezing.  The danger of fire is also there for stock certificates and bonds.

Well, paper is definitely out.

Maybe coins would be the answer.  The more well to do dragons could sleep on gold double eagle dollars.  Down trodden dragons might have to resort to pennies.  Though that might be hard to explain to the odd princess who’s abducted for a visit.

Gnomes

I figure gnomes are a good places to start.  You know, a small subject.

Okay, I’ll admit, that was a bad pun.  It was the gnome’s idea.

Reading through contemporary fantasy – or urban fantasy, whichever you prefer to call the genre – a lot of monsters of myth and / or legend are being pulled into the light of the modern era.  Vampires and werewolves seem to be garnering the lion’s share of the attention.  I suppose this is because both of these supernatural creatures look like a normal human 95% of the time.  I would imagine that it’s easier to believe that the guy in the car next to you howls at the moon once a month, than that a two foot tall man is living in your flower bed.

So, what do gnomes even look like?  The few books I’ve read that feature gnomes all, predictably, describe them as short.  But that’s where the similarities end, I find.  One particular series I read long ago had gnomes play a prominent part.  They were like diminutive warriors, set to fight tooth and nails, wielding… well… nails as weapons.  They were described as small, fierce, and bright yellow.  Now, I don’t know about others out there, but when I think of someone as being yellow in color, the first thing that pops into my mind is jaundice.  You know, jaundice – when bilirubin builds up in your system because your liver can’t process it for excretion anymore.  It happens in liver failure.  It’s a little freaky when you see it; it starts with the white part of the eyes turning yellow.

Anyway, the way that one series described gnomes, they were all rather cranky, jaundiced, and short.

The other way I’ve seen gnomes portrayed the most lately is through commercials.  Garden gnomes seem to be making a resurgence.  Everywhere I go these days, I see another garden gnome.  Bright, cheery, with a hat that must have been starched six ways to Sunday to get it to stick upright like that.  Either that, or gnomes are the original coneheads, I’m not sure.

Anyway, garden gnomes.  They’re everywhere, and they seem to be associated with traveling.  One is the spokesman for a travel booking website.  Others have been kidnapped from their gardens to be whisked around the globe on adventures by college students, who then take pictures of their hostages at various locations, only to return the gnome later with their own scrapbook.  You don’t see people trying this with vampires!

For a gnome to work in a typical urban fantasy book, I can see them either living out their lives in a hidden community, or – in this day and age – working in the technology industry.  Companies aren’t outsourcing tech calls to India, they’re outsourcing them to gnomes.  Or, they’re behind the scenes, making sure everything is running smoothly.  Internet down in your area?  The gnomes are working on it.

Or maybe, just maybe, the gnomes interbred with regular humans long ago.  They still exist, they’re just all six feet tall.

How would you envision gnomes fitting in to modern society?