George R. R. Martin’s legions of fans should be happy to know that the pilot episode to A Game of Thrones, a television series based on book one in his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is set to begin filming this October for HBO. You can rest assured that this isn’t some nasty rumor: George has announced it himself over on his blog. Filming will take place in Northern Ireland. He also provides links to the original article that broke the news and where filming will take place. Of course this is just the pilot episode, so cross your fingers that it comes out well so the brass at HBO are happy enough to make this a full-fledged series, thus allowing us to geek out to thirteen episodes a year for seven years (the plan being one season devoted to each book in the series). Like all of George’s fans I’m anxious for a release date to A Dance with Dragons, the next book in his series, but this is one hell of an appetizer.
Back in December I blogged about the David Gemmell Legend Award. I wanted to follow up on this and mention that the first finalists for the award have been announced:
Congratulations to all of the authors, especially Brandon Sanderson, whose work has appeared on Tor.com. To provide a quick refresher, this award was created in honor of departed author, David Gemmell, one of the true modern masters of heroic fantasy. Legend was his first published novel, and it remains in print twenty-five years later. I blogged about this book a bit in the original Gemmell post, and I’ll reiterate it is one of my favorite novels in the vein of sword & sorcery/heroic fantasy. The intent of the award is honor someone whose work is in the spirit of Gemmell’s.
The winner will be announced on June 19th. As has been the case from the beginning, voting is open to the public. You can cast your here.
Lots of us read across the board when it comes to speculative fiction. Others are pickier. There are those who say they “only read fantasy” or “only read science fiction” or “only read horror.” I could argue with those of you falling into these categories, telling you how you should expand your speculative horizons, how you’re missing out on some great stories, and so on. But I’m not going there—too big and unwieldy of a debate would ensue. Instead, I’m going to try to get some of you “I only read fantasy” readers to stick your proverbial toe into those science fiction waters of wonder. In particular, I’m talking to you lovers of secondary fantasy worlds. I know, I know. You prefer dragons to rockets, magic to science, and someone wielding a sword is way cooler than someone firing a laser gun. I get that, I do. While I’ve enjoyed plenty of science fiction, I feel the same way. So trust me when I say that if there was ever a science fiction novel for you, the secondary world fantasy fan set in his/her ways, Dune is it.
Allow me to return to a topic I can’t seem to milk enough: the creations of Robert E. Howard. This time around I’d like to discuss Red Sonja/Red Sonya.
Let’s start with Red Sonja, clearly the more popular of the two Reds. Many fans of speculative literature and comics will have heard of her. Red Sonja is probably the most famous “chick in chain mail.” Originally created as a foil to Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, she is the flame-haired she-devil with a sword, one of the most feared and desired warrior-women of the Hyborian Age, who will lie with no man unless he first defeats her in fair combat.
This Red Sonja—who was the premiere archetype for the scantily clad, beautiful but deadly swordswoman; who has appeared in comics, B&W illustrated magazines, novels, her own movie, and other assorted venues; who seems like a logical female addition beside Howard’s other sword & sorcery creations of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn—was not created by Robert E. Howard.
So I’ve blogged a number of times Robert E. Howard and I’ve blogged about Clark Ashton Smith. It took a little while, but it’s time to complete the trifecta of the Big Three of the golden age of Weird Tales by blogging about H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike Howard & Smith, Lovecraft is remembered more as a horror writer than a fantasy writer, and rightly so. He influenced an entire generation horror writers, including some of the best and most popular names you can think of. The stories falling into his Cthulhu Mythos (or Lovecraft Mythos, as some call it) represent many of his most lasting creations. In a nutshell, the Cthulhu Mythos revolves around the Great Old Ones, an assortment of ancient and powerful deities from outer space who ruled Earth long ago. Lovecraft liked to take this idea and present the premise that humankind’s world and our role in it are but illusions, that we cannot possibly comprehend the eldritch and cosmic horrors that lurk on the planet Earth and beyond. Calling these tales the Cthulhu Mythos refers to one of Lovecraft’s more popular tales about one the Great Old Ones, in his story “The Call of Cthulu.”
But I’m supposed to be one of the fantasy guys here at Tor.com, so I feel it’s my duty to point out that when he felt like it, Lovecraft could also write a rollicking good fantasy tale, the sort you might expect from either Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith. As an example, I’ll point you to “The Doom That Came to Sarnath.” Lovecraft’s writings have always been very hit or miss with me. The first time I read him, had it been one of those “miss” stories, it might have been a long time before I tried reading Lovecraft again. Fortunately, the first story I read happened to be “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” which hit me right in the literary sweet tooth.
Lately I’ve been blogging a lot about the sword & sorcery creations of Robert E. Howard. I thought I’d shift gears just a bit by discussing the fantasy of one of Howard’s contemporaries, Clark Ashton Smith. During the golden age of the magazine Weird Tales, which spanned from the late 1920s through the late 1930s, three regular contributors to the magazine proved to be its most popular authors: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.
While Smith’s works haven’t been lost to the ages, they have failed to achieve the same followings as those of Howard & Lovecraft. Howard gave us an icon in the form of Conan, and the fascination with this character has in turn led to a great deal of interest with all his works. And let’s not forget he is also the acknowledged godfather of modern sword & sorcery. H.P. Lovecraft also made his contribution to modern pop culture with his Cthulhu tales, and he has influenced an entire generation of horror writers, including authors such as Stephen King & Clive Barker. Recent years have also seen his work transcending the genre shelves and creeping into accepted Western literature.
I thought I’d wrap up my recent mini-series about Robert E. Howard’s recurring sword & sorcery heroes by discussing the least renowned of the bunch, Bran Mak Morn. Like Conan & Kull, Bran Mak Morn is a barbarian king. But unlike these other two, Bran is not the usurping king of the most civilized nation in the world. Instead, he is the king of his own people, the savage remnants of the once proud Picts.
Like Howard’s other sword & sorcery heroes, Bran Mak Morn made his first appearance the magazine Weird Tales, in the November 1930 issue, with the story “Kings of the Night.” As it happens, this tale also features an appearance by King Kull, and would mark the sole crossover tale among any of Howard’s primary S&S heroes. In total, Bran Mak Morn would appear in two stories during Howard’s lifetime. If you include “The Dark Man” and “The Children of the Night”—a pair posthumous tales either about or concerning Bran Mak Morn some years after Bran’s death—that brings the total to four. If you’ve read my other articles on Howard’s creations, it should come as no surprise that in the decades following Howard’s suicide, a host of unpublished materials about Bran found their way into print.
The character of Solomon Kane is another one of Robert E. Howard’s seminal sword & sorcery creations. Unlike Conan and Kull—two of Howard’s creations I’ve discussed in recent posts—Solomon Kane is neither barbarian nor king. Instead, he’s a Puritan adventurer traveling through Europe and Africa during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Armed with his sword and pistols, he battles wickedness in the name of God wherever he encounters it. Sometimes this means fighting common brigands and pirates, and other times it means pitting his wits and brawn against black sorcery. He is a bit like Marvel’s Punisher, in that whenever possible Kane deals out death to those he considers evil. The main difference between them in terms of psychology is that Kane believes he’s doing God’s work. Kane always strives to do good as he sees fit. The wonderful twist to this avenging angel of goodness is that Howard makes it abundantly clear that Solomon Kane is a functioning madman.
Blogging the past few days about Robert E. Howard & David Gemmell has gotten the old sword & sorcery juices flowing, so I thought I’d post about another one of Robert E. Howard’s S&S creations, Kull of Atlantis. There are a lot of links between Kull and Howard’s more famous creation of Conan. Both of them made their original appearances in Weird Tales; Like Conan, Kull has subsequently appeared in a number of other mediums, such as movies, comics, B&W illustrated magazines, and figurines; and both of them are also barbarians with adventurous backgrounds. In Kull’s case, he was a slave, pirate, outlaw, and gladiator before he followed the path of Conan and became the general of the most powerful nation in the world (in Kull’s timeline this would be Valusia). And like Conan, Kull eventually led the revolution that allowed him to ascend to the throne. But without question, the most important connection between these two characters is that without Kull of Atlantis there never would’ve been the icon known as Conan the Barbarian.
The character of Kull preceded Conan in print by slightly over three years. Kull first appeared in the August 1929 issue of Weird Tales, in the story “The Shadow Kingdom.” There would only be one other Kull story published in Howard’s lifetime, “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune,” which appeared in the September 1929 issue of the same magazine. Kull did appear in another story before Howard committed suicide, called “Kings of the Night,” but this story is actually about another of Howard’s primitive heroes, Bran Mak Morn, the last Pictish king—Kull’s role is secondary in this crossover tale. There was also a poem about Kull called “The King and the Oak” that Weird Tales published about 3 years after Howard committed suicide. Other than these 4 pieces, none of Howard’s works involving Kull would be published until many years after his death.
To those unaware, a new award for fantasy literature has been created, the David Gemmell Legend Award. The award is named in honor of deceased author David Gemmell’s first published novel, Legend. The award is meant to be given to a written work that is in the spirit of David Gemmell’s work.
Personally, I couldn’t be happier that this award has been created. Before his untimely death in 2006, David Gemmell was one of the modern masters of heroic fantasy. Legend, his most famous novel, ranks as one of my favorite fantasy tales ever. Gemmell was a rather prolific author, producing over 30 novels in a little over 20 years. Gemmell was a British author, and while he regularly cracked the London Bestseller lists, it took over a decade before his works were widely published in the States by Del Rey, allowing American audiences to become familiar with him.
Most authors would love to create an iconic character. And why not? It’s one of the ultimate literary achievements, to create a character that lasts through the ages, whose name is instantly recognized among mass culture. Speculative books, comics, movies, etc. have certainly contributed a number of such characters over the years. To name a few: Dracula, Frankenstein, Tarzan, Superman, Batman, the Joker, Spider-Man (I’ll leave it to the comic experts to debate what other comic characters qualify as truly iconic), Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and of course, the subject of this post, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.
The character of Conan made his first appearance back in the December 1932 issue of the magazine Weird Tales. Conan would prove to be wildly popular, and along with fellow Weird Tales authors H.P. Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith, Howard would go on to become one of the magazine’s Big Three during the golden age of pulp fiction. Howard sold quite a number of stories to Weird Tales and other venues before he committed suicide in 1936, but Conan was his most enduring creation. During Howard’s lifetime he sold 17 Conan stories to Weird Tales (“Red Nails,” the final Conan story to appear in Weird Tales, was published posthumously). In the ensuing years, a number of his unpublished Conan stories found their way to print, and several authors—most notably L. Sprague de Camp—completed Howard’s unfinished tales and brought those to print.
Since then, Robert E. Howard has come to mean to sword & sorcery what J.R.R. Tolkien means to epic fantasy. As to Conan, he has appeared in just about every medium you can imagine: books, comics, B&W illustrated magazines, comic strips, movies, live-action TV, cartoons,video games, RPGs, figurines …you name it. Somewhere along the way, Conan transcended into the realm of icon among the public consciousness. The character is still going strong today, all thanks to some 17 stories published in the space of 4 years.
In my very first post on Tor.com, someone in the comments thread asked what science fantasy is. So I thought I’d provide an example with one of the more popular and acclaimed science fantasy novels ever written, this being Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg.
Lord Valentine’s Castle is the first in a series of books taking place on the vast planet of Majipoor. Actually, vast doesn’t begin to describe it. Majipoor is about ten times the size of Earth, with cities often housing as many as 10-20 billion citizens. A small town can contain hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.
At the beginning of the first book, we meet the character of Valentine, a wandering soul whose memories beyond the past few weeks are little more than a gray haze. At the same time, the world of Majipoor is celebrating the ascension of a new Coronal, the supreme ruler of the world. As is tradition, the new Coronal is touring the continents of Majipoor in the Grand Processional, which can often take several years because of the planet’s size. The new Coronal also happens to be named Valentine, though it’s a very common name.
I recently read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’d heard enormous buzz about this book for months prior to its release, and following that release the buzz seemed to increase a hundredfold. Since epic fantasy (done right) is my favorite form of speculative literature, it goes without saying I was rather curious about this one. But I also went in keeping my expectations in check, because I tend to hold the epics to a higher standard. I’ll admit that these days it’s rare for an epic fantasy to meet my expectations. It’s even rarer when those expectations are exceeded.
That The Name of the Wind blew me away and it is also the author’s debut novel is an absolute testament to Mr. Rothfuss and his skills. This is one of the best debuts I’ve read in a very long time, and with this one book I’m more than willing to admit (quite happily at that) that Rothfuss has already established himself as a writer who we’ll be hearing from for many years to come.
In my last post I’d mentioned the story collection, Tales From Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin. So when I tried looking up this book online, imagine my surprise when the first item I came across was not Tales From Earthsea the book, but rather Tales From Earthsea the movie! A while back I’d heard some rumblings about an Earthsea movie that would be released as anime, but I had no idea until now the movie was already out. So of course I had to order it and watch it.
The first thing you should know about this movie is that while it’s called Tales From Earthsea, it’s not based on any of the five stories collected in Le Guin’s book of the same name. Instead, the movie is based most heavily on The Farthest Shore, the third book of the Earthsea series, first published in 1972. For many years this was considered the last book in the series, containing a satisfying ending to a classic trilogy of fantasy novels. That ending stopped being the ending come 1990, with the publication of Tehanu, the fourth book in the Earthsea series. Since then there have been two additional Earthsea books, one being the aforementioned Tales From Earthsea, the other being The Other Wind, which brings the Earthsea series to its second (and most likely final) conclusion.
Second, I’ll mention that this movie was directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Hayao Miyazaki. To fans of anime, Hayao Miyazaki should be a familiar name. He is responsible for such anime classics as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke (a personal favorite of mine). From what I gathered through Google and some Wikipedia research, Hayao had wanted to adapt this series since the 1980s, but Le Guin had refused him because she was only familiar with Disney style animation and didn’t want the Earthsea books adapted to something of that sort. When she later saw Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and discovered that anime was quite a different form of animation, Le Guin softened her stance, saying if Earthsea were ever made into an anime movie she would want Hayao to handle it. After Hayao received an Oscar in 2003 for Spirited Away, Le Guin granted him permission to create an anime version of her books, but at this time he was working on Howl’s Moving Castle (which happens to be an adaptation of the novel of fellow fantasy author, Diana Wynne Jones). In the end, Goro ended up handling the film instead.
The third thing I’ll mention before I start blogging about the movie itself is that I’m sure for some people the mention of an Earthsea movie will bring back memories of the live action Earthsea miniseries released by the Scifi Channel back in 2004. For most Earthsea fans (myself being no exception), this miniseries was poorly conceived, as it “Hollywooded up” Le Guin’s universe and ultimately made a mockery of her blood, sweat, and tears.
I’m Douglas Cohen, and I’ll be popping in from time to time to blog about high fantasy. You can also expect occasional posts pertaining to other areas of fantasy that appeal to many of us high fantasy fans, such as sword & sorcery, Arthuriana, science-fantasy, etc. To tell you a little bit about myself, I’ve been the assistant editor at Realms of Fantasy for 3+ years. While there, I’ve plucked all sorts of fantasy tales from our slush piles, including several of the high fantasy variety. Besides the editing, I also dabble in writing. Last year, I published my first story in Interzone Magazine. And now…well, now I’m joining the ever growing hordes of the Tor.com Armies.
Now I’m betting that the words “high fantasy” leave 99% of you thinking of your favorite high fantasy novelists, along with your favorite books and/or series. That’s understandable. High fantasy tends to lend itself to the longer form. Walk into the fantasy/science fiction section of your local bookstore and you’ll find quite a number of high fantasy books into the third or fourth (or tenth) book of the series. There’s nothing wrong with such formats. I’ve enjoyed more than my share of these sorts of series. But for this first entry, I’d like to throw everyone a bit of a curve ball by discussing high fantasy in the shorter form.
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