Between Books

I finished the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series a few nights ago. I have the fifth installment waiting for me on my bookshelf. Why haven’t I picked it up yet?

There are a few reasons.

  1. Martin’s books are long, which means that it will be a while until I am able to pick a new book.
  2. If I finish the fifth book in the series, I’ll have to wait for the sixth book to be released anyway, so why rush? After all, it took Martin a few years longer than anticipated to release book five.
  3. There are at least three other new books that I have sitting on my book shelf that I also want to read.
  4. I keep thinking about the advice that C. S. Lewis gave on reading books: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”  Maybe I should pick up a book that I’ve read before.
  5. Being between books is akin to having all possibilities open before me, and I don’t know if I want to give that up.

Those are my reasons. Well, except for the last one. That one should probably be interpreted in that I have trouble deciding between two or three good options. But that just seemed too honest to say outright.

So I turn to you, Reader.

10 Fantasy Series and Their Rules for Magic

When I started writing, I expressed to a well-read friend of mine that I was a fan of the fantasy genre. She told me that if I ever hoped to write fantasy, one of the most important things to do was to develop the rules for my world and then stick to them. She cited Terry Pratchett’s prolific Discworld series, saying that while the series follows a wide cast, Pratchett follows a consistent set of rules.

“The world is flat and rests on the back of four elephants standing on a giant turtle floating through space,” she said. “It may be strange, but it is part of Pratchett’s rules.”

Today, we’ll take a look at 10 Fantasy Series and Their Rules for Magic.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
J.K. Rowling

In the magical world of Harry Potter, people are either magical or Muggles (non-magical). They are born this way. One cannot become a witch or wizard any more than one could become a cat. Of course, Animagi, or witches and wizards who have an aptitude to transfiguration, may be able to become cats. Magic is performed by spoken word (in most cases) and requires a wand (in most cases).

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

“I have not used ‘magic’ consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since all human stories have suffered the same confusion). Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The ‘Elves’ are ‘immortal’, at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others*—speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans—is a recurrent motive.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

There are precious few wizards in the Lord of the Rings series and you have to read The Silmarillion in order to understand the rules of magic in Middle Earth. The world was created through song by Eru (the One), also called Ilúvatar (Father of All), who first created the Ainur, similar in power and function to the Greek pantheon, with specific Ainur in control of the air, water, earth, and afterlife. The greater Ainur were called the Valar, the lesser were called the Maiar. Together, they helped create (and re-create) the world before the coming of elves (the first folk), dwarves, and men. The wizards of Middle Earth are members of the Maiar, as are Balrogs (makes the fight scene where Gandalf falls through fire and death a little more meaningful, doesn’t it?), and in fact, so is Sauron. Magic, then, is performed by beings that are closer to gods than men.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

“‘But what does it all mean?’ asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.'”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Evil is loosed upon Narnia when a pair of hapless children bring a witch from Charn through Earth and to the dawn of Narnia’s time. The magic that happens here seems to be of a mostly innocuous kind, and there are few who seem able to work it. The witch has the power to turn living creatures into stone. Aslan, the lion/creator of Narnia, can bring stone creatures back to life. And there is a wizard along the voyage of the Dawn Treader who has a book of magic and is able to render creatures invisible. Oh, and a magical bracelet transforms a boy into a dragon. The magic of Narnia is used sparingly and is not the main plot driver of the series, as it seems that only a few with an inherent ability use it.

The Books of Beginning by John Stephens

“It’s well known in Hollywood that if you want someone to write a conniving, back-biting seventeen-year-old, you get John Stephens on the phone. The only thing that set the Countess apart from others I’ve written was that she had magical powers.”
John Stephens

In The Emerald Atlas, three children are thrust into an adventure through time by the aid of one of three books of magic. Each child is somehow connected to one of these three books, and by them, the children wield a specific type of magic, though they were not born as magical beings. Led by a wizard, and battling against witches and those who would use magic to subjugate normal humans, the main theme of the series is more about equal rights for different people than is about how cool having power is. The magic in the Books of Beginning series is regarded as a power that must be held in check to ensure the safety and happiness of all people.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

“Believe me, I know all about bottle acoustics. I spent much of the sixth century in an old sesame oil jar, corked with wax, bobbing about in the Red Sea. No one heard my hollers. In the end an old fisherman set me free, by which time I was desperate enough to grant him several wishes. I erupted in the form of a smoking giant, did a few lightning bolts, and bent to ask him his desire. Poor old boy had dropped dead of a heart attack. There should be a moral there, but for the life of me I can’t see one.”
Jonathan Stroud

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice in a world where magicians rule supreme. This dark series focuses on Nathaniel’s adventures with the djinn, Bartimaeus, his servant from the underworld, enemy, and friend. Magic is not performed by wand, but is achieved by summoning greater or lesser demons to do your bidding. If a magician is not careful though, he might find himself at the demon’s mercy (and demons aren’t known for their mercy).

Tiffany Aching: A Story of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

On the Discworld, there are two main approaches to magic. There are the wizards of Unseen University who use magic, largely, as a replacement for technology. And there are the witches, who use magic sparingly (because magic is dangerous, what with the things from the other side always trying to break through the rift). In the Tiffany Aching series, set on Discworld and meant for a younger reader, the main character is a witch coming into her witchhood with help from her mentor Miss Tick (get it?) and the Nac Mac Feegle, tiny blue skinned fighters/drinkers/kilt-wearers. Magic for Tiffany is a means to defend normal people against magical enemies, and is performed by sheer force of will.

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

“There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be–but for some reason I still feel… homesick.”
Andrew Peterson, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

In his first children’s fantasy series, musician, Andrew Peterson, writes with equal parts humor and suspense. His series focuses on the three children of the Igiby family and the secrets that make them targets for the evil Fangs of Dang. Magic is a minor part of this series, but the few appearances that it does make are momentous. The most common form of magic usage, appropriately enough, given Peterson’s more famous creative outlet, is through music.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

“You would be amazed how many magicians have died after being bitten by mad rabbits. It’s far more common than you might think.
-Angela the Herbalist”
Christopher Paolini, Brisingr

When Eragon unwittingly hatches a dragon egg, he is swept into a world a danger, dragons, and magic. There are a few different races in the world of Alagaësia, but aside from a relative few humans, the knowledge of magic resides with the elves. Its use is conducted through an ancient language and exacts a physical toll on the user, thus anything you do by magic would feel as though you had done it without magic. If a user were to cast a spell that required more energy than the user possessed, he would die. Fortunately, dragon riders and others can tap into the life force of those around them to share the burden of using magic. Of course, this also opens the possibility of expending their life force, but magic is a dangerous game.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

“I was vanquished by a deer!’
A giant magical flying deer with fangs,’ Seth said, parroting a description Gavin had shared earlier.
That sounds a little better,’ Warren conceded. ‘Seth is in charge of my tombstone.”
Brandon Mull, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Meet Seth and Kendra Sorenson, children pulled into a world of magic sanctuaries. In this series, magical creatures have been confined to reserves spread across the continents. Along the way, Kendra develops a special relationship with the fairies of the world, while her brother Seth develops his own relationship with demons. Magic here is woven into the nature of each creature, and in rare circumstances, certain attributes can be transferred to normal humans.

The Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix

“‎”It always seemed somehow less real here… a really detailed dream, but sort of washed out, like a thin watercolor. Softer, somehow, even with their electric light and engines and everything. I guess it was because there was hardly any magic.”
Garth Nix, Lirael

In the world that Nix creates, the line between magic and non-magic follows the boundary between the Old Kingdom and the New. In the Old Kingdom, there are three main families of magic, the Abhorsens, the Clayr, and the Wallmakers. Sabriel follows the title character in her journey to become the Abhorsen, a person who crosses over into Death to perform her magic. In Lirael, the title character shows the world of the Clayr, largest of the magical families whose job it is to look into the future. And in the final book, Abhorsen, we learn more about the Wallmakers, as well as the royal family, which is where the “kingdom” part comes in. In his trilogy, Nix has his characters perform magic with the aide of bells and pipes, but there are some free magic creatures as well, to whom the normal rules of magic do not necessarily apply.

Hopefully, this has been some help in showing you the different types of magic one can find across the fantasy genre. Certainly, there are more options than just these for how magic might work, but these are the ones that I one or have read.

What is your favorite series with magic? How is the magic controlled?

Fatherhood, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Christmas Traditions

This year, my wife and I are making a real effort to wait until Christmas Day to open our Christmas presents. This is made easier by the fact that we are not doing presents for each other this year. Really, we are just waiting to give our daughters their gifts. Not that they know this or care, being two years old and five months old.

But anyway, my wife and I have always had trouble waiting to give each other presents. On the years that we get closest to Christmas Day, it is because one (or both) of us didn’t actually finish Christmas shopping until days (or hours) before the 25th. And so when friends of ours gave us some gifts recently and told us that we could wait to open them until Christmas if we wanted to, we waited about five minutes after they left the house to start ripping off the wrapping paper. After all, it isn’t like they told us to wait, and we aren’t doing gifts for each other this year. Stop judging us.

The gifts were all wonderful, but the one that I specifically want to mention is a book that I didn’t even know existed. J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, also wrote a bunch of letters to his children purporting to be Santa Claus. The book is titled “Letters from Father Christmas” and is full of insight into a side of Tolkien that, like the book itself, I did not know existed. Every year, Tolkien would write a letter to each of his kids, accompanied by illustrations, and tell them what was happening at the North Pole. After a few years, he started bringing elves and goblins and bears into the mix as well, which is good, because it wouldn’t feel like it was from Tolkien if they weren’t there.

Anyway, it’s given me some ideas for my family Christmas traditions (better ones than not being patient for Christmas presents, anyway). And I hope it does you too. In the comments, I would love to hear about some of your Christmas traditions!

I am a husband. Part II

A while back, I was inspired by a series of posts that Jessie Clemence had done on her blog and I interviewed my wife. That interview has proven to be one of my most popular posts over time, which makes sense, because my wife makes everything better.

Well, anyway, she and I were chatting about ideas for blog posts and she asked if I would consent to her interviewing me. I did. Here are her questions and my answers.

What are you looking forward to most about being a father of two?

I love being a parent and seeing you (my wife) as a parent. Our daughter is simply adorable and I can’t wait to see another little girl who is half me and half you (my wife again). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Adie is with her sister.

What other hobbies do you have besides writing?

I collect Lego sets, specifically the viking, adventure, and castle sets. Though I just saw some Lord of the Rings themed sets that make me want to eat my words about how I hate that Lego is going after franchises. I also collect Dr Pepper knock-offs (the regional drinks that try their best to be Dr Pepper without coming anywhere close). My favorite is probably Doctor by the Our Family brand, because it didn’t even bother to come up with a replacement for Pepper like Dr. Thunder, Dr. Nehi, and Dr. M did. Plus, I am a fan of the show Doctor Who, who also goes by simply, the Doctor.

What is something that you do that gives you personal satisfaction or makes you proud?

I am a sucker for praise, especially of any of my creative endeavors. I know that I should care less or not at all what other people think about stuff, but I also know that I’m a born people-pleaser, and it makes me happy to make other people happy. If I can create a thing that gives joy, it will give me joy. It is probably strange then that one of my novels is dystopian and doesn’t end happily. I guess I’m complicated.

If you could be any character from your novels or short stories, which would you be? Why?

I would love to be Tom, the invisible roommate of my Thom & Tom series. He’s such a goofball and doesn’t care what people think about him. He lives by his own rules and whether he intends to or not, brings a bit of joy to his roommate, Thom. Also, he’s invisible, so that’s pretty cool.

If you could make any book you’ve read reality, what would you choose?

I love the idea that M. I. McAllister’s Mistmantle series could be happening for real somewhere, that there could really be an island of chivalrous squirrels, playful otter, bustling hedgehogs, and hardworking moles living in harmony. Plus, many of my other favorite books have some pretty scary bits that I would hate to see in reality.

What is it that, in your opinion, makes you so incredibly awesome?

My wife. She’s the awesome one. You were probably just thinking of her. I don’t blame you. I like to think of her too.

If you could have a super power, which would you choose? Would you let people know about your power or use a secret identity?

I would like the ability to transform one kind of substance into another kind of substance, like iron into gold, or dirt into gasoline. I would be called “The Alchemist”. Unless I had some kind of invincibility that went along with my other powers, I would keep my identity secret. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be safe otherwise. Plus, my family would always be in danger of being kidnapped for ransom and such. So yeah, a secret identity would be good. I’m not sure how I’d fight crime, but I bet I could give more to charity, and that’s like the same thing.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? What is it?

I very much enjoy the game Diablo II. I know that Diablo III just came out, and someday I’m sure we’ll get it, but at the moment, I don’t know when we’d play.

Do you think watching TV can help or hurt your writing and level of creativity?

I’m a bit torn on this question. I was a the quintessential couch potato growing up, and I consumed a lot of television. As a result, I learned a lot about how stories are put together and about characters that I enjoyed. I would come up with stories and drawings based on what I had seen on television. Today, I watch a couple of shows every few weeks, but I don’t have time for much more. If I were as addicted to television now as I was when I was growing up, I know that my writing would suffer, but more due to the time constraints than to being dumbed down by TV.

What is one things that never fails to make you laugh?

Juvenile bodily functions. Every time.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I have to pick just one? Probably The Hobbit, because of its unique point of view. Not many books can pull off a third person story told by a first person narrator with second person asides.

If you could only use 4 words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Married, Genial, Creative, Inquisitive

What is the best part of being my husband?

The best part is the fact that I don’t have to leave you at the end of the date anymore. When we were dating, I hated going home. Now your home is my home. As far as specifically be married to you though, I love that you are good at things like math and budgets, and that I know I can trust you will all areas of life.

Didn’t my wife ask a bunch of well-thought-out, wonderful questions? I’m starting to think that she should be the one with the blog.

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!

Win Stuff | The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Box Set

Leave me a comment with your ideas for this blog. Now. Do it now.

You could be as happy as me if you win this set of books.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is the set that I bought right after the Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters. I bought it to replace the well-worn copies that my dad had laying around. Well, I still have those well-worn copies. Also, my wife brought a really nice hardcover set into the marriage. As much as it pains me to say this, I don’t need three copies of the same series. So I’m giving this box set away.

If you’ve never read the whole series, now’s your chance. If you are quick about it, you can just finish them in time for the arrival of The Hobbit (part one) in the theaters this December.

So how can you win?

Simple. Just tell me what you’d like to see from this blog of mine. Share with me any questions that you have, any ideas for posts, any themes or categories that I’m lacking. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll pull the winner next Monday, April 30th, and announce the results here on my blog.

The Fine Print: I’m not made of money, so although I love international comments, I can’t ship internationally. Sorry about that.