Archive for May, 2013

TT: Roger Zelazny — Master of Odd Twists

May 30, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back and join me as I muse over why magical items are suddenly so unpopular with some readers of Fantasy.  Then join me and Alan as we continue our discussion of one of our favorite writers.

Zelazny's Mythic Universes

Zelazny’s Mythic Universes

JANE: Last time we were just getting into Roger Zelazny and his particular ‑ or perhaps I should say “peculiar” ‑ take on using mythological and historical material in his fiction.  I know we both had other books we wanted to touch on.  You go first!

ALAN: Roger continued to explore mythological themes in two novels called Isle of the Dead and To Die in Italbar. Both books featured a character called Francis Sandow. However this time Roger didn’t base the stories on any known mythology, he made everything up from scratch.

Sandow himself is an avatar of the god Shimbo of Darktree, Shrugger of Thunders. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase?

JANE: It is indeed…

ALAN: The books play with similar ideas to those in Lord of Light (men as gods) but I enjoyed them a lot more, probably because I didn’t have to struggle with references to mythologies I only half remembered. When the writer invents his own mythologies, every reader starts from the same level of ignorance and the book succeeds or fails purely on its own merits. As I recall (correct me if I’m wrong), these novels were not a great critical success ‑ but I always enjoyed them a lot and I felt that the interweaving of an invented mythology with the story line worked brilliantly.

JANE: I don’t recall how great a critical success the novels  were (I was about five when Isle of the Dead was published).  However, I liked them a lot.  One difference between the Sandow novels and Lord of Light is the manner in which humans can become gods.  In Lord of Light, the means may or may not be merely technological.  In the Sandow stories, the becoming is far more mystic.

Another novel where Roger drew both on traditional mythology ‑ in this case, Egyptian and Greek,  as well as creating his own – was the very strange novel, Creatures of Light and Darkness.   I remember being pretty confused by it the first time I read it, but I found it merited a re‑reading.  Now it’s one of my favorites of Roger’s works.

ALAN: What a peculiar book it is. Lighthearted and grim at one and the same time. Osiris captures a deadly enemy and weaves his nervous system into the fabric of a rug. Every so often Osiris entertains himself by jumping up and down on the rug and listening to the screams of pain that the rug broadcasts through loudspeakers. I find that simultaneously hilarious, sick, wonderfully imaginative and quite twisted.

Come to think of it, you could describe the whole book with those words. It continues Roger’s fascination with the theme of men who might be gods, but this time it paints the picture with Egyptian and Greek mythologies. It is set in the far future and so technology plays a large part in it. In some ways it feels a bit like a proto‑cyberpunk novel. The style is also very odd. It’s written in the present tense and it’s got poetry and a playscript in it. Given that it experiments so much with style, it could even be thought of as a New Wave novel!

 JANE: It also has one of the oddest sex into romance plots in any of Roger’s novels.  Actually, I’d go so far as to say in any novel at all.

Roger didn’t write Creatures of Light and Darkness with any plans for publication, so, I suppose, in some ways it could be looked upon as the quintessential Zelazny novel.  If I remember correctly, he mentioned it to Samuel R. Delany ‑ one of the brightest lights of the American New Wave ‑ who convinced him to show it to an editor.  So your feeling that it belongs to that particular “tradition” seems right on the spot to me.

ALAN: Gosh ‑ I never knew that. I was just commenting on the feeling I got from the text.

JANE: You obviously have a good sense for literary forms…

Roger’s most popular works ‑ the ten volume Chronicles of Amber ‑ were also heavily indebted to myth and history.  Corwin, the narrator of the first five books, has lived for centuries, been a soldier in many wars, and left traces of himself in our myths and legends.  So, too, have his numerous siblings.

Roger kept the references light, but I always felt they added depth to what otherwise might have been just another sword and sorcery adventure.  In fact, I missed these brush strokes of myth and history in the latter five books, where the narrator (for all that his name is Merlin) is much younger and the stories delve more deeply into the back history of the courts of both Amber and Chaos.

ALAN: Oh, I agree completely. The stories about Merlin always felt thin and lacking in depth to me. Merlin is a callow youth in comparison to his father and the stories were slight. I missed Corwin’s vast experience and his cynicism.

What do you think of A Night in the Lonesome October? It’s one of my favourites of Roger’s books. Not only is it very, very funny but it also uses mythology in a way that few other writers have used it. Mythologies are not static. Every age adds its own stories to the myths and legends. There are layers upon layers.

JANE: I agree…  While one definition of “mythology” is firmly rooted in religions, there is another that embraces the themes and stories that define us as a culture.

ALAN: Our modern myths seem to involve Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper et. al. (who may themselves be avatars of older beings). There are also many nods to the supernatural in the telling of our tales (the stories of the Angels of Mons from the First World War spring to mind, along perhaps with more mundane entities such as vampires and werewolves). Of course this kind of thinking leads naturally to the current glut of Buffy/Twilight urban fantasy rubbish. But in A Night in the Lonesome October, Roger treated the ideas in a much more mature fashion and the result is quite delightful.

JANE: I loved A Night in the Lonesome October.  However, I am rather biased…  After Roger was done with the book and re‑reading it, he told me that he realized he’d modeled the cat, Graymalk, somewhat after me, especially in the banter with Snuff, the dog.  I, of course, was thrilled…

A Night in the Lonesome October was also one of the few of Roger’s books that I had the chance to “watch” being written from start to finish.  He’d had the idea for the book for many years, but he’d had his heart set on Gahan Wilson illustrating it.  Eventually, he decided to just go ahead and write it in the hope that Gahan Wilson could find time to do his part.  (Which he did.)  I’m so glad Roger did so.  His joy in the project was a delight.

By the way, the book is a homage to many of the writers whose work Roger read when he was young.  The dedication provides a listing, just in case you’re interested.  I think he touched on most of the major modern “mythologies” in that one ‑ with the exception of Tarzan, and Tarzan got his nod in Donnerjack.

ALAN: But of course Roger had other literary interests as well. Perhaps we could look at some of those next time?

JANE: I’d enjoy that quite a bit

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Musing on Magical Items

May 29, 2013

So, how much is too much when it comes to magical items?

Swords, Scarabs, Dragons, and Rings

Swords, Scarabs, Dragons, and Rings

Over the last few years, I’ve encountered a real resistance among some readers, writers, and editors of Fantasy fiction to novels that include magical swords, amulets, rings, and the like.   These works are spoken of with a sneer and are much less likely to get attention when the time comes for award nominations.  Oddly, this resistance includes “fan” awards, even when the books in question are topping the bestseller lists.

As for dragons…  I’ve been on panels where panelists have proudly and loudly announced that their forthcoming Fantasy novel is a “dragon-free” zone.

But I wander off my point.  (But then, these are Wanderings, right?)

So, where did this resistance to magical items come from?  Why has the idea arisen that the inclusion of such makes a piece less magical?

Certainly magical items belong to Fantasy  from its earliest roots in mythology.  Many of the Norse gods possessed magical items.  Some had more than one.  Thor, for example, not only had his hammer Mjolnir, but also an iron mitten that let him catch the hammer when he threw it at a target.  (The hammer apparently had boomerang properties).  Thor also had a magical belt that increased his strength two-fold.  Oh, yeah, let’s not forget his war cart, which was drawn by billy-goats and flew through the air.

Greek myths also contain  magical items.  These are not limited to those like the Chariot of the Sun, which can be “excused” as a pseudo-scientific explanation for natural phenomena.   Nor are they restricted to divinities.  Mortal heroes often bear magical weapons.    Perseus is equipped with not only Athena’s mirror-bright shield, but with Hermes’ own magical sword.  As if this is not enough, the nymphs of the north loan him magical sandals that  let him fly, a cap that makes him invisible, and a bag that swells to contain whatever is put into it,( so he’ll have a neat and tidy place to store Medusa’s head).

I could go on and on…  There are magical harps of the British Isles.  The amulets and charms of the Egyptians.   The magical armor and weapons with which almost every culture equips its gods and heroes.  Sometimes, the ability to use these items is taken as proof that the bearer is, in fact, worthy to be a hero.

So, again I ask, why are such so often scorned when they appear in Fantasy fiction?  Why does giving the protagonist a magical sword immediately slide the tale down the literary scale?

Over the last week or so, inspired by Alan and my discussion of  Fantasy fiction that draws from Welsh sources (TT 5-02-13), I’ve been re-reading  Lloyd Alexander’s  Prydain Chronicles.   (The first book is The Book of Three, if you’re interested in trying them.)  Here we have a magical sword, a glowing sphere, and a magical harp…   There are magical tomes, potions and lotions, and a very potent amulet.  Indeed, the only item in the magical bag of tricks that is missing is a ring.

Despite this, I have heard the books praised by the hardest of the hard-headed as really good Fantasy fiction.  Nor do I think that the Prydain Chronicles “get away” with including magical items because they are “children’s books.”  In fact, as an avid reader of YA fiction, lately I’ve encountered more – not less – aversion to novels that include magical items.  Yes.  Even though Harry Potter included a host of such, the resistance is there.

I could go on and on, but I’ll pause and give you a chance to get a word in.  Do you have a particular favorite among the magical items of Fantasy fiction?  When do you think enough is enough?  Does the inclusion of magical items – especially those classic swords and rings and suchlike – cause you to hesitate to even give the story a try?

TT: The Role of the Reader’s Knowledge

May 23, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back and take a look at Puye Cliffs.  Then come on back and join Alan and me as we take a look at how the reader’s knowledge can shape the reading experience.  Along the way, we focus in on a writer whose works we both admire greatly – Roger Zelazny.

Eye of Cat

Eye of Cat

JANE: Last time, Alan, you mentioned how – although you like Fantasy and Science Fiction that uses myth, history, or both as a foundation –  the further the material moves from sources with which you are also familiar, the less easy you find it to relate to.

ALAN: That’s right. And the example I used to point it out was Roger Zelazny’s novel Eye of Cat which was full of references to Navajo culture.

JANE: I was already somewhat familiar with Navajo material when I read Eye of Cat.  Nope.  It wasn’t because I was such a great scholar.  It was because I liked the mystery novels of Tony Hillerman, which are largely set on a Navajo reservation and have many Navajo characters.  (Hillerman, by the by, shares the dedication of Eye of Cat with his two most famous fictional characters, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.)

However, for reasons I now forget, when I taught a science fiction seminar back when I was still  at Lynchburg College, I chose Eye of Cat as an assignment.  My students were as uncomfortable with the material as you were.  Now that I think about it, it might not have been my best choice.  Not only was the material indebted to Navajo myth and legend, one of the main characters is a highly unreliable shapeshifter.  And part of the novel is written in verse…

I’ve found that once readers are overwhelmed, they miss things that ordinarily they would catch.  Roger was notorious for the jokes – some sly, some overt – that he would slip into an otherwise serious novel.  Therefore, you’d think more of his readers would have thought carefully about a certain passage in Eye of Cat.  Not one of my students did – not until I had them work it out in class.

The passage in question comes at the end of the novel: “Moving nearer, he saw the pictograph Singer himself had drawn on the wall with his own blood.  It was a large circle, containing a pair of dots, side by side, about a third of the way down its diameter.  Lower, beneath these, was an upward-curving arc.”

Did you get it?

ALAN: It’s a smiley face! How delightful!

JANE:   Yep!  A smiley face…  To me (putting on my English professor hat), this pictograph says a lot about how Billy felt at this key point…  But most people will miss the detail.   Therefore the ending of the novel will be oblique

ALAN: It’s been many years since I read the novel, but I don’t recall spotting that at the time. I was so lost and confused by that stage of the book that I think pretty much everything was passing me by.

JANE: Yeah…  I don’t think most people did.  Roger out-clevered himself.

As an aside, I don’t know if it’s available anywhere, but Roger read Eye of Cat as an audio book.  His readings were always wonderful, but this book especially loaned itself to being read aloud.   It was released in a slightly abridged form (which might contribute to confusion)  but, even so, it’s wonderful.  Roger also was recorded reading A Night in the Lonesome October.  People always talked about Roger being shy.  In some ways he was, but he also loved to perform.

ALAN: Roger had a wonderful voice and he used it to great effect when reading  out loud. When you and he were here in New Zealand as convention guests, he read some extracts from A Night in the Lonesome October to us. He was just brilliant; he carried his audience with him all the way and afterwards I told him how much I’d enjoyed it and how well he’d done the reading. He smiled happily. What I didn’t tell him (perhaps I should have) was that I’ve done a  lot of reading to audiences – I’ve won prizes for it. So I know what’s involved and how hard it is to do it well. Roger did it very well indeed. I’d love copies of those recordings, if they still exist.

JANE: How wonderful that you’ve won awards for reading aloud!  That’s neat.

So, how about Zelazny’s Lord of Light?  He used a lot of material from Hindu and Buddhist sources.  How easily did you relate to that one?

ALAN: Lord of Light was also hard to relate to in some ways, but it wasn’t as difficult as Eye of Cat. I did know a little bit about the mythologies (though not as much as I should have), so to that extent the book was approachable. And there’s also something irresistibly attractive about a god with the very prosaic name Sam. Little touches like that kept me reading and enjoying the book.

And of course the book contains one of the best jokes Roger ever made. The Shan of Irabek suffers an unexpected grand mal seizure:

“Then the fit hit the Shan.”

I read that sentence with utter chortling delight. It truly made my day.

JANE: I remember the first time I read that passage…  I just sat there staring at the page, unable to believe it.  Then I started laughing.  The only other time I’ve reacted in that fashion  was to the opening verse of “C’est Moi” from the musical Camelot.

Interestingly, the readership seems split on that scene in Lord of Light.  Some people love it, while some think it is completely out of place in an otherwise “serious” novel.

ALAN: Nothing’s so serious that you can’t have a little bit of fun with it.

JANE: I’m with you on that!  I think without being too bold, I can say that Roger would have agreed with us both.

Now, duty calls, deadlines beckon.  However, I’d like to continue discussing Roger’s work next time.

ALAN: Yes – Roger was such a versatile writer. There’s a lot more to explore.

Puye Cliffs

May 22, 2013

Ever wonder what it might be like to live in a cave?  Last weekend, when Jim and I drove out to Puye Cliffs to participate in their Open House, I had a chance to examine that question up close and personal.

Doorways in the Rock

Doorways in the Rock

As so often on such expeditions, our friend Michael Wester was with us.  During the nearly two hour drive north from Albuquerque, our conversation ranged from the prehistoric peoples who had occupied the land over which we traveled, to the very modern issues of  computer technology, to the role of entropy in the choices we make.  The weather noticeably cooled as we moved north.  The pale green of the cottonwoods showed as a pale ribbon of green that meandered through the darker greens of the pinyon and juniper, contrasting against the golden brown of rock and sand.

When we arrived at Puye (pronounced “poo-yay”), the cliffs dominated the landscape, their color shifting from grey-brown to almost golden, depending on the light.  Since the day was partly cloudy, we had ample opportunity to enjoy the shifting hues and enjoy the crisp mid-morning air.

For the first hour or so of our visit, we observed the cliffs from below.  The small Puye Cliffs museum and gift shop occupies a former Harvey House, built in the 1930’s to cater to tourists who found the newly expanding railroad a wonderful way to explore the Wild West.  According to the brochure, “puye” means “place where the rabbits gather,” a name that provides at least one indication as to why the area was originally settled.

As part of the Open House, Jim was giving a flintknapping demonstration.  As he used hammer stones and  pieces of deer antler to break off flakes that might eventually be turned into arrowheads, I helped by explaining what he was doing to groups which included both residents of Santa Clara pueblo and tourists in for the day.

In between batches of visitors, I soaked in Chuck Hannaford’s explanations of the various primitive tools and weapons that are part of the kit used in the educational outreach program sponsored by the Office of Archaeological Studies where Chuck and Jim both work.  I already knew that the arrowhead was considered the “disposable” part of a spearhead or atlatl dart.  However, many of the creative ways the primitive weapons makers had come up with to preserve the valuable straight wooden shafts were new to me.

Several tour groups came and went, then it was our turn to ascend the cliffs.

Our guide was Sam, a big burly man from Santa Clara pueblo, the Tewa group that is descended from the original inhabitants of these cliffs.  There is still some debate as to where the inhabitants of Puye Cliffs came from originally.  Some say they came from Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.  However, many archeologists now feel the inhabitants were present in the Rio Grande valley long before the migrations from further north.  Either way, Sam’s ancestors have lived in this region for thousands of years.

The cliff dwellings were in use when the Spanish came into New Mexico in 1598, although much of the population had moved into the lowlands where there was better farming and more water.    During the pueblo revolt of 1680, the cliffs became one of the strongholds of the revolt.  Today, the caves are vacant.  However, Sam’s tour was sprinkled with anecdotes related to his own childhood, of visiting the cliffs with his father (who was also a guide) and of splashing with his brother in the water held in a catch basin built by his long-ago ancestors to supply their needs.

Puye Cliffs are made from relatively soft volcanic tuff – a stone formed from dense concentrations of volcanic ash.  In this case, the ash was supplied by the explosion that created the Valles Caldera, a massive explosion that scattered debris as far as Kansas and Louisiana.  The tuff could be easily hollowed out, making small caves that held heat in the winter and remained cool in the summer.  The interior of these caves was plastered to help improve the natural insulation.  Where the rocky shelf outside the caves permitted, blocks of tuff were used as bricks to make more roomy habitations.  Although these exterior structures were gone, we could still see the holes in the cliff face where the narrow logs used to support the roofs had once rested.

Since the cliff dwellings occupied several levels connected by ladders, they reminded me of apartment buildings.  As we walked along the trail, Sam pointed out various petroglyphs etched into the stone.  In many cases, the pictures were the clan signs of the group that had occupied that particular area.  Sometimes more than one clan sign was displayed side by side  and may have indicated closely related clans.

Sam pointed out places where the interior of the caves had been sculpted to make living more comfortable.  Among the most common adaptations were hollowed areas meant to hold water jugs.  As Sam explained with a grin, water was very precious and in those relatively crowded spaces, it would be all too easy for an overactive child to spill the supplies.  One of my favorite caves was the one where a weaver had once lived.  Two holes in the wall showed where the top of the loom had been anchored.

The cliff dwellings were not the only place the inhabitants resided.  On top of the mesa was a sprawling pueblo (now little more than a mound with scattered courses of blocks indicating where the rooms once stood).   Here, too, were the kivas – the rounded buildings in which sacred dances and other rituals were held.  All of this was framed by wide reaching views over the green forests, to the surrounding mountains.

Today, it is hard to imagine the vibrant community that once must have lived here.  The quiet, windswept areas seem to belong very much to the snakes, rabbits, and birds that we glimpsed.   One of Sam’s favorite stories was about the mountain lion who rambled among the caves just last year.  Needless to say, tours were halted until the puma moved on, but Sam showed us a place where the big cat had leapt to use one of the ladders, scraping its claws against the soft stone, leaving its own mark to join the petroglyphs of the former inhabitants.

I found myself wondering what it would have been like to live at Puye.  Would I have chosen one of the cave dwellings, neat and snug, caught between earth and sky?  Would I have preferred to live on top of the mesa where the views stretch seemingly forever?

I’m not sure which would have been better..  I do know that I’ll go back someday.  Maybe then I’ll decide.

TT: Egypt and Other Exotic Cultures

May 16, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one for a discussion of that controversial topic: fan fiction.  Then come and join me and Alan as we examine some of the more exotic settings for Fantasy fiction.

Exotic Lands, Fantastic Tales

Exotic Lands, Fantastic Tales

JANE: It would be false modestly for me to take this topic – Fantasy based in historical/mythological material – much further without mentioning that I’ve delved into it a bit myself in my novel , The Buried Pyramid.

ALAN: I enjoyed The Buried Pyramid a lot. The first half of the novel is a completely traditional ripping yarn. There are mysterious coded messages, and hints of a shadowy evil that pursues the protagonists through the desert sands. You captured the sense of time and place beautifully – I could smell the unwashed bodies and taste the grit.

Then in the second half you changed the mood completely. We learn that the Egyptian gods have not gone away. There are plots afoot and sometimes even the gods themselves need help. The protagonists are soon closely involved with the gods and their schemes.

The segue from the grittily naturalistic adventure story of the first section to the fantasy story of the last section was handled really smoothly. One false step here could easily have broken the spell of the story. But the joins didn’t show at all. Well done!

What made you write the book this way?

JANE: I’m not sure.  As I’ve said elsewhere, I write Fantasy and Science Fiction because my mind seems to “work” that way.  I’ve always liked stories where, rather than exploration debunking the mystic, the mystic is revealed.  And, I think, I wanted to write a story in which exploration of the mysteries of ancient Egypt did not revolve around a mummy and a lost love.

Research for The Buried Pyramid was a real challenge because, for the historical part of the novel, I needed to be up-to-date on the theories current in the late 1870’s, but for the “fantasy” section I needed to be as accurate as possible to what Egypt might have been like in the days of the pharaohs – and, specifically, in the days of my own fictional pharaoh, Neferankhhotep.

ALAN: As long as we’re on the topic of Egypt – they’re not really fantasy per se, but I’ve always enjoyed Elizabeth Peters’ novels about archeologist Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson  who have a fine old time exploring Egyptian ruins. The books are full of references to Egyptological history and  myths. I learned a lot from them, as well as having fun with the stories. And one of the novels, The Last Camel Died At Noon, is almost a fantasy story – it plays with the “lost race” theme that Haggard (and Edgar Rice Burroughs) used so well in their books.

JANE: I really liked Crocodile on the Sandbank, but I’ve been more mixed about other of the Amelia Peabody novels.  They started to seem like parodies of themselves.   Also, I must admit, I could not stand the young Rameses, although he got somewhat more tolerable in other books.

ALAN: Ah, now there we differ – I found the young Ramses hilarious, literally laugh out loud funny. More than once Robin asked me what I was giggling about so I’d read the dialogue out to her and she usually collapsed into giggles as well. I was very sad when Ramses grew up and stopped being precocious.

JANE: To each their own!

Andre Norton wrote several novels using Egyptian motifs.  Shadow Hawk is a straight historical, dealing with Egypt under the Hyksos.   I like it a lot.  She also did a more contemporary Egyptian novel: Wraiths of Time.

ALAN: I don’t want to sound as if I’m riding a hobby horse, but Henry Rider Haggard was also fairly obsessed with Egyptian mythology – indeed his novels were my first introduction to the subject. Wisdom’s Daughter tells the tale of the childhood of Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and in it we learn that she was a priestess of Isis before she came to the caves of Kor. Unfortunately, when she fell in love with Kallikrates, she had to renounce her vows (priestesses are supposed to be celibate) but even so she remained greatly influenced by her upbringing and all four of the novels about Ayesha are full of Egyptian mythological references.

Even in fairly straightforward historical novels such as Cleopatra, Haggard could not resist introducing mythological insights and there are many scenes in the book that can be read as direct interference by the gods. Of course it is a measure of Haggard’s skill as a writer that other interpretations are possible as well…

JANE: Switching myths and cultures, several Fantasy novelists have used material taken from Chinese and Japanese mythology.  Among the Chinese variations, my personal favorites are the three novels by Barry Hughart: Bridge of Birds, Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.  The first is probably the most indebted to a specific myth, but all of them use mythic elements.

ALAN: I’ve read the Hughart books and enjoyed them. Would you consider your own “Breaking The Wall” books to be in this tradition? I’m not familiar enough with Chinese mythology to know how much you and Hughart borrowed and how much (if anything) you made up out of whole cloth.

JANE: Not quite in the same tradition because Barry Hughart’s books are set in a China that never was, while mine are rooted in our world – and even the alternate China is firmly rooted in events that are historical to our world.

That said, pretty much all my Chinese material is rooted in actual Chinese myth and legend.  That “actual” must be taken within context because the Burning of the Books – an historical event central to the novels – meant that a tremendous amount of material was lost and the Chinese have had to rebuild their cultural heritage.

I had a great deal of fun building a magical system around a combination of the elements in mah-jong as interpreted through Chinese mythological and cultural material.  After a while, it started to have a logic of its own!

ALAN: That’s interesting. I didn’t realise that the Burning of the Books was a real historical event. I just looked up the details. It sounds horrid.

JANE: You think I’d lie to you?  It really happened and it really was horrible!

Thinking of other mythic/historical traditions that have been used in Fantasy fiction,  I’ve enjoyed several novels using Japanese material.  Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s novels about Tomoe Gozen are set in Naipon, an alternate Japan, and use both the culture and feudal historical setting very nicely.

I also enjoyed Kij Johnson’s Fox Woman quite a bit, although I felt that Fudoki, which featured a cat, was a bit of a re-tread.  Still, she handled her material with skill and elegance.

However, I will admit that these novels involve a bit more of a stretch, since neither the cultures nor their traditional religions are taught in American schools.  By contrast – probably because the root cultures had such an influence of “western” civilization – most American readers are familiar with a smattering of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.

ALAN: I’ve always found fantasy novels that refer to cultures and myths that are outside of the Western mainstream very hard to come to grips with for exactly that reason. A good example of this would be stories that make use of the traditional North American myths – perhaps these are more familiar to American readers, but they are certainly quite outside my own experience.

Roger Zelazny, for example, wrote a novel called Eye Of Cat, which depended very much  on Navajo culture. However, my unfamiliarity with that culture made it very difficult for me to understand what the characters were doing. I found the story confusing and fairly impenetrable.  It remains one of my least favourite of his books for that reason.

JANE: Ah…  I actually taught Eye of Cat as part of a science fiction course I did years ago.  My experiences – and several others related to Zelazny’s work with myth and history – are rich topics that I’d like to save it for next time.

Fan Fiction

May 15, 2013

Last week I wrote about my dislike of fiction based on someone else’s fictional characters or universe.  (See WW 5-08-13 for exactly what I mean by this.)  I don’t know why, but I never anticipated that the subject of “fan fiction” would come up in response.

Fan

Fan

How do I define fan fiction and how is it different from the type of novels I discussed last week?

The biggest difference is that fan fiction is often written about works that are actively owned by someone else, rather than being in the public domain.  Sherlock Holmes is (mostly) in the public domain.  So is Jane Austen.  So is the Wizard of Oz.    Or Jane Eyre.  Even though a single unique author wrote the work, that author’s copyright has expired and the work is now open for use by the greater public.

What takes a work out of copyright?  Time.  Pretty much nothing else.  No.  It doesn’t matter if the work is no longer in print.  That doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain, any more than the fact that you’re not wearing a certain pair of shoes means that someone else can take them from your closet and wear them.

Always be careful about assuming a work is no longer protected by copyright.  Copyrights can be renewed.  Translations are copyrighted separately than the work from which they were translated.  Sometimes (as in the case of the poet Emily Dickinson), a work may be published after the author’s death and so the copyright has nothing to do with the life span of the original author, but rather with the date of first publication of the particular piece.

Fan fiction has a long tradition.  However, only recently could writers of fan fiction easily publish their work for a large audience.  Before that, availability was usually limited by the number of copies the fan author could produce.  The mimeographed fanzine was later succeeded by the photocopier, but both of these involved some expense and – in many cases – a considerable outlay for postage.

The Internet has changed all of that.  Now fan writers can publish their take on Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or whatever takes their fancy at the push of a button or two.  Moreover, instead of being available to a few hundred people, the work is available to the world.  (Available doesn’t mean read by, just available.)

Is this really publishing?  Fan writers may not think so – after all, no one has paid them for their work.  However, according to a prominent intellectual properties attorney who I consulted before writing this, yes, posting something on the Internet counts as publishing, even if no money changes hands.   Therefore, it is a violation of the original author’s copyrighted material.

I asked several writers how they felt about fan fiction based on their work.  Most said that, although they were flattered, even if they did not actively attempt to “shut down” the writer, they would just as soon not have people writing fan fiction and publishing it on the Internet.  Many stated that they do not read fan fiction based on their own works lest at some future time there be a potential conflict.

How do I feel?  Pretty much the same.  I’ve been repeatedly approached by fans of my works asking if they can write fan fiction or a script or do a comic book based on my works.  My answer is always the same…  What you do in private, to stimulate your personal creativity, is your own business.  However, if you really love my worlds and characters, please don’t attempt to profit from them, even if the only profit is a boost to your ego.

(I should note that the intellectual property attorney I consulted said that “commercial gain” can be widely interpreted by courts.  Simply driving a lot of traffic to your website can be construed as commercial gain, especially if the website or blog runs advertisements or in any way generates income for anyone at all.)

If you do think you have written a saleable screenplay or script, then talk to my agent.  Don’t show it to me.  I won’t read it.  Worse.  I really can’t read it without setting myself up for a potentially ugly situation down the road.

Ugly?  Here’s what I mean…

About the time I was starting my career, a Very Famous Science Fiction Writer (VFSFW) who shall remain nameless was sued by someone who claimed that the VFSFW had stolen his idea.  As evidence, the person bringing the suit produced a short story and a letter from the VFSFW commenting on that short story.  A jury who knew nothing about SF – including how many shared concepts there are (things like faster than light travel or space colonies or anti-gravity) decided that VFSFW had taken advantage of the poor new writer.    Damages were, reportedly, considerable.

This isn’t precisely the same situation as fan fiction.  However, fan fiction holds the potential for the same sort of situation – or even worse.  After all, the characters, setting, and even elements of plot may be the same.  So, sadly, professional writers are forced to protect themselves by walking a tightrope between awareness and ignorance.  The situation becomes even worse with trademarked material, but I’m not going into that.

Yes.  There is fair use, but fan fiction rarely stays within those very limited parameters, so I’m not going into that particular issue here, either.  Sometimes even a very limited reference to another writer’s work or setting – such as Walter Jon Williams’ reference to “Damnation Alley” in his novel Hardwired –  can make a publisher insist on permission from the original author before they will publish the work in question.

I’m not immune to the appeal of writing fan fiction.  I’ve done my share – as has almost every writer I know.  Some fan fiction is written because the writer has an idea about something the characters might have done but didn’t.   Another reason is that the fan fiction writer has come up with a story that will smooth out a perceived problem within the official story line.  Another common reason for writing fan fiction is because the series or book has ended, and the fan simply needs to fill the void.

Fan fiction can be a great way to write with “training wheels.”  (I have used this term for years and was amused when my fellow writer Steve Gould – author of Jumper and the recently published Impulse –  used it in his response to my query.)  After all, someone else has created the characters, the setting (including all the world building – a thing that looks easy until you start doing it), and may have even provided the seed for the plot.

All the fan writer has to do is come up with the rest of the plot and maybe a supporting character or two.  It’s a great way to learn.  But it’s not a great way to publish.

Works such as those based on Sherlock Holmes or the Wizard of Oz, or sequels approved by an author’s estate, or even collaborative works may give the uninformed writer the idea that anything published is up for grabs.  It isn’t.  Keep your fan fiction for  yourself and a small group of friends.  Everyone will be happier for it.

TT: Mixing Myth and History

May 9, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one and find out what sort of fiction can drive me nuts…  Then join me and Alan as we continue our voyage into the realms of myth fantastic.

Swann and Anderson

Swann and Anderson

JANE: Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Fantasy fiction that uses historical and mythological material for its foundations.  I’m certainly far from done!

ALAN: Me too! It’s one of my hobby horses and I tend to ride it to death.

JANE: An author I’d like to mention is Thomas Burnett Swann.  He wrote a bunch of novels that used historical events but retold them with myth and legend blended in.   For example, Lady of the Bees tells the story of Romulus and Remus but includes dryads, fauns, and other mythological creatures.  Swann also shifts the emphasis of the tale in a very interesting manner that, while not violating the “history” (if you can call a legend “history”), reinterprets the motivations of those involved.

His late novel, The Gods Abide, tells what happened to the “pagan” deities in the time of Constantine.  In his novels, Swann repeatedly addressed an issue that I’d wondered about since I was a little girl, suddenly realizing that myths were different from fairy tales in that fairy tales were just stories, but myths had been someone’s religion.  Even then I wondered, what happens to gods when their worshipers change alliance?  Swann provided some interesting answers.

ALAN: Sometimes the technique can work the other way round. Henry Treece, who I mentioned last time, did exactly the opposite with the Greek myths. He wrote three novels  – Jason, Elektra and Oedipus (guess what stories they told?), and he presented the stories as factual history with all trace of myth and magic removed (the golden fleece was just a grubby old sheepskin flecked with traces of alluvial gold). I’m not completely convinced that’s a good idea!

JANE: Oh!  I remember hearing about that…  That ratty sheepskin did take some of the romance out of the tale.   By contrast, Mary Renault, who I’ve wandered on about (WW 1-18-12), could do a realistic treatment of mythological events without reducing the sense of wonder.  Her re-tellings of the myth of Theseus – The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea – are wonderful.  The Mask of Apollo, while purely historical, adds in the spiritual dimension that would have been a big part of the participant’s lives.

ALAN: An author who was an eye opener for me was Poul Anderson. Not many of his books were published in England, but I avidly devoured the few that appeared. They were science fiction rather than fantasy, but several of them involved time travel back to some rather grim historical milieus (a word I’d never heard until I started reading Anderson!). One of them, The Corridors of Time, was my first exposure to the idea of the Earth Mother, the Goddess.  That novel remains a firm favourite of mine because of that. Of course it helps that it’s a brilliant story in its own right!

JANE: I’m a huge Anderson fan myself.  His Earthbook of Stormgate is a marvelous piece, a short fiction collection that reads like a novel.  It doesn’t hurt that it includes the novella “The Man Who Counts” – released as a novel with the unfortunate title, War of the Wingmen.  Even in these purely science fictional tales, Anderson shows his fascination for the mythic in that the frame story is an exchange of tales between humans and winged aliens.

ALAN: I’d heard rumours of fantasy novels that Anderson had written and eventually somebody published an English edition of The Broken Sword. I was absolutely blown away by the story. It’s an epic tale firmly based on the Norse view of the world. Orm the Strong kills the family of a witch. She allies herself with the elves who steal Orm’s son leaving a changeling in his place. The elves name Orm’s baby Skafloc and raise him as their own.

I’d never seen elves like these before. Mean spirited and vengeful, some might almost say evil, certainly they were cold and cruel and had little regard for the welfare of others. This was a dark and thoroughly depressing book. The villains were nasty and so were the heroes. I loved it.

JANE: It’s been a long time since I read The Broken Sword, but I remembered liking it.

ALAN: Anderson was fascinated by the Norse myths and he incorporated references to them in many of his novels. And then some time in the 1970s he wrote Hrolf Kraki’s Saga which, as the title implies, is a Norse saga told in a very Norse style. I was never very clear whether he made it up out of whole cloth or whether he fleshed out existing fragments of a real saga, but it certainly sounded very authentic. It was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. I must confess I found it hard to read; the writing style was very traditionally Norse, somewhat old-fashioned in tone and quite repetitious, with long passages in the passive voice. Not my cup of tea. But nevertheless I have to admit that it’s a tour de force.

JANE: Ah…  I differ with you there.  I read Hrolf Kraki’s Saga when I was in college and loved it almost to the point of obsession.  The Norse prose style must have resonated with my Scandinavian blood.

Hrolf Kraki was not invented by Anderson.   He was the most famous of the Danish kings in the “heroic age.”  He even had a role in Beowulf, under the name of Hrothulf.   I believe that what Anderson did in Hrolf Kraki’s Saga was similar to what Evangeline Walton did with the Mabinogi – he took what he wanted from a wide body of material about Hrolf Kraki, most especially from the Hrolfssaga, and turned it into a novel.

ALAN: Ah, I see. Thanks – I didn’t know that.

JANE: By the way, since we’re talking about Poul Anderson’s work,  I must tell a little tale.  Back in the mid-nineties, Steve (S.M.) Stirling invited Jim and me to come over, have dinner, and meet Poul and Karen Anderson.  Poul was working on a book set in the American Southwest, and Steve thought Poul might enjoy picking Jim’s brain for details.  Poul did, and Jim is mentioned in the acknowledgments for Operation Luna.  We have our signed copy – a gift from Poul – along with his thank you note, among our treasures.  A charming person, as well as an excellent writer.

ALAN: Most definitely! I have an autographed copy of The Earth Book Of Stormgate and, though I only spoke to Poul for a short time as he signed his name, I remember him as a very pleasant person, very approachable and easy to talk with. I was pleased to find that a writer I admired so much was also someone whose company I enjoyed.

JANE: I have an idea for where I’d like to take this next, but I need to get to work.  So, next time?

Homage or Hack Work?

May 8, 2013

Every reader has quirks.  Some people don’t like graphic sex scenes.  Some people find detailed combat dull.  Some people don’t care how many human characters are killed in the course of a novel, but kill an animal – especially a cat or dog – and the author will be in, well, the dog house…

Hatchet Jobs?

Hatchet Jobs?

My quirk is a little different.  I really dislike books that are recognizably based on someone else’s novels or characters or named setting.

By this I don’t mean collaborations, where the original author is part of the project. I’ve done several of these, most recently Fire Season with David Weber (as well as the forthcoming Treecat Wars) which use Weber’s character, Stephanie Harrington.  I’ve also written several “Honorverse” novellas at Weber’s invitation.    I’ve written a Berserker story with Fred Saberhagen and expanded the history of his Mask of the Sun (in the anthology, Golden Reflections).  I wrote a story for the Jack Williamson tribute anthology, The Williamson Effect.  I also had my go at Larry Niven’s Known Space in a recent Man/Kzin War anthology.

However, what pushes my buttons to the point that I won’t even pick up the novel are those books that are based around highly recognizable fictional characters: the many refurbishments of Sherlock Holmes, the increasingly numerous expansions of cast of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Wizard of Oz revamped, Jane Eyre…

As an author, I did step over this line twice.  Once, when invited to do a story for the anthology Fantastic Alice.  However, even then I was very careful to tell my tale “outside” of the Alice in Wonderland canon, not just recycle Alice and the Queen of Hearts or the Walrus and the Carpenter…  My story was from the point of view of the Dormouse and tells what happens when he’s in the teapot.  To tell the truth, if asked today, when the market seems increasingly glutted with novels based on other people’s works, I would probably decline.  The other time was in a Lovecraft anthology.  Since Lovecraft opened up the gates to his uncanny realms during his own lifetime, I didn’t feel I was abusing his property.

Recently, my friend Tori asked me why fiction – especially novels – based on other writer’s works bothers me so much, especially since I’m not bothered by stories that use mythology or folklore as a foundation.

Basically, it’s because while mythology and folklore belong to a culture – to a group of people who share an ethnic or religious background – fictional characters belong to that one author.  I can’t help but feel as if these works – especially on-going series that don’t even bother to file off the serial numbers – are less affectionate homages, than attempts to capitalize on someone else’s works.  Even when it’s legal – as with characters whose original novels have entered the public domain – I just don’t care for it.

The Iliad and the Odyssey or the Aeneid have named authors (in this case Homer and Virgil), but still fall into the “mythology and folklore” category for me, since it’s quite likely that the “authors” were closer to compilers of long-standing oral tradition.  That is, Homer and Virgil took material that was already being told around the fireside and arranged it into what has become the “official” version.

Recently, as we were working on a future Tangent, Alan Robson mentioned how certain fictional elements have become part of our modern “mythology”: Dracula, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper (a historical figure, but one who has been fictionalized so often that most people couldn’t sort apart the fiction elements from the non-fictional) and others.  While in the context of our discussion, I saw his point, still…

Frankly, I don’t read the stuff.  If you want me as a reader, don’t ride into the literary arena on someone else’s coattails.  Give me your own people and places.   I’m much more likely to give your works a try.

Where is the line between “homage” – a work written because the writer is deeply attached to a piece – and exploitation?  I’d be interested to know what you think.

TT: Fantasy Rooted in Mythic Wales

May 2, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and hop on the carousel with me.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we venture into the mists of Mythic Wales.

Tales of Mythic Wales

Tales of Mythic Wales

JANE: Last week we began what I suspect will be an extensive journey into a sub-section of Fantasy fiction.  After all,  it’s an area both of us like a lot: Fantasy that is firmly based within the framework of actual history and mythology.

One of my favorite series in this area are the four books written by Evangeline Walton, based on the Welsh Mabinogion.  The source material is available in many translations.  (See the introduction to The Mabinogi by Patrick K. Ford if you’ve interested in some of these.)  So what do these novels have to offer?

Just that…  They are novels.   The characters are well-realized and three dimensional.   The dialogue is lively and spritely.   The author provides expansion of detail that makes the basic story flow more easily.  And she manages to do this without losing the mythic  sense of magic and mystery, so that it lingers in the reader’s mind even after the book is closed.

ALAN: I met Evangeline Walton very briefly at some convention or other many years ago (sorry, I can’t give chapter or verse). I recall her as a very bubbly and effervescent person, quite charming. She stood out in a crowd because her skin was blue – initially I thought this was make up (it was a convention after all), but later I discovered that as a child she had been treated with tincture of silver nitrate for severe sinus infections and her skin had absorbed the colloidal silver and irreversibly darkened on exposure to light. Apparently, that’s quite a common side effect – it’s called argyria – and it’s one of the many reasons why the treatment has fallen out of favour.

JANE: That’s amazing.  Blue skin somehow seems to fit in with a writer who so effortlessly wrote her way into a mythic realm.

I can’t resist quoting the opening paragraph of the first of the four novels, Prince of Annwn: “That day, Pwyll, Prince of Dvved, who thought he was going out to hunt, was in reality going out to be hunted, and by no man or beast of earth.”

Compare this to the opening of Ford’s translation: “Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, was lord over the seven cantref of Dyfed.  One time he was in Arberth, his principal court, and it came into his head and mind to go hunting.”

I know which version would hook me…  Yet Walton is faithful enough to her source material that one can read for pleasure and come away with an accidental education.

ALAN: I’ve not read Walton’s books, but I have come across the Welsh myths elsewhere. When I married my first wife we merged our libraries, as one does, and I discovered that she had a series of books by Lloyd Alexander. They are known as the Chronicles of Prydain and they take much of their inspiration from the same sources that Evangeline Walton drew on.

Nominally, they are children’s books (these days perhaps we might refer to them as YA novels), but I’ve always found that to be a meaningless distinction and I devoured them ravenously. Later I learned that they’d won numerous awards and are generally very highly thought of. It was nice to have my judgement confirmed by experts…

I also found the books to be quite funny in places. It’s not many stories that have a pig-keeper as a hero!

Unfortunately when my wife and I separated we de-merged our libraries again, as one does, and so the Prydain books disappeared from my shelves. Perhaps it’s time to buy them again…

JANE: I liked the Prydain books very much and for many of the same reasons you did.   I love the characters with all my heart and consider them friends.

If I have one “complaint,” it’s that – perhaps as is fitting for their audience – the myth-based characters are more black and white than they are in “reality.”   Well, at least in their original mythic source material.  I do have a bad tendency to think of this as somehow “real.”  I have been teased about that, but I guess I just can’t forget that what we call “myth” was once someone’s religion.

Another author who used the Welsh material creatively was Alan Garner in his novel The Owl Service.  It’s a dark and creepy book, and not as much to my taste as his The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (which is Norse-based), but it is still a good book.  It’s also a fine example of how mythology can be used as a firm basis for a novel without becoming locked into simply re-telling.

ALAN: Garner was really good at this. As you point out, he used the Norse myths in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and it was astonishing just how well he integrated them into the story.

The book was set in Cheshire (where he lived), mainly around a place called Alderley Edge. As it happened, my favourite auntie lived near Alderley Edge and I used to visit her a lot and so I knew the area well. When I read Garner’s  books, I was amazed at how well he invoked a sense of place and fitted his story around it. This was the Alderley Edge I knew and it was so easy to accept the mythical elements that he slipped into the reality of it. That was the spoonful of sugar that made the medicine go down. If one could be real, so could the other. It was an astonishing feat of writing and I was absolutely sure that if I looked hard enough I’d be able to find the secret cave where the warriors were sleeping…

There was a sequel called The Moon Of Gomrath which ended on a bit of a cliff hanger. I’ve also discovered that Garner has recently published the final novel in what is now a trilogy and finished the story off – it only took him fifty years! The book is  called Boneland. I’ve not read it, but apparently Colin, the child hero of the first two books, is now an adult. He remembers nothing of his childhood adventures except that once he had a sister who vanished mysteriously and he really, really wants to find her again…

JANE: Oh, dear lord…  My reading shelf just grew longer.  I’ve got to find that one and re-read the others!

While we’re on the topic, we can’t leave out Fantasy based on Arthurian fiction.  We’ve discussed this elsewhere in our tangent of May 24th, 2012 (TT: Tolkien Whine), so I’ll just say that when I like Arthurian based fiction best is when it expands on the source material – much as I discussed Evangeline Walton doing with the Welsh Mabinogi – not when it retells the source in a completely predictable fashion.

A good example of this is Susan Cooper’s wonderful “Dark is Rising” series (first book, Over Sea, Under Stone) which uses motifs from Arthurian mythology with respectful fidelity, but has its own story to tell.

ALAN: I can’t leave this discussion without mentioning Henry Treece. He seems largely forgotten now, but in the 1950s he published a loosely linked tetralogy which explored the history of Britain from Neolithic times to the end of the Arthurian period. Although these were nominally historical novels, they were so infused with myth and mysticism and the so-called “Matter of Britain” that they can easily be read as fantasies. They were particular favourites of Michael Moorcock, and when they were republished in the 1970s, he wrote very enthusiastic introductions to the books.

JANE: Those sound good, too.  I think that trying to write fiction about a historical period without including the religious beliefs that were part of the people’s lives leads to a certain flatness.

I’ve been thinking…  Although there are authors who become closely involved with one period of history or one type of myth, there are those who delight in poking their toes into a wide variety of pools – and sometimes blending different traditions in very interesting ways.   However, the time has come for me to get to work, and I know I could get distracted for hours and hours.  Let’s come back to this next time.

Carousel Carousing

May 1, 2013

Did you ever have an interest that becomes such a part of you that you stop even thinking about it?  That’s how it is with me and carousel horses.   Actually, with carousel figures in general.

Goliath

Goliath

I suspect my interest started with the merry-go-round on the Mall in Washington, D.C.  When I was small, my dad would take us to various of the Smithsonian museums.  Usually we went to Natural History, although we also frequently went to what was, I think, then called “History and Technology.”

If we were lucky, the carousel would be running.  Dad would usually let us look at it, though going for a ride…  That was a rare treat indeed.  The Smithsonian also had carousel figures on display inside the History and Technology building.  Even as a child, I could tell that these were fancier, more elaborate pieces than the ones on the working machine outside.   Even more interesting, not all of these were horses.  There were rabbits, cats, a giraffe…

It’s hard for me to separate out those long ago memories from a lifetime’s fascination.  When I went to college at Fordham in New York, one of my favorite outings was to the carousel in Central Park.  Later, I’d learn that this carousel had been made by Stein and Goldstein, a manufacturer known for unusually large, expressive horses, often adorned with roses in high relief.  At the time, all I knew was that here was a carousel outside of an amusement park or some other pricey venue.  I was perennially broke in those days, but I could usually manage at least one ride.

If there was time for the long subway ride, Coney Island was in reach.  In the mid-late eighties when I lived in New York, Coney Island was a sad shadow of its former glory days.  Still, there remained a carousel or two in working order.  One even had a device from which you could grab a ring as your horse carried you by.  I never got the coveted brass ring that entitled you to a free ride, but I always enjoyed reaching out and snagging a ring as I swept passed.

To this day, if I’m somewhere with a carousel, I’ll seek it out.  Many venues will not let adults ride but, if the rules permit, I’m there in line, surrounded by children who hardly come up to my waist, holding tightly onto to my ticket, waiting for the bell that signals the rush for the most coveted mounts.

Even to this day, my greatest love is reserved for the wild-eyed, fierce steeds.  No pretty palfreys decked in flowers and ribbons for me!  The first stage of any ride begins with standing outside the rail and watching steeds spin by, carefully deciding which will be my first choice, which the runner up, which the distant third.  If there’s a zebra, sometimes that wins, but usually I go for a horse with a flying mane and fantastical trappings.  My favorite on the Central Park carousel  had, if I remember correctly, a leopard skin for a saddle.

Until last weekend, I’d grown so accustomed to the carousel-themed items in my home that I’d not realized how many there are.  Then, in a book store, I came across a book I had somehow missed: Carousel Animals: Artistry in Motion by Tobin Fraley.   I met Tobin Fraley once, when I was a grad student.  A line of porcelain carousel figurines had come out based, I believe, on a book he had written.   He was in a store signing the bases of the figures people purchased.  The figures started at a couple hundred dollars apiece – well out of my range.  Nonetheless, I went to look and dream.

Mr. Fraley kindly spoke to me.  I felt like a fraud, since there was no way I could afford a figurine.  Even the book would have been a stretch (and they were out of copies by then).  Nonetheless, he couldn’t have been nicer.  He took out one of his cards and signed it for me.  Later, when I could, I ordered the book and carefully taped the card on the inside.  I still have it.

Now, as I looked through this later book, I found my enthusiasm for my long-time love kindling afresh – and laughing a bit, because it’s not as if it ever went away.

In my living room resides Goliath, a full-sized fiberglass “carousel” horse, never intended for use as a ride, but as a decoration in a department store or some such.  I bought him on Canal Street in New York.  He was the color of auto primer, a rough, dull grey.  I eventually sanded and painted him using house paint because I valued durability.  If I was going to reside with a knickknack the size of pony, I wanted to be able to sit on it.

Eventually, Goliath was joined by Jerome Girard, a metal carousel giraffe, probably off a working carousel, since his original paint job had wear patterns on the saddle and flanks.  Since he’s metal, he lives out in our yard, placed so I can see him from my desk in our office.  We re-painted him several years ago (with the help of our perennial partner in crime, Michael Wester), but I notice the paint has faded a bit, the once brilliant yellow softening to a paler shade.

Jerome Girard is also large enough for me to sit on.  In fact, he’s who I was sitting on in my earliest website photo!   I missed a chance to buy a tiger that was probably from the same source.  Maybe someday… A few years ago, someone told me that one of those chain kiddie restaurants was getting rid of a carousel.  I was sorely tempted…

These monumental figures are far from the only carousel memorabilia in our house.  There’s a marvelous poster my mom gave me in the living room.  An embroidered piece on the bedroom wall.  Several porcelain figures Jim has given me over the years in the living room and bedroom.  A plastic one-third-sized piece that I painted and Jim made a base for.   Pewter figures.  Crystal figures.  Magnets.  Cookie cutters.  Earrings.   And, of course, a small library of books…

I don’t own an antique figure and, given how dry New Mexico’s climate is, how unkind to wood, that’s probably a good idea.   Still, one can dream.   In fact, the dream of the horse and rider, the fantasy of adventure where you can ride a hippocampus or a zebra or a deer…  To me, that’s what a carousel is all about.

Dream on!

Oh…  If you have any odd things you collect, I’d enjoy hearing about them.