Friday, February 25, 2011

To Fantasy Writers: Why I Don't Like Fantasy

I always have to qualify this statement. "I don't like fantasy...except for Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Mr. Schwabauer's Runt books."

Considering how much I love all of those, especially Narnia, my ludicrous statement of fantasy un-like because less convincing. So, the real title of this post should be Why I Don't Actively Read Fantasy.

Warning: For a bit here I may seem to be bashing you--the fantasy writer. I'm a 12th century historical fiction writer soured by three years of amateur fantasy, and I've become highly sarcastic. Please don't take me wrong. I hold you in the highest respect. You're a writer, after all! You work just as hard as I do. Here's a post for me to vent and ask for something very simple to understand, lots harder to apply--but really, it's something all writers should do.

My main objection can be summed up in one word - Gimmicks.

Novels of the fantasy genre tend to get caught up in the "cool" aspect of their genre. The gimmicks. For example, it's popular among many amateur writers I know to use Tolkien-esque elves of some kind. Then, of course, you probably end up with dwarves of some kind, shapeshifters, vampires, fairies (oh, pardon me, faeries), and the insanely cool gigantic reptiles (aka dragons). Then of course there are the ever-present hybrids of two of these different amazingly cool races.

Yes, I'm being sarcastic. Hang with me for a minute. The problem is when a writer gets caught up in what she or he (and most of the rest of the world) thinks is "cool" he or she loses the group of people like me--who are reading a book for story and characters. If the main character is a 2-D half-elf half-dragon I'm not going to be impressed. Just because your races are cool and original (though I've never really seen a truly "original" fantasy race) and your world is developed doesn't mean that I'll want to keep reading.

Another aspect of these "gimmicks" is the use of magic. I don't have magicphobia, but magic annoys me. It's the cure-all. "We're dead! Oh wait, no we're not--we have magic healing potion! Hurrah!" I admit that all books don't do this, but the ones that do scare me away from reading fantasy. I almost always feel cheated when something magic comes into play.

Connected to both of those, there's also the strategy of characters who all have special powers. The power over fire, over air, over water...these also fall into the "cool" of the writer's mind. They fall flat to me. I have a hard time relating to an ever-living being (the elf-dragon, remember?) who can manipulate water. These mighty races put me off. Think about LotR. Which is the most important race? Personally, I'd say the hobbits--those short, fat, hairy-footed but hard to corrupt beings. The men know how to fight but got us in this mess in the first place. The elves are leaving. The dwarves are selfish.

There are of course exceptions to all these rules. Remember, I like LotR and Narnia just as much or more then lots of people I know.

But, as I said in Ordinary, it's the ordinary people who grab my heart and stick in my mind. Rather like those hobbits.

By no means is this post supposed to be: STOP WRITING FANTASY! Sure, I get tired of it, but if it's what you love, then go for it. I'll write historical fiction and be insanely happy and you write about dragons and be insanely happy. Deal?

Just...don't get caught up in the gimmicks. I applaud you for your ability to create worlds, languages, peoples, laws. Just remember: the story is more important. If the heart and soul of your story is solid, I'll keep reading, I promise.

Even if your heroine is an elf-dragon.


P.S. My apologies for the slightly off-topic post. It's been on my mind lately (as should be apparent by "Ordinary") and I wanted to write about it. I'll be back to Robin Hood and research shortly!

Monday, February 21, 2011


I am in love with the ordinary.

The scarred man, not the monstrous dragon,

The widowed woman, not the beautiful elf,

The search for Truth, not for magic.

Fantastical can only be fantastical.

What is the victory in finding the magical chalice when the magical cure saved your best friend...

Can you rise from the ashes of a friend's death to protect someone who caused it?

Ordinary can be extraordinary.

In real life, there are no dragons.

In real life, you face cancer and car crashes, not evil sorcerers.

Is that not the greater victory?

The real world is ugly.

In the real world, evil sometimes wins.

But not for forever.

I love real people.

That do the extraordinary.

Because of an extraordinary God.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I know, I know, I'm getting a little review-happy. But I'm reading a lot of Robin Hood right now because it makes me happy. I might as well review it while it's in the house, right?

I can't really do this one like normal ones, because it's really a collection of Robin Hood short stories, not a book by one author. I'll rate each story separately and mention anything that's particularly striking.

Sherwood: Original Stories from the World of Robin Hood
Edited by Jane Yolen
Published by Philomel Books, 2000

Our Lady of the Greenwood, Jane Yolen * *
I am tempted to rate this one poor, but decided not to because that might be putting too much personal opinion into this and not being fair story-wise and things. Anyway, this is the first story in this book and is rather deals with Robin's birth, all right in its own way, but chooses to deal with something called "the Fey" and "faeries" and weird things like that. There is actually more than one book that chooses to indulge here, and I never like the feel of that. This story actually gave me a low opinion of the whole book: an unfair opinion, I realized.

Marian, Maxine Trottier * * *
This one is sweet, dealing with Marian when she was ten years old. It has "flashforwards" throughout that make you wish that the story was longer, and it's fun to read.

Under the Bending Yew, Anna Kirwan * * *
Once one gets past the cumbersome dialogue, this one is kind of fun too, especially when you figure out who the narrator is. Maybe I'm slow, but it took me awhile. It too is a nice "set-up" to some larger story...though you feel more satisfied when this one comes to an end than when Marian does.

Know Your True Enemy, Nancy Springer * * * *
I remember thinking this was the jewel of the collection. It's actually part of the reason I at last decided to read the Rowan books, by the same author (not a fan of those, by the way). It's an interesting, less-typical story that goes beyond just Robin Hood and talks about revenge and friendship. The only weird part is that the outlaws refer to "gods," which even without my disagreement, makes no sense to me whatsoever. Medieval Catholic England? Where do you come up with that?

The Children's War, Timons Esaias * * *
This one is slow to start off, but takes an interesting angle--obviously years after the original establishment of Robin's band. Not only is it interesting, but you can't help thinking: "you know, it never tells this side of the two hundred men he had, and this makes sense." It's getting an extra star for this angle, because the story is probably the slowest in the collection.

Straight and True, Robert J. Harris * * * *
This is one of the three that I remembered when I requested this book. It tells a humorous tale about a not-so-perfect Robin through the eyes of Friar Tuck. It has a fun voice, and it's a fun story.

At Fountain Abbey, Mary Frances Zambreno * * * *
Though I'd forgotten it, I really like this one too. It's another one that I wish had a whole book to go along with it. Interesting and fun angle, one that when I finished it made me wish I could take it up and write more!

Robin Hood v. 1.5.3, Adam Stemple * * * * *
This one is brilliant. It really is. It takes a few pages or careful reading (at least for me) to understand what's going on, but even if you miss it entirely, it's still amazingly funny. Robin Hood's a computer virus. Need I say more?

Overall: * * * 1/2
Short stories aren't really my thing, but I do like this collection. Once you get past the weird first one, it's really a lot better than I remembered!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Robin's Country

* = poor
* * = fair
* * * = good
* * * * = very good
* * * * * = above and beyond

Robin's Country
Monica Furlong
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Plot * * ½
This is a character-centered story. It is more connected than some Robin Hood books--mainly because of the main character, Dummy--but it is still episodic. There is kind of a typical Robin Hood defeat-bad-guys finale, but it feels a little wrong at the end of this book. It just kind of ends. It did keep me reading, though, because the plot element of Dummy’s mysterious past was interesting.

Characters * * *
I’m a little torn on the “grade” of the characters as well. They not overly developed (this book is only 140 pages long), but you feel like you get to like and know them all the same. This book fits into a the category of “short and sweet” on the whole.
As I mentioned before, Dummy’s mysterious past is interesting, and I like him as a main character.
Marian’s hostility is interesting and understandable.
Robin’s very Robin, even if he doesn’t get as much screen time as is usual. I like how Dummy notices that his face gets “a look” when they’re in danger, and he (Dummy) can tell that Robin just loves danger. Robin’s also kind and caring, if not originally towards Dummy, definitely towards others.
Dummy’s friend Jehan is a little flat, but because Dummy adores him you’re kind of tricked into liking him anyway.

Golden Arrow * * *
This is a children’s book. The characters feel right, and Sherwood feels like the same forest as always--a place to hide in, a wholesome place filled with wholesome people. So, look elsewhere for elaborate disguises, grand escapes, and bouts with the quarterstaff--but if you’re looking for the justice, kindness, and courage, it’s here. (And there’s an archery contest, too!)

“Fluently!” * *
This book is low on the usual battle-of-wits (the best part is when they entertain a Bishop) dialogue. Even though Robin professes to “love teasing,” you don’t see much of it. I guess that’s because the book’s focus is on Dummy. His life is smaller and more centered on the camp, because he’s only a boy. So, as mentioned before, we don’t see many exploits, just hear about them.

Others * * *
I realized as I reread this book that I was probably influenced by a pretty strong element: faith. I remember liking that about it as I reread it. Robin’s Catholic and sincere. He has his usual high morals with good backing for them. That was an interesting touch to this one. Most books glaze over that a bit, but this one actually delved into it. Even if I don’t agree with the aspects of Medieval Catholic faith, I did appreciate Robin’s attempt to serve a higher authority.
Another fun thing is the time spent on archery/bow-making. It’s interesting and accurate.

Overall Thoughts and Rating * * *
This is a sweet book. I don’t mean that in surfer-dude slang, but its older meaning. Its definitely a kid’s book, and is innocent with a mostly happy ending. I like it, even if it isn’t as rowdy and laughter-inducing as the typical book. It’s kind of nice in its atypical-but-still-traditional way. I wouldn’t fight to own a copy, but I don’t mind picking it up now and again to read. It has a good heart.

I guess I’ll leave it at that.


Up & Coming

I hope to post a review of a book I recently reread, Robin's Country, today, but as I don't want to clutter up that post with this update, I'm posting this first and seperate.

I will be gone for a few days, but I hope to get some things off the ground when I come back. Here is my plan, both to lock myself into this and so you get an idea of what I'm doing.

1) I'll be updating/changing the Etched in Black page with information on Worthless (working title) or Gervais's story.

2) I also want to begin a page on resources for historical fiction in general, 12th century in specific, and Robin Hood historical fiction in very specific. Mostly it will be explanations of books and I might try to find Amazon links or something. There are a couple of websites as well.

3) Right now I have plans for a posts on...

i) Historical Fiction dialogue

ii) The Rewards of Historical Fiction

iii) Christianity in Writing

iv) A 4-part series on why I love the legend of Robin Hood

v) I also have some vague ideas for "cheating" during historical fiction, the peculiarities of bringing a legend to life, and why, in some cases, you simply shouldn't cheat. Still a bit of a jumble in my head right now, we'll see how that plays out.

I hope to write some of these while I'm gone. I'm excited! The more I think about this odd niche I've fallen into, the more ideas I get...I hope they will be useful to you!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Robin Hood-ian Humor

Well, today in my AP English Language class, we talked about humor. One of the reasons I love Robin Hood? Its humor. Here's some fun witty dialogue for the day!

Also, question for my loyal readers...would you like to see a breakdown of why exactly I am so in love with this ancient legend of the outlaw who was right?


"But there will be rare sport on the third day," said Much, "for there is to be archery at a mark, after the sword-play on foot, and the prize for the best archer is a silver bugle and a silver arrow feathered with gold."

"A good prize," said Robin thoughtfully, "and I count that the Sheriff's man Hubert will hope to win it."

"He is afraid of one of the men who comes with Count John," said Much, "a leary fellow with a squint they call Henry--"

"Do they call the fellow Henry, or the squint, Much?" interrupted Little John, who was listening.

"Nay, but a pest on thy jokes," said Much, amid laughter.

~Robin Hood by Vivian


"You are a tanner, I take it?" said Robin. "Ah, sad news indeed have I heard concering a new law against all tanners."

"New law? Sad news?" Arthur-a-Bland's face fell and he looked suddenly anxious.

"All tanners who drink too much ale and beer are to be set in the stocks," declared Robin, keeping a straight face with difficulty.

"Drinking ale and beer!" roared Arthur, nearly falling off his horse with laughter. "By the Mass, you'll lose no freedom by that."

"Oh yes you will," said Robin. "You'll lose the freedom of your legs. That is the law -- of Nature!"

~The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Green


Prince John: "You think you're overtaxed, eh?"

Robin: "Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope."

Marian: "Why, you speak treason."

Robin: "Fluently."

~The Adventures of Robin Hood by Warner Bros, 1938


What are some of your favorite lines?


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Robin Hood (1922)

Yes, you read that right. This film is 89 years old. This film is in black and white.* This film is silent.

This film was worth it.

Of course, such a statement is coming from a Robin Hood-and-old-films junkie, so take my word for it at your own risk.

Or, watch it yourself. I didn't realize this until I searched for images, but the film is in the public domain (big surprise), and you can watch it in its entirety at this site I've linked to. The quality of the DVD I watched was rather better, but I feel I had an enormous stroke of luck to find that the junior college here had a copy. (I know, weird, huh?)

So, though this post has been running in my head a bit "freestyle" I might as well go with my old review system...let's get started!

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood
Produced & Written By: Douglas Fairbanks
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks
Distributed by: United Artists
Release Date: October 18, 1922

Plot * * *
It's hard to smack this one for originality issues, considering it came before all of the other Robin Hood TV and film that I've seen! (I THINK only one other movie came before this one.) Anyway, the plot is fine. The first hour or so is a bit slow, especially in the about 30-45 minutes before we even get started on the crusades. It picks up considerably halfway through, though. The crusades bit is pretty interesting, actually--we never actually get there, and Robin (*ahem* the Earl of Huntingdon) gets thrown into prison for desertion. Scary. It's a bit more "big picture" than the Errol Flynn rendition, which was interesting. You don't see as much of the merry men, but rather focus on Robin, Richard, Guy, John, and some politics. Or a lot of politics. Anyway. I had an ACT this morning and watched this until 10:06 last night because I didn't want to shut it off early!

Characters * * *
Pretty stereotypical here, but done well all the same. Fairbanks plays a"bouncy" Robin. It was interesting--I think it might have had to do with the filming process back then (it's also at the time where everyone walks fast and jerkily), but he looked like he was always bounding six inches off the ground after he stopped being a knight. Must've been getting rid of all that armor or something. Robin also had a nice little twist that last about 30/45 minutes where he was scared silly of women and Richard was trying to get him a "maid." Quite amusing.
A high point for me was actually the depiction of Richard. Though they definitely played him more on the nice side, I thought it was still decently accurate. He acts very much like a king, if that makes sense, and has a temper issue at one point. He was both not perfect and lovable. He also contributed heavily to a humorous scene before "The End" flashed.
Overall, I cared about the characters--partially because you go into a Robin Hood film caring about them anyway, but they certainly didn't do anything to drive me away--and what was happening to them, even if Marian was a bit creepy-looking.

Golden Arrow * * * * *
This felt very much like Robin Hood, even with the first half not having Robin Hood AS Robin was a lot of fun. And that, to me, is one of the main parts of the Robin Hood legend. Sherwood is a place of good times, and good winning out over evil. This captured that well.

“Fluently!” * * *
I know what you're thinking. "How on earth can you ever RATE the DIALOGUE section? It's silent!"
Why yes, yes it is. Thanks for reminding me. The first bit of dialogue flashed on screen for Robin is as follows: "Exempt me, my lord! I am afeared of women!"
End of story.
Okay, I'll go on. The dialogue in here isn't always amusing (though it's very Shakespearen--which was fun for me), but the film actually is. Some of the amusement comes from the exaggeration of silent film and the very oldness of it, I admit, but the intended humor also comes across pretty well. As I said before, it was fun. Maybe not witty, but it is funny.

Others * * *
There's not a whole lot to mention here that I haven't elsewhere. I suppose the negative things would be: Marian's polka-dot dress (I am not making this up), some torture-like things shown (but not gruesomely), and one death in particular that's kind of gross...even though it's downplayed by the silent black-and-white part. I watched it with my nine-year-old sister, and we both said "eww" and moved on.
I can't think of anything on the positive and extra side...though the slow part of the plot was also kind of interesting, especially with Robin's desertion.
The parallels to 1938 are fun.
Oh, and Douglas Fairbanks. I heard elsewhere that he got his fame for "not standing still." Well, he doesn't. He's fun to watch as an unquenchable Robin that does have a serious side, and the stunts are cool too.

Overall Thoughts and Rating * * * *
If it's not obvious by now, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. That's about all I have say. Thank you, Fairbanks, for a great time.


*Actually, this film is "tinted" b&w, something I'd never heard of until I watched it. They apparently washed the b&w film in different colors (or something) for different scenes (or even parts of scenes). Kind of odd, but you get used it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

12th Century Clothing

It's harder than you think.

Unless, of course, you've attempted to study and recreated it yourself. I'm not sure quite how long it's been a dream of mine to have a historically accurate "Marian dress"--but it's been awhile. As I hope my readers know, lovely as she is, this person is going to be of no help whatsoever.

And these might be of some help, but the truth is I couldn't for the life of me create a pattern from these pictures, and to be perfectly honest, the Robin Hood legend should not be known for complete accuracy (so really, the BBC deserves no flak at all for ignoring historical accuracy altogether).

After a really long wait, I finally have this lovely pattern from Patterns of Time. I was surprised to find that the instructions were in French. Luckily, they are also translated to English. Aha! So I now have all I need to get my heart's desire.

But considering my stickler instincts, I now have discovered that I have yet more research to do. Knowing that there were ridiculous sleeves isn't enough. Now I have to somehow come up with the appropriate fabrics from modern stores. Because, like the wonderful directions these are, they have instructed me on which fabrics these clothes would have been made of.

To quote Fortinbras, the sight is dismal. I visited a local fabric store and found that the silk selection probably has a grand total of 15 whatever-they're-called in and there's probably only 3 or 4 100% linen ones. As one might imagine, the color options are therefore not that great.

So, I must become an expert on silk, and possibly linen. Because I'm likely to be buying it through the internet. And maybe dying it as well.

The color options at the store also got me thinking about what kind of combination I'm going to want. I like red and green, because they're both colors I see Marian wearing in Forest of Lies. But I think blue would also be acceptable. Anyway, I need 5 yards for an outer garment, 4 yards apiece for two undergarments (if I decide to make both), and something like 4 yards for a mantle (cloak). The pattern suggests colors that are "bright, lively, and uniform." I'm also prompted to mix colors.

I visited the library with my mother, and discovered something: right next to the books about how to get into colleges, smash ACTs, earn scholarships, and the like, is the fashion section. And, in this fashion section, are some lovely historical books explaining clothing of the western world, complete with coloured pictures. Score!

After dragging my booty home, this ensues on my floor (well, the picture is on my bedspread, but I did really open them up like this on the floor).

Ah, compare and contrast and absorb...and does the research never end?

I have a feeling this is going to take awhile.

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