Archive for July, 2010


“Exploring the WORLD WITHOUT END” is my latest essay at www.blackgate.com.

It’s an in-depth look at one of the greatest and most neglected graphic novels ever written: Jamie Delano and John Higgins’ WORLD WITHOUT END (from 1990).

A timeless masterpiece of weird science-fantasy.

Dig it!

John

What We Are VIII

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”
–Rumi

What We Are VII

“We come spinning out of nothingness scattering stars like dust.”
–Rumi

Well, I’m off to Chicago for a few days, so the blog posts may be less frequent this week. I’m taking my copy of THE POWER THAT PRESERVES with me…I’m only a few chapters into it but already it’s at a fever pitch. Donaldson really starts this third book of his trilogy with a BANG…the Siege of Revelstone is on and Thomas Covenant will have to bring himself back to The Land if he wants to save it. Meanwhile, my own return to The Land (i.e. California) will be Thursday evening.

Also in my travelin’ bag for my sojourn to the Midwest are copies of Michael Shea’s NIFFT THE LEAN and Chopra’s POWER, WISDOM, AND GRACE (I always travel with this book). I probably won’t finish reading POWER this week, but just in case I’ve got NIFFT, which has been on my reading list for quite awhile now.

Before I hop on the proverbial “big ol’ jet airliner,” I leave you with this classic tune from the Godfather of Blues, the great Robert Johnson…

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Tonight I finally finished reading THE ILLEARTH WAR, the second book of THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER by Stephen R. Donaldson. (See my previous “Discovering the Unbeliever” posts if you missed them.) Before I dive into the trilogy’s final book, THE POWER THAT PRESERVES, I have a brief word to say about THE ILLEARTH WAR:

Wow.

The second book is even better than the first. This goes right along with what a friend of mine (Fred S. Durbin) was saying: That each book of this trilogy is better than the one that came before. Seeing as how I felt that same way about Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, this was good news. That Durbin guy knows what he’s talking about (there’s a link to his blog at the bottom of this page). THE ILLEARTH WAR had me captivated right from the start.

Donaldson upped the stakes and the magic in this second installment. My last post talked about the refreshing point-of-view switch from Covenant to Hile Troy, the blind earth-man who enters The Land and becomes a Warmark (i.e. general). At one point Lord Mhoram, the most likeable character in the book and the most steadfast of all the powerful Lords, says to Troy: “Ur-Lord Covenant is a prophet.” Covenant had just told Troy that the war he was leading would lead to his own tragic end.

At the time I (much like Troy) thought Covenant was just full of his usual bitter pessimism. Troy’s strategy does end up winning the war for the Lords…but at a terrible cost in lives…and  his own fate is a strange and bizarre tragedy that I could never have predicted. It’s one of the book’s most memorable and unique moments, involving the weird and deadly power of the Forestal of Garrotting Deep…an immortal druid-god who adds new depth to The Land’s mystical properties. Troy is the embodiment of “blind faith” and that which he believes in utterly (The Land) utterly consumes him. His fate is far stranger than death…and it left me feeling ambivalent, unsure if this was poetic justice or undeserved retribution.

Covenant himself becomes more human in this middle book…discovering at last that Elena is his daughter (albeit a child of rape). Yet this too leads to its own tragedy in a confrontation of magnificent sorcery that is literally earth-shattering. On a quest to find the ultimate magical power (Lord Kevin’s Seventh Ward), Covenant gets to know Elena and finally accepts his love for her…yet in the end it does neither of them any good. The ending of THE ILLEARTH WAR is far more tragic than LORD FOUL’S BANE…Donaldson obviously does not want to repeat himself. This isn’t really a surprise when you consider that a “middle chapter” has to build tension that will be resolved later in the “final chapter.” He does a wonderful job of this…THE ILLEARTH WAR leaves its reader hungry for the final volume.

Whereas LORD FOUL’S BANE was all build, build, build to a single climax, THE ILLEARTH WAR is a series of builds that create several mini-climaxes, culminating in the thrilling yet tragic resolution of two simultaneous plotlines (i.e. The War/The Quest). Donaldson has succeeded on many levels here: The world of The Land is richer and deeper. The recurring characters (Mhoram, Bannor, even Covenant) are compelling and endearing…Covenant is definitely not a hero but Mhoram and Bannor definitely are.

The book is full of scene after scene of unrestrained magical conflicts and eruptions of deadly sorcery. This is exactly what I was hoping for. Donaldson’s narration does tend to meander in certain scenes, but it’s only because he wants to build suspense to a fever pitch and evoke the severest detail in his characters. He never gets in a hurry to move the plot along, and yet when something major happens he leaves you thrilled and breathless. And in this second book, things really happen. BIG things.

Thomas Covenant’s journey from coward to hero (Is that his journey?) has taken one important step. In the first book he was afraid to even try…in the second book he eventually tries to use his White Gold Power…but he’s completely ineffective. It leaves me wondering if the third book (his third return to The Land) will have him trying AND succeeding to use his power. Perhaps he will realize that he waited too long, didn’t take his role as messiah/savior seriously, and paid a heavy price for it. Perhaps he will ultimately embrace his slumbering “wild magic” in THE POWER THAT PRESERVES. And yet … Donaldson’s work remains unpredictable. I have no faith that Covenant will try, or succeed.

This brings me again to the heart of Donaldson’s genius: He takes the Epic Fantasy genre and applies the reality of a Flawed Humanity to it. His heroes are just as likely to die or fail as to conquer…his magic is just as likely to consume you as it is to aid you…his characters fall prey to their own weaknesses of character and the lust for power.

Donaldson uses the tropes of fantasy to explore the Human Condition. This is literary work of the highest degree…genre be damned. Fantasy Literature with an emphasis on the Literature, yet with no shortage of adventure. The icing on the cake is how he manages to evoke such raw humanity in such fantastic situations and settings. It is a goal that all good fantasy writers should strive to achieve.

Ironically, I’m now sharing more of Covenant’s skepticism that The Land might actually BE a fantasy world…a projection of his own damaged psyche. But it’s such a wonderfully beautiful, enaging, and exciting world that I don’t really care if it’s real or not. Which may be the exact place Covenant is heading for in the end. If a dream can heal you and bring you enlightenment, is it any less real than the dream we live every day and call “the waking world”?

Now I’m ready to dive into the pages beneath that fabulous green cover that has fascinated me since childhood. Bring on THE POWER THAT PRESERVES!

More thoughts on the THOMAS COVENANT TRILOGY as I continue the journey…

Peace!

John

What We Are VI

“Consciousness does not exist in space-time. Space-time exists in consciousness.”
— Deep C.

I recently discovered this terrific and insightful essay by Stephen R. Donaldson (author of the THOMAS CONVENANT TRILOGY):

http://www.stephenrdonaldson.com/EpicFantasy.pdf

Reading Donaldson's essay gives me a new understanding of why Thomas Covenant had to be such a miserable "schmuck." It also makes some brilliant observations about the nature of fantasy itself...

The essay was written in 1986, but it remains as relevant as ever to readers and writers of fantasy. In it, Donaldson talks about what Epic Fantasy is and explores his own big question of WHY his series became a huge best-seller when he never expected any commercial success.

Utterly fascinating…

Peace!

John

What We Are V

“Beyond the play of light and shadow I must peel the layers of my soul.
Arriving at the timeless core at the center of my Being.”
–Deep C.

“ON WRITING FANTASY: A Timeless Style” — My latest essay at www.blackgate.com.

It’s the second in a series that began with an essay on Originality.

Peace!

John

The concept of Spaceship Earth goes back to the visionary thinker Buckminster Fuller, and now is the time to pay heed to it. Spaceships carry a limited supply of food and water with them, and the crew must be disciplined about those limited reserves. It would be fatal to run short, but it would also be fatal to contaminate even a small portion of food and water. Because we haven’t seen Earth as our spaceship, we’ve lost all discipline. After centuries of human influence, there is contamination everywhere.

The toxic oil spill in the Gulf is heartbreaking and so massive that it cannot be overlooked. But thirty years ago the pioneering ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau reported that every square mile of the world’s oceans is covered with a thin film of oil. It’s barely visible, if at all, but it’s there. Because there are seemingly endless stretches of ocean — just as there seemed to be endless stretches of ice at the poles — human beings could afford to pretend that we aren’t living on a spaceship.

That time is at an end. Technology will eventually bring us an end to fossil fuels. Water diversion can bring drinking water to the overcrowded cities where clean, potable water is quickly running out (several in India, including Mumbai, are reaching the critical point). Genetic therapies may one day bring down cancer rates by more than a trifling amount. In other words, if you are an optimist, the hazards of climate change and overpopulation are waiting for solutions that will one day emerge, hopefully sooner than later.

But what kind of a solution is it to survive on a toxic planet? This is like telling a patient that he is well because he’s not about to die. We need to adopt a new kind of consciousness in which the wellness of Spaceship Earth is true wellness, not simply the absence of potentially fatal conditions. Right now, we face the potential for ecological disaster on many fronts, from the melting glaciers of the Himalayas that threaten to dislocate millions of refugees to the rising seas that could submerge the Maldives to dying coral reefs all over the globe.

Our choice is to stand back and passively let bad go to worse, or we could become active stewards of the planet. A new consciousness involves networking and group efforts. It involves political influence and the development of new leadership. But all activity begins in consciousness first; you must be aware enough to look reality in the face. We aren’t doing that except in fits and starts. Overwhelmed by bad news on the ecological front for more than a decade, all of us find it easier to shut down and tune out. But there’s another alternative: the invigorating, energizing call to action that leads to personal fulfillment and empowerment.

Healing this planet would be empowering for all of us. What won’t empower us is sitting at the sickbed watching Mother Nature grow sicker until signs of death appear. Planetary wellness needs to become a global movement, yet it begins with you and me, and the time to act is now.

– From http://deepakchopra.com
– Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Book II of THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER offers surprises in viewpoint, character, and plot while continuing to flesh out Donaldson's fantasy world.

I am now halfway through THE ILLEARTH WAR, the second book of THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER by Stephen R. Donaldson. (See my previous “Discovering the Unbeliever” posts if you missed them.)

As I stated in my last post, I was worried that the second novel would continue to force the reader (i.e. me) to wallow in the pitiful psyche of Thomas Covenant, its unlikeable yet strangely compelling protagonist. I knew I wouldn’t make it through another book trapped in the viewpoint of this pain-addicted, pessimistic, masochistic loser. I needn’t have worried…I am enjoying the second book even more than the first.

Donaldson was obviously clever enough to realize that his protagonist might grate on readers’s nerves, so he pulls some interesting trickes in THE ILLEARTH WAR to put a fresh perspective on his fantasy world and to allow the reader a fresh point-of-view (p-o-v). This new viewpoint is a handy way to see Thomas Covenant from a totally different angle.

Covenant is still the depressive curmudgeon when he’s brought back to The Land after 40 years (only two weeks in his own world). However, during Part 2 of this novel, Donaldson switches point-of-view from Covenant to Hile Troy, another visitor from “our world” who was pulled into the land by an act of magical summoning. (It was a failed attempt to bring Covenent back five years earlier.)

Not only does having TWO “earthmen” provide us with a firmer belief that The Land is indeed real and not just a fever dream of Thomas Covenant’s, it offers the chance to escape Covenant’s tattered psyche. Of course, Covenant himself STILL DOESN’T BELIEVE in The Land, even when he meets Hile Troy. Troy is the opposite of Covenant: he believes in The Land, he wants to be its savior, and he chooses it over his earthly existence. Covenant can only view Troy as a construction of his own unconscious mind, which is exactly how he views EVERYTHING including The Land itself. On top of all his terrible qualities, Covenant is also a secret narcissist.

It’s rewarding and refreshing to see Hile Troy confront Covenant and make the same arguments that I as the reader want to make. Troy tries his best to convince Covenant that a) The Land is real, not a dream , and b) that Covenant is far better off in this world than as a leper on earth. Yet Covenant refuses to accept either of these notions…he is obsessed with returning to his “real” life of ultimate isolation, terrifying disease, and mental anguish.

Troy, on the other hand, was born blind and has had his sight restored by the magic of The Land. He embraces his new life and has risen to the rank of Warmark in the armies of the Lords. He is in charge of planning the strategy of the Illearth War and giving the Lords a chance against Lord Foul’s army of corruption and monsters as it marches north to destroy civilization. Covenant once again goes along reluctantly with the “dream” he’s having, the irascible shlub who denies every hope, taunts his friends with hypocritical condemnations, and basically rains on everyone’s parade as they do their best to save The Land from annihilation. Interesting new characters are introduced, and The Land weaves a fresh spell about the reader. If this story had stayed stuck in the gloom of Covenant’s point-of-view, it would have been nearly impossible to continue reading.

Through Troy’s p-o-v we understand the mental weight of someone responsible for sending thousands of men into battle, we feel his love of The Land and its enchanted beauty, and we know his secret passion for the High Lord Elena…who appears to be Covenant’s illegitimate daughter (although the book hasn’t made this clear yet, and Covenant seemingly hasn’t figured it out). I don’t know what to say about the scene where Elena kisses Covenant…there are blurred shades of morality here. Of course, Covenant flees from any intimacy, but in this case I breathed a sigh of relief! One wants to smack Covenant and make him ask Elena exactly how old she is and WHO HER FATHER WAS…because I’m betting it was him. Yes, it was forty years ago, but the Lords have their youth extended by the Earthpower…

I’d love to know what Donaldson’s thinking was when he wrote this second book of the trilogy. Did readers/editors of LORD FOUL’S BANE (Book I) ask him to consider a viewpoint shift in THE ILLEARTH WAR? Or did he tire of the incessant whining and masochism of Thomas Covenant and decide to give himself a break from writing in the Unbeliever’s p-o-v? As a writer these are the kinds of questions I ponder. A novel is, among other things, a series of choices carefully made by the author. Usually they have very good reasons for whatever road they took.

The third book in THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER. This has to be one of fantasy fiction's all-time great cover paintings. Darrell K. Sweet, the artist, is a guest of honor at this year's World Fantasy Convention.

As I continue to read THE ILLEARTH WAR, I wonder if the point-of-view will shift again to other characters … and if it will ever come back to Covenant. I’ve stopped wondering if Covenant will ever change from “Unbeliever” to “Believer” or learn to accept the second chance at life The Land has given him. I doubt that he will ever change. He seems stuck in the rigid groove of his own tremendous denial. I also wonder if he will end up transported back to earth at the end of each book as he was at the close of the first one. If so, this will only reinforce his idea that The Land is a construction of his subconscious.

A great novel not only thrills and entertains, but engenders questions and deep thought. THE ILLEARTH WAR succeeds at all of these with flying colors. It is high fantasy grounded in the absolute reality of the human condition. That is a winning combination.

Look for another update when I approach the third book, THE POWER THAT PRESERVES.

The Land is calling…

Peace!

John

What We Are IV

“We are a wave of metabolism through which passes earth, sun, and sky.
They are as much our body as our heart and lungs.”

It’s great to have Chopra back from his time living as a beggar monk. He always gives me something to think about in his blogs and tweets. Sheer inspiration.

Superb cover art from "Warp Riders," the new album by THE SWORD. This has to be the best album cover since Wolfmother used Frank Frazetta's "Sea Witch" on their first album. Full speed ahead!

One of my favorite bands THE SWORD has released both a new track and the cover art for their new album “Warp Riders.”

The track is called “Tres Brujas” (i.e. “Three Witches”). It’s available for FREE downloading right here: http://www.swordofdoom.com/
(All you have to do is put your e-mail address on the band’s mailing list.)

The album hits stores on August 24 and I’ll be first in line. This is heavy metal in the Black Sabbath / Led Zeppelin / Monster Magnet vein…it’s old-school inspired yet decidedly modern. Remember when the word “heavy” meant something? Huge stonehenge riffs, sonic landscapes of mythic adventure, pyschedelic streams of aural sorcery. These things are in the band’s bloodstream.

“Warp Riders” (the band’s third full-length CD) is a concept album, specifically
“an interplanetary sword-and-sorcery epic.” Yes! Believe me, these guys have what it takes to pull it off. We’ve all seen our share of those heavy rock bands who have terrific cover art but lack the musical skills to live up to their visual image. THE SWORD, however, is the Real Deal. They don’t spend time on fancy costumes or hokey stage gimmicks…they just make amazing albums then hit the road, crank up the Marshalls, and let the decibels fly. They hail from Austin, Texas, but they sound like thundering groove wizards from another world.

Singer/Guitarist J.D. Cronise recently told Classic Rock Magazine: “I wanted to create a setting for our songs that would be unique and different, but still a place where epic sagas unfold in proper Sword fashion.” He was inspired by “lots of things … the legend of Atlantis, old Heavy Metal magazines, the films of René Laloux, a childhood dream, and The Teachings Of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda to name a few.”

Check out “Tres Brujas”…it’ll blow your speakers if you let it. To hear other fantastic SWORD tracks from their previous albums, visit their MySpace page and crank it up: http://www.myspace.com/thesword

THE SWORD takes their fans on not only a sonic journey, but a mental journey as well. For fans of fantasy adventure who like their rock heavy, this is the band you’ve been dreaming about.

Rock on!

John

Here’s a new pic from the forthcoming THOR movie, giving us our first good look at Odin the All-Father, and Loki the God of Mischief. (Thor himself was already shown in some previous preview pics.)

I wonder if Thor, Odin, and Loki will have CGI-generated helmets in the movie. All three characters wear helms constantly in the comics...so CGI headgear is a definite possibility.

Here’s what I like about it: This is definitely Jack Kirby’s Odin, Loki, and Thor (albeit reinvented for the cinema and modern audiences). It’s faithful enough that I think the King of Comics would be proud to see it. Notice the intricate detail of Odin’s armor…total Kirby. (Keep in mind the CGI hasn’t been added to these photos yet, so they’re not yet shining with godly power or metallic sheen.) That’s also Kirby’s Loki…but more the Loki of his “Tales of Asgard” back-ups than the big-horned Loki that came to be the standard model. And Thor himself is pretty close to Kirby’s original design, despite the absence of the trademark winged helm.

Compare the movie Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) to this classic Kirby panel:

Nice! Although Kirby hadn’t yet added Odin’s traditional eye-patch in this picture, the grandeur and majesty of the All-Father is there in every line.

Kenneth Branagh is bringing the thunder to THOR. Verily!

But here’s what really gives me high hopes for the THOR movie: Kenneth Branagh…a director/actor with serious Shakespearean cred. There’s no question about it, THE MIGHTY THOR comic was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Shakespeare” book. I believe Branagh is coming from the same inspiration.

Look back at the movie pic…see the sheer insolence on Loki’s face? Oh, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. The Gods are in the Details.

Nothing will be certain until the movie hits theatres, but from everything I’ve heard and seen, THOR has the potential to be one of the best Marvel movies ever. Perhaps even the best. (Depends on how much you love the character…and Shakespeare.)

I can’t wait to see The Warriors Three, especially with Ray Stevenson (ROME’s “Titus Pullo”) as Voluminous Volstagg….the hits just keep on coming.

Just for the Hel of it (pun intended), here’s my all-time favorite vision of Loki, as drawn by the immortal Big John Buscema. This pic has everything: power, grace, the solemn frustration and misery of the evil one. Next to Kirby, Buscema did my favorite Thor comics (followed closely by the great Walt Simonson).

 

For Asgard!!!

John

Over at the BLACK GATE website I’ve posted an essay about one of my all-time favorite films, WINDWALKER

If you’ve never seen it, you’ve got a wonderful experience in your future.

Check it out here: http://www.blackgate.com/

Peace!

John

NOTE: I’m re-posting this because it’s so important to me and the philosophy that drives this blog, my work, and my life. It was one of my first posts when I started this Virtual Sanctuary, and so here it is again for those of you who missed it the first time around. Peace!

“You are fully awake when you see and feel the presence of spirit in everything.”

“You can live with effortless ease by allowing universal intelligence to flow through you without interference in the form of fear, resistance, or attachment.”

“The key to lasting happiness is to identify with the unchanging essence of your inner self, your source. Then you no longer look for happiness because you know that you already have it.”

“When you identify with the eternal spirit, the unchanging essence of consciousness itself, you transcend all suffering, including the fear of death.”

These are some of my favorite statements; some of the wisest sentences I’ve ever read. And they all came from the same book: POWER, FREEDOM, AND GRACE by Dr. Deepak Chopra. No, it’s not a religious text. Nor is it some “New Age” bible mean to brainwash the masses. What Chopra has created here is a Great Work of Philosophy.

This book, more than anything I’ve read, has changed my life in subtle and lasting ways. I first read it about three or four years ago, and since then I keep coming back to it again and again. It is a seemingly boundless source of wisdom and principles that can lead you to your own personal enlightenment. I recommend it to EVERYONE. If you’ve ever asked yourself “What does it all mean? Why am I here? What’s the point of life?” then you need to read this book.

Chopra does not lay down a set of dogma, he doesn’t tell you what to believe. Rather, he brings together modern science, classic and contemporary spirituality, and the ancient Indian philosphy called Vedanta, and combines them all into a seemless whole that literally EXPLAINS THE UNIVERSE. The thoughts and concepts in this book are so deep and so crucial, I found myself wanting to read it front-to-back over and over again. It’s almost like the longer I stay away from this book, the more “modern society” tries to erase this wisdom from my consciousness. The simple act of surviving often distracts us from our spiritual side, our eternal essence, and drowns out the quiet wisdom at the center of our being. So coming back to POWER, FREEDOM, AND GRACE again and again has been like returning to a Well of Spirit to drink deeply of its cool waters whenever I get thirsty.

Chopra puts an emphasis on daily meditation. This is something I’m still working on. With my busy schedule as a teacher, and trying to fit in my creative writing on my days off, I find myself reluctant to sit down and MEDITATE. When I do this, the benefits to me, mentally, emotionally, and physically, are phenomenal. Yet something in me (conditioning?) doesn’t want me to sit down and meditate. I have to make it a regular part of my daily habit. When I do this, the quality of life improves tremendously. I mean it’s the gateway to happiness. Daily meditation.

One of my favorite film directors and artists, David Lynch, has been singing the praises of meditation for many years. He also has a great book called CATCHNG THE BIG FISH: MEDITATION, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND CREATIVITY, which explores the link between daily meditation and creativity. He points out, as does Chopra, that meditation brings you in contact with the Universal Consciousness where ALL ideas are born and exist beyond time and space. When you sit and observe your own breathing for 20 minutes twice a day, you are connecting yourself with this Universal Consciousness. The more you do it, the more in touch you get. Lynch compares meditation to fishing, going deeper and deeper into the Universal Consciousness, the Eternal Intelligence of the Universe, and finding those answers, solutions, and inspirations that drive the artistic process of any kind.

Chopra goes far beyond meditational practice in his book, explaining how Vedanta and modern science have come together via the discovery of the Unified Field of Existence. That is the name for the vast energy field that comprises the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. We are all of us merely “events” born of this Unified Field; but truthfully we ARE THE FIELD, which erupts into the phsyical world through our body/minds. Chopra (and Vedanta sages) call this field the Cosmic Consciousness or Universal Intelligence. Our bodies and our minds, he explains, are localized manifestations of this nonlocal consciousness…as are planets, galaxies, trees, rocks, water, air, rubber ducks, horseshoes, and everything else inhabiting the universe. We are attached to EVERYTHING at the level of spirit (i.e. consciousness). It is a comforting thought indeed.

In fact, our bodies and minds (which he calls the body/mind, since they cannot be separated) are localized phenomenon along the Unified Field. We are all simply drops in the ocean…but we are also the ocean in the drop. All consciousness comes from the same place: the vast resevoir of limitless spirit that is the Eternal Awareness. When we meditate, we remember this by consciously linking ourselves to this inexhaustible source of power. When we realize that we are all part of the same field of Universal Intelligence, we realize that there is no difference between us and our fellow man, no difference between us and the nature that we inhabit.

In fact, the brain creates the world outside your body. This is a bit hard to swallow at first, but the more you think on it, the more sense it makes. The world, the universe is really just a vast “cosmic soup” of energy (which we classify into molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles). That’s all it is. When our 5 senses recieve input from this “cosmic soup” it’s our BRAIN that process this input (photonic light; sonic waves, etc.) into THE WORLD. We don’t realize that we are all beings of energy (light) floating and existing within a vast field of intelligence (spirit energy) because our BRAIN takes the raw feed from our SENSES and transmogrifies it into the “real world.” The real world is, in fact, an illusion.

Reading this book reminded me of something I have long known, ever since my spiritually wandering college days when I sought answers to the Big Questions: It reminded me that We Are All One. The Unified Field connects us all. The world we inhabit is the world we make!

The legendary physicist Werner Heisenberg stated this another way. He said that when you observe a phenomenon, your observation CHANGES that phenomenon. In other words, if you watch something, the very fact that you’re watching it changes what you’re looking at. This has been proven in scientific labs all over the world. It’s called the Heisenberg Principle. This applies not only to subatomic and atomic levels of reality, but to ALL levels of reality. And from this we get physicist Max Planck’s statement: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

POWER, FREEDOM, AND GRACE is the most empowering single book I’ve ever encountered. For those who want to move their consciousness far beyond the “prison” of the physical world, this is the book for you. For those who have been searching for “happiness” all their lives and finding little, this is the book. In fact, for any thinking human being, this book will open your doors of perception far wider than any drug. At the same time, it supports and reaffirms existing spiritual beliefs. If mainstream religion had more of THIS, a lot more people would be finding their answers there.

To all the Thinkers and Dreamers reading this, let me recommend Chopra’s POWER, FREEDOM AND GRACE in the spirit of love, creative consciousness, and brotherhood. And for those of you who are creative types, you’ll want to check out David Lynch’s CATCHING THE BIG FISH as well.

By opening ourselves to the boundless Creative Consciousness of the universe, the field of intelligence that is the source of EVERYTHING, we energize our art, our writing, our creative endeavors, and most importantly, our very lives…

Peace!

John

THE ILLEARTH WAR is the second book in the CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER, sequel to the first book LORD FOUL'S BANE.

Tonight I finished reading LORD FOUL’S BANE, the first book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s epic trilogy  THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER. In an earlier post (“Discovering the Unbeliever”) I talked about how Donaldson bowled me over with a mix of traditional fantasy elements, a heavy dose of originality, and a perfectly anti-heroic protagonist. Now that I’ve reached the end of the first book, I’m nearly as ambivalent about The Land as Thomas Covenant himself. The poor bastard…

Covenant could not take his Messianic role seriously because a) he believed The Land was only a dream he was having, and b) he was an emotionally and spiritually scarred coward to the core. And this is what bugs me about the first book’s conclusion: I expected there to come a moment at some point during the battles, the desperate flights of magic, the near-death moments, the confrontations with evil and strange powers that rule The Land and threaten to destroy it…I expected there to come a moment where Covenant quits whining and realizes a) “Wow, this really isn’t a dream–it’s all real!” and b) “I should embrace my role as White Gold Wielder and draw upon this tremendous power I’ve been given instead of bitching and moaning at every step along this quest!”

But that moment never came.

At the end of the first book, Covenant is just as frightened, hopeless, spiritually atrophied, and wracked by denial and cowardice as he was at the beginning! Well, he may be a tad better, but these problems still plague him, even up the point where he peforms an act that saves the lives of his fellow questors. Where was his transfiguration? Where was his enlightenment? Where was the magical apotheosis that was going to transform this unlikable whiner into someone worthy of being called the “ur-Lord”? (Which he was called anyway, although greatly undeserving of the title.)

Okay, I understand that years of being a leper in “our world” (i.e. earth) made Covenant afraid to feel, destroyed his emotions out of self-preservation, made him live in a world of constant loneliness and ever-present terror of injury. But one would think that The Land and its wonderful healing power would have affected him in some way. One would think that the heroic quest and the great heroes he accompanied and assisted would have changed him…gotten him used to being “human” again…helped to heal his scarred soul.  But no…Covenant is just as miserable and clueless at the end of the first novel as he was at the beginning.

And this bothered me…because one would think that all the knowledge he has gained, all the evidence of the Lords and their power, The Land’s healing properties, the OBVIOUS FACT THAT HE IS NO LONGER A LEPER, all this would eventually change him into what he is raging against being: a hero. But Covenant is bound and determined NOT to be hero…not to be the savior everyone hopes he will be. He is one of the most frustrating charaters in fantasy literature, hands down. Every time you want him to do something right, he does the opposite. Every time someone offers him a hand in friendship, he smacks it away. Every time someone offers hope, he tears it down.

Thomas Covenant is a schmuck.

Donaldson has simultaneously fascinated me and revolted me as a reader. His fantasy world is so compelling, so full of grand beauties and stark terrors, so redolent of Nature and Myth and Dream, that I long to return there in the second book. But Thomas Covenant is such a pathetic loser that I really would rather make the journey IN SOMEONE ELSE’S COMPANY.

I look at the gorgeous Darrell K. Sweet cover painting on the second volume, THE ILLEARTH WAR, and I want to dive right in and savor The Land again, to see what becomes of its noble people in their unfinished struggled against the Soulcrusher and his legions of doom. But I’m so glad to be OUT of Thomas Covenant’s messed-up head and guilt-wracked psyche that I’m hesitant to crack the book open.

Donaldson’s first book leaves me ambivalent…however, that’s also what I like about it. Most epic fantasies are predictable (I already stated what I “expected” to happen to Covenant)…but LORD FOUL’S BANE never went in the direction I expected it to go. When I thought he would zig, Donaldson zagged. He simply refused to follow standard fantasy tropes and consign his characters to archetypal roles…he was far more concerned in evoking true personalities and following them to their utmost limits. His characters are true to themselves…hence Covenant’s lack of any major transformation.

This is exactly what fills me with respect for Donaldson’s writing. This is what will get me cracking open my gorgeous copy of THE ILLEARTH WAR. (I had to pay a little extra for the Darrell K. Sweet cover edition since it’s out of print). With Donaldson, you simply can’t predict where he’s taking you. It’s a testament to his authorial skills that even though I can’t stand his protagonist (Covenant), I simply can’t wait to get back into the world he has created.

THE POWER THAT PRESERVES is the third book in the trilogy, and word-of-mouth tells me it's the best of the bunch. Another terrific Darrell K. Sweet cover on this original out-of-print version. These covers are icons of my youth...I could not imagine reading the series without them.

How is that even possible? How can I read an entire book told through the point-of-view of a protagonist I simply DO NOT LIKE and yet still feel compelled to see where Book II is going? I’ve never felt this way before about a book or a series. Usually, I either finish a book because it’s completely amazing, or a stop reading one-third or one-half the way through because I finally realize it’s not working for me. But something about pitiful Thomas Covenant makes me look past my antipathy and hope that when he returns to The Land (as I’m sure he will in the second book, based on the title of the trilogy), he will eventually find that growth and healing that he needs.

Maybe it will take the winning of this war against Lord Foul and the healing of the wounded Land itself to heal Thomas Covenant. (I also know that the sequel trilogy begins with a book called THE WOUNDED LAND.) Perhaps if The Land represents Covenant’s tattered psyche (and/or body), he can never be completely healed until The Land is healed…and vice versa. This is another point of the series’ strong appeal…thematically, it works like magic.

I just hope Covenant doesn’t whine and moan his way through THE ILLEARTH WAR the way he did through the entirety of the first book.

But there’s only one way to find out…

I’m off to The Land.

Peace!

John

Quote of the Week

“All I do is send out a string of code:
the trillions of neural transactions that follow
belong entirely to the reader.”

— R. Scott Bakker
(on writing novels)

HoM #27, a great cover and an issue that takes the series to a whole new height of excellence. Issues like this will restore your faith in modern comics.

Every now and then an issue comes along and reminds you exactly why you read comics in the first place. HOUSE OF MYSTERY #27 did that for me yesterday.

I’ve been reading DC VERTIGO’s revived HoM title since it relaunched nearly three years ago, and it’s been a fantastic read the entire time. For those who remember the first ten years of VERTIGO, this comic feels more like that era than any other current book. It’s also a lovingly created and executed extension of the classic HOUSE OF MYSTERY that DC published in the 60s and 70s. It’s been a satisfying and often mind-blowing monthly title…I say it ties with SCALPED for VERTIGO’s best ongoing title.

Yesterday I read the new issue #27 and it left me slackjawed and in awe. I might say it’s the Best Issue Thus Far. Most of the issues are divided between the ongoing storyline (with terrific art by Luca Rossi) and “flashback” stories that are told by guests of the House (i.e. various strange characters from parallel worlds and alternate planes of reality). This has been a part of the book’s charm from the get-go, and there have been some amazing “guest appearances” by some truly great art teams. But this week’s issue topped them all.

Brendan McCarthy, whose amazingly psyechedelic work I first discovered  on SHADE THE CHANGING MAN (one of my all-time favorite comics) does a “flashback” story told by Mac the Sorcerer, an aging wizard leading some of the main characters on a journey through time. This story involves Mac relating his origin: As a soldier fighting in the Vietnam war, he made the mistake of taking a tab of LSD sent to him in a letter by a shady relative. As soon as he did this, all Hell broke loose and the blood-n-guts began flying…his mind is reeling through this intense LSD trip and he’s caught in a horrorific mass of flesh and metal. At this point a mysterious sorcerer arrives, takes him to a place beyond time, trains him for five years in the Secrets of the Universe, and returns him to the exact moment from which he was taken. Wow.

HoM #3, one of my favorite covers.

McCarthy’s excellent artwork brings the phantasmagorical nature of Mac’s experience to life, and he combines surreal enlightenment and the horror of war with such skill as to make the reader’s eyes widen in sheer wonder.

HoM writer Matthew Sturges does a brilliant job of narrating this “long strange trip”…I’ve never read anything like this sequence. (Except maybe a few of the classic moments from SHADE THE CHANGING MAN.) It’s a marriage of words and pictures that creates true synergy and reaches the height of comic book storytelling. It’s the kind of thing we need to see far more in today’s comics…it is true genius at work.

The rest of the issue, unfolding simultaneously with the war flashback, chronicles the vicious battle between the Goblins of Stormfort and a pack of Flying Killer Robots. Luca Rossi’s art is simply gorgeous. All of this and we have the original Cain and Abel (stars of the classic HOUSE OF MYSTERY) lurking in the background, sometimes coming forth to play a major role.

If you’re looking for a comic that will restore your faith in the medium, try HOUSE OF MYSTERY. It’s got everything you could want in a VERTIGO comic, a horror comic, a fantasy comic, or a great comic in general.

Peace!

John

Roel's fantastic wrap-round cover for the long-awaited PRIMORDIA Hardcover.

The PRIMORDIA graphic novel is currently listed in the July PREVIEWS catalogue for release in September. Ask your favorite comic store owner to order you a copy! Roel’s amazing art must be seen to be believed. This is the definitive edition of our stone-age faerie tale, with tons of extras that weren’t in the original comic.  

Here’s a recap of the contents: 

– The original PRIMORDIA was written as 96-page graphic novel, but it was split into three chapters and released in ’07-08 as three issues (32 pages each). So first and foremost, this hardcover presents the story in its originally intended format: You should be able to read it in one satisfying sitting. 

– The Mighty Roel has provided a gorgeous new wrap-around cover (see above). 

– I’ve contributed a never-before-released short story that looks beyond the end of the graphic novel. It’s called THE TALE OF THE DAWN CHILD, a saga ripped from the pages of the Book of Neptor (God of Wisdom and Secrets). 

– Roel did a great new full-page illustration for the new short story!  

 

– We have a pin-up gallery from such stellar talents as Alex Sheikman (ROBOTIKA), Chandra Free (THE GOD MACHINE), Tom Scioli (GODLAND), and the talented Jack Keefer. 

– Behind-the-scenes sketches from Roel shed light on the development of the story, AND you’ll see the original 8-page PRIMORDIA Ashcan (mini-comic) written and drawn by ME before I teamed up with Roel. It’s a fascinating look at a scene I drew, inked, and lettered myself, but which Roel then drew later from my full script…without ever seeing the version I had done! Of course, his pages are far superior to mine, but it’s fun to compare the original scene to the final scene. 

The cover of the all-Fultz PRIMORDIA Ashcan...a relic of the pre-Roel era.

Kat Rocha of TITANIUM RAIN fame.

   – The great Kat Rocha (TITANIUM RAIN) contributed a tasty introduction for the book. 

If you’re going to San Diego Comicon, you’ll (hopefully) be able to get your copy early at the Archaia booth! 

For more previews visit the PRIMORDIA site: www.myspace.com/primordiacomic

 Peace! 

John 

  PRIMORDIA, pages 44-45, a nice battle scene two-page spread by the Mighty Roel. Alleyar’s Sun Tribes wage war against Driniel and the Night Tribes.