Archive for October, 2012


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

In honor of my favorite holiday, a time when monsters are celebrated and fear becomes joy, here’s my favorite painting of Great Cthulhu. “Cthulhu Awakens” by the fantastic Bob Eggleton first appeared on the cover of WEIRD TALES #305 in 1992. Lovecraft’s most famous creation is one of the all-time great monsters.

Ia, ia, Cthluhu Fhtagn!

(If you don’t know what that means, just pretend I said “Boo!”)

Probably my favorite WT cover; definitely my favorite Cthulhu image. This issue featured F. Paul Wilson’s great vampire tale “Midnight Mass.”

 

PEACE: The Unity of Opposites


I, like many of you fine human beings, am really tired of all the division, conflict, argument, and disharmony that this presidential election is bringing into our lives. I find great comfort when I remember that our world—our entire universe—is composed of opposites.

A Combination of Opposites creates the Whole. So it is with our great country.

Nowhere is this better expressed than in the timeless Yin-Yang symbol, which represents the whole of creation as two blended opposites. It is a thing of utmost beauty and it reminds me of the essential Oneness in times of stressful Duality.

Here are some great quotes to remember in this time of seeming disunity:

“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.”  
—Louis Aragon

“Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”
—William Blake

“If there be light, then there is darkness; if cold, heat; if height, depth; if solid, fluid; if hard, soft; if rough, smooth; if calm, tempest; if prosperity, adversity; if life, death.”
—Pythagoras

“Science has its own versions of the fundamental duality at the heart of existence. The particle-wave duality, in which atomic components are simultaneously particles and waves, is a primary example. Not surprisingly, DNA has also been shown to possess a version of the particle-wave binarism.”  
—Sol Luckman

“At the root of human wisdom is an understanding that we are, at once,
both gods and primates.”
—Earon Davis

“Across planes of consciousness, we have to live with the paradox that opposite things can be simultaneously true.”
—Ram Dass

 

The original CONAN THE BARBARIAN movie poster, an image that marked one of the most exciting days of my boyhood.

You can’t keep a good barbarian down.

Fans of Robert E. Howard’s iconic hero Conan of Cimmeria have certainly taken their lumps. The most recent cinematic version (CONAN 3D) was a complete misfire, despite the best intentions of actor Jason Momoa (i.e. Khal Drogo from GAME OF THRONES). Many years before that came a disastrously bad TV series, and years before that the absolutely horrible CONAN THE DESTROYER, a sequel to 1982’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN, which remains the ONLY good Conan film and a true classic of the fantasy genre.

Directed by John Milius (ROME) and co-written by Oliver Stone (PLATOON, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, etc.) CONAN THE BARBARIAN is still—arguably—the best “Sword and Sorcery Movie” ever made. It’s also one of my personal favorite films (saw it on the big screen when I was 12 years old). Fans tend to argue endlessly over this, but I constantly defend Milius’ film—I have a framed copy of the movie poster hanging on my wall, along with the posters for PULP FICTION and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.

Recently Universal announced a deal with the original movie Conan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was introduced to the world in his role as Conan in the original ’82 film. Whispers of this deal have been around for years, but while Ah-nold was the governor of California, his movie career was pretty much on hold. Now the big Austrian-American is returning to his BEST role ever by taking up the broadsword once again. The new movie bears the title THE LEGEND OF CONAN, and I like what I’m hearing about it.

“But that is another story…” Conan sits uneasy on the throne of Aquilonia. At last that story will be told on the silver screen.

Writer/Producer Chris Morgan said he wants THE LEGEND OF CONAN to be a direct sequel to the original Milius/Stone film. “This movie picks up Conan where Arnold is now in his life, and we will be able to use the fact that he has aged in this story,” Morgan told www.Deadline.com. Fans of the original will recall that at the end Conan sits on a throne (which we know from REH’s original stories is the throne of Aquilonia). That means this new movie will basically be a KING CONAN movie—which is perfect for Schwarzenegger’s advanced age.

Several of Howard’s best Conan tales featured him as King of Aquilonia, specifically “The Phoenix on the Sword,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” and the only Conan novel written by REH, The Hour of the Dragon  (also known as Conan the Conqueror). More good news is that the producers are planning to COMPLETELY IGNORE the terrible 1984 sequel (CONAN THE DESTROYER) and the travesty that was CONAN 3D. Even as a 14-year-old kid I knew how far the franchise had fallen from the first movie to the second. I found out later (much later) that there were several reasons for this: The producers wanted to make the franchise more kid-friendly, so they demanded that DESTROYER be Rated PG instead of R like the original. Also, Milius and Stone were dropped, and the special effects budget must have been half of the original.

In Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN the great James Earl Jones gives a chilling and memorable performance as the serpentine sorcerer Thulsa Doom.

THE LEGEND OF CONAN could be the sequel that the original film deserved. “I love the property of Conan so much that I wouldn’t touch it unless we came up with something worthy,” Morgan said. “We think this is a worthy successor to the original film. Think of this as Conan’s UNFORGIVEN.” With Ah-nold involved, there is sure to be a plenty huge budget. What we really need is a good script and a good villain. Hopefully Chris Morgan will look to the original Conan tales written by REH for inspiration. I refuse to judge him on his previous work (FAST AND FURIOUS) because I really, REALLY want this movie to be a worthy successor to the one truly GREAT Conan film that exists.

Yes, Stone and Milius took some liberties with Howard’s Conan (he was never a slave or a gladiator), but they also nailed some of the great moments such as Conan’s crucifixion on the Tree of Woe, his taciturn nature, his barbaric sense of honor, and even the moment when the ghost of his slain lover appears to save him from death (although in the stories it was Belit, not Valeria who did this—in the classic “Queen of the Black Coast.”) There was also a nod to Nietzschian philosophy, and plenty of gore, violence, and naked breasts. Giant snakes, cannibal orgies, and decapitated heads delivered the blood-and-thunder spirit of Howard’s work, if not the letter of it.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN marks the zenith of the entire 70s Sword and Sorcery craze, and it heralded the end of that era. Now, with Sword and Sorcery making a serious comeback as a commercial genre, it’s time to redeem the Cimmerian as a movie hero. (Or anti-hero.)

KING CONAN is coming. Praise Crom!

SWORD & SORCERY: Why We Love It

The wonderful Violette Malan (The Storm Witch; Path of the Sun, etc.) posted a great article at her site today called
“So, Why Do I Write Sword and Sorcery?”

As one of the S&S genre’s few female writers, Violette’s essay presents a fascinating look into the mind of a unique voice in the field. Here’s the link:

http://www.violettemalan.com

Violette says its the honorable characters that draw her to the genre, citing Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GREY MOUSER, C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY, and Roger Zelazny’s DILVISH THE DAMNED as primary influences. Very nice list indeed. I share her passion for Leiber’s tales, and of course her love of the Sword and Sorcery genre as a whole.

I discovered Leiber’s genius late in the game (it was 2004), and it felt like I had found the “missing link” in my own writing. Soon after reading Lieber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Mouser, I had a major writing breakthrough. I then wrote “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” which became my first professionally published story (WEIRD TALES #340).

Michael Whelan’s version of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser–the original rogues.

Violette also makes a fascinating (and accurate) comparison of Sword and Sorcery with noir fiction. There is certainly something in common between the determined, down-on-his-luck detective punching and drinking his way through a mystery and the brawling swordsman (or rogue) swashbuckling his way through a dark land of menace and strange sorcery. If not for the irony and strong humor that runs through Leiber’s FAFHRD AND MOUSER tales, they would indeed be as dark as most noir fiction.

When it comes to sheer darkness in the realm of fantasy fiction—or Sword and Sorcery—nobody beats the great Clark Ashton Smith. His ZOTHIQUE stories were some of the darkest S&S tales ever written. CAS loved his wizards and sorcerers far more than his blundering barbarians and claymore-wielding warriors. None of Smith’s characters were safe in the weird and demon-haunted worlds he invented.

In fact, Smith seemed to relish following the typical S&S pattern (wherein the daring heroes march bravely into peril) and then breaking it completely by having his heroes die horribly in the end. Such tales began as S&S, but ended more like horror. Breaking and mixing genre traditions is often the mark of a truly talented writer, and Smith did this time and time again with superbly weird and gorgeous stories such as “The Weaver in the Vault,” “The Dark Eidolon,” “The Death of Ilalotha,” and “The Isle of the Torturers.” (To name only a few.) I know of at least one such instance where his editor actually made him change the ending to a happy one before publishing the story.

Smith is one of the main reasons I write fantasy, and even though I don’t actually label my work as “Sword and Sorcery” the influence of that genre is unmistakable. My journey through the corridors of fantasy began with J.R.R. Tolkien, took me through the worlds of Robert E. Howard’s CONAN and KULL into Michael Moorcock’s ELRIC, and all the way back to Lord Dunsany’s masterful fantasies from the early 20th Century. Tanith Lee’s FLAT EARTH books also struck a deep chord with me, as did Darrell Schweitzer’s many metaphysical S&S stories, and H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of the DREAMLANDS.

Usually when I get to talking about my influences I can’t stop. But that’s how we writers are—we are so passionate about the authors and books we love that we preach, exult, and promote them past the point of all moderation. So let me just end this post by saying that the main reason I write Fantasy Fiction (call it Sword and Sorcery if you want to), is because I freakin’ LOVE it.

And love makes the world go ’round.

SEVEN KINGS: Three Months

The release of SEVEN KINGS is only three months away.

January 15, 2013

All artwork on this post by the fantastic Bruce Pennington

The great James Enge (A Guile of Dragons; Blood of Ambrose, etc.) has posted a fascinating article on “Heroic Fantasy & Imagined History” at his Ambrose & Elsewhere blog:

http://jamesenge.com/2012/10/10/aged-in-oaken-heroes-heroic-fantasy-imagined-history/

James makes a good point (as he always does) about the Middle Ages being not only historically inaccurate, but also the root of most heroic fantasy cliches. There are so many ways to create unique and interesting settings for Heroic Fantasy (and/or Sword-and-Sorcery), that it’s become passe to use the medieval era for these types of tales.

As both reader and a writer I prefer fantasy settings that are as far as possible from our own reality. Or, to quote Edgar Allan Poe:

I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space — out of Time.

These lines from Poe’s poem “Dream-Land” crystallize what draws me to worlds of fantasy in the fiction that I read (and write). Most readers of Heroic Fantasy and/or Sword-and-Sorcery share my goal of exploring that “ultimate dim Thule”—that unknown land of strange kingdoms, dark terrors, and brave heroes who represent the better aspects of our own human nature.

Visit James’ blog to read more about this topic.

Meanwhile, here’s the entire Poe piece, which just happens to be one of my favorite poems:

Dream-Land
by Edgar Allan Poe (1844)

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space — out of Time.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titian woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the dews that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead, —
Their still waters, still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule.

By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead, —
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily, —
By the mountains — near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever, —
By the gray woods, — by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp, —
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls, —
By each spot the most unholy —
In each nook most melancholy, —
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past —
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by —
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the worms, and Heaven.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —

For the heart whose woes are legion
’T is a peaceful, soothing region —
For the spirit that walks in shadow
’T is — oh ’t is an Eldorado!
But the traveler, traveling through it,
May not — dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringéd lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.

Click for larger image

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with stranger aeons, even Death may die.” –H.P. Lovecraft

The literary world was shocked last year when legendary fiction mag WEIRD TALES was bought by Marvin Kaye and John Harlacher of Nth Dimension Media. Kaye announced that the magazine would return to its original “classic logo,” and that he would be editing the magazine himself.

The supposition was that the mag would also be returning to a  more classic style of weird fiction—a shift away from the surreal and “new weird” direction the mag had been exploring in the past few years. Since then only one issue has been released, that being an already “canned” issue put together by the outgoing editorial team. Speculation has continued about the mag’s future: Would Kaye’s editorial reign be well received? Would the often sporadically-published magazine get back to a regular schedule? Kaye has endured much criticism and complaint about some of his controversial decisions, and the future of the Unique Magazine has hung in the balance.

Now comes word that the first Kaye-edited issue has finally gone to press. It features the bold cover headline “CTHULHU RETURNS” along with the classic WT logo at full size and a Lovecraft-inspired artwork. A blend of classic and modern sensibilities, the new cover evokes a wholehearted celebration of the magazine’s history, as exemplified by this Cthulhu-themed issue. Perhaps no other creation reflects the “classic” WEIRD TALES sensibility more than Lovecraft’s tentacled squid-god, an obvious symbol of Kaye’s vision for the magazine: A return to the “weird” tradition.

Sure to be the subject of much argument, debate, and strong feelings on both the pro and con sides, the Kaye/Harlacher version of WEIRD TALES is about to arrive.

My experience with Kaye’s work dates back to his 1988 anthology WEIRD TALES: THE MAGAZINE THAT NEVER DIES. I was in college when this terrific collection of classic WT tales was released. It was responsible for leading me directly to the Terminus Publishing version of the magazine that existed at that time—a magazine that became one of the biggest influences on my own writing career.

Some of the stories in this anthology still rate among my all-time favorites, including Tanith Lee’s “The Sombrus Tower,” Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan” H.P. Lovecraft’s “He,” and Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Mysteries of the Faceless King.”

If not for Kaye’s ’88 anthology, I might never have discovered WEIRD TALES and its fantastic history of weird fiction. It will be interesting to see where he takes the magazine now that he’s in charge.

Above all else, WEIRD TALES needs to return to a stable bi-monthly or quarterly schedule in order to maintain its reputation as one of genre fiction’s most enduring institutions.