Category Archives: Genre-Fantasy

State of the Lands: Poetry in Epic Tales (Seriously, What Up with That?)

Thou art wise to consider such a synthesis, Solemn. There are many worlds, but only a single nature.

-Final Judgement, The Eye of Kog

I have a question. Or perhaps it’s a rant. And maybe no one cares, though I’m far too egotistical to go for that. But it’s a Two-World Tuesday (OK in all honesty, a world and a half, you’ll see what I mean). But here’s the thing:

Over and over in classics of epic fantasy which I adore, I hit a patch where there’s this poem. And I love-love the story, but the poem just stops me cold.

And I’m wondering- why on earth is that in there?

Keep the Tale Moving

As a modern-day epic fantasy author, I’m challenged to construct a story that somehow brings the reader into an entirely new world, slips in all the information they need to understand that world and empathize with the characters, and keep them on track with a

Illus. Rachel McReynolds

ripping good plot that forces them to turn the page. If there’s no magic, monsters, other races, incredible geography, unthinkably-evil villains and mind-numbingly old prophecies coming true… then why not write a paranormal-thriller-shapeshifting-romance set in the Alleged Real World? Like everyone else!

{<— Shapeshifter with romance, I got. Alleged Real World? Not so much!}

Point being– why are you stopping your draft for anything, for any reason, much less for something so overt, decorative, distracting and pace-slaying as a POEM. Yet that’s what our forefathers, the giants of the genre, did all the time. ALL the FRICKIN’ TIME!!

  • C.S. Lewis broke into poetry frequently, most annoyingly to my taste in Till We Have Faces, and just at the climax before we figure out what’s going on.
  • Not to be outdone, Tolkien put tons of songs into LoTR, both at times when things were already going slowly (Tom Bombadil singing about how much he loves his wife), and also at times of great pathos (the Elves of Lothlorien singing their grief at the death of Gandalf). But the former case, when we don’t need to care, is in plain English doggerel complete with heigh-ho’s and hey-nonny’s. In the latter, when we really could get some emotional impact from the words… then, Tolkien puts the poem into ACTUAL-FACTUAL ELVISH! Because of course he made up languages from like six years old, and they hadn’t built the signs to warn fantasy authors about world-building yet. I mean, honestly, Elvish? And it goes on for two pages!
  • Just this past month I finally got around to reading George MacDonald’s Lilith, which was a head-bender in its own right let me assure you. I staggered on through a tar-pit of allegory for about the first third, and finally caught the thread of his plot, hanging on for dear life and enjoying it fairly well. But I’m not kidding, hanging on.
    • Suddenly there’s a real situation: an evil-looking feline creature has run through the MC’s library and is hiding in a dark corner.
    • And this is kind of supernatural and he’s not sure what to do but his mentor the Librarian says “I got this”. And proceeds to recite a poem. No, not kidding. A rhyming poem, full of Christian allegory (which is fine, but now?) and all the assurance that the Guy Above is going to win (which is fine, but ditto).
    • And every three or four stanzas the cat in the dark corner yowls in pain, and I’m wondering is it because the goodness in the verse is hurting it, or are the metered rhymes just driving it nuts like they are me? And it goes on for at least four pages! Verse-Verse-Verse-cat yowls, lather-rinse-repeat.
    • The cat gives up hiding and comes out, and the plot labors back into gear again. And I’m still hanging on. But dude, why?

I got tired of just asking myself why about this, and decided to have a think. And here’s what I think.

They Kind of Had To

I’m not posing as a scholar of the historiography of literature here. I’ve read some stuff, looked back in my reading list, and thought about it a while. And I came up with some thoughts, maybe they’re even excuses. Nothing I say about these giants in the least bit diminishes their stature.

Poems Are What They Started With!

If you think about it, the roots of epic fantasy are epic tales, told by our ancestors and describing a world they sincerely believed had existed. Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Beowulf (you KNOW how JRRT went gaga over that one). All poems! Even the lays of Roland and Arthur were in verse: it was quite literally the stuff of which the genre was born. I hadn’t ever really considered that. The notion of telling a TALE with an epic fantasy flavor was far less than a century old by the time these guys got started.

A Whole New World

Here’s one I bet you might not have thought about: how many years went by with people writing extraordinary stuff– new discoveries, monsters, supernatural occurrences– but all still set in the Alleged Real World! Almost everything we think of as classic horror and sci-fi, it all stayed “here”. And why not, creating a whole world is so laborious. But the epics of the past, despite having gods and miracles and creatures beyond the pale, were nevertheless all still part of this world, and their authors believed it had all happened in their distant past.

Breaking away from that, to create something entirely new, did not come easy. Thus was born the emphasis on world-building. Though in fact, you ALWAYS have to build a world for your reader, even in lit-fic. But now it’s a game where ANYTHING could be on the chopping block of change– taxes, nuclear families, gravity– better explain it soon or the reader’s going to assume the default setting.

And I guess these guys figured that the best way to enforce the notion of a world’s character, its believability if you will, was for it to have poetry. Yeah, me either.

Put Your Name on It

Sort of related to the previous theme, some of the earliest efforts in fantasy were portrayed as frame-tales, or via “primary sources”, etc. in an effort to cloud the issue of authorship. How better to make a tale seem real than to point elsewhere for authority? This doesn’t do much to explain the existence of poems in the tale, but it does create a kind of buffer between the writer and any critique of their work. Hey reader, this verse is just there, don’t blame me! Then too, of course media wasn’t so rampant and easily available, the competition for a free hour not as desperate. Stories could take their time, perhaps, for a poem or two along the way.

Hey- They WANTED To

For all these reasons (and also just because, I suspect), the fantasy giants were drawn to the notion of writing poems into their stories. I can’t judge from quality– I mean, at all, I have no idea– but I think in many cases they were being true to their roots, in others perhaps they were truly trying to add verisimilitude to the tales and make them more believable by the lights of their day, and then too, in the case of the Christian authors, they may essentially have been trying to write hymns. Since the allegory put them in that vein to start with, they were looking at joy and worship and giving us their version of the Psalms. The ones I recall have meter, and could be set to music.

Thither Go I?

Can anyone name an extended passage of verse or lyrics within an epic fantasy tale of the last couple decades? I’m not the widest-read fellow and most of my page-flips are in the past, but I can’t pull up a single example. So, I should definitely avoid this trap in the future, right? I mean, I do have the usual ancient prophecy at the start of Judgement’s Tale, and a soldiers’ marching song in The Ring and the Flag. But when the bard Salinj’r refers to the cryptic tomb-epitaph they find in the Shimmering Mindsea, during The Plane of Dreams— you know, the epic rhyming verse poem that could serve as the basis of two or three plot seeds– I should bring those out in prose, I’m sure. Forget the rhymes and meter I found in there. And the Song of the Silvertongue, which I’ve only taken down maybe a quarter of: I should leave that alone in the mists of history, no point in bringing the other eight to twelve verses out in poem. Everybody already knows who won the Battle of the Razor.

Sure, that’s what I ought to do. I get it. Then I start to think about what makes a world seem real, and I come back again and again to the notion that the characters feel joy, have a capacity for happiness. Those kind of people, damn it, they recite tales, say stuff that rhymes, they sing songs. Just has to be part of the story, is all. I mean, I didn’t set out to write poems, I just… found them along the way.

What’s your opinion? Have you ever run across a poem in a tale that really boosted you along? Or are you one of those old-fashioned holdovers that isn’t looking to turn the pages at record speed? Comment here, you could be saving me from myself!

Annie Lima’s Prince of Alasia: Interview with Prince Jaymin

Some of my readers may recall Ms. Lima, author of the Krillonian Chronicles among others, who herself barely escaped my author interview dungeon some time back. Completely unrepentant, she has continued her authoring ways and now is bringing forth a new series, The Annals of Alasia. I had the pleasure of reading The Nameless Soldier, which focuses on another character but in which Prince Jaymin makes an appearance. Here is an interview with Jaymin, to help celebrate the release of his novella in the Alasia series. Enjoy! And don’t forget to click on all the links below to find out more about Annie’s writing.

Interview with Prince Jaymin

I take a seat on the bench in the town square and wait for Prince Jaymin, who I have arranged to meet for an interview. It’s a cold, overcast winter afternoon here in the Alasian town of Drall, and the few townsfolk bustling around seem in a hurry to get home before it starts to snow.

Two boys emerge from the nearby marketplace and approach my bench. Both are dressed in tattered clothes and look cold and hungry, but the taller one manages to appear dignified in spite of his circumstances. His companion darts wary glances around as though checking the area for danger.

I rise to greet the prince as he arrives at my bench. “Your Highness, thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

The other boy glares at me. “Don’t call him that out in public! Do you want to put him in even greater danger?”

But the young prince gives me a weary smile. “You’re welcome. Please call me Jay for now. No titles.” He glances at his friend. “Don’t worry, Erik. No one is close enough to overhear, and they won’t think anything of the three of us having a quiet conversation out here.” He turns back to me as we all take a seat. “Unfortunately, we have no better meeting place to offer. So, what did you want to ask me?”

Q: Your High- er, Jay, condolences of course on the loss of your parents. Can you tell us how it happened?

He lowers his gaze, obviously reliving an unpleasant memory. “The Malornians attacked our palace. Sir Edmend, one of my father’s advisors, managed to get Erik and me out. We barely avoided all the soldiers, but it wasn’t until we were entering the secret tunnel from the cellar that I realized why my parents weren’t with us.” He clears his throat and swallows hard.

Q: I’m sure you did not expect to be burdened with rulership so early in life. What thoughts guide you in these early days, and who has proven a trustworthy advisor?

“Well, I don’t know what I’d do without my friend and bodyguard Erik, here.” He indicates the other boy. “These last few weeks have been the first time I’ve ever gone anywhere or done anything without guards and servants, not to mention my parents. Sir Edmend got us safely out of the palace and the capital and found us a room to rent here where I could blend in with ordinary Alasians, but he couldn’t stay. While he’s off learning more about what happened and how we might be able to strike against the Malornians, Erik helps me figure out how to blend in and keeps me alive. We‘ve had several close calls with the soldiers stationed here in Drall.” He shudders. “I know they’re searching for me. But as challenging as life is here, one of the hardest parts is imagining what it will be like when – or if – I eventually reclaim my kingdom. I never imagined becoming king while still a boy, but if we manage to drive the enemy out, I’ll have to. I’ve always looked forward to the day the crown would be mine, of course, and yet I don’t feel anywhere close to ready. Alasia needs a strong ruler, especially after the Invasion, and my father left big shoes to fill.” He sighs.

Q: No one seems to know why Malorn attacked as it did. What can you tell us about the cause of the invasion?

“I have no idea.” Now Prince Jaymin looks angry. “We never did anything to harm Malorn. I mean, everyone knows about the occasional border skirmishes over the last few decades, but those have always been minor. They invaded our land with absolutely no provocation. None!”

Q: We hear reports that the Alasian army was ambushed and took heavy losses. What can you tell us about the plan to recover your kingdom?

“Well, we don’t have a full plan yet. Sir Edmend stopped by a week or so ago and reported that some of the soldiers did survive, which was a huge relief to hear. Apparently they’ve regrouped and are hiding in the Southern Woods, training and preparing to strike against the enemy. General Dirken is one of the survivors, so I know what’s left of the army is in good hands. I sent word to him through Sir Edmend that they should consider using the secret tunnel through which we escaped to attack the palace from the inside. That’s where the enemy has their headquarters. I’m not sure when they’ll be ready, but when the time comes, Sir Edmend is going to come and fetch me and take me to speak to the soldiers.” He smiles at the thought. “So far, only the general knows that I’m alive. I hope the troops will be excited to see me and relieved to know that a member of Alasia’s royal family is still alive after all. I plan to make an inspiring speech and perhaps give them even more drive to succeed.”

Erik glares at his friend. “You shouldn’t have told him all that. How do we know he isn’t working for the Malornians?”

“He doesn’t look or sound Malornian,” the prince protests. He turns to me. “I trust you’ll keep everything I’ve said in confidence.”

“You’ll regret it if you don’t,” the young bodyguard adds, rising to his feet. His tone is menacing, and now I notice the bulging muscles under his ragged tunic. “We should go,” he says to the prince.

His companion nods and stands as well. “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

I barely have a chance to thank him for his time before the prince and his bodyguard are out of earshot. I watch as they disappear into the marketplace once more.

The Annals of Alasia Series

Annie Douglass Lima plans four books in the set, in a technique I call “Surrounded Plot”, where you see the tale from separate PoVs. She tells me you can begin with any book in the series, as each one provides new information but also stands alone. I absolutely love that stuff! (My Shards of Light series is also Surrounded Plot, but only the first two books really stand alone, then the plot thickens too far). I encourage you to try out one or more of these tales, which have an air like the classic Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer books.

Check Out Prince of Alasia available now!

Twelve-year-old Prince Jaymin, heir to the throne of Alasia, barely escapes with his life when invaders from neighboring Malorn attack. Accompanied by his young bodyguard, Jaymin flees to a nearby town to live in hiding. There, surrounded by the enemy soldiers searching for the missing prince, his life depends on his ability to maintain his disguise.

As the danger intensifies and the Malornians’ suspicions grow, Jaymin seeks desperately for a way to save his kingdom and himself. Then he stumbles upon a startling discovery that will challenge his assumptions and forever change his view of Malorn and the events that altered his life.

Prince of Alasia is the first book in the Annals of Alasia, but the series can be read in any order, and each book can stand on its own.

Books by Annie Douglass Lima: