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Young Star

Much ado about fantasy

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King - The Philippine Star

Can’t wait for the rest of ‘Game of Thrones’? Here’s a fantasy reading list you might enjoy.

People have been calling for blood after the latest episode of Game of Thrones. And not strictly in the sense of whatever axe dropped in this week’s episode, either. The anger is directed at those who’ve been posting “revealing” Facebook and Twitter statuses about the most recent events in Westeros. There are statuses as mild as a plea for netizens to curb their enthusiasm and kindly refrain from posting, to statuses as spirited and incoherent as, “@#$!%^&*! PLEASE. STOP. SPOILERS.” A friend recently posted a three-paragraph long status expounding on how three simple sentences about the episode was enough to spoil the mood for any die-hard fan, because, hello, context clues. He was quickly met with replies extolling the freedom of speech, and basically telling him to abstain from Facebook for the rest of his life.

I haven’t watched the latest episode myself, and don’t plan to, at least until season four wraps up. To tide myself over, I’ve devoted most of my summer to crushing on the fantasy genre in general (and by general I mean the stereotypical genre-nostalgia for Medieval England), and consuming books as focused on white male centrality as it is on universal themes like love, bravery, and honor.

Game of Thrones may now hold the genre by the neck, but the popular book series by George R.R. Martin is actually a pretty modern twist on epic fantasy. Perhaps not in the sense of racial discrimination (the black and brown-skinned continue to exist peripherally as either bad guys or barbarians), but definitely in the sense of blurred lines between good and evil, and in the aspect of the one great quest.

Incidentally, all the fantasy I’ve consumed this summer falls within the classical paradigm of good versus evil, of the hero or heroes riding out to rid their world of some evil made flesh. This is straightforward fantasy at its best and cheesiest, formulaic to a fault, and probably all the better for it. Without further ado, here are the worlds that made my summer.

‘The Earthsea Cycle’ (1968) by Ursula Le Guin

In all likelihood, J.K. Rowling probably took a leaf out of Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. While I love the Harry Potter series, I bow down to the subtle complexity and characterization that brought forth Ged. His journey is not so much about saving the world as it is about making peace with himself. The cycle, which spans five books, is for me the best exemplar of the coming-of-age adventure story. Even Harry’s popularity can’t hold a candle to Ged’s humanity. Apart from that, well, he’s the only dark-skinned wizard-hero I’ve encountered so far, which says a lot in a genre dominated by white males.

* * *

‘The Lost Years of Merlin Saga’ (1996) by T.A. Barron

Barron’s epic puts a face to the great wizard, so beloved and misunderstood by many. Merlin groomed Arthur, but who groomed Merlin? There are five books in the series, each with an individual quest that contributes to the larger end goal of preparing Merlin, or Emerys, as he was known, to fulfill his destiny as friend and teacher to England’s King. I went through the five books in less than a week, and actually cried at the end of it. Inter-world stories get to me like that. The world Merlin inhabits is one of the most engaging I’ve read, perhaps because it draws from a lot of Celtic mythology, instead of creating an alternate world completely from scratch. It made the places, the beasts, and the magic of Fincayra even more fascinating to me.

* * *

‘The Sword of Shanarra’ (1977) by Terry Brooks

If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, then The Sword of Shanarra is textbook Tolkienesque fantasy. The broad similarities are probably irksome if you expect something akin to the level of Tolkien, which is why I went into this 726-page tome with no expectations at all. The simple quest for the special sword to defeat the Warlock Lord is given life by Brooks’ facility for world-building. A society that reemerged after something like nuclear holocaust? Magic harnessed by taking from the dead? Enough of a page-turner for me.

* * *

‘Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy’ (1984) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

On the other end of the spectrum lies the three Dragonlance Chronicles, a supplement to the ’80s game-verse that is Dungeons and Dragons.  These books are the crisp but greasy french fries of the fantasy world — good to eat again and again, but with little nutritional value to show for it. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the trilogy. It’s an easy read, the kind you can raise a hand to if asked what your guilty pleasure for the summer was. Don’t be fooled, though. It’s not so much the world of Krynn and the Queen of Darkness that draws you in, but the motley crew of characters who try to set aside their differences for the sake of the world. Now there’s a bunch as captivating as Frodo’s Fellowship, and even more so because there are females!

‘The One and Future King’ (1958) by T.H. White

Of the fantasy books I’ve read this summer, T.H. White’s creation is the closest to what some might call a literary masterpiece. It fashions itself as a retelling of Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century Le Morte d ‘Arthur, consisting of a quartet of novellas that make up the entire saga. The One and Future King spans the whole of Arthur’s life, from his early education courtesy of Merlin, to his foreshadowed death at the hands of Mordred. Along the way, Arthur tackles questions as enduring as the antidote to war, and the meaning of man as a political animal. The book is highly philosophical as well as psychological. It stretches the use of language so beautifully it could be a poem, and is as uplifting as it is tragic. No one has done it better.

CENTER EARTHSEA CYCLE FANTASY GAME OF THRONES ONE AND FUTURE KING SWORD OF SHANARRA WORLD
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