Fantasy vs. Kile’s Reality: How Your Old Pal Feels about dragons, wizards, and other cool stuff

Posted: September 4, 2013 in Writing

Growing up, I was not into fantasy very much at all.

My preferences ran for things that involved Spider-Man, or Transformers, or Trans-Spider-Men, of which I now believe can legally wed in this great country of ours, which is sweet. the only pertinent question would be, where do half-men, half spider-robots-that-change-into-planes register????

Yeah, your Old Pal Kile learned how to play with gifs. I’m slowly catching up to the rest of the internet from 2002. You see, I make it a point to tape the entire internet and go through it at my leisure. VHS, too, mind you. Not this fancy cloud bullshit.

Where was I? Fantasy, and not of the football variety. I believe that for the most part of my childhood, my idea of fantasy relied solely on Masters of the Universe, which was a show about the magical realm of Eternia, which was under constant threat by the evil Skeletor, who today is about as intimidating as Richard Simmons running at you with a bag of wet bagels.  He-Man, was really Prince Adam with blonde hair and the German Iron Cross emblazoned on his chest, and he hung around with either the biggest fucking idiots in all of Eternia, or they were clearly duped by his clever disguise of  a maroon vest, white compression tee, and fashionable purple fur cod-piece.

Prince Adam: Fashionista

I liked Masters of the Universe, like a lot. The biggest problem at the show, and my big gripe with the majority of shows from the 1980s, was they all needed to have a message associated to them, especially so-called ‘family shows’. Between He-Man and G.I. Joe (where no one EVER died or even got really hurt despite the fact that they were fighting with giant lasers and bombs and ninja shit), I was deluged with pandering that was trying, in its own way, to teach me to be a better person. Maybe it worked on some level, but in terms of fantasy, there was no realism tied into it for me.

Then came along ‘The Hobbit

Not the book. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading that until high school. And, even then, I didn’t fully appreciate it until I matured a bit more and was in college.

I’m talking the cartoon version of ‘The Hobbit’

Yeah, this came out BEFORE He-Man, but I wasn’t born until 1981, so get off my back the nine people who will read this post, eight of whom are probably either friends and/or family.

The 1977 version of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s classic children’s book introduced me to a world of what fantasy could be, should be, and also should not be, which I will touch upon in a bit. In this tale, there were real consequences to the characters actions, general character growth and story arcs, and general shit-your-pants scary moments for me.

For example, goddamned Gollum was a nasty, scary little shit voiced by Brother Theodore, who made him sound like a pedophile with a two-pack-a-day habit. Don’t believe me? Check it out here

That creepy cartoon portrayal screwed me up almost as bad as that Punky Brewster where Punky’s friend hid in the abandoned refrigerator and almost died. Seriously.

Hides in the fridge, it does, Precious. Never to come out again. See it in Kile's nightmares, we will, Precious.

Hides in the fridge, it does, Precious. Never to come out again. See it in Kile’s nightmares, we will, Precious.

See, I never played Dungeons and Dragons, so I got my fantasy in the round-about way: I read books. As I entered into my second decade on this planet, I began to discover Robert E. Howard, George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. All of the perennial classics that have been around and I should have read long before I did, but never got around to. It wasn’t really until I started to get away from the stories with dragons, and tall elves and tiny, angry dwarves that lived underground, that my eyes were opened up to what fantasy could be. At the heart of all fantasy stories, and what should be at the heart of ANY story, is you’ve got to have characters that people will care about. They don’t have to like them, in fact, sometimes it is better if they hate them so hard. Tywin Lannister from the wonderful ‘A Song of Ice and Fire‘ series (that’s Games of Thrones to those who like to have their stories shown to them over the pirated HBO feed they have) is a great example. On the surface, he is inherently dis-likable.  He is ruthless, conniving, and very cold. A man who cares only for how history will remember him, present-day included.

It’s easy to overlook his good qualities. I found him more dastardly in the printed form than on the tv show, which can be attested to the brilliant acting of Mr. Charles Dance.  

Mr. Dance managed to find the human qualities in Tywin Lannister, and bring enough of them out to show that the character was not just the guy tying the lady to the railroad tracks just because he could. He showed us that Tywin does have a sense of humor, albeit a small one, and that he would do anything to protect his family and ensure they live on, even poor Tyrion to some extent.

Fun fact: Did you know Charles Dance was in The Last Action Hero???

Now, you are sure this movie is going to be a huge hit, right Arnold?

Now, you are sure this movie is going to be a huge hit, right Arnold?

Of course you didn’t. You didn’t see that movie because you have taste. It wasn’t Mr. Dance’s fault, so BACK OFF!!

What I find occurs in most modern fantasy novels that I’ve read is that there is a tendency not to play outside of the sandbox Tolkien has left for us. Why would you, right? It’s a big, fun sandbox to play in! The formula works so why change it? (Looking at you, New Coke) The dangers of  not edging away from this world leave us as readers and watchers with the dreaded derivative. We’ve read/seen it all before and are bored to tears by it. One only has to look at the box office returns of the biggest movies of the year to see that not too many ‘traditional fantasy’ films are on this list.

To save you some time, I’ve done it for you here.

I find this to be a real shame. It’s not because there are not a lot of great stories out there ready for adaptation. There are!  Tons of stuff, GOOD stuff, is out there just waiting for the machine that churns out Fast and Furious movies with the same regularity as *INSERT POOP JOKE HERE*

As a writer, after all, that is why I created this site, to promote my writing successes and failures, I never considered writing any fantasy. I considered myself–not above it–but completely unqualified to do so. After all, what does good fantasy have? Compelling characters, detailed settings and intricate plots, right? All you have to do is mosey on over to the Short Stories tab here and read ‘R.G.S’ to determine the depth of my ability to do that.

Yet, sure enough, last Christmas, my friend and writing Jedi, Gregory Norris, held his annual Christmas Writers Soiree, at which, he provided each writer with a mystery writing prompt, to be chosen at random. In my case, my girlfriend actually did the picking as I was down with a cold. The prompt turned out to be ‘Poetry’

Yeah, Poetry. Again, see ‘R.G.S’ and tell me if you think I could pull that rabbit out of my hat.

But, I did what I normally when faced with a challenge: I piss and moan and stomp my feet like an upset Herman Munster. And, somewhere within all that inner turmoil, I came up with an idea!

Better than, Hamburger Earmuffs, even! The story nugget that formed revolved–originally–around a feudal Japan setting. A disgraced samurai was being forced to commit seppuku and the ‘poem’ would have been his death-poem, in which he would have enacted his final revenge against those who wronged him. You see, this samurai would have been the true father of the bad guy Lord’s heir and was betrayed by the Lord’s wife and retainers. So, his act of revenge would have not only sentenced his enemies to death, but his son as well. So, ultimately, I decided against it, and went with a more High-fantasy style.

In my tale, which I later titled ‘The Countess and The Bard’ I took the idea of a poem as a weapon and plunked it into a scenario where there were no good guys to really root for. The kingdom I created had no fantastical creatures, nor magic to speak of. What it did, and does, have, is turmoil, civil war, assassinations, lust for power and avarice. I created a protagonist whose profession was that of a bard. He was boastful; a bit of a bag of hot wind, really. He is a character strictly out for himself and his own interests, a trait that I find intriguing and often include it in my writings for most characters I write, in one way or another. I think the reason I do so is due to the fact that I believe us to be inherently selfish creatures, and I just like to put this negative trait into my characters and see how they either grow past it, or fall into it, never to return.

The basic plot of the story is one of celebration. The Bard is summoned to the kingdom by the Countess(no names for our two main characters, just titles) to create a poem for their King, who just so happens to be a complete bloodthirsty lunatic. The Bard finds himself trapped. If he tries to flee, he will be killed in a most horrible manner. If he doesn’t create a poem the king finds worthy, he will suffer a terrible death. I won’t ruin the ending, save to say that the unexpected occurs and all characters receive their just reward by the time it is over.

This story I agonized over and was rejected many, many times. Until now.

Yes, this entire post was a cleverly disguised ruse to promote the fact that ‘The Countess and The Bard’ will soon be appearing in Fiction Vortex online magazine. They are all about publishing great science fiction, fantasy, horror and anything else in the speculative genre, which is fairly broad. I am very pleased to be a part of their online family of writers. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed and this site for updates as to when you can read the story of which Neil Gaiman said, ‘Who are you and why are you shoving paper in my lunch?’

Can’t beat praise like that.

SPOILER ALERT: Sean Bean dies in my story, too.

SPOILER ALERT: Sean Bean dies in my story, too.

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