Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Seers in Storytelling

Seers, psychics, oracles, mediums, prophets, diviners, astrologers, tarot readers, or even those with a smoking hot intuition, can play a powerful roles in speculative fiction. Our genre is rich with it, and has been for thousands of years.

From Homer's Pythia, priestess of Apollo, to Tolkien's Galadriel and her mirror, the Oracle in the Matrix to Whedon's River Tam in Firefly, the seer can move the story forward in tantalising ways. But writing a prognostic character has it's problems. All that foresight may just as easily ruin a plot as empower it.

If your protagonist can see into the future, the surprise is gone. 

The easy way to remedy this is to place limits, making the seer unreliable. They might be a novice, out of control, or their skill could require a ritual, tools or equipment they don't always have time for. Like the Greek sphinx, they might speak in riddles so ambiguous that no one can understand, save in hindsight

With the Oracle of Delphi, often the  urge to avoid the fate was exactly what fulfilled it. When King Laius and Queen Epicaste of Thebes had a baby boy, they asked Pythia his future. When the Priestess replied that the boy, Oedipus, would  kill his father and marry his mother, they abandoned the baby, but we know how that went...

In LOTR, Galadriel's mirror shows past, present and future events, from near or far, but is never clear on which is which. Both Sam and Frodo are invited to look, Sam seeing the destruction of the Shire and Frodo nearly touching the water with the ring (which would reveal his whereabouts to Sauron). In these cases, interpretation of what is foretold is critical to what comes next. Sam choses to stay with Frodo, even though he longs to rush back to the Shire. Frodo, on the brink of losing heart, soldiers on. Regardless of 'fate,' they make a choice, one of the key ingredients to plot propulsion.

From the Matrix, the Oracle's ability to "predict" the future is based on recognising choices before they are made. Yet telling Neo he is NOT the one is precisely what makes him begin to believe he is. In this way, the writers have created a character who can see the future but in doing so, creates a third choice that changes everything. 

In Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, if the tarot reader was on the ball, Clary's mother wouldn't have been kidnapped and the Mortal Cup never lost. Story over in chapter one. But instead, we get glimpses, hints and more mystery. Dorthea's seeing ability moves the story forward , without giving away the plot.

In Helen Lowe's The Wall of Night Series, the Derai prophecy says "If Night falls, all fall", which instead of foreshadowing future events, becomes a rally cry, or goad, to both sides, those who want Night to fall and those who don't. It's also a touchstone for Malian and Tarathan who have seer qualities of there own.

In the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption series, Jarrod's ability to extrapolate a likely outcome is based on infinite possibilities calculated outside of matter, and Kreshkali's understanding of astrology and synchronicity all play a part. But, like the Oracle of Delphi, Derai, and the Matrix, all seers perhaps, it is the free will of the characters that tips the scale. And we need it that way.

Otherwise, what would have us on the edge of the seat, wondering what will happen next? 

We'd love to hear about your favourite prophesies and diviners in books, film and TV. Drop a comment, and we'll see you there.


Kim Falconer's latest release is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Not your mother's Meat Loaf

The Things I Carry: Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell & Back into Hell

My first exposure to Meat Loaf was in 1993 when "I'd Do Anything for Love" hit the radios. I was 13 and painfully weird and my father was dying of cancer. It was a rough year.

I was immediately in love. So I did what any fan girl did and bought everything I could find at the local Half Price Books (because I was poor). I had all his cassette tapes (because I wasn't cool enough for a CD player) and I ran them ragged. My mom remembers when he was touring college towns in the seventies and my parents didn't understand why I would want to listen to it at all. It only added to the appeal.

Just like Melissa Etheridge had reached into me and sang my painful outsider heartstrings, so too did Meat Loaf's voice and Jim Steinman's songs reflect an escapism that I desperately.

Now granted, I didn't ride motorcycles and I was far from experiencing "paradise by the dashboard light," there was a grand, fantastical element, an angsty hormonally driven truth, that resonated with the future storyteller within me. There was an S.E. Hinton vibe (also a personal favorite) about the true nature of being oppressed and teen-aged. Of being able to smash things or just fly away. It was my audible equivalent to Piers Anthony and Dean Koontz, and Orson Scott Card. Only with death and motorcycles and sex (gasp).

And there should be no surprise there is even a werewolf element.

Bat Out of Hell just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Its my age. Even after all these years,  on my really bad days when I just need to shove the world away for a while, you will find me blasting it as I drive my mild-mannered, four-door, charcoal gray sedan around town. You'll see me nodding my head to it as I roam around the grocery store to pick up a gallon of chocolate milk.  From the first chords overlaid with a revving motorcycle, I am on a highway and free.

As with most things that I carry with me, the meaning has changed over the years. Sometime it was about rebellion. Sometimes it was all about sex. And sometimes it was just about owning the demon that you carry around with you.

I have never been ashamed to say that I Love Meat Loaf.

And maybe some day I"ll get around to actually riding a motorcycle.

As always, Carry on,

Amanda Arista

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Magic & Wonder of Trees in Fantasy

"Enter these enchanted woods, you who dare..." 
- George Meredith, 1828-1909

Today I'm taking a look at the part trees play in Fantasy literature and whether authors in the genre have taken the Victorian poet's advice to heart. :)

Overall, it appears we have.

Ents, of course, are probably the most famous “trees”, or in their case, treelike beings, in Fantasy literature. They feature in the second and third books of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and played a major part in The Two Towers film, with the attack on, and destruction of Isengard:

“Pippin looked behind. The number of Ents had grown — or what was happening? Where the dim bare slopes that they had crossed should lie, he thought he saw groves of trees. But they were moving! Could it be that the trees of Fangorn were awake, and the forest was rising, marching over the hills to war? He rubbed his eyes wondering if sleep and shadow had deceived him; but the great grey shapes moved steadily onward.”

Sentient trees also feature in CS Lewis’s Narnia series and I’ve always loved the scene in Prince Caspian where Aslan reawakens the trees that have slept as a result of the Telmarine invasion:

“What Lucy and Susan saw was a dark something coming to them from almost every direction across the hills. It looked first like a black mist creeping on the ground, then like the stormy waves of a black sea rising higher and higher as it came on, and then, at last, like what it was — woods on the move. All the trees of the world appeared to be rushing towards Aslan.”

Sometimes, however, it is not a forest but a single tree that features — like the world tree in Mary Victoria’s Chronicles of the Tree series, which is first encountered in Tymon’s Flight:

“To starboard of the vessel…stretched a vast and furrowed mountain of bark, so wide that it’s curvature was almost invisible and so high that both its summit and its base were lost to view. The immensity of the wall was broken by a profusion of spoke-like limbs, the largest many miles in length. Several hundred feet above the dirigible the trunk culminated in the gently rising plateau of branches and twigs that made up the Central Canopy’s crown.”

Werewolves and other were-beasts have become very popular in recent years, but Fantasy contains at least one instance of tree-shifting: Danan Isig in Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed, who teaches the skill to the protagonist, Morgon:

“Was I a tree? Sometimes I stand so long in the snow watching the trees wrapped in their private thoughts that I forget myself, become one of them. They are as old as I am, as old as Isig. . .”

When discussing trees in Fantasy I really can't go past the weirwood that stands at the heart of Winterfell, in George RR Martin’s A Game Of Thrones:

“At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful.”

And yep, trees do play a significant part in my own books, too.

Because Thornspell is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty — from the perspective of the prince who breaks the spell — the story needs must dives straight into George Meredith's "enchanted wood" territory:

“The road did not go far, petering out into a bridle path within a few hundred yards of the castle wall, and fading away altogether beneath the forest eave. It was very dark and quiet beneath the canopy, a heavy, listening silence. There was no call of bird or insect, no whisper of falling leaf—not even the wind stirred.”

Probably the most significant way in which trees shape the landscape in The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night, Book One) is through their absence. The Wall of Night is a bleak, wind-blasted and lifeless environment and the contrast to more clement terrain only occurs in the last part of the book, when the protagonists cross into the hills of Jaransor:

“Eventually, Malian began to see the green shimmer of trees growing along small precipitous creeks, and they stopped at last in a narrow ravine where the trees formed a green roof and a stream ran clear over brown pebbles.”

In The Gathering of the Lost (The Wall Of Night, Book Two), trees and woods are a far more significant part of the worldscape:

“Mostly, Malian let the others talk as the miles fell behind them and Maraval forest rose up ahead like a green cloud … as the road took them deeper into the wood … the cavalcade fell silent, and the only sound was the clip of their horses’ hooves, the song of birds, and the deep susurration of the myriad leaves overhead.”

And still have their place in Daughter Of Blood (The Wall Of Night, Book Three):

“Malian let her mind follow the secondary route, leaping over huddled villages with their sheep pens and rocky fields, to settle on a pine grove near the crest of the road’s first long ascent into the foothills. She had camped a night in the dry earthy hollow beneath the trees, which grew so close together that only the very heaviest rain fell between the branches. Now, it was the best shelter she could recall along the route’s wild terrain.”

So the arrows of evidence do seem to be pointing in the same direction: which is that trees play a significant part in Fantasy world-building, including my own work.

Mary Victoria's world tree - art (c) by Frank Victoria
I am pretty sure, too, that readers will encounter them again in The Chaos Gate (The Wall Of Night, Book Four), which is currently in progress.

How about you? Got any favorite trees in Fantasy literature to add to my list? All types of Fantasy welcome, from magic realism, through paranormal urban, to epic. :)


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we