ELF: I have the pleasure of a guest post by author Aidan Russell (thank you for your service!), who muses on one of my favorite genres...
AR: While there are plenty of valid points to debate on the issue, I think it is safe to say that epic fantasy, as we know it today, began when Lieutenant John Ronald Reuel Tolkien found himself recovering in a hospital bed after the Battle of Somme during the First World War. After Tolkien, many would agree that Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series was the next seminal work in the genre. Just as Tolkien saw the world from the very unique perspective of the trenches of war-torn France, Jordan spent a portion of his younger life with a unique vantage point of the world: the crew compartment of a helicopter as it flew over the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam.
Epic fantasy is one of the most widely read genres of the literary world. If someone hasn’t read a popular epic fantasy series, they’ve more than likely seen the movie or HBO adaptation. What is it that has drawn millions (if not billions!) to read stories of elves, hobbits, dragons, and Dragons-Reborn? Is it the imaginative creatures and the sword swinging action? Is it deciphering the puzzles of a dungeon or being wowed by the complexities of the author’s magic system? All of these are certainly true to some degree. Most of us, since our youth, grew up with the romantic notion of knights fighting ogres upon the back of a valiant steed with a glistening sword in hand. We were brought wide eyed by the spells wrought by wizards. The ability to escape from our own world for a few moments and go on a fantastic quest (without the very real threat of plagues or having to smell an actual medieval street) is a powerful draw. But I would argue, what has made epic fantasy—and in particular, what separates good epic fantasy from the rest—is that, through all the strange creatures and magic, there is something familiar.
If you’re a big fan of epic fantasy, you’ve likely read the popular opinion that Samwise Gamgee, not Frodo Baggins, is the true hero of Lord of the Rings. Without Sam, Frodo would have never made it to Mount Doom. It is Sam who returns to the Shire the most changed, going from humble gardener to orc-slayer. The BBC quoted Tolkien as saying, “My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and regonised as so far superior to myself.” Samwise Gamgee, ring-bearer, eagle-rider, and fighter of goblins and ring-wraiths, was, first and foremost, a young Englishman sitting in a trench hundreds of miles from home.
In 1991, Robert Jordan stated in an interview with Starlog, “…my time in Vietnam certainly has affected a certain moral vision… one of the central themes in 'The Wheel of Time' is the struggle between the forces of good and evil. How far can one go in fighting evil before becoming like evil itself? Or do you maintain your purity at the cost of evil's victory? I'm fond of saying that if the answer is too easy, you've probably asked the wrong question."
Most readers have never faced off against the Kaiser’s soldiers in a dirty trench or dodged NVA anti-air fire over the choking vegetation of a Southeast Asian jungle. But many readers know what it is like to dream of a simple life, tending a garden in a simple, idyllic town such as Hobbiton. But the world never asked what we wanted. It spewed forth trollocs and ring-wraiths to upset our dreams and plunge us into chaos. Yet in the pages of a book about lands so distance they don’t even exist, we can still find heroes who know shares our goals and know our struggles.
While the killing fields of France and Vietnam have long gone quiet, the world itself is far from the peace and tranquility of the Shire. Less than a year after graduating high school, I found myself in the back of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle, crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq in order to topple the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein. After five more deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the best quotes to explain what it’s like for a young man or woman to go off to war came from an exchange between a young hobbit and an old, gray wizard during the movie adaptation of their quest:
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: You can promise that I will come back?
Gandalf. No, and if you do, you will not be the same.
None of us is coming back from this adventure known as life. Our tales may not involve dragons or evil sorcerers, but our tales will be just as exciting as those of hobbits, queens, and knights.
by Aidan Russell
GENRE: Fantasy (epic)
Reslo returns to his family in the forest of Miradep, but his quest is not finished, and he will not fail in his duty.
Gratas and Jerah return to the idyllic town of Dunkhau, their bodies wounded and spirits scarred by battle. But if they thought war was tiring, they must now face the unknown horrors of peace.
The captain turned in his desk chair toward the door. The Rovichian swordsman thrust the gladius into the Esivion captain’s throat and held it there. Red, arterial blood squirted across the blade and splattered the swordsman’s black tabard. The captain tried to curse, but no air could pass his lips. He made one jerk, trying to pull the blade from his throat, and died.
The swordsman behind the Rovichian descended on the woman stretched out on the captain’s bed. She had only begun to stir before the gladius split her skull. The others swept into the room. No words were exchanged. The others rushed the captain’s desk and grabbed handfuls of papers and ledgers. They stuffed them into the backpack that one of the Nolterite knights wore. Anfor gave them one minute to grab up what documents they could and ordered them out of the quarters with a slap to Thrain’s shoulder.
Sir Fashtin awaited them at the bottom of the quarter’s steps. The team fell into line behind Sir Fashtin and quickly made their way through the darkness. Fashtin’s sword came out and took a guard’s head off. He caught the body and lowered it to the ground. Then he continued to lead the column of soldiers down a ladderwell below deck.
The ship’s creaking seemed amplified in the enclosed space of the crew quarters. Other than that, the only sounds were of snores and a group of sailors in one room doing what sailors do best: gambling and swilling the liquor. They were the first to die. Fashtin and one of the Nolterites rushed the room and cut the four men apart before they could raise an alarm. They checked the room quickly for any records or information Gwynnud or Maras could exploit, but found none.
Two by two, the men moved quickly and silently into each room and slit the throats of each sleeping crewman, wizened petty officers, and slave-boys pressed into service aboard the ship.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Aidan Russell is a Marine Corps veteran living in Las Vegas. He spent his youth following the adventures of wizards and space demons and decided one day to write his own tales. His short fiction is available in the Never Fear and Uncharted Worlds anthologies. When not writing, he enjoys skiing and heavy metal.
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