Tuesday, July 31, 2012

George R.R. Martin homage to Tad Williams

Some time ago I did a blog post about how George R.R. Martin seemed to have gained some of his inspiration for his A Song of Ice and Fire novels from Tad Williams's series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Today while rereading A Clash of Kings, the second book of Martin's series, I came across a single line buried in the text that, in my opinion, was a direct homage to Tad Williams's books. It is on page 349 of the Bantam/Spectra paperback:

"Lord Willum's sons Josua and Elyas disputed heatedly about who would be first over the walls of King's Landing."

To me it doesn't get plainer than that, as the two main royal characters in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn are King Elias and his brother Josua. Taken with all the other similarities given in my old post, I don't think it can be disputed how much influence Williams had on Martin. I don't think it says anything wrong about Martin's story, as I actually enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire far more than I liked Williams's books, so Martin is certainly doing a great service to all of us who love terrific fantasy.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Writing in Tolkien's World

I'm republishing this ancient post, because almost no one read it way back then and it's one that I like.

I don't bother to read fan fiction, but I have to admit that I have been tempted to try it. I won't, though, simply because the act of writing is so time-consuming and difficult that I don't see the point in putting so much effort into something that won't be published.

For more than twenty years I have had what I think is a wonderful idea for a story that I will never write. It persists in nagging at my brain, so given that I will not write it, perhaps it doesn't hurt to give the outline here.

My favorite Tolkien book is the Silmarillion. Oh, I certainly love both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but there is something of exquisite beauty about the entire history of Middle Earth that is presented in the Silmarillion that really takes my breath away. It is a high-level history, and that is wonderful, but I have always wanted to have some of the tales fleshed out into real novels.

I came up with my story idea from two of my favorite bits from the Silmarillion - the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) and the tale of Beren. As any fan of this work knows, the elves kept Morgoth's kingdom of Angband mostly surrounded for centuries, trying to contain his evil. The bit that fascinated me was a bare mention by Tolkien that some of the newly arrived men (Edain) also provided some troops to help with this defense. It is from this reference that I drew my main character, a young warrior of an Edain tribe living in Himlad. I named him Geldrath. He gets sent to Dorthonian during the winter along with others from his tribe. As he nears his objective he meets a pair of dwarven traders, bringing a wagonload of arms and armor to sell to the defenders. Geldrath befriends one of the dwarves, named Gorm.

Geldrath spends a week learning his new duties as one of the defenders of the eastern portion of Dorthonian. When the dwarven traders come by, Geldrath builds upon his friendship with Gorm. That very night the Dagor Bragollach begins. Gorm helps Geldrath by equipping him with Dwarven armor and weapons. The defenders near Geldrath are relatively lucky in that no balrogs or dragons come near them, so they mostly have to fight off orcs. Gorm's companion dwarf is slain along with many men when a huge troll comes over the ramparts. Gorm heroically slays the troll, but the troll crumples onto Gorm and Geldrath, rendering both unconscious. This saves their lives.

In the aftermath of the attack, orcs go through the devastation slaying any who yet live, but they fail to find Geldrath and Gorm beneath the dead troll. When the opportunity arises, the pair slips away and loses themselves in the Dorthonian wilds to the south. Over the next weeks, simply trying to survive, the pair see evidence of other survivors to the west, so they head in that direction, eventually stumbling upon the small band of men led by Barahir. They join Barahir and his men in the desperate attempt to save Finrod Felagund, the elven king who had brought an army from Nargothrond but had gotten trapped at the Fens of Serech. Geldrath and Gorm help Barahir save Finrod, who makes Barahir an elf-friend and gives him his ring of power.

Returning to Dorthonian, the band continues their insurgency against Morgoth's forces. Gorm and Geldrath befriend Barahir's son, Beren. When the group is betrayed and scattered, Gorm and Geldrath flee southward and try to find safety. They eventually encounter Beren, who leads them farther south in an attempt to pass beneath** the vast mountains of Ered Gorgoroth. They encounter many dangers, culminating in meeting spider descendants of Ungoliant. Gorm sacrifices himself to allow Beren and Geldrath to escape. The pair comes out of the mountains into Nan Dungortheb (the Valley of Dreadful Death). They are separated by an attack, so Beren goes off into Tolkien's history books by making his way into Doriath, while Geldrath picks his way eastward towards home, where he is greeted as a long-lost hero, marries the chief's daughter and eventually becomes chief himself.

I think this would be a spectacular and easy story to write, and it would be basically faithful to Tolkien's story. I sure wish it were possible to do it and have it published.

**I know the book makes it seem more like he passes over the mountains, but given how earlier in The Simlarillion Tolkien has Ungoliant pass through these mountains, leaving many of her hatchlings behind, I can't help but think that the passage through the mountains more likely involved passing both over and under, given that Ungoliant's children seem to prefer hiding themselves away in dark places.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Celebrity Sighting

He's a celebrity to me, though most of you wouldn't know him.

I was on the bus coming home from work when a couple got on and the woman sat near me. The bus was crowded so there weren't many places to sit. Since they were older than me, I decided to stand up and allow the man to sit down next to the woman I assumed was his wife. When I saw his face, though, I instantly recognized him as the famous American-Hungarian Grandmaster of chess Pal Benko.
Benko was a contemporary of the legendary American world champion Bobby Fischer. I saw Benko in 2008 in Reykjavik when he attended the Bobby Fischer Memorial Tournament (in which I did very well, almost beating an international master, though I messed it up and only got a draw instead). I didn't get to speak with Mr. Benko that time, but I did this time.

I said hello, and he asked if I recognized him. I said I always read his columns in Chess Life, and I told him that I saw him in Iceland. He asked where I worked, and I told him. He than asked if I was playing in the chess tournament series in Budapest. I told him I don't get much free time, but I did play in it last November. Sadly, my stop had already arrived, so I had to get off and couldn't speak further with him.

I would never want to bother someone like him, but he and his wife seemed nice. It would have been awesome to invite them to dinner or something, but I would never want to impose.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Words Often Used Wrong

Prague was nice, and the Pearl Jam concert was cool, but it's nice to be back home in Budapest.

Every once in a while I post about odd English-language words that trip up many writers. I've done a few such posts, so this one will be a quick one dealing with a new one I've recently run across in my own writing.

Do you use awhile and a while interchangeably? You shouldn't! 'Awhile' is the adverb form of the phrase, though it can always also be used in the noun form 'for a while'.  So you might say 'I ran awhile before going to work.' In this case 'awhile' modifies the verb 'to run' and is an adverb.

'A while' is a noun and is always accompanied by a preposition, so the above sentence could have been written 'I ran for a while before going to work.'

Yes, it's a tricky one, and I tend to use only the noun version myself, but it's good to know the difference.