Monday, July 18, 2016

Mirroring Characters in The Black Cauldron

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles make good use of theme, and one of the ways Alexander expresses his theme is with mirroring characters.  In The Black Cauldron (my favorite in the series) Taran has two mirror characters: Adaon and Ellidyr.  (Fair warning; if you haven't read the book and don't want any spoilers, you may not want to read this post.)

Adaon, son of the chief bard of Prydain, is everything Taran wants to be; kind, wise, brave and honorable, all without seeming to struggle for it.  Actually, he is a lot like what Taran eventually becomes by the end of The High King

Taran soon realized there was little Adaon had not seen and done.  He had sailed far beyond the Isle of Mona, even to the northern sea; he had worked at the potter's wheel, cast nets with the fisherfolk, woven cloth at the looms of the cottagers; and, like Taran, labored over the glowing forge.

Pottery and weaving are two of the skills Taran learns in Taran Wanderer, and he sails to Mona in The Castle of Llyr.   At this point in The Black Cauldron, Taran lacks Adaon's experience.  Most of all, Taran lacks Adaon's understanding that true honor does not depend on having your deeds recognized.  

Ellydyr, on the other hand, is an echo of where Taran is at the start of The Black Cauldron.  Ellidyr is near Taran's age, and even more proud and impulsive.  He, like Taran, is desperately seeking recognition -and confusing public recognition with honor.  Ellidyr, the youngest son of an impoverished noble, is obsessed with rank (as is Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, so named because at least that way he'll have a title even if it's only one Coll invented for him.)  Unlike Taran, Ellidyr is so consumed by his desire for `honor' that he is willing to act unscrupulously to get the public notice he thinks he deserves.  He is a warning of what Taran could become if he continues to think of honor as dependent on how others view him, rather than dependent on his own actions.

With the characters of Adaon and Ellidyr, Lloyd Alexander is able to clearly illustrate the choice Taran is making about the man he wants to become.  He shows us where each of those paths lead.  I don't think its a coincidence that both Adaon and Ellidyr die over the course of the story, or that Ellidyr sees what he has become before the end.  Alexander shows where the roads go completely, including their end.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Not Always The Center of Attention

There is this idea going around that one's viewpoint character has to be the most important person in the story.  

While the main character should be important (otherwise why are they the main character?)  The idea that they must be the most important person can, I think, keep a writer from seeing all the story possibilities.

Take Tolkien, for example.  He makes a point that his characters are just a small part in a larger history, but instead of detracting, the shift in focus makes his stories surprising and unpredictable.

When I first read `The Hobbit' I was shocked when a random side character slays the dragon.  "That's not how stories are supposed to go," I grumbled.  "If he's not going to do the heroic stuff, why is Bilbo the main character, huh, Tolkien?  Answer me that!"  Tolkien spent the next few chapters after his false climax showing exactly why Bilbo Baggens is a hero.  He gave us an internal struggle that was far more unforgettable than another monster biting the dust.  

One of the things that makes Tolkien so great is that his characters don't have to be the center of attention.  They carry an endearing sense of humility that I think a number of modern novels lack.  The characters struggle and often even fail.  Just like us. 

Main characters who do the hero stuff are not a bad thing, but sometimes the best moments aren't the obvious ones.  Sometimes to find those less obvious moments, the hero has to stand in the shade instead of the limelight.   

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Donovan and Chicory in the Kitchen


Well, I'm back.  
 
It has been some time since I posted a drawing (or anything besides my Easter post last week).  I'm rather proud of the amount of detail in this one -especially the checker-topped stool, and the stamp wall hanging.  I'm not sure if anyone can tell that the counter-tops are meant to be Dominoes.  My grandmother had a set of black dominoes with white spots that I grew up playing with, and those are the basis for the counters.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Happy Easter




Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: "For your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors though Him who loves us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Politics



With all the media attention lately on gay marriage and gay rights, there's an aspect of the whole thing that nobody mentioned; peer pressure.  I have a brother whose former co-workers decided he was gay and were just cruel to him.  My brother isn't gay.  He's bi-polar. 
   
 It bothers me that people think its okay to speculate about someone's sexual orientation.  If a person doesn't fit their idea of normal they label him or her as gay, then try to convince the person that it's true- like they know better than you do what you should be doing with your own body.  If you try to defend yourself they say you're just afraid to come out of the closet.  If you don't want to have sex with anyone -man or woman- that somehow `proves' you're gay, too.  There's no way to win. 

It's got to affect a lot of high-school kids who are already trying to figure out who they are.  If you're getting bullied already, if everyone else decides you're gay, do you really have a choice, or has that just been stolen from you by rumors?  People tend to be what's expected of them, teens more than anyone, because they're still just learning that they do get to decide what kind of person they'll become; who they are isn't up for vote and sometimes the majority is just wrong.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Raising Stakes

Raising stakes is important.  Janice Hardy talks about it better than I ever could, but I did have some recent thoughts on the subject that I thought I'd share.

 One of the problems with trying to raise stakes according to Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, is that it's too easy to have the same stakes only bigger- like, first New York is in peril, then later all of North America, then as the climax nears the heroes discover that the World is Doomed.  Of course, the reader has an easier time picturing an imperiled New York than the world doomed, so by the time the high stakes are reached his or her brain just exploded.

  There's another problem with raising stakes that way though; the emotional play is too similar.  "Oh no!  Not New York!" "Oh no!  Not North America!"  "Oh no!  Not the Entire World!"  The repetition can make everything flatten.  But sometimes the story really does want to go, "First New York... then North America... finally... the Entire World!"  Donald Maass suggests that one way to fix the problem is to have new complications mixed in -like family problems, or rioting.  That is very good advice.

Another thing that can help, though, is varying the reaction of the characters.  I have been working (or pretending to work) on a story where there is a monster attack.  A couple chapters later there is an attack by an even bigger monster, only when I got to that scene the second monster felt anticlimactic.  There are, after all, only so many ways you can say 'my hero was terrified.  He was really terrified.  Seriously folks, this is scary stuff.'

  Fortunately, God blessed me with friends who aren't afraid to tell me when my story is not working so I went back to the scene, stared at it a lot, banged my head on the desk a few times and finally thought what if the hero isn't terrified?  What if, instead, seeing the monster gives him an adrenalin rush that makes him unusually reckless?  It's a reaction that makes sense, it builds suspense (because reckless characters might make mistakes) and best of all it's not just a repetition of the earlier scene.  I don't know that varying the reaction will always work to raise stakes, but I know it worked for me in this particular instance and I'm filing it in the back of my mind for future use. 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some thoughts on Christian Fantasy

I was reading an interesting book recently, a fantasy published by Bethany House, and I noticed I was way more critical of the underlying ideas than if I had been reading a book from a secular publishing house and then found out the author was a Christian.  That was not something I wanted to discover about myself.

I don't want to just turn off my critical thinking skills if a book is from a Christian publisher.  That can happen.  You just assume that you and the author agree, and you gloss over stuff that would raise a red flag if the book didn't have that label.  (Of course, I also have a tendency to gloss over stuff if the writing is amazing, and then realize several books later oh yeah- this person and I disagree about everything.  But she/he writes so well!)  I just don't want to judge people unfairly because they label their books as Christian fantasy instead of just fantasy.  A book should stand on its own.

Tim Hawkins once made a comment that people call him a Christian comedian instead of a comedian who is a Christian but they don't do that for plumbers and other jobs.  If someone is a Christian and also a writer, they aren't (or shouldn't be) more of a Christian if they're writing for Zondervan and less of a Christian if they're writing for Scholastic.  What a person believes may be presented differently, but there is something seriously wrong with the writer if their actual beliefs change whenever they switch publishers.

I don't know how many Christian fantasy writers think about whether they're writing for a Christian or secular publishing house when they're actually working on the book.  Marketing has to cross a person's mind sometime, but, at least at first, you just write the story how ever it wants to be told. 

This post is really just me thinking out loud.  I don't have any amazing revelations, just a realization that, yes, a label really does affect the way I approach a work, even if it shouldn't.