I am finally working on the third book in The Fylking, after a hiatus. Sometimes life plays hardball; other times, it takes a while for a novel to brood. In this case, it’s both. I’m cool with that.
The title is still eluding me. Something about warlocks, masters, veils, crows, I don’t know. Whenever I choose something, five minutes later I’m tossing it in the bin with a scowl. But fear not. When I get more deeply into the story, the real title will no doubt make itself known with a flourish.
So I am back in the zone, apparently. Late last night, while getting ready for bed, I casually glanced into the other room and noticed something weird. High up on a window curtain, tucked into a fold, was a dark blotch, frayed at the edges, several inches in diameter. How long has that been there? I wondered.
Chilled, I peered at it. An enormous spider? No, this isn’t Australia. A scorpion? Not a Bolivian jungle, either. Oh! Maybe a little brown bat, clinging there. That could happen.
Things got darker. A stain, perhaps—but of what, way up there? Blood wouldn’t look like that. Still peering. Flesh-eating bacteria? The blotch seemed to move as I stared at it. I imagined it shooting out with unbelievable speed and latching onto me like an Alien facehugger. Maybe it’s mold. Yeah, extraterrestrial mold. It’ll slowly spread until it consumes me, the entire neighborhood, the planet.
I swear, it’s moving.
The cat is asleep on the chair underneath the curtain. Suspiciously.
Finally, I ventured over there to have a look. And then, with a shock, I realized just how far out into the water I had drifted. The culprit? An ornament of a flying gargoyle that’s been hanging from the moulding above the curtain for, I don’t know, fifteen years probably. Hey, if you look at something long enough, you forget about it. Right?
Seriously, though. What just happened?
Here’s a thought. The faculties that drive me to write dark fantasy also have me staring at the blur of a cobwebbed Gothic Christmas ornament for ten minutes like a protagonist in Stranger Things.
Put another way, the gulf between one’s perception of reality when they’re wearing their glasses or not is vast, murky and full of monsters.
Here’s an interesting thing for lovers of nature, spiders, and all things Gothic. Last night, it dropped to a lovely -21°F (-29.4°C) here in northern New England, and early this morning, draped over the porch eaves, was a startling tangle of frozen orb-weaver spider webs.
While harmless, orb-weavers can get alarmingly big over the course of a summer, but their webs are more subtle (all the better to catch and eat you with). You don’t really notice them unless you’re sitting on the porch warily eyeing one of the hobbit-eaters perched in the center of a web glistening in the morning sun; or you unwittingly get a web in the face like an Alien Facehugger (accompanied by a near heart attack resulting from the image of a spider coming after you for revenge).
But when frozen–yikes! Looks like, I don’t know, Australia or something. Seriously, deep winter is the only time I ever notice this phenomenon.
If nothing else, it’s a fascinating reminder of who’s boss around here.
The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure–be it a daemon, a human being, or a process–that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. ― Carl Jung
I once kicked a hole in the kitchen wall. This happened some time ago, in another house, another life. I honestly don’t recall what triggered it. I was wearing a pair of Doc Martens, which made the act particularly satisfying. I can still feel the sensation of the wallpaper exploding as the sheetrock caved in.
I left that hole there for some time, like a sacrifice to a war god. Then one day I knelt there, fixed the sheetrock and lovingly pieced a matched swatch of wallpaper over the wound like a mother patching up a scraped knee. There, there. These things happen.
Don’t get me wrong, this aspect of my personality as gotten me into trouble aplenty. He’s rising to his feet now, yelling, “Yeah only with people who fucking deserved it.” Debatable; however, my inner warrior stepped up like a boss on the battlefield of my childhood, where I took on a legion of thousands-year-old collective beliefs designed to bully women into being safe and predictable. Girls aren’t supposed to kick holes in walls. Keep it under control, don’t threaten the Powers That Be or you’ll be sorry. No talking back. No swearing. No waving swords or apple tree wands. Throw your weight around and we’ll throw you out. Yada yada. At some point I pushed all that noise off the cliff into the sea.
I like my warrior.
Building a Better Battlefield
Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander
There’s this quaint idea that fantasy isn’t real, but only worthy as entertainment or worse, escapism. This is right up there with the idea that dark, extreme music makes people angry or violent ― another garden cart load of crap. As a child, unfortunately, I adopted and then chafed under these ideas because I wanted an escape and I wanted the truth. The whole thing just pissed me off.
In fantasy novels I found my warrior, alive and well and ready to teach me how it’s done. I started out reading books and watching movies, until the forces of an ever hungry and curious psyche drove me into writing. After many years cutting my teeth on worldbuilding, the development of writing skills and the maddening vagaries of the traditional publishing industry, an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin stepped out of my subconscious and into the light. “Would you rather kick holes in walls, or tell my tale?” he inquired. Four books later, Lorth has proven himself to be an exemplary spokesperson for my warrior side.
Lorth of Ostarin
Since nothing is complete without music, this tune sums up Lorth nicely:
Variations on The Warrior Archetype
The term “warrior” can evoke many images, some of them simplistic; say, a person engaged or experienced in warfare. But there’s nothing simple about this archetype. There are infinite variations. Here are some of my favorites.
The Noble Warrior
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Who doesn’t love this guy? He has legendary ancestors, lofty titles, powerful friends and a destiny. He’s done his time. He plays by the rules. His sword has an elven name you can’t pronounce. The golden standard by which all variations of the warrior archetype are defined, he can send you and your shit packing with a deadpan stare.
A Tolkien votary from a young age, I was properly initiated by Aragorn. But I was so innocent. Like a little hare beneath the gaze of a great horned owl.
The Initiated Warrior
A warrior acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing. ― Carlos Castaneda
In ancient Norse traditions there were berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent brutal, powerful initiations. In the wilds they lived like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury.
Ripley vs. The Alien Queen
Initiation rites for warriors are as old as time. But sometimes, a person with a warrior’s soul may not be aware of what she’s capable of until put to the test. To my mind, Ellen Ripley of Alien fame fits this aspect well. A warrant officer and first mate of the Nostromo, she becomes the badass we all know and love as the crew starts to realize what manner of thing they’re up against. The sole survivor of a terrifying battle with a superior life form, she goes on to set the record straight for every scientist, android and military type who crosses her path. Who knew?
The Reviled Warrior
Nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate. ― Unknown
Geralt of Rivia
Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, is one messed up dude. Trained as a child by a dark order of warriors called Witchers, he develops supernatural abilities via rigorous training and a ghastly transformation involving sorcery and narcotics, thereby rendering him capable of hunting the nonhuman fiends and beasties that haunt the wilds. With the eyes of a viper, milk-white hair and a collection of scars, he is hated and feared across the land ― until some constable’s daughter ends up shredded by a harpy or something, at which time they are happy enough to hire him.
A thankless job, but somebody has to do it.
The Broken Warrior
He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. ― Confucius
Elric of Melniboné
Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga is old-school sword and sorcery at its finest. The protagonist, Elric of Melniboné, is the reluctant emperor of a mighty race with a well-earned reputation for cruelty. Elric is born flawed, an albino with weakness he is only able to overcome with drugs made from herbs and such. Disgusted by his own people, he ventures into the greater world to find his fortune. But he serves Chaos, and wields a malevolent sword named Stormbringer that drinks the souls of its victims, an addiction to which our hero swiftly succumbs, as the blade gives him strength as nothing else can.
Thus tormented, Elric destroys everything he loves, slaughters his own race and at some point has no fucks left to give. He tries to destroy Stormbringer, to bury it, to hide it away. But of course, “What you resist, persists,” and it’s only a matter of time before he’s driven to pick it up again. So it goes.
I’m still rooting for him.
Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.
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