The Warrior Within

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres, Ranger of the North Branch

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.

How This IsDon’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

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

Aragorn

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.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.

Sleep with one eye open…

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Georgie, Herald of Wickedness

I recently had the honor of sharing this on Mighty Thor JRS, an awesome blog to follow if you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings and Norse Mythology. Here it is again in case you missed it.

Beasties

When I was a little kid, my mother would read me stories from a vintage 1960s Childcraft book. Well (clears throat), it wasn’t vintage then but whatever. My favorite story was called “Georgie,” about a ghost that haunted an old New England house and its kindly owners. Georgie wasn’t a bad ghost, just a little confused. I related to him. The addition of Herman the cat and Miss Oliver the owl permanently embedded this tale in my subconscious—or perhaps it was the other way around. Hard to tell.

Anyway, as it turns out, Georgie was a herald. All my favorite tales involve the Otherworld in one way or another, whether it’s a ghost, a vampire, an elf, a god or mortals such as shamans or witches who negotiate with such beings. I went from devouring high fantasy, swords and sorcery, and fairy tales to creating worlds of my own in which, despite Georgie’s charm, I quickly discovered a natural penchant for the darker side of things.

Of course, “dark” is a complex term that means different things to everyone. In my head it might take shape as a creepy, sightless demon that chews your face off, a malevolent phooka that will promise you one thing but deliver another, an elven warlock that might be your friend but probably isn’t, that cold finger on your spine at the thought of traveling through that particular forest, or the grim, sickening despair in your gut after a sorcerer curses you and you know you’re going to die.

Poor Georgie! He fell in with a bad crowd. Well, that’s what happens when you listen to the cat.

Being a votary of Tolkien since around Georgie’s time, I am strongly influenced by Northern European folklore and Norse mythology, which formed a custom groundwork in my high fantasy series The Fylking. Add to this palette works like The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is a motherlode of creepy, nasty fairytale monsters and the bastards who hunt them, or Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, one of my favorite anti-heroes, and inspiration knows no bounds.

Here are some of my favorite beasties.

Draugr, Goblins and Phooka

Draugr. The draugr is an undead creature in Norse mythology. While often compared to a zombie, this creature is a bit more sophisticated. In Old Norse, draugr means “ghost,” but it’s closer to a vampire. Accounts vary, but generally, the draugr are described as walking dead warriors with superhuman strength, the ability to shapeshift, and the unmistakable stench of decay. They are implacable, seek vengeance and will kill anything that crosses their nightly rampages. In Outpost, these beasties bear these traditional attributes, but they are also given life by an immortal warlock with his own agenda. They are not bound to the night and, because of their otherworldly origin, they appear half somewhere else, are demonic and malevolent, cannot be killed and can only be released by the magician who created them.

Forget honor. While inhumanly strong, the draugr are only as skilled in arms and familiar with the land as the men they once were. Distract and disable. If overrun, flee.Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

Goblins. Nasty, foul-mouthed, wicked creatures. You would not want to cross their path, let alone offend them. Arcmael, the protagonist of Outpost, does both. He is a seer and a servant of the Fylking, immortal, unseen warlords who hold dominion over the realm. Arcmael lands on the bad side of the Otherworld, where most beings revere the Fylking as gods. But goblins revere nothing. They capture Arcmael and throw him in the bowels of their palace. Aside from his being fed some really disgusting fare, I won’t spoil what happens.

Truss him up! Drag him hither! Bind his limbs! Make him slither!Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

 
Phooka. The name has many variations which show up in Celtic cultures throughout Northwestern Europe. In Irish, púca means “spirit” or “ghost.” The Old Norse term pook or puki refers to a “nature spirit.” This creature is a shape changer, part human at times, or part or all animal such as a goat or a horse, always with dark fur. Bleak, uncanny and generally wicked, the phooka is best to be avoided; yet can also be beneficial depending on mood or circumstance. In Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a phooka summoned by a desperate sorcerer wreaks havoc as only a phooka can.

The village girl who went missing and was found on the last dark moon, floating in her uncle’s millpond, was said to have been fey and prone to accidents. A comforting tale. Leofwine saw the poor creature’s death in the runes: drowning by twilight, the pale green eyes of the phooka glinting on the surface of the pond.The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

The Phooka

So if you’re into monsters, creepy creatures, fiends and the idgits who cross them, I have goodies for you. The books in the following series are available for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Georgie.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry 
The Chronicles of Ealiron features wizards, warriors, gods, a wolfish apparition with an agenda, clever ravens, a dastardly winged predator and an immortal sea serpent.

 
The Hunter’s Rede, Book One. Lorth of Ostarin is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.

The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.

In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.

 
The Fylking involves immortal warlords, elves, goblins, phooka, draugr, demons, warlocks, witches, sorcerers and all the trouble one can find dealing with them.

Outpost, Book One. In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s Ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

The Wolf Lords, Book Two. The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Hendrix and Writing

Jimi Hendrix Blues

One of my favorite hashtags is #jimihendrixisgod. I typed this into a tweet once because it just needed to exist and oh yes, it was already out there.

I listened to Jimi Hendrix Blues today while cleaning Elric’s tank (yes, that Elric) and spitting out fingernails over ending the novel I’m working on. And I started contemplating things.

Hendrix and the writing process are similar, in my universe anyway. I’m what you could call high frequency, high amplitude (think sine wave). This is a rough way to live but a great way to write. It gives birth to stories.

Hendrix knows. When words suck, I’m born under a bad sign, I wish I was a catfish and the willows weep and moan for me. Then Jimi tears into a riff that takes it straight to the stars. Words are good and everything’s going to be all right. Every story is in there, some place.

I’m a voodoo chile. (Yeah I had to say that.)

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Elric the Fish

I am an aquarium geek. I love things that live underwater: fishes, creatures, plants. On my desk I keep a male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). He has his own castle, a mountain and a forest to live in.

A cared-for betta can live several years or more, long enough for me to get quite attached. I don’t always give my betta an official name. But soon, after watching the beautiful creature flit around, showing his long fins and flaring his gills at the glass, I end up calling him something. I called my last one “Fish.” Yeah, I know, not that imaginative. But when he died, the name didn’t matter. He did.

After properly grieving Fish, I got a new betta. This one is white, like an albino. His gills, when he flares them, are the color of shadows. After going through a lukewarm collection of names I had a brilliant idea of calling him Elric, after a hero in a swords-and-sorcery saga by Michael Moorcock.

Elric LurkingElric of Melniboné is one of my favorite heroes. I don’t write that many book reviews, but I wrote one about him. An albino from an ancient race of sorcerers, he is beautiful, his gods are evil and he is tortured as all hell. And he bears a glorious, cavalier attitude not unlike that of a Siamese fighting fish.

Every writer has a muse. The gods are watching.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.