Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and summons a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

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

Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Mighty Thor JRS, one of my favorite book blogs. If you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings, Norse Mythology and the like, do check it out.

Wolves and ravens. Romanticized, vilified and deified, these intriguing creatures reflect our dreams and shadows like few others. One source of their fame in popular imagination began in ancient Scandinavia, where reverence for wolves and ravens was not only pragmatic, such as the symbiotic relationship in which the animals led hunters to prey and shared in the spoils; but also pantheistic, by connecting to and identifying with the animals as helpers, shamanic totems, and messengers of the gods.

Enter Odin, the Allfather in the Norse pantheon. A deity par excellence, Odin is the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex and enigmatic figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He hungers for knowledge. A notorious shapeshifter, he is known as a trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. Odin is a patron of shamans, poets and magicians who, in their search for truth and pattern, endure grueling trials of hardship and isolation.

Wolves and ravens are Odin’s familiars, of a sort.

Among the many names attributed to Odin is Raven God. The connection between Odin and ravens is deep and ancient, existing before the Viking Age. A god of death and war, Odin was naturally associated with these carrion birds, the beneficiaries of sacrifices and battlefields, and harbingers of the god’s favor. In keeping with Odin’s intellectual nature, ravens are also extremely intelligent. Two of these birds, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire), fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens are given the honor of belonging to both the seen and unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, symbols of the implacability of death, and bringers of information from the other side.

Odin is also accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki (both meaning “ravenous” or “greedy one”). He gives his wolves all of his food, and drinks only wine. The wolves are said to roam over battlefields, devouring carnage. As the ruler and bestower of battle madness, Odin is the patron god of berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent powerful initiations in the wilds, living like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury—much to the terror and dismay of their enemies.

On the flip side, Odin is the enemy of Fenrir, a monstrous wolf sired by Loki, a wily and ambivalent trickster god. When Fenrir grows out of control, the gods are compelled to chain the wolf using deception, a stunt that comes with a great sacrifice. Fenrir will break free at Ragnarok, the fall of the cosmos, and devour everything in his path, including Odin. Another story tells of Fenrir’s sons Skoll (One Who Mocks) and Hati (One Who Hates), wargs that chase the sun and moon through the sky in hopes of devouring them. At Ragnarok, they will catch their prey, and the sky and earth will darken and collapse.

The wolf, with its ferocious and apocalyptic reputation in Norse mythology, its prowess and grace in nature, and a distinctive howl that puts a primordial chill on the flesh, is an exemplary metaphor, an antagonist in many a dark tale, and a patron of warriors.

Given the frequent appearance of wolves and ravens in mythology, legends, folk and fairy tales throughout the ages, and their remarkable natural traits, it’s easy to see why they are so common in works of fantasy. Battle prowess, cunning, guile, mystery, trickery and darkness—imagery and metaphors abound. My own work is no exception; a love of Northern European mythology and the grim and sublime traits of wolves and ravens inspire me to no end.

In the Chronicles of Ealiron, an ancient hierarchy of wizards holds the raven as the highest level of attainment in the magical arts. The wolf takes on its spookier characteristics in the lore of the Old One, a goddess of life, death, and transformation. In her darkest aspect, the Destroyer, she appears in the shape of a wolf. Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, delves deeply into the shadowy, fickle nature of this being, who commands a high price for being summoned, good or ill.

Lorth of Ostarin, the driving force in the Chronicles of Ealiron, is an assassin raised by a wizard. He has the eyes of a wolf and an affinity for ravens, which, being the opportunistic creatures they are, tend to follow him around in much the same way they follow wolves, and for the same reason: to clean up the mess. Lorth and his grim companions also appear in “The Om Tree,” a short story told by an ancient tree that gets its best gossip from—you guessed it—ravens.

The Norse gods haunt many worlds, not just Earth. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on. He goes by many names: Hooded One, Wanderer, Magician. He is served by the Fylking, immortal, Viking-like warriors who take the shapes of wolves and ravens, among other things, though even they can’t guess his agenda. The Wolf Lords, Book Two, delves into the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North, including, it is said, Loki himself. Fenrir is their patron, a force used in a variety of nasty ways that don’t always serve the ones who summon him.

Odin, of course, lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you’d like to see something beautiful about the value of wolves in nature, watch this: How Wolves Change Rivers

And if ravens fascinate you, do check out the work of Bernd Heinrich, a naturalist who has done fantastic research on ravens in the wild:
Ravens in Winter
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

Norse mythology? Here’s a good website, and it includes a reading list: Norse Mythology for Smart People

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Outpost
The Wolf Lords
Water Dark
The Eye of Odin
The Om Tree

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

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

“Summoning Fenrisúlfr”
Background cover art for The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

 

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps.

Leofwine Klemet of House Earticael is a sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of magicians who serve Loki, Prince of Wiles and the Father of Hel. Leofwine has his doubts as to whom his masters serve, however. Given the order’s bloody, patchy history, of which Leofwine is an expert, if the brotherhood served anyone it was Othin, the Allfather, a master of sorcery and runes who reveled in the grim tides of war. A trickster and consummate shapeshifter, the Hooded One would be more than pleased to move in the shadows of Loki’s dastardly reputation.

But Leofwine keeps his doubts to himself.

Once a transcriber in the King’s Archive, and a Fjorginan spy, Leofwine now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job, but for a lover and some shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

But Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable: he summons Fenrisúlfr, a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

Ironic. But that’s the trouble with doubts. They can betray you and ruin your day.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

Finalist, SPFBO 2016

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Noble of the Wood

Apple Tree

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~ Welsh Proverb

The apple is a sacred tree with a long, rich history of lore surrounding it. Aside from its fruit and many medicinal uses, it was revered in ancient times as a talisman of love, healing and immortality. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn gave apples to the gods to keep them immortal. Loki stole them, but had to return them when the gods began to age. In English tradition, one apple was left on each tree after harvest as a gift to the fairies. Apple wood is the traditional choice for magic wands, and a branch laden with buds, flowers and fruit enables the possessor to enter the Otherworld. Considered the food of the dead, apples are associated with Samhain.

Old Apple Tree

Apple trees grow wild in the woods where I live, and are particularly lovely in the spring, when they bloom. They tend to have dark, twisty trunks and low-sweeping, crooked branches, giving them a spooky air. A while back we bought a sturdy little tree and planted it in the back yard. It took years for the first blooms to appear. This year, it’s loaded with flowers. They smell incredible.

My apple tree has stories to tell. The winters are long and rugged up here, and the tree takes a beating, half buried in snow, torn by wind and ice. It split in an ice storm once, right down the middle and partway into the trunk. Heartbroken, I had the desperate idea of pushing it back together and holding it with electrical tape. This actually worked, if you can believe. It healed and now it’s strong as ever.

All kinds of creatures love the apple tree. The birds perch in it, and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. In fall, I throw apples into the woods for the deer. Then there are my illustrious cats. The tree is easy to climb and perch in, and when the leaves are thick a cat can hide in it. Oh, and let’s not forget the spiders. Big, hobbit-eating spiders. They guard the tree and I’ve learned to keep my wits about me.

Oona in the Apple Tree

If all goes well this summer, we should have apples coming out our ears.

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