Tag Archives: Fantasy

3 Embarrassing Things I’ve Learned From Books

Today I have three embarrassing stories to share with you.

Before I dive into them, let me explain a few things about my childhood to the new readers of my blog.

I grew up in a series of small towns and rural communities in the United States. I was also homeschooled for the first several years of my education. While the Internet has technically existed since before I was born, it wasn’t until I was older that it became at all well-known. In fact, I was in high school before my family finally bought a computer that could surf the web.(Based on how much I begged them to do this, I’m going to take the credit for it, too. LOL!)

My parents were lovingly protective of their children. There were certain facts of life – and, as I like to joke, a particular English sweet as well – that they shielded us from until we were old enough to fully understand them.

Sometimes People Get Pregnant Before They Get Married

The time: Early 1990s

I should warn my sensitive readers that this section of today’s post post contains two brief references to infant deaths.

My parents were married long before they conceived their kids. This was a pattern that was also repeated with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and the vast majority of the other adults in my community.

While I met some kids whose families didn’t fit that mold when I began attending public elementary school, my assumption about the world was still that this was a rare and very recent occurrence.

Due to all of these assumptions and previous experiences, I was endlessly confused by a line I read in a biography of Winston Churchill that gave a date for his parents’ wedding that was much less than nine months before his birth.

Shortly before I picked up this book, I’d read a Reader’s Digest article* about a premature baby who died despite many heroic efforts by her doctor and nurses to save her. My family knew at least one other family who had lost a baby this way.

Due to all of these facts, it didn’t make any sense to me that premature babies born in the 1980s and 1990s who had access to wonderful medical care would die while one who was born at a time when no one knew anything at all about keeping preemies alive would thrive in the 1870s.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time assuming that his parents had been unbelievably lucky and resourceful instead. There was even moment when I briefly wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Churchill had shared their amazing knowledge with their local doctor. Maybe he was the first doctor who ever began testing new theories on how to keep premature babies alive?

You really don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out that Winston Churchill was probably conceived months before his parents got married and not a micro-preemie at all.

*Yes, I literally read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I even read my mother’s nursing school textbooks!

The Meaning of Words Can Change Drastically Over Time

The time: Late 1990s

One year I decided to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Winter felt like it was never going to end, so I hoped I could pass the time by finally finding out what happened during Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures.

Suddenly, I began to notice references to “faggots” in these stories. Characters wandered into the woods to pick them up without any explanation of what was really going on there.

The first time it happened, I thought Tolkien was being vulgar, homophobic, and nonsensical. When I looked up that word in a dictionary, I was completely confused by the idea that such a hateful term was originally used as a unit of measure for wood.

As much as I enjoyed the storyline itself, I shuddered every time that word appeared again. Knowing that the author in no way meant it as a slur definitely helped, but I was still horrified by the thought of an innocent word being twisted into such a vile one over the centuries.

Turkish Delight Is Real

The time: The late 2000s

I briefly referred to this story a year and a half ago, but now it’s time to tell it in full.

The first time I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, my mouth watered at the thought of Turkish Delight.

Like talking animals and lamp posts growing in the middle of a magical forest, I assumed it was yet another piece of this fictional world that I’d always wish could become real.

It was hard to picture what Turkish Delight really was. Edmund loved it so much he betrayed his siblings for it, so I imagined it was the most delicious candy that would or could ever exist.

Occasionally, I’d try to picture it over the years for the sheer joy of challenging my imagination. Sometimes it was some sort of dairy-free gourmet chocolate that I could eat. At other times I imagined contradictory combinations of treats that couldn’t possibly exist in our world. For example, the softness of cotton candy combined with the warmth of hot fudge might have tempted me into climbing into a strange woman’s sleigh as a kid if Narnia was capable of producing such a thing.

I grew up, moved far away from home, and got married. Turkish Delight occupied less and less of my speculations about the world until one day I spotted a box of it sitting on a perfectly ordinary candy store shelf.

“Wait, Turkish Delight is REAL?” I said in a voice that was slightly too loud for the occasion.

“Yes,” my spouse said.

“Since when?” I asked. Another film version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe had come out a few years before then, so I assumed that the producers of it had taken a look at all of the wildly successful Harry Potter candies and decided to make this treat a reality as well.

When my spouse explained that this wasn’t a new type of sweet and that it had existed back when C.S. Lewis first wrote this series, my brain practically exploded. Why hadn’t Turkish Delight become commonplace in North America since this series was released? Was it a common treat in England? Why was this the first I was hearing about it?

I still don’t have the answers to those questions, but I smile every time I see it for sale at the store. Maybe one of my British readers will have answers for me someday!

What is one funny, embarrassing thing you’ve learned from a book?

If Minecraft Was a Fantasy Story, This Is What It Would Be Like

The only thing Steve remembered about his past was his name.

His first memory of the land called Minecraft was of standing alone at dawn in an eerie forest whose trees came tumbling down if you hit them. He was wearing a shirt and a pair of pants but was otherwise alone and defenceless against the elements.

He had no food, weapons, or tools. Other than a few fluffy sheep in the distance, there were no other living things within sight.

The ground was covered in a soft layer of grass that was occasionally interrupted by a colourful flower, but, strangely enough, there were no butterflies, insects, earthworms, or other small creatures anywhere to be found.

Surviving in the Wilderness

Steve dug a small sleeping hole in the side of a cliff that first night. The thought of sleeping out in the open made him shudder for reasons he couldn’t explain, and that gut feeling turned out to save his life.

There were witches, zombies, skeletons, spiders, and green exploding monsters called creepers in that forest that growled, cackled, and prowled from dusk until the next dawn. Other nasty creatures revealed themselves later on, too, like Enderman (who could teleport) and baby zombies who were somehow twice as fierce and fast as their parents.

He didn’t know where they’d all come from, but the noises they made kept him from sleeping a wink. After swiftly being killed by a baby zombie the next morning, he learned two things: 1) always be cautious when leaving his tiny resting hole, and 2) death wasn’t permanent. He woke up beside the same tree he’d looked at while his first memory was being formed after the accident, and he was somehow no worse for the wear.

Over the following days, he slowly learned how to build a bigger shelter and where to find food. Arranging the pieces of wood he collected gave him everything from a workbench to crude wooden tools for hoeing the ground for his first little garden, defending himself from monsters, and digging deeper into the cliff to see what he could find there.

Other lessons soon followed. For example, it turned out that monsters appeared during the day, too, if he failed to put up enough torches in his dark home or in the caves he discovered as he dug ever more deeply down into the cliff. Once he built a bed and began sleeping through the night, his encounters with these creatures became something he sought out on purpose instead of an unwanted source of danger while he was trying to gather basic supplies.

Thriving on a Homestead

Steve’s little farm quickly grew into a large, bustling homestead. He soon had so many sources of food that he was able to fill several chests with enough meals to keep him from ever going hungry again.

For example, he learned how to grow pumpkins, potatoes, wheat, and carrots. He also figured out how to keep a steady supply of fish, beef, mutton, and chicken in his diet as well. Exploring new biomes added even more animals and plants to this list.

Building fences and putting torches everywhere kept his property safe no matter what time of day or night it was. As he dug out more valuable minerals from the soil, everything from the weapons he used to the armour he built for himself became top-of-the-line.

There was nothing Steve needed that he couldn’t somehow grow, mine or build other than the answer to one burning question.

Wondering About His Origins

Where did he come from? Did everyone come back from the dead and into the same body every time they died? Why was he alone in this strange, flat world that defied the laws of science? Who were his people? Were they the ones that had raised him to adulthood, or had someone else done it? Why couldn’t he remember anything from his childhood when he did instinctively know how to hunt, farm, fish, fight, and mine?

He soon began wandering further and further from home both to discover what other fantastical things were out there and to see if anyone had any answers for him. One day he stumbled across a village filled with tall, thin people who looked nothing like him but who were quite friendly (if also occasionally inept at building safe homes and somehow never able to defend themselves against the monsters that came out at night if Steve refused to go to sleep).

They were the first human-like creatures he’d found in this land, and he soon figured how how to trade with them even though they found his language as indecipherable as he found theirs. Steve felt a kinship with them despite the fact that they had no way of understanding his questions or giving him any answers that might have been hidden inside of their memories.

Seeking Answers, Defeating Foes

The further Steve wandered away from his home base, the more wonders he discovered in this flat land. There were lava waterfalls, a hellish second dimension of this land called The Nether where day and night had no meaning at all, and monsters tucked away underground or underwater that were much bigger and more dangerous than anything he’d seen on the surface.

In time, he defeated them all. He even found a way to kill the dragon that lived in The End, the third and final dimension of Minecraft. A voice boomed from the heavens when this happened proclaiming him the winner and bestowing more riches upon him than he’d ever seen in all of his lifetimes put together, but still he found no answers to the questions he sought.

He was Steve, the man who could die but who would always come back to life again. This was all he knew about his identity and all he was ever going to know. Somehow, it had to be enough for him.

Steve carefully travelled back home again, carrying all of his treasures with him. The chickens needed to have their eggs collected again, and he had almost certainly had some vegetables to harvest as well.

As life began settling into it’s regular routine once again, Steve began thinking about his future. Perhaps it was time to build a bigger home. He could invite some of the villagers to live with him. Despite the vast language differences between them, he’d come to see them as dear, old friends. There was definitely enough food to go around!

What would your favourite game be like if it was translated into a story? 

Saturday Seven: Non-Human Protagonists

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

 

Raise your hand if you love xenofiction! There’s something about experiencing the world through non-human eyes that makes just about any plot more exciting to me.

I ended up coming up with so many books for this list that I’m going to have to revisit this topic on a future Saturday Seven post so I can include everything I had to leave out of this week’s list. I need to read a few books before I share part two, though, so it might be a while before I publish it.

 

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I was so young when I first read this book that I didn’t pick up on the satirical or allegorical messages in the plot at all. What I knew was that I was fascinated by the idea of animals revolting and running their own farm, and I only enjoyed the storyline more once I learned enough about world history to understand it on a deeper level.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

There are a lot of stories out there written from the perspective of dog narrators, but this is my favourite one because of how differently Enzo saw the world when compared to how a human would describe the same event. He behaved exactly how a dog would behave, and his explanations for why he did certain silly things made total sense from that point of view.

Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker

It’s been so long since I read this book that the only things I can tell you about it for sure is that the main character is incredibly brave and that I loved the plot twists in it. It was like nothing I’ve ever read before or since.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Fair warning: this one’s a tearjerker. One of my uncles has owned at least one horse for as long as I can recall, and I remember paying closer attention to his horses after reading Black Beauty. (Don’t worry!  All of my uncle’s horses have always been looked after nicely).

The Inheritors by William Golding

This is one of those stories that made me want to jump into the plot about twenty pages into it and change how things were going. I adored the Neanderthal characters and wanted to do everything I could to help them. That’s all I can say about them without giving away spoilers.

Grendel by John Gardner

Beowulf was by far my favourite assigned read in college. Grendel told the same story as the original, but it explored this universe from the perspective of the monster instead of the hero. I loved it every bit as much as I expected to when I first found it at my local library.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Did my mom read this book to us a chapter at a time before bed, or am I mixing it up with other children’s adventure stories she read to us? I hope she’ll remember!

What is your favourite book that features a non-human main character?

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

 

“Cara Mujer” by Cesar Tort.

Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline!

While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out to all of the supporting characters who were attentive enough to realize that something was seriously wrong with this new development in your lives. The fact that you figured this out so soon speaks well of your chances of making it to the end.

On the topic of the changes you’ve noticed, you’re not hallucinating, exaggerating, or imagining anything. Those noises you’ve been hearing late at night when no else is around are real, and the spirits are only going to amplify their attempts to grab your attention if you don’t act now.

Unlike post-apocalyptic storylines, secondary characters aren’t doomed to die in these tales, and not every protagonist is guaranteed to survive either. Sometimes everyone lives. In other cases, everyone dies. Every haunting is unique in this regard.

So much depends on what sort of spirit you’re dealing with, how quickly you figure out that they are a threat, and how intelligently you respond to the escalation in their behaviour after that.

All characters regardless of their role in the plot should follow these rules if they want to survive:

  1. Escape through one of the rare and usually obscurely-marked exit doors. If you happen to notice what is really going on before the end of the first scene and the spirits have shown themselves capable of any violent behaviour at all, this is by far your best chance for survival. This technique generally doesn’t work, though, which leads me to the rest of this list…
  2. Research the history of the haunted item or location. Visit your local historical society, library, senior centre, nursing home, or any similar place that may have first-hand accounts of how your ghost died and what he or she may needs in order to move on to the next world. If the first hints of a haunting happen when these places aren’t open to the public, looking up any information you may already have online is an acceptable substitute as long as you follow up on any leads you found first thing in the morning.
  3. Don’t tolerate any distractions until you’ve completed the previous assignment. Any character who attempts to downplay your concerns or delay your research for any reason at all is a threat to your survival. They almost certainly will not be doing this on purpose, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Avoid them as much as possible until after the climax has ended (assuming they survive that long).
  4. Look for discrepancies. Sometimes newspaper articles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, and other pieces of evidence are incomplete, accidentally inaccurate, or even purposefully fabricated for any number of reasons. If the various accounts of the spirit’s life and death are contradictory, keep digging until you’ve found more clues about what really happened. Do not discount any records immediately, but also avoid assuming that you know the whole story this early on in the plot. You almost certainly do not.
  5. Never split up the group in a haunted building. Does this even need to be said anymore? No matter how tempted you may be to speed up your exploration of the grounds, we all know that this never ends well for ghost-hunting groups that attempt it. Stick together and stay alive.
  6. Call in a psychic. Yes, I know that they aren’t always helpful in these sorts of plots. Some of them act like they’ve never met a vengeful spirit before, and others honestly don’t seem that psychically sensitive at all! I’m not saying you should take everything they say as the unvarnished truth, but they may be able to provide pieces of the puzzle that no one knew about at the time of the victim’s violent or sudden death.
  7. Listen to the psychic’s recommendations. If they tell you the spirit is violent and dangerously uncooperative, follow their instructions on how best to deal with such an entity without delay. This includes moving away from your dream home or giving up on that desperately-needed trip if that’s what they recommend. Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  8. Don’t bother throwing away or destroying haunted objects. As thrilling as it might be for readers who are brand new to this genre to see the horrified look on your face when that doll or other item magically ends up right back in your home in pristine condition, everyone else know that this is nothing but a waste of time. Call in a second psychic instead if you really insist on dragging out the rising action or climax.
  9. Burn the bones. If there’s one thing that Supernatural has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to permanently get rid of a ghost is by finding their grave and burning their remains. Make this a priority if appeasing the spirit in other ways doesn’t work the first time you attempt it.
  10. Double-check your work. Just because you think you’ve found the right grave or performed the correct ritual doesn’t mean there are no loose ends flapping around out there in this part of the plot. Don’t let down your guard until you’ve made sure that you’ve destroyed everything that’s tying the ghost to this realm and you really have reached the conclusion after all.

Final Thoughts

A few of you are probably wondering if you’re actually in one of those rare paranormal stories that involves a completely harmless spirit. The fact that you read this far means this is extremely unlikely to be true. Even the most mischievous ghost who had a truly friendly nature would stop immediately and reveal their identity if they frightened someone. It’s only a joke if everyone is laughing along!

The fact that you’re worried enough about your haunting to read this essay means that you’re not dealing with one of those rare spirits that is only rattling your dishes or opening your kitchen cabinets as a lighthearted attempt to grab your attention.

Listen to your intuition. If you do that and follow the steps listed above, you still stand an excellent chance of living long enough to either see the ghost move onto the next world or transferring to a safer place to live yourself.

Previous posts in this series: 

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline.

Winter Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Toronto has been enjoying milder winter weather this past week or two, but it looks like our temperatures are soon going to plummet once again.

Every time this has happened during the winter of 2017-2018, my mind has drifted to the stories I’ve read about imaginary or otherworldly wintery places that appealed to me for a wide variety of reasons. Winter is my least-favourite season of the year, but it does become slightly more appealing when I think about experiencing it in places that are nothing at all like Toronto.

Narnia as It Was During the End of The Long Winter

From C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I spent four years of my childhood in Laramie, Wyoming, so C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of a world where it was always winter actually sounded kind of familiar to me.

We could experience snow there at any point between September and May. Even the brief Wyoming summers were much colder than the ones I experienced later on in life when my family moved back to the midwest.

Some kids might have been frightened by the idea of a winter that never ended. I liked the long, snowy winters of my childhood, though, and wasn’t particularly bothered by the idea of them lasting forever. (Although, now that I’m an adult, I feel very differently about this topic!)

One of the nice things about the reign of Jadis, the White Witch who cursed the land with everlasting winter, was how resourceful the creatures who lived there learned to become. The book never exactly described how they managed to find enough food to survive for so many generations in the bitter cold, so I’m going to have to assume that both magic and luck were involved.

My favourite scene in this book was the one where Lucy and Susan noticed the first sign that The Long Winter was coming to an end. I won’t give it away for anyone out there who hasn’t read this story yet, but it was a very fitting twist on what many people consider to be the best part of this season.

Alaska as It Was in 1920

From Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.

Jack and Mabel, the main characters in this tale, had no idea what was happening when they first caught glimpses of a child running around in the Alaskan wilderness alone in the dead of winter.

This is the kind of story that can’t be pinned down to any one genre, and that’s one of the many reasons why I love it so much.

Is it a fantasy tale about a childless couple whose overwhelming desire to be parents magically summoned a daughter for them?

Are the main characters’ sometimes-bizarre interactions with their daughter a metaphor for how unresolved grief can pop up in all kinds of unexpected ways over the years?

Did Jack and Mabel meet a real abandoned child who had somehow figured out how to survive in a fiercely cold and unforgiving environment before they took her in?

The winter weather in Alaska could easily be used to support any of these theories. It could almost be considered a character in and of itself because of how influential it was on how the plot unfolded. While I wouldn’t want to experience that time and place for more than a few minutes, I am curious to know what it would feel like to live in a small, isolated cabin in the middle of a gigantic Alaskan forest during one of their many blizzards.

Jack and Mabel must have yearned for spring unbearably by this time of the year.

I have a very strong opinion about how this book should be interpreted based on the clues provided by the weather, the characters, and the circumstances under which the child is found, but I won’t share it publicly to avoid giving anyone spoilers for the ending.

Europe as It Was 30,000 Years Ago

From Jean M. Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters.

The Mamutoi were the first band of humans that Ayla, a human girl who was raised by Neanderthals, had ever met.

Other than the joy of seeing a herd of mammoths in person, by far the most appealing part of this book to me was how closely-knit the Mamutoi were. The climate they lived in was far too cold to allow for much outdoor time during the winter at all, so this tribe spent those months indoors working on small projects and celebrating various festivals.

The best scenes in this book showed what it was like for roughly twenty adults and children to live in a cramped space together for months on end. Yes, there were times when the introvert in me wondered if anyone ever went outside for the express purpose of having a few moments of pure silence, but there were many other times when I saw the benefits of this kind of living arrangement.

For example, the children in this tribe were doted on by everyone. They knew who their parents were, but they also all felt perfectly comfortable going to any adult for food, comfort, entertainment, or to learn new skills.

Chores like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of people who were too sick, injured, or elderly to do certain things for themselves were also shared pretty evenly. Given how lonely Ayla had been earlier in her life, this doesn’t seem like a bad way to spend a winter at all.

What winter worlds from your favourite stories do you wish you could visit?

Why It’s Okay to Take Breaks From Science Fiction and Fantasy

I have a confession to share with all of you. I’ve barely read any science fiction and fantasy books recently. Since I’m a sci-fi writer and a longtime fan of these genres, I’m regularly immersed in thoughts about wizards, robots, aliens, spaceships, science experiments gone wrong, and all of the other tropes you can expect… Read More

10 Fantasy Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week I blogged about science fiction books I’d recommend to adults who are unfamiliar with that genre. Today let’s talk about books that are a wonderful introduction to fantasy in general for anyone who… Read More

14 Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I Can’t Wait to Watch This Season

When I originally started working on this post, I was planning to say that I don’t watch very much television. As you’re about to discover from this list, though, I was wrong about that. There are far more SFF shows that I enjoy than I originally thought! Click on the titles of each shows to… Read More