Category: On Writing

Cimmerian, Yes, But No Barbarian

“Know, o prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars […] Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian; black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”

Proof that even purple prose can be good, when done right.

Heroic Legends of the Modern Age: The Flash

Hello again, everyone!

So, at first I thought of doing the opposite of what Farla’s been doing: instead of presenting all the awful things that comic book writers and artists do, I’d present good comics. But then I realized that was a silly proposition – I could present good comics (or good things by bad comics), but that doesn’t negate the fact that the comics industry as a whole has some deeply ingrained issues regarding gender, race, a general fear and hatred of changes and, well, a whole lot of things.

However, while re-reading The Flash, volume 2, I was struck by lightning (appropriately enough) and decided to go on a different direction: a brief discussion on how the characterisation of super-heroes and the genre as a whole has changed over the years. To help keep things brief, I’ll focus solely on the Flash, specifically the aforementioned second volume, but much of what I’ll be addressing can be applied to other characters.

Fiction and Personal Growth, Part 1

Can people change, for better or worse? Can a person truly let go of a part of their personality, their self, especially if it’s to fill the void with something else? I’m not talking about the changes we are (hopefully) forced to go through as we grow older (for instance, children have no concept of boundaries, but one expects adults to have already learned those at their age), nor about the little things such as likes and dislikes (“Yeah, I used to love that show, but nowadays I can’t get past how campy it is”); rather, I’m talking about the big things (or possibly a whole bunch of little things that all add up) on the scale of “Can a murderer truly repent for what he did – not because he was punished, but because he came to acknowledge that the act of murder itself is wrong?”.

Well, to be even more precise, what I’m really going to talk about is how fiction tends to deal with that kind of thing. Then again, the best stories always reflect something of real life, even if only an idealized version of it, so I’d be very surprised if nothing we discuss here can be applied to our own world.

Warning: there will be HEAVY spoilers for Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey Into Mystery, Al Ewing’s current run on Loki: Agent of Asgard, and Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga Rurouni Kenshin. You have been warned! (more…)

Fiction and Personal Growth, Part 2

Onwards to part 2! Now, the text after the cut continues directly from the end of part 1, so I’d recommend re-reading it first.

Oh, and in addition to the previous spoiler warnings, I’m adding another one concerning an important character in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, Inspector Javert. (more…)

Let’s Talk About Myths

Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by mythology. At first, it was because of the usual reasons – you know, “Wow, Hercules just strangled to death a lion with invulnerable skin! Cool!”, or “Wow, Odin and his brothers just built the world out of a giant’s corpse! Cool!”. As I grew up and learned more about other mythologies, especially once I got into college, I also learned to appreciate not only the intrinsic entertainment value of those stories, but also their deeper meanings  – even if, speaking from a purely personal viewpoint (as opposed to an academic one), I didn’t agree with or accept those meanings.

However, fascinating as the subject would be, I’m not going to talk about the myths themselves; rather, I’d like to talk about their reception and discuss how those ancient stories are reinterpreted and reimagined in modern times, especially in popular culture.

Between Streets with Secret Names

Urban fantasy is built on the concept of magic existing in modern world, hidden from the eyes of most people. It’s a great concept which leads to a lot of cool imagery and scenarios, but, well, it’s not really believable when you consider how our history would be different with magic around. Magic in many settings is capable of feats impossible even with modern science, and in many settings it was just as powerful (if not more powerful) in the past than it’s today, so it would stand to reason that mages would become our divine overlords back when the ruling class was just forming and cling to power ever since. Real priests, after all, typically had quite a lot of power in ancient societies, and they merely claimed they could bring forth miracles.

That’s just one example, but I hope it demonstrates the problem urban fantasy faces: how to keep our world mostly the way we know it, but with magic hidden in shadows?

I love urban fantasy genre, so I typically let it slide when a satisfactory answer isn’t provided, but still, it grates a bit every now and then.

So now I am composing a list of works that do provide good explanations for the secrecy of magic, or at least have interesting ideas on that front. The list is far from complete, of course, and you are welcome to provide your own examples, as well as examples of works that botch the justification for secrecy in a remarkable way.


Heroes, Power Fantasies, and The Legend of Zelda (Guest Review)

I played lots of The Legend of Zelda when I was a kid, mostly the old GameBoy ones (which are, of course, the best). When their focus moved to fancy 3D console games, keeping up became more effort than it was worth, so it dropped off my radar for a while. This summer, I suddenly realized that let’s plays exist, so I decided to catch up on how the franchise has evolved since. I noticed some interesting things, which I believe can tell us something about how we view power fantasies, and how video games factor into that. (more…)

The Stanley Parable, or, What is Metacommentary? (Guest Review)

The Stanley Parable is a game about games. You wander through an office building while an omnipresent narrator narrates your every action. The trick is that he narrates your actions before you perform them, so you’re given the chance to disobey. There are a large number of paths, choices, and endings, many of them quite bizarre. This all adds up to a metacommentary on the inherent limitations of game narratives – that is, pointing out that they only allow you the illusion of choice. The Stanley Parable points out that regardless of how many options the game gives you, your choices only allow you to traverse a set number of premade paths; therefore, it asserts, the narrative isn’t truly interactive. I found the game very funny and clever overall, but this is one thing that didn’t sit right with me. (more…)

Relying on Unreliable Narrator to Wave Away Problems Doesn’t Work. Reliably.

So, being active in a fandom I won’t name but that’s totally Harry Potter as well as criticizing various other work like Hunger Games, Name of the Wind, Twilight and such, I’ve noticed a peculiar thing: fans of said work would defend them by citing unreliable narrator.Why is a character hated by the narrative for no good reason? The narrator just has a bias against them due to personal reasons. Why show contradicts tell? The narrator is unreliable and tries to make themselves look better/worse because of reasons. Why killing these guys is a good thing, again? It isn’t, Katniss just rationalize it as a defense mechanism.

This argument is really annoying because countering it is not even so much difficult as tedious since it involves combing the text to demonstrate that, no, really, the narrative agrees with the narrator, we aren’t meant to question it.

So I think it calls for a talk about what unreliable narrator is and how it should be used.

Why Is Rorschach So Beloved By Fans?

Warning: there will be heavy spoilers for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen graphic novel (and, by extension, for the movie) here. Also, I urge you guys to first read this article (again, beware of spoilers), which compares and contrasts the portrayal of the Comedian and sexual minorities in the original comic and in the Before Watchmen prequel (written and drawn by a different team). Not that its contents are directly related to what I’ll be talking about; I just think it’s awful that not only Darwyn Cooke (the writer) is portraying a rapist and murderer as some sort of rugged anti-hero, lesbians as sexual fantasies for straight men and homosexuals as morally-bankrupt deviants, but that others (including famous comic writers like Grant Morrison) are praising his writing!

Anyway, on to THIS article. (more…)