Archive for the 'Musings' Category

Welcome to the January 2013 edition of the Great Fantasy Traveling Roundtable Guest Blog.

This month we are pondering that mainstay of fantasy literature, the Hero and the Quest, with thoughts on unlikely heroes, what a hero is and isn’t, how authors such as Frank Herbert have used this trope, and how we interpreted said  Hero and said Quest in our own fiction. Enjoy and reactions and responses are always welcome!

Warren Rochelle

My Heroes

According to the online version of the American Heritage Dictionary, a hero is:

1. In mythology and legend, a man, often of divine ancestry, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his bold exploits, and favored by the gods.
2. A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life: soldiers and nurses who were heroes in an unpopular war.
3. A person noted for special achievement in a particular field: the heroes of medicine. 
4. The principal male character in novel, poem, or dramatic presentation. 

The word hero should no longer be regarded as restricted to men in the sense [of] “a person noted for courageous action,” though heroine is always restricted to women.

 Two of my favorites heroes are Russell and Jeff, who happen to be two of the four protagonists in my novels, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon Press, 2007, paperback, 2008) and The Called (Golden Gryphon Press, 2010). They are rather unlikely heroes. Briefly, Russell and Jeff are the Fire and Water of their tetrad, their found family. Tetrads are the basic social unit of Faerie, and come in all kinds of gender combinations; their tetrad has three boys and one girl, Hazel, the Earth. Malachi, the other boy, is the Air. Often there are couples within the tetrad with the couple as primary bond, the tetrad as secondary. Except for Malachi, who is half-fairy, these children are the descendants of changelings left in our universe centuries ago. In Harvest, their long-dormant fairy DNA is awakened and they became to change, and become more magical, acquiring such abilities as flight and glamour-casting. At first they are dealing with these changes alone, then they find each other, and of course, they find themselves fighting Evil, human and otherwise, and on a Quest.

 When the reader first meets Russell Avery White he is 12 and in the 5th grade, having had to repeat two grades earlier. The school system has classified him as learning disabled. Red-haired, he has grass-green eyes and is living with his father and pregnant stepmother. His birthmother ran away years ago, taking with her his little brother, and leaving Russell to be verbally and physically abused by his dad. As he tells the other three: “I don’t remember him ever not doing it, now that I think about it” (Harvest 214). Russell’s body and soul are scarred and wounded. He is angry and thinks of himself as dark. He has learned to keep secrets, including his growing awareness of his attraction to boys. He dreams of centaurs—dreams sent by Faerie.

Harvest cover.4-18-12

 Jeffrey Arthur Gates is 10, a 5th grader and in Russell’s class. He has dark brown hair and sea-green eyes, and suffered “aggravated and protracted sexual abuse” from age 6 to 10. His father was the perpetrator; his mother abandoned him. Like Russell, he has been classified learning disabled. Like Russell he is scarred; Jeff’s are invisible. Now in foster care and fearing returning to his father, Jeff dreams of dragons.

 With Malachi, Hazel, they will fight demons, monsters, evil people, as, with the help of Malachi’s father, they search for the gate to Faerie.

 In The Called, the two boys, now lovers, are older, emotionally and mentally in their late teens, their physical aging slowed from their years in Faerie. They are called home to Earth to reunite their tetrad, to fight in another war against evil.  And they are still haunted by their pasts: the abuse, the pain, and the anger. They are still Outsiders.

 They carry no swords or spears. Their births seem ordinary, their rearing, with the abuse, less so. They are called to adventure, to the Quest—but it is more that adventure and the Quest finds them. Helpers, animal and wise souls, yes, and as they encounter evil and discover how to deal with it, they are tried and tested. There are monsters, yes, but the evil is often interior—the shadows of their pasts, and the damaged adults who sort of care for them. Russell’s anger is not easy for Jeff to deal with, no matter how much he comes to love him. Russell’s darkness, his disbelief in his own goodness, is not easy for anyone to deal with. For Jeff, the Somebody in the dark who came for him is still there, a ghost that is always present. They make awful mistakes again and again.


 And Russell and Jeff are two of my favorite heroes.


 From pain comes strength?  Yes, sometimes, but not always. Pain and anger can break someone; it breaks Russell; Jeff surrenders to it. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in these words by Jane Bowles*: “Your first pain, you carry it with you like a lodestone in your breast because all tenderness will come from there. You must carry it through your whole life but you must not circle around it.” That pain can bring tenderness, is, I would argue, the real source of the strength of my problem children. If they had not suffered and survived and grown from this, Jeff and Russell would have found their Quest-given tasks far more difficult.  As Fred Chappell said in the blurb he wrote for Harvest: “Perhaps a new beatitude is discovered: the broken shall mend the earth.

 But aren’t heroes the characters with whom the reader is to identify? The Hero is the archetype of the Self, right? The Hero and the Quest is the archetypal journey of coming of age (yes, I know it is problematic in its privileging of the public and the masculine)? But are there people who have not been hurt? We all were children once. And surely Heroes are Outsiders. I do identify with these two boys who grow into young men: they are telling part of my own story; they represent parts of my Self.

 The potential for heroism is present in all of us. The pain and hurt that comes to us can break us, but it also has the potential for ultimately bringing us greater strength of character and a truer sense of Self.

 The Quest is an ongoing journey.

 *Jane Bowles, 1917 – 1973, is an American writer and playwright considered by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Ashbery to be “one of the finest and most underrated writers of American fiction.” She has “long had an underground reputation as one of the truly original writers of this century.”


Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. His short story, “The Boy on McGee Street,” was just published in Queer Fish 2 (Pink Narcissus Press, 2012).


Deborah Ross

Hero on a Quest

Once upon a time, a hero represented a very particular character, an archetype if you will. He was invariably male, either a youth or in the prime of life, neither a child nor infirm with age; he was physically powerful and if not morally irreproachable, clearly a “good guy.” It was fine for him to have a flaw or two, so long as it did not interfere with his ability to accomplish great deeds and conquer mighty foes. Occasionally, the flaw would prove his downfall, as in the case of Achilles. The tradition that stretches from Odysseus, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh continued through King Arthur and his knights, to Tarzan, the superheroes of comic books, Doc Savage, and James Bond. True, there were occasional female-heroes in this mold, but mostly they imitated the men, only with brass bikinis, improbably high heels, and better fashion sense. What made them heroic, men and women alike, were physical prowess, lofty ideals, and larger-than-life goals. In other words, they were Worthy of The Noble Quest.

 The Quest was always something beyond the reach of the ordinary person. No average plowman or shop-keeper could aspire to find the Grail or slay the dragon. The Quest usually involved what Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey,” meaning that the central character must leave behind the familiar, venture into unknown terrain fraught with danger, and then return home. Sometimes he is changed by his experience, sometimes he merely puts himself back on the shelf until the next plea for help.

The function of this kind of Hero is not only as a Campbellian agent – that is, to guide the reader through a transformative journey – but as an agen instrument of Order and of The Triumph of Good. (Notice how the topic lends itself to unnecessary capitalization?) The world has veered toward Chaos, if not actually toppled headlong into the abyss, and the task of the Hero is to set things right. (I suspect that one modern incarnation of the classical Hero is the detective, who restores right social order by solving puzzles that lead to the apprehension of wrong-doers.) One of the implications here is that only those of noble birth, etc., and who are favored by the gods have the capacity to do great deeds. Aforementioned nobles undoubtedly relished stories that demonstrated them how superior they were and didn’t mind the peasantry being reminded of it. This propagated a hierarchical power structure in the same way as did the notion of the divine right of kings. It reinforced the notion that those with political power were inherently better (stronger, luckier, sexier, purer of thought, beloved by the gods) than those who had none.

 In an interesting twist, if one wants to praise someone in the People’s Republic of China (or the old Soviet Union), one says he or she is a Hero of the Revolution.

One of the most interesting changes to come about with the development of the novel was the notion that stories about people of ordinary stature and circumstances could be interesting, and that such characters, however humble, might behave in admirable ways. Of course, “ordinary” is in the eye of the beholder and people who were illiterate due to poverty had little opportunity to see themselves in novel characters. Jane Austen wrote about her own fairly comfortable social class, people whose circumstances were familiar to her. One might consider her a Hero of the Novelistic Revolution.

 With the shift to non-Heroic characters came the concept of a protagonist – one who acts — rather than a hero, and the blurring of lines between a person who may do extraordinary deeds but is not of the aristocratic, chosen-by-God mode. We might encounter protagonists-of-noble-birth who are heroic in spite of  rather than because of their dynastic sociopolitical standing. Eventually, we also had anti-heroes, reluctant heroes, villains-with-hearts-of-gold, and women heroes (to distinguish them from the typical wailing wilting damsel-in-distress heroines). We had central characters who represented ordinary people who rise to extraordinary heights, people that could be you or me. We stopped calling them heroes for a while, but now often do so again.

 Sometimes ordinary-people heroes go on quests, sometimes they get dragged kicking and protesting into adventures, and sometimes they simply ache with dreams until they wake up one day and take a small step toward realizing those dreams. In some ways, they carry us with them on their quest more readily because they are more like us. But with the specificity of character comes a different sort of distance from the reader. Many of the old-style Heroes were pretty bland as characters; they didn’t need quirks and failings and insecurities because they were, after all, Heroes. We now appreciate that in the hands of a skillful storyteller, superficial similarities (gender, race, socioeconomic status, nationality) fade in importance compared to the common human experience and aspirations. A sympathetic character trumps one who is “like me.” Added to that is the value placed on diversity and “exoticism” (which is another way of saying, the romantic aspect of strange lands and people).

 I wonder if the shift from superhuman/aristocratic Hero to ordinary person acting in heroic ways also reflects a shift in empowerment. Once upon a time, not only could the people who comprised the vast majority of the work force hope to achieve anything notable, they dared not draw attention to themselves. I think now of the people who jump into rivers to save children, or land disabled airplanes under near-impossible circumstances, or place themselves between gunmen and the students in their care (or talk those same gunmen into laying down their weapons). These are true heroes and what they accomplish – often without planning or forethought – may not fulfill the classical definition of a quest. But to the children who are still alive and to everyone who hears these stories and gets tears in their eyes, these spontaneous acts of courage shine all the brighter.


Deborah J. Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with Jaydium and Northlight and short stories in Asimov’s, F & SF, Realms Of FantasyY and Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy The Seven-Petaled Shield, forthcoming from DAW. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She’s lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, plays classical piano, loves horses, and is active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.


 Chris Howard

Frank Herbert and the Quest without a Hero

Like any writer I have many stylistic influences spanning classical, romantic, and contemporary authors from Homer, Hugo, and Dostoyevsky to Terry Pratchett, Richard Morgan, and Caitlín Kiernan.  But if I had to pick an author whose work influenced me to the core–and at a young age–it would be Frank Herbert.  For a particular work it would be Dune. 

 One of the things Dune taught me was that the protagonist of the story can go on the quest, suffer at the hands of an oppressor, struggle through and around the obstacles enemies lay out for him, and he can even complete the quest and emerge victorious.  And he can do all of this without being a hero.

 Or maybe Paul Atreides was just a different sort of hero, one I had never come across before.  With Dune Frank Herbert made me look at heroes and their quests in a different way.

 I think many fantasy writers would automatically stick Tolkien on the list, but although I have read the Lord of the Rings dozens of times—and The Silmarillion at least ten—I can’t say Tolkien affected me the same way—or as deeply.  Certainly Tolkien showed me the wonder of maps, invented languages, an excitingly deep world, and how a big story—Lord of the Rings—can become just one insignificant fragment of a far longer and more complicated story.  These are the things I still love about The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.  I probably would have said Tolkien was my favorite author when I was a teenager, but when I hit twenty or so, after four or five readings about Paul Atreides and all the craziness he gets up to with the fremen, I sort of felt like I had graduated from The Lord of the Rings to Dune.

 Dune was also exotic, non-traditional.  It had European roots without being entirely European, and that drew me in.  There was also a very familiar parallel with Paul’s move from Caladan with its broad oceans to the faraway and very different desert world of Arrakis.  I had moved around a lot and I thought that gave me insight into Paul’s plight—typical teenager. I was living in Japan, going to high school, when I first read Dune, but I had also lived just outside Paris, and in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.  I had been up and down South Korea, Italy, and through East Germany by train to Berlin.  I had lived on both American coasts, and I was living in Silicon Valley.  In my seventeen- or eighteen- year-old mind there was definitely something that connected the changes shaking up Paul’s life and the constant moving around when I was young.

 If the unfamiliar and striking backdrop of Arrakis lured me in first, that was quickly followed by Herbert’s push and play with the concept of a hero.  Paul Atreides wasn’t your typical innocent kid with a quest thrust on him, with everything he counted on pulled from under his feet.  He wasn’t just a pawn struggling to find his way in a universe of space-folding guild navigators and galactic-scale trade and political manipulation.  He was a significant piece in the Bene Gesserit breeding program.  He took the terrible risk—basically gambling everything—to gain god-like powers, which he used to gather and train thousands of fanatical soldiers.  He defeated the emperor’s forces, killing armies and princes, the whole time maneuvering himself onto the throne, marrying the emperor’s daughter purely for political gain.  And he ends the last chapter with less control over his life than when the story started. 

 Paul was a man playing god,” said Herbert.

 That idea hooked me at the first reading—that the hero could take on powers that he would not be able to control, that he could end up flawed so deeply he wasn’t a hero anymore. 

 None of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings had an evolution like Paul Atreides.  Frodo, Aragorn, and the others were heroes in the traditional sense.  Even if Frodo didn’t come home whole, he came back a true hero, having lost a finger and defeated the greatest evil of his age.  Paul Atreides didn’t come home from his long journey a hero.  He was a messiah at the head of a monster of religious ferocity he created.  Anything that monster did would be done in his name, and he didn’t really control it.

 Then he unleashed it on the universe.

 In Herbert’s own words, “The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better to rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes.”

 Paul had the quest.  He made the journey.  He was victorious.  There’s a clear apotheosis stage—literally.  Paul Atreides is deified.  He passes through the stages of the hero’s journey.  He just isn’t a hero.  Not in the usual sense. 

 I haven’t read Dune in ten or fifteen years, but I can still feel the affect that book and the following two—Dune Messiah and Children of Dune —had on me.  I loved the culture clashing in Dune, the court intrigue, the power and plans of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the dinner parties with codes and signals and conversations being carried on at several levels at the same time—and only understood by a few.  But it was the protagonist wielding power beyond his control that pulled me back into that universe again and again.  It was Paul-Muad’Dib driving his followers, his family, the guilds, the Bene Gesserits, and the entire empire toward a doom he could not escape.

 That is what has stuck with me to this day.  Paul became a model for the kinds of heroes I love to write about.  Heroes who barely have the will or personal strength to hold onto the reigns of some monstrous power that is part of them, or that they have created, and sometimes they end up being consumed by it.

 In the introduction to his short story collection Eye, Frank Herbert elaborates on this theme. “Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader’s name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question. That’s how 900 people wound up in Guyana drinking poison Kool-Aid…”

 I don’t know if it’s unusual but I love the idea of a protagonist who isn’t heroic in the traditional sense.  I love an unsympathetic hero–or a hero who starts the story without a shared compassion or a strong connection with the reader, and grows to become sympathetic.

 On the other hand I also love a good straightforward heroic quest, where the hero is good and right and fights evil.  I know Herbert has been taken as being an active opponent of the hero’s journey, the monomyth, the whole Campbell thousand-faced hero, and in the Dune trilogy it looks that way–even with Paul’s progress through the story closely following many of the steps Campbell describes.  It’s what Paul ends up becoming that disrupts the structure. 

 I don’t think Herbert’s in the same camp with David Brin, a confirmed and outspoken adversary of the hero’s journey and the Campbellian insistence that components of the myths are common among most cultures worldwide  (Read Brin’s fun and interesting “Star Wars” despots vs. “Star Trek” populists: 

 Herbert was more of an explorer of conflict and ideas, using his heroes to work through serious flaws in leadership, on the environment and very long range planning, the power of linguistics, and down to challenging what’s considered normal and abnormal. In the Dune books at least, he did not focus on science or future technology.  His explorations frequently brought him up against traditional character structure and reader acceptance, but I don’t consider him an enemy of the popular heroic journey and story structure.  I consider him a thoughtful science fiction writer who wanted to push the boundaries of the genre in ways that focused on awareness of important issues—ecology, flaws in perception—the infallible leader, and on the dangers of accepting without examination long-held beliefs and cultural fixtures—the hero who completes the quest and returns home a better or at least a more evolved person. 

 Herbert said, “We tend to tie ourselves down to limited choices. We say, ‘Well, the only answer is….’ or, ‘If you would just. . . .’ Whatever follows these two statements narrows the choices right there. It gets the vision right down close to the ground so that you don’t see anything happening outside. Humans tend not to see over a long range. Now we are required, in these generations, to have a longer range view of what we inflict on the world around us. This is where, I think, science fiction is helping. I don’t think that the mere writing of such a book as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction.”


Chris Howard is a creative guy with a pen and a paint brush, author of Seaborn (Juno Books)  and half a shelf-full of other books. His short stories have appeared in a bunch of zines, latest is “Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology” in Fantasy Magazine. In 2007, his story “Hammers and Snails” was a Robert A. Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction Contest winner. He writes and illustrates the comic, Saltwater Witch. His ink work and digital illos have appeared in Shimmer, BuzzyMag, various RPGs, and on the pages of other books, blogs, and places. Last year he painted a 9 x 12 foot Steampunk Map of New York for a cafe in Brooklyn. Find out everything at


Carole McDonnell

The hero in stasis

Perhaps it’s the Judeo-Christian virtue of endurance. Perhaps it’s my own life. But my characters have never really wanted to go on a quest. Often they end up on one. Because the genre requires it, because the story requires it. But, for the most part, the quests of my heroes is the quest of a happy home. Home, as they have found it, is a burden to them and they generally want to leave home in order to find or create a better home — far from their own tribe or clan.

 I haven’t read up on the hero’s quest in a while so I’m not sure why the hero generally leaves home. Maybe I’ve fallen into the requirements of the trope without knowing. After all, the hero’s quest is such a part of our culture. The prince must depart his land, fight dragons or ogres, marry a woman from another clan, then bring her happily back.

 I will say, though, that my characters tend to be heroes of endurance. Whether women or men, they are mired in stasis — usually by well-meaning parents or clans. It is as if, my muses are not so much concerned with the quest but with exploring the brief imprisonment the hero endures. In most fantasy books, the hero has his little encounter with the jail/dungeon/dark prison then he moves on. In my books, the enduring of the dungeon is the entire novel. The hero or heroine is mired in waiting. This waiting involves hope, remorse, existential questions to God, deadly routine, and the determination to hold on to their personality, character, and/or will.

 Thus, the quest is to leave the state of being mired and to return to a normalcy the typical hero takes for granted. To merely have a happy home. Perhaps that is why many of my characters are princesses or wives in unhappy marriages or damaged children of kings and warriors. Men and the healthy have a certain freedom that women, the sickly, and young children do not. 

 There are moments when they seem to have an apparent chance to leave their dungeon —whether by suicide, flight, or concession to the powers that be— but their love for another character, hope in Divine Intervention or a possible change of  mind of their prisoner, or a holding on to their will prevents them from leaving.  I suspect this kind of  hero stasis can only be understand by those readers who, like The Godfather’s Don Corleone, are constantly being reeled back in —-in spite of every attempt to flee the clan.

 So my new soon-to-be published novel, The Constant Tower, is not for happy middle class kids who want an adventure in order to grow, but for kids in bad neighborhoods, poor kids who wish to run away from home, kids who don’t want to be in clans, women married into hateful clans. Folks who just want to be happy with the normal. The Christian worldview of battling for a regular life in the face of suffering, sickness, and the fact of others controlling our lives changes the Hero Quest trope a bit — because of that Christian virtue of Endurance. 


Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her first novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.  



Sylvia Kelso

When is a Quest Not a Quest?

 “Quest: a journey towards a goal,” quoth the ubiquitous Wikipedia. “Hero” – one of the few words that descends but doesn’t translate from Classical Greek or Latin. “Heros” in Greek means exactly the same as “hero” in English. Whatever that may be.

The usefully succinct Wikipedia once again:

hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity.

Key-words, courage, philanthropism, self-sacrifice. Says something about the general run of homo sap. sap. that these last two qualities should be the benchmark for heroism, doesn’t it?

 Outside literature, heroes don’t need a quest. They can fulfill the Wikipedia criteria without warning or training, on a surf beach, at a bushfire, beside a stormdrain. Inside littracha, everybody from Joseph Campbell up or down has produced endless lists of quest and hero variations. “’Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again, but I go to lose one, and not return’” (FOTR, 3 75), says Frodo to Gandalf, in That Book, citing just two possibilities. And every type of hero or quest studs modern fantasy, with the exception of one. The true anti-hero doesn’t appear.

 An anti-hero usually loosely means, a hero who doesn’t look heroic: he’s unwilling, or ugly, or cowardly, or immoral. But in fact, a real anti-hero wd. be the opposite of a hero: when the crunch came, instead of fronting up like all the unlikely heroes, from Sam to Beau Mains, the anti-hero would turn and run. And without a hero who can meet the Wikipedia criteria, the whole “heroic” storyline  would collapse.

 But suppose that even if the hero/es behave/s in good heroic fashion, the Quest turns out not to be a Quest? Does that violate the spirit of both terms?

 Quests are trickier than heroes. In littracha, you need them because without a goal, the hero/es’ wanderings wd. degenerate into a picaresque novel, a train of adventures with no coherent end. With a goal, there’s motivation for the story arc. There’s a  visible reason to keep going somewhere.

 I have done my share of starting-a-book-with-a-Quest, but for some reason the Black Gang, aka the creative part of the writing crew, chose to end my second  Amberlight book at the start of a Quest. It was complete with dream omens, the gathering of a company, and an unknown but apparently desperately urgent goal.  Deprived of their magic McGuffin at the end of Book 1, the main cast has been struggling to maintain their small Utopian community of Iskarda in the turbulent vacuum left by the fall of the city of Amberlight.  At the end of book two, the McGuffin is suddenly restored – but now it’s no longer the basis of their former power, it’s a literal “seed,” powerless to protect even itself.


 Only one solution, says their chief strategist. Get it out of here: the River knows it exists, the power-wolves will be after it. So make a public, heavily visible departure in hopes this small indefensible community will be ignored. Take it where? The answer is already supplied, perhaps by the McGuffin itself: the dreams’ goal, the image of a place their own lore identifies as the River’s source.

 The novel turned out a two-fold story, told in letters between the chief Quester and her community’s newest foreign member, back in Iskarda.  The Quest section proceeded in the proper mode: obstacles, traumas, self-discoveries and harrowing interpersonal conflicts, moments of wrenching loss, exotic new environments, uncovered secrets, and a tail of cataclysmic events, as the McGuffin’s  presence disrupted or outright overthrew River states. All kosher by Quest list-rules. The “heroes” also met helpers as well as enemies, they transcended their ordinary selves, their actions were meant to benefit many others. Eventually, they reached the place that had been their goal.

The Questers had come to assume they would find not merely the River’s Source, but a solution to all the problems of a world by then convulsed in war, threatening to destroy Iskarda along with the precious new states founded in the McGuffin’s wake. Whatever it was, the goal would give them the means to save everything.


 And it didn’t happen.

 The Questers dealt, in some sort, with the shock. They picked themselves up, realized that their world was still dissolving behind them and set off, empty-handed, to fight and if necessary fall with their friends. As they very nearly did. In a sense, the return journey was far more heroic, in the general sense, than the one toward the goal, because unlike Frodo with his treasure lost, the return journey offered only probable immolation for its end.

 Of course, this being a fantasy novel, the eucatastrophe that Tolkien first articulated eventually intervened. But the question remains: if the hero goes through the motions of the Quest, heroic and otherwise, but reaches his goal to find it – well, not what he expected – can that journey still be called a quest?

 And if it isn’t a quest, though the journey remains motivated, is the goal-seeker a hero, in the most rigid and basic sense? That is, can you have a quest without a hero, even if you do have heroes without a quest?

 The Black Gang consider the whole Q and A a critical trivium. Who cares, they say, if it’s “really” a quest or the heroes were “really” heroes? if it looks like a hero, and talks like a hero, and acts like a hero, it’s a hero, isn’t it?  And if it looks like a Quest, and sounds like a Quest, and produces a story like a Quest, who cares?  Nobody said the goal had to be more than a purpose or an aim. If you want a list-maker’s version, they sniff, then puff out your chest and claim it as the ultimate variation – the Quest that looked like a Quest and sounded like a Quest, and wasn’t technically a Quest at all.

 And on this one, I think I’ll let the Black Gang have the final word.

* * * * *

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia, and writes fantasy and SF set mostly in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some stories in Australian and US anthologies. Her latest short story, “At Sunset” appears in Luna Station Quarterly for September 2012.





Food on The Travelling Round Table (Fantasy Guest Blog)

  This month’s topic is Food in Fantasy, and since I proposed that, it’s my turn to host. Welcome one and all!

Sylvia Kelso

Stay Me With Apples, Comfort Me With Flagons 

Once upon a time, food must have been the most important thing in everyone’s lives. Millions of Australopithecoid generations didn’t need shelter, expected seasonal sex, and maybe drew moisture from food, as gorillas still do. But food? If the food ran out, and you couldn’t find more, you fell off the human family tree for good.

 Lacking food storage, the now idealized Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers were little safer. As for Neolithic farmers, those enormous stoneworks speak as much fear as reverence: they were at famine’s mercy, and they knew it. When the climate changed in Orkney, they opened the top of the Tomb of the Eagles and filled in the centuries-old community temple, a mute testament to the despair of people who felt themselves abandoned, literally, to death.

 Before the Industrial Revolution, very little changed. William Langland’s great medieval poem, “Piers Plowman”, is vague if dour about vanity and lust, but to the sin of gluttony it speaks with passionate and specific detail, invoking a society where spring doesn’t mean admiring the pear blossom but hunting desperately for the first green vegetable shoots.

 Nowadays, at least in the First World enclave, our food fetish has gone negative: for most of us, food is far too available, far too tempting, far too dangerous. Our bookshops swarm with delectably illustrated cook-books, opposite shelves of diet-books. Our TVs bristle with celebrity chefs and celebrity dieticians attacking red meat, dairy products, processed food. Yet every December, Australians, having largely excised religion, and often present-giving, from their major food-based festival, embark on an orgy of food-buying, preparation and consumption calculated to send their nearest and dearest to an early grave.

 Ironically, this Desire-Taboo attitude brings us right back beside the oldest (Western) fantasy stories, of the Judeao-Christian apple and Persephone’s six pomegranate seeds. Unsurprisingly, if from our differing angles, Elsewhere’s food has always been the easiest and most tempting way to get lost precisely where you DON’T want to be.

 The pattern lasts through later folk and fairytales. Fairy feasts, from those of the Irish Sidhe to the story of Thomas the Rhymer and the Wood King’s revels in The Hobbit, promise eternal pleasure but also eternal loss and death. And the lure of Elsewhere food endures, from Patricia McKillip’s Solstice Wood back to the magnificently Overfat Feast in The Once and Future King, the fruit in “Goblin Market,” and of course, Jadis’ Evil Turkish Delight in Narnia.

 But safe or wholesome food? As Ursula Le Guin remarked ruefully elsewhere, “It is hard to make a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another…” (“The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”). It seems equally hard for myth, romance or fantasy to invent desirable food that isn’t taboo.

 Most often, good food in modern fantasy marks a temporary safe halt: the desert inn in Diane Duane’s The Door into Fire, the old woman’s farmhouse in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Spell Coats, Beorn’s house in The Hobbit. But overall, earthly fantasy food should aid the verisimilitude, hence prohibiting chips and hamburgers in Pre-Industrial secondary worlds. And also hence, the scathing entry for “Food” in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland  reads: “See STEW, SCURVY, STEW, WAYBREAD … and STEW” (79) A ruling that covers most noble and courtly menus too.

 There is a standout exception: once again, Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe, where food plays a subtle but vital role. The lost heroine is spell-hidden in the castle kitchen. While the story bangs about upstairs through wizardry, succession worries, prince-abductions and scorched-earth hunts, its progress is recorded below through a series of hasty improvisations and unenchanted but inspired food.

 As openers, for hall lunch “a proud flock of liveried servants” carry “trays of cold beef, whole poached salmon, loaves of braided bread, salad, fruit dipped in chocolate, cakes of cream and walnut chopped as fine as flour” (27. Supper, in contrast, is “a prolonged drama of great pies of hare and venison with hunting scenes baked in dough on their crusts, vegetables sculpted into gardens, huge platters layered with roast geese, woodcocks and pigeons, and crowned with hummingbirds made of egg white and sugar” (28).

 As the narrative cogs engage Prince Talis, summoned home from mage school, nearly kills the King with a misspelled thunderbolt. In counterpoint, “Servants bearing trays of spiced wine and hot brandy had flung them into the air, splashing themselves; goblets rolled among the hounds” (48). Ruffled if coping, the kitchen dispatches the scullion heroine with a tray for the prince, now sequestered as a dangerous magician in the old keep. When she drops the tray, the prince reassembles, “’Salmon swimming in gravy, roast beef on a bed of broken meringue … The bread is only slightly damp …’”(61). The bearer goes unnoticed.

 Next time, the kitchen is coping with a punitive hunt. “’Twenty-six quail,” the fowl cook said… ‘Eighteen woodcock, thirty grouse, eleven lark, thirteen wild duck.’

 ‘Pluck them,’ the head cook said. ‘Spit the grouse and woodcocks, braise the lark and quail in butter, stuff the duck with sliced oranges before they are spitted. They will be served with an orange-and-brandy sauce.” (77). The kitchen offers the prince a tray of “game hens seasoned with rosemary, tiny potatoes stuffed with mushroom, soup of leeks and cream, a braided loaf of dark sweet bread, a compote of cherries in brandy” (86) and this time he remembers the bearer. But our next kitchen-view is of crisis. The fanfare for supper fails to sound.

 Hall-mistress and servants wait beside “steaming silver bowls of soup with tiny saffron biscuits shaped like fish floating in it” while, “Haunches of ham crackled and split on the spits” (97). The soup threatens to spoil, the head cook begins to throw things, and dire news comes from the hall. The prince has been lost in the magic wood. Beans scorch, meringue swans burn, the undercooks open a brandy bottle. But the King plans a night hunt, and the kitchen jerks back to work.

 “‘Reheat the soup,’ [the head cook]commanded, “Remove the fish. Chop green onions to float in the bowls with a pinch of paprika ‘… [His] eye fell on the brandy bottle. ‘Take hot brandy and spiced wine to the hunters in the yard, and thin slices of apple and game pie – quickly!’” (101)

 When the hunt returns in the small hours for a “cold supper,” “[h]ams were sliced, and cold roast fowl, and long loaves of bread; a simmering soup of shredded beets was ladled out … to cool. Lettuces and boiled potatoes and scallions were chopped and mixed with vinegar, pepper, rosemary and dill. Dark, dense cakes heavy with nuts and dried cherries, redolent with brandy … Whipped cream and flaked, toasted hazelnuts frosted the cakes… Undercooks funneled rosettes of minced pear onto the soup” (119).

 But the prince stays lost. When Atrix the mage arrives, breakfast includes “pale wine scented with spices .. a plate [of] pastries stuffed with nuts and cream, cold salmon, a swan carved out of melon with its wings full of strawberries “(150). But soon both king and kitchen feel the brunt. “The king had retired in fury and despair to his chamber … Supper – roast, peppered venison, tiny potatoes roasted crisp, hollowed and filled with cheese and onions and chive, cherries marinated in brandy and folded into beaten cream – sailed over the bearer’s head and splashed … a hundred-year-old tapestry” (155).

 Next day, “’Hunt,’ the head cook said tersely… ‘Again. Take up bread and cheese, smoked fish and cold, sliced venison. Mince the rest of the venison for pie. Also onions, mushrooms, leeks. Take up spiced wine’” (155).

 The hunt’s next return “filled the kitchen with feathers, as grouse and pheasant and wild duck … were plucked, beheaded, stuffed and spitted. Hare, squirrel and deer were skinned, gutted and left in the cold-meat pantry,” and the head cook improvises again: “‘The venison can be smoked, the small game will do for cold pies for the hunters.” (155-56).

 A normal (castle) breakfast, “silver urns of chocolate, trays of butter pastries, hams glazed with honey and sliced thin as paper, eggs poached in sherry, birds carved out of melons and filled with fruit” (156) segues into disaster: tray bearers come back “white as cream”, and then with ultimate calamity, trays of uneaten food. The head cook’s “face is tight” as he copes:

“’Cook the eggs until they harden, and roll them in minced sausage. The ham will keep for when the King hunts again. Mash the melon in sweet wine and strain it for cold soup –‘“ (160) Later things worsen. Wine is all drunk, but food ignored, and “’what is this dent in the bronze tray?’

‘The King kicked it,’ a servant said morosely. ‘He’s boiling and about to froth’” (161).

 The head cook carries on more composedly than the King. “’Nonsense. Cold ham, herb bread, mince pies, red wine. The King may throw it to the dogs. At least it will get eaten’” (161). And when the hunt returns with even more kills, he sends up “stew and game pies … salads of spinach and radish and bacon, hot black bread, simple heavy fare” (161). The only time this culinary tour de force ever mentions stew.

 Meanwhile the heroine rediscovers magic, the prince meets the Queen of the Wood, and hall-servants bring back “cold broken fragments of salmon wrapped in pie crust, roast venison seared over flames and simmered in wine, garlic and rosemary, carrots and onions fried in butter and ale, baked apples stuffed with cabbage and cream, baskets of fruit woven out of egg-white and drizzled with chocolate flavoured with brandy” (176).

 For a last time the heroine takes up the prince’s tray: “onion soup with a melting crust of cheese, a loaf of dark bread, a flagon of wine, a tart of oranges sliced into thin bright circles glistening under a glaze that smelled of ginger” (206). This time, meticulous, imaginative culinary detail dovetails with war and magic’s culmination: the prince remembers the scullion heroine, enters the kitchen to discover her, and the narrative’s eclaircissement begins.

Later, with the magic over, the mysteries folded away, the heroine, restored to her Wood princess status, brings the prince another tray, and this time the food goes undescribed. But the story ends as she re-enters the kitchen where she knows “the tray–mistress would be counting scratches, and the plate-washers would still be at the sinks, and the head-cook debating tomorrow’s meals, and everyone picking at leftovers” and says “’Tell me all your names’” (247).

 It is uncommon, even in modern fantasy, for a secondary world novel to end belowstairs. It is a fitting finale that the focus should here move from the amazing food to its makers. The food itself is not particularly Elsewhere, in terms of high-end modern cuisine, but that this parade of lushly detailed dishes is never shown as magic, evil, or a temptation, justifies its makers’ place in the final spotlight. Unlike the mages or kings or Faery folk, their power has never produced anything but good.

 * * * * * 

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia, and writes fantasy and SF set mostly in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some stories in Australian and US anthologies. Her latest short story, “At Sunset” appears in Luna Station Quarterly for September 2012.

 * * * * *

Warren Rochelle

The Silver Apples of Narnia 

 Apples, apples and more apples, appear again and again in The Chronicles of Narnia. They are the first food eaten by the Pevensies when they return to Narnia in Prince Caspian—apples grown in an orchard they had planted centuries before, an orchard blessed by Pomona, the greatest of the wood goddesses. Perhaps the most potent, symbolically at least, are the silver apples. According to the WikiNarnia, “In all of existence, there are only “four known individual silver apple trees.”

 The first one appears in The Magician’s Nephew. Digory and Polly are sent by Aslan to find the Garden of Youth and there take a silver apple from the Tree of Youth. There he meets the Witch, who was “just throwing the core of an apple . . . The juice was darker than you would expect and made a horrid stain around her mouth” (142-143). She has attained her heart’s desire, immortality, but already is experiencing what will many long years of despair of an evil life. She was warned: Come in by the gold gates or not all/Take of my fruit for others or forbear. /For those who steal or those who climb my wall/Shall find their heart’s desire and find despair (141).

 Digory plants the second silver apple tree, the Tree of Protection, on the banks of the Great River of Narnia, with the apple he brings to Aslan. The tree grew quickly. “Its spreading branches seem to cast a light rather than a shade, and silver apples peeped out like stairs from under every leaf. But it was the smell which came from it, even more than the sight, that had everyone draw in their breath.” This breathtaking scent will keep Narnia safe from all enemies. As Aslan explains, the Witch “dare not come within a hundred miles of the Tree, for its smell, which is joy and life and health to you, is death and horror and despair to her” (155). For 898 years this Tree protects Narnia from all enemies. Presumably it dies and only then does evil come into Narnia: the Witch, having outlived the Tree thanks to the apple she ate, returns and the hundred years of winter begins.

 It is an apple from this Tree that Aslan gives to Digory that cures his mother. And from this apple grows the third silver apple tree, in the garden behind a row house in London. The magic is lessened in our world, although it “did bear apples more beautiful than any other in England and they were extremely good for you, though not fully magical.” This otherworldly tree is magically connected to its parent in Narnia: “Sometime it would move mysteriously when there was no wind blowing . . . when this happened there were high winds in Narnia.” When a storm brings down the English silver apple tree (whether or not the apples are silvery here is not mentioned), Digory, by then an adult, has “part of the timber made into a wardrobe, which he put in his big house in the country” (166).

We all know what happens with this wardrobe.

 The fourth silver apple tree is only hinted at in The Last Battle. The world of Narnia has ended; the Pevensies and their friends are in Aslan’s country and are being called to “Come further up and further in” (167) and to pass through the golden gates into a walled garden, “into the delicious smell that blew towards them” (169)—presumably the same delicious smell of the silver apple tree in Digory’s garden. At the centre of this garden is an orchard, “where the Phoenix sat in a tree and looked down upon them all and at the foot of that tree were two thrones, a King and Queen so great and beautiful that everyone bowed down before them” (170). These two are King Frank and Queen Helen, the first King and Queen, crowned hours after Aslan sang Narnia into existence. That they are compared to Adam and Eve suggests this tree is the Tree of Knowledge, a silver apple tree.

 Clearly Lewis is drawing upon a variety of sources for these silver apples. Although the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden is never identified in the Bible as an apple, silver or otherwise, traditionally we think of it as an apple. That fruit—and the silver apple tree Digory finds, are both forbidden and are both symbols of temptation, of the fall, of sin, of knowledge and immortality. For Digory this knowledge comes in a flash: the Witch is wrong; he must do the right thing, follow the rules, and do as Aslan has commanded. It takes Adam and Eve a little longer to figure things out.

 According to the Myths Encyclopedia, “Apples are brimming with symbolic meanings and mythic associations. In China they represent peace, and apple blossoms are a symbol of women’s beauty. In other traditions, they can signify wisdom, joy, fertility, and youthfulness.” In Norse mythology, the apples of the goddess Iðunn are necessary for the gods to keep their eternal youth—otherwise, they will grow old, grey, bent. One of the tasks of Heracles is to bring back the golden apples from the Tree of Life that grows in the Garden of the Hesperides. When Eris tosses out her golden apple, meant for the fairest, momentous and cataclysmic events are set in motion. Apples are sacred to Aphrodite: throwing an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one’s love.

 Avalon is apple-island; Snow White is tempted by a poisoned one. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples, apples, apples: food as myth, as metaphor, as icon, as a way to the truth—to greater knowledge of self, of what is real. Aslan’s Country is the truly real; we live in the shadowlands. God gave us bodies that must be sustained, must be fed—and he gave us souls that also must be sustained and fed. But why apples, what makes them so special? Originating in Western Asia, today apples are grown world-wide. Originally they were among the earliest trees to be cultivated, now, they are ubiquitous and we eat them raw, cooked, baked, fried, and stewed. They were (supposedly) with us in the beginning in Eden. Silver apples frame Narnian existence, from the beginning to the end. They are a fruit given by God, weighted with meaning.

 I believe I will go get an apple . . . a Pink Lady, they taste so sweet …

* * * * *

 Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. He is currently at work on a novel about a gay werewolf and a collection of gay-themed fantasy short stories. One of the collection’s stories, “The Boy on McGee Street,” was published in Queer Fish 2 (Pink Narcissus Press) in October 2012.


 * * * * *

Deborah J. Ross

Food: A Fantasy Writer’s Secret World-Building Weapon 

Food is an integral part of world-building, whether it plays a direct role in the plot or not. Its availability and quality affect every human endeavor, and scarcity – or fear of scarcity – is a powerful motivation for conflict. What we eat (and what we don’t eat), when and with whom, all these tell a story “off the page” about ourselves and our culture. So it’s important to depict both food and its setting in a way that deepens the world we are creating.

 I live in a small town, and on our 1/3 acre plot, my husband and I grow a significant portion of our produce, which I then harvest, preserve, and cook. Even without the digging and planting, weeding and pruning, this is hard work. It also takes planning, not to mention a knowledge of climate and soil, compost/fertilizer management, pest/predator control, and techniques for “putting food by.” I notice when food is taken for granted in fiction, just the way an experienced equestrian will notice when horses are treated like motorcycles.

 Throughout most of human history, food has been a limited and therefore precious commodity. The availability of nutritious foods that can be stored has shaped the course of civilization. Far too many writers seem to be taking their own experience of food (it’s what you buy in a can or a frozen package at the supermarket) and extrapolate that into their fantasy worlds. Then it’s all too easy to bounce the reader out of the story.

 Projecting modern technological methods of food production, preservation, transportation, and preparation into a lower-technology fantasy world runs the risk of booting a knowledgeable reader out of the story. (Come to think of it, the same holds true for a higher technology world as well.) For example, to stew means to simmer for a long time over low heat, and is an excellent way of preparing tough cuts of meat, but it takes hours, and that means plenty of fuel and a cooking vessel of a material like metal – which is heavy — that can withstand long cooking times. I’m sorry, Peter Jackson, but Eowyn could not have served Aragorn a stew while on the road to Helm’s Deep. She might have heated water and cobbled together some rather unappetizing dumplings, but that’s not a stew.

 More significantly, food presents an excellent vehicle for world-building. Each aspect of its production and handling conveys a tremendous amount of information about the society, ecosystem, and cultural attitudes. So if all your characters breakfast on bread and cheese, and every inn serves stew, you’re missing a great opportunity to make your world and characters more interesting.

 A few thoughts on agriculture: Food has to come from somewhere, and unless you have a magical system that transports it from another dimension or creates it out of thin air, someone has to grow or gather it. We can challenge the “primitive-society” stereotypes of men-as-mighty-hunters and women-as-lowly-gatherers by looking at the limitations of game and the central importance of food that is gathered or grown in small gardens. The difficulty for us as writers is, I suspect, that gathering/gardening requires so many hours every day. It’s hard to go off and have adventures when most of your time is spent on feeding your family. Adventures generally rely on the ability to “leave home” with the disposable time to do other things besides obtain and prepare food. Besides, hunting is so much more heroic; all kinds of dramatic things can happen.

 The shift from hunting-gathering – where everyone participated in the activities of food production – to agriculture fueled the development of cities. Grain could then be transported and stored for long periods of time, although this is an engraved invitation for rodents (and the diseases they carry) to come have a snack. A wheat-based diet (“daily bread”), like any other diet dependent on one type of food, means a vulnerable food supply. Drought, flooding, or crop disease then easily results in famine, such as the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th Century.

 Human beings are omnivores, capable of eating a wide variety of plants and animals. For example, historical records indicate Roman soldiers supplemented their diet of grain (wheat, barley, rye, spelt), vinegar, and legumes, with hares, deer, foxes, badgers, beavers, voles, wild oxen, and moles, not to mention wild mussels, chicken, duck, petrels, cormorants, herons, spoonbills, mallards, teals, geese, cranes, and crows.

 We develop attitudes about what foods are “better,” which are forbidden, and which are essential to life or status. One of the most powerful ways of maintaining cultural identity is by the exclusion (or necessity) of certain foods (abstaining from pork in Islam and Judaism). Other aspects of the specialness of certain foods include holiday or celebratory foods, and which foods are suitable for which groups of people (different diets for babies, for example, or pregnant women). Food can be used to elevate individuals or demean them; likewise, different culture may vary widely in how they view the production, preparation, and serving of food. Some foods may be taboo to handle by everyone, or only by certain people.

 For me, the creation and depiction of regional cuisines is one of the delights of world-building. People in India, Africa, Finland, and Venezuela don’t eat the same foods, so why should all the food in a fantasy world be the same? Different cooking styles and condiments, spices and garnishes, not to mention basic materials (wheat-based vs rice vs corn vs yams vs manioc vs whale blubber…) can result in a tapestry of sensory detail. And not a few jokes or even insults as well.

 Armed with a few questions, we can look at the many roles food plays in world-building. Much of this background will be off-stage (unless your protagonist is a chef), but the decisions you make about food will color every aspect of the lives of your characters.

 Who produces the food, and how are they regarded by other portions of their society? Despised, ignored, exploited, revered? Do they use magic in the sowing, reeping, weeding(!), hunting, slaughtering, harvesting, preserving…? Do they have special powers arising from their intimate relationship with the natural world, the animals they hunt, the plants they nurture? What are the traditions of sharing, communal living, and hospitality, and are they the same for other occupational groups? What happens to surplus?

 What is the balance of locally grown versus imported foods? What is the seasonal or weather cycle and how does it affect food production? Are all the nutrients necessary for life present in the local diet? And are they available all year round, or are there season in which only preserved food is available? Or does the local diet provide subsistence only and robust health depends on traded/imported foods? What is the major source of calories in the diet (think outside the “grain box” to starchy vegetables, tree nuts, seeds, oily foods…)

 What’s involved in moving food from the producers to consumers who then exchange money or other goods for what they cannot grow? How is perishable food handled? How are the merchants and carriers regarded? What are the penalties for theft (is it considered a grave crime like murder to steal food?) What is the response to hungry people and is it different for children versus active adults versus the elderly? How do various characters react to strange foods? What is the role or significance of poisoned food in this culture? What about psychotropic edibles? What are the intoxicants in this society and do all groups participate in them or are some reserved only for special classes? What qualities are attributed to certain foods (courage from eating a lion’s heart, cunning from snake meat)?

 Are certain foods appropriate for only certain occasions (think holiday foods, funeral foods, foods given only to sick people or warriors about to go into battle)?

 Who prepares the food and are they also the ones who purchase it? What are the customs of the marketplace? Is carrying food a mark of privilege, an advertisement of culinary skill, or a badge of servitude? Is a cook a priest, a skilled professional, a menial, the head of a household, or an object such as “spoils of war”? What are the superstitions surrounding the preparation of food? How is spoilage managed and when is food considered inedible? Who eats food that has gone bad? What are the attitudes towards food-borne illness and who or what gets either the blame or the credit?

* * * * *

 Deborah J. Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV’S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA’S PALACE. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She has lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and is active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.

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Andrea Hosth 

 Food in Fantasy 

Chocolate and tomatoes are from South America. Macadamias are Australian. Spice traders so closely guarded the origin of cinnamon that all manner of wild speculation grew up about its origins: fished up in nets at the source of the Nile, or taken from the nests of giant cinnamon birds. It was most definitely “not from here”, where “here” equals what readers have been trained to see as the default fantasy setting, a “pseudo-medieval” Europe.

 Food has origins. Food also has expiry dates. Seasons of availability. Limits to technology in preparation. So what are your characters eating?

Stew, according to Diana Wynne Jones. Invariably, unceasingly, stew. Perhaps this isn’t due to a lack of imagination on the part of authors, but for fear a pedant will note that x ingredient didn’t show up in y country until z. Even if the world you’re writing in has no America, no Sri Lanka, no Australia. No feudal society, no pseudo-medieval Europe.

 How to write around these expectations?

 Neologisms have their limits. When your characters sits down to braised gaddy with shimshimar seasoning, it will only take a few meals before the reader starts skimming – and with no idea whether ‘gaddy’ is a herbivore, a feline, or a particularly tasty elf.

 Vagueness is another approach. A supper of bread, cheese and cold meat. No mention of whether it’s naan, fetta or kangaroo. Food is a necessity, a pleasure, to many a passion. To be vague about something so central is to take the flavour out of your world.

 Anchoring those ‘exotic’ foods in your new world seems the simplest way. Cook up whatever you like, taking note of seasons, and whatever transport and preservation limits of your world. Mention the chocolate is from Zeverland. The macadamias from the Isles of Carray.

But keep the giant cinnamon birds. Those sound epic.


This one was passed on to me by the energetic and talented Sylvia Kelso, who’s done the meme on her own blog. We all know The Next Big Thing is just over the horizon, so I’m joining the ranks of writers like Sylvia who are describing our own new and just-beginning projects, in answer to the Ten Questions for the Meme. And here are mine:

 What is the working title of your next book?

*Hmm. I have a completed novel, The Golden Boy, which is currently being edited by Nancy Berman, a free-lance editor friend of mine.  I am working on a story collection, with the working title, Happily Ever After and Other Stories. I have a novel-in-progress, The Werewolf and His Boy, almost finished but I have put it on hold to finish the story collection.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

*I don’t have an agent, alas. Self-publishing is an option, but before I try that, I am planning on sending the manuscripts to various small presses that have published similar books.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

*The Golden Boy:

The original idea came from the notion that all fairy tales are true, and that the magical and mundane coexist, although the latter is not always aware of the former, or rather doesn’t believe in the former—at first.

Happily Ever After:

Homophobia persists, lingers, and is girding its loins to fight to the death. And as a result, stories are still being published and films are still being made in which the gay characters do not have happy endings, usually with one dying, leaving the survivor to mourn.  I was determined to write a collection of stories in which my gay protagonists have happily ever afters—more or less.

The Werewolf and His Boy:

*The story that inspired this novel, “Lowe’s Wolf” (published in the Spring 2010 issue of Icarus) was inspired from a dream my partner had about a wolf hiding in Lowe’s.

What genre does your book fall under?

*Genres for all three: Fantasy, speculative fiction, gay fiction, alternate history.

 How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

*Good question.  Maybe a year or so?

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not sure. There are several gay werewolf stories out there—novels and short stories. My friend, Catherine Lundoff, just published Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) about a lesbian werewolf of “a certain age.” Queer Wolf (QueeredFiction, 2009) is an anthology of gay werewolf stories.

As The Golden Boy is an alternate history/fantasy/gay novel, there are just too many out there for me to pick one. But Time Well Bent (Lethe Press, 2009), a collection of queer alternative history tales, comes to mind.

Peter Cashorali wrote Fairy Tales: Traditional Stories Retold For Gay Men (HarperCollins, 1997) and these stories, this collection, inspired me to write my own.

 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

*Hmm—which characters? Which actors? I’m not good at this sort of question!

The Golden Boy: Well, maybe Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for the title character, the golden boy, and Gavin, who is the protagonist. As adults, anyway.  The boys grow up in the story, so their ages range from 6 to 40-something.

The Werewolf and His Boy: The werewolf, Henry Thorn: Agiris Karras, who played Riley Stavros on DeGrassi.

Happily Ever After: 10 stories—too many characters!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

*Like I said, for The Werewolf and His Boy, the original inspiration came from a dream my partner had.

I think I have already answered this question for each book in the idea question. In general, I find myself inspired by such things as:

Dreams, fairy tales, myths, the people I love, love …

 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

*The Golden Boy: It is set in an alternate universe, in which there is no United States, rather the Columbian Empire. Magic is real, albeit restricted and the magical are persecuted in the Empire.

The Werewolf and His Boy: For the people around here, the novel’s setting: Richmond and Fredericksburg, VA, with a foray to England.

Happily Ever After: The stories we know so well—the fairy tales, the myths—are still as powerful as ever, even as we reinterpret and reimagined them. That these stories have gay heroes might pique the interest of gay SF and fantasy fans.

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

*I hate these kinds of questions! Here are some possible sentences:

The Golden Boy: Can Gavin, part-fairy and gay, keep his true self secret, be true to himself, and survive in a country that wants to kill people like him?

The Werewolf and His Boy: Henry, a werewolf, and Jamey, a godling, must find the key left by Loki before it is too late and magic explodes in the world, and at the same time, sort out their love for each other.

Happily Ever After: Everyone deserves the chance to have a happy ending.

The great story teller and weaver of tales, Debra Killeen:

Debra Killeen is the award-winning author of “The Myrridian” Cycle.

The Great Traveling Round Table Fantasy Guest Blog

theresacrater on 28 Nov 2012

Welcome to the Great Travelling Round Table Fantasy Blog. This month, we in the northern hemisphere have been celebrating harvests and thanksgiving feasts while our friends down south have been watching their crops grow strong and green under a strengthening sun. Both of these give us thoughts of gratitude and plenty, so we thought we talk about the greats of science fiction this month. In the first installment, Carole McDonnell pays homage to Lord Dunsany, Andrea Hosth to Andre Norton, and Warren Rochelle to Ursula K. LeGuin.

Carole McDonnell—Lord Dunsany

November is harvest and gratitude month, so the travelling tour is about the bounty of our favorite fantasy writer, or the best ones, or the best known ones. The one’s we’re grateful for—that make us read fantasy.

I suppose if gratitude is about fairness, I should begin (in all fairness) with the homegrown storytellers. My grandmother, my grandfather Uncle Bertie, my uncle Winston, my aunt, and my mother. When I was growing up in Jamaica –in the city but especially in the country– there was no electronic entertainment. My There was maybe a TV but it was turned off pretty early. And there was also radio. But for the most part, those dark nights were spent with books, my mother’s favorite English authors, or someone telling a riddle or a story. I especially loved riddles because they showed a logic –a game– that the mind had to struggle to understand.

Books, themselves, were few and far between and my mother, coming from an oral culture, could repeat the beginning of her favorite novels — her favorite authors being Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.

On my own I discovered Shakespeare. Hamlet is fantasy, right? I also discovered Edgar Allen Poe. And without trying to, I ended up memorizing the opening of the Tell Tale Heart. I especially liked Poe’s gothic worlds where the psychological and the fantastical met together in a surreal world of unreliable narrators.

But the story that took my heart away and that opened worlds for me was Lord Dunsany’s Ghost. Readings of this story can be found here among other stories in the librivox collection 004 and here read individually at Miette’s Bedtime podcast

Sure, I loved The Sword of Welleran, and the world Welleran inhabited, a rich world like all of Dunsany’s worlds. But the craft, the suddenness, the weird paradox of believer in ghost/non-believer in ghost…the sheer science of the epic fantasy battle. It was as if the narrator of Ghosts was fighting against what he sensed was the unreliability of the world and he was not going to allow himself to fall into it.

Of all Dunsany’s works, Ghosts — for me– has stood the test of time. OR the test of rationality. OR the test of faith. When I first read Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

I loved it but found some of it too much. The language was too ornate, almost overdone. Now, I can make it through the language of Elfland…and there are moments where Dunsany’s tendency to indulge beautiful language bores me or annoys me because it is excessive. I also have found myself balking at his easy disdain of Christianity, something I  tolerated or ignored in the past but which now irks me because I sense an overbearing meanspiritedness in it. The story is beautiful but it’s hard to love a story that subtly –or not so subtly– sneers at one’s religion.

But Ghosts will always be a favorite.  Listen to the story here at  Miette’s Bedtime podcast  and see if you don’t fall in love with it.

Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.

Andrea Hosth—The Greats of Fantasy, Andre Norton

I expect everyone has a different definition of who a “great” of fantasy is, and part of the basis for that definition will be the circumstances in which the writer was encountered.

For instance, I read all the Harry Potter books and enjoyed them thoroughly (except, perhaps, Harry Potter and the Extended Camping Trip), but J K Rowling doesn’t fall into my own personal set of “greats”.  I’m well aware that my reaction of “Hey, those were some fun books, a bit like The Books of Magic, and a bit like Witch Week – Hermione was cool, and Snape is nicely grey, but boy did Draco’s character arc turn into a damp squib,” falls far short of the sheer veneration awarded by a generation where a Potter book was a major event, a shared coming together which no other book or writer will ever offer.

All of which is a long-winded caveat to note that “great” is a highly subjective term, and that when I approached this subject and tried to find some objective standard of “greatness”, the most I could come up with is “really loved this, will go back for more and more and more”.  So what fantasy writers are great to me?  And why?

Almost always it comes down to “girls doing stuff”, but I’ll talk about a writer whose books were often an exception to that rule.

Andre Norton, although she was acknowledged as a Grand Master of both Science Fiction and of Fantasy, rarely shows up these days on lists of “Greats”.  Her books, ranging from the Witch World series, her magic books for children, and her many space novels, aren’t held up as examples of brilliant and lyrical writing, or complex and searching psychological portraits, or extrapolations of advancements in technology on what it means to be human.

They’re kick-ass adventures though.

Sheer adventure – the grip of the story, the need to know what happens next – a writer who can serve that up over and over will catch me every time.

Along with adventure, Norton gives us an eerie, almost alien voice, and outsider protagonists whose predicaments and dogged endurance make you want them to find some place to call their own.  Norton’s story are full of people trying to find their place – refugees, outcasts, and the different.

Norton’s influence is all through my work.  I repeatedly write time-displaced people, alone, needing a place to call theirs.  Her effortless blend of science fiction and fantasy may well be why a spaceship showed up in my very first high fantasy attempt.  The idea of Forerunners permeates my world-building.

And I love trying to put together a plot which keeps drawing the reader to find out what happens next.

Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia. She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue. See:

Warren Rochelle—Thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin

One of my former students recently told me that while she appreciated Ursula K. Le Guin and understood her place and significance in the pantheon of American science fiction and fantasy, she just didn’t care for her work.


Clearly I have failed her.

Or—seriously—the student didn’t connect to Le Guin’s fiction as I did, and as I still continue to do. Her loss (and I thought she was such a nice person …). For me, Le Guin, is one of a small number of writers who changed my life and profoundly influenced my own fiction and my teaching. As I have written about this influence in more detail in another essay, “A Wave in My Mind” (Paradoxa 21 (2008): 293-309), I want to focus on just one particular node or point of influence in this thank-you essay, the power and strength of storytelling, especially as it is concerned with the Other, the “not-us,” and why I think this matters, and thus, why I am grateful to Ursula K. Le Guin.

Le Guin argues, in her oft-quoted essay, “Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing,” that . . . “the story—from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace—is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have no societies that did not tell stories” (The Living Light 7 (Fall 1970): 112). She uses this tool in Earthsea Revisioned (Cambridge, MA: Children’s Literature New England, 1993) to examine a particular story, that of the Hero and the Quest, or the Monomyth, the Hero’s Journey, and suggests it can provide even greater understanding of the human condition if the myth is reinterpreted and reimagined.

In the traditional Monomyth, “The hero is a man” and “the hero-tale has concerned the establishment or validation of manhood. It has been the story of a quest, or a conquest, or a test, or contest. It has involved conflict and sacrifice” (7).  And it is about men—and in the Western European tradition a white man. In the first three books of the Earthsea cycle, while using the traditional elements of the myth—the public quest, conflict and sacrifice, the public grail, and so on—Le Guin, through Ged, asks what if the hero is a man of color and all the villains, white? What if the hero is the Other, one of society’s Outsiders? In Tehanu, the fourth Earthsea novel, she goes a step further: the hero of the novel is a woman and one without overt power, who performs her tasks in private, on a far smaller scale than that of the first three novels. What, then, if the hero is Othered by gender? What assumptions and beliefs are challenged, and questioned, what is learned about human experience and the human condition through these challenges and questions?

In The Dispossessed, Shevek and Bedap are friends and they love each other as adolescents. Separated by time and circumstance, they reunite in Abbenay, the main city on their world. This friendship is reaffirmed; trust is re-established, in this reunion, through sex. Bedap is primarily homosexual; Shevek, heterosexual. But on Anarres, the taboos and boundaries we accept as givens don’t exist. That Bedap and Shevek can express their feelings physically is unremarkable. The Other that both men would be in our society doesn’t exist.

That Le Guin has included these challenges in her fiction, that she demands her readers see the Other as human, as themselves, is one key reason that I am grateful for and to this writer.  She deconstructs the Other and Otherness and what remains is our common humanity. As a gay man, I am, to many, Other—alien, not human, not us.  While Le Guin is not the only writer of fantasy or of science fiction to challenge the Others we have constructed, she is the one whose stories resonated—and still resonate—for me. I saw myself; I was present and accounted for.

So what? In the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin explains why this matters: “But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.” Fiction is a lie that tells the truth. I tell my students in intro creative writing that, above all, they must tell the truth, even as they make up their stories. Through the metaphor of fantasy, Le Guin is telling the truth: there is no Other, except for those we construct ourselves out of misconceptions and ignorance and fear.

For doing this, for telling this truth in fantasy, I will always be grateful to Le Guin.

Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010). He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. He is currently at work on a novel about a gay werewolf and a collection of short stories. One of the collection’s stories, “The Boy on McGee Street,” was just published Queer Fish, Volume 2 (Pink Narcissus Press, in October 2012.



LGBT Issues in Fantasy:

This month the members of the Great Traveling Guest Blog Fantasy Roundtable pondered LGBT issues and themes in fantasy literature. Our ponderings are below and include a wide range of ideas and reactions, from the very personal to the philosophical.

LGBT Sexuality in Fantasy

by Sylvia Kelso

 When it comes to word-associations, heterosexual aka straight sexuality gets all the advantages. Synonyms Roget gives for “straight” include:

direct, even, right, true, unbent, undistorted, unturned.

Antonyms however, include:

curved, indirect, twisted, disorganized disordered, disorderly.

And at the best,

different, unconventional, untraditional.

At the worst, deceitful, devious, lying, shady, and  underhanded.

Attempts to redress this naming problem haven’t really worked yet. “Queer” is good but still carries tricky associations. “Gay” is omissive, even if better than the hiss-word equivalents. “Lesbian” is a 19thC recycle of Ancient Greece, where the only surviving woman to woman love poems come from Sapho of Lesbos. “Non-straight” plays into the opponents’ court, while “alternate sexuality” leaves the naming field unequal. “GLBT” is inclusive but clumsy, and “same-sex” works OK with “marriages” but “same-sex sexuality?”

Any cursory backward glance affirms the 20th Century arguments that the whole straight/other sexual polarity is relatively young. A love affair between a Pharaoh and one of his generals turns up around 2400-2200 BC in Egypt. In Ancient Greece, a major cultural source of our “civilization,” bisexuality was the male norm, while in Ancient Rome male to male love hardly raised an eyebrow. There were constraints: the thought of a relationship trading active and passive roles never seems to have occurred. Ancient Greek men were supposed to love boys, or extend such an affair to a long-term relationship, but keep the active-passive roles. Ancient Roman citizens had to be the active members, and get involved only with slaves, male prostitutes, or non-citizens. Women, as usual, are poorly documented. Sappho was only one of Nine Female Poets in the major Greek anthology, and who knows what the others wrote? “Lesbians” are actually titled so by Lucian in 2nd CE Rome, but their depictions read like male-constructed butch caricatures.

All the same, Alexander the Great’s long-term relationship with his friend Hephaistion is famous. Less famously, two Roman emperors (Nero and Heligabalus, but emperors all the same) legally married men, in Heligabalus’ case, “amid great rejoicing.”  And, shades of the future, Martial and Juvenal note with disapproval that male couples are having traditional marriage ceremonies.

One would think the genres of elsewhere, would have a head start in combating our current sexual polarity, but SF was notoriously slow to admit any sex, and modern fantasy did no better. The exception comes, again, from fanfic, where Theodore Sturgeon’s mild ‘60s depiction of gayness in “Venus Plus X” is rapidly overshadowed by slashfic  in the wake of Star Trek. The form hasn’t looked back since. But as Joanna Russ and numbers of irritated gay readers have pointed out, slashfic relationships are heavily marked by contemporary female constructions of sexuality. Waiting is important. UST is (still) important. A lot of anguish and maybe a male pregnancy are common. And not surprisingly, male-male sexuality has been a lot more attractive than female-female versions.

How MIGHT the 21st C fantasy writer deal with same-sex love, life, relationships? Obviously, if you can invent a world where things are NOT like here, you can also invent new names for the whole caboodle. Nevertheless, same-sex falls under the same minefield rubric as race. Depict same sex if you’re “straight” yourself, and get caned for poaching or inaccuracy? Omit same-sex altogether, and get caned too? Include same-sex relationships as general, unremarked? Or highlighted, or as chief narrative parts? Worlds where the entire constructions of sexuality are alienatingly different? Worlds where same-sex becomes a part of alien sex?

My first attempt to include “alternate sexualities” was a would-be multi-racial and otherwise inclusive SF novel for a Creative Writing MA, but there, same-sex people appeared marginally, or, because the secondary world was an ancient Macedonian colony, were already bisexual by culture, and the trend of the story was toward straight central relationships. In the sequel, I wrote a same-sex female relationship for a carried-over major character that made me (and her) much happier.  But I only centralized such relationships in the Amberlight books.

In Amberlight itself the emotional focus is a straight love affair, but it happens in a matriarchy – a literal matriarchy, where sexual inequity falls on men. Women rule the city, for a simple practical reason, which inverts Victorian mores: lower class men go out to work. Middleclass shame is needing to have men work. Aristocratic, or House men, live secluded as marriage counters and male odalisques.

In same-sex matters Amberlight reversed Ancient Greece. Women were bisexual, female-female “partnerships” were general. But again, the pace and focus of the central story sidelined such relationships. I do seriously regret being unable to explore the men’s world, particularly that of the “Tower” men.

Amberlight fell, in a pretty straightforward SF trope , matriarchy flattened by a patriarchal invader’s catalyst, though here fuelled by a straight feminist’s opposition to gender inequity.  The sequel, Riversend, sent the main characters up country to start again, with the specific goal of leveling the field: in this case, letting all men share both work and privileges.  Again, woman-woman relationships ended as givens.  But Tellurith, the House-head and female lead, had decided to flout custom by taking the patriarchal invader as a second husband – House men were multiply married to cement alliance, House women took one husband. Since the ménage a trois  became a real love triangle, I had not only a Tower man’s viewpoint, but two male povs on same-sex desire.  Tellurith’s second husband, learning his way in a woman’s world, was a familiar story.  Sarth, with his longings for his cosmetics and face veil and what he regarded as “decent” male behavior, was a very different matter.

At the time I’d been reading Lesbian theorists, one of whom argued that heterosexual love desired the Other, but same-sex love desired the Self. I found it an intriguing concept, and when I had to depict a same-sex pov from the outside, so to speak, it worked powerfully in Riversend, particularly as the patriarchally raised Alkhes struggled to enunciate his desire for Sarth.

The emotional closure of Riversend was the cementing of the tripartite marriage to include both male-male and heterosexual relations.  But only the third book, Source, involved Tellurith in a fullscale, firsthand women’s relationship. And with Tellurith, the Black Gang, aka creative component, took the theory literally. Her new female love (she was partnered back before Amberlight), found at the end of a long and epic journey, was physically Tellurith’s doppelganger.

The relationship grew, interestingly, more from common interests and shared sympathies and less than the men’s ties did from physical desire. Later the plot forced me to divide them, so Tellurith got to do the great “love forsaken” scenes, as she chose duty above love – that ancient, usually masculine dilemma. But the Black Gang did not acquiesce in this too traditional plotline. The book closes with Tellurith home, her new society safe after a fierce war, and at last the mother of a daughter.  Yet in this traditional scene entered a suggestion that her female lover might not be wholly lost.  If, as usual, female same-sex relationships went short on time and attention, the Black Gang set up this tie to become a major presence in the future. I hope it’s an omen for our world as well.

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies.

Musings on GLBT themes in Fantasy

by Theresa Crater

I judged the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards for a couple of years, which gives annual awards for the best GLBT content in science fiction and fantasy. The number of books with GLBT characters has grown both in number and complexity. GLBT characters are just an ordinary part of life in many books, being main characters, side-kicks and even villains.

Last year the award went to Kathe Koja’s Under the Poppy. The title of the book is the name of a brothel, owned by Decca. She is in love with Rupert, who helps her run the place, but then her brother Istvan shows up. He’s a puppeteer—of puppets and humans—and a bit of a thief. Rupert and he have been lovers in the past and succumb to their life-long love affair again, with a few liaisons here and there. There was some question about whether this book could truly be called a fantasy, but the judges decided the puppets seem to have a life of their own. Besides, it was a delightful riot of gorgeous language and interesting characters carving out a life for themselves in the margins of prewar Europe.

One of my favorite series was Laurie J. Marks’ elemental series, starting with Fire Logic, then Earth Logic. You get the idea. What I liked best about this series is that it normalized all kinds of sexualities. Karis G’deon rules Shaftal in this series, or she’s supposed to. She doesn’t really want to. Her lover is a woman; her friends have various sexual preferences, which begin to become just a small part of the overall picture of who these people are. Much like Bilbo tells stories or Hermione is very smart. We can see what a world that is sane about the variety of human sexual expression might feel like.

Will we return to a pre-1869 world? It was in that year that homosexuality and heterosexuality were invented. Not the practices, but as identities. Before that, people did have sex, of course, but their identity did not rest in what kind of sex they had. Much like Marks’s work. And even Koja’s.

Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age:  Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at

Transgender, gay and lesbian characters in fantasy

by Carole McDonnell

In the course of reading, one always encounters folks one would generally not encounter, or folks one would not normally want to meet. Witness the enraged moviegoer racists who had to deal with the fact that Rue in the Hunger Games was Black. So what does a Biblical Christian do when she encounters a fantasy book that contains a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender character?

Many of my stories involve interracial romances and I’ve had experiences where someone reads one of my stories and is unwilling to be pulled into the romance simply because they are disgusted, bothered, or nauseated by seeing two people together who –in their worldview– should not be together. So, I try to understand. On the flip side, because I know how incredibly complex sexuality can be, I get wary of easy answers or easy stories about homosexuality. Too many of my lesbian friends were raped as children, too many of my male gay friends were seduced by older men, and too many of my gay male friends were adopted or were delivered by induced estrogen-laden deliveries for me to say that people were biologically made gay.

I suppose I can read a book about a homosexual character if I don’t feel I’m being subject to propaganda. In my experience, I’ve known people who were born gay or who have had their sexuality affected by sexual molestation, separation/adoption issues, the hormonal chemicals introduced into the womb at induced deliveries, or became gay after some trauma or hospital stay. So I take gay folks in stories and in real life as I find them.

I have never had a gay character show up and want to have me tell his story but I have had tons of conflicted heterosexuals, and I do have some gay characters in some of my stories who aren’t really gay but more characters who are conflicted heterosexuals. I think what bothers me is the vast amount of false history and false biology I would have to accept. In the same way people who study the Druids and the Celts or Native American religions get peeved when they are faced with false “pop factoids” about certain things, I start rolling my eyes when I feel an author is attempting to propagandize.

The definition of “gay” as an exclusive love of people of one’s own sex is relatively new. Back in the day, most homosexuality allowed for loving people of both sexes. It was often supplemental to a heterosexual relationship. Alexander the Great loved his companion but he also loved his wife Roxanne. Oscar Wilde loved Lord Alfred Douglas but he also loved his wife. While there were some rare exceptions, in ancient times, in most cultures (Japan, Greece, Afghanistan, etc), homosexuality was generally frowned upon while pedophilia/pederasty was accepted. One of the most famous Greek tragedies, the curse on the Oedipus clan, –the curse of falling in love with the wrong people (incest, bulls, frigidity, etc) –fell upon the family because Laius would not give up his young lover when the pederasty contract was finished and the boy was fully grown. The gods deemed it so heinous that Laius’ descendants were cursed forever. Most people who speak of homosexuality being accepted by the past don’t talk honestly about the pederasty factor. So for me it depends on how honest I think the author is. . .

I recently read Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts, a great book that definitely could trouble the Christian reader. Not only did I have to deal with gigolos, homosexual attraction, and extra-marital sex, I had to deal with someone who dealt Tarot cards.

So what did I do?

Well, I actually read it. My very traditional heart had a few hurdles. For one, although I’m okay with prostitution in stories, I get a bit niggly about adultery. I kept hoping there would be no adulterous encounter I would have to be “on board” for. Generally, I don’t watch movies or read books with adultery in it. (This isn’t a religious issue with me. My father was a serial adulterer so I have a painful spot there.) So if I read a book with adultery, my biggest fear is that I will be asked to be “okay” with it.

 True, I was in the POV of a high class courtesan who happened to be bisexual, but Gracielas was such a noble wounded character and the story was so intriguing and the world-building so solid and interesting that I totally got into the story. That said, once again, I didn’t allow myself to feel the homosexual attractions that happened in various characters. First because one of the homosexual pairs was married and I have a problem with being asked to be on the side of adulterers. Plus I’ve seen so many movies and heard so many accounts where some guy discovers he’s gay after being married for twenty years and suddenly divorces his poor wife. So yeah, I kept telling myself “I like these two characters but if I’m asked to go along with adultery I’m not gonna be patient.”

So yeah, with me, the issue with me is wariness of being pulled into understanding anything I don’t morally agree with. Living With Ghosts had a lot my priggish Biblical mind couldn’t deal with but the skill of the author and the beautiful craft of the writing helped me overcome my reluctance. I suppose the best way to make me read a book I don’t want to is to make the book utterly brilliant.

Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower. 

Gay Characters in Fantasy: A Personal Journey,

by Deborah Ross

In my experience, the community of science fiction and fantasy readers and writers has been one of the most tolerant of, and welcoming to, those who don’t fit into the mainstream. This includes queer (non-strictly-heterosexual) and gender-queer (non-strictly-male-or-female-assigned-gender) folks as well. My own introduction included stimulating discussions of sexuality, gender identification, and sexual orientation. I remember reading Theodore Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X (1960, one of the earliest science fiction stories to challenge gender-role stereotypes), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The World Wreckers (1971). Four years later, Marion published The Heritage of Hastur, in which she created a sympathetic and heroic gay protagonist. The World Wreckers impressed me because one of the characters falls in love with a member of a hermaphroditic race and must confront his own feelings about homosexuality and his identity as a man. I had never read anything like it, and it opened my eyes to the question of who we are, apart from our plumbing and hormones. This led the way to the understanding that sexual orientation is not just about which body part fits where, but about the people who are the focus of our hearts: romance as well as hormones.

In general, the works I read during the 60s and 70s were serious and courageous treatments of gender, gender roles, and sexual orientation, well ahead of popular media. But popular media caught up, although perhaps not in the formats its creators intended. I suppose fanfic (fan-written fiction based on established characters, not limited to television and films but primarily so) has always been around, but slash fiction is usually thought to have originated with the original series Star Trek. What’s slash fiction? Beginning in the late 70s, mostly female fans created stories featuring romantic and sexual relationships between various male media characters.

Somewhat to my bemusement, my teenage daughters loved it. I say bemusement because of my dissonance between the in-depth examination-of-issues, coincident with the women’s consciousness-raising movement of the 1970s, with the irreverent, often whimsical character of slashfic. What was this all about? And why were my daughters — who at the time were dating both boys and girls to see which they preferred — so interested in male characters hopping into bed with one another?

Fast forward a bit, with the death of Marion and my continuing her “Darkover” series (the setting for both of her above-referenced novels) plus my own writing career, with numerous portrayals of gay and bisexual characters. In 2004, I attended Gaylaxicon in San Diego, still scratching my head over slashfic and smiling nicely at all the campy humor. During a question and answer period, I put the issue to the audience. No one had a definitive answer, but there was a fascinating discussion about the differences between what appealed to women in slash characters and what appealed to gay men. (I suspect there’s a corollary in what lesbians find attractive in female slash characters versus what turns straight men on.) I came away mulling over the idea that within the slashfic context, readers of both sexes found a nonthreatening place in which to explore their own feelings about relationships, in particular sexuality. This lead to the disturbing question of whether this process objectified gay people, in essence projecting a distorted image of them for a purpose they have nothing to do with — e.g., helping adolescent girls understand male sexuality.

And this led to an even more disturbing question, not meant as a criticism specifically of fanfic but of fiction and media portrayals as a whole: do we see what we want to see, or do we see what’s really there? Can a gay youth, who is struggling to figure out who he is and how he is different and if he’s okay, understand himself through the lens of an essentially heterosexual portrayal of sexuality? Can any of us find ourselves when we’re being defined by someone else’s needs (or stereotypes, positive or negative)?

Do we as writers have a responsibility to create gay characters that make sense in the experience of gay people? Do we have a responsibility to include them at all? Should the sexual orientation of a character even be an issue — aren’t people just people?

I wish it were that simple, that we might live in a world in which gender, race, faith, or sexual orientation do not make some people invisible. Or worse, targets of hatred. I see value in both portraying worlds and cultures of diversity, and in stories about the struggles gays face now, in our imperfect world in their own terms.

Author Kyell Gold writes, “I’d been more and more openly gay for about a decade when I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband), but I still kept it private from my co-workers and other casual friends until I got a better sense of how it would be received. What was fueling my writing then was the urge to show gay characters falling in love, the way I was falling in love. [ital mine] … I have gotten many, many e-mails from teenaged boys (mostly) telling me how the book changed their lives, made them realize that it was okay for them to be gay. I have heard from people who said they didn’t realize that gay relationships were about anything other than sex until they read my book. Everyone has these intimate experiences and secrets that they keep close to them. One of the most terrifying things we face as a human is being alone. … And when you read about someone, even a fictional character, going through the same things you did, that can be a revealing, momentous experience.”

One of the most humbling and inspiring projects I have worked on was completing the novel Marion began in the final year of her life, featuring the central character from The Heritage of Hastur. After Hastur Lord came out, I received the following email, used with permission: “As a gay man who has had to live in the closet from much of my early adult life, I wasn’t sure how the [characters] would find their ways to peace, harmony, beauty, and honor. … I always loved the way Marion gave primacy of love and honesty, no matter the culture or the perceived taboo. Those of us … who have lived under the harsh lash of religious zeal, ideological repression, and the resulting personal constraint, cherish your ability to portray living honestly, openly, self confidently, at peace with ourselves. We know the cost, the loss, and the gain. And you have not shied away from the struggles to achieve that peace. It is hard won. But you have shown that the determination of caring people … can make committed lives blend together beautifully, forging a family, while at the same time allowing each to express their own individual truest selves. Thank you for carrying on Marion’s vision and for touching me deeply.”

Hastur Lord was nominated for the 2011 Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

Deborah Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV’S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA’S PALACE. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She has lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and is active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.


Coming Out in Fantasy

by Warren Rochelle

I came out relatively late in life, in my 40’s, after much therapy and personal struggle. My therapeutic process included a lot of reflective and introspective writing, mostly in journals, and a fair amount of reading by gay authors about their coming out experiences. And I found myself looking back at my own fiction, beginning with my first novel, The Wild Boy (Golden Gryphon Press, 2001), which was originally written as my MFA thesis while in graduate school at UNC Greensboro.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) my coming out process began shortly after my MFA program, while I was a doctoral student at UNCG. When I began a post-doc teaching fellowship at UNCG I went back and revisited my thesis with the intention of revising the novel and sending it out. I did something that will sound crazy, I am sure: after printing out the entire novel, I erased all my files and then re-entered the novel, revising, rethinking, and reimagining it as I went.

It was during this process that I was finally able to read my own subtext; I was finally able to hear the story I had been telling myself for years. I was coming out in therapy to myself at the same time and I found in the novel that I had been telling myself that very story. The Wild Boy is the story of an alien invasion of Earth that results in humans becoming the pets of the ursinoid invaders. These great quasi-bears had come here seeking to recreate an intense psycho emotional bond they had previously had with a companion species of primates who have become extinct. The ursinoids are convinced that we are the star cousins of their lost companions, and take over the Earth, destroy our civilization, cull billions of us through manufactured plagues, and then began a selective breeding program. They want the lost bond: “heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.”

But they want the bond for same-sex pairs, human and alien. They seek soul-mates of the same gender. These bears do take opposite-sex mates, but not for love—for reproduction. The true emotional bond is with the same-sex partner.

Red flag, red flag! Ding, ding! Flags not seen, dings not heard.

One of the novel’s plot lines follows one such same-sex pair, Ilox, the human, and Phlarx, the alien. As I reread, revised, and re-entered the novel, the homoeroticism of their relationship was glaringly evident. They share a bed—as many people do with their cat or dog, but I could see the emotional intensity made it more than that. Ilox might be called bisexual by some—he does marry and have children. But his primary emotional relationship, his primary bond, the great love of his life, is originally with Phlarx, and remains so, so much so that it calls him back in the end. Ilox survives the death of his wife. Phlarx’s death kills him.

My own homosexuality, denied and repressed and not wanted, made me an alien in my world.  I made my same-sex pair doubly alien to each other and gave them a relationship that was as much about pain as it was about love.

Discovering my own gay subtext was a little less difficult in my second novel, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon Press, 2007), but it did take more than one draft to hear the story that my subconscious was insistent that I hear and acknowledge. The novel grew out of a traditional heterosexual love story of a human man and a fairy woman that had as its premise the notion that all fairy tales are true. The story ends with Ben, a widower, left alone with Malachi, his half-fairy son to raise. I wanted to know what happened to them.

To answer this question, I wrote Harvest of Changelings, which turned out to be about a lot more than Ben and Malachi. Fairies, it turns out, are either Airs, Waters, Fires or Earths, and form familial units of four, tetrads. They often pair off within the tetrad, thus having primary bonds to (usually) one other person, the secondary bond to the tetrad. Malachi needs to find three others, as they need to find him.  The other three are the descendants of all those changelings left here centuries ago. Two of his other three, his Fire and his Water, are boys, Russell and Jeff. The other, his Earth, is a girl, Hazel.

Malachi and Hazel, and … Russell and Jeff.  But I had to write the entire first draft and re-enter it to have that Ah ha! Moment: Russell and Jeff are gay. They will grow up to be lovers.

Head smack. But the truth had always been there. Russell and Jeff would have to grow up, just as I was growing up into self-acceptance, but they were gay. They were born that way. I couldn’t edit their sexuality out of them anymore than I could myself. Not and tell the truth.

I started the sequel, The Called, having finally come to terms with my sexuality. Fairy tales are true, of course—and some fairies are fairies.  Now, some of my characters are gay and some are straight, but I can hear them telling me this. I have learned how to listen to them.

I have learned how to listen to myself. I grew up. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Metaphor and symbol and allusion, insistent, powerful, but I could only partially hear them.  But, through fantasy—and science fiction—I came to be able to hear my own story that I had been telling myself all along. As Virginia Woolf said, “As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall.”

Now I can hear that ripe pear falling.

Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. He is currently at work on anovel about a gay werewolf and a collection of  short stories.

GLBT in Fantasy

by Andrea Hosth

Fantasy novels – Mercedes Lackey, in fact – contained my earliest introduction to GLBT characters.  Wider reading brought me to other worlds – such as the work of Melissa Scott, Laurie J Marks, and Lois McMaster Bujold – where I found positive portrayals, and often complete social reengineering to examine and open up different possibilities for sexuality.

At the same time, the vast majority of the fantasy novels I read gave no indication that GLBT people existed.  It was an absence which did not appear to be pointed – it was not an attempt to examine the impact of removing all the variations and nuances of human sexuality.  At the most (or least) it appeared to be an omission of indifference.

It’s easy to not write about things that aren’t a part of your mental landscape, and I’ve seen pushback against calls for more inclusive representation which run the gamut from “It’s just not what I’m interested in” to “I can’t be expected to include every possible minority and interest group!”  Is it “any big deal” to leave green out of your spectrum, when the story you’re telling revolves around red?

The answer, of course, is more complicated than “must”, or derailing talk of quotas.  If we look at our world, it’s clear that there is considerably more to the spectrum than heterosexuals (just as there’s a few more skin colours than white), and to create a world in which only heterosexuality is shown to exist, makes for a blander, less true to life creation.  Is it worse when it’s an unthinking absence rather than a deliberate choice?

And what of the choices made, once non-heterosexual characters are introduced?  Another reason I’ve heard for non-inclusion is fear.  Fear of bad portrayals, of backlash, of tokenism, of doing it wrong.

Although I had occasional characters who left the zero point on the Kinsey scale, the work of mine which made me seriously look at my own portrayal of GLBT characters was Champion of the Rose – set in a socially bi-normative world.

In my usual discovery-writer way, I did not set out to write a bi-normative world.  I had created a situation where a lost (male) heir returns, threatening to displace the feared/loved (male) heir to the regent.  What, I wondered, would be the kingdom’s reaction to this situation?

And the general feel I had from the nebulous, still-forming kingdom was: They should get married!

I’m in two minds about how well I did with my bi-normative world.  I enjoyed exploring the social conventions and legal constructs which would form to support a bisexual norm, and I think overall the portrayal is positive, but the novel ends with a man and woman in a relationship, not my two heirs, which would perhaps leave some readers feeling cheated.  [Not to mention that, like many of my fantasy novels, it’s set in a primarily white kingdom, with no major characters of colour appearing until book two.]

But all the same, I’m proud of that world.  Because an unthinking absence is, I believe, worse than a clumsy portrayal.

Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia.  She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.  See:


Special Round Table Blog: Sexuality and Fantasy, June 2012:

My blog post is: “Musings on Tolkien, Sex, and Fantasy.”

The Great Travelling Guest Blog Fantasy Round Table

Welcome to the first round of the Travelling Guest Blog Fantasy Round Table!
Six contributors, so far, all writers, so far, have somehow coagulated, and we’re planning  a round of blog posts on aspects of Fantasy, in the genre and bookshop sense.

The contributors (so far) are Theresa Crater, Andrea Host, Sylvia Kelso, Carole McDonnell, Warren Rochelle and Deborah J. Ross. The plan is for one person to host all the posts for one month and one topic, and for this month, the topic is “One Step Sideways: what’s Fantasy FOR?”  I am sharing this here on my blog, but the Host-blog for this month, is that of my friend, Sylvia Kelso here.

Next month will be another host and another topic, language in fantasy. In the meantime, here’s a rich series of new variations on responses to this question about Fantasy (mostly high fantasy at this point). I had great fun reading them all, and I hope you will too.

Comments can be made at the end of each post.  —————-

Sylvia Kelso

One Step Sideways: What’s Fantasy FOR?I once had an academic at my local University tell me that  Sheri S.  Tepper’s Beauty couldn’t go on an English course, “because there’s fairies in it.” I was too gob-smacked to produce the obvious  retort: “There are fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Huccome it’s on an English course?”

However narrow-minded, this is a common view of what’s now called high fantasy. Meaning, fantasy set in a secondary pre-industrial world, and very possibly, “there’s fairies in it.” Ever since the novel made realism king in fiction, anything such has been scorned as light-weight, make-believe, fit for children, and, most damning of all, “escapist.”

It’s very tempting to retort, almost with Douglas Adams, “Reality is a crutch for those who can’t handle fantasy” (he actually said, science fiction.) An on-site observation from a librarian, passed along by my friend Lois Bujold, rather suggests that readers fall into two groups. Group A can’t handle anything outside “reality.”  Group B, on the other hand, according to the librarian, wants “total departure from the known world.”

Such departure would actually lead to unintelligibility – a frequent problem for SF and F writers trying to depict some form of The Alien. So SF and Fantasy – and horror – are in fact border-straddling genres. They deal with the unknown, the unreal, the unexperienced, but only up to a point where those things can be understood.

I tend to call all three genres non-realist fiction. They often present realist settings, but they also slot in so many non-real elements. FTL travel. A space diaspora of “humans.” Non-human races and beings, from Laurell Hamilton’s Bloody Bones to Tolkien’s Elvenkind. Ghosts. Monsters. Demons. Non-realist fiction, or the genres of Elsewhere, as I  like to say.

And if readers do include a group wanting Elsewhere, we have one answer to the question, What’s Fantasy (and SF etc) FOR? It’s for people who want something else in their heads than another bunch of people just like those next door. Who want events unlimited by the constraints of the nightly news and what’s called “consensual reality.” Who are hooked on that old SF cliché, the sensawunda. The moment when the reader’s eye looks from Here into Elsewhere. To a different, infinitely desirable world.

A lot of that draws a writer as well. World-building isn’t a common term in realist fiction, but it’s a prized ability in the Elsewhere genres. And for an Elsewhere writer, building a world is a definite pleasure, if of a more arduous kind than ordinary narrative can provide.

So Fantasy is FOR, at one level, that carefully avoided word in literary criticism, Pleasure. Pleasure that can begin with a lamp-post in the snow beyond the back of a wardrobe, and go all the way through a sensawunda experience to that rarest reaction of all. More than pleasure. More than desire. Sometimes, it can be awe.

That emotion is linked to the word “numinous.” Which here indicates a piece of writing, or an image, or an event, that gives the reader an almost spiritual reaction. You hardly ever get it in realism.  But in fantasy, like Frodo on the hill of Cerin  Amroth, sometimes the reader can walk with gods.

All this doesn’t cut much ice with people who want their literature/fiction to “matter.” To put over a serious message, or make a political statement, as well as to produce writing of force and power. And this is where such people err worst over fantasy (less than SF, which has always had aspirations to the “serious writing” label.”) Because fantasy can and does carry messages, can and does think about its own present world and its problems, but also can and does dislocate the ruts of consensual reality to bring the reader that one step sideways. To see, to imagine, a different, perhaps a made-new world.

Which is why “there’s fairies in it” stunned me as a rejection of Beauty, because if ever a novel grappled with the real world, right here in the present, dislocated that present and painted its future alternatives in the most ferocious colours, and shouted, “message!” and, “serious!” from its first genre change, it’s Beauty.

The same can’t be said, of course, of every novel shelved under the label “Fantasy.” But look more closely, and in some way, every one of those Elsewhere texts will be engaged with, thinking about, drawing on the world from which it springs.  In the deepest sense, Fantasy isn’t escapist. It’s right here with us, “under the sun” as Tolkien put it.  If it moves us away from this world, it’s only to bring us back to it with a different, a clearer understanding. To my mind, that dislocation and rediscovery, as much as the pleasure of difference, are what Fantasy’s FOR.


Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies.


Theresa Crater

One Step Sideways: What’s Fantasy FOR?

When Virginia Woolf was inventing modernism, she complained in her essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” that realistic novelists (here Mr. Bennett) missed the essential part of a character (in this case Mrs. Brown). Yes, they describe what Mrs. Brown wears, her broach and where she bought it, where she lives, that she can afford to go to the theatre, the politics in the neighborhood, etc. But Mr. Bennett misses his character, Woolf complains, because he misses her consciousness. That is the project of the modernists, to capture “an ordinary mind on an ordinary day.”

But Woolf goes on to say “There are no Mrs. Browns in Utopia.” And that’s the trouble with modernism.

Realism held a mirror up to life. Modernism captured the ordinary mind. And both missed a vital part of life:  fantasy. I’d prefer to say myth, because fantasy is built on myth, and myth used to be the very stuff of storytelling. That is before the 19th century held realism up as the way to write and before the 20th century did the same for modernism.

Fantasy captures the possibilities of consciousness. It affirms that this ordinary world we live in is far from ordinary. That it is in fact magical and wondrous, full of amazing possibilities. It challenges the arbitrator of sanity, of normality, of limitations, to a run for his money.

Myth connects us to the land, to our earth, by showing us that it is alive and full of creatures we might not see with our ordinary eyes. That highway should not cut through that fairy mound because you know what happens when you piss off the fae. There are people on the coasts of the British Isles and probably their former colonies who will tell you if you win their trust that their family is part selkie. All these stories renew our relationship to Mother Nature. With the environment endangered, so many species dying, the weather getting more severe by the year, our very survival depends on a renewed respect and partnership with the earth.

Myth connects us to the possibilities of consciousness—that we can move beyond the ordinary and perhaps not be crazy after all. Especially if we can still function in the real world at the same time. Eastern religions enjoyed popularity because they brought to the West a renewed idea of enlightenment. Older western religions and mythologies taught that humans were capable of doing magic. Now quantum physics shows us that human perception affects matter. All existence exists in a state of possibility, uncertainty, until a perception takes place and fixes a certain, specific reality. Fantasy helps us grapple with what science is beginning to suspect. Perhaps the brain is a quantum instrument. Thought is more magical than we knew. Or maybe Merlin knew all along.

So renew your relationship with that imaginary friend you had as a child. Just hang a cell phone connection off your ear so those Muggles will think you’re talking to someone in this world rather than another one.

Fantasy helps us dream again, and to solve our problems in this century, we must be able to dream.

Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age:  Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at


Andrea Hosth

One Step Sideways: What’s fantasy FOR?

Fantasy, for me, is straightforward fun, awe and delight.  Like many others, I’m in it for the giddy dance of wonder, heart-stopping strangeness, numinous dusks, and the hidden, dreadful unknown.  Danger, adventure, romance, high stakes, epic magery, and most particularly Girls Doing Stuff.  I’m all for that.

I also have a particular interest in exploring notions of right and wrong in fantasy worlds.  My books teem with honourable stoics, though their definition of honour might vary from person to person.  I find fantasy worlds provide a particularly useful vehicle for exploring conflicts between personal code of ethics, and the struggle between cleaving to that code, or a social code of honour, or an impersonal law.

But the third and perhaps main attraction for me as a writer – the challenge and strength of the genre – are moments of dissonance.  To create a world which is like but unlike our own, to hold up a mirror and allow the viewer to experience that small, sudden shock where expectation runs askew.  Or to start with a place which seems completely different, and yet recognise in its problems our own.

High Fantasy’s capacity to step outside our own world as a way to examine it is difficult to replicate anywhere except perhaps far future SF.  It allows a writer to take on vast subjects – such as the issues of race, colonialism, and cycles of hate in Medair – without tying that exploration to any current group or set of events.

To build a world also gives a writer an unmatched opportunity to examine her own preconceptions.  Why do so many fantasy worlds offer a similar attitude toward sexuality?  [Especially when this was not always the case in our own world’s cultures.]  Why are women relegated to chattel even when they possess vast magics?  What set of stereotypes have been ingrained where technological advancement appears to be somehow linked to a spectrum on a skin colour chart?  Those preconceptions can then be flipped on to the reader, playing into lazy expectations of “how the world is”.  It is more than interesting to position among those expectations of what is ‘normal’ something which in our world is usually hotly contested.

Fantasy is sometimes described as “what could never be”, as opposed to science fiction’s “what could be”.  But for all which is dismissed as impossible in the genre, it is an excellent tool for shining a light on “what is”.


Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia.  She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.  See:


Carole McDonnell

One Step Sideways: What’s Fantasy FOR?

For me, writing and reading Fantasy serves many purposes and has many pleasures.

For one, it enables mental exploration in a systematic way. It’s like playing “what if” games and preserving that game for posterity. We play with the rules of a world and the ramifications and all aspects of the rules of that imagined world. By changing one small thing we develop a new premise. In fantasy, the premises are many and not ruled by the spatial, genetic, scientific laws of Earth.  One can play with languages, communication styles, moral codes, human talents, human genetics, and the races of the world. One can, in short, be not only a scholar, a historian, a climatologist, a worldbuilder, and a creator of religions…but one can be a God, creating one’s own world.

Another purpose of fantasy is emotional. Fantasy comes from the heart. I tend to like romantic fantasy. Love involves heroes, heroines, codes of love, codes of honor and belongingness. All these aspects of love are present in the modern western world but fantasists prefer to explore love in other realms. The emotional aspect of fantasy deals with family, class, and caste. In this way, fantasy is not only a great way to affirm one’s culture and one’s racial history, but to examine the nature of family relationships and bonds.

I said earlier that in fantasy, the fantasy writer can play what if games based on changes to the scientific laws of Earth. But this isn’t entirely true. There is fantasy that is spiritual. Religious fantasy often attempts to show the cosmological worldview of that religion’s adherent. For instance, the writings of Frank Peretti often aim to  show the Christian idea about unseen evil spiritual agencies in the world. Oftentimes, these doctrinal worldviews are joined to the other concerns of the religious author.  For instance, while CS Lewis’s Narnia series is about the basics of Christianity, his Perelandra series joins his Christian worldview with his ideas about “information and the media” Other Christian writers such as PD James, and Madeleine L’Engle join the Christian worldview with their concerns about the environment or Quantum Science. As for me, a Christian writer, I tend to think “fantasy” is closer to what the real world looks like. There are, of course, spiritual writers of different faiths because all believers in things spiritual don’t share the same exact beliefs about what rules/forces guide or affect the Earth. There are also writers, such as India’s Ashok Banker, who use the myths and legends of their country’s spirituality as the basis of their fiction.

Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.

Warren Rochelle

What’s fantasy FOR—for me, personally?

The easy answer, the cliché, is escape, which is true enough—but that’s not enough of an answer. True, it was one of Tolkien’s answers: the escape from the gritty, grey reality of the world, although Tolkien didn’t see escape—or escapist fiction—as remotely disparaging. This was not the role of fiction, fantasy or otherwise.  But I always thought “On Fairy Stories” was speaking to the reader of fantasy, and not so much to the writer. Tolkien, I believe, wanted his readers to identify with his characters and their struggles, as they confronted and contended with evil, whether or on a cosmic or a personal scale. This identification encourages readers in their own struggles—as the hero goes on his or her quest, so does the reader. This reminds the reader that such struggles are not something unique but something shared with humankind, something that connects us all. This is one thing truly that fantasy is for, and if this is escape, it’s not quite the same as what the term escapist fiction implies: avoiding reality and responsibility, running away and hiding in some imagined world.

But, I don’t think this is the intended question. Granted, a writer is usually a reader but this question seems directed at my writerly self. Fantasy, for the writer does allow for the act of subcreation (thanks again to Tolkien). Writing in and of itself, whether the created text is fantasy or not, allows me to construct and explore realities and to examine the possibilities of realities. This does lead to fantasy—although given that all imagined stories are constructed realities, I don’t feel as if I have gotten at the question yet.

Perhaps I should approach this question in a different way: the fantasies themselves that I imagine and create.  What are they for; what do they do? What are they about? The list of subject matter and themes is one familiar to anyone who has read (and/or written) a fair amount of the genre: fairies, witches, werewolves, magical creatures, myth, quests, good and evil, transformations, the awakening of power, and abilities and knowledge, latent and unsuspected.  I write about light and dark, of places and things and people in and out of the shadow, and the places between the dark and the light where most of us live. But I suspect most fantasy writers have written about such things.

I write about love.  I am interested in love and its possibilities and its permutations. One permutation that is of especial interest to me is the love between men. I hesitated, briefly, to include this, as, yes, I examine and consider other permutations or variations of human love: men and women, parents and children, friends. But as a gay man I especially want to write the stories of my own context. But never mind that; I digress.

I am interested in love as power—a power than enables, that can create and destroy—as perhaps the most powerful and the most dangerous force in the  universe—and the force that is the most essential, the most creative, the most transformative. I am interested in love and myth. And this brings me, tangentially, to another of Tolkien’s four reasons: recovery, in particular truths that have gone astray. The example that I have used in my classes is that fantasy can teach its readers to marvel at the color green again. But here, it is love itself and its power and risks and adventure, that I think we need to recover, reuse. We need to re-see and remember love, and as Tolkien says, fantasy helps us to “see things as we are (or were) meant to see them.” Fantasy helps us to tell the truth.

Fantasy allows me to do this through story. I write to tell stories about these things. I write to explore the power of myth, of narrative, of metaphor, in a way that only fantasy (and sometimes science fiction—but science fiction is, to paraphrase Le Guin, the modern province of the ancient kingdom of fantasy) permits.  The story has to come first, and fantasy is story. Through fantasy, I can explore—and so do, I hope, my readers—realities that can only be described through magic, through myth, through metaphor. Stories are, as Le Guin says, a basic tool for human understanding. Fantasy is for helping us to remember and understand what it means to be human.

Fantasy is for telling the truth.

And so it is for me.

Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections.

Deborah J. Ross

One Step Sideways: What’s Fantasy FOR?

What is any fiction for? The earliest recorded stories were, after all, fantasy — The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Akkadian Legend of Etana, The Odyssey and The Iliad, — bold, imaginative tales all. Fiction as the literal representation of “real life” is a fairly modern affectation, whereas tales of imagination — whether they involve the fantastical or not — have endured for millennia. I will allow that in the most ancient literary traditions, “fantasy” as we understand it today did not exist. It’s a dicey thing to lump together creation stories and other sacred texts, some of which still hold significance today as religious literature, with myths and legends of bygone cultures, not to mention ghost stories and tall tales.

So I think the question the becomes Why do we as humans tell stories? Whether we are published authors or not, we do it all the time, and most of us love reading or listening to stories as well. Children play by making up stories, and we’re always telling ourselves the stories of our lives in order to make sense of them. Fiction, “story-ness,” has the quality of organizing events into an emotional shape. In this way, stories are different from essays or vignettes or diaries, although these can provide fascinating reading and a wealth of insights. In a sense, all stories are fantasy, whether they include specifically supernatural elements or not. They rely upon a sort of emotional telepathy; that is, the story elements — character, plot, setting, dialog — evoke an experience in the mind of the reader. Because we humans are not passive in how we read or listen to stories, we experience them with and through our imaginations. We bring our own histories, our dreams and fears and aspirations, our interests and antipathies, to that experience. Fantasy by its very nature includes more of the “life of the imagination and spirit” than does narrowly “realistic” description.

Think of how figures of speech work and how powerful they are at communicating ideas. We say, “sky high” or “dog tired,” “as dead as a doornail,” “as stubborn as a mule.” “The woman or man of my dreams” might be literally true, but more often expresses a hope and a yearning yet to be experienced. Here the comparisons are limited to a single image or two, a few words. A fantasy story is like an extended metaphor. This is not to say that every element represents some deep psychological phenomenon. Good fantasy — that is, a whopping good tale that also works on the level of symbol and archetype — expands and enriches the world of the reader. The difference between “ordinary” “realistic” fiction and fantasy is that the former can take you on a walk around a city, and the latter can take you on a walk around the city of your secret dreams. The former can teach us about the world we live in every day, but fantasy can teach us about our selves, the full range of what it means to be alive and human.

Inherent in any fantasy tale is the whispered promise that things don’t have the be the way they have always been. That from the moment you open the cover, something will change. It may be the relief of an afternoon’s boredom, but it may be something much more. It may be the moment of realizing that you are not alone, that you are not the only one who has ever wished for a particular adventure or a magical companion.

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out,” Galadriel says to Frodo as she gives him the light of Eärendil’s star. That is also what fantasy is for.

Deborah Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV’S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA’S PALACE. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She has lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and am active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.


Round 2:

The second round can be found here: and here:  Make comments at either link or through the Comments section on my home page.

 The third round, religion and fantasy, religion in fantasy, can be found here:  and here:  Make comments at either link or through the Comments section on my home page.