Tag Archives: Historical Fantasy

In Defense of Cultures, Readers and Communication

It’s a dangerous world, attempting to tread water in the ocean of words, let alone swim in these times where “cultural appropriation” and “cultural insensitivity” may blow up in our faces, after a mere brush against the drifting mine.

This is true for writers and readers alike.

One of those avid readers, squarely in the camp of enjoying new and fascinating stories wherever I find them, I have a few words in defense of us readers and writers trying to navigate the “cultural appropriation and insensitivity” minefield.

Take any movie set in the early Middle Ages, or any book. As far as cultural accuracy goes, most of them could be accused of insensitivity because they have not been historically accurate or true to the culture throughout their work. Yet it does not necessarily follow that they are culturally insensitive, or seizing the culture for their own.

The producers, story writers and authors are trying to communicate a time and place filled with people that stir our imaginations to fire.

The great stories call us to adventure, to love, to fight for good and conquer bravely. They are trying to help us understand a different culture, a different person, at the level of heart and soul. To do this to the best of their ability, they must at times use words or customs that did not even exist in those times they are creating a story about, or they must adapt them to our contemporary understanding. If they were true in every detail, we would completely miss some important character motivations and scene meanings because we had no idea that what we saw or read had a specific meaning, and we would possibly understand less than three words in ten because of old style language.

This is true whether we are English, American, or any other culture going back in our own history. If we are going back in time and crossing cultures, say from the American to Korean Middle Ages, there is an even larger cultural gap. But that does not mean our minds and hearts cannot meet despite the obstacles. Story is made to bridge the ocean gulf between us: whoever we are, wherever we are, whenever we are. The purpose of story is to communicate.

But what does it communicate? That is key to discover, so we can disarm the mines planted by those who love discord and do not respect peoples’ created differences with grace, who do not see that the very differences between us may be the source of every individual culture’s beauty, riches, and usefulness to the wide world. Admiration, respect, and appreciation bring every word and gesture in all forms of communication to life. Without that motivation, every word and gesture is dead, or worse, an explosion waiting to happen.

I use my own work as an example here, since I know my own motives better than those of any other communicator. Like any writer of past times and historical fantasy, in Path of the Warrior, the first companion story in Falcon Dagger, I am swimming between cultures. But it is dangerous.

This was kindly brought to my attention by my friend Jenn Rogers and her daughter, who are fans of Kdramas and all things Korean. I have never seen a Kdrama, though I plan to remedy that. My love for Medieval Korean culture started with my introduction to Tae Kwon Do years ago, and the martial history of the Land of the Morning Calm.

The martial focus was what I especially respected and explored on behalf of my main character in Path of the Warrior, an honorable exile from Korea, named in his native land Ryu Tae-shin, though his name was changed in my other stories, which did not detract from his honor but added to it, since he bore an insult with graceful nobility, because of necessity. That necessity was bearing up under slavery, and not confusing those who he knew would read of him later. He kept his name Tae Chisun, because he made the name – the name did not make him.

Despite any inaccuracies, of which I am sure there are at least a few, since I am seeing across cultures and time to Ryu Tae-shin’s story, I am attempting to bring to life a noble man, one I admire, who cares about his people, his family, and others. I am trying to share, across cultures, my appreciation of one who defends the right. Any mistakes in the work are mine, of course.

But do inaccuracies of naming, (which I have attempted to fix to the best of my ability), or historical settings or mannerisms (sometimes subject to poetic license), or outright ignorance, mean that this story of a man who sacrificed everything for the lives of his people appropriates the Choson culture or is insensitive to it?

Does it communicate that Koreans are bad in some way, more than other cultures? Does it claim they think exactly like I do?

No.

It is a story born of admiration for a strong people in a time of conflict.

That is my opinion, supported I think, by Hwarang Ryu Tae-shin himself. But you will have to discover for yourself if you can stand in Ryu Tae-shin’s boots and wrestle with the fierce conflicting loyalties between his sworn oath to his Kuksun overlord and his oath to save the love of his life and his people.

Would we put our lives on the line for right?

Some things, like our desire for justice, our love or hatred of truth, our depth of love tested by fire, our willingness to sacrifice for others, is the same in every culture. Mind you, I do not say we think down the same wave, or row the identical path to those values. The customs, mannerisms, and circumstances may, rather they will, differ. Completely leaving aside what we believe about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, or our religion.

But we are all human, and our hearts are fashioned from cuts of the same sail, each loosed on the sea of life from our individual islands and continents. We can sail together, all the brighter and more formidable in array for our different flags, painted sails, or pennons.

If we detonate the mines between us with well-aimed ordnance, disarm them with the truth of the story, or on the occasion when there is truth in the accusations of appropriation or insensitivity, if instead of cursing the dark we light a candle of communication, we can retain and grow mutual respect and admiration for the greatness of every people. We can swim without harm through the minefield, and our hearts and hands meet in understanding.

We can enjoy our intriguing idiosyncrasies, our various culture strengths, and help each other overcome our different weaknesses, for everyone has them.

Each person is made in the image of our Creator, the master of the waves, of every land, every heart. He made equality. Meeting another heart and mind in the sea of thought, across the waves of life, is an invaluable gift.

May we overcome every wave and mine between us. For the sake of us readers, who love brave adventure and goodness, and also to encourage those who communicate these human truths to lighten our darkness.

Or, as my Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster, Tae Hong Choi, and Grandmaster Vince Church, would say, Pil Sung! Certain victory through courage, strength, and indomitable spirit.

Azalea Dabill

Crossover – Find the Eternal, the Adventure

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150 – 175 Best Fantasy Books or Your 2017 Guide to Epic Fantasy: Post 1

Fantasy and the 7 Senses

You know the five senses that we all use.

And we explore fantasy adventure with all of them: Sight, scent, taste, hearing, touch. (Inside our minds, of course.) And of course intuition, the 6th sense, is never far from reach in a great fantasy story.

But I think there is one more sense.

Fantasy brings together the six senses into a whole and creates a 7th. The seventh sense is one you can discover often if you dive deep into fantasy realms and keep your eyes open.

The greatest fantasies create at moments a unique experience, a kind of sense not to be found anywhere else in the universe we can see. Except in bits and pieces; a kind of joy-filled truth caught in goodness or day dreams or dreams of the night, where odd things that strangely fit are often found.

This 7th sense grasps gleaming facets of truth that we could not see before. It touches them, tastes them. Not first examined by our reason, but felt deep in the actions and reactions you experience while captured within fantasy characters. Inside the kind, the evil, the young and the old, the weak and strong men and women and creatures of fantasy. It happens without your noticing it, while you are enthralled by the hero or heroine you find in many hearts, sometimes growing from a single weak seed. It makes you revolt against evil, also often growing unseen, battling within.

We are so often blinded by our familiar world it usually takes a moving deed, a circumstance, or a state of being in an unfamiliar setting or against a stark backdrop for us to see truth clearly. Such clearness can be startling.

Such was the case for me. Not long ago, I was moaning that there were not very many good fantasy fiction books from the faith sector of our world. Not that I dislike general fantasy, far from it, I admire their authors’ skill very much. I only wish more of us imitated the high bar of storytelling without deserting high moral quality.

I was shown how wrong I was to moan. Patrick Carr’s Shock of Night, Anna Thayer’s Knight of Eldaran Trilogy, Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (a novel delightfully re-read) all kept me up late into the night. Sure, there is definitely room for more faith-based fantasy where adventure is never sacrificed, but I’ve discovered treasures everywhere over the long years—from epic fantasy to dieselpunk and beyond. If your heart is hungry . . . 

I want to share my otherworldly discoveries on my lifelong venture into best fantasy novels with you.

Join the quest, and find your next adventure! There will be at least 70 posts in this series, and who knows what we may find?

If you don’t want to miss a single grand adventure, sign up in the side bar, where special treasures are reserved for those who seek them.

We’ll venture into worlds unseen where your heart will beat fast at necessary sacrifice, thrill with the triumph of downtrodden hearts against overwhelming odds, and draw lines of right and wrong in blood. You will laugh in side-splitting humor, cry with loss, fight against evil and rage against its seeming victory. But in the end you will come back to peace, hugging gems to your breast. And for those who can see, there is a light going before you.

Follow it.

Let no wall of ignorance, busyness, or other unworthy reason bar you from your next journey to unearth . . .  what, I cannot tell. Prepare to use your seven senses.

Crossover: find the Eternal, the Adventure.

 

Here’s a minute taste of one journey waiting for us on my best books shelf, seeking its place in future posts like The Romance – Exploring Treachery and Trust.

From Victoria Hanley’s The Seer and the Sword:

Torina looked at the boy, at his heavy curling hair and remote, wild eyes.

“If he is my slave,” she asked, “does that make him my own?”

“All your own.”

“I can do whatever I want with him?”

The king nodded.

The princess shivered. “What is your name, son of a king?” she asked.

“Landen.” The boy’s manner, still that of a prince, contrasted oddly with his dusty rags and bruises.

“Vesputo,” Torina said.

“Princess?”

“Cut his ropes, please.”

The commander looked to his king, who inclined his head. A blade was drawn. Vesputo severed the ropes carelessly, trailing fresh blood. Landen rubbed his wrists as Torina stepped closer to him.

“My father fought your father.” She said it very softly, speaking as if no king or soldiers looked on. For her, they must have been forgotten.

Landen looked at the ground. A pulse in his neck beat, like the heart of a newly hatched bird.

“Landen,” she whispered. “I never had a slave.”

The boy stood quietly.

“And I never will,” she continued, lifting her chin. “Papa,” her voice rose. “You gave him to me. I set him free.” . . .

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2017 Beginnings–Scop Talk

I’m hungry for a deep talk about meaning in writing—about why, and a little about how, books impact you and I. If you want to join our conversation, please leave your thoughts in a comment at the bottom of this post.

Authors who have taken me on deep journeys to far places of great import include Patrick Carr (Shock of Night), Tessa Afshar (Land of Silence), JRR Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Anna Thayer’s (Knight of Eldaran trilogy) to name a very few.

I’m hungry, not for a fast read, but a complex world that is so real it scares you, enthralls you, lifts you out of yourself to a higher plane. And then when you return to your own world, you bring that life experience, that bravery, that truth, back with you and apply it, even in some small way, to yourself. You make that sacrifice required for the life of another, face down your fears, take the next step on a dangerous journey, or simply do the right thing, which we are sometimes such great cowards about doing. At the least, you see through other eyes that another road is open to you.

In author lingo—seize the hero’s journey. For it has certainly seized you, if you draw breath in this world. The battle is on!

Continue reading

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Turning Point 2017 New Year Breakthrough

I decided to be transparent, bite the bullet, and bare my soul. 

These are the kinds of books I love: the ones that pull you deep into a a story world you wish didn’t have to end. The poetic painting of a place where you sense loyalty, love, and goodness rising to do battle against deception, despair,  and hate. From the little things like the ups and downs between companions on a great journey, to the soul-tearing decisions of romance, or the life-threatening choices before you, as the hero or heroine.

A world where conflicts are fought within and without. In the intricate vales of the human spirit; in the broad ‘scapes of the land, terrible, beautiful, or engagingly homey; and most of all, in the battle between soul and soul, where the conflicting desires of a villain or villaness (if I can coin the word) and the hero or heroine, drive everything from large armies to their companions, sycophants, or honest followers. What they see and how they react decides their impact on their world, whether they spread darkness or light.   

Besides the tried and true we all know, like Tolkien and Lewis, Anna Thayer’s The Knight of Eldaran trilogy, CJ Cherryth’s Fortress in the Eye of Time, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, Dennis McKiernan’s The Iron Tower trilogy and The Silver Call duology, Patrick Carr’s The Shock of Night: these types of stories all draw me like a lodestone. In the good conflict contained within them, I glimpse the Morning Star. 

This is the very reason I began to write, for those glimpses of joy, beauty, and adventure. And I have feared letting other people know how very much I like poetic, deep themed, character and conflict driven fantasy: historical fantasy, and every other kind of fantasy. Even to other genres. Except for horror and dark. 

Because there is darkness enough in our world, enough emptiness, enough despair. What some call realism–the idea that we exist by chance, (which means we have no purpose, no part to play) is actually despair, not the true state of affairs in our world.

Part of Webster’s dictionary definition of despair is “without hope.” And a definition of hope is “to…hope with the expectation of attainment.” If you have no hope of attainment, (which holds solid meaning in its very definition) why do anything? What’s the point? Or why not do whatever you feel like? Tomorrow we die, with less impact than a grain of sand.

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When I was a teen, despair almost ate me alive. Partially it was because I was sick, which tends to make everything look black or grey, and partially it was the horrible things I began to see in myself, in life, and in the books I was reading. Where I looked for joy and beauty I began to see betrayal, which brought unhappiness and ugliness. (Fantasy has a strange way of highlighting whatever it portrays, whether darkness or light.)

Suffice it to say, I was learning. But also absorbing what was around me without perspective. I saw a picture in my mind of dominant, rampant evil smothering good, and of despair, a kind of creeping death drawing its shadow over the world. The younger, happy me I used to be was gone, without return.

Then I began to realize, without knowing it at first, that there was more. All who follow good must fight evil, or we will be overcome. And goodness often exists, apparently overcome, but triumphant in the end.

Yes, there is darkness, and fear, and despair, and hate in us and in our world. There is also beauty and joy and hope. Because we were sent here, particular in every area of our being, of time and place, and our every step resounds through the fabric of time, and beyond.

Does this sound like a sci-fi or fantasy story? 

It is. And this story is true. Because it’s true, it’s quite natural we find it reflected in many books, the great conflict between dark and light. Not always portrayed clearly or truthfully, but still glaringly there.

With God, all is hope, however we feel about it, for he works all things (even the things that hurt) to our good when we walk with the great dance of his universe, not following the destructive road of the great rebellion. The difference between books of despairing realism and those of hopeful adventure are created when we who write them see the real world, the true story, reality, as we name it, through what we believe. Here it gets tricky. You have to pay attention.

What is true, is true, whoever sees it. But the person who sees the clearest will see the most truth. God is absolute truth, and in his light, we see light. I don’t mean here that we ever see the complete truth, for we see dimly, but we can point to him, who promises to teach us.

So, what fits the world we see, and our experience, best? 

That intricate and full of life as we are and our world is, all is for nothing? And consequently there is no good, and no evil? No purpose? Not even for a grain of sand?

Or that someone made all this, and us, and we can find joy and beauty and adventure in him? That we can fight evil, and it will mean something in the end, we can really save something or someone? We can really be a hero or heroine?

These opposing beliefs determine whether you see a grey world, or a world alight with its true splendor, a glory of golds and blues and greens, silver and brown and white as snow–and blackness, dark as the pit. That is not gone, just because we see the good. In fact, it becomes all the darker, revealed by the light.

As many others have said, truth makes stories possible. Truth shows good and evil as they are, opposed; shows the mixture of good and evil motives we often are, and the two roads we are torn between. Truth reveals, moment to moment, which road we are on.

I write my fantasy adventures, historical and otherwise, for teens and up, for those disillusioned or discouraged with the rampant ugliness in our world, so often showcased in books. I write for people who yearn for hope, joy, and beauty, wrapped in the clarion call of adventure. 

I hope this post, my turning point in 2017, helps you. That my breakthrough, that I had a wall of my own to overcome, namely fear of you, gives you courage to cross over whatever life-changing wall looms over you this coming New Year.  

Crossover: Find the Eternal, the Adventure

Yes, start this very moment.

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Define good and evil, and continue your journey with truth. Make a great impact on your world. 

I will feel it from here! Let me know in the comments about your wall, and how you will overcome it.

All the best,

 

Azalea Dabill

Editor and Author

Crossover: Find the Eternal, the Adventure

 

 

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