Background image courtesy of Suju.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! How did everyone celebrate? Do you go all out with dinner, flowers, and chocolates or just sit at home and blow it off? I know, it’s not for everyone. I’ve never been much of a Valentine’s Day fan, myself, thinking all those school exchanges silly and meaningless. Although when we were younger our mom would make Valentine’s cards for my brothers and I, which were always cute and fun ─ but the best part was without a doubt the chocolate involved. In past years the teens from our church would host a party for the couples, having things like a dessert contest and playing The Newlywed Game. That was always a riot!

Recently I was thinking about some of the couples that I’ve written in my own stories, and that got me thinking about some of the other couples I’ve come across in my reading. So here I want to share with you four of my top favorites (because otherwise we might be here awhile). The best romances, in my (*ahem* humble, of course) opinion, are the ones that aren’t advertised. The ones that are more subplots and subtle over the course of the story, with their good moments and their bad as the characters deal with the world and their circumstances in it.

Which means there probably won’t be any Danielle Steele or Mary Higgins Clark in my future. Just sayin’.

That aside, I will confess that sometimes I do like a little bit of love ─ if it’s done well. After all, humans are creatures designed and made for relationships, and a lonely soul is not an happy or healthy one. The bonds of good old fashioned brotherhood and familial ties usually gets high marks from me, but since it’s Valentie’s Day I’m going to focus today on couples.


Howl and Sophie

Whether you’re a fan of the book or movie, Howl’s Moving Castle has one of the more interesting love stories I’ve come across. I love both the mediums, the book and the movie (I can hear you gasping in shock, by the way), and while the storylines are quite different, both of them are great fun, magical, and heartwarming.

Howl and Sophie first meet on a May Day celebration, but neither knew who the other was, and by the next time they meet, Sophie has been turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She flees from home and takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places: Howl’s castle, where she meets and makes a deal with the fire demon Calcifer.

At first they don’t really like each other. Sophie has preconceptions of Howl as an awful wizard who eats young girls, finding him immaturish, selfish, and whimsical. Howl doesn’t seem to like Sophie because she’s klutzy and keeps messing things up. They argue and fight quite a bit, but as the adventure unfolds and the more time Sophie spends around him, she comes to realize he’s not so bad after all.

Sophie did not care to think how Howl might react if Fanny woke him by stabbing him with her parasol. “No, no!” she said. “Howl has been very kind to me.” And this was true, Sophie realized. Howl showed his kindness rather strangely, but, considering all Sophie had done to annoy him, he had been very good to her indeed.

Howl’s Moving Castle

By the end we realize that Howl has been working on breaking the spell on Sophie, all the while Sophie has been working with Calcifer to break the spell that was on the demon and Howl. The life Sophie had wanted, one that ‘had a bit more interest than simply trimming hats’, had found her, made her more courageous, and made her an even match for the wacky wizard. Her ‘old age’ gave her some perspective, where she wouldn’t take any of Howl’s nonsense, and when such forces collide sparks are bound to fly. But instead of the usual gushy declarations of love that come out of realized feelings, it happened more like:

“I think we ought to live happily ever after . . . it should be hair-raising,” added Howl.

“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.

“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me,” said Howl.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Now doesn’t that make your heart just go pitter-pat? Or laugh. It made me chuckle.


Hurin and Morwen

I just recently learned of these two in the book The Children of Húrin by J. R. R. Tolkein and his son, Christopher Tolkein. (This story also introduced me to another favorite archer to add to my list, Beleg Strongbow).

Húrin and Morwen (also called Eledhwen) are the parents of Túrin and Niënor, of which the story is largely about, but I was struck by this husband and wife, for the love and trust they shared was strong and lasted through decades of Húrin’s captivity at the hands of Morgoth.

 ‘But I say: Do not wait! I shall return to you as I may, but do not wait! Go south as swiftly as you can  ─ if I live I shall follow, and I shall find you, though I have to search through all of Beleriand.’

─ Húrin, The Children of Húrin

Húrin is a bright and enthusiastic man, both fierce and fearless, and yet compassionate. Morwen is more dour and stern, for the people of her birth and childhood ─ the  House of Bëor ─ had fallen and she bore always that sorrow. She is a proud woman, but also courageous, and in her Húrin confides his thoughts, hopes, confidences, and misgivings. And even though he told her to run were the battle to go awry, her love for him and the desperate hope she carried that he would return overcomes the cool shell of her demeanor.

And her heart still cheated her with hope unadmitted; her inmost thought foreboded that Húrin was not dead, and she listened for his footfall in the sleepless watches of the night, or would wake thinking that she had heard in the courtyard the neigh of Arroch his horse.

─ Of Morwen, The Children of Húrin

Such devotion to one another paints a beautiful picture of what I’ve always believed marriage should look like, and even after so many long and hard years of separation and tribulation they are not strangers when again they meet. I’ll not lie to you, it brought the water to my eyes.

 ‘Eledhwen! Eledhwen!’ Húrin cried; and she rose and stumbled forward, and he caught her in his arms.

‘You come at last,’ she said. “I have waited too long.’

‘It was a dark road. I have come as I could,’ he answered.

The Children of Húrin


Sergil and Lyla

Since this is a list of my personal favorites, I have to add Sergil and Lyla from my own books. While there are many couples to chose from (Tym’Othy and Bertha, Jonquil and Iris, and Kurou and Lan Fen just to name a few), but when I think about it, the relationship between Sergil and Lyla is my absolute favorite, and perhaps because of its subtlety. It’s never mentioned in narrative that they love each other, and not once throughout the story do either of them say “I love you”, but I believe the message is clearly stated through their actions.

Not much is revealed about their history together, only that they’ve known each other for a long time, since it was to Lyla that Sergil went after he found the infant Jonquil and deserted the army. Their friendship has lasted long and through some hard times, but the situation of their lives ─ Sergil’s in particular ─ never really allowed for it to become much more than that.

  “All right then!” Aunt Lyla clapped her hands together happily, but then her face fell. “I suppose you’re all about ready to leave?”

“We are,” Sergil answered.

“All right. Well, I’ve got a few things that I hope will help you on the way.” Out of her apron pocket she pulled a pair of well worn, brown leather gloves. “You left these here a while ago,” she said to Sergil, her cheeks turning pink.

There was a meaningful look passed between the two of them, and Sergil accepted the gloves with a slight, satisfied smile. “Thank you, Lyla.”

A Journey Begins

In days of olde, the throwing down of a gauntlet (or slapping across the face with one) was the issuing of a challenge. Someday I would love to expand on the histories of these characters, but that may be a long time coming, so I’m sharing this ‘backstage’ insight with you all now so you can share in the awesomeness. Not many of you may know this, but Lyla wasn’t always the sweet and peaceable lady she is today. Once upon a time she was a fiery maiden, a no-nonsense country girl that Sergil fell in love with on sight. He was enlisted at the time and traveling, but they met here and again over the years, getting to know each other bit by bit. Then one day decades later he challenged her to marry him, throwing down his gloves. It took a while, but she accepted his challenge, expressed by the returning of his gloves.

Unfortunately, fate and destiny got in the way and it was a long time before they saw each other again ─ and for the last time, too. SPOILERS for all of you who haven’t read the saga yet, but the once upon a time of Sergil and Lyla doesn’t get an happily ever after. That may be another reason why it is my favorite, it’s a tragic story, but perhaps beautiful all the more because of it.


Eugenides and Attolia

Here’s another complicated pair for you. Eugenides, often called Gen, is the royal thief of the kingdom of Eddis. Attolia, birth name Irene, is the queen of the kingdom of Attolia. (Note: the rulers of their respective countries bear the names of their countries ─ the queen of Attolia is referred to as Attolia, the queen of Eddis is known as Eddis, and the king of Sounis is called Sounis ─ the first time I read The Thief I was confused, so now you know so you won’t be confused).

Attolia is a strong ruler; stern, harsh, and merciless. Eugenides is a thief; snarky, clever, and sneaky. How could two such contrasting personalities ever fall in love? Childhood crushes, political unrest, and the inner workings of the human heart.

Eugenides first fell in love with Attolia as a boy when he saw her dancing in the palace garden from his hiding place in an orange tree, but years passed and life happened. Attolia became the ruler of her country, and in order to maintain her control of the throne from the barons she had to become stone cold and brutal. That also applied to her treatment of Eugenides every time she caught him infiltrating her palace (which he did often, but only got caught a few times). Every time she sent him home, he went seriously injured and sick. One time she cut off his hand.

That would make most people shy off, wouldn’t it? But no. Eugenides certainly does bear some fear of the queen, but he’s spirited, frustratingly witty, and on a mission. Not to mention called by the gods. The precedent is to save the three kingdoms on this coast from an invasion of the Medes, forcing a political marriage between the kingdoms of Eddis and Attolia, but underneath it lies a budding romance, struggling to bloom. Eugenides appeals to the loneliness and affections stowed deep inside Attolia’s heart. It takes a while, but his persistence and devotion to her, the things he goes through for her sake and the kingdom, slowly draws her conflicted and convoluted emotions to loving him.

“I have been living with your grief and your rage and your pain ever since. I don’t think- I don’t think I had felt anything for a long time before that, but those emotions at least are familiar to me. Love I am not familiar with. I didn’t recognize that feeling until I thought I had lost you in Ephrata. And when I thought I was losing you a second time, I realized I would give up anything to keep you . . .”

The Queen of Attolia

Ahh, the tugging heartstrings of fragile young people, like delicate flowers that need careful handling. . . . You really need to read the story to truly appreciate the subtleties that go into these two, and it’s totally worth it. Really. These books are some of the absolute best fantasy I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience.


That’s only four of them, but we could be here all day with others (like Sig and Izumi Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist, Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings, or Hoban and Zoe Washburne of the sci-fi space western Firefly).

Did I mention any of your own favorites? If so, which ones? Do you have any other favorite fantasy couples? I’d love to hear about them!

Archers of Knack and Note

When you think of fantasy weapons, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Swords, right? Fantasy and swords go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, sunshine and bike rides- okay, we could go on for a while there. Anywho, swords and those who wield them have been the archetype of fantasy since the beginning of the universe ─ the known and unknown. Who can forget the timeless classics like King Arthur and Excalibur, or Aragorn and Anduril. The sword is the backbone of weaponry in both our history and our favorite fantasies, no question the weapon of choice for any fan, but what about all the other weapons out there? What about the axes and hammers and polearms?

The bow and arrow?

Swords and their wielders are cool, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll venture to say that I’ve always found myself drawn more toward archers and their bows. A long range weapon by design, a skilled archer with the right bow can shoot an arrow over 300 yards ─ that’s about two and a half American football fields. How awesome is that? I know that our modern firearms can hit targets miles away, but have you considered that bows are the reason we have firearms?

In history, the English and Welsh were renowned for their archery ─ longbows in particular ─ during the many wars that took place. It was an effective tactical move to have ranks of archers take down the first lines of the enemy before they came in range for the cavalry and infantry. They were the first line of defense. (If you see him, he probably wasn’t aiming at you. Medieval snipers, anyone?)

But archery, unlike swordsmanship, isn’t confined to the act of warmaking. With such tools a person could hunt for their food, and who isn’t familiar with ye olde shoot-a-zip-line-over-the-deep-expanse-in-order-to-escape? The versatility and sheer awesomeness of these weapons has captured my fascination, and not one person has taken that stance and drawn that string without me getting excited. (Here’s my nerd membership card).

So, we all have our beloved sword bearing fiction heroes, but what about the bowmen? Here’s a handful of my own near and dears.


Nock and Bolt – The Twin Bowmen of Yewland

Aiden could now see two other Glimpses seated on a great log beyond Mallik. They were smaller than most of the other Glimpses, though still greater in size than Aiden. Each had long, straight sandy brown hair drawn back tightly. Each wore a circlet of silver like a thin crown above his uncannily arched brows and restless blue eyes. And though they appeared youthful, their stature was proud and manly. Seated side by side, tuned just slightly, the two Glimpses looked like mirror images.

The Door Within

When I first read about these two years and years ago I fell in love instantly. Elvenesque and remarkably skilled, these identical twins share a close bond not only with each other, but also with their brothers-in-arms in the service of king Eliam of Alleble. Accused of being ‘impetuous upstarts’, Nock and Bolt are cheerful and cheeky, but are devoted to their craft of archery and claim it as the height of excellence in battle.

“With our bows,” the twins protested in stereo, “you need not scrap in the first place. The enemy falls dead ere you draw close enough to be struck.”

The Door Within

Hard to argue with that logic, no?

These two and their story within the larger plot of the trilogy wrenches me every time I read it.


Legolas – Prince of the Wood-elves

He was tall as a young tree, lithe, immensely strong, able swiftly to draw a great war-bow and shoot down a Nazgul, endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow, the most tireless of the Fellowship.

The Lord of the Rings

Believe it or not, Nock and Bolt and the Door Within trilogy were in my life before The Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t reading such epic books back in those days (I’m behind on those childhood experiences. I never read the Narnia books until I was a teenager). The movies frightened me, so I didn’t watch them until later. Orlando Bloom in fantasy getup aside, I had a new-to-epic-fantasy adoration for elves, and Legolas was just so awesome! He was a fearless warrior who could hit anything, shooting arrows fast as thought ─ not to mention being able to walk on top of snow! Given a new longbow from Galadriel, Elven queen of Lothlorien, he could bring down a fell beast in the dark with a single shot.

Tell me you’re not impressed.

Still, I didn’t read the books until a couple years later, and that was my loss, because they really are good books. The story is a powerful one. Legolas fought hard for the people of Middle-earth against Sauron’s armies, was loyal to Aragorn and Frodo, valiant in daring-do, and developed a deep and lasting friendship with Gimli (one of the absolute best friendships in the history of ever).

“Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf,” [said Gimli.]

“What about side by side with a friend?” [replied Legolas.]

“Aye. I could do that.”

The Lord of the Rings

(Yes, I know that’s from the movies, but it’s such a wonderful exchange.)


Bran – King Raven

 

Set in 12th century Wales, this was the first tale of Robin Hood that I ever read (I have yet to get my hands on an original copy). The story of Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, is one full of frustration, tragedy, and sorrow, but also survival and hope. Bran grew up learning to wield a bow alongside his father’s warband. But then tragedy strikes when the Normans come and he must flee for his life into the wild greenwood.

Through Bran’s struggles to survive and the fight to regain his homeland I came across this one part that I love, where Bran is living in a forest cave with an old druid and recovering from an injury. This is a turning point in his life, and through that process he crafts his own bow:

Bran examined the length of ash once more. He held it up and looked down its length. Here and there it bent slightly out of true [but] not so badly that it could not be worked . . . Bran set to work, tentatively at first, but with growing confidence as his hands remembered their craft.

The King Raven trilogy

This bow, shaped with care by his own hands, is a symbol of his own re-making into Rhi Bran y Hud. It’s with this bow that the legend takes hold, and with this bow that he fights and eventually leads his people back home.

 . . . and then he was caught up in the tremendous sea wave of acclamation that rose up from the long-suffering folk of Elfael, whose joy at seeing their king triumphant could not be contained.

The King Raven trilogy


Teryn – First Warrior to the Heir of Tigress

One woman strode forward confidently, hands on her hips with an haughty look in her amber eyes, and bent slightly at the waist to look at them. . . .”Now, my prisoners, there are a couple of things I’ll be wanting yeh to know ere we release yeh. Yeh are over two hundred marks in the air ─ that means if yeh jump or fall yeh have a good chance of dying before yeh splatter into jelly on the ground. Secondly, yeh’re outnumbered ─ pretty sadly, I’d say, and neither of yeh have a prayer against Fordon to overpower any of us.”

The Journey Taken

I have to be honest. When I think over my favorite archers I can’t not include Teryn from my own The Journey Taken saga. First introduced in volume 3, she was so much fun to write, with her cocky attitude and brash tongue. She may have been the cause of a lot of headaches for the company, but there was one virtue about her that could not be denied: her skill with the bow. It’s the weapon her people live and breathe by. Her bow is the sign of her identity and her status as First Warrior to the heir of Tigress, leader of her clan. Hers is a longbow, thick and straight with a heavy draw weight, allowing her arrows to fly far and hard with pinpoint accuracy.

Her biggest pride is that she never misses, but what she needs to learn is that there are some problems in the world that can’t be solved by turning it into a pin cushion.

“In yehr dreams, yeh overgrown toad cac!” Teryn shouted, stringing an arrow before she had even finished speaking. “I’ll turn yeh into a pin cushion first!”

The Journey Taken


Yaedon – The Gadreian Woodsman

Last one, and again, one of my own. I would love to read more books with archers in them, but sadly, I haven’t come across very many (so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!)

This guy is from my new writing project: Falconsbane, so this is also a little ‘sneak peak’ into what you’re in for with the next adventure from the Writing Corner. The following quote is a rough first draft (so let’s not judge too harshly, shall we?)

Roscha’s heart began to beat faster the closer he came, but before he could open his mouth and announce his approach, the peculiarly dressed man with hair longer than his own turned his head and caught sight of him. The man turned full and beamed a bright and welcoming smile, raising his hand in the air. “Greetings, fellow traveler!” he called, and beckoned Roscha over. He didn’t have any armor, either, but the quiver slung across his shoulder spoke to his position as an archer. “The name’s Yaedon, by the way,” the bowman offered. “Yaedon un Hebron-Surah kibur Gadrei.” He proffered a hand in greeting.

Falconsbane

But for however peaceable he may seem, he is absolutely deadly with his bow in hand. During the war he was issued one by the Archery Corps, but he preferred to use the hunting bow he had been raised with, its hand rest worn smooth with use, its shaft well cared for. His early training in stalking prey to feed his family earned him some pretty hard core but sorely underrated skills, too ─ because how many of us can sit perfectly still with a bee or some other bug flying in our ear and crawling all over our faces?


So, how about you? Do you have any favorite fantasy archers, did I mention any of yours already! Share in the comments! If you have any suggestions for stories with awesome archers in them, I would love to hear about them, so please share!

 

Sayonara to ’17 and What’s Coming

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! How was your Christmas? Merry? Bright? We were a little scattered over here in the Writing Corner and beyond, what with all that’s been going on this past year, but we pulled off another great holiday with the family nonetheless. The Lord’s blessings abound in all types of life’s weather.

Taking a moment to look back at the past year, I can remember feeling that 2017 was going to be a big year in my family ─ and boy did it turn out to be true! Here’s a bullet point list of some of what’s gone down:

  • The final volume of The Journey Taken was published, completing a seven volume, five year project
  • My younger brother got married, giving me my first-ever, super cool sister
  • In fact, I ended up attending a whopping 5 weddings this past year, with a life total of (I’m thinkin’) 6. So it’s a record, I dare say. I think it’s wonderful and exciting to have been witness to the beginning of so many new lives.
  • The farm’s greenhouse finally got covered
  • My older brother brought us a cat (poor thing was orphaned). This may seem small to most people, even undesirable by some, but this writer has been wanting a cat for years, and this wee, furry spaz has brought us a lot of laughter. He is also very warm when he decides to sit on your lap while you’re trying to write. His name is Chestyr.
  • We fixed up and sold (almost there!) the house we’ve been renting out
  • I’ve developed a fancy for making earrings ─ the whimsical sort, not fashion. I’ve never been very fashionable.

Quite a doozey, yeah? And that’s not even everything. But now the old year has come to a close and a new one has opened ─ it’s like turning to the first page of a brand new book you’ve never read before! The possibilities are endless. Here’s a few things that I am looking forward to:

  • More weddings! Oh, how the young ones have grown . . .
  • Plying my culinary craft at the farm stand (gotta start small, right? For those of you nearby, keep a lookout for magical munchies come spring)
  • Riding a thousand miles on my dual-sport hybrid bicycle of beautifulness (this’ll be the summer . . . this’ll be the summer . . .)
  • Getting that blasted license
  • Working on my new story. Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo, kicking off the start of a whole new writing project that I’m calling Falconsbane (many thanks to everyone who voted and helped me out). I won’t say an awful lot here, but I’ll tell you that it’s not a part of the TJT universe. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not anywhere near done with Jasinda and its peoples, but this time I felt like branching off to a new location and building something from scratch again. It’s about a young man by the name of Roscha who goes from a fairly anonymous existence to discover a bigger destiny than he ever could have imagined. There, that’s all I’m going to say about it now. You can read the synopsis here and check out the Pinterest board dedicated to it here. I’m super excited about it and pumped to share the journey with you all, so stay tuned!

Now how about you all?

Take a moment to look back over 2017, what things ─ big or small ─ happened? Have you grown, changed because of it?

What sorts of things are you looking forward to this year? Don’t be shy to share in the comments!

Thanksgiving and Feasting Contemplations

Hello, everyone! Thanksgiving has already come and gone (for many of us, anyway), yet the season of thanksgiving should last far longer than a single day, don’t you think? We are given so much every day, ought we not then give thanks every day for these things? And I have often wondered, while we celebrate Thanksgiving and adopt this theme of giving thanks for all that we have and love ─ to whom are we thankful?

All that aside, the passing of this feat-ive holiday reminds us of the fact that November is almost over ─ which means so is NaNoWriMo! I have been busting my rear quarters and head quarters on this challenge of writing a novel in a month, and while at times it may not seem like such a good idea, it’s also fun to test your limits and see just how far you really can go. So far my top daily word count is 6,681, and you can keep track of my daily word counts right along with me from my Twitter account.

Since we’re in the season of Thanksgiving and everyone is practically salivating over thoughts of feasting on crispy skinned roast turkeys, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet and tangy cranberry sauce, steamy-hot rolls, and so on and so forth, I thought I might share on the subject. But today, instead of going into detail about the history and meaning behind the holiday (a worthy tale, to be sure) I wanted to take a different route and go into the subject of feasting itself ─ historical and fantasy feasting, to be more precise. I want to share with you a blog post by Sara Gailey on the Barns&Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, titled On Feasting. I read this and found it eye-opening and insightful. There’s little better than reading and learning something new that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

So, without further adieu:


On Feasting

by Sarah Gailey

 

You are a character in a fantasy novel. Congratulations: you have been invited to a feast.

The first course is already on the table when you arrive: strange, small fruits and pungent cheeses, goblets brimming with wine, tiny salted fish, smoked meats.

The second course arrives before you’ve had time to sample everything in the first: small birds cooked in cinnamon and pepper, rum-soaked buns studded with currants, eels in a pie with a flaking brown crust. Olives so salty that they make your tongue curl. More wine.

The third course comes along quickly, and it’s a beautiful one: peacocks with the tails still attached, their bodies stuffed with figs and ginger, their beaks flaking with gold leaf. Huge joints of boar. Good brown beer, or more wine, whichever you want. A whole suckling pig with an apple in its mouth, its skin dripping with molasses and pepper. A huge fish served on a bed of squid and salt.

This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Most of the food tastes strange (wonderful, but strange). You don’t know the names of half the things you’re eating. In the corner, musicians play familiar songs, and there are several rounds of raised glasses at particularly good choruses of songs you remember from your time in the army.

There is no respite. Food bows the table. You try to taste everything, but it’s all whisked away so quickly to make room for more. At the end of the night, dessert: sweet wine and tiny glasses of strong anise liquor. Huge bowls filled with grapes and oranges and lemons and kumquats and huge green fruits that you don’t know the name of, with centers like custard. Cakes, a dazzling variety of them, all sparkling with sugar. This one is filled with a banana cream; that one is dotted with strawberries. Spiced sugared nuts, tasting like nutmeg and clove and honey. At the center of the table, towering and beautiful, a croquembouche: puff pastries piped full of sweet cream, stacked into a tall pyramid, and strung with threads of caramel. Half of them are filled with vanilla cream, and half with chocolate.

After dessert, as everyone tries to find buttons to undo so that they won’t feel quite so full, coffee and tea and brandy and pipes.

No one is murdered at the feast. You stagger home sated and drunk and groaning and certain that you won’t need to eat for months. You sampled everything that you could reach, but you’re sure that there was more you didn’t get to try. You hope you’ll be invited back.

What a nice story. Nobody died, the food was all delicious. Perhaps this is a children’s book. Perhaps it’s a happy ending, a wedding feast. All is well. How pleasant this is.

You can stop reading now if you’d like.

A parade is more than just a show, and a feast is more than just a meal. The feast to which you were invited was more than just a collection of important people eating as much as humanly possible. It was a display of wealth and power. It was a subtle, quiet threat. It was a bribe. It was a conversation.

Fantasy feasts are modeled after real-life feasts, and those feasts were conversations, too: between those who had power, and those who did not. Every dish that graced the table at a lush, overwrought feast was a line in a victory speech.

Nutmeg and cloves, from Indonesia.

Tea and oranges, from China or India.

Bananas and cocoa, from Central or South America.

Coffee from Ethiopia, or maybe from Central America.

Sugar and rum and molasses.

Lemons.

Peacocks.

Tobacco.

You and a hundred others are sitting in a dining room, arrayed in your fineries, and every new platter that emerges from the kitchen is there to remind you of how you got where you are. Look around you: who is wearing silk? Jewels? Gold? Silver? These are the people who know where the food comes from. The food is a prize, a trophy that you are being allowed to see and touch and feel part of.

Some of the people at the feast are responsible for bringing back the goods, others for ensuring the people who grow and harvest them don’t change their minds about who has the right to their goods, to their land, to their lives. Still others are responsible for nothing but feasting, enjoying the novelty and variety of the evening, and being pleased with the results of whatever regime they support.

Consider the journey of the tiny salted fish: packed in barrels aboard a ship that also carries peacocks in cages, or crates of bananas, or a precious orange tree with its roots shrouded in burlap. Consider the people whose hands touched the bananas before they were sent to you. Consider the origin of the spun sugar that is draped over the croquembouche. Where did it come from? Who wielded the knife that cut down the cane plant? Who choked on the smoke from the burning of the cane field?

Do you know?

Do you care?

Or is your belly full?

It is easier, isn’t it, to enjoy the feeling of your belly being full? If you think too much about the display you’ve witnessed, about what it means, about the empire you live in—the sugar might turn to ash in your mouth. It’s easier not to think about it, or to imagine that the display you’ve just witnessed is a celebration of free trade. Your kingdom sends ships and caravans and armies out to map the far reaches of the world, and to bring back whatever it can. And if people leave the feast—the parade of wealth and power—wanting more? And if they decide to send more ships and caravans, and if they decide to claim the land that the tea grows on, the land where the peacocks are fed, the land where the gold rests waiting in the earth for ready hands to take it?

So be it. There will be more ships, and there will be more armies, and there will be more feasting. Go to sleep, for now, and wake up with a headache from the wine, and remember the feast. Remember the silks and the jewels. Remember the tobacco and the lemons. Remember the strange fruit you don’t know the name of.

Remember that, and forget the rest. The rest is ugly. The rest is hard.

You have been invited to a feast.

Will you attend?


Isn’t that fascinating? I never knew that feasting ─ at least back in the day ─ was such a display of power and influence. Like the ignorant attendee, I never even thought about it.

So, now that you are more aware of the unspoken words behind the myriad of dishes presented at grand banquets, will you consider more the origin of where such dishes came from? Granted, a traditional Thanksgiving feast is comprised of foods that can all be grown nationally here in America, but have you considered the ‘trade routes’ all of these had to travel in order to reach your local grocery store? The same goes for all sorts of different foods we have available to us today. Here in Upstate New York, we wouldn’t have things like bananas, mangos, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, shrimp, tuna, pineapples, a vast majority of common spices like cinnamon and ginger, COFFEE, TEA ─ the list just goes on . Without trade, we would be eating (and wearing) only that which we could produce in our local environment (apples, anyone?). And it all started long ago and far away.

What are you serving, and where did it come from?

National Book Month

October may very well be the best month of the year, for not only is it nestled within my favorite season of the year, autumn, it also happens to be National Book Month.

An entire month, dedicated to the amazingness of books. Of reading and enjoying books. This reminds me of a quote I once saw that still makes me laugh even years after first seeing it:

You go, Batman.

Really, perhaps it is because I’m an incurable reader, but I can’t quite understand how some people just don’t like reading. Books are an incredible thing, both fiction and non-fiction. Reading has become how we pass on information and stories. Without reading, without books, we are a people lost and fallen to the darkness of ignorance and the drudgery of mundane existence.

Books are portals to other places, other times, giving a reader the opportunity to go beyond and see, feel, and experience more. And sometimes, hidden inside these adventures, we find a lesson for our own lives. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Don’t lose hope. The easy road doesn’t always (rarely will ever) lead to a good place. Rise above. Have courage.

That we have a month celebrating books is a great thing, and for all of us readers out there it’s positively spectacular. Spread the love of books this month and share with others just how awesome these blocks of paper and ink really are. That just two simple ingredients can sway a soul is truly something magical.

So . . . what are you reading?

Celebrate National Book Month with a good read! Start your adventure today.

A Hobbit-y Holiday

Today is a special day. Yes, it is the first calendar day of autumn (best season of the year, if you ask me), but did you know that today, September 22, is also Hobbit Day? ‘Best day ever!’ Tolkein fans may say. But what, exactly, is Hobbit Day?

I’m glad you asked.

Hobbit Day is an holiday of inestimable import celebrated on the mutual birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, our two small but courageous heroes from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkein has translated the day of that ‘Long Awaited Party’ in the text as September 22nd, and it may very well be the oldest festival observance in association with Tolkein fandom, celebrated since 1973. It was officially designated in 1978 and has gained a rather impressive amount of legal dignity due to the elected officials who have supported it through a variety of proclamations, declarations, tributes, and similar governmental documents. Hobbit Day has also attracted bipartisan support from the U.S. County Courthouse, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol.

Imagine that!

So, how do you go about celebrating this prodigious day? Well, you party like an hobbit. Observances include going barefoot all day (my personal favorite. So much so that I observe it every day), costume events, games, feasting (or be like a true hobbit and eat seven meals. First and second breakfasts, anyone?), and fireworks. Or gather amongst fellow enthusiasts and marathon the movies. With the three The Hobbit films out to add to the original LOTR trilogy, that’ll prove to be one extensive event. (I’m down. Who’s with me?)

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or simply enjoy any excuse to celebrate, Hobbit Day is the perfect holiday to break out your festive best and make merry like they do in the Shire.

How are you celebrating?

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Prince and the Pauper

Title: The Prince and the Pauper

Author: Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)

My Rating: 4 of 5


This treasured historical satire, played out in two very different socioeconomic worlds of 16th-century England, centers around the lives of two boys born in London on the same day: Edward, Prince of Wales and Tom Canty, a street beggar. During a chance encounter, the two realize they are identical and, as a lark, decide to exchange clothes and roles–a situation that briefly, but drastically, alters the lives of both youngsters. The Prince, dressed in rags, wanders about the city’s boisterous neighborhoods among the lower classes and endures a series of hardships; meanwhile, poor Tom, now living with the royals, is constantly filled with the dread of being discovered for who and what he really is.


My Thoughts:

I have heard of this story and seen variations of it done for years, but I’m the kind of person who likes to find the original of a classic in as unadulterated a form as possible (outside of original foreign languages, that is). So when I found this copy, copyrighted in ’69 and published by Grosset and Dunlap (who, as it happened, also did my copy of Jungle Tales of Tarzan) I knew I had to have it and find out the ‘true’ story of the Prince and the Pauper.

I loved it. Set in medieval England just before the reign of King Edward the VI, it follows the misadventure of a certain poor boy by the name of Tom Canty and a certain Edward VI, Prince of Wales, who, had they been born identical twins could not have looked more similar. A seemingly chance encounter wildly reverses their positions, and we get to follow along and see how each copes with their drastically foreign environments, learning valuable lessons along the way.

The image of sixteenth century London is vivid, picturing both the opulence of the royal world and the dire straits of the plebian community, who suffer perpetually under the unjust English law ─ which is ragged on often enough. The hardships young Edward endures, and the troubles suffered by those who endear themselves to him along the way, reveal to him the truth of wonton tyrannical rule. Meanwhile, the lavishness of royal life nearly blinds Tom Canty of his good heart, but in the end realizes all the posh and pomp is meaningless and empty.

The dialogue is chocked full of ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and ‘for sooth’s and whatnot (like I said, unabridged), but the writing is clever and speckled with rather frank humor. The characters are well portrayed, insomuch that I felt frustrated for both Tom and Edward when they insisted on their reversed identities and everyone around them persisted in assuming they were mad. Suddenly and inexplicably so. For the length of it, Edward expressed resentment toward Tom and what he must be doing, usurping the throne, and throughout all the story I felt fear for what might befall the pauper boy.

And then there’s Miles Hendon. Dear, dear Miles Hendon. An escaped POW, he comes into town in time to save the mistaken Edward from Tom’s abusive father and proceeds to take the lad under his wing. He is an extraordinarily kindhearted and noble soul who gets abused both physically and emotionally, but he takes it like a man with endearing stoicism for Edward’s sake and you can’t not love him for that.

This story is yet another example that goes to show that just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it can’t keep up with the bullet train of this present era.