New Discoveries–The End of Earth and Sky

The End of Sea and Sky

 

 

 

New Discoveries in Self-Published Books

 

G.K. Chesterton observed in the chapter of Orthodoxy called “The Ethics of Elfland,”  “In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition.”

In The Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn talks about the different types of fantasy. In the chapter on the immersive fantasy—that which is set in another world—she opens up with a discussion of mimesis, the art of persuading the reader to forget the mediation of language. She says, “If we imagine different levels of ‘reality’ as concentric shells around the world, then the reader of the immersive fantasy must be able to sit between the shell that surrounds the narrative and the shell that protects the world as it is built from an suggestion that it is not real . . .”

Mendlesohn goes on to reiterate John Clute’s insistence that immersive fantasy is a “fantasy of thinning,” as he explains in his Encyclopedia.  Thinning fantasy is concerned with the entropy of the world. He says, “Because in immersive fantasy, what is storyable is not the discovery of the world (in which we are immersed) but its loss. From within the river flows away.”

I think entropy can describe many modern fantasies, and yep, I draw a line from them back to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, even if the authors reject Tolkien and all his works and ways root and branch.  There was very definitely an elegiac feel to LOTR, the immense awareness of the passing of a world that can never return, resonant with World War One syntonics. But for Tolkien, the reason for writing was the eucatastrophe, or, to cut short this ramble by hooking back up to Chesterton, what we might call an ending of “incomprehensible happiness.”

Many immersive, or “high” or epic fantasies today have plenty of catastrophe without any hint of the ‘eu’, and so they fit Clute’s description. But not all go in that direction, and, though only the first volume is out, I don’t think Tom Simon’s The Eye of the Maker (the title of the overall work) will, either. As he makes plain on his website, Simon hankers after the sense-of-wonder epic fantasy, its river not flowing away, but toward something beyond the vastness of sky and sea.

Tom Simon’s The End of Earth and Sky is a frame tale set in an alternate universe, opening with an introduction by the narrator, Calin Lowford,  in response to a comprehensive indictment that claims he is the most heinous of mega-super-extra-evil villains. Each chapter begins with a quote from this indictment, which, Calin explains, is written by someone whose world indeed ended.

But within a few chapters we begin to see the discrepancies between the indictment and Calin’s narrative. And so we are poised between those concentric circles around the world, suspended between ours and Calin’s as we’re sucked into the truth of his experience. By about chapter six I was convinced that far from being a villain Cal is on his way from ordinary guy to hero–though how one defines ‘hero’ can vary. I’m looking forward to how hero is defined in this storyverse.

Calin is an ordinary young man, given to plumpness. He’s termed lazy by many of his elders, and he’s certainly tried several apprenticeships unsuccessfully before being made into the scrivener’s assistant, where he actually does most of the work, a particularly thankness task. But before we get to that, we go off with him and his two best buddies. Several times a year the three escape up into the forbidden areas of the mountains for hunting, fishing, tracking, or as Cal prefers, lying back to watch the changing sky.

The Lowfords of Hillwarden are “infamously peculiar themselves.” Cal’s dad, the Hillwarden, is a hard-working, somewhat irascible but scrupulously honest man, as well as stubbornly independent. He wants his son to get a good job, which doesn’t include filling his head with family lore that he deems a lot of hot air.

So Cal is woefully unprepared when the distant horns of elfland wind. The first encounter is a shocking jolt for the three boys, warning them, and us, that the stakes are high. We don’t have any idea just how high.

Cal returns to report, his father will spread the news, but Cal is not expected to participate in great events–for him, it’s right back to work at the scrivener’s . . . until, once again, Cal is out of a job.

Among the epic fantasies that do not end with gloom, doom, and entropy are the hero’s tales, many times an ordinary (or seemingly ordinary) youngster on the upward path to a crown or mage’s wand. In the most blatantly wish-fulfilling epic fantasies, the hero earns power and glory mostly by being the victim of emotional suffering, then finding an elite group to belong to, perhaps with the aid of an Animal Companion whose wisdom, experience, and magic are solely dedicated to the lucky protagonist.

But then there are the ones where the protagonist has to earn and to learn. Cal is one of these.

Simon’s narrative voice is wry, full of humor and vivid description, the characters equally vivid. A new reader to fantasy will find it easy to navigate plot, characters, and point; as an old hand, I appreciated the deft intertextuality that acknowledges the forerunners of fantastic literature.

I would wish for more females, but the cast of this particular book is very small–once Cal finds his apprenticeship and goes on his journey, it is even smaller, until the end. The horns of elfland–the hints of the numinous–are rare, but there, promising a payoff. Toward the end we get our first glimpse of that payoff, and right along with it the exponential rising of the stakes. Because Simon took his time to establish the world, connecting the reader to its similarities with ours, the irruption of the fantastic echoes the impact we might feel if we woke up to magic being real. And all our comfortably limited perceptions blasted to bits.

If you read epic fantasy, why? “I’m just looking for a good story” is fine, except why in fantasy?

Discussion of epic fantasy, trends in it, and recommendations most welcome.

 

 

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New Discoveries–The End of Earth and Sky — 18 Comments

  1. I read some of the early chapters of this, long ago, and was really impressed by the worldbuilding and the strong, assured voice. I’m glad he completed the story and has published it.

    As for your final question, my answer now is very different from my answer back when I was younger. Now I read them because I like complete worlds, and dramatic situations, and characters I care about, unconstrained by the limitations of our actual history and our real world. I want constraints–I don’t want the story all over the place or magic without consequences, or characters who are mere ciphers or whose personalities change with the needs of the story–but I don’t want to have to be thinking, “But that’s not how it was in China during the Yuan Dynasty” or “But you haven’t considered the role of fur traders in the spread of Christianity” or things like that, which come up if the story’s set in our own world.

    When I was younger, I think it was more about the heroism. I still do care about the heroism–I still want heroes–but my definition has changed enough that I can’t say it’s for heroism that I go to second-world fantasy.

    Magic is still important, magic and otherworldliness, but I’m very, very particular about what I like with that, so ….

    • So do you read political thrillers, too? SF novels with a political bent? If you do, do you get anything different from the fantasy, or is it much of a muchness for you?

      • Yes to both, but I get something different from secondary world specfic than from political thrillers. You have greater freedom to create a political situation without the real worl context that might otherwise color my perceptions of what is going on.

  2. Nothing like a good, long story full of excitement and characters to love or loathe. Fantasy is more likely to come to a resolution and even a happy ending than history.

      • “Count no man happy until he is dead.” – Solon

        Histories have happy endings, too, if you stop at the right place. But histories are eu-stories, so they keep on going on, and the happy conclusion gives way to Other Things happening. The great Passover of the 18th year is a joyous reprieve, but then Josiah dies in battle and the Israelites are all carted off to slavery and exile and then…

        But you get the idea. Epic fantasies are so clearly stories – and stories are allowed to have beginnings, middles and ends, just like a person’s life. The form is also less likely to suffer from the modern parochialism that only misery is real.

        • Allowed is a bit weak. Required might be a bit strong, but it’s certainly at least strongly advised.

          “A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.”

  3. I read fantasy because reading literature that involves events that could actually happen to me is too difficult. I could be divorced, but I’m pretty sure my town won’t be attacked by dragons. I like living through the harrowing adventure without worrying it will ever actually touch me. I read enough news that I like my fiction to be supremely ficitonal.

  4. Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son trilogy fits in this looking to a new world, rather than back to an old one, though there is more than one elder system at work in it, and one of them is endangered in the classic way that colonialism and resource extraction economies endangers everyone all the time.

    This may have been her least popular series, not least because the protagonist spends most of the book being abused and being very fat, and hating it.

    Love, C.

  5. I read fantasy because I like exploring. I like discovering new things, or indeed, simply learning about someone else making those discoveries. That I get to read about it at the same time this discovery is happening is rather thrilling. And there’s nothing like limits that might be described as limitless to open up a dazzling array of opportunities to vanish into another world.