My guest series Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World continues a-pace on SF Signal — and this time I focus on the second, powerful instance of “sisterhood” in Barbara Hambly’s The Ladies of Mandrigyn:
” … not a “band of sisters” this time, but the comradeship between two women, Starhawk and Fawn, who are thrown by circumstances into that great Fantasy tradition, the hero’s (or in this case, heroines’) road trip.”
To read more, click on:
On Wednesday I discussed some of my background research and the “eye-opening” (aka “new-to-me”) facts that can crop up. I’ll be sharing more of those facts, but another interesting aspect of such research is when themes emerge.
One of those themes, in my delving into various wars, and more specifically sieges, was the surprising number of instances of what I called “coming to the aid of the enemy.” In sporting parlance, it would be similar to scoring an “own goal.”
One example is the “Siege of the International Legations” in Peking during the 1900 Boxer uprising. The legations were completely cut off in the heart of the Chinese capital, and although the initial Boxer besiegers may have been poorly trained and equipped, once they were joined by the Chinese Army, that was no longer the case.
And although the legations’ defenders might be trained soldiers, the legations were not military installations and the defenders’ resources were limited. Yet the besiegers consistently failed to press their advantage, for reasons that contemporary commentators found inexplicable:
‘An American military officer reported: “I seek in vain some military reason for the failure of the Chinese to exterminate the foreigners.”
Missionary Arthur Smith summed up the Chinese military performance similarly: “Upon unnumbered occasions, had they been ready to make a sacrifice of a few hundred lives, they could have extinguished the defense [of the Legation Quarter] in an hour.” ‘
Interesting reading—not least because it’s not the only example I’ve read where a military power acts in a way that aids its opponents. But these accounts must await subsequent posts.
With the Prologue to Daughter of Blood unveiled on SF Signal last week, publication day feels like it’s getting close — and that has inspired me to spend some time with characters from The Wall Of Night series, in the same way I featured worldbuilding in A Geography Of Haarth.
I’ve been focusing on minor players for now, because: “I think it’s the presence of the smaller characters that “makes” a story, creating texture around the main points of view.”
Today, my minor player is Lannorth.
Lannorth: second-in-command of the Earl of Night’s Honor Guard
“The merry tune jigged on … as the doors swung open and Lannorth strode in with the two door guards at his heels. The Honor Lieutenant looked around keenly, then flushed as he met Malian’s inquiring gaze and the surprised lift of her brows”
~ from © The Heir Of Night: The Wall of Night Book One, Chapter 17 — Eye of the Storm
“And as threatened, fun or not, I’m probably going to share some of those other facts with you, so ‘watch this space.’”
Yep, that’s what I said way back in August, in a post called Background Research.
I mentioned a number of subheadings in that post, one of which was “siege warfare generally.” And I did a lot of reading about famous sieges during the course of writing Daughter of Blood.
Examples include the Defence of Rorke’s Drift (1879, South Africa—although I believe this was, more correctly, an “assault” rather than a siege), the British Residency in Kabul (also 1879), the Siege of (the) Lucknow Residency (1857), and the Siege of the International Legations in Peking (1900) during the Boxer rebellion.
Most of these sieges or assaults that I have mentioned are famous, but in reading up on the Peking Legation siege, which lasted for 55 days (ca. 2 months, as opposed to Lucknow, which endured 6 months) I discovered a fact that was eye-opening, for me at least. During the same period, there was a second siege ongoing in Peking (now Beijing), one which is mentioned so rarely that even a history buff like me had never heard of it.
Known as the “Siege of Beitang”, the Roman-Catholic Church of the Saviour was besieged by approximately 10,000 Boxers. Although the latter may well have been poorly armed and equipped, those besieged inside the church comprised approximately 3500 people, all but 80 of whom were Chinese converts—mainly women and children.
They were defended by only 41 French and Italian marines, commanded by two French officers.
The defense was led by Bishop Favier, who later described it in the following terms:
“He said that of the eighty Europeans and 3,400 Christians with him in the siege, 2,700 were women and children. Four hundred were buried, of whom forty were killed by bullets, twenty-five by one explosion, eighty-one by another and one by another. Of the rest, some died of disease but the greater part of starvation. Twenty-one children were buried at one time in one grave. Beside these 400 who were killed or who died, many more were blown to pieces in explosions so that nothing could be found to bury. Fifty-one children disappeared in this way and not a fragment remained.”
A grim account, but also an amazing story—yet one that has been overshadowed by the larger Siege of the International Legations, taking place at the same time, approximately two miles away.
The Ivy Crown
The whole process is a lie,
crowned by excess,
It break forcefully,
one way or another,
from its confinement—
or find a deeper well.
Antony and Cleopatra
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
is past. This is
the heart says,
and not even the full of it.
though they will come
before our time
We are only mortal
but being mortal
can defy our fate.
love is cruel
and totally obtuse—
at least, blinded by the light,
young love is.
But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
the jeweled prize
at our finger tips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.
by William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963
William Carlos Williams has always been one of my favourite poets, and this one of my favourite poems. I quoted the final stanza to a friend recently, because they were absolutely the right words in the right order for that moment. I hope you may enjoy this selection equally today.
To read this week’s poem on the Tuesday Poem Hub, and other great poems featured by fellow Tuesday poets from around the world, click here.
Black Gate, a speculative fiction site based in the US, dubbed the forthcoming Daughter Of Blood a ‘future treasure’ over the weekend. Which is kinda cool.
Aside from the title, it starts as follows:
Helen Lowe’s The Wall of Night has been getting some good press. The opening volume won the Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut, and the second was nominated for the 2013 David Gemmell Legend Award …
To read the rest, you’ll have to check out the full post, here:
And, of course, the Prologue to Daughter Of Blood was unveiled in an exclusive feature on SF Signal last week:
“Tongues of lightning flashed out of a bruised sky, the wildfire flickering along a broken colonnade before splitting apart around a man’s tall figure. Dead leaves drifted to either side as the rift in the air closed, but no ripple disturbed the length of the newcomer’s surcote, white over blue-black mail, or the fall of his long hair as he passed beneath a crumbing arch and into an open court, bounded by twelve paired pillars. A wide pool lay on its far side, with shallow steps leading out onto a stone platform where a woman gazed into the motionless depths. Her gossamer sleeves stirred in a slight breeze, but otherwise she was as still as the surrounding water and did not turn
when the man joined her … “
But it’s still exclusive so, again, you’ll have to go there to read the rest:
Have a fun week!
However, on Friday I did reflect on whether the period spanning the 1970s and 1980s (and either side) had been a Golden Age of Arthurian and Arthurian-influenced Fantasy. It certainly enjoyed a hey-day of intense popularity, but as I also pointed out, that has happened at least once before, over a similar 20-odd year period in mid-19th century Britain.
Something that occurred to me, although by way of reflection rather than exhaustive scholarly research, is that both were periods of prosperity and considerable social optimism–even certainty. The 20th century hey-day, for example, followed on from the Kennedy era in the US, when the White House was sometimes referred to as “Camelot.”
And although the Arthurian trend in literature may have reached saturation point anyway by then, it is interesting that it tapered off markedly after the 1987 financial crash, which also coincided with other social and environmental trends that have seen the world enter a period of far greater uncertainty.
Similarly, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King spanned the years between 1859 and 1885, when the British empire, with all its attendant notions of a civilizing mission and the Pax Britannica, was at its height — and again, the rate of publication of Arthurian-related material appeared to slow after the major economic slump of the 1880s.
So I can’t help speculating that the whole idea of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which is bound up with ideas of chivalry and justice, the rule of law and civil society, and a belief in making a better world, enjoys greater popularity when the times appear to reflect those values. And wanes, like all Arthur strove for, when the times grow more uncertain.
Of course, all my speculation could be just so much hot air — but I would be fascinated, if anyone ever did the research, to see if my speculations stacked up.
… particularly for Junior/YA Readers, I realised that — of course (duh!) — Thornspell is also Arthurian-influenced Fantasy.
It’s not the main focus of the story, which is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale from the perspective of the prince, but I did manage to weave in elements of the Parsifal legend. And Parsifal, dear readers, is definitely part of the Arthurian cycle.
It’s not really part of “The Matter of Britain”, though, or at least not as strongly as other parts of the cycle. The earliest known retelling is Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a 13th-century German epic poem — of the Arthurian knight, Parzival, and his quest for the Holy Grail.
Still, Thornspell was published in 2008, which does make it a relatively recent story to fall under the Arthurian influence.
Recently, I posted on ‘The Matter Of Britain” — the Medieval term for Arthurian cycle — and its influence on Fantasy fiction in two posts, one looking at adult Fantasy, the other at works for Junior and YA readers.
In the first post, I reflected on “the swathe of Arthurian-based works for adult readers that dominated 1970s and 1980s Fantasy literature—with the theme continuing to maintain traction through into the 1990s.”
The Junior/YA fiction had a slightly wider sweep, with The Sword in the Stone published in 1938, but there was still a solid swathe of publications from the early 1960s through to the 1990s.
I believe it was a golden era for Arthurian stories, with so many published in such relatively close proximity — but when I look back a little further, to the nineteenth century, I realised that “The Matter of Britain” also enjoyed another heydey then.
Mark Twain, for example, published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1889, while Tennyson was writing his famous and popular Idylls of the King between 1859 and 1885. William Morris also wrote a poem titled Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery, in 1858.
So although the Arthurian stories are always with us, from time to time they appear to go through periods of greater-than-usual public popularity. So I would love to see a study that looked at whether there are any detectable trends in common between the two eras …
The one thing that seems certain, however, is that we will keep telling and retelling the Arthurian legends — and that they will enjoy periods of intense popularity again.