Friday, November 30, 2007

Unicorns in Fantasy

Moonlight slants down through the trees of a forest to reflect from a pristine pool of water. A unicorn slips free of the forest to drink from the pool. It looks around for danger, glowing silver in the moonlight. This image evokes a sense of wonder in readers. Unicorns are mythical creatures that grace the pages of many Fantasy books. They are a staple of the genre. These creatures provide us with many hours of entertaining reading.

The classic Fantasy book about a unicorn is The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle. It is the lyrical, beautiful story of the last unicorn in the world searching for the rest. On her quest she is helped by an inept wizard, a prince and a woman. She must fight against a red bull to save her brethren. Mr. Beagle is an excellent Fantasy author who brings this wonderful tale to life with descriptive prose.

Another book is Ariel by Steven Boyett. This book takes place in our world after magic suddenly appears and changes everything. A young virginal man travels this landscape with the unicorn Ariel for a companion. Ariel is a devoted companion with a wise cracking attitude. It is a poignant story of friendship and how love can change things as quickly as magic. (The book has been out of print, but seek it out in a used bookstore.)

Fantasy author John Lee wrote about unicorns in his Fantasy series about Strand. These books are a mix of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The humans are not native to the world of Strand. They are at war with Strand’s former inhabitants. A young wizard must find the unicorns to get their help in the war. The story of the unicorns, wizard and humans continues through four books. The Unicorn Quest is the first in the series.

Piers Anthony has unicorns in his books about “Proton and Phaze.” His unicorns are musical and can become humans. These books are a combination of Fantasy and Science Fiction too. The main character crosses a border between the two worlds. He is helped on the Fantasy side by a unicorn. She acts as his mount, friend and helper. Unicorns play an interesting role in this different series. Phaze Doubt will start you in this series.

A classic unicorn story to seek out is “The Silken Swift” by Theodore sturgeon. This tells the poignant story of a rape victim, an arrogant woman and a unicorn that grants his honor to a worthy person. Mr. Sturgeon is a classic Fantasy author of powerful, thought provoking stories. This one has a different ending that will make a reader cry.

Finally, if you like short stories about unicorns seek out the anthology The Immortal Unicorn edited by Peter Beagle. It has many stories written by several Fantasy authors The stories are very entertaining and some very thought provoking too. (The paperback version was split into two volumes.)

Unicorns are mythical animals that haunt our dreams and imaginations. They are an important aspect of the genre. A powerful symbol of purity, strength and other things, many Fantasy authors have told entertaining, thought provoking stories with unicorns in their works. More works will appear in the genre as long as these creatures inspire our thoughts.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wild Hunt in Fantasy

It is a warm Summer night in the country. A full moon rises over the hills to the east. You sit by your campfire watching the moon rise. The night is pierced by distant hunting horns and the baying of hounds. A man runs across the face of the moon along the ridge of a hill. He disappears into the night, but is soon followed by a pack of hounds. Riders on horses follow the pack, led by a figure with antlers on his head. Your heart pounds in your ears and a shiver runs down your spine. You have seen the Wild Hunt, which is a part of many Fantasy novels and stories.

Used by many authors, the “Wild Hunt” has its origins in mythology. In Germanic mythology it was known as the “Furious Host,” a group of tortured ghosts that swept through the night and attacked people. Later, the myths shifted with the addition of a hunting motif from Celtic mythology with the antlered leader ruling the Hunt. Scholars believe this stems from peasant fear of aristocratic hunting parties in the past. Whichever the case, the Wild Hunt was a dangerous thing to confront or try to escape. It was symbolic of wild, uncontrollable magic and creatures. Fantasy authors incorporate this mythical creation into many of their novels.

Guy Gavriel Kay had the Wild Hunt appear in his Fionavar Tapestry books of The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road. The Hunt represents a wild thread of chaos that destroys good and evil indiscriminately. Characters summon it only as a last resort because of this. The Hunt is not under control of the Creator of this universe where all others obey rules, providing a dangerous, unpredictable element to the books.

The Wild Hunt plays a central role in Dragon Moon by Chris Claremont and . This small trade paperback tells the story of a woman that takes part in a Renaissance Faire. One of the other fair attendees summons the Hunt for his won purpose of revenge. She must fight against the Hunt and her growing attraction the leader of the Hunt. This short book has an interesting plot, strong characters and an exciting ending. Dreamseeker’s Road by Tom Dietz is a Contemporary Fantasy set in rural Georgia. Another story in the David Sullivan sequence, this one involves a struggle between Fairy and the real world. David and his friends draw the unwanted attention of the Hunt. They are pursued through several worlds in trying to elude the Hunt with the help of the Morrigan. The book is full of a lot of action.

Author Jocelin Foxe uses the idea of the Hunt, but set in her own Fantasy world. In her creation, the Wild Hunt consists of men that committed crime against a goddess. These men wait in a limbo until summoned by a woman for help. They have one month to complete their mission or burn to death into oblivion. Each one has a chance at salvation if the love of a woman can keep them from returning to the limbo. The Wild Hunt: Vengeance Moon and The Wild Hunt: Child of Fire are both good books (see previous reviews on this site).

The Wild Hunt finds its way into Young Adult Fantasy books too. It plays a role in the book The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner. A young girl gets caught up in a battle over magic. Her brother must save her from the dark forces and the Hunt. Mistress of Fantasy Jane Yolen tells a mythic tale in her book The Wild Hunt. It is the story of two boys, Jerold and Gerund, who get caught up in the battle between the King of
Winter (leader of the Hunt) and his wife Queen Summer. This is a deeply mythical tale for all ages.

A fear of wildness and the unknown is part of human nature. The mythical Wild Hunt is a symbol of this fear throughout history. Fantasy authors have used the Hunt in various ways in their books. Its presence brings suspense, danger and chaos to these books. There are many other Fantasy books with the Hunt in them. So, if on a dark night you find yourself alone in the country, listen carefully. Should you hear the baying of hounds and hunting horns, beware. Happy reading.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Review: _Summer Knight_ and _Death Masks_ by Jim Butcher

What would the world be like if magic existed? Urban Fantasy books try to demonstrate this in varying books. Fantasy authors like Charles de Lint, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews and several others portray magic and mythical creatures existing in our world. Jim Butcher brings magic and action to Chicago in his “ Harry Dresden” novels. Two more books in the series continues the further gritty adventures of wizard Harry Dresden.

Summer Knight opens with Harry in a deep depression, filled with guilt over his girlfriend who was nearly changed into a vampire. He has searched for a cure for months, letting his life and work slide. The fairy queen of the Winter court hires him against his will to find out who killed the Summer Knight of the rival Summer court. Harry is confronted by several dangerous creatures and a woman from his past he thought was dead while trying to prevent a war between the Fairy courts. Added to these events, Harry must contend with attacks from vampires due to events that ocurred in the previous book. Mr. Butcher keeps the tension and action flowing with crisp descriptions and character growth.

In Death Masks, Harry is hired by a Vatican representative to recover the stolen Shroud of Turin. He must battle ghastly demons to save Chicago and the world from their deadly plan. On top of this, he faces a duel to the death with the leader of the Red Court vampires to end a war between them and the Council of Wizards. More complications arise with the return of Harry’s girlfriend Susan. Harry has the help of many friends in his trials especially three crusader knights. Mr. Butcher keeps the action flowing to a satisfying conclusion of the book.

Summer Knight and Death Masks by Jim Butcher are two more entertaining novels of the “Harry Dresden” series. The author keeps the action fast paced to keep readers hooked. Harry, the main character, shows growth and changes in each book making him more complex and human. This keeps the series interesting for readers with each new saga.