“Tales of the Once and Future King”: A Sneak Peek

This scene is from the frame story of the anthology/novel “Tales of the Once and Future King”, which will be released within the coming months. This scene takes place near the end of the book, when our stalwart heroes are on the run from the villains. Gavin Erewood is the only man standing between them and a horrible grave.

Gavin rose from the dust and dirt with an unholy scream of rage. Gavin was a patient man, but it was still no picnic to sit alone all day baking in the sun while everybody else performed their tasks in the village, and the opportunity for action was a release.

The first arrow he fired whipped through the chariot’s wheels. Bennett’s ingenious system of knots caught between the spokes and sent the chariot tumbling down. The one behind it was forced to swerve out of the way, tilted precariously, and followed its brother into the ground.

The final group of charioteers paid more attention and managed to avoid the pile, but a second arrow did its job. In less than a minute, all three chariots were smashed.

Most of the soldiers were too dazed, or too injured, to move. One managed to turn in Gavin’s direction. He had just enough time to give a yell and rush forward before an arrow hit him in the shoulder, causing him to collapse in pain.

The other soldiers had the good sense to simply flee. Only two managed to keep their wits and courage about them. One of them, who appeared to have a sling on his left arm, amazingly managed to mount one of the horses bareback and go off galloping towards the wagon. Gavin fired an arrow, but it was too late. The rider was long gone, and Gavin had bigger problems.

One last man remained after the crash, and Gavin recognized him immediately from Brand’s description: Count Dima. His face was contorted with anger. He pulled out a sword from a scabbard at his side and started walking slowly into Gavin’s direction.

Gavin hit him with an arrow directly in the chest, sure that the shot was fatal. Dima stumbled back a half step, grimaced in pain, and ripped the arrow out. Gavin fired again and again, wasting his last two arrows, but each time Dima simply ripped them for his flesh.

He sped up as he walked. “Foolish boy! You think your arrows can kill me? You think me a mortal man? I am not! I am darkness!” His face started to contort, the color rushing away until he was as pale as a corpse. “I am your nightmare!” He jerked his head to the side as fangs started forming in his mouth. “I am death itself!

Gavin remembered Fox’s warning from the forest: Vampires. He started hyperventilating. He wanted to run but found himself unable to get his feet to do more than stumble backward. His mind flashed to another day, years ago, an army of undead soldiers bearing down on him and his friends, transforming into flying, bloodthirsty monsters, scratching and biting…

He forced himself to calm down and look around. One of the horses had wandered off after the crash and was only a few yards away. Perhaps he could make it and take off before the night fell and the vampire got the ability to transform. The sun was already getting low in the sky, and Dima was only feet away.

Dima noticed him glance at the horse and gave a terrible smile. “Do you wish to try and run, coward? Oh, don’t think I don’t know who you are. You are the coward knight. The knight who ran. Well, run again! Perhaps you’ll make it. Perhaps not. But the night is almost here. Your friends will die either way!”

It was the vampire’s first mistake. Gavin thought back to that terrible night, many years ago, the day he abandoned his friend. He thought of Lance, finding him in the Scottish highlands and nursing him back to health, and of Fox’s address to him in the forest: Sir Gavin.

Gavin turned towards the vampire and stood up straight. He drew a short knife from his side. He knew he couldn’t kill Dima, but perhaps he could slow him down. “I am Sir Gavin Erewood,” he said, more confident than he really felt. “I am a Knight of Avalon, servant to the Pendragon of Britain. And I do not abandon my friends. Make your stand here, monster.”

Dima’s smile grew wider. “With pleasure.” He rushed towards Gavin with inhuman speed, mouth opened impossibly wide, snarling like an animal. Gavin waited until the last possible second then turned to the side, slashing outward with his knife. Despite his desperate gambit, Dima’s sword managed to slice him across the chest: Not a deep blow, but a painful one. Gavin cried out; blood spilled onto the dry earth.

And time froze.

…To find out what happens next, keep and eye out for “Tales of the Once and Future King”, coming soon!

One Day More! (A roleplaying-Kickstarting musical)

This arrived this morning. To enjoy it fully, one needs to know that this is for Heroic Fantasy & Barbarian Conquerors Collection, a Kickstarter that ends today, and the Hafling class is the one that has not yet been unlocked:

With just one day more to crowdfund this effort, I present… ONE DAY MORE, sung to the tune of the song of the same name in Les Miserable. 

Macris
One day more!
Another day, another ask from me
For funding of Heroic Fantasy.
The ones who did not give a dime
I’ll ask again a second time.One day more!

Bugman Dredger
I did not live until today.
Cause my book’s just getting sorted.

Macris
One day more.

Bugman Dredger and Ovate
We’ll both be ready for some play
Because of you, our race got started!

Halfing Burglar
One more day without a home.

Bugman Dredger and Ovate
Will our class be overpowered?

Halfling Burglar
One more day with them not caring.

Bugman Dredger and Ovate
We were born to play with you.

Halfling Burglar
What a life I might have known.

Bugman Dredger and Ovate
Our classes are completely new!

Halfling Burglar
But the funds are just not there!

Macris
Tomorrow we’ll be on our way
Tomorrow is the funding day

ALL
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What Autarch’s backers have in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

(To see on Kickstarter.)

Superversive Music: Eye of the Storm

Link

One of the more interesting bands out there, The Cruxshadows is part Goth, and part Catholic. One might go so far as to say that they are Superversive by nature. Take for example, their song, “Eye of the Storm.” Honestly, look at the lyrics (below the video) and tell me that some verses don’t look like articles from the website.

Images from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

The trials you now are facing,
They are not greater than your will,
For there is nothing under Heaven,
You cannot overcome.
See the door that lies before you,
And know – this too shall pass.
The confrontation of your fears,
In strength drawn from the past.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

In fragments of an instant,
The chaos has returned,
And all that was left to sentiment,
Beneath the banner burned.
And as that voice was slow receded,
Into echoes, memory,
My doubts were re-ignited,
And fear awakened from it’s sleep.

I believe in what I fight for,
And I have paid for it with pain.
I am here because my contributions,
May help turn this fate away.
And all who stood by and did nothing,
Who are they to criticize?
The sacrifices of others-
Our blood has bought their lives…

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm…

The pages of our history,
Are written by the hand,
With eyes and ears and prejudice,
Too far removed to understand.
And so the heroes of the ages
Are stripped of honesty and love.
To make them seem less noble,
And hide what we can become.

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As the boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

If you find the courage within you,
To face the path ahead,
It matters not the outcome,
If what you will gain instead,
Is a heart deepened in the knowing,
That experience carves the soul,
And the very thing that empties you,
Shall surely make you whole.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

 

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Two New Trailers

Both Marvel!

First, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”:

Next, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”:

My thoughts…

GotG 2 looks absolutely fantastic. The second best trailers Marvel has ever done (next to the amazing stuff they put out for “Civil War”). Almost everything about that trailer works. I suppose the action seems pretty pedestrian, but when was that ever the point in the GotG films?

“Spider-Man”…hmmm (I almost wrote SMH until I realized that was the acronym for “Shaking my head”. Pluses: Tom Holland, avoiding the origin story completely (since we don’t need it), being the first movie to actually have street level superheroics (which I’ve always been fond of), and an EXTREMELY retro costume that hearkens allllll the way back to Spidey’s very first appearance (WEB WINGS!!!!).

Here’s the thing, though: None of that has to do with the trailer (except that it makes it clear we’ll be seeing some street level superheroics, which is nice).

What the trailer DID show:

– As mentioned, the heroics appear to be relatively low scale in comparison to the other Marvel movies – the only other Marvel film that didn’t involve huge world-wide or worse catastrophes was “Ant-Man”* (I suppose “Captain America” too, but that was barely even a superhero film – aside from some fancy jumping and Hugo Weaving’s face it was basically just a PG war movie after you get past the super-serum at the beginning). I can’t confirm that this will be the case for sure, of course, but it SEEMS that way. Either way, the focus on street level heroics is something the films have never done and is much appreciated.

– “Homecoming” seems to be trying to get a balance in its humor level between the more serious Marvel films and the outright comedies of “Ant-Man” and “GotG”. This is a good sign, since that’s exactly the tone “Spider-Man” should shoot for.

– The “John Hughes movie meets superhero movie” vibe is very strong, which is great. I approve.

– I really like the plot arc they’re going for. It’s something really different from Marvel’s other films, and I appreciate that.

The downsides…

There seems to be a LOT of diversity casting going on, from Peter’s best friend to his romantic interests. In theory, this makes sense. Peter goes to High School in NYC, right? Of course it would skew very multiracial. It’s something they hardly would have considered back when Spider-Man began.

But – and maybe it’s just me – this sort of thing makes me jumpy. The truth is that decisions like this are never made in a vacuum; we live in a society that is pushing diversity on us from every angle…and the people pushing diversity are almost always the SJW’s. See the comments from the creators of “Rogue One” and “The Force Awakens”. See “Hamilton”. See Kevin Feige fumbling around while trying to justify casting a Scottish woman to play the oriental mystic in “Doctor Strange” (As good as Tilda Swinton was I mourn the missed opportunity to cast Jackie Chan). In Hollywood, everything is calculated: It’s never just about story. There’s always an underlying narrative being pushed.

That said…the truth is, this is right in line with the Marvel formula. Marvel plays a very careful balancing act when it comes to race. Their theory – at least in their films – seems to be this:

– Cast a lead who seems like he’d be a good fit for the character, regardless of what race the character might be. So far it’s been white male heroes, but with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies coming out, they seem to have no issue casting for other races and sexes. It’s just that their most popular heroes are white males, so when they wanted sure bets that’s who they went with. Now that they can take more risks, they’re branching out.

– Try to stunt cast/diversity cast the minor roles. That’s why we see the Falcon, Black Widow, a race-bent Baron Mordo (and the Ancient One, of course), Rhodey, and even the small detail of adding an oriental to Captain America’s Howling Commandos. The point here is to blunt criticisms of racism and sexism without alienating the fans of the original comics.

This is a very clever plan, and one Marvel has instituted successfully in every single one of their films (backlash around “Doctor Strange” seemed to pose a brief threat and provoked a silly response from Feige and the director before being shut up by the quality of Swinton’s performance and the presence of the always welcome Chiwetel Eijofor). It essentially satisfies everybody, from the die-hard fans to all but the real die-hard SJWs, who can’t be satisfied in any case.

“Homecoming” would worry me more if it didn’t fall right in line with that. Neither of the love interests appears to be Mary Jane (reports Zendaya would be playing the role appear to be exaggerated – if she’s supposed to be MJ she’s at least MJ in name only), who is one of the more recognizable female characters in comics, so that’s good (the only one I recognize is Liz Allen, who I believe was on a Spider-Man cartoon from a few years back). Otherwise, we’re seeing basically what we always see: White male lead (as befits the character), mixed race background players.

It just worries me that his best friend AND his love interests seem to be mixed race. Is this fair? Maybe not. Marvel doesn’t have a history of messing up its movies with shoehorned politics, and the movie itself appears to be utterly unconcerned with racial issues. But I noted it and am at least not going to be surprised if “Homecoming” skews more SJW than the average Marvel film.

Otherwise, the trailer strikes me as unremarkable. It hits every checkmark of what I want to see in a Spider-Man film, which means it’s certainly successful on the metric of “Am I still going to go see it after watching this trailer?”, but…I don’t know. I forgot what happened in it almost immediately after I watched it, but I can pretty much quote the GotG trailer verbatim. It has a fun vibe to it and gets across what it has to, and I look forward to seeing it, but it does it in a very by the numbers way.

…Also, if Spidey is holding that ship together, they made him VERY overpowered (though I suppose Tobey Maguire singlehandedly stopped a train in its tracks, so I guess it’s not exactly unprecedented).

In summary, after a lot of rambling:

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” trailer grade: A, marked down from an A+ for generic action scenes

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer grade: B+. For all my griping I have to admit that I’m very happy with where they’re taking this and it made me really look forward to this film.

Looking forward to the summer!

*Having Hydra spread secret agents around the world and having a war start vetween Asgard and the Frost Giants do indeed count as

SUPERVERSIVE: So you made it into Hufflepuff

Reposted from the Castalia House blog:

Hello again, and Happy Superversive Tuesday! To continue my theme from last post, I’m going to talk about something completely different. Something personal. Namely…

J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site has sorted me into Hufflepuff.

Hufflepuff is noteworthy in the Harry Potter series for being supremely un-noteworthy (“A Very Potter Musical” famously lampshades this after the end of its opening number “Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts” with the immortal line “What the hell is a Hufflepuff?”). The Hufflepuff we know the best is Cedric Diggory. Diggory is a fine character, but he probably doesn’t even rank in the series’ top twenty most interesting. Even in “Goblet of Fire” we just don’t learn that much about him, except that he’s apparently an honorable man, a hard worker, and a capable wizard. Besides that – nothing.

But I’ve always had a soft spot for Hufflepuff, and always thought of myself as one. Besides the fact that yellow is my favorite color, its description in “Philosopher’s Stone” always appealed to me: Hufflepuffs are just. Hufflepuffs are loyal. Hufflepuffs are patient. Hufflepuffs are honest. Hufflepuffs are hard workers. The “Goblet of Fire” Sorting Hat song brings up hard workers again but also makes a point of saying that Helga Hufflepuff is “sweet” – so we can probably safely add kindness to the list of Hufflepuff traits.

So far, this all sounds reasonable, and fits into Rowling’s world well. Patient, kind, honest, hard-working, and just are all the sorts of non-flashy qualities that could theoretically give Hufflepuff the reputation as the “loser” house, but unfairly. They’re not flashy, but they’re good qualities to have. The world is a better place for them. They’re the types of qualities I tend to admire even if I don’t have all of them myself (all of my friends who see the word “kind” on this list are laughing right about now).

Don’t get me wrong – I value bravery, intelligence, and…okay, I don’t value Slytherin. Ambition, I guess? I’m not ambitious. But those other two! I just think that the sorts of qualities Hufflepuff House supposedly represents don’t get the respect they really deserve. Kindness is underrated.

So, I’d be quite pleased with my pick as a Hufflepuff House member….If not for this, from the book five Sorting Hat song:

For instance, Slytherin

Took only pure-blood wizards

Of great cunning, just like him,

And those of sharpest mind

Were taught by Ravenclaw

While the bravest and the boldest

Went to daring Gryffindor.

Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest,

And taught them all she knew,

Thus the Houses and their founders

Retained friendships firm and true.

“She took the rest”

“She took the rest”

Okay. So maybe Hufflepuff doesn’t pick students with dependable, useful, non-flashy but underrated qualities. Apparently, Hufflepuff just takes the rejects.

Yeah.

We’ve hit, by the way, on the biggest flaw of Rowling’s House system. She pays lip service to people overcoming the expectations set by the house they’re sorted in, but in reality characters who are part of Slytherin are evil, characters who are in Gryffindor are good, and the middle two houses don’t matter. Rowling at least has the decency to add in Luna Lovegood, a Ravenclaw and one of the series’ most interesting and beloved characters, but in Hufflepuff…well, there’s Tonks. Except that we’re never actually told Tonks is a Hufflepuff until after the series is over. And let’s not even get into all of the problems with Rowling’s portrayal of Slytherin House.

Perhaps the worst line in the entire series comes from one of the best chapters in the series, “The Prince’s Tale” from Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore is talking to Snape about Voldemort’s impending return:

[Snape said] “Karkaroff’s Mark is becoming darker too. He is panicking, he fears retribution; you know how much help he gave the Ministry after the Dark Lord fell.” Snape looked sideways at Dumbeldore’s crooked-nosed profile. “Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns.”

“Does he?” said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. “And are you tempted to join him?”

“No,” said Snape, his black eyes upon Fleur’s and Roger’s retreating figures. “I am not such a coward.”

“No,” agreed Dumbledore. “You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I think sometimes we Sort too soon….”

There you have it. One of our three semi-sort-of-kind-of heroic Slytherins in the series (along with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy – four if you count Regulus Black) is told that he is too heroic to be a Slytherin. Rowling’s utter contempt for Slytherin House couldn’t be any clearer.

Rowling also has an unfortunate tendency to shoehorn characters in where they don’t belong to fit her pre-ordained roles for each House. Take Remus Lupin. Lupin is a Gryffindor, but…come on. Remus is clearly a Hufflepuff. He is kind, he is a diligent worker, patient with students (and Snape), and unflinchingly loyal, literally to a fault. Sure, he does lie to Dumbledore a couple of times, but ultimately his guilt lead him to confessing both times, and in any case I don’t think this really does any more to disqualify him from Hufflepuff House than being too afraid to call out his friends’ bullying behavior or tell Dumbledore his suspicions about Sirius Black disqualify him from being a Gryffindor.

Remus is certainly brave. But when you think of the qualities that most define Remus Lupin, you think of his kindness towards Harry and his steadfast loyalty to his friends, his two most admirable traits. You don’t think of his bravery. Remus Lupin very obviously should have been a Hufflepuff. He even marries a Hufflepuff. The problem is that this wouldn’t work in Rowling’s world, because Remus is friends with James. In the Potterverse somebody who became James Potter’s best friend had to be a Gryffindor.

From another perspective, Luna Lovegood can be a Ravenclaw, but Hermione Granger cannot be, because it destroys Rowling’s concept of Gryffindor as the house with all of the most important positive characters.

Book five is where Rowling finally admits all of this. She doesn’t even attempt to give the Slytherins positive traits (pure-blooded and cunning?), and by the time she reaches Hufflepuff she admits what has always been the implication and flat-out states that it’s the reject house, for the people too unexceptional to go anywhere else. It’s gym class all over again: These are the students who weren’t picked for dodgeball.

What’s disappointing is that there’s no real reason Rowling had to go in this direction. Remus could have been a Hufflepuff. Warrington, the Slytherin, instead of Cedric could have been the Triwizard Champion, giving Slytherin House much more nuance if Rowling decided to portray him as something other than a pure villain. Slytherin as the house for the ambitious and crafty (people who are creative problem solvers and who always manage to land in advantageous positions) and Hufflepuff as the house for dependable people who don’t have easily noticed good qualities are good ideas as-is, but Rowling unfortunately never follows through.

And so, we come around back to me: A Hufflepuff. What should I think about this?

The Honey Badger is not impressed

On reflection, I’m still pretty happy about it. Maybe Rowling eventually came to see it as the reject house, but you know what? Badgers are badass. Don’t underestimate us. And those qualities that Hufflepuff originally stood for, kindness, loyalty, patience, truth, and diligence, are still qualities that I admire. Rowling might think we’re losers, but I don’t think we have to be. I think that potential is still there. And that’s the type of Hufflepuff I want to be.

There’s another dimension to Hufflepuff’s decision to take in the rejected students. In one sense, it makes Hufflepuff the loser house – but there’s more to it than that. It also makes Hufflepuff the wisest house.

Hear me out here. Is it really a good idea to be telling children exactly what their strongest and most important qualities are at the age of eleven? Is this healthy? Think of all of the trouble this causes at Hogwarts. In book five, the Sorting Hat warns the student body to come together in the face of the impending threat, and even questions the wisdom of sorting itself. Slytherin has the reputation as the house of dark wizards, so why would you wants children to grow up with that type of stigma?

The issues surrounding sorting didn’t even seem to occur to the most intelligent of the founders, Rowena Ravenclaw…but they did occur to one founder: Helga Hufflepuff.

Hufflepuff didn’t see students as a sort of symbol of her favored characteristics. She saw them as people – as individuals. Hufflepuff wasn’t interested in sorting them – in dividing them based on things they couldn’t choose rather than things they could. Because, again, while Rowling pays lip service to choice – after all, one of the most famous lines in the series (and rightly so) is “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” – the entire concept of the Sorting Hat is inherently anti-choice, if not at that moment, then in the long term. What characteristics are supposed to define you are to be discerned at the age of eleven and are to follow you for, at least, the rest of your time at Hogwarts. Your choices after the Hat sorts you don’t matter.

Hufflepuff didn’t put that sort of pressure on her students – and in that very real sense Hufflepuffs have the most potential of any of the Hogwarts Houses. To misquote Dumbledore, in Hufflepuff it is our choices that make us who we really are, far more than our abilities.

You can actually “logic out” Hufflepuff’s traits from there. What sorts of students would the other three houses reject? Why, the ones who aren’t obviously extraordinary, who aren’t necessarily world shakers, but whose best qualities are quiet strengths like hard work and kindness. So of course that’s what Hufflepuff house came to represent.

I’m digging the common room too.

And you know what? The world needs more Hufflepuffs. There’s more to us badgers than meets the eye.

(Would you believe that there’s remarkably little Hufflepuff merchandise out there? Shocking, I know. All I wanted to do was get a lousy backpack, and the only one I could find was 60 dollars! Yikes. Maybe I’ll spring for a snow cap one day.)