Category Archives: Fantasy Fiction

A Dreamer Out of Time: Nicholas Roerich

Roerich

Over at the Imaginative Conservative, Benjamin Welton has a great article on a neglected Russian painter whose central theme was the re-imagining and refinement of Russian mythology. Nicholas Roerich’s mission, says Welton, was analogous to what Tolkien aimed for in TLOTR. And it turns out that Roerich also inspired none other than Lovecraft:

The American pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft spoke often of his appreciation for Roerich and once wrote to his friend James F. Morton that “there is something in his [Roerich’s] handling of perspective and atmosphere which to me suggests other dimensions and alien orders of being – or at least, the gateways to such.” Notably, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness was influenced by Roerich’s renderings of Tibet’s glacial precipices.

Mens sana in corpore sano

The central theme in my writing is the struggle to live an authentically human life in a world that is globalized, homogenized, and ground down to airy abstractions. There is no doubt in my mind that the proliferation of modern afflictions, from depression to diabetes, is the result of an artificial lifestyle that disdains the physical and idolizes the abstract.

We are told to dedicate our lives to economic success and despise non-material fulfillment. Homo economicus wanders the earth in a body that is little more than the minds’s chassis.

So I was pleased to see this recent article in the Johns Hopkins Newsletter discussing the expanding chasm between human needs and the ill-fitting lifestyle we have allowed to overwhelm and warp our lives:

Almost all aspects of our modern lives that wouldn’t be included under the “Paleolithic” lifestyle are inherently bad for us. Studies have shown that even artificial lights interfere with melatonin production and alter our circadian rhythms. Our sedentary lifestyles present some grave health complications for bodies sculpted by millions of years of evolution to be able to handle insane amounts of physical exertion. For most of human history, sitting in a chair for nine hours a day and surviving would have been mutually exclusive concepts. We just haven’t been built to do it. We are completely out of our element in this world of sensory excess. And it’s not looking like we’ll ever adapt to it while modern medicine and societal norms effectively prevent the barbaric natural selection process from occuring. So because we will not adapt to these new conditions, the only thing we can do is adapt our individual lifestyles.

How can we salvage our humanity in such a world? The author suggests what I believe is a pretty good start:

I suggest that we should all let out our inner Homo erectus as much as possible. In an ideal world this means coming downstairs and spending time talking with your housemates or roommates instead of watching Netflix in your room. This means eating more nutrient-rich food that hasn’t been designed in a lab. This means cutting Internet porn out of your life. This means reading more books in print. This means taking on that huge project. This means getting sweaty on a regular basis. This means living life in the manner that millions of years of natural selection designed you to. You just might find that if you’re cognizant of the needs and health of your inner paleolithic cave-dwelling hominid, he or she will fight tooth and nail to get you ahead in life.

Yes. Not a bad start.

Jonathan Barrett, the protagonist of my novella Aztec Midnight, is passionate about many things, including his wife, Aztec history, the memory of his father, and the lore of ancient weapons he learned from Robert Horse, the elderly Mescalero Apache who befriended the young Barrett in his native Texas. Barrett is what the ancient Romans venerated, a man who has achieved mens sana in corpore sano — a sound mind in a healthy body.

Yukio Mishima relates his journey toward achieving that ideal in his highly readable Sun and Steel, which you can read at Google docs.

And for a glimpse of what could happen if society staggers too far down the road of a globalized, abstracted world, you can read my flash fiction piece Snake Heart.

Dream Creatures

DreamCreature
Who says Ents aren’t real? All you need is time in the wild and a little imagination:

Italian photographer Elido Turco spent four years between 2004 and 2008 exploring a mirrored photography world that remains invisible to most of us. By taking photographs of tree bark and then mirroring the photographs he captured, he discovered a whole society of “Dream Creatures” were watching him each time he would take a stroll through the mountain paths.

Turco loves walking the mountain paths of his native Friuli with his wife, and for years he would use this time to try and find human forms and faces formed by the bark and roots of the trees in the forest.

Click here for more amazing images.

In Defense of Fantasy

Mystical

Here’s Lev Grossman writing in Time Magazine on the new popularity of fantasy fiction:

It’s interesting to compare the present moment to another one when fantasy was a big deal: the 1950’s, the decade when The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were published, two of the founding classics of modern fantasy. By that time in their lives, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had lived through some massive social and technological transformations. They had witnessed the birth of mechanized warfare – they were both survivors of World War I. They had seen the rise of psychoanalysis and mass media. They watched as horses were replaced by cars and gaslight by electric light. They were born under Queen Victoria, but the world they lived in as adults looked nothing like the one they’d grown up in. They were mourners of a lost world, alienated and disconnected from the present, and to express that mourning they created fantasy worlds, beautiful and green and magical and distant.

God knows, characters in fantasy worlds aren’t always happy: if anything the ambient levels of misery in Westeros are probably significantly higher than those in the real world. But they’re not distracted. They’re not disconnected. The world they live in isn’t alien to them, it’s a reflection of the worlds inside them, and they feel like an intimate part of it.

Modern man inhabits a world that is increasingly alien to him. There is no sense of place, of history, of community. The nobility and purpose of the Fellowship of the Ring, and the family and community spirit that inspire Katniss in The Hunger Games awaken us to the possibility of a life enriched by interconnection and mutual concern. And then there’s that sense of wonder we can recall from childhood, and can feel again in imagined worlds.