And now we go 180 degrees from Ulff to fantasy author Molly Ringle. Talk about contrast!
A few weeks ago I posted about a topic I was pondering: namely, the more I read of currently popular fantasy, the more I see a huge focus on weaponry and fighting and the protagonists being (or becoming) martial arts geniuses. I stick with these books if, as in The Hunger Games, they're written really well and the plot and characters are compelling. But I've got to admit that violence and weaponry and action scenes are not my favorite things. They're never the parts I re-read for pleasure (that would be the love declarations, or some particularly amusing exchanges or incidents, or passages of beautiful writing describing something magical). I don't particularly like writing fighting-and-weapons scenes either, though sometimes I have to, given the way I've set things up. So lately I’ve been musing about how to set up a fantasy book so I can spend as little time as possible in violent weapon-related scenes and still create a really good read.
I think this is what appeals to me about the Harry Potter world, and stories like Howl's Moving Castle: we get a lot of time to hang out in the magic world and enjoy it, and when there's fighting, it's almost solely with spells and with using one's brain. When Hermione actually uses her fist to hit Draco, it's all the more startling and satisfying because of the usually non-violent mood.
I should add that surely a lot of the issue is that I personally am no good at weaponry or martial arts. I took fencing one time in college and was the absolute worst in the class at it. I lately have learned a little bit of tai chi, which I guess technically is a martial art, but the movements go so slow that I wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone with it unless I accidentally poked them in the eye while sweeping my arms about.
Still, I understand the benefits of including mortal peril in a story. Practically every novel needs to have it in the climax at least, and all of my books do, though it rarely involves wielding a weapon. In my paranormal/fantasy stories, it usually comes down to creative use of magic, sometimes to defeat the thugs who brought conventional weapons. Wishful thinking, I know.
But it’s worth mentioning that one of my favorite book (and movie) series of all time, and one of the fandoms that has sucked me in the deepest, is The Lord of the Rings, which is hardly free of swords, arrows, axes, and epic battles. So why do I adore it despite the lavish attention to gleaming armor? Well, for one thing, Tolkien writes really beautifully. But for another, as in the above-mentioned case of Harry Potter, we get quite a lot of non-battle time in which the characters are wandering wonderstruck (or fear-struck) through amazing settings, and having endearing conversations, and we as readers get to soak up the atmosphere and just hang out in Rivendell or Moria or the wastes of Mordor.
Also, some of the most important feats in Tolkien aren’t pulled off by armies, but by very non-martial hobbits. We have not only Frodo and Sam creeping their way up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, but Bilbo too, back in the day, sneaking around to outsmart Smaug and Gollum. And then—ah ha—it is once again all the more powerful when our peaceful Samwise picks up Sting and manages to drive off the scariest and biggest spider ever with it. It’s equally powerful when Merry and Pippin volunteer as soldiers, a role that puts them completely out of their depth and makes us fear instantly for their survival. So having characters not be in their element in fight situations can result in some of their most memorable scenes.
The flip side applies too: it’s intriguing when a competent fighter is put into a situation where fighting won’t help. (Lord of the Rings uses this too. Sure, those tough Haradrim and Corsairs can bash their way through anything, but can they bash an army of ghosts? Nope. Ha.) In short, the scholarly Tolkien knew that while it’s fabulously useful to have brute force and weaponry on your side, it’s equally important to be smart, humble, creative, and/or caring, even if you’re hopeless with a sword.
My latest book, The Goblins of Bellwater, has a setup in which there’s not much use trying to fight the goblins, who are immortal shape-shifters. The only way to defeat them is magic, via specific and bizarre rules set by other fae. “They better give you one hell of a magic sword to take with you,” says one of my characters to another. And she answers, much as I myself might, “I’m hoping it’s more like a magic shovel. I don’t know how to use a sword.”
May your adventures be fruitful, whether your strengths lie in the blade or the book, or somewhere in between!
Molly's latest is out today, The Goblins of Bellwater!