Tough Travels: Minions

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed DRAGONS. This month’s topic is:


MINIONS

‘Minions of the DARK LORD can be male or female, though he tends to favour males (who seem to be more susceptible to the Evil One’s wiles). They can take many forms: BAD KINGS, ENCHANTRESSES, HIGH PRIESTS, EUNUCHS, DUKES, REGENTS or WITCHES. Additionally, there are the non-human minions, such as ORCS, TROLLS, GOBLINS and random OTHER PEOPLES . . . not to mention MUTANT NASTIES, carefully selected MONSTERS, UNDEAD, and DEMONS.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


Gríma Wormtongue
Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Gríma is the simpering, wily and silver-tongued minion of the wizard Saruman, who drip, drips poisonous words into the ear of King Théoden of Rohan.

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Mr Smee
Peter Pan by J M Barrie

Smee is the simple, oddly genial bo’sun on the Jolly Roger – often portrayed as a portly man who comically scuttles round after the fearsome Captain Hook.

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Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail
Harry Potter by J K Rowling

The snivelling betrayer of Lily and James Potter is one of the first of the Dark Lord’s minions to crawl back and help him return – appropriately his Animagus form is a rat!

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The Witch’s Dwarf
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis

This unnamed dwarf is a traitor to his own people, who does the bidding of the White Witch with a ‘wicked grin’ upon his face.

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Renfield
Dracula by Bram Stoker

Renfield is an inmate at Dr Seward’s lunatic asylum, who becomes a thrall to the powerful Count Dracula and eats insects to try to imitate his master.

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Like my choices? What minions can you think? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: Mentors.

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Re-Read: Northern Lights

Back in July, I re-read Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, after deciding this would be the year I would finally re-read Pullman’s ever popular trilogy: His Dark Materials. Scarily I believe it has to be more than ten years since I first read this wonderful series!

Among the scholars of Oxford’s Jordan College, the young orphan Lyra Belacqua has grown up wild and spirited. With her daemon Pan and best friend Roger, Lyra explores Jordan’s ancient buildings, scampers across the roofs, battles Gyptian kids and generally causes havoc around town; while all the time dodging lessons and wash time! However Lyra’s small world is to be blown apart by the imprisonment of her enigmatic Uncle Asriel, the kidnap of Roger by the feared “Gobblers” and the arrival of the beautiful Mrs Coulter. To rescue her uncle and friend, Lyra sets forth for the dangerous far North, with a rare truth-telling instrument, an alethiometer, as her guide.

It was a sheer joy to re-immerse myself back into this magical adventure with the headstrong Lyra; who is much braver than I would have been at her age! While at first this world may seem very similar to our own there are some significant differences. The most significant being that each human is joined with a sentient spirit, known as a daemon, which takes the form of an animal. As Lyra is still a child her daemon Pan can change form – at different times offering comfort as a snow ermine, lookout as a brown moth and protection as a wildcat. Also as we journey north, more fantastical elements emerge, including: witches and panserbjørne (armoured bears)!

The over-arching baddie to the piece is not a singular person but instead an institution: The Magisterium (more commonly known as ‘the Church’). The Magisterium is a zealously religious institution that wields immense power and influence over the land. Who can and will move swiftly to squash any person or idea that they deem to be heretical. This is the element of these books that shows Pullman’s Atheist views. I am a Christian but thankfully in this first instalment, I don’t find Pullman’s views in any way offensive or too overbearing. In fact, I can slightly sympathise with the negativity against an organised religion which is more interested in human-made rules rather than God.

Having now refreshed my memory with this re-read, the weaknesses of the 2007 film adaptation, The Golden Compass, are now more apparent to me. Which is a shame because after I got over my annoyance that they changed the title (it’s not a compass!!) I actually rather enjoyed the film. I thought it beautifully visualised the world and creatures, with great casting of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra and Ian McKellan as the voice of Iorek Byrnison. Sadly though I was disappointed by the ending and now I can see even more clearly how the mystifying decision to stop a chapter short of the book’s ending took so much of the surprise, drama and power out of it. Such a shame.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Northern Lights and I look forward to re-reading the rest of the trilogy. Next up: The Subtle Knife. Great read.

Have you read this? Or watched the film adaptation?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 8/10

Tough Travels: Dragons

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed STRONGHOLDS. This month’s topic is:


DRAGONS

‘The Tough Guide advises that Dragons are ‘very large scaly beings with wings and long spiky tails, capable of breathing fire through their mouths. They can be almost any colour or combination of colours, though green, red and black are preferred. They are always very old. Most of them seem to have flown to Fantasyland aeons ago across the void. This migration was almost certainly to get away from our world, where people would insist that they were dangerous monsters that had to be exterminated. Dragons, as all Fantasyland knows, are no such thing.’ Or are they?’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round and as I love dragons it is great to have a chance to have a go at it. Here are a few of my fire-breathing favourites:

Smaug
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

First, we have the “greedy, strong and wicked wyrm” Smaug, who chased the dwarves of Erebor from their home. Smaug curled up on a bed of treasure and bones is the image of the quintessential evil dragon!

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Saphira
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

In contrast to Smaug, we have the beautiful last female dragon in Alagaësia, Saphira, who unexpectantly hatches for a young farm boy named Eragon. Together they will fight to overthrow evil and bring peace to the land.

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Norbert
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling

Hagrid is thrilled when he finally gets a dragon: the small, cute and lovable Norbert, however as Norbert is a Norwegian Ridgeback he will neither stay small, cute or lovable for very long!

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Drogon
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

No current list would be complete without Drogon, the largest most powerful dragon of Daenerys’ fearsome brood. While he might help her fight the good fight, he is also known to flame sheep and small children…well dragons will be dragons, right?!

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Firedrake
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Finally, we have the young silver dragon Firedrake, who, when his home and fellow dragons are threatened by thoughtless human actions, sets off with young Ben to find the mythical dragon homeland: the Rim of Heaven.

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Who are your favourite dragons? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: Minions.

Re-Read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [Audiobook]

If you have read this blog before, then there is a good chance you may have noticed my love for J K Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series. What you might not have known before was my huge childhood love of audiobooks. In particular, I have very fond memories of being tucked into bed and listening to my audio cassette of The Adventures of Portland Bill … so many times I’m surprised I didn’t wear it out! I’ve renewed this love as an adult by re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone via the audiobook narrated by the much-loved Stephen Fry.

For those who don’t know, the Philosopher’s Stone is the first book in the series, where we first meet Harry Potter with his famous lightning scar. At the time, poor Harry is leading a miserable life of neglect in the home of his cold Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, and his spoilt cousin, Dudley. But everything is to change by the arrival of an unexpected letter confirming his admission to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this hidden wizarding world, Harry is no obscure, unloved orphan but the famous survivor of the dark wizard: ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named! So in confusion and excitement, Harry embarks upon his first year at Hogwarts, where he will discover acceptance, friendship, answers, magic, danger and adventure.

Sadly it has been years since I read any of this series and while I have enjoyed many watches of the films, it was great to rediscover all those wonderful extra details. I’d also forgotten just how funny and lighter the earlier books are too. What I have always loved most about this series is the whole host of colourful and memorable characters and creatures that Rowling has created – all of whom I thought were brought to life beautifully by Stephen Fry, who cleverly uses only subtle changes in tone, pace, pitch and accent to give each character their own distinct voice.

Overall, I found listening to the audiobook Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read brilliantly by Stephen Fry, extremely comforting and fun.  I usually listened to this while doing my ironing and it was so good, it made me almost want to find more ironing to do! Next I am looking forward to starting the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets audiobook. Great read.

Are you a fan of Harry Potter? Have you tried any of the audiobooks?

New Read: The Lioness and the Spellspinners

Earlier this year, I read The People the Fairies Forget by Cheryl Mahoney, the third charming, fairy tale re-imagining I have enjoyed from Cheryl’s Beyond the Tales series. Luckily for me, I already had the fourth book and prequel to the series, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, lined up to read. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series, never fear, I don’t think these books necessarily need to be read in order).

This book takes us back to Marilegh (before the famous dancing princes curse) which is a kingdom made up of many islands. On one of the smallest, remotest islands lives young Forrest and his family, who enjoy a quiet, peaceful life of farming intertwined with the family tradition of magical spellspinning. However Forrest’s safe world is to be dramatically turned upside down by the arrival of a more unpredictable and dangerous form of magic, that also coincides with him unceremoniously finding Karina, a prickly, knife-wielding girl, sleeping-rough in his family’s barn one morning.

Stuck on the island, Karina is taken in by Forrest’s kindly, indomitable mother, no questions asked, but after growing up as an orphan on the tough streets of the capital, she finds it hard to trust this strangely hospitable and trusting family. And when they claim they can knit spells of protection, luck and health into their garments, that really doesn’t help either. From her dark past she knows magic exists, but magical knitting that’s just ridiculous … right?! This scoffing at their family tradition raises the hackles of the protective Forrest, who initially eyes this newcomer with suspicion yet, like the rest of his family, he is willing to give her a chance.

However when the chickens start laying golden eggs; the horse starts talking in rhyming couplets and Forrest’s parents are suddenly called away, Forrest and Karina will crucially need to get over their misgivings and work together to figure out the cause of this series of fantastical and inexplicable magic before it can become something more dangerous. So unravels a new tale of magic, friendship, danger, theft and betrayal – all of which is brought to life beautifully by Cheryl with some great description, imagination and humour. Also, for those who have read the other books in the series, there are subtle, clever nods to characters and adventures that are to come, with an amusing cameo from a younger incarnation of a certain ‘Good Fairy’; sparkles and all!

Overall, I thought The Lioness and the Spellspinners was another well written, witty and thrilling adventure, that still gently pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale tropes. Both refreshing and comforting to read. Now, I need to wait (not so) patiently for Cheryl to write another book. Great read.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Cheryl Mahoney?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 7/10

Tough Travels: Strongholds

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed ADEPTS. This month’s topic is:


STRONGHOLDS.

‘The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example,  you might be looking for CASTLES, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’. Or perhaps TOWERS, which ‘stand alone in WASTE AREAS and almost always belong to wizards.’ Towers are often ‘several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry SPELL, often backed up by a guardian DEMON.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round, therefore it is great to have another chance to have a go at it. It was a lot of fun but also quite hard to narrow this list down, because what self-respecting fantasy book/series doesn’t have a well fortified stronghold … or two?! However here are a few of my favourites (as I said this is by no means an exhaustive list – in some cases I have had to limit myself to just one choice per book/series):

Minas Tirith
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

From Tolkien’s expansive Middle-Earth,  I have had to limit myself to just one and that one is Minas Tirith: the heavily fortified capital city of Gondor. Constructed up the side of a large, steep hill on seven levels, each level 100ft higher than the one before, and all levels have thick, white walls and gates that face in different directions. Which makes this place pretty darn impregnable!

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The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The elusive Dark Tower is the longed for end goal for Roland Deschain of Gilead, the last gunslinger, and his ka-tet. Its best defence is how almost impossible it is to find! Then if you do find it; survive the powerful magic surrounding it and manage to climb to the very top, there is a cruel twist waiting for you.

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The Eyrie
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

From Martin’s equally expansive Westeros, I have also had to limit myself to just one and that one is The Eyrie: the principle stronghold of House Arryn. While other strongholds could boast of equally strong fortifications, none could best its situation – built literally straddling the top of a mountain peak, meaning a treacherous climb for any would-be-attackers before the fighting even begins.

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Hogwarts
Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

A school is not an obvious choice for a stronghold, however we are told there is no places safer than Hogwarts and Gringotts (the wizarding bank). And with strong walls; surrounding lake; stone guardians and powerful protecting enchantments it makes for a formidable stronghold against the dark lord, Voldermort and his Death Eaters in the final showdown.

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What fictional strongholds can you think of? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: DRAGONS!

New Read: Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow

After devouring Volume 1, last year, and Volume 2, earlier this year, I was very keen to get my hands on this: the third and final volume in Colleen Oakes’ young adult Wendy Darling series, inspired by J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Wendy Darling, Volume 1: Stars).

At the beginning of this series, Wendy and her brothers were whisked away by the wild, magical Peter Pan to Neverland; a fantastical land of turquoise seas, glimmering beaches, mermaids, pirates and freedom. However, Wendy soon discovered all was not as it seemed and she was forced to take shelter with the dreaded Captain Hook. Together they have hatched a dangerous plan to bring down the blood-crazed Peter for good, but it will involve Wendy returning to Pan Island and the clutches of Peter. The fate of her brothers, her beloved Booth and the whole of Neverland is in her hands.

It was wonderful to see this interesting re-imagining from the point-of-view of Wendy, and she was again joined by a host of colourful characters, including: the adorable Michael; the thoroughly dislikeable John; the big-hearted Smith (Smee!) and, my personal favourite, the infamous Captain Hook. While I haven’t always ‘liked’ Colleen Oakes’ re-imagined characters I do think they are realistic and much better fleshed out than in J M Barrie’s original tale. I also loved being able to delve deeper into the settings too, which Oakes’ brought vividly to life through her beautiful descriptions.

Sadly I did have a small issue with some of the language used in this final instalment – considering the main protagonists are meant to be from Edwardian London. There was the more harmless use of the Americanised ‘toy store’ instead of toy shop, but then there was the far more dubious use of ‘f*nny’ … Now, I believe in America this is slang for ‘ass’ or ‘bottom’. Here in the UK though, it means a much more intimate part of a lady! Fortunately, Oakes weaved such a wonderful tale of adventure, danger, magic and love with so many twists and turns, that the small slips in language didn’t majorly affect my overall enjoyment. Plus what an ending – I didn’t see that coming!

Overall, I thought Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow was another enjoyable fantasy adventure and a satisfying end to this interesting re-imagining of Peter Pan. Previously I have read and loved another of Colleen Oakes’ series, Queen of Hearts, and I really, really hope the final instalment of this comes out soon! Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other books inspired by Peter Pan?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 5/10

(Coincidentally, Wendy Darling, Volume 1 was also my 5th read for last year’s 10 Books of Summer!)