Tough Travels: Snarky Sidekicks

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 MENTORS. This month’s topic is:


SNARKY SIDEKICKS.

‘Why is everyone so serious all the time?  Perhaps they need a friend that is there with a quick bit of wit to liven up the day… even if the day is looking to quickly turn to blood.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This was quite a tough topic for me because while I can think of plenty of great sidekicks… I’m not sure I would describe them as ‘snarky’?! However not being one to be defeated, I have had a really good think and here are the ‘snarky’ sidekicks I could think of:

  • Ron Weasley – In J K Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series, Harry’s headstrong and permanently peckish best friend always puts a smile on my face, with a silly quip or with his just plain, outspoken honesty. No sugar-coating from Ron!
  • Rincewind – While this incompetent wizard is a central character in some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, when we first meet him in The Colour of Magic as the reluctant guide to enthusiastic tourist, Twoflower. His sharp, apathetic running commentary is very funny.
  • Ford Prefect – In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Arthur’s eccentric and joyfully nihilistic alien best friend can always be relied upon in the darkest moments to chip in with his very dark and off-beat humour.
  • Bronn – Together Tyrion and his pragmatic sellsword friend, in George R R Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, are perhaps the snarkiest pair ever. In fact they seem to be in competition with each other to be the snarkiest of them all!
  • Tom – Finally how could I forget the smart, witty and fish obsessed talking cat, who is the unexpected companion to loner ‘wandering adventurer’ Jasper in The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney. I want my own Tom!

Do you like my choices? Who are your favourite snarky sidekicks? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: ELVES.

Advertisements

Tough Travels: Mentors

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 MINIONS. This month’s topic is:


MENTORS.

‘A Mentor will be at your service until around halfway through the tour of Fantasyland, when you will unaccountably lose him. Before that he will guide you, tell you what to do in the face of strange customs, and even sometimes instruct you in how to perform minor MAGICS. The Tough Guide suggests that the mentor will be several hundred years old, probably with a long white beard, which will give him the right to be bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive about all-important facts’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is yet another topic that I missed the first time round, so it is great to have another chance to give it a go. In no particular order, here are a few of my favourite fantasy mentors:

Gandalf
The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Several hundred years old with a long white beard: check. Bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive: check. Plus after leading unwary victims off on adventure he always manages to be lost half way through. Gandalf is the quintessential mentor!

**********

Merlin
The Sword in the Stone by T H White

Again, several hundred years old with a long white beard: check. Bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive: check. Merlin is another mentor that fits the classic mould and what would poor, young, hopeless Arthur do without him?!

**********

Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter by J K Rowling

Not several hundred years old, but he certainly has a long white beard and can be bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive. Hogwarts’ beloved head teacher is a classic mentor for the boy wizard Harry.

**********

Jaqen H’ghar
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

This deadly assassin may be several hundred years old and if we ever saw his real face he might have a long white beard, but seeing as he’s a ‘Faceless Man’ we’ll probably never know! However he is a strict, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive mentor to the young Arya Stark.
“A girl has no name!”

**********

Granny Weatherwax
Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Now breaking the mould completely we have the indomitable witch Granny Weatherwax, who I certainly wouldn’t dare to suggest was old or had a beard! This bossy and smug mentor also has little patience or time for tiresomely philosophical or infuriatingly secretive, instead preferring brutal honesty!

**********

Roland Deschain
The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Finally, after breaking the mould we continue with another rebel mentor: Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger. With his designer stubble and cool, charismatic personality, Roland draws Eddie, Susannah and Jake to join his Ka-tet and trains them to survive in his dark, dangerous world.

**********

Do you like my choices? Who are your favourite fantasy mentors? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: SNARKY SIDEKICKS.

Re-Read: The Subtle Knife

This month, I indulged in a comforting re-read of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, the second book in Pullman’s ever popular trilogy: His Dark Materials. (There is a chance of spoilers so if you are unfamiliar with this series I recommend you read my thoughts on the first book: Northern Lights).

After following her father over the bridge he created, Lyra finds herself alone in a new world, where the adults have disappeared; soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels. There she meets Will, a boy on the run from his world, and together they go searching: Lyra for the meaning of Dust and Will for his missing father, but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. From then on their lives, their loves, and their destinies are to become irrevocably intertwined.

Again it was another complete joy to re-immerse myself back into this second magical adventure with the headstrong Lyra and her new ally Will. While I love Lyra she can be a wild, spontaneous and selfish character, so the addition of the practical, kind and selfless Will brings a nice balance. At first they very reluctantly work together as the only strangers in this new, strange world, but they do go on to form a true friendship as they travel between this new world and Will’s world, which is very similar to our own world with no daemons or Magisterium.

However The Magisterium is not completely forgotten as Mrs Coulter has also found a way to travel between worlds and has some new, deadly allies too. For this reason the religious element is smaller and more subtle in this book, although you can see it building again as the angels are flying north to Lord Asriel, who is recruiting from many different worlds a large army to fight ‘The Authority’. There are not only baddies though, Lyra’s friends the witch queen Serafina Pekkala and the aeronaut Lee Scoresby come to her and Will’s aid. Even though this was a re-read, there was a lot of this detail that I’d forgotten – it was lovely to get re-acquainted with it all.

Overall, I loved my re-read of The Subtle Knife and I look forward to finishing the trilogy with The Amber Spyglass soon. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Philip Pullman?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 5/6 (a title with an item/s of cutlery)

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.

**********

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.

**********

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!

**********

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.

**********

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.

**********

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.

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!

**********

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.

**********

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!

**********

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?!

**********

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.

**********

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?