Tough Travels: Beginnings
This is NOT an April Fools’ Day trick. Tough Travelling is back!
At the start of every month, Fantasy-Faction will lead you (yes, YOU!) on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché.
Since these tropes can appear in many guises, we’ve enlisted the help of our friends and travelling companions across the blogosphere. You’ll find links to their own lists at the bottom of this post – along with the chance to submit your own!
But first, for those of you who may be wondering…
WHAT IS TOUGH TRAVELLING?
Back in 2014, Nathan Barnhart created a weekly feature called ‘Tough Travels’, which he hosted over on Fantasy Review Barn. Inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre – it would spotlight a different trope every week, and invite other bloggers to compile their own lists of examples. Despite being put to rest eighty-three (83!) weeks later, ‘Tough Travels’ was widely successful, with over fifty (50!) blogs participating at one time or another.
Ladies, gentlemen and Proudfoots, I’m delighted to announce that some of those bloggers (including Nathan) are here today on Fantasy-Faction to celebrate the exciting inauguration of Tough Travels 2.0! They’ve each contributed an entry to this collaborative list, and you can follow the links below to check out their excellent sites. In fact, I strongly urge you to do so.
Without further ado, our first topic is BEGINNINGS.
The Tough Guide states that you will begin in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
THE HOBBIT (J.R.R. Tolkien)
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
‘An obvious choice perhaps, but as beginnings go this is a winner on many levels. It’s a curious start to a book – how can a hole in the ground mean ‘comfort’? – and it definitely makes you want to read on. It has a bedtime, ‘reading aloud to your children’ feel to it but at the same time feels like a story that you can also enjoy as an adult. And, as this is a new beginning for Tough Travels, I can’t help but think of the parallels. Bilbo is himself about to go on an adventure; this is the ‘beginning’ of the rest of his life. Without it, well, he would have spent a good many years in that little hobbit hole with the round door, no doubt chomping on bread and cheese and drinking wine – but he wouldn’t have seen the elves, he wouldn’t have had to riddle his way out of trouble or rescue a bunch of dwarves from gigantic spiders, he wouldn’t get ride the white water rapid in a barrel – come on, who wouldn’t want these sort of beginnings! Not to mention – a dragon.
Okay, he almost dies . . . but stop thinking of the negatives for God’s sake! There’s a dragon, that talks!’
– Lynn Williams, Lynn’s Book Blog
THE COLOUR OF MAGIC (Terry Pratchett)
‘A small group watch a town on fire. Small wagers are made on what exactly caused an explosion. No one is in danger, there is no desperate escape needed. As beginnings go it isn’t the most exciting but it obviously left an impression on me. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has been my favorite series for so long at times I forget how simple the beginning was. Just two men, chatting about a disaster they are outside of, watching the now infamous Rincewind and Twoflower show up.
The humorous thing is for a great many readers this ISN’T the beginning they read. Because the more common advise is to start somewhere else in this wonderful series. And it is hard to disagree; The Color of Magic is unlike anything else in the series and in reality one could grab any Discworld book and use it as a starting point (I have even come to the conclusion that Night Watch is a perfectly fine first book for a curious reader).
But there is a real starting point to this series. And I am a seemingly rare reader who actually started there. So for me my greatest reading pleasure will always be tied to a city on fire.’
– Nathan, Fantasy Review Barn
THE GUNSLINGER (Stephen King)
‘While there are a lot of great beginnings, there is only one iconic line that I like so much, I wear it proudly emblazoned on a menacing black hoodie. “The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” That, of course, comes from The Gunslinger, the first volume in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower saga. It’s such a simple line, starkly barren of adverbs or adjectives, that reduces 4250 pages to just 12 words. Never mind context, circumstances, or back story – you are told, right from the start, that this is the story of a journey . . . a chase . . . a pursuit. Those who are disappointed in the final book seem to forget that. It’s never about attaining the Dark Tower itself; it’s about finding – and ending – the man in Black.’
– Bob Milne, Beauty in Ruins
DREAMER’S POOL (Juliet Marillier)
‘Not only is Dreamer’s Pool one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time, it also fits this week’s theme to a tee. When the book opens, we are introduced to the series protagonists Blackthorn and Grim, who are apair of prisoners rotting in the dungeon of a wicked and corrupt lord. Poor circumstances? Check! A rather unimportant corner of the continent? Check! Hours before she is to be executed though, Blackthorn is visited by a fey named Conmael, who offers her chance to escape in exchange for her promise to set aside her desire for vengeance on the man who destroyed her life. Our Tour Mentor here might not be your conventional magic user, but I would that say a faerie who can get you out of prison with the snap of his fingers comes close enough. Reluctantly, Blackthorn agrees to Conmael’s deal and makes her way north To Dalriada to start her new life, followed by fellow escapee Grim who later on becomes her most steadfast and loyal companion.’
– Mogsy, The Bibliosanctum
TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI (Bradley P. Beaulieu)
‘Twelve Kings in Sharakhai deserves mention not just because the main character, Çeda, completely fits this month’s theme, but also because the beginning of this book absolutely kicks ass. When I see BEGINNINGS in all-caps, I immediately think of how Çeda’s opening scene in the fighting pits hooked me so completely in just the first few pages. I seriously cannot think of a stronger opening scene, at least not from my reading experience (I know, opinions will vary, but my opinion is this one destroys the competition).
Çeda is a character who kicks-ass not just in the literal fighting pit sense, but also with her strong-willed personality and determination. You can see she is setting her life’s course on to something much grander, that she will become *somebody*, and the joy is in reading her journey to become whoever or whatever that might be.’
– Lisa, Tenacious Reader
And finally, my pick on behalf of Fantasy-Faction is . . .
MAGICIAN (Raymond E. Feist)
Pug is a kitchen menial at Castle Crydee, at the far end of the kingdom. He first stumbles upon his mentor (who just happens to be an elderly magic user with much experience) in an isolated forest cottage after being caught in a storm. Yes, this one ticks all the boxes!
Though Magician is an imperfect novel, the opening – the little boy on the beach, gathering cockles from rock-pools, napping in the sun only to wake up under clouds, running into the storm-struck trees, attacked by a boar, saved by a hunter, taken to a cosy cottage, introduced to Kulgan the Royal Magician, meeting his firedrake companion sleeping beside the fire like a dog – the opening is just perfect, and the mere memory of my first time reading it fills me with delight.
What other memorable beginnings have we missed? What’s your personal favourite? Are there any beginnings that – shock, horror! – ignore the Guide completely? Let us know in the comments!
Next month’s topic will be . . . ASSASSINS.
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).
Why not join us? There’s always room in the adventuring party for one more! Add a link to your own list, or check out the others below!