Each Life Is a Story

Following up from last week’s post, here is the final painting for the heroes from When Dragons Die sharing hearth together.

The Hearth of Heroes-FBTolkien makes a big deal about how friends and companions are important to the heroes success. None of them can get through it on their own. And while there’s a big deal placed on ancestors, and lineages, it seems to be somewhat lacking in the concept of the importance of family. Family is something that happens back home, not out on the quest.

This is probably influenced from his time at war, and that’s largely true in modern war. When you deploy, you leave your family safely back home (except those families which have both spouses actively serving). But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges life throws at you to be faced that affects the whole family. Other stories capture this a bit more, whether movies like Braveheart or books like A Song of Ice and Fire (the books from which the Game of Thrones TV series is based).

One of the things I wanted to capture in When Dragons Die is that if the world is in crisis, it’s a family affair. The heroes don’t get to neatly compartmentalize the challenge at hand from the safety, and involvement, of their loved ones. As they go through the world’s transition between ages, trying to win peace, freedom and safety from the last age’s ashes, they have to do so with their loved ones, and their children. The trilogy spans 20 years, and they see the consequences of their actions affect, and sometimes threaten, their children. They have to face danger with family beside them, and sometimes wrestle with the choice to face the world’s problems or turn their back on the world to focus instead on their family’s safety. And, they have to recognize when that’s a false choice.

When Dragons Die has several themes woven throughout. I’ve written before about the importance of reason, and the dichotomy of reason vs. faith. But, another central theme of the book is that life is precious, and life is important. There is sex in the books, but unlike much of our modern media today, sex is not just joy, love, or pleasure; sex is also procreation, fertility, and life. As a druid, Aradma’s character stand for life (even as she stands for reason). Although one of her philosophical twists that sets her apart from the stereotypical eco-druid found modern fantasy is the concept that nature=truth, and that nature/truth is objective, this is not a concept she adopts to the exclusion of a traditional love of life. She’s fertile. She gives birth. She raises her daughters and protects them, sometimes to a fault.

In the picture above, Aradma’s three daughters are shown. In each book of the trilogy, per the series’ namesake, a Dragon dies. But, where there is death, in each book there is new life. Fernwalker sits on the left of the scene, playing dice with Cory Piper. By the series’ end, she’s come into her own as an adult and plays one of the essential roles in saving the world. To the far right at the hearth we see Naiadne, still a pre-teen, and not yet mentally healed from the events in the books. Thus she’s sitting alone, not responding to Eszhira’s invitation to join them at the table. And in the center, we have baby Meara, less than a year old, placing this scene after the end of the final chapter.

The other theme shown here, in addition to life and the continuation of new life, is that every life is precious. Each life is its own story, and although they interweave in this scene at the dinner table, they all have traveled through vastly different paths. I won’t go into each of them here, but to point out some of the supporting characters: the troll Oriand, pouring wine, a character fully introduced in the second book, makes perhaps the largest transformation in the series as she goes from a fundamentalist to a downright atheist (in the fantasy context, the gods are real but she rejects all of them). Attaris, the dwarf in the middle, who first found Aradma when she fell to the world, has lost his wife, his god, but nevertheless holds fast to his faith. Keira, the wolven woman sitting at the table’s front with the turkey leg in her hand, started as a child, a relatively minor character in book 1, and become more important as the series progressed. She deals first-hand with the fact that love and destiny can be messy, and aren’t always in agreement.

And yet at the end of things, they all come together to share hearth together. They’ve had their differences, their arguments, and sometimes outright animosity between them. Not all the characters agreed with the final actions and choices of the series. But they’re still family.

Until next week, and Happy New Year! May this year’s story enrich and bless all of you.

Turnings and Year’s End

The Yuletide season, Winter’s birth, and the turning to a New Year… a great time for fantasy. I’m not sure exactly why, but I tend to gravitate towards sci-fi more in the summer, and once autumn rolls around I want to break out the d20s, get some graph paper, and immerse myself in stories of magic, dragons, and lost underground ruins. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by the movie industry.

Or maybe it’s because fantasy, in some ways, is more relatable. Science Fiction builds upon what might be, or what could be in the future. It looks ahead to what has not yet come to pass, and fills us with the expanse of possibility. Fantasy looks back on to what we believe might have been. It’s the link to mythology, and for some of us, to the religious. Whether we currently believe any mythologies varies from person to person, but it’s no fiction that our society, our civilization, our culture has been built on mythological and religious roots. Greek gods, celtic and Roman holidays, and Judeo-Christian beliefs and doctrine shaped Western Civilization and held influence even after the Enlightenment.

Because of that, fantasy offers a medium which can hit home to us. In the dark of the night, and the dark months of the year, we’re confronted by the mysterious. It’s cold outside, and we huddle for warmth together, and we create magic. The lure of fairy tales and old stories comes to light, even as we meet as families and share old memories together, or stories about generations past.

There’s a bond to be found in hearth and home, and there’s a kind of magic in shared blood, and shared experiences. Some people have traditional families; others choose their own through life circumstance or choice. The warmth of kith and kin, of hearth and home, is what we celebrate as year’s end while we take stock in what has passed and kindle hope for the future.

I’ve talked in the past about moments of warmth away from home in my Boy Scouts article, and the importance of personal happy endings for characters in epic fantasy, which are both related to this ongoing contemplation of hearth and home.

As Christmas drew near, my wife and I set up our tree for the two of us, knowing that this year, circumstance kept us from sharing the holidays with friends and family away from home. At the same time, I’d recently completed my first fantasy trilogy, When Dragons Die, and I thought about what a holiday meal might look like with the heroines and heroes from the series. I took out my new copy of Manga Studio 5 and went to work with pen and tablet.  It’s not complete yet, but I thought I’d share the sketch and some of the detail work as it stands now.

WDD Hero Hearth Drawing 4


Some of the details in progress: Aradma, Meara, and Attaris:

WDD Hero Hearth Painting Day 4


Odoune and Suleima:



And Tiberan (in progress):

WDD Hero Hearth Painting Day 6

I’ll post the final image when complete.

To all my readers, where ever you may be, I wanted to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, or however you celebrate sharing hearth together in these moments in between the bustle of the years’ work.