Light The Midsummer Bonfires

It sucks to be a vampire in the northern hemisphere this month.

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, just passed on 20th of June.

But the Nightless Nights continue in Scandinavia, Siberia and Alaska. The sun barely sets at all.

We northern folks know how to take everything out of the rare moments with sun, and booze the living daylights out with abandon.

In Finland Midsummer’s Eve is a national free day (that’s today). Hurray!

As a result, it is one of our main drinking holidays besides May Day and New Year’s Eve.

For some reason Midsummer is also the day of the year with most boating accidents and deaths by drowning.


4 facts about Midsummer

1. In ye olde times bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits. They roamed freely in the world as the sun was turning southwards. Bonfires are still part of the tradition.

2. Christianity relabeled the old pagan holiday as the nativity of John the Baptist. As a result the day is called juhannus in Finnish.
John -> Johannes -> juhannus.

3. In later years Midsummer was supposedly the time when witches flew to a witch sabbat with their brooms to make deals with the Devil. In Sweden the sabbat place was Blåkulla and in Finland it was called Kyöpelinvuori.

4. Some Neopagans and Wiccans call Midsummer Litha. The holiday is named after the Anglo-Saxon months roughly corresponding to June and July (se Ærra Liþa and se Æfterra Liþa, the “early Litha month” and the “later Litha month”). Bonfires are also part of their fire festival.


How about you? Do you celebrate Midsummer in some way? What other summer festivals are there in your region? And does your family and friends have some special summer traditions?

6 Iconic D&D Monsters

Have you ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons?

D&D is a roleplaying game with a rich setting. The first edition of the game was published in 1974.

It has influenced immensely computer games, like World of Warcraft.  Several popular book series are based on D&D worlds.

Most famous series are Tracy Hickman’s and Margaret Weiss’ Dragon Lance books and R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels.

One of the most unique features of the game is its detailed monsters. In this post I’ll introduce 6 iconic creatures.


1. Red Dragons are the archetyphal evil dragons who breathe fire and gather huge hoards of treasure.

A great example of its species is the ancient red wyrm Klauth, the Old Snarl. He is the oldest living dragon in the world of Faerûn.

His immense size is the result of rituals powered by devouring dragon eggs and hatchlings. He views all old dragons as a threat and plots to kill them.

There’s also a dark mischievous side to him. Klauth’s practical jokes include rolling on top of armies, and toppling wizard towers with the inhabitants inside.

Rumours of his huge hoard are spreading. Soon his lair will be the target of greedy adventurers. Archmages might also declare him a major threat, and organize a Great Hunt to slay him.


2. Illithids aka Mindflayers look like humanoids with tentacled heads resembling an octopus. Their delicious diet is brains and they hunt with psionic powers attacking the targets with a mind blast.

Mindflayers reproduce like Aliens and the larvae are implanted into host’s brains.

Illithids live deep underground in vast caverns called the Underdark. These tunnels run under the whole world.

They have constant territory battles with beholders (see below) and dark elves (aka drow).

If an adventurer runs into mindflayers, they risk getting their brains eaten or becoming slaves destined as hosts for young illithids.


3. Beholders are floating monsters with a huge mouth, one big eye in its centre and smaller eyes on stalks.

Their eyes shoot powerful magical effects. The central eye casts an anti-magic zone, and the other eyes gaze out death rays and disintegration attacks.

Like illithids, the Eyes of the Deep live undergound in the Underdark. They have an extremely xenophobic culture that worships an insane goddess, the Great Mother.


4. Lichs are powerful wizards who have turned themselves into undead with powerful necromantic rituals in search of immortality.

They tie their souls into an item of their choice (called phylactery), and can’t be killed until the phylactery is destroyed.

A lich’s body shrivels into a husk until it becomes entirely skeletal.

They can create and command lesser undead creatures like skeletons and zombies.


5. Archdevil Asmodeus is the ruler of the Nine Hells of Baator.

He was once an angel leading an rebellion against the gods. As a punishment, he was banished to Baator and still bears the wounds from his fall.

The wounds seep blood daily, and the drops that touch the ground grow into powerful devils.

These Pit Fiends are mad with rage and the desire to kill. Blood from the Pit Fiends hitting the ground grows into lesser devils.

The devils of Baator are in constant conflict with the demons. Their epic clash is called the Blood War.


6. Demon Prince Orcus rules one of the 666 layers of Abyss.

He is Lord of the Undead, and his symbol is a mace with a human skull as the head.

Orcus has has goat legs and hair and the head of a ram. His great wings stir up a reeking cloud of diseased air and sores plague his body.

He hates undead and living equally, and wishes to wrest control over death from the gods.


And on to you. I’d love to hear about your favourite monsters. What creatures from mythology, books or movies scare you? Do you find some fantasy beings particularly cool?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Interesting Character Occupations

Jobs really matter. Often the first question when you meet someone is: “So, what do you do for living?”


Profession is not the only thing defining us. But when reading a book, the character’s job adds a fascinating extra layer to their personality.
Getting glimpses of the professional side of the hero or heroine makes them more real, and grounds them to the world. This is especially important if you write fantasy or sci-fi in a setting that’s not the Earth.


Work can be a great source of conflict when it clashes with personal values, or there is competition from the colleagues. Bitchy boss was the plight of Anne Hathaway’s assistant character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada.


Boss trouble caused friction also to detective Jack Slater (played by Arnold Scwartzenegger) in Last Action Hero. Jack  got constantly yelled at by his boss for breaking the rules.


Some genres rely on the character’s occupation, like legal thrillers and detective novels that feature P.I.’s or police officers. Interesting work places also work as a back drop for the story, like in Erin Morgenstern’s fantasy novel The Night Circus. Another bonus of the work place is the work mates who make great recurring characters for a series.


One of the masters of showing the character at her work is romantic novelist Nora Roberts. I have read almost 100 of her books and I can recall only a handful of repeated occupations. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons to her immense popularity.


Cool examples of character jobs

Bounty Hunter:
Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s popular heroine, is plunged into the bounty hunting world totally unprepared after losing her old job as a lingerie buyer. A fish out of water element makes the first books of the series really memorable.


Magician/Thief: In Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts Roxanne Nouvelle and her family run a traveling magic show. And as a side business they steal jewelry from the rich. The thieving part isn’t very realistic but the magic tricks revealed are fun. This is one of my favourite Roberts books.


Wedding Planner, Pastry Chef, Wedding Photographer & Florist: There’s just something magical about weddings. I bet that wedding planner or something wedding related is high on many romantic women’s list of dream jobs.

Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet series features four childhood friends running a wedding business. The four books show you a lot of weddings and how they are prepared. Now, this isn’t Nora’s strongest series but even a decent Roberts book is still certain entertainment.


Masochistic Courtesan/Spy: Jacqueline Carey’s Phedre no Delauney is Chosen of angel Kushiel and pain is pleasure to her. In her homeland Terre D’Ange the strongest maxim is: “Love As Thou Wilt”, and courtesan is a respected profession. Phedre is trained as one and uses her bedroom skills and wit to ferret out a conspiracy threatening the throne.


Surgeon/Soldier/Slave/Bridge Carrier/Magician: In Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy novel War of the Kings, Kaladon, a trained surgeon and soldier, becomes a slave and is forced to carry bridges to cover chasms so that armies can pass and fight their enemies. This is highly fatal job as the other side shoots the bridge carriers with arrows. Unwilling to give up, he starts to train and inspire his fellow slaves to better their lives.


Musician/Magician/Swordsman/Kingkiller/Innkeeper: Kvothe in Patrick Rothfuss’ Name Of The Wind is a jack of all trades. His story has two layers, the present when he is an infamous hero hiding as an innkeeper, and the past as his life’s story he’s telling to a chronicler.

In the roleplaying circles Kvothe would be called a god moder or munchkin but Rothfuss’ writing is so good that he avoids becoming a Marty Stu. There are more than enough trials and tribulations in his life to evoke sympathy.


And on to you. What do you think of books that feature the character’s job? Do you find some occupations especially fascinating?

Nazis – The Ultimate Bad Guys

Nazis from Iron Sky movie

Nazis from movie Iron Sky

“… you don’t have to agree with what the Nazis did, but, yes, to be honest about it, they did have the best uniforms.” – Andrew Eldritch

What do Sound of the Music, Inglorious Basterds, Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Schindler’s List have in common? Nazis as antagonists. Nazis have played a role in dozens of movies and novels of varied genres, ranging from war stories and thrillers to comedies.

And for a good reason. As disgusting as they are, Nazis are high concept. They demonised ethnicities and minorities and organised their destruction so well that it would be impossible to believe if it wasn’t history. Add to that the background of the WW2, the Aryan übermench concept, alleged occultic interests (like Hitler’s fixation on the Spear of Destiny), Lebensborn breeding program, doctor Mengele, the escaped SS men, and there’s a wealth of story material.

There’s also the big question of how could something like this happen. How could a small group convince an almost entire nation to adopt their ideology? Why did the people participate in something so awful?

One reason why the movie industry loves Nazis is because they are visually impressive with their pompous uniforms and propaganda. The over the top rhetorics and weird plans (like counterfeiting pounds to crash the British economy) make them perfect comedy material. Charlie Chaplin was the one of first to notice this potential in his movie The Great Dictator (1940). Although when the scale of the Nazi atrocities was revealed, there was an almost 20 year pause before other films dared to make fun of the era.

Chaplin called Nazis “machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts”. This quality makes them easy enemies if the writer wants so. You can treat their indoctrinated attitude and behaviour aa a given. Caricature Nazi antagonists can be devoid of emotions and human weaknesses or anything that the protagonists might relate with. In more recent movies, there have been symphatetic Nazis, like the captain played by Thomas Kretschmann in the Pianist (2002), and Downfall (2004) showed the human side of Hitler.

In Dungeons & Dragons’ alignment terms, Nazis are a great example of a Lawful Evil empire. The opposite would be a Chaotic Evil villain like Joker, Batman’s arch nemesis. Evil organisations are often riddled with cliches like backstabbing, corruption and bad motivation. The management terrorises underlings who in turn terrorise the locals. The people are oppressed and ready to rebel. It’s easy to see their weak spots.

On the other hand, the good guys dress clean, obey the rules, give their all for the greater good and have an effective organisation. The Nazis conquered, killed and robbed across Europe but they did so with German punctuality, high work morale and controlled behaviour. Their most important qualities are those of the good guys, just taken to extremes and without the morality.

Nazis symbolize the potential for darkness in all of us. Humanity has a long history of fearing and oppressing different people and Nazis took it to whole new proportions. That makes them the ultimate bad guys.

What do you think of the popular culture’s depiction of the Nazis? Have you watched movies or read books where they have a role?

Tramp Stamps & Armor Exposing It All

Friday is the fantasy day so this post comes a little late. My apologies. My internet connection was acting up so I couldn’t put the post up until now.

In Wednesday’s mashup I offered some male eyecandy and today we’ll take a brief look at how women are portrayed in recent fantasy and urban fantasy book covers and gaming culture and where the trend begun.

Red Sonja by Maroto Adams

Maroto Adams' Red Sonja

Chainmail bikini babes have been a phenomenon of the fantasy genre since Marvel’s Red Sonja comic in the 70s. A good example of the phenomenon is work of profilic artist Larry Elmore. Many of his 80s and 90s pieces show women in scanty armor and even if most body parts are covered, the boobs are always displayed. Elmore has done illustrations for Dungeons & Dragons roleplayin game a lot of fantasy book covers, including the early Dragonlance novels.

The trend of showing off the curves is still rampant in computer games and many illustrations in roleplaying games. Both being male dominated hobbies likely has a lot to do with the fact. With outrageous armors like these, it’s no wonder that some ladies don’t feel welcome in the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) circles.

While I was playing World of Warcraft, the biggest online game with over 10 million players all over the world, the big difference between the male and female versions of the same armor really annoyed me. Armor’s purpose is to protect, dammit, not display you. And pretty much all the available female avatars were much shorter and daintier than the beefy male avatars of the same fantasy race.

As for current fantasy covers, my biggest issue with many female cover characters is their weird poses. The women are supposed to look strong and menacing with weapons bared but the way they stand sends the opposite message. Jim Hines demonstrates the trend by assuming some of the poses. And here’s Anna at Genre Reviews showing a female version of the same poses and some male poses for contrast.

Also, have you ever heard the term tramp stamp? If you’re an urban fantasy or paranormal romance fan, you are likely very familiar with the ‘back pose, butt display’ trend. Here’s a very illuminative video by Scifi Guy in which he has collected tens of tramp stamp covers together.

The similarities between the covers are staggering. I like to admire female beauty portrayed with taste but with so many urban fantasy covers looking the same, no one stands out anymore. All the flaunting has lost its shock value and could be toned down. It makes simple elegance, like these Holly Black covers, pop out all the more.

Have you noticed the phenomenon? Is it present at other genres than fantasy and urban fantasy? Have you read a book lately that had a cover you loved? And how much does a cover affect which books you pick up? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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