fantasy art

Creatures and Illustrations Thereof

Illustrations of creatures, both real and imaginary, have been part of human culture since the dawn of time. From the wall paintings of aurochs, deer, and horses on the walls of the Lascaux caves in France, to the whimsical creatures dreamed up by early explorers and depicted on old maps, capturing the essence of animals has been a fascinating part of human history.

I still have — though it is now tattered and without a cover — a copy of Francis Wardle’s Zoo Book, a gift to me over sixty years ago, before I could even read. I loved browsing through this book as a child, and I probably appreciated it more once my mother started taking us to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. From there, I graduated to the “How and Why Wonder Book” series. Like most kids, I was thrilled by dinosaurs. Even today I have an illustrated book about dinosaurs (Dinosaurs: A Visual Encyclopedia) waiting patiently on my shelf to be read.

Imaginary creatures have been our close companions since childhood. If not the Monster Under the Bed, it was Jess, the imaginary dog my parents let me have (because it made no noise, didn’t have to be fed, and didn’t have to be walked by someone). Authors and illustrators like Dougal Dixon have extrapolated from real creatures of the present to their possible evolutionary descendants of the future (see After Man: A Zoology of the Future, and other books). Illustrator Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials and Guide to Fantasy provide great visuals of creatures we will never meet except between the covers of a book.

But the creepiest book on imaginary creatures I’ve seen in a long time is E. B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black, a reference book by a fictional scientist with “comprehensive illustrations and explanatory texts regarding the musculature and skeletal systems [and] viscera” of “the lesser known species of the animal kingdom.” The anatomical diagrams in this book are presented as one would expect to see in a human or veterinarian anatomy book, showing the skeletal and muscular structure for almost a dozen mythological creatures, including a sphinx, a minotaur, a dragon, and a harpy.

Rock Music and "The Ban of Irsisri"

My recent posts have pointed out real-world inspiration for the exotic landscapes found in my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri (due out July 17!). Much of this inspiration came from the Tennessee countryside, including lakes, waterfalls, caves, and mountains. But some of my inspiration came from album covers for 1970s rock music.

In The Ban of Irsisri there is a chapter where the protagonist, Enkinor, has been transported by the Dreamtunnel to the volcanic island of Tari Nar. When Enkinor wakes up on the shore of this island, the horizon seems unnaturally near. Once he climbs through the jungle to a higher vantage point, he can see that a vast upwelling of water surrounding Tari Nar is actually flowing over the side of a larger crater within which Tari Nar sits. (A geologist might be able to speculate on the geothermal causes of this.) This landscape was inspired by the inside of the cover of an album by Yes, titled "Close to the Edge."

The Ban of Irsisri also presents some rather exotic-looking people and creatures. For example, the real villain in the story is a shape-shifting sorcerer named Raethir Del. Early in the novel, Enkinor witnesses Raethir Del's shape-shifting firsthand when the sorcerer transforms into a fish. Not long after, however, Enkinor is witness to a more spectacular feat of metamorphosis when Raethir Del transforms into something that is part man, part wolf, and part butterfly. This image was inspired by the cover of the album by Uriah Heep, titled "Demons and Wizards."

The artist behind both album covers is the imaginative Roger Dean.

Waterfalls and an Underground Lake: Settings in "The Ban of Irsisri"

Last week I shared how exotic landscapes are said to be a hallmark of epic fantasy, and how the opening scenes of my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri, occur on and along the shores of a large lake surrounded by forested hills that was based in part on Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee.

The Ban of Irsisri, scheduled to be published next month, was originally self-published under the title The Dreamtunnel Sequence. Readers may recall the cover of that first "edition" depicted a very high waterfall. (See the Amazon page for The Dreamtunnel Sequence to see this cover.) The artwork on the cover is a watercolor, titled "The Challenge," by an artist named Richard Akerman. I purchased a print of this many years ago. I was always struck by Akerman's use of shades and tints of blue to show depth, the way he gave movement to the art through his depiction of mist at the bottom of the falls, and the way he included riders leading horses at the bottom of the falls to give the falls scale.

This watercolor was the inspiration behind the Falls of Mist on the Esolasha River in my story. The tower Tura Iaphon stands in a hidden grotto near the falls, and the Rivertree, a gigantic red cedar, straddles the Esolasha River upstream from the falls. In my novel, Visylon, a Saerani warrior, must retrieve a prophetic document from its hiding place within the Rivertree. To do this, he must successfully paddle down the rushing waters of the Esolasha and enter the base of the Rivertree without being swept over the falls.

Early in the novel, Enkinor, another main character, is racing ahead of a forest fire. He reaches a very tall bluff, next to a different waterfall, and has no choice but to do some non-technical rock-climbing to reach the bottom. That waterfall was inspired by a real-life waterfall, Fall Creek Falls near the town of Spencer in Middle Tennessee. Fall Creek Falls is the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi. Enkinor finds a cave and an underground lake behind the base of the waterfall. This underground lake was inspired by a lake in Sweetwater, Tennessee, called The Lost Sea. The Lost Sea is the largest non-subglacial underground lake in the US and the second-largest in the world.


I Can't Fight a Girl Wearing Skimpy Chainmail

Sword Song, Volume One: Sisterhood of SteelSword Song, Volume One: Sisterhood of Steel by SQP
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much has been written about the silliness, as it were, of dressing up beautiful fantasy women in tiny little armor and putting a weapon in their hands, as if that were all it takes to create a warrior. Invariably fantasy art of this type stresses sex and violence, not military practicality. Generally these women are voluptuous, not athletic; their armor is decorative, not functional; and most of them wouldn't have the strength to lift a weapon of the size shown. And, let us not forget, it is always important to have one's hair styled and make-up on before going out to slay a badass demon.

All that being said, I confess to being drawn to this art, particularly when it's by Frank Frazetta or a similar-style illustrator. None of the artists in this slim volume were known to me. Unfortunately, many of the illustrations do not clearly show the artist's name, and there is no list showing which artist goes with what picture. Among my favorites are the ones by Arantza, especially "Raven's War." Arantza's soft tones add an air of mystery to his subjects. And I can't end this review without mentioning the illustration on the back cover by David Dunstan, which immediately reminded me of the classic "Little Annie Fanny" comics.

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