movies

Zarathustra and Mystery

When it comes to choosing names for fantasy characters, there are examples from history and literature that can be inspirational, or even repurposed. “Zarathustra,” or “Zoroaster” is one of those. Zoroaster was an ancient Persian prophet.

My first exposure to “Zarathustra” was via the score for a famous scifi movie.

I have blogged in the past about the sense of mystery, or mysticism, in fantasy and science fiction. I was introduced to this as a young teenager. When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, my father took me and some of my friends to see it. The story generates all kinds of questions, including who placed a monolith on Earth to influence the evolution of Homo sapiens, and another monolith on the Moon to signal when humans first achieved space travel? What is the meaning of the "star child" at the end of the movie? I’m sure my father left the theater scratching his head and wondering why he had brought us to see this movie. I’m also sure I had some of the same questions, but the difference was I could accept that there are some questions for which there are no good answers. I was comfortable with, even relished, the mystery.

But beyond the mysteries presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I remember being profoundly moved by the movie’s score, and in particular, the opening theme by the composer Richard Strauss, which is the introduction to his tone poem, “Also sprach Zarathustra.” When I learned that Strauss was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous work of the same name (in English, Thus Spoke Zarathustra), I had to read it. This was in the early 1970s, shortly before I started college. It was a time of mysticism and psychedelics and Hermann Hesse and Tolkien and black-light posters of wizards and mountains. In translation, Thus Spake Zarathustra was rendered into “Biblical” English (“thee,” “thou,” etc.), which only added to its mystery.

As it turned out, I don’t think I understood a word of it! But it impressed me, and I went on to read many other mystery-flavored works as I transitioned into college, including those of Hesse and Kahlil Gibran. Feeling nostalgic, and imagining I may decide to reread Nietzsche, I recently added a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra to my library.

Blaspheming "Blade Runner"

There are cult classics when it comes to movies, and there are cult classics. Blade Runner is one. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is another. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, for sure. But why is that?

In my post, “Failed at Faulkner,” I confessed to not understanding the appeal of American novelist William Faulkner. In this post, I confess to not understanding the appeal of Blade Runner.

It took me several attempts over the years, but I persevered and finally succeeded in watching the original Blade Runner movie (in particular, the version designated “The Final Cut”). And for the life of me, I just don’t see why this movie has generated a cult of fans. For those few out there who have not seen Blade Runner, let me simply say that the story concerns a not-too-distant dystopian future in which “replicants” (think, cyborgs, artificial people) come close, through advanced biotechnology, to resembling humans. The replicants pose a danger because they will do anything to claim humanity and blend in with humans. Not surprisingly, the theme of the story concerns what it means to be truly human.

Perhaps I might appreciate Blade Runner more if I took a class in film appreciation. Then maybe I could fathom its impact (good or bad) on viewers and critics. Blade Runner seems to be a movie you have to study to best appreciate it, and I’m not accustomed to studying any movie. I can grudgingly admit the movie’s dystopian setting may have influenced the use of dystopian settings by later movies. That’s about the only positive thing I can say. On the other hand, while we all know a musical score can make or break a movie, unfortunately, the soundtrack by Vangelis felt spotty and didn’t move me.

So what about Blade Runner 2049? In this movie, replicants can procreate, and thereby claim humanity. I found the storyline easier to follow, but at times confusing. Sure, the setting was very familiar: dark, polluted, crowded, consumeristic, dystopian, post-industrial, just as in the first movie. But wouldn’t things have changed more in the thirty years since the time the first movie took place? And the soundtrack, powered by synthesizers, provided a connection back to the original movie. But the movie was too long, and the reappearance of Harrison Ford, who starred in the first movie, did nothing for me.

I’m afraid I won’t be offered membership in the Blade Runner cult. And I probably wouldn’t appreciate membership if I was offered it.

Glaciers, Bogs, and Ancient Ruins in "The Ban of Irsisri"

In less than a week, The Ban of Irsisri will go up on Amazon! The release is set for July 17. The experience of having my book published is sooooo cool. Please mark the date on your calendar and go online to look at it, if not buy it! It will be available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Over the past few weeks, I've shared a number of different inspirations for the landscapes that form various settings in The Ban of Irsisri. Here are three more:

  1. The Cana Glalith is a glacier that appears in the story. Within the ice, someone long ago created a small armory and placed spells on it so only certain people could access it. It turns out that the armory, Icefast Hold, contains more than anyone ever knew. My inspiration for the Cana Glalith came from seeing glaciers like the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.
  2. Not too far from the city of Kophid, a Saerani warrior, Visylon, is trying to find his friend, Enkinor. The trail leads him to a bog, up in the hills, where he is confronted by outlaws, a powerful man-like creature called a krylaan, and a huge monster that comes out of the water to indiscriminately attack everyone. I was inspired to create this setting by the many bogs one can see in upstate New York and the Adirondacks.
  3. The abandoned temple of Qirik was a site of demon-worship sometime before the events taking place in The Ban of Irsisri. The sorcerer Raethir Del must travel to Qirik in order to obtain otherworldly aid in obtaining the Gauntlets, a powerful artifact owned by Enkinor. As I constructed Qirik I was inspired by two different landscapes. One was Angkor Wat in Cambodia and ruins, choked by trees like the strangler fig, appearing in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The other inspiration was the ruins of Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian Mayan city in the Yucatan Peninsula.