Writing Sparks #3 – Raymond E. Feist and The Riftwar Saga

Here is the third entry in the #WritingSparks series, answering the question “What authors and books sparked you into becoming a writer, or most influenced how you craft stories?”. Part one was an easy choice because Narnia… what more need be said? Part two was a surprise to me (even though I wrote it). Instead of the low-hanging fruit and comfortable security of Tolkien, I ran headlong into Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series. #WritingSparks part three is still stoically non-Hobbit related, for reasons I will say more about later in this series.

Early in my high school career I stumbled upon a book called “Magician: Apprentice” and fell in love. I will admit that I found the beginning underwhelming and perhaps a bit predictable. Then the story took several stunning turns and introduced concepts that I had no idea were even *allowed* in fantasy. I was genuinely stunned and positively tickled. Which is to say, I was SPARKED. Where Eddings has had a huge influence on my writing voice, Feist had an epic impact on my view of just how epic fantasy worldbuilding can become.

Here is #WritingSparks part 3!

1) Author: Raymond E. Feist.

2) Books:  The Riftware Saga: Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master, Silverthorn, and A Darkness at Sethanon.

3) Thoughts:

So fantasy authors are allowed to break the rules??? Who ever heard of such a thing! Here I am, happily working my way through a traditional D&D-like fantasy novel about a young orphan named Pug (what a name, right?) who discovers he’s destined to be a magician, then all of the sudden I run smack into what feels like a science fiction novel! Portals to another world? An invading army from said other world? Wait… our protagonist Pug is GOING from his home world Midkemia to another planet entirely via one of these portals?!?!

Never had I ever raced back to the bookstore so quickly as when I finished ‘Apprentice’ and needed ‘Master’. The tremendous scope of Feist’s worldbuilding continued to amaze me in the sequel as Pug took a Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors-like path from slavery to being a Black Robed “Great One” magician in the world of Kelewan. And all the while the REAL story, the true arc behind all of the individual character arcs, began to take shape. The amazing things that happened to Pug (Milamber in the sequel, quite the name upgrade!) were a peek through a barely open door when compared to the vast events occurring between these two worlds over the ages. The way Tomas’ adventures and eventual assumption of the Dragon Lord mantle interrelated with Milamber’s journey was oh-so-satisfying. Before you know it, a whole new story arc begins with Silverthorn and Sethanon, bringing us the mysterious awesomeness of Macros and even more details about the history of the Riftwar Saga’s many worlds.

4) Feelings:

Here’s where things get interesting. I read these books right around the time I thought “maybe I’ll be a writer someday”. But as I’ve said before, many of the other fantasy series I’d enjoyed (I’m looking at you, Narnia and Middle Earth) left me feeling like I might not ever succeed. They were not only too incredibly good, they also weren’t really my style. And for some reason I thought that meant I would never be successful.

Eddings’ wonderful work did a lot to help me. The Belgariad gave me a sense of hope that maybe I could write something half-decent one day. But then I read Feist. And for several reasons it was like a breath of fresh air cleansing my (future) writer’s mind. You see – and I am REALLY not bad-mouthing Mr. Feist here because I love the man – the first thing that struck me about “Magician: Apprentice” was its flaws. It wasn’t perfect. I don’t know if there were editing issues or other problems, but I’ll never forget seeing mistakes in the text. And to be honest, I never really loved Pug as a character. In the second book when he became Milamber, I was in awe of his power and of the journey he’d survived and of the sorcerer he was becoming… but I didn’t love him as a character. I liked Tomas a lot more. I also really liked Arutha, the prince whose story came to the forefront in the 3rd and 4th books of the saga. But in general I was not in love with the characters.

The end result of these “problems” with the book and with my relationship with the characters was the opposite of what one might think. I was SO encouraged! I thought, “this is a fantastic book series, and it has flaws!” Apparently it was possible to be a successful author while not producing stories that were absolutely perfect in every regard. You can see how high was the mental hurdle ahead of me. My feelings were of pure discouragement when I would read great things. I have no doubt that this is part of the reason why it took me twenty years to begin writing.

If this feeling resonates with you, please know that it is NOT true. Every writer starts off at pretty much the same place, with a lot to learn and with amazing potential. The key is to start writing! And begin your own learning path as an author.

5) Sparks:

The universe within which “The Proving” young adult trilogy and “The Magic Stones” middle grade collection exists owes a lot to Feist’s Riftwar Saga. The sense of being unfettered, of being able to do exactly what I want with my worldbuilding, is evident in my writing. But just like the Riftwar books, it doesn’t smack you in the face. The varied nature Pasaron’s one-hundred-and-eleven lands is slowly revealed over the course of many stories. If you spend time in a foreign country, you typically focus on the immediate as you negotiate each day. But as time passes, more and more history and background is revealed *through* your daily experiences. Pasaron, like Feist’s Midkemia and Kelewan, are much the same; they are revealed through the characters’ stories, instead of having the stories revealed while focusing on the worlds.

But wait, there’s more! I am to this day absolutely sparked by the way Feist writes BIG scenes. His knack for capturing the truly epic in flowing, well-paced, understandable ways has powerfully shaped how I attempt to do the same. I vividly remember when Pug faced his trials to gain the Black Robe, perched high atop a tower on Kelewan during an otherworldly storm. I probably re-read those passages a dozen times during my first read! So amazing. And in the same book (Magician: Master) the newly-minted Milamber snaps and brings utter devastation to the coliseum during horrific gladiator matches. Feist’s incredible sense of setting and timing, blending just the right amount of action with powerful descriptions, is to me the model for writing epic scenes. In a word, I find Feist’s writing to be cinematic; ready from word one to jump off the page and on to the big screen. Oh, if only these books had been written in today’s world of modern computer effects… what a joy Milamber, Tomas, Arutha, and company would have been in the theater!

Thanks for reading!

~Kevin

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