Friday, November 26, 2010

Obscure Fantasy: Urshurak

Look at this picture.

Who is the young man chained to the tree? What does the scary gargoyle-warrior plan on doing to him? What brought them both into this situation? Is the boy unconscious? Sleeping? Waiting his chance to escape? Where are they?

As a boy, I had a pack of Brothers Hildebrandt trading cards. There were several images from their Tolkien calendars, and some science fiction work, and images like this one, from a concept called Urshurak. The lush paintings, with character and place names to accompany them, let my imagination go wild as I filled in the gaps. Images from Urshurak found their way into my own stories. This is all to say that, often, the wonderful thing about fantasy illustration is not knowing the source.

I personally feel that, in the age of copyright, illustrators are the new storytellers. Long gone are the days when some neanderthal came up with the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and subsequent generations of bards put their own spin on it. You can't retell a Tolkien story. Christopher Tolkien is free to publish every grocery list his dad made, but eventually he'll run out of stuff that JRR wrote. So how do you keep the stories fresh? How do you put a spin on stories that can't be retold? That's where Alan Lee comes in. John Howe. The Brothers Hildebrandt. Every new picture offers a new way of seeing the tale.

The late Tim and Greg Hildebrandt came to prominence in the '70s for their LOTR illustrations, and for designing the first (and best) Star Wars poster. They are among the greats. I came to know their photorealistic style through a series of abridged classics they illustrated. I literally mistook their amazing paintings for photographs. It had something to do with the detail on the faces, but also their masterful skill at light and shading. In the late '70s, they began conceiving the world of Urshurak. They envisioned it as a movie, and took two years off from illustrating to shop it around Hollywood. Sadly, this didn't come to pass. I can see why. Something like Urshurak would have easily become the most expensive movie ever made, and probably a debacle of Ishtar-like proportions. Nobody in Hollywood had the budget or technology to bring something of this scope to film, though Dino de Laurentis (RIP) might have tried.

Nobody had the money for that. Think about it. The movie Krull is a fantasy epic that spans many kingdoms, where magic-using heroes face off against a science fiction bad guy with a massive army in a teleporting space fortress. That's the video box description of the flick. The actual movie primarily takes place in a forest.

Back to Urshurak. I saw some storyboards that suggested they were going to attempt the animated route, which would have been the best thing for Urshurak. They also had some cool drawings of dragons and winged demons that, unfortunately, didn't make it into any kind of final project. The plans for Urshurak: The Movie were a bust, and the brothers took time off afterward to work on individual projects. The book is the only true legacy of this particular obsession, with its profuse sketches and 16 color plates. Make no mistake about it: these are artists at the top of their form. The artwork for Urshurak is lush, atmospheric, ambitious. Their sense of scale and design is off the charts. It took all my control not to scan every last picture in the book.

A few years ago, I found the Urshurak novel, written by Jerry Nichols and illustrated by the Brothers Hildebrandt, in a used bookstore and just had to get it. I was probably better off with the trading cards. Knowing the story drains some of the magic right out of it. Even rereading Urshurak for this review was no easy feat. As a book, it's a guaranteed cure for insomnia. Just a page or two of droning prose put me to sleep, but I'll attempt to summarize.

The Novel

Urshurak is the story of how the Vandorian archer High Oxhine is recruited by Elgan, the wizard of Mowdra, to aid the Dwarves Erbin and Evrawk, the elf maiden Gwynn, and the Gwarpy Oolu, in the quest to restore Ailwon, Sevena of the White Elves, wielder of the magical blade Elvgard and heir to the Crownhelm, to the throne of Cryslandon, and defeat Gorta, Witch of Zorak, and the Death Lord Torgon who reigns in the dark land of Golgorath. Yes, it's that kind of book. I pretty much give the Hildebrandts a pass on the derivativeness because, along with Terry Brooks, they were the first to rip off Tolkien. I can certainly imagine them reading Lord of the Rings in the '60s and wanting to make their own high fantasy, just like the Wachowski Brothers saw Ghost in the Shell and wanted to make anime-inspired work. In other words, there was a time when the traditional high fantasy story was fresh, and not the genre-killing abode of bad writers that it is now. So Urshurak can get a pass. However, it's been almost 50 years since LOTR came out. It's been 25 years since Weis and Hickman added characterization to the genre, 15 years since George Martin added grit to it. I like a lot of the escapist stuff that came out after Star Wars, while acknowledging that it wrecked the field. If I hear about another recent book with "young white farmboy quests to destroy the evil dark lord, only now he's a dragon rider" or "young white farmboy quests to destroy the evil dark lord, only now he's in a wizard school", I roll my eyes.

Jerry Nichols is a bad writer. The book mainly consists of characters wandering around, pitching camp, doing some navel-gazing, then heading off for more sightseeing. The dialogue is right out of a D&D manual. Nichols' prose literally reads at times like storyboards. His descriptions of architecture and landscapes so exactly match the Hildebrandts' drawings that it's obvious which came first. The story itself is there as a frame for the visuals, with all the characters performing serviceable roles.

The book starts with Hugh Oxhine following some rat creatures through the forest, determined to avenge his family, whom they have murdered. In doing so, he inadvertently rescues Ailwon, the Chosen One, from said rat creatures. As Chosen Ones go, Ailwon is pretty typical: blond hair, blue eyes, brave but self-doubting, whiter than an albino in a snowstorm. The guy is so straight out of the hero's journey handbook that he even appears to have stolen Luke Skywalker's white bathrobe. After saving Ailwon, Hugh meets the wizard Elgan, who can transform himself into a sweet-looking unicorn.

At Elgan's woodland house, Mowdra, he meets the jolly Dwarf twins Erbin and Evrawk (who, in a cool stylistic choice, seem to be physically based off the Hildebrandts themselves), the cheerful Gwarpy Oolu, Ailwon's girlfriend, the elven cutie-pie Gwynn and her useless red-shirt sidekicks Glenden and Ianen. There he learns of The Quest. Many years ago, an elven prince was corrupted by the land of Golgorath, and became Torgon. For a thousand years, Torgon's forces have battled for control of Urshurak. Long have the free people resisted them, all the while trusting to The Prophecy: the coming of the Sevena, who will defeat Torgon on the Day of Fulfillment and bring peace to the land. Twenty years ago, Ailwon's royal parents were murdered, and the newborn prince was taken into hiding among the Dwarves. The companions believe Ailwon is this Sevena, and are determined to help him claim his throne.

So, these 9 companions (ugh) decide to venture on The Quest. This first involves killing a sub-boss, the evil witch Gorta of Zorak. Hugh is only onboard to kill the witch, who is master of the rat-people. From here, massive amounts of nothing happens. Hugh, Ailwon, Oolu and the Dwarves traipse around the scenery on their way to a swamp named after a Space Ghost villain. Gwynn and the side-elves go to the Dwarf city of Penderak for recruits. The Dwarf chapter is kind of fun, since Dwarves seem to live for fun-loving activities. While there, she parties with the twins' father, Esrund (Evrawk son of Esrund? *groan*). Gwynn is the story's Joan of Arc-type, rallying the people through rousing speeches.

"He is the Prince Ailwon...soon to crowned at Cryslandon. I ask you to join us there...for afterward we march against the Death Lord. In dark Golgorath we will decide the final fate of Urshurak...And when we return from Golgorath...we will gather again at Cryslandon...And where we will all hold the damnedest celebration ever seen on the continent!"

That speech brings to mind Keira Knightley in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Not a good thing. And what's with all the ellipses? From there, Gwynn travels from Pendarak to Andeluvia, home of the Brown Elves. She attempts to convince her pacifist father to join in the fight, without success. It is worth mentioning that Nichols likes spending time on secondary characters who add nothing to the plot, like the royal chamberlain in this chapter. It is also worth mentioning that the elves of Urshurak are the least impressive, least mystical, least fae elves ever created. They don't appear to have any powers, no connection to the earth, and apparently aren't even immortal. Half of them aren't even good-looking. I looked through all the pictures in this massively illustrated book, and found only one where I could clearly see an elf with pointy ears. What distinguishes them from humans?

In the meantime, a contingent of Vilderone soldiers (the gargoyle people) ride out from Golgorath to find Ailwon. They are too late and, seeing Mowdra abandoned, set the peaceful wizard's home on fire. Right after they leave, the magic of the place extinguishes the flame. So, very early on, it is established that the villains can't even effectively kill a house.

This seems like as good a time as any to talk a bit about Oolu. From the start, he's the traditional cute/funny sidekick. He says stuff like this: "It's Oolu, is who. Got things will make Hugh feel good!" There's a point where the characters go to a Gwarpy village and get bombarded by a horde of the annoying little Snarfs. To the Hildebrandts' credit, they were using this trope three years before George Lucas and the Ewoks redefined how to suck all the seriousness out of an epic. This is all well and good. I have just one question:

How in the world is this cute? A short, fat hairy guy. The Ewoks were at least made to look like teddy bears. I see dudes like this begging for change on Haight Street.

They go to the swamp of Zorak, where Ailwon is captured for the first time by the witch Gorta. Of all the characters, she is the one I could most easily see transplanted to a late 70s fantasy film.

I could swear I saw that lady in Conan the Barbarian. She's even got the fur bikini going on. Like a good villainess, she is shrieky and hyper-sexual and tries to tempt Ailwon to the dark side. He will have none of it. The other questers show up and take her out in less time than it took Dorothy to kill her witch. This is how it went down, the best I can remember from that nonsensical chapter: Gorta is in her lair with an army of 100+ rat creatures. Ailwon's friends come up with the brilliant rescue plan of charging straight into them, and, in the novel's second show of incompetent villainy, the rats don't just crush them. Ailwon gets his sword back, Gorta morphs into the mother-demon from Dead Alive, and Ailwon and Hugh kill her, but not before calling her a bitch. Everybody makes it out safely, because apparently they've killed all the rat creatures in two minutes. I fail to see how somebody could terrorize an area for centuries if she and her whole army get taken out by five guys and a comedy sidekick.

One thing the Hildenbrandts do right, and many of their contemporaries did oh so wrong, is that they try to include more than just white people in their world. It is a multicultural book. While the other companions are engaged in the not-at-all hard task of killing Gorta, Elgan goes to the city of Tal-Amon. There he meets the the Viking-like Norseman chief, Tark-Volmar. Since this is a kids' book, Norsemen are more grumpy than frightening. There's also the cultured warrior-king Ali Ben Kara, who looks like he should be a member of The O'Jays. We also meet Elgan's friend and mentor, the Ghandi-like sorceror Shandar. It's worth noting that white = wizard, black = sorceror. Got it? Okay. At this point, Elgan establishes to his allies what makes them so special.

"If we're to be successful in our quest, then we--all of us--must dismiss the hatred that often threatens to engulf us. Let our anger fight this tyranny...but not our hate. Hatred is an emotion--like others--which teeters upon the edge of its opposite...Thus hate is more easily overcome by love than by additional hate."

That's right. Years before JK Rowling discovered her equation of "magical skill = wizard x number of wizards who care about him," the free people of Urshurak were defeating evil with the Power Of Love.

The book is filled with mystical, post-'60s gobbledygook like that. There's talk of the energy in Urshurak and how Shandar's peacefulness leads him to eternal birth and being at one with nature and choosing the right energies over the wrong. There's a point where Elgan and Shandar go to the Valley of Life and get the Crownhelm from the Great White Bobabo, which I believe gives birth to the artifact from its great white womb. All of this wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't so much of it, with endless monologues trying to add depth to a book that could never have any.

Ailwon's band goes to ask the Amazons for aid. The Amazons are not only warrior-women, but scientists and naturalists. They even show respect to the disabled, sectioning them off in an area of the jungle where they commune with nature, then going to learn from them. It would have been more progressive to just let them live with the other Amazons, but these are the early days of PC, so give the Hildebrandts a break. The heroes are captured and brought before Queen Azira. When asked to aid Cryslandon, she gives the "Where was Gondor when Rohan needed aid" speech about how nobody ever helped her people. She apparently does this just to fuck with them, because right after they leave she talks to her heir Zyra and commits their troops to the cause.

Despite her utterly humorless countenance, Hugh falls in love with Zyra. After spying on her skinny-dipping, he emotes: "I believe beautiful women are not to be trusted...Ty are so fussed over and pandered to that it seems impossible for them to understand things of reality..and she...How can one such as she feel anything but obvious disdain for the rabble who mire themselves with the struggles of the world?" Calm down, Hugh. The Amazons are ready to go. The Norsemen are ready to go. The black people, ready. Elgan and Shandar, in the great tradition of '80s interracial buddies, devote the next 48 hours to retrieving the ark containing the Crownhelm and walking it to the Elves. Everybody in Cryslandon is told to keep a lookout for a pair of raggedy, smelly wizards hauling a giant box.

But what of the traitor, you ask? While Gwynn is coming to join the party, she meets up with the unfortunately-named White Elf Deceidon. Deceidon is the book's on-the-ground villain, and has been governor of the White Elf city for 20 years. Which begs the question, why didn't he just open the back door to Torgon's forces instead of keeping up the ruse? He was leader of the elves! In the great Saturday morning villain tradition, Deceidon is vain, horny, prone to self-congratulatory bad guy speeches, and is totally in it for personal gain. Or maybe he's just mad that he has a name like a robot from a bad '60s sci-fi novel. In case you weren't convinced he's evil, here's his intro picture.

He captures Gwynn, kills her companions and sends her upstate to Golgorath. Golgorath is a desolate realm at the northern tip of Urshurak, about the size of a postage stamp, and is apparently all Torgon has managed to conquer in a millenia. It really makes me appreciate Tolkien, who actually had a realistic view of how much damage a campaign of evil can cause over ome centuries. Sauron destroyed whole kingdoms. Torgon is content to sit on an uncomfortable-looking metal chair and do nothing. In quick succession, Deceidon captures the Chosen One. Feeling pleased with himself, he ventures to Cryslandon to deliver an ultimatum. Torgon's forces and the people of Urshurak converge on Cryslandon for the least dramatic battle ever.

So they have their Battle of Minas Tirith, which lasts a chapter and the good guys win easily. The battle is so without tension that Nichols has to establish after it's over that many Amazons died and their lightning-spraying war machines all got destroyed. During the chapter, all I saw were Amazons beating the snot out of the orcs/goblins/whatever.

Around this time we are treated to my favorite part of the book: The Death of Shandar. At this point in the narrative, I am so disinterested that I say, "What? Who is Shandar? He's dying?" Go back a few pages. "Oh, he's the black wizard. Deceidon stabbed him after a failed attempt to bring the bad guy to the side of love. Must have skipped that part." The sheer level of boredom in this book creates its own surprises, each skimmed-over plot point coming at me like a Chuck Palahniuk twist. So Shandar is dying, in what I'm sure the Hildebrandts conceived as a beautiful and pathos-ridden goodbye to a beloved character. Instead, its the point where the book veers from harmless kids' story to a bastion of bad fantasy writing.

Though "his breathing had become extremely labored" from his "bloodied wound," he sits there, calmly brainstorming their next step with Elgan. They decide that Elgan will fight Torgon in place of their incompetent Chosen One. "Blood was oozing from his bindings," yet he sticks around to have tearful goodbyes with Elgan and some Dwarf, and espouses his views on mortality. Elgan leaves. "Shandar sat motionless." Does he die? No, but he feels depressed. He doesn't feel like dying just yet. So he stands up, "his hand clutching his chest," and ascends some stairs, "his breathing coming in tortured gasps. The life of his body being slowly drawn from him." I am on the edge of my seat.
Hugh and the other companions go to find the Chosen One with a knack for getting beaten and captured. That's the chapter where the first picture comes from, by the way. This is probably the most well-written chapter in the book, since it is told from the evil orc leader's perspective, with him wondering why the captive prince scares him so much. All this self-reflection does not keep him and his party from getting wiped out. So Ailwon is rescued, and arrives at Cryslandon a week later, where Shandar still hasn't died, but is waiting for them in the citadel tower with his guts hanging out. By now, it's just comedy. "The old man's body stiffened beneath a sudden spasm of pain," but he manages to have tearful goodbyes with everybody he ever met. As "the old man coughed, shuddered," he crowns Ailwon the new king, putting the unearned crown on his tousseled golden head, spouting all the necessary gibberish about destiny. He "spat blood on the floor." "The old man gasped, and would have fallen, had Ailwon not caught him." He says farewell to the entire cast, then sends all Elves and Dwarfs to finish their mission, "the rattle of phlegm and blood suddenly thick within his throat." With tears in their eyes, the companions ride to an uncertain destiny. Ailwon is at the head, an inspirational leader of men out of absolutely nowhere. Afterward, we get to the optimistically titled chapter:

Shandar still hasn't died. He is alone, contemplating the eternal mystery, and that girl who he loved when he was a youth, and how he needs to pick up his dry cleaning. "The pain of his deep wound increased, his mind began to float and the room grew suddenly dark." Does he die? "He lay for a moment, breathing heavily, death rolling within him with each rise and fall of his chest." Enough already! "He rested for a moment, then began to move forward on his belly," and now I wish to God they had made this a movie so this preposterous scene could be caught on celluloid forever. At the precipice of the tower, he looks over all of Urshurak. "This was balm to Shandar. Now he was ready." Then fucking die! "Now I offer the remains of my being!" Oh God. "Come now, O eternal!" he screams with energy no man on death's doorstep should have. He has one more psychedelic vision of the clouds gathering over the land before giving himself to the cosmos. "The cavern of mystery reopened, while in the sky above him, the dark clouds parted and the brilliant light of day issued forth..." "Now touch me, O infinite love!" Dead.

Sigh. Nichols and the Hildebrandts have not mastered the concept that the pathos when a character dies extend from how attached the audience is to them, not the length of the death scene. At some point they even drew a neato "Dead Shandar" pic.

There's a nice one for the kids to color.

Did I mention I like something about the book besides the art? The Hildebrants have crafted a world, and they delight in showing it off. They get heavily into the travleogue aspect, which I appreciate if only for their enthusiasm. Anyways, Shandar becomes a storm or something, enabling Ailwon's crew to reach Golgorath in time for the Day of Fulfillment. So all paths converge on Golgorath, good and evil, where the final fate of Middle-Earth will be decided.

Battle happens. There is some minor character development, and Zyra realizes her love for Hugh. Deceidon gets his. Oolu aquits himself admirably. Minor characters get killed by other minor characters. Some more Amazons fall victim to the "red shirt" policy. Ailwon faces of against Torgon in the Fistfight For The Fate Of The World. It is a harrowing, thrilling battle with Ailwon versus his great-great-great-great-great-etc.-uncle. He literally wins this when the Death Lord trips on his helmet and falls down a hole. Yes, in the great Disney tradition, the villain falls to his death. There is the obligatory celebration, and Hugh talks with Elgan about the Meaning of Life as they contemplate nature. The end, after 405 agonizing pages.

So Urshurak is derivative, poorly written, cliche, cornball, boring, and only useful as a child's introduction to high fantasy (and even then, they'd be better off reading The Prydain Chronicles).

But, I mean, look at this!

Look at it!

Oh my GOD!

As a novel, Urshurak is subpar. As an artbook, it's possibly one of the greatest ever made. It's a treasure. I wish they'd released it as an artbook, pictures without a story, that I could fill in the gaps myself. Years later, the Hildebrandts did just that, releasing a calendar with pictures of their vision of mythical Atlantis. It was a cross between lost civilization fantasy and Buck Rogers-style space opera, with out-of-this-world creatures and plants, and absolutely no story to it. Ursharak would have been amazing in that format. It's not that they're bad storytellers; their specialty is a different kind of storytelling, at which they are undisputed masters. As I said, Urshurak is the brothers at their pinnacle. And I, for one, am glad these pictures exist, to spark imaginations for generations to come.


  1. I know you posted this a year ago and your chances of reading this is slim, but this post was too funny! I used to read a lot of fantasy books as a kid and soon discovered a ton of crappy problems that you outlined here . . . especially long, drawn out deaths of characters I wasn't that attached to. Just terrible . . The Hildebrandts do paint a mean fantasy pic though.

  2. Another necro post here...but I just came across your article.
    I had the misfortune of reading this book when I was in the fourth grade. The pictures were OK but the story was exactly as you described..horrible. Even as a kid I had to force myself to get through this awful book, just to see if it got better near the end.
    Anyway that was a great review! Especially the part about dudes begging for change on Haight Street. LOL

  3. I can appreciate your review and the subsequent comments to a point, but I cannot nor will not accept the use of poor language and rudeness. I will admit that I actually laughed twice while reading your somewhat accurate description and review of this book. You refer to it a children's book that turns into a graphic murder novel of sub-par level.
    Mind you, these men were at the beginning of the fantasy genre including Tolkien. Their art is beyond a treasure, many a artist aspire to do work even shy comparable to Tim and Greg Hildebrandt's - they are contemporary legends. It pleases me that you didn't cross the line when it comes to those who have departed from us, but your mention of 'the late' seems to have include Greg as well. Only Tim passed away in 2006, God rest his soul.
    For you and those who may naively agree with your review consider this possibility - someone who either has difficulty in reading or who has never read a whole book before picking up this book and enjoying it. It isn't to hard to conceive such a notion. This book happens to have had a profound effect on me in many ways, and its the reason I continue to read.
    Critiquing an author or artist is one thing, but when you outright insult them thats just plain uncivilized. I'm certainly glad you like the art of a book that you seem to disdain so.
    In closing, I offer my apologies to you (or anyone) if I haven't offended you enough, as it seems to me that is what you may have desired.

    Kill them with kindness

  4. I also read this book one Summer when I was a kid, probably when I was 11 or so in the late '70s. With Star Wars new on the scene and not having yet read Tolkien, this did not feel as formulaic to me at the time but I do remember it being a chore to get through given its that time it was the longest book I had read. All these years later, all I remembered was the title (which I Googled on a lark and found this post), the characters of Hugh and the Amazons and the beautiful illustrations; your post filled in a lot of memory holes for me. The illustrations remain very vivid in my mind however, particularly the one of Hugh by the waterfall and the Amazon lightning sled (which may be why I recall those characters best); as you've said, it was not a literary masterpiece, but certainly was a visual masterpiece, and I do still consider reading it a fond experience of my childhood.

  5. Thanks to your review, my storytelling instincts have once again been vindicated. Urshurak joined a moderately short list of books I began but never finished. Said list contains such notables as Well's The War of the Worlds and Mccaffrey's Dragonflight. Honorable company, indeed! Unfortunately, Urshurak was the AWOL member of that battalion, and actually, never even enlisted in the first place! The others I could never get myself to finish but I knew they were good. Urshurak I knew was crap after the first few chapters. It was sad, though—I wanted to like it. This probably was the result of the simply gorgeous paintings. I absolutely agree with you—the paintings should have been left alone to do the storytelling. Our imagination is good enough to fill in the blanks, and is usually capable of telling a much better story.

  6. So what was wrong with Urshurak? Someone once commented that the Brothers Hildebrandt never really understood Tolkien. Urshurak embodies this lack of understanding. I mean, it’s a good attempt, and if it had had a better writer it might have reached its potential—and it definitely had potential.
    I think a lot of readers approach a book that looks good and their imaginative appetites are whetted. They start seeing these half-formed images—what they don’t realize is that this is their own creativity starting to function, feeding upon the glimpses they’re getting from either illustrations, or a jacket description. They open the book hoping the writer will fulfill these hopes—and sometimes they are disappointed [and in the case of Urshurak, maybe suicidally so]. But once so disappointed, they leave it at that. They forget about their hopes for the story, they forget about what they would have liked to see the author do, and they go on to the next book on their bucket list.

  7. But I remember my initial impression—and I try to write them down. The fact is I can do something with these—because they’re mine. There was a loser of a TV show called M.A.N.T.I.S. When I saw the trailer for it I was inspired. The show itself was very different. I held on to my impressions and was able to create something from them that I liked.
    Even earlier I had picked up an Ace paperback of Chamber’s The King in Yellow. From what I read on the back, I’d assumed it was something like The Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. It had a potential [and I still enjoyed it] but it wasn’t what I was expecting. But, I was able to take my first impressions and knit them into something—something that was mine—something that I could do something with on my own terms.

  8. The problem with the Hildebrandts is that they did not think things through deeply enough. The teacher in a drama class I’d taken criticized my choice of an improvised character. He was a hero, but he had no real back-story. Why was he doing what he was doing, other than that he was a hero and that is what heroes do? I was thirteen, or so, so that’s understandable. It’s like Sam says to Frodo, “The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say.” That seems to be the approach the brothers brought to their storytelling. Sam didn’t know any better—and he learned. The Brothers Hildebrandt had no such excuse.
    Tolkien’s approach can be summed up by Sam’s further words—“But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually.”

  9. There’s also the fact that Tolkien had been working on his material for decades. He was trying to form a workable framework for the imaginary languages he’d been creating. He also wanted to create a mythology for England. To something like that seriously you have to give it a whole lot of thought. This is, unfortunately not what Tim and Greg did. It seemed enough to them to simply create the effects. They believed they understood what made The Lord of the Rings work—and they attempted to come up with their own versions of such things. For a Saruman they’ve got a Deceidon. For a Dark Lord they’ve got a [what was his name? I didn’t read that far]. And they’ve gnomish looking warriors and goblin-types. And so we won’t think they’re ripping off J.R.R. they’ve got giant rats. And then there’re Gwarpies!
    Perhaps they said to themselves, we need some kind of mythical critters that have never shown up before in any mythology [like elves and dwarves have]. Tolkien created Hobbits—we’ll create Gwarpies!
    And that’s not a bad idea—but you really need to wrestle and work the clay of your raw idea until it truly becomes yours, takes on a life of its own and when your readers see it, the critter that inspired it in the first place, doesn’t even enter your mind. You’ve got to live it—it’s got to be of supreme importance to you—it has to almost be an act of worship. You have to breathe your life and soul into your work—then it lives and becomes immortal.
    Someday I may take Urshurak, read it and figure out what I would have done with it—and then re-write it the way it should have been written in the first place. Work it and rework it; capture the essence of what it was I liked. And by the time I’m done with it, it will have no relation whatsoever to the original [although “original” is a strange word to use in relation to Urshurak].

  10. I was looking through the bookcase at my mom's house I ran across this book and remembered loving it as a child. However looking through it I had no recollection of the characters, or the story. But the pictures were amazing. Especially after reading your summary of the story, I still have no recollection of the characters or story from the original reading. It just goes to show how amazing the Hildebrandt Brothers were as artists and how impactful their artwork could be.

  11. This makes me want to find the book and buy it just for the pictures. :3

  12. Outside of the Hildebrants' illustrations - which are magnificent and why I bought the book so many, many years ago, the only thing I really remembered about the book until reading your review was that Torgon was defeated because he tripped on his helmet and fell down a hole. I remember almost laughing out loud when I read that part years ago.

    To this day, that image has stuck in my head as how to NOT resolve the climactic scene of a novel/story - having the hero win through no effort on his part whatsoever.

  13. Outside of the Hildebrants' illustrations - which are magnificent and why I bought the book so many, many years ago, the only thing I really remembered about the book until reading your review was that Torgon was defeated because he tripped on his helmet and fell down a hole. I remember almost laughing out loud when I read that part years ago.

    To this day, that image has stuck in my head as how to NOT resolve the climactic scene of a novel/story - having the hero win through no effort on his part whatsoever.

  14. I stumbled (literally) across this tome in the library as a teen. I had just started playing D&D and so wanted to catch up to all my gamer friends. and none of them had read this one yet (a point for me!). attracted tot he Hildebrandt art (unparalleled), I plowed through it... I did not know the term 'derivative' at the time, but I see this as such, but necessarily of Tolkein (although that does apply) but more to the point, Sword of Shannara, written just 2 years earlier for which the Brothers provided artwork.
    I remember thinking it was OK at the time, but like I said too much like Shannara to actually be enjoyable. this may have been just my second or third 'fantasy' novel that I ever read. ( soon thereafter I 'discovered' HP Lovecraft and well...lost my mind)

  15. Geez, whining about a hero that is white. You liberals are a joke. You clowns are OBSESSED with skin color.