Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Isle of the Unknown: Some Thoughts

I recently picked up Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of the Unknown on PDF. This isn't, as such, a review - better men than I have done that and at the time of release. But there are some bits I should like to draw out. Mostly in the way it offers a unique sort of tone, in terms of place and people and background.

Image result for isle of the unknown
Source: http://www.lotfp.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=146
The myths of Classical Antiquity are part of the set of images and notions from which the Isle draws.  This is most obvious in the art choices; witness the cover and, below, this magic user, who might as well be Heracles.
Leo by Rhineville
Source: https://rhineville.deviantart.com/art/Leo-257302250

Beyond that, there is the number of statues that dot the isle. Sculpture isn't uniquely Classical, but for all the carved bench ends or graven saints in Gothic cathedrals, the notion of capital 'S' Sculpture in Western civilisation strikes me as possessing the weight of antiquity. Not a useful attitude, perhaps, but relevant for my purposes now. Consider beyond this, the presence of magical statues in those myths: Talos, the Man of Bronze; Pygmalion and Galatea.

On the topic of one more magical statue, let us think of something more, Though it is Autumn, picture The Winter's Tale. This is not the only Shakespeare play I would cite in relation to the Isle - another, predictably enough is The Tempest (that could be Ariel on the cover)- which itself, summons up visions of Classical myth as entertainment. Beyond that, the isle seems itself something of an Arcadia, perfect for a Forest of Arden or a dream one Midsummer's Night - once you've killed all the monsters. Though there are cities and towns, they are not the focus of Isle of the Unknown. Think especially of the scented, colour-coordinated, beast-haunted magical groves.

Let us call this little sub-genre (or what have you) Shakespearian fantasy-Romance. Barring  manifestations of the 'Manga Macbeth with Mutants' sort, I have encountered one real example of it elsewhere. This was a book I was given as a child called The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare, by Sophie Masson. I was perhaps a little young for it, in terms of my cultural reference pool and do not have great memories of it. But nonetheless, it grasps this proposed sub-genre like nothing else. The Author's Note cites The Tempest and Twelfth Night as inspirations, mentioning their "mixture of romance, adventure, humour, mystery, magic, melancholy, mistaken identity and metamorphosis set around a voyage and a shipwreck." Indeed, perhaps a shipwreck would be the perfect way to start an adventure on the Isle.

Apart from the influence of Classical myth and Shakespeare on the Isle of the Unknown, I would like to praise those beast-haunted groves and the magicians that dwell therein again. I have never been fond of the 'magicians in every city providing a regular service' type of setting. As approachable and ubiquitous as a family doctor. It never quite rings true, given these folk grapple with the veil and the void beyond on a regular basis - they should have more eccentricities than a faintly Donish air in what is ostensibly Fourteenth Century France.

The alternative is the warlock, desperate, corrupted and hated, trafficker with demons and fouler things; something of a cliche. The magicians of the Isle are a good change from that. They have used magic to make themselves and the world around then into a place they think desirable and are themselves distant from humanity. One of my first articles suggested a framework for this; the Isle offers it in unique fashion. Perhaps the endstate of all this is to have most Archmages imitate the climax of Sir Terry Pratchett's Sourcery. I don't insist on every magic-user above a certain level being a bucolic hermit, nor does the wizard have to be as such anti-social. But those offered by Isle of the Unknown are most welcome and are an excellent centrepiece - as the artwork clearly agrees!

Virgo by Rhineville
Source: https://rhineville.deviantart.com/art/Virgo-276367220

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