Children of Changyang Mountain (Version 2)

His pack was heavy. The sun was high in the sky, midday, and Haaru had been walking since dawn. The ache at the base of his back had begun and his feet were calling for a short break but he ignored them. He knew his body well after years of travel. Another hour wouldn’t change anything. The forest shaded the sun’s rays from the path and a gentle breeze provided relief from the growing heat. He left the thin, mountain air a few days ago and his lungs weren’t yet adjusted to the dense humidity of the forest. They screamed they were drowning, but Haaru kept on until a new ache began.

He crossed a small stream and stopped. He squatted, letting the earth take the weight of his pack, and slowly untangled himself from the straps. He opened a small side compartment and removed a cloth bag containing his lunch. Roasted fowl, two pears, and a handful of mushrooms. Then he removed his wooden sandals, stained dark with oil and years of use, and tied them to the pack. He sat on a large stone and dipped his feet in a small pool beside the stream. The cool water sent a chill through his bones and permeated the heat still swelling his muscles. He let out a groan of appreciation and enjoyed the feeling for a few moments before turning to his lunch.

Haaru ate slowly despite feeling ravenous. When he finished, he washed the cloth bag and set it beside him on the stone to dry. He pulled his feet from the pool and laid himself across the large stone as well. He felt the warmth of the stone against his back and the cool breeze kiss his sweat-damp clothes. He rested. Sleep threatened to relieve his consciousness several times and he was ready to surrender to it. Then he heard the sounds of children. A faint echo of laughter in the air. Haaru opened his eyes and stared at the canopy above, watching the sky dance with the leaves, until he heard it again.

His muscles were stiff but no longer ached. He wondered if he had rested too long, but threw the matter away as unimportant. He grabbed the cloth bag and returned it to his pack. The laughter rang out again as he strapped his worn sandals to his feet, fitted himself back into the hulking pack and, with a grunt, relieved the earth of its weight. The laughter echoed again. A smile crept across his features. The laughter reminded his thick, cork-like muscles of his own childhood. When he would run endlessly, climb trees, swim for hours. More laughter and this time he managed to grasp its direction. It was away from the path, but he had packed food for several days before returning to the village, and he had a feeling this may be the reason he was here.

The trees were thin, no larger round than Haaru’s thin frame, and the roots protruded from the ground leaving little room to move unhindered. The laughter grew louder and soon danced around him. He couldn’t see anyone, but he knew they were near.

“Hello,” he called out. Silence. “Hello,” he called again.

“Hello,” a muffled voice responded.

It came from a few paces to his right. He froze, slowly turned his head toward the voice, and saw an ancient set of armor leaning against a tree. Moss had covered its entire surface so it appeared as part of the forest itself save for the shape. The voice came from inside it.

“Who are you?” the muffled voice asked.

“I am Haaru,” he said, “and what is your name?”

“Shigeru.”

“Are you here alone, Shigeru?”

“No.”

“Why don’t you come out of there?”

No muffled answer came. A few seconds passed and the breastplate opened. The leather straps, now mostly moss, threatened to disintegrate at the slight movement. The boy emerged and the armor returned to its resting state. Haaru guessed he was nearly five years old. He had raven-black hair and looked half starved. Big brown eyes looked up at him.

“Hello Shigeru.”

The boy smiled politely. Haaru looked around but saw no one else. He looked up into the trees hoping to spot someone. The laughter had disappeared.

“Where are your friends?”

“Mishi is over there,” the boy pointed. Haaru followed the boy’s arm to a moss-covered helmet leaning against a tree. “And Koturo is there, and Jensai, and Mido, and Deku, and-”

Haaru placed a hand on the boy’s arm to stop him. The boy seemed eager to point out all of his friends, but all Haaru could see were sets of armor. Many were no more than broken pieces. All of them were consumed by the forest. Haaru guessed a battle took place here long ago. The bodies left unclaimed.

“How many of you are out here?” Haaru asked.

The boy shrugged as an answer.

“Where are your parents?”

The boy shrugged again.

“Where is home?” he tried again.

“Changyang.”

“Changyang,” Haaru repeated. He was filled with sadness and relief all at once upon hearing this answer. “How did you get here, Shigeru?”

“Orders…sir,” the boy said, uttering the second word as an afterthought.

“Who’s orders?”

Shigeru stood proudly and answered, “General Xing.”

“General Xing,” Haaru repeated the name. He had guessed correctly. These children were his reason for entering the forest.

“How long have you been here?”

“A long time,” a voice called from behind them. Haaru turned to see another boy sitting on a pair of grieves that more resembled tree roots than armor. It was one Shigeru called out earlier. Mido.

“How long is a long time?” Haaru asked softly.

Mido sighed and laid down across the remains of a breastplate.

“We’ve forgotten.”

Haaru looked to his left to find a young boy with autumn hair tied in the traditional top knot.

“I see,” Haaru muttered. Several boys had revealed themselves. Each sitting or standing on the remnants of a set of armor. Many of which were not included in Shigeru’s eager introductions.

“How many of you are there?” he asked again.

None answered. Haaru decided it was time. He bent his knees until the pack rested on the ground. He dug through stacks of parchment, each bound tightly between bamboo planks, until he found his brush, ink, and several blank pages. He sat on the forest floor and arranged the ink and parchment.

“Would you mind telling me your story?” he asked as he dipped his brush in the ink and held it before the parchment. He looked up to see they had all gone. Every child had disappeared without a sound. The breeze rustled the leaves and the sunlight danced on the forest floor.

“Shigeru?”

His only answer was the sound of the forest.

Haaru remained seated with his brush at the ready. As the light began to fade, he built a small fire and prepared for a long night. He pulled several lychee berries from his pack and ate them. Their floral aroma filled the air. He finished, cleaned his hands, and continued to wait as the forest grew dark. His eyes grew heavy but he fought the continuous pull of sleep. He held his brush ready, patiently waiting for the children to return.

He began to lose the battle against his body. His eyelids slowly rose and fell like the waves of the sea. His body twitched and he jerked himself alert upon realizing his lapse. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and found Shigeru standing before him. The other boys were there as well, and behind them perhaps a hundred more could be seen in the moonlight that snuck through the canopy.

“We will tell you our story,” Shigeru said. The boyish tone was no longer present.

Haaru gripped his brush and nodded for the boy to continue.

“Let me first answer your question. There are 147 of us. A relatively small company, to be sure, when speaking of the indomitable army led by General Xing for his eminence Emperor Jiangxi. I, Shigeru Matsushi, am the captain of this company.”

“The fiercest warriors of any battalion.”

“Quiet Mido,” Shigeru chided the boy behind him.

Mido crossed his arms and glared at Shigeru’s back but remained quiet.

“My lieutenant speaks out of turn, but he is correct. We were the highest skilled warriors within the Emperor’s army. Yes,” Shigeru saw the question in Haaru’s eyes, “we are well aware of our current situation. We were monsters of men when we entered battle though we were not quite men in the eyes of many. We have not been children since before we were taken, but we prefer this form.

“I lived on an island beyond where the Yangtze empties into the sea. The General’s men came and took me from my village along with several other boys. I later realized these men were expected as no one protested our abduction. Jensai is the only one here who also came from my village. We were all gathered in this fashion. Stolen from our homes. Most of us merely four or five years of age when we were taken.

“After weeks of hard travel, we were left at a fortification near the peak of Changyang. It was there in the bitter cold we trained. General Xing himself would lead our education when he was in the region, which was often, and it was during his training when we lost most of our brothers. He taught us how to be ruthless, how to end the life of even someone you called a friend, so we learned to live together without forming bonds beyond those found in battle. Our numbers shrank as our training progressed in the harsh conditions of the mountain. Two attempted escape, but there was nowhere to go and they were quickly hunted down. We quickly learned to accept our new lives or accept death. We grew as cold as the snow that never ceased.

“Every day mirrored the one before. We would all wake before sunrise, sweep the snow from the courtyard, spar with fists, then with wooden swords. Before lunch we held a tournament of iron swords. Single elimination. The first cut deciding the winner. The champion would be given an extra portion during lunch. We all desired this as the meager meals we were given served the purpose of providing heat more than it did sustenance. When General Xing visited, he would be the judge of these tournaments and would determine the victor of each fight. It would be many cuts before he made his decision.

“Our afternoons included training on horseback and ranged weapons. No tournament was held in the afternoons. The last hour of the day was reserved for strategy and held inside. We would all go to bed battered and bruised. Many of us with new scars forming. We never left the mountain except to train in different environments.

“Maybe ten years passed this way. Time was lost to us. Known only by the slow growth of our bodies. We became young men and skilled warriors. Then our first assignment was given. General Xing appointed our positions. Ten lieutenants were each given thirteen men. I was given full authority as captain and would fight alongside the remaining eight as an elite unit. We were sent as an advance party to capture a command post west of the Hongshui river. We attacked at night. It was a small fortress but held a garrison of three hundred men. We lost two men but had taken the fortress by sunrise. We spared three of our enemy, the customary number when gathering information, and tied them to wooden posts hammered into the courtyard.

“Two days passed before General Xing arrived. He quickly filled the garrison with his men and questioned the prisoners before issuing our next orders. He never provided more than our next assignment. We performed dutifully and never lost another soldier. Even when fighting outnumbered eight to one. Rumor of our company spread among the enemy as well as among the other soldiers under General Xing until even the emperor learned of our company. We did not know at the time, but this was something General Xing had gone to great lengths to prevent. We wish he would have succeeded.

“The end of the war drew near after three short years. We had conquered the last stronghold and had it prepared for the General’s arrival where he would command the final assault. He arrived behind Emperor Jiangxi whom we were not expecting. Many duties must be completed during the transition of command within a fortress, and we were not yet clean from our fighting when he called us for inspection. We delayed these duties and presented ourselves at full attention in the courtyard for the emperor. He examined every one of us without a word before disappearing into the high chamber with General Xing.

“The next day our orders came. This time we were to gather intelligence without attacking. A scouting mission. The change in tactics was strange, but we were advancing on the final stronghold so we thought nothing of it. It was not our place to question the general. Besides, it was a six-day journey and we were eager to leave the emperor’s gaze.” Shigeru paused and looked at the forest surrounding them. “We were ambushed here. Not by our enemy but by the emperor’s personal soldiers. Our rear guard had spotted them a day prior, but betrayal had not dared enter our minds. We were only concerned with our next assignment and were thus ill-prepared when they struck. But we were not fully caught off-guard. We fought for a full day and night. We slew five for every one we lost, but their numbers were great and eventually overcame our last man. We were left here. No rituals provided for our bodies. Not even those for fit a common peasant let alone those for a warrior of prestige. We were left to rot with the heat of each day, and we have remained in this forest since.”

Haaru finished writing Shigeru’s account. The night had begun to fade but the sun was still a few hours from rising. The fire was mostly embers. Haaru’s eyes had resorted to the filtered moonlight to guide his brush sometime in the night. He placed the brush beside the ink and laid the final sheet of parchment out to dry habitually placing the recently dried sheet onto the stack beside him.

“Tell me, traveler,” Shigeru said, “how long have we been here?”

Haaru considered their account unsure of how to answer. “It has been three hundred years since Emperor Jiangxi was alive.” A soft, collective gasp rustled through the forest like a soft breeze. A low murmur began to spread among them. Shigeru made a simple hand gesture and the forest was again silent. Haaru believed the boy must have been a great leader to evoke such discipline with a simple movement.

“Three hundred years is a long time. Yet you are the first to speak to us.”

Haaru sealed the ink and began cleaning his brush. “I have traveled many leagues and have seen many things. I have encountered several…incidents…that frighten most people, but I know there is a truth behind them that the common man would discolor with his imagination. Many times they do so unintentionally, because they are afraid or are unable to believe what their senses show them to be true. They believe reality is supposed to work within a set of rules. They do not realize there is more than one path that leads to truth.” He combed the wet brush and set it down to dry.

“And you walk several paths?” Mido asked reproachfully. This time Shigeru did not reprimand him.

“Possibly,” Haaru said. He examined the dead fire with a stick. Making patterns in the embers and ash.

“Why did you ask for our story?” Shigeru asked. A hint of command still in his voice.

“I want to share it. Spread it among those who will listen and let history know a truth that was buried by a powerful man.”

“You defy an emperor’s decision?”

“I face no retribution from the dead. However, it is not the emperor I am referring.”

Shigeru contemplated his words and asked in a low tone filled with warning, “You dare bring shame to our general?”

The other 146 children standing within the forest shifted their weight simultaneously. It was slight, and barely noticeable even when done in unison by so many, but Haaru’s skin prickled at the sudden hostility. He did not fear them and convinced himself he would not falter even if they had the means of harming him. Shigeru was the only one who did not change his stance. Haaru saw him at last for who he was. A true commander who possessed the loyalty of his men even beyond death. An allegiance he shared equally with every one of them.

“I only wish to tell a truth hidden to allow a favorable legacy. You are not aware of how history has treated your general. He is regarded as a great strategist. Able to predict his enemy’s intentions. He could capture a stronghold by simply willing it. Your account replaces the fertile soil where his legend has been left to grow wild. With your story told, the world would know the truth that he was just a man. Still a brilliant strategist, but ruthless. A man who built a reputation on the backs of kidnapped children.”

Haaru surveyed the sea of children as best he could without removing his eyes from Shigeru’s. They were still on guard. Ready to attack but waiting for the order.

“Do you not want your story to be told? Do you not want to be remembered?”

Shigeru made a swift movement through the air with his fist. The children relaxed. Haaru found himself unable to do the same. He sat, expectant, awaiting the answer.

“The only home we’ve ever known was Changyang. Our lives before our duty are merely distant memories mixed with dreams. We fought well and obeyed every command our leader gave us. We only served the emperor through our general. The world knows a figurehead does not win the battles they never see. Our legacy lives within General Xing’s.

“Tell us,” Shigeru continued, “since you claim to know of those from our time. What happened to our general?”

Haaru finally relaxed. Their reason was their love of their general.

“He lived a long life while serving his emperor.”

“How did he die?”

“Honorably.”

“In battle?”

Haaru sighed, “No. It was after his final defeat. They say the new emperor attempted to retain him as general of the new armies, but he refused. He chose a warrior’s death.”

The sea of children stirred but the forest remained silent. The sun was preparing to rise and the first birds began to chirp, but the sound did not sway the heavy sadness among them.

“Thank you, traveler,” Shigeru finally said, “you have done us a great service. We have been plagued with uncertainty about those we left behind. General Xing and his personal guard. We feared he too had been defeated by treachery. We are glad to hear he served and died well.”

“Is there more you wish to know?” Haaru asked.

“No. Three hundred years has undoubtedly changed the world we knew. I think it is time we finally departed for our next assignment. Before we are gone, I must ask again. What do you intend to do with our story?” Shigeru glanced at the pile of pages. Haaru placed the final page, having dried some time ago, onto the pile and straightened the stack.

“I have told you my intentions, but it is your choice to make.”

Shigeru gestured, sweeping his arm as if it were a command, and Haaru understood the meaning behind it. He slowly gathered the stack of parchment and hesitated, looking to Shigeru who offered a firm smile, then placed the pages on the dying embers. The parchment smoked slowly before igniting. The flames roared, emitting an intense heat before settling down to a steady smolder. The ink burned bright gold with faint shades of blue-green. Within minutes the parchment was nothing but ash and ember. Haaru could not help but feel a tinge of sorrow as he watched specks of ash lifted into the air only to fall back to the earth like snow.

“Thank you,” Shigeru said. His hand rose in the air and with a sweep he issued his final command.

Haaru watched as a fog lifted through the forest floor and slowly filled the trees. The children did not move but were soon lost to his sight within the thick air. Then, just as quickly, the fog dissipated without even the warmth of the morning sun. They were gone. Haaru sat alone in the forest listening to the sounds of morning.

He rose despite the protest of his body. The lack of sleep made his blood beat thin, but his mind was too active for rest. He returned his brush and ink to his pack and put out the embers with a bowl of water from the stream. A long day’s journey was ahead of him. He would need rest before he made it to the village, but he once again shouldered the massive weight of his pack and began walking carefully through the forest.

Haaru woke on a straw mat. He had arrived late in the evening and was surprised to find he was expected. The village elder had decided to wait for him despite Haaru insisting he would be gone several days. The elder had waved his protest away claiming she was awake anyway and decided to pass the time by waiting. Haaru was too tired to argue and happily accepted the offered room. He had given himself a few hours’ sleep during the day but still had plenty to regain when he finally settled down.

He must have slept as a stone. The sunlight was strong. Children were playing outside. He left his pack in the room and went to find the elder. She was watching the children as the men and women of the village were busy with their tasks. Haaru sat beside the elder and waited for her to begin the conversation. The morning air was still cool but would soon be stifling. He could feel the humidity rising as the sun rose higher.

“I have already told everyone the forest is at rest,” she said.

“There was never any danger,” Haaru offered.

“I was not as troubled by the sounds as the others. I had grown used to them after all these years. I feared them as a child, but age often brings clarity, or faith, and I knew there was no malice lurking within the trees, but it was an unnatural matter. We are glad you happened upon us.”

They sat and watched the children chase each other around the well. Haaru tried imagining the old woman as one of them. This village was old and had known of the unrest in the forest. They knew spirits had gathered within the trees. They simply avoided venturing too far in and never without sunlight.

“I must thank you again,” the elder said, “I know our payment was insufficient for your trouble.”

“It was more than generous,” Haaru interjected. It was enough to keep him fed, which was all he ever needed, and it only cost him some sleep. “Thank you for your hospitality. I will be leaving before midday.”

“So soon?” The elder finally looked at him. “You must still be tired after traveling the forest.”

“I am plenty rested to begin again.” He feet still ached from the long days of walking and his body would benefit from a full day’s rest, but he feared the allure of comfort. He needed to keep moving. There was a legend told about a village near the southern border that caught his ear several weeks ago.

“Will you at least stay for some tea?” the elder asked.

“Tea would be delightful.”

He had tea with the elder and listened to the stories she offered. He listened attentively and answered what questions she had the confidence to ask. She never inquired about the children of the forest. He sensed her reservations and also her respect for him.

He was used to admiration or fear. His work often drew either suspicion or reverence. His results always earned him respect. He was aware of the stories that surrounded him, but he also knew that these were created by the very people who made demons from rabid foxes.

The elder was beyond believing him to be more than he was. Her company was refreshing and he enjoyed their time together. When the sun was overhead, he gathered his things and hoisted the pack from the floor. The full weight settled on him.

Haaru had mastered the art of farewell throughout his travels. He followed the sun as it crawled across the sky then turned south in the evening light. The legend turned over in his head. It involved a pair of sisters. He caught himself guessing at its true origin and turned his thoughts away so as not to cloud his expectations. He would wait until he heard their story.

Angel Mage

I entered a giveaway for a chance to win an advanced copy of Angel Mage by Garth Nix. Well, I’m happy to say I won said copy and quickly read the book so I could write this post for you. This is the first book I’ve read by Garth Nix. I first heard of him through my wife, who had read his Old Kingdom series when she was younger and raved about it to me when we were first dating. Her copies sit on our bookshelves but remain on my TBR list (I will read them eventually, I promise). 

“More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.Angel Mage

It’s a seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding. Four young people hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, a glory-seeking musketeer; and Dorotea, icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet but do not suspect their importance. And none of them know just how Liliath plans to use them, as mere pawns in her plan, no matter the cost to everyone else . . .”

Angel Mage is a standalone novel and was a great introduction to his work. This book is a neatly wrapped, satisfying adventure. However, the world Nix created is rich and could potentially spawn future stories if he chooses to write more. I have always been interested in angels as supernatural/mythological figures. Nix takes the concept of angels and uses them in an interesting way by having their influence within reach of the characters in this world but they do not physically manifest in their own right. This allows a form of magic to be present, but the cost to call upon the angels also limits its use.

There are five main characters throughout this book. The first, Liliath, almost reads a villain from the start and this makes her interesting, but I quickly came to like the other four as they are introduced. There are not any clear lines between heroes and villains or good and bad in this story and I enjoyed being able to decide for myself how to connect everything together. I also enjoyed trying to figure out the motivations and intentions of each character as the story progressed.

Nix partly dedicates this book to Alexandres Dumas and states this story was influenced by Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. This influence can be seen throughout the swashbuckling adventure found within the pages of Angel Mage, but only as a fun allusion picked up by those familiar with the work of Dumas.

If you are fan of Garth Nix, like fantasy, or enjoy sword fights and monsters, you will like Angel Mage. The recommended age range is 14 and up, but I think this story would be okay for younger, ambitious readers. This book is expected to release on October 1st, 2019. Pick up a copy or check your local library.

Happy Reading.

On Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorTobias Wolff is one of my favorite writers. Specifically, he is one of my favorite short story writers. I consider him one of the greatest American short story writers of all time. I of course would be more than happy to hear who your favorite shorty story writers are since I love discovering new writers. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Tobias Wolff, then I hope you read some of his work and come to enjoy it as I do.

I first discovered Tobias Wolff in a college course. If I remember correctly, the first story I read of his was “Bullet in the Brain.” I recently discovered that this story was made into a short film, and there is a recording online of it being read by Tobias himself. This story remains one of my favorites and it is a great introduction to his work. It may also be the best known of his short stories because it is often used in classrooms alongside several others he has written such as “Powder,” “Say Yes,” or “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” There is something about Wolff’s stories that capture what I like to refer to as human moments. He is able to weave a story together that could seemingly be about nothing in particular, but then can also be read as a revelation about a core element of human nature. Enveloping an entire species and capturing it within a single moment. His stories often linger with you afterwards and prompt an introspection of our own lives. He often pinpoints moments that define, in a that single moment, the entirety of a character. It is this aspect that I admire to great degree, and I aspire to write stories that have similar moments the readers keep with them. I think any fellow writers can learn a lot about the craft from reading his work as well.

Wolff’s works include several collections of short stories, a novel (Old School), a novella (The Barracks Thief), and two memoirs. I’ve written book recommendations about several of these. His memoir, This Boy’s Life, reveals much about himself through the lens of his childhood. It was made into a movie not long after it was first published. His second memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, provides a description of his time in Vietnam during his military service. I found the man himself as interesting as his writing. I even built up enough courage to write to him. It was my first and only time (as of this writing) that I’ve written to a writer who I admire. This was about three years ago now. I wasn’t sure what to say, so all I ended up saying was a general thank you for his work and an offer to buy him a drink if was ever in my area. To my surprise, he responded with equally kind words.

There are several interviews with Wolff that you can find online. I recently found one by The Creative Process that I found really interesting. They have interviews with other artists as well. I learned a few things on this site as well, like Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders and was rewarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama.

I don’t have any fun stories about gong to see him or things that have happened to me while reading his works. I haven’t really found many people who have read his works or at least have talked to me about them. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but every so often I can convince someone to try one and I usually recommend one by Tobias Wolff. I do remember one occasion where I did have a coworker/friend read “Bullet in the Brain.” The story itself is quite short but has incredible impact. He loved it and agreed with my initial comments I used to try and “sell” the story to him. Those comments being that Wolff’s stories have an unclear but substantial human moment. It’s hard to describe but easy to understand once you’ve read the story. If you want ever want to pick up a collection of his, I definitely recommend Our Story Begins. It has 31 short stories including several I have mentioned above.

I would love for the chance to meet Tobias Wolff one day. But if that never comes around, I know I can always pick up a collection of his stories, flip to any title, and be reminded once again what any amazing, intricate, and simple thing it is to be human.

Winter’s Heart

Winter's Heart


Winter’s Heart is book nine of The Wheel of Time and it has the longest prologue so far of the series at a lengthy 86 pages, which is more than 10% of the book. The previous prologue in the series to hold the title was in Lord of Chaos. A quick look shows that book ten will have an even longer prologue. I’ve commented on prologues before in this series and, if I’m being honest, I don’t care how long they are because it is all just one giant story and I don’t really notice chapter lengths that much when I’m reading. The longer prologues are split up nicely to allow for breaks if you don’t feel up to reading all 80+ pages in one go.

Anyway, enough about prologues and let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this installment. As with previous books in the series, there will be spoilers ahead so read at your own risk.

First, the weather. It was in book seven when the Bowl of the Winds was found and then used at the beginning of book eight. The weather begins to change drastically to its normal patterns once the Bowl is used. We go from summer heat to, wait for it, Winter’s Heart. Thanks, I’ll be here forever (since it’s my blog). So the weather does a 180. Between the heat through the last few books to the extreme cold now dominating the landscapes, this series demonstrates how weather can become its own character in a book and can be used to great effect in a story. A few books that I can think of that have similar use of weather as influential pieces of the story are The Left Hand of Darkness, Dune, and The Martian. The weather is causing issues for everyone, especially our heroes, but one thing that doesn’t make much sense to me is how quickly the Aiel adapt to the snow. Most of them have never seen snow before. I know night in the desert can be extremely cold, but that is not really comparable to a wet, blizzard cold. Yet we see the Shaido Aiel are moving easily and quickly in the snow and several of the Wise Ones seem to not be affected by the cold. Even those who can’t channel, like the stupid snake Sevanna.

Before we get to her appearance, I want to cover a few minor scenes. The first is Seaine and her newfound group within the White Tower who are seeking out the Black Ajah. We last saw her about to discover a Black Sister and we get a brief scene of them questioning her until she confesses that she is one. She then claims that Elaida is Black Ajah, but this goes to show once again that Aes Sedai can say what they believe to be true even if it is not actually true. I still believe Elaida is not Black Ajah since Alviarin is taking advantage of her and Alviarin is the one who is following Mesaana’s orders.

We get very little of Egwene in this book. We last saw her at the end of book eight making a doorway/portal and leading her army through it to lay siege to Tar Valon. Apparently, she is still in Murandy during the events of this book and presumably goes to Tar Valon towards the end of this book, so maybe we will see more of her and her battle at the White Tower in book ten. The only glimpses of Egwene are in Tel’aran’rhiod when she meets with Elayne and Nynaeve.

I’ll circle back to Sevanna here before moving on to Elayne’s thread in this book. We see Faile get captured by Shaido at the end of book eight. Morgase/Maighdin, Alliandre, Bain and Chiad are also captured. We see them led/dragged through the snow naked until they finally catch up to the greater Shaido forces where they don the robes of gai’shain. They are all made gai’shain to Sevanna because Sevanna is a hag and wants to rule the world. She separates her gai’shain from the others by making them wear jewelry. Her hubris and greed are sickening and I still hate her with a passion. She is breaking almost every Aiel custom but gets away with it. Maybe that is what irks me the most. Not only is taking “wetlanders” as gai’shain a break from custom, and essentially a taboo, she has things set up where non-Aiel who are taken as gai’shain are not released after their year and a day. Therefore, she is basically just making every “wetlander” she can get a slave for life.

Faile and those with her are approached by Therava who is the only Wise One who is willing to openly go against Sevanna. She asks/demands Faile to spy on Sevanna for her. Galina, who has been answering to Therava, also approaches Faile and claims she can help them all escape if they can steal the Oath Rod from Therava. This is where we leave Faile and I am again left to hope that we see more of her in book ten.

Along with Faile’s few chapters, we get a few chapters of Perrin. They get the first third of this book and then we don’t see them again. Perrin is caught between what he came to do, get Masema and take him to Rand, and rescuing Faile after she is captured. Obviously the latter takes precedence. Masema actually agrees to help Perrin hunt down the Aiel who took her and even agrees to go by Traveling which he refused as a way to get to Rand quickly. This team-up will be quite interesting. Maybe Masema will actually do something useful before he gets axed.

Elyas goes out with Gaul to look for the Shaido once they learn Faile was taken. I can’t help but hope we get more of Elyas because I like his character and would like to know more about him. Also in Perrin’s group is Berelain who escaped getting captured. She informs Perrin that Masema was meeting with the Seanchan. I can’t help but wonder what is going on with her though. Is she in love with Perrin? It’s starting to seem that way, which leads me to wonder if Berelain is the hawk from Min’s viewing back in book three. The viewing had the falcon, Faile, the Tuatha’an with a sword, Aram, and a hawk. The hawk and the falcon were both female and would cause trouble. Is her house symbol a hawk? I’m afraid to look into this because I want to avoid spoilers myself so I’ll just wait and see what happens as I go.

Back to Elayne. She is in Caemlyn and becomes first-sisters with Aviendha in a weird birthing ritual that lets them have a bond similar to a Warders but not as strong or invasive. Her claim to the throne is unsteady and she is having to rebuild the city guard. There is an attempt on her life that almost kills Dyelin. We later learn that the attack was set-up by an agent of the Forsaken to get close to Elayne. He was successful and is now her captain of the guard. He is still under Birgitte though so I hope Birgitte finds him out and puts an arrow through him. Elayne meets with the borderland alliance that is marching south to contact the Dragon Reborn. She expertly makes an agreement with them that will get them closer to their goal while putting her in a position to strengthen and possible secure her claim to the throne.

My favorite scene in this book is shortly after Elayne, Aviendha, and Min all bond Rand to them while he is in Caemlyn to talk to Nynaeve about his plan. After they complete the bond, we get a few different reactions. Min is excited to discover that Rand really does love them all equally and fiercely. Aviendha is overjoyed to know with certainty that Rand does love her. And Elayne is surprised to realize that her fears of sharing the bond were unfounded. We also get to see through the bond that Rand is basically in constant pain from his never-healing wounds and from using saidin. Shortly after the bond, Elayne basically tells Rand that there is one thing that Min and Aviendha have had that she hasn’t yet (Rand in the sack), and what happens next is hilarious. Nearly all intimate scenes have occurred “off-screen,” I think every one actually, and this one technically is as well but we get hints of what is happening through the newly formed Warder’s bond with Aviendha and Min, as well as the Warder’s bond via Birgitte. Honestly, sex scenes hardly ever need to be included in books, and they are rarely ever written well, but this second-hand account was absolutely brilliant because we get reactions from characters who are privy to the emotions involved. They try to block it out but they can’t and everyone is embarrassed and they all three go get drunk to help block out what is happening. Min also has a viewing that Elayne gets pregnant from this encounter and that she will eventually have two of Rand’s children. She has another about Aviendha showing she will have four of his kids and they will be quadruplets. Min wishes she could see her own aura so she would know if she would have any of his kids but she can’t.

Outside of Caemlyn is the ever-growing Black Tower. Mazrim Taim agrees to let Elayne and Birgitte view the little town whenever they please. It is in the Black Tower that we get a scene from the point of view of Toveine, the Red Sister who was captured and bonded by Logain. We get a brief look into Logain’s actions in the town. The camp is apparently split between Logain and Mazrim. Mazrim declared that all the Asha’man who were with Rand are traitors and are to be hunted down along with the ones who actually attacked him. I don’t see Flinn, Narishma, or Hopwell turning on Rand, and we get confirmation of this toward the end of this book which I will cover when I get to Rand.

I would move to his parts now but I’ll save it for last since it is a big moment. So next I’ll move on to Mat. Mat shows up halfway through this book. We last saw him under a pile of rubble at the end of book seven during the Seanchan invasion. One thing that has started in this book is that Rand and Mat, and presumably Perrin, start seeing visions or colors whenever they think of each other. I’m assuming this may come into play later on or it is just something that is tying them all together again and will force them to the same place later on. They haven’t all been in one place together since the start of book four.

We get into Mat’s story after we get a scene including Tuon who we learn is the Daughter of the Nine Moons. The Aelfinn/snake people who were in the doorway ter’angreal, located in Rhuidean at the time, told him that she would be his wife. We learn that Tuon is of the Seanchan Blood and is leading the next stage of the invasion, The Return, which includes settling a lot of Seanchan into the already conquered lands. I first thought that the Daughter of the Nine Moons was the Seanchan Empress, but I must have been mistaken. Maybe Tuon will eventually become the Empress since she is of the Blood.

Mat has apparently been holed up/held captive by Queen Tylin while he healed from his wounds. Tylin is doing well by working with the Seanchan. We also discover that Aludra, the Illuminator Mat saved back in book three and who gave him the fireworks he used to blow a way into the Stone of Tear, is traveling with Valan Luca’s menagerie, which is performing outside of Ebou Dar. The Seanchan invasion isn’t as oppressive as previously indicated. I for one could have done without seeing Valan Luca again, but here he is. Mat is trying to learn the Illuminator’s secret of how to construct fireworks so he can use them as weapons to aid his escape from the city. His entire story in this book is trying to find a way out. Thom and Juilin also are with him and have the same mindset, though Juilin apparently has been shacking up with a Seanchan slave/servant named Thera, and if my memory serves me well, Thera is the former Panarch of Tanchico named Amathera. Mat has another encounter with the gholam in the city and picks up another companion named Noal who effectively saves him from getting killed by it.

So Mat is trying to find a way out of the city safely and is hesitant to use Valan Luca’s troupe as cover. The dice start rolling in his head and only stop when he sees Tuon. He is wary at first because nothing happens right away. He continues trying to plan an escape when he is confronted by Bayle Domon, who is now a servant/lover to Egeanin who was the Seanchan in Tanchico who helped Nynaeve and Elayne. She was supposed to drop the male a’dam in the ocean but we find out that she had to hand it over to Suroth. Apparently there is a Seanchan prophecy that states the Dragon Reborn will kneel to the Empress. Supposedly this a’dam may be a part of that prophecy. Bayle and Egeanin also have a need to escape the city and the plan moves forward until it includes saving two Aes Sedai from being damane and getting another Aes Sedai out before she is found and collared.

During the rescues and escape, Tuon gets in the middle of it and Mat finds out who she is. He then says they will take her with them as a captive and Tuon actually smiles at this after her strange reaction when Mat called her his wife. We are left to wonder what will happen next. I expect we will see Mat and company getting outside the city in book ten and more on Mat and Tuon’s relationship. It will likely be a slow build but they will probably find a way to love each other.

I’m going to cover the rest of the events together. We really only have three parties left to discuss: Rand, Cadsuane, and the Forsaken. They eventually all come together so I’ll mix and match until we get to the main event.

Rand decides his next goal will be to remove the taint from saidin using the sa’angreal he finds in Rhuidean. They turn out to be keys that access the actual sa’angreal in the forms of humongous statues of the same design. One we saw several books ago being uncovered/excavated. The other is located on the island of Tremalking. Each one uses one half of the One Power. These sa’angreal are known as the Choedan Kal and were constructed toward the end of the Age of Legends. They were never used and therefore no one, even the Forsaken, knows what would happen if they are used. Rand believes using these is the only way to remove the Dark One’s corruption of saidin, which was the main reason for the breaking of the world and the end of the Age of Legends. This is his goal for this book, and is founded in the fact that he can’t use the power anymore without being physically sick or incapacitated, but first he decides he needs to eliminate the Asha’man who betrayed him at the end of book eight.

Rand approaches Nynaeve first because he needs her to wield the female half of the Choedan Kal. He chooses her because she is one of the few he can trust. He picks her up from Caemlyn at the palace. He tried to be secretive but Min gave him away to Elayne and Aviendha which led to what we discussed earlier. He then takes Nynaeve, Lan, Alivia, and Min to the city of Far Madding. Alivia is a former damane from Rand’s battles against the Seanchan in the last book. Min had a viewing about her that showed she will somehow “help Rand die” so Rand is keeping her close and begins to trust her based on this. Far Madding is the most interesting city I have seen so far, and there are many interesting locations in this series. The first encounter in the city shows Rand following and then facing two of the Asha’man in the streets. He lured them there by planting information back in Cairhein. They fight and he kills one and the other escapes. None of them use saidin when fighting. We later discover that there is a ter’angreal in Far Madding that replicates a Stedding, or creates a field where the One Power cannot be accessed. Therefore, no one can use the One Power in the city. They can’t even sense it there, which causes many who can use it uneasy until they leave the city. Not only does this ter’angreal prevent the use of the One Power, it can pinpoint where the Power is used on the outskirts of the city and within if someone figures out how to use it within the city limits. Surprise, someone does and it is our very own Nynaeve and Cadsuane who have angreal called Wells that can store the Power for later use. A somewhat deus ex machina moment but not a huge one. Another cool thing about Far Madding is that there is little crime. Partly because of the replicated Stedding and cutting off of those who use the One Power, but also because no one is allowed to use a sword in the city. You can either check your weapons at the gate or have a Peace Bond placed around your weapon until you leave the city. A Peace Bond is a wire weaving around the sword that locks it into the scabbard. Cutting a Peace Bond results in a huge fine and a public flogging. Peace Bonds are only removed when you leave the city and they are all registered when they are created at the gates. There are also extensive guards throughout the city to maintain the peace without the use of weapons.

Guess who is also in Far Madding? Padan Fain aka Mordeth. Padan Fain has been in this series since book one and has evolved, or devolved, into different levels of evil. Fain kills the Asha’man who escaped Rand’s first encounter. Rand believes he killed two of the others when Rand and Lan try to go kill them. There wasn’t confirmation of this but I could have just misread the scene. Anyway, Rand fights Fain while Lan fights Riatin. Riatin was seen with Fain outside Cairhein. He was leading the rebellion against Rand and is a master swordsman. Lan kills him, Fain gets away, and the guards of the city capture Rand and Lan. Cadsuane uses her influence and skills to convince the city to release Lan and Rand. They get to leave the city without being checked too. The record of them being in the city is wiped as well. All because Cadsuane and Nynaeve use their Well angreal to shock the Counsels/rulers of the city.

We do learn that the Asha’man who betrayed Rand were promised power and immortality from Demandred and Moridin. They were also ordered to kill Rand by Mazrim. This means that the Forsaken have reached the Black Tower and possibly could be within the Black Tower. Mazrim may even be one of them. This would be interesting but harder to believe unless they killed the original Mazrim and took on his identity since he had a reputation of being a false Dragon before we see the first Forsaken were released back in book one.

Speaking of the Forsaken, we do get quite a bit of information from them in short sections of this book. They have been somewhat on the edges of the story lately and not actively involved. A few new characters have been introduced but they have been operating outside the main story, which is weird considering how prevalent they should be at this point. So they all have a meeting in one scene and the only one who doesn’t show is Mesaana, who we know is in the White Tower. Moridin shows up. He is Nae’blis or the chosen one by the Dark Lord and therefore can command the others. We learn that Moridin is actually Ishamael reincarnated. We get references to two others who were reincarnated. Osan’gar and Aran’gar. Aran’gar was one of the two who were reincarnated as the opposite sex but can use the original half of the One Power they could access prior to reincarnation. This was a bit confusing at first and I’m not sure of the logic behind it, but it is interesting and causes misinterpretations and some tense scenes. Aran’gar used to be Balthamel. He is the one who was reincarnated as a woman. I can’t remember who the one was that was reincarnated as a man, but Osan’gar used to be Aginor, who was killed in book one. We also learn that Cyndane is the reincarnation of Lanfear. We didn’t know anything about her in the last book or two when she first appears. Apparently Demandred thought it was Lanfear reborn at first too but then dismisses the idea once he realizes that Cyndane is a lot weaker than Lanfear was. He thinks she is someone from the current time who was elevated to their level. The truth is she is Lanfear reborn, but she is weaker than her original form. This raises some concerns. I didn’t think Lanfear and Moraine were dead when they went into the doorway ter’angreal that is inhabited by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn (the snake people), but apparently Lanfear does die and is reborn. The question is why is she weaker now? Did she die in the ter’angreal after being held prisoner by the Aelfinn? Does this mean that Moraine may still be alive? I’m sure I’ll find out as I continue the series.

Moridin commands the other Forsaken to capture Rand while he is using the Choedan Kal. They all also agree that they need to kill Mordeth/Padan Fain since he opposes them as another evil power and may disrupt their plans. Sammael has not been reborn yet, if he truly is dead. We last saw him disappear/die by the fog in Shadar Logoth. Along with the Forsaken we get to see Luc/Slayer again for the first time since book three in the Two Rivers. We barely know anything about him then but get a few tidbits here. He apparently is an assassin known as Isam who sometimes works for the Forsaken but truly only reports to the Dark Lord. He seems to have a split personality or something. He Travels through Tel’aran’rhiod and can pop up anywhere. Perrin actually injured him in Tel’aran’rhiod back in book three. I’m not sure who/what he is, but I’m sure I will find out more as I read on.

Cadsuane and Sorilea have a fragile alliance and may end up having different goals, but they agree to work in the interest of Rand. When Rand gets bonded by Elayne, Aviendha, and Min, Alanna feints and this concerns Cadsuane. She apparently couldn’t feel her bond with Rand at that time. This leads to Cadsuane seeking Rand out by using Alanna as a dowsing rod. They both go, with an entourage of Aes Sedai and a few Atha’an Miere, to find him in Far Madding. The three Asha’man, Flinn, Narishma, and Hopwil, are now bonded as Warders to different Aes Sedai in this party. Verin is also in the party. She is getting more and more mysterious. I like her and want to trust her, but I am also wary of her. Alanna really wants to see Rand when they get to the city and is actually really happy to see him for some reason, though she is really upset when she finds out that he let someone else bond him. He says he actually allowed it this time which promptly shuts her up.

Okay. Final Scene. Rand and Nynaeve use the Choedan Kal outside of Shadar Logoth. As they try to control the power to remove the taint on saidin, the Forsaken are drawn to them. Anyone who can use the One Power will have felt them since they draw on so much. Cadsuane and her group defend Rand and Nynaeve as they attempt to cleanse saidin. The Forsaken Travel to Shadar Logoth to try and stop Rand from his objective and capture him. It is here that we learn that Osan’gar was actually Dashiva the whole time. He is also the only Forsaken who seemingly dies in this battle. He dies by fire to an Aes Sedai called Elza. She is one of those who swore fealty to Rand, but she apparently is also still Black Ajah because when she kills Osan’gar/Dashiva, it is because she thinks he is only Dashiva the Asha’man and she therefore wouldn’t get in trouble for attacking one of the Forsaken.

Rand and Nynaeve succeed in cleansing saidin. This should let Rand be a full-on badass for the rest of the series. Hopefully he gets his wounds healed too so he can be completely unhindered. This may also help Cadsuane bring him back to being a human being again since he doesn’t have to fight the Dark One’s touch every time he uses the One Power.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. We get decent sections from each character but a lot is still left open, especially about Perrin and Faile. I know there are still five more books to go and I’m still aiming to finish them by the end of the year. I just hope I don’t have to wait until book eleven to find out what happens to those two. I almost prefer seeing a little from all characters than not seeing them at all. I guess that really only pertains to the characters who were last seen in a bit of trouble. Rand right now is passed out but he succeeded in his task and is protected by Cadsuane and Lan so I wouldn’t worry about him too much if I didn’t see him for a bit. Egwene was last seen marching off to attack the White Tower so I do want to see what happens there sooner than later. Since she wasn’t in this book, I expect to see her in book ten, which I will be starting shortly.

On to Crossroads of Twilight.

On J.K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaJ.K. Rowling. One of the biggest literary success stories of the past 25 years if not of all time. I don’t think it is much of a surprise that she has been a big influence in my life since she has influenced hundreds of millions of people around the globe with her immensely popular series Harry Potter, but she is an inspiration beyond her writing as well. Before I get into the details of why and how she inspires me, let me herd an elephant out of the room.

I think there is a cliche response associated with aspiring writers that has been based on J.K. Rowling’s success. When someone says they are a writer, or want to be a writer, the response sometimes given is “So you want to become the next J.K. Rowling, huh?” I think this has become too common and is actually detrimental to many of these writers for several reasons. One, they probably don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling because what they write is completely different and they want to carve their own path and be recognized for their own merits. Two, the question itself is often asked in a snarky way which shuts down any chance of the writer sharing their dreams, goals, and stories with those who ask it. They feel like that initial response tells them that they aren’t good enough because it is a direct comparison with one of the masters of the craft. If you have experienced this response before, I hope you read the rest of this post because I think it will enlighten some things about J.K. herself, help you no longer consider that question an apathetic response to your dreams, and possibly provide the perfect response to such questions.

The question above does give credence to J.K.’s success (J.K. Rowling’s full name is Joanne Rowling. She uses the “pen name” J.K. Rowling where the K is an honorific for her grandmother’s name Kathleen). I think her story of rags to riches has become fairly well known, but I’ll give a brief summary here just because it is insightful. J.K. was a single mother on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter. The book was rejected by 12 publishers before getting picked up and published. These books, along with the movies, made J.K. Rowling a billionaire. That’s right, with a B. She is also one of the few people, perhaps the only person, who has gone from billionaire status to millionaire status by charitable giving. Her recent “net worth” is just shy of one billion dollars. I remember hearing her story about how she started her charity, Lumos, to assist orphaned children. She was reading a paper and saw a story about orphaned children and thought, as many of us surely have, that someone should be helping these children. Where most of us would have left it at that and continued on with our lives, she had a second thought which was a realization that she was in a place that would let her personally offer help because she had the funds to make a big difference and help address the issue. This led to the creation of Lumos. I haven’t followed the charity too closely but I hear great things from time to time about what they are doing. I did buy a pair of shirts for myself and my wife for a Lumos fundraising event (I haven’t written my international bestseller yet, but every little bit helps). I just think it is fantastic that she has taken her success and used it to assist others. I think this shows more about her character than her writing ever could.

I read a brief biography on J.K. when I was maybe twelve years old and the only thing I really remember from it was that she was on a train headed somewhere and was looking out the window (maybe at some cows?) and the name Harry Potter simply popped into her head and she knew she had the character for her book. She had known a family with the last name of Potter earlier in her life but the name that has become infamous simply came out of the ether, as most ideas do, and simply struck her and inspired her to start writing his story. She wrote the name on a napkin if I remember correctly to make sure she remembered it.

I grew up with Harry Potter. Literally…okay not in the actual literal sense as I didn’t go to Hogwarts with him, but I grew up alongside him in a way that made if feel like I went to Hogwarts with him. I’ll date myself here, but I was six years old when the first book came out in 1997. One of the only memories I have of being read aloud to as a kid was my mom reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to me and my siblings. I think my mom had won the book at a raffle or something because it was the first book in the series we had. I eventually got the first book and began reading through the series myself. I also had to wait for each book to come out because she was still working on them. The third book may have been out at that time because I remember waiting for the fourth. I ended up reading the first four books four times before the fifth book came out. I remember going to get the book when it came out too. We ended up getting it from Costco of all places and I remember there just being a pallet of books, a literal pallet full of just copies of the new Harry Potter book, sitting near the entrance for people to pick up and it seemed like everyone coming in was taking one. Then I waited for the sixth, which I read in three days, and then I waited for the seventh. Both of which were picked up from another pallet-full of copies. I remember I didn’t read the seventh right away for some reason, but I did read it not too long after it came out. Nearly ten years after the final book came out, they came out with a print edition of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play that had become a big success. So, in 2016, almost 20 years after the first book, I found myself going to a Barnes & Noble for a midnight release party of a Harry Potter book. I went by myself but ran into some friends. We bought copies and went home. I went to bed, but I woke up the next day and read the play straight through (plays are often much quicker reads than books) in a handful of hours. I met up with the same friends I ran into later that day and we talked about the book/play since they also read it straight through. We liked and didn’t like various things, but we mainly just happy to have more of the story we grew up with.

I remember waiting in line for the first Harry Potter movie. I was nine or ten years old. They would rope off an area and you could wait in line to get into the theater. This was before theaters had assigned seating or the ability to buy tickets online. We got there early and were one of the first in line for the opening night and it was a magical experience seeing it for the first time. They had started making the movies before the books were all released, but the movies did get released not long after the books were released. The last book came out in 2007 and the last movie came out in 2011.

I remember seeing the sixth movie when I was at college getting my undergraduate degree. I went to a decent sized university in a smaller town and they had a fairly new theater built which held a total of ten screens. Of course, me and some friends bought tickets for opening night. The theater was running the movie on all ten screens. I worked at a movie theater back home when I wasn’t at school so I knew a bit about how things worked, and I think I remember this theater saying they only had one copy of the film. This was when they had actual film, everything wasn’t all digital yet (do I sound old yet? haha), so they rigged it up, which they were actually outfitted to do so it wasn’t a questionable type of rigging, where the film would start on one projector and then go along pulleys to the next projector and so on and so forth until it went through all of them. The result being that one theater would start the movie and the tenth would start the movie only a mere few minutes later. It was crazy. So they had the film in all ten auditoriums so when you went in, they tore your ticket, and you could go to any of the auditoriums you wanted. It was a one night show of only Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Many of my friends had re-read the book prior to seeing the movie. I had not. They ended up not liking the movie much, because they had the book fresh in mind, but I enjoyed it quite a bit since I had decided to keep a little distance between the adaptation and original content.

I was actually working, physically, at a movie theater when the last movie came out. I had recently won an “employee of the month” award or something similar and one of my rewards was to pick my schedule for two weeks. Luckily for me, the last day I was able to pick my schedule was the opening night of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I would have felt bad taking the whole day off since it was going to be insanely busy, so I set myself to work from 12pm to 8pm. I had bought my tickets for the midnight show, the earliest it was shown back then (I can hear my bones cracking in my old age). I came into work and there were people already lined up since 9am. They were seeing the special double feature of the sixth and seventh movies that would then show the new movie at midnight, but I was surprised to see people waiting in line that early. Anyway, I’ll avoid the hellish work day I had and just say that I made enough popcorn to feed a pod of whales for a year. I got of work at 8pm, ran home and showered in an attempt to remove the smell of popcorn from myself, and then went right back up to get in line and watch the final, amazing experience of a generation. I still remember hearing that line “Always” in the theater and feeling the entire audience’s reaction. It was simply incredible. Movies are somewhat heightened when in a packed theater full of dedicated fans. I was really into films back then and I do recall that J.K. had let Alan Rickman know about Snape’s relationship with Lily very early on in the film series. He was the only one who knew until that final scene so he could have a driving motivation for his character. He wrote a letter about it when the films were completed and you can find it online. It is quite touching and hints at J.K. fully understanding of the story even though only three books had been completed when she told him the little secret that would become a huge moment.

A few final things about Harry Potter before I move on to the real focus of this post, the one behind the stories. A study was done titled “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice” which showed that reading Harry Potter actually makes people more empathetic. This is fantastic and shows how stories can influence people. Think of a few stories that have really gripped you. Can you imagine yourself without ever having experienced them?

There are theme parks entirely dedicated to bringing the world of Harry Potter to life. I still need to go to the bigger, more in-depth park in Florida, but I went to the one in Los Angeles a few years ago and had a blast. I bought a replica of Sirius Black’s wand since he is my favorite character in the series. I also bought a set of wizard robes. Ravenclaw robes since that is my “house.” A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on their sorted house. J.K. herself is a Hufflepuff.

Harry Potter was so successful that J.K. thought that anything she wrote afterwards would be impacted by simply having her name on the cover, that an expectation would be placed on the story before people even knew what it was, so she adopted an actual pen name of Robert Galbraith. She did publish a handful of books under J.K. Rowling, but she has a few successful series under her newer pen name, specifically the Cormoran Strike novels which are also now a TV series. I think the Robert Galbraith pen name was quickly found out to be J.K. Rowling, but she still uses the name today for some of her series. I think she has broken out of the shadow of her first success and continues to write new and interesting stories to find newer successes. She loves what she does and continues to find new audiences. She didn’t let herself get stuck in the expectations of others. She has always paved her own way. This is why I think she is a great role model.

I think her influence on me was not just the story that gripped the world, but the fact that it came into my life at the right time and has had a lasting impression. This is another aspiration I have with my own writing. To become a positive influence to a younger generation. To help kids experience stories that awe them and hopefully encourage them to become better people and believe in themselves. I’m not limiting that to those younger than me actually. I would love for everyone to have these reactions. I haven’t had the “so you want to be the next J.K. Rowling” response in a long time. I think I got it more when I was younger and the Harry Potter movies were still being released, but I’ve finally found an answer besides shutting down and thinking I could never be that successful, which then turns into believing I’ll never be successful with that comparison. My answer now is “No. I could never be J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to be. I’m going to be the first Ryan Yarber.”