Author of The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, talked of ‘desiring dragons’; that he would prefer ‘a wilderness of dragons’ to the bleak territory of the unimaginative critic. The genre of Fantasy (including Science Fiction and its various sub-genres in TV, film & computer games) has never been more popular. This book seeks to examine why this might be and why so many are tempted to write Fantasy fiction. Tolkien suggested how 'consolation' is an important criteria of the Fairy Tale: we look at how writing Fantasy can be consoling in itself, as well as a portal to Fantastic Realms for the reader. Along the way famous dragons of myth, legend and fiction will be encountered - from Grendel to Smaug. The riddles of dragons will be tackled and their hoard unlocked.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Book Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring
Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.
The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.
I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.
The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.
What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.
Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.
The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.
As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.
~ Lorna Smithers, Mythic Scribes fantasy authors website
Because Kevan Manwaring is a writer who loves and has travelled widely in the realms of fantasy fiction, his book is a trustworthy guide to the challenges, opportunities and enchantments that an adventurous imagination can discover there.
~ Lindsay Clarke, Whitbread-prize winning novelist (The Chymical Wedding, The Water Theatre, and others)
Ford Madox Ford, one of Britain’s greatest writers, used say that you could find out everything about a book by going straight to page ninety-nine. I went straight to Chapter Eleven “The Man From Porlock”, and found so much of value to me, even as an experienced writer, that I said “Yes!” aloud, several times. By then Kevan Manwaring had me hooked and I had to read all of the book. Anthony Trollope was certain that writing consisted of inscribing hundreds words per day, every day. Kevan shows us, in strict but kindly and inspiring terms, how to create those hundreds of words. And if you are not a writer or creative artist, there are many insights into the imagination, the creative process, and human consciousness, in this book, reflecting upon our currently deprived culture. Page ninety-nine? Read it and discover. ~ RJ Stewart, author, private email
Desiring Dragons is unique in its examination of the
creative processes involved in writing fantasy and account of their
value. Kevan shows that rather than being a mode of escapism, writing
fantasy is grounded in shamanic and visionary traditions. The process
of exploring otherworlds and returning with stories is healing and
empowering for writer and reader alike. Kevan’s extensive knowledge of
mythic literature and personal experience of the magic of Bardism
underlie a book which uncovers fantasy’s deep roots and provides a
treasure horde of practical advice for fantasy authors.
~ Lorna Smithers, poet
Following in the footsteps of Blake, Coleridge, and Tolkien, Kevan Manwaring invites us on a quest to find our grounding and meaning in the often arrestingly strange, far reaches of the human imagination. His Desiring Dragons is an invaluable resource for Fantasy writers wishing to hone their elfish craft, or for anyone seeking to understand the creative process that produces the still largely misunderstood genre of Fantasy. ~ Dr Charlotte Hussey
Thank you for sending me the proofs for Desiring Dragons. I thought it was excellent and offers some really great insights into the genre. It's also written in a easy to digest and entertaining way - which is really accomplished given that non-fiction that goes to that degree of analysis can sometimes be very dry. ~ Liesel Schwart, Private email
A new take on fantasy.
~ Kirsty Hartsiotis, storyteller (Suffolf Folk Tales; Wiltshire Folk Tales)