Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Flying Rides”:
Alright, we’re gonna half-ass squeeze Eddings into this trope, even if he doesn’t exactly fit. There’s no flying rides, but there are a few sorcerers who are able to transform into birds, like Beldin’s blue-banded hawk and Polgara’s snowy owl. But when they need to get across the sea quickly to find out what happened to Belgarion’s son, the go-to form is the falcon.
‘Thopters were the main flying transport on Arrakis. Modeled after birds, these small airships used wings that mimicked bird flight for their lift and stability, combined with jet propulsion. This allowed them easy maneuverability and quick liftoff in case of a sandworm attack. So maybe Leonardo Da Vinci wasn’t too far off with his flying machine designs after all.
The noble bronze dragon ridden by Weyrleader F’lar, Mnementh is the fastest and most powerful dragon on Pern. He introduced Lessa to F’lar, leading to her becoming a dragon rider, and, eventually to his mating with her dragon Ramoth.
The fuckin eagles. Tolkien’s go-to deus ex machina to get the party out of trouble. Harrassed by Orcs? Here come the eagles. Losing the battle of the Five Armies, here come the eagles. Trapped on top of Orthanc tower? Call the Eagles. Just don’t expect them to fly you into Mount Doom to dispose of the One Ring, that would be too easy. And I’m sure someone has some convoluted explanation why he didn’t deus ex machina around that – but frankly I don’t care.
Airships play a big part in Cato’s “Clockwork” duology, indeed Cato describes The Clockwork Dagger as “Murder on the Orient Express on an airship.” But I want to focus on her other flying machine. Invented by Mercian General Garret, the father of Medician Octavia’s love interest, Alonzo Garret, the buzzer was a two-seater airship that was capable of quick maneuvering to take out the larger bomber dirigibles. Indeed, the entire plot of the story revolves around buzzers — General Garret lost his life destroying a bomber, which crashed over Octavia’s village, burning it to the ground and orphaning her.
Betcha thought I was going to go with Temeraire? He’s not the only dragon in the series, so I figured I’d give a little love to one of his comrades. Excidium is an elder Longwing dragon, flown by Admiral Jane Roland, William Laurence’s one-time lover. The long-lived Excidium’s captaincy is expected to pass to Roland’s daughter Emily should she die before the Excidium.
For unique modes of flying travel there is none better than Baba Yaga. Not only does she live in a house on chicken legs, but she flies over the countryside in a mortar and pestle — hunting children, souring milk in cattle and causing crops to fail. In Gaiman’s gorgeous Books of Magic, she lures Tim Hunter into her lair, but he escapes with the aid of his owl and other woodland creatures. But it is Rose Psychic who is able to face down the dread witch and save Hunter.
Yeah, I’m going to give Neil a second entry, because Neil. One of the most beautiful issues of Sandman was the 50th issue, “Ramadan”. It told the story of Haroun Al-Rashid, who made a bargain with Morpheus that his beautiful city of Baghdad would never be lost to history. In an extended sequence he takes Dream on a tour of the legendary city, flying amidst the minarets on his flying carpet. And when Dream agrees to preserve the city, it all vanishes, the carpet listlessly falling from the sky. Truly one of Gaiman’s finest Sandman tales.
Come back next week when we take a look at “New Beginnings.”