Tuesday, June 14, 2011

[Blogging Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz] Sorcerous Puppets and Dark Gods -- A Look at "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again"

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a wonderful publication entitled Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery. The book was edited by Lou Anders, who is one of my three favorite SF/F editors and is Editorial Director for Pyr Books. Anders was aided in his editorial duties by Jonathan Strahan, the Reviews Editor for Locus Magazine. The Table of Contents of the book included a veritable who's who of my favorite Fantasy authors: Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, Glen Cook, and Joe Abercrombie to name a few. Needless to say, with the combination of a talented editor, an industry influencing reviewing editor, and a murderer's row of writers, I imagined that this book was destined to become a favored book -- one that was featured both in my Kindle and on my bookshelf.

I was right in this assumption, but I also encountered a pair of wonderfully unexpected characters. These wandering adventurers, Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz, were featured in the story "A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" by Garth Nix. Mister Fitz is the titular Puppet, and he is one of the most interesting characters I have encountered in all my years of reading.

I have mentioned before that my formative years with reading Fantasy literature were saturated with the writings of Michael Moorcock. In fact to me Modern Fantasy begins with Moorcock more so than Tolkien. This being the case, I could only imagine how genre changing Moorcock's anti-hero Elric was. On a rational level, I can see and understand how different Elric is from earlier Sword & Sorcery characters -- and Fantasy characters in general -- but I could not truly imagine how perception changing the character was for those who encountered the character when he was first published. Now I think I can.

Mister Fitz changed the genre for me. You see Mister Fitz is a Sorcerous Puppet -- a puppet animated by ancient sorcery. He's kind of like Pinocchio. As Nix points out in the narrative, the vast majority of Sorcerous Puppets were created to be entertainers -- just like Pinocchio. There are a couple of small difference though. Mister Fitz has a large Pumpkin shaped papier-mâché head, and he's possibly the most powerful Sorcerer the world has ever known.

That's right...a Puppet is the Sorcerer Supreme who uses his sewing related sorcery to battle dark and ancient gods.

The concept was mind blowing.

I immediately began hunting down all of the Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz stories, and discovered that there are three stories. Two are published in print anthologies, and the first was published in Jim Baen's online magazine Universe. That first story is Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again.

Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz are worthy inheritors to the grand Sword & Sorcery tradition of adventuring companions. They fit right in with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Elric and Moonglum. They are wonderfully complementary characters who are a kind of twisted mirror image of one another.

Sir Hereward is the vain and noble Knight and Artillerist. Hereward, likely named after the proto-Robin Hood Hereward the Wake, is a skilled physical combatant who possesses the ennui common among the questing heroes of Sword & Sorcery. He is a noble, but reluctant hero. In his first conversation with Mister Fitz, Hereward wonders at his place in the world and why the world is conspiring to push him and his companion from one dangerous adventure to another. Even when they merely seek a resting place, it seems that events conspire to have them participate in some epic battle. Hereward's humor and kindness, as well as his reluctantly heroic nature, perfectly reflect what I always viewed as the Paladin archetype. He nobly accepts his fate, but wishes he could live and love like other men.

Mister Fitz is...well...he's a Puppet with a papier-mâché head who happens to be a centuries old sorcerer created to battle with gods and demons for the fate of the world.

Hereward and Fitz's first adventure, "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again" sets the pattern for all of the tales printed to date. Hereward ponders some question -- what their purpose in life is, whether that pirate ship will actually shoot at them, or what exactly makes a good birthday present for a thousand year old puppet -- that hints at the theme of the adventure. At some point, Hereward meets an attractive woman -- who would be more attractive is she bore the ritualistic facial scars of the women around whom he was raised -- that Hereward might be able to have a satisfying relationship with. Some obstacle to happiness in that relationship arises, and potentially some tragedy. Finally, Hereward and Mister Fitz battle some powerful demi-god who was named by an ancient charter as a threat to the world. There is usually a comic, and tragic, twist at the end of the story where we get to see how the continual quest of protecting mankind is a thankless and terrible fate.

In the first tale, Hereward and Fitz are looking for gainful employment in the city of Shûme. Shûme is a vibrant city-state surrounded by poorer nations, nations that appear to be readying for war in a jealous attempt to reduce Shûme's hegemony over the region. But we soon discover all is not as it seems in Shûme, and that Hereward and Mister Fitz's duty to battle eldritch evil overshadows their ability to earn a little money. There are some secrets to Hereward and Fitz's origins that are better left revealed by the tale, but let me say that they are for all intents and purposes under a geas to defend the world. Their charter requires them to combat demons and demi-gods listed in an ancient tome created a number of largely forgotten civilizations. The civilizations may be forgotten, but the evil they opposed is still very real and Hereward and Fitz wander the world stumbling onto that evil and battling it.

The representations of Hereward's swordplay are almost superhuman. He is a truly skilled combatant, but he is still just a man and his skills are primarily limited to battling other mortals. It is Mister Fitz who faces the ancient evils, and who metes justice on those who worship them.

Fitz is a comical and terrifying figure. It is that combination that has endeared him to me. I can only hope that there are more stories on the way.
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