An interview with Robert J. Harris (the creator of “Talisman”, writer, storyteller)

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If you think of the things that managed to become cult ones, one of them is definitely a board game called Talisman, played and loved by myriads of fans all over the world. One summer holiday afternoon, back when I was a kid, I opened the box with its Polish version inside and entered a completely new, amazing world, joining them myself. All those who play or used to play Talisman probably know the secrets of the game, others may have heard the title, but how much do we really know about its author? In my newest “remote talk” I had a chance to talk to the man behind it all – Robert J. Harris, the creator of Talisman, an accomplished writer, a great storyteller and interlocutor, as you can see for yourself reading this interview. What does Talisman have to do with school? Who could play Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the movie version of the game and which character would suit Emily Blunt? What was the first game that impressed Robert J. Harris? What are his favourite books, comics and films? How was it like working with Jane Yolen on young adult novels? And what on earth is “Quantum Fridge Audio”? The answers to all these questions (and even more) can’t wait to meet you, so don’t keep them waiting and start reading 😉

Łukasz Garbol: Imagine that someone is making a movie about you and they want to show the origins of “Talisman” and the moment when the idea to create it came to your mind. What would such a movie scene look like?

Robert J. Harris: It would just be a young man staring out a window deep in thought. To liven it up you’d have to use CGI to show all the heroes and monsters romping around inside his mind.

Is it true that Talisman was based on your earlier game, the plot of which was taking place at school? What was the aim of players in that game?

The game was set in my high school Morgan Academy in Dundee. It was called Rectocracy because the Head Teacher of the school was called the Rector. Each player controlled a teacher who moved around the outer region of the board collecting points. Each teacher had a special ability, e.g. the gym teacher added 1 to his die roll because he was fit and could move fast.

The squares in the outer region were all classrooms. When he had enough points the teacher moved into the inner region which were the heads of departments rooms. Finally, you made it to the centre of the board which was the Rector’s office.

By the way, what did you like most at school and what did you hate most back in your school days?

It was a pretty dull time. I wasn’t happy about being forced to play rugby.

When did you play a board game for the first time? Which game was that?

I must have played Monopoly because I know I made my own version of it set in my home town of Dundee.

Do you remember the first board game that really impressed you?

My favourite was called The Bugs Bunny Adventure Game, a race game in which Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Tweety made their way around the board. The fun but was you kept changing characters all through the game. I fist played it when out camping with my parents and my cousin George. I still play it today.

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And what was your first contact with fantasy genre in general? Was that a book? Or a film? Or maybe something completely different?

Reading The Lord of the Rings. Some friends and I were members of a wargames club and played historical wargames with metal figures, usually with Greeks, Romans and Persians. We made out own rules for playing Lord of the Rings battles and this was long before anyone head of Dungeons and Dragons.

If someone who hasn’t played Talisman asked you, “What is it about? What do you do in this game?”, what would you say? How would you answer in one sentence?

Enter a fantastic world where you and your friends can be heroes or villains battling against monsters and ghosts to become the ruler of an enchanted land.

What were your main sources of inspiration when you created Talisman?

Playing D&D (Dungeons and Dragons – annotation by ŁG ). I wanted a board game you could just take out of the box and have an adventure as exciting as a role-play.

Who is your favourite character from the game?

Assassin.

Do you remember your best experience of playing Talisman? When and where was it? Who did you play with?

For a long time it was just something I played for fun with my friends before somebody suggested I get it published. I have very happy memories of my second visit to Games Day in London by which time the game was becoming something of a cult. It was my first chance to mix with enthusiastic fans and play with them.

Polish version of Talisman published in 1988 and in 1991 by Sfera had different illustrations than the original version, the illustrations created by Grzegorz W. Komorowski. Some players even say they prefer this version to the original one. Have you ever had a chance to see that Polish version, titled Magia i Miecz (Magic and Sword)? How do you like its visual side?

It’s great to see alternative versions of the characters and creatures.

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By the way, do you have your favourite fantasy illustrators?

Chris Achilleos, Gary Chalk.

I know that Talisman inspired some of its players to try playing traditional RPGs. And what is your favourite role-playing game?

When I decided to run games as a games master, I used the Tunnels and Trolls system which I though was simple and fun. I added skills and other aspects to create my own RPG world. Much later I had great fun running games of DC Heroes RPG.

Which character class do you usually choose when you play role playing games?

Something roguish.

Let’s unleash our imagination for a moment. Imagine that someone offered you a chance to make a movie based on Talisman. Who do you think would be the perfect director for such a movie? Who would be the main characters and who would ideally play them?

I would get Kenneth Branagh to direct and it would star Dwayne Johnson (Warrior), Dolph Lundgren (Troll), Emily Blunt (Prophetess) and Mira Sorvino (Elf).

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And if you were to choose your favourite films (of any kind), what would you pick?

Favourite films from my childhood are Zulu, The Long Ships, The First Men in the Moon. Some of my favourite films now come from the Far East: from Korea War of the Arrows and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, from Japan Black Butler and 20th Century Boys.

Let’s get back to board games. You say that your children also designed their own games, that you helped them make their ideas come true and you later played them with the whole family. One of your sons created a game based on the popular movie cycle Fast and Furious. Do you remember what that game itself (and playing it) was like?

I remember that all 3 games worked well on the first play, but we didn’t push it after that. It takes a lot of work to create a game that plays out well consistently.

Board games have great myriads of fans all over the world. In Poland, for example, they are gaining more and more popularity among adults, too (which wasn’t so obvious several years ago). However, there are still some people who are sceptical about this kind of pastime. What would you say to them if you’d like to convince them to give board games a try?

Board games are a great way to have fun with family and friends, giving you all an immersive adventure but still leaving you free to talk and joke while you play. It is very sociable.

And, telling from your experience, which board game would you recommend as a good choice for playing something in the family circle?

Labyrinth, Riddle of the Ring. Sadly I don’t think Sorcerer’s Cave or Mystic
Wood is available now, but they are two of my favourite games.

You are known mostly as a creator of the games, but you are also an acknowledged writer. How did this part of your creative work begin?

When I first met my wife she was writing a fantasy novel. (It was her idea that we buy a D&D set, so she also inspired Talisman). When she became a professional author I would help out by roughing out some of the chapters. Our friend and fellow author Jane Yolen decided that I should write my own stuff which led to me writing eight teen novels with her. From there I went on to write my own books.

*And who were your favourite writers when you started writing your own stories?

I learned a lot from working with Jane Yolen and my Leonardo and Will Shakespeare novels were a continuation of the historical fiction she and I had been writing together. Diana Wynne Jones’ comic fantasies were the inspiration behind what became my trio of novels about Norse god Loki unleashed on modern St Andrews, where I live now.

My Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries are (obviously) inspired by Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I have just completed my second novel for grownups featuring the further adventures of Richard Hannay, the classic action hero created by the great Scottish thriller writer John Buchan.

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What about now? Whose books do you enjoy most?

I enjoy Dean Koontz’s thrillers, especially his Odd Thomas series. Mostly I read really old books, such as the classic mysteries of John Dickson Carr and am finally reading the classic novels of Sir Walter Scott.

Speaking of writers, I ‘d like to ask about J.R.R. Tolkien. In one of your texts available on the Internet you mention that when you were young fantasy consisted mostly of Tolkien’s books with introductions by Lin Carter and some old classic stories. Do you remember your first contact with Tolkien’s books?

I think I was fourteen when I discovered Tolkien. I remember reading the first chapters of The Lord of the Rings and realising that this was like nothing I had ever read before and that I was entering a whole new world.

And do you have your favourite Tolkienian books and characters? Maybe also particular favourite moments from the Professor’s stories?

I can only say that The Lord of the Rings is a work of true genius and more people should realise that what it is really about is the psychological battle against the corrupting power of despair.

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Let’s talk a little more about your own books. Recently The Vanishing Dragon, the second book from the series about Artie (young Arthur Conan Doyle) has been published. What can your readers expect from this story?

Fun, adventure, twists and turns and an ingenious and constantly surprising mystery. Does that sound good?

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Sounds absolutely awesome! Arthur Conan Doyle isn’t the only famous person being a main character of your books. You also wrote about the adventures of young Leonardo da Vinci and young Will Shakespeare. Is there any other famous real person you would like to make a character of your book?

I have a couple in mind but I’m keeping it a secret.

Your wife is also a writer. Do you two sometimes exchange ideas while working on new books? Is your wife your first reader and the other way round?

We discuss plots and she edits everything I write before it goes to the publisher.

Another important part of your literary work is writing about mythological heroes and gods. In Young Heroes cycle, created together with the famous fantasy writer Jane Yolen, you wrote about heroes from Greek mythology while in The World Goes Loki about Norse gods. Why have you chosen these particular mythscapes?

After our first collaboration Queen’s Own Fool was published, Jane was asked to write a series based on Greek mythology. Since my academic background was in classics she suggested we write these together.

When I started work on a novel of my own, I delved into my long time interest in Norse mythology. The original version of The Day the World Went Loki was the first solo novel I wrote but the third to be published.

And what was it like to work on those young adult novels with Jane Yolen? Was your cooperation full of idyllic atmosphere or rather like the “clash of the Titans”?

We always got on really well as our talents complimented each other. Even though it’s some years since we wrote together we are still the very best of friends.

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Having written stories about Loki, how do you like the newest movie (although comic-based) version of Loki portrayed by Tom Hiddlestone in Marvel cinematic universe and his duet with Chris Hemsworth as Thor?

When I visit schools as an author I do have to make sure that the children understand that Marvel comics did not invent those characters and that my versions of them are different.

Thanks to Loki we went to another field of your creativity. I’ve read that during school times you used to make your own comics. What stories did they tell? Could you say a few words about the heroes you invented back then?

I always loved Batman comics, so I drew my own comics about my own hero the Owl who had an Owl Cave and an Owlmobile. Eventually I created my own world full of superheroes.

What about your favourite comics? What were the best titles you’ve ever read? Do you have your favourite characters from comic books?

My favourite have always been any title from DC featuring the Justice Society of America.

In the last several years many comic book heroes and heroines have been appearing on the cinematic screen. Which of the movie adaptations of comic books have been your favourite ones so far?

The three Captain America films.

They are among my own favorites, too. And is there any superhero or superheroine that hasn’t appeared on the screen yet and you would like to watch his / her adventures in a film / TV show version?

Yes, Booster Gold.

From the screen let’s move to so-called “theatre of imagination”. Together with a few more people you run “Quantum Fridge Audio – Podcasts for the People”. Could you introduce those who haven’t heard about it yet to this project? How did it come into being? And why did you decide on such a name for it?

Some years ago my friend Alan and I wrote some comedy shows for BBC radio. Later we developed other scripts we decided to do ourselvesand put them on the internet. We have four shows running now on our site Quantum Fridge Audio.

The name is a real scientific term but we use it to mean that your shows are so ‘fresh’ it’s like they just came out of a fridge.

Radio adaptations of famous sci-fi and fantasy books and radio series of these genres used to be very popular before the rule of TV began. I’m curious if you’ve ever listened to any of those classic radio shows – those British or American productions. If so, which of them are your favourite ones?

I am a great fan of old time radio and fortunately those old shows are all freely available on the internet. I have all the episodes of “The Shadow” and Sherlock Holmes (with Basil Rathbone).

And in general, do you think this kind of entertainment can still be attractive to the public nowadays? What can it offer that other media cannot?

I would recommend people today to listen to the old shows but also to go to Decoder Ring Theatre where they can hear the adventures of Canada’s greatest superhero The Red Panda, which are recent shows written by Gregg Taylor.

We’re talking during summer holidays – for many an opportunity to travel more. You had a chance to visit several different countries. Which of those visits was the most unforgettable? Which place did you like most? Maybe you will inspire someone to see these places next summer?

I would recommend anyone to visit Greece and in 2000 we had a family holiday in Florida which we still share memories of today.

Could you recommend our readers something worth reading and something worth playing this summer (or in the summer time in general)?

Read any or all of my books. Read the science fiction of Eric Frank Russell and the mysteries of John Dickson Carr.

At the end of our “remote talk” let me ask you a question of a different kind. Imagine that you are to leave your words forged on a magical stone that will not perish till the end of the days. What message would you leave for the posterity if you had such a chance?  

Being alive is a great adventure.

Thank you very very much for the talk. It was a true pleasure and honor 🙂

Check Robert J. Harris’ page and follow him on Twitter:

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Harris Authors – the website of Robert J. Harris and Deborah Turner Harris

Robert J. Harris on Twitter

by Łukasz Garbol, August – October 2018

*If you quote the interview or use some information from it, please just give the usual credits: my name and / or the name of the blog plus the link to the interivew. Thank you 🙂

Photos of Robert J. Harris by Kirsty Nicol.

Photo of the Bugs Bunny Adventure Game: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/bugs-bunny-adventure-board-game-1849125763

Photo of Dwayne Johnson and photo of Dolph Lundgren by Eva Rinaldi
https://www.flickr.com/photos/evarinaldiphotography/
Both under CC licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo of Mira Sorvino by Manfred Werner – CC by-sa 4.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Photo of Emily Blunt by Pete Morawski
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zenimagery/
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0

Photo of Magia i Miecz cover:
http://www.pudelkozgrami.pl/magia-i-miecz-sfera-zawartosc-pudelka/

Book covers from Robert J. Harris’ Twitter, Amazon and GoodReads

An interview with Zan Campbell (Fell and Fair)

Close your eyes. Imagine Rangers of the North in their green hoods running through the dark wood with their bows ready. Imagine noble warriors of Rohan with the blades of their swords shining in the summer sun. Imagine a fair shieldmaiden of great beauty and courage equal to it. Now open your eyes and see how they all come to life. Zan Campbell and his fellowship, known as Fell and Fair, bring your favourite stories, legends and myths into reality. They make costumes and equipment, enrich their knowledge and gather people who share common passion, virtues and commitment. And they go on adventures. What are Fell and Fair? How did they come into being? Who can join them? The answers to these questions you will find in this interview. Zan Campbell will also tell you about Fell and Fair’s funny and dangerous moments, his first contact with Tolkien’s books, favourite literature and flying helicopters.

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Remote Talk: If you were to describe Fell and Fair in one sentence to someone who doesn’t know anything about you, what would you say?

Zan Campbell: Fell and Fair is about preserving that which was lost, and bringing to life that which never was.

“Meet each other and go on adventures”, was a message to the fans I once spotted on your FB page. How did you meet one another? How did Fell and Fair come into being?

Many of us grew up together. In fact, Fell and Fair really started with three core families. We played and made “movies” which, though we did not really realize it at the time, were just reasons to make and buy costumes and armor. Instagram changed the game though. Once we began posing some stills from some of our projects, we were able to access a community that had hitherto been unreachable. I joke that the Internet let all the nerds find each other, but it is true.

Do you remember your first adventure with the Fell and Fair fellowship? What was that? Did anything strange, surprising or funny happen?

The first true “Fell and Fair” meeting happened in late 2012. I had met this cool blacksmith and armorer, Charlie Ellis, over Instagram. When we realized that we only lived about an hour away from each other, we agreed to meet up and trade some hand-made arrows for a custom knife. I gave him the address and when he arrived he met my sister and my girlfriend dressed as elves at the house. They had instructions to lead him down the forest path to where we were throwing our feast. So after putting on his own elf armor, Charlie followed them into the forest. We decided to ambush them along the way so we found our favorite “ambush spot” (did I mention this is a bunch of people in their twenties?) and lay in wait for them. However, our plans went awry when my sister, feeling something was up, accidently triggered our ambush too soon. She whistled and everyone ran out only to find our victims fifty yards down the path and not in our trap whatsoever. Despite this poor display of woodcraft, we had a wonderful feast, and it encouraged us to find more people who loved the same things.

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Have you ever had any unexpected or dangerous adventures while roaming around with your companions?

I have a motto that goes, “It is not an adventure until something goes wrong.” So several times we have encountered issues that caused us to band together to overcome an obstacle. I remember especially when we found our usual river-crossing washed away in a flood and we had to get everyone, including three children and a pregnant woman, across in safety while keeping weapons and cameras dry.

And what’s been the funniest moment spent together with your fellowship so far?

The funny moments usually come in our battles. The one that first comes to my mind was when about five warriors from each side clashed while trying to defend, or slay, the bearer of a flag. Within about one second all ten were “dead” having struck each other with swords or arrows. The flag bearer was just standing with an amazed face as he looked at all the dead people laughing at how funny it was that no one survived to claim victory.

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You once mentioned on Facebook that you sometimes receive strange messages or are asked untypical questions by people interested in your projects. Do you remember any weird or funny messages you could share with us?

Most of the ones we find funny are people that try and debate us about our pictures or tell us how we got it wrong. We find these funny because we never make any claims that we are historically accurate or that we copy movies/games exactly. In fact we really enjoy creating new ideas and designs. One time someone commented accusing us of inaccuracy in one of the photos because we had paired a Tolkien quote and a picture of a shield that he said “no one in Middle~Earth ever used.” I simply asked him to go search all of Middle~Earth and if then he could still not find one I would use a different quote. He never replied.

Where do you wander most often with your company?

We are blessed to have about 500 acres of property near the mountains in South Carolina that we use the most. We love it because it has hills, fields, streams, rock formations, and a variety of trees. All of these make for better adventures and, of course, pictures.

In Fell and Fair people with different talents and skills come together creating something exceptional. You also share your talents with others, for example with movie industry. Could you say a few words about this cooperation? In which films or series can we see the effects of your work?

We currently work with three organizations by providing costumes, props and consulting regarding modern and medieval/fantasy weapons and warfare. You can find our costumes in several of the Assassin’s Creed Parkour videos by the famous YouTube star Devin Graham, and you will see more in the near future coming from The Forge Studios in their Rangers series, and several internet shorts and web-series by various studios. You can also see our work in the award-winning short film The Password written and directed by our friend Will Stewart.

You and other members of Fell and Fair seem to be real history buffs, delving deeper into certain topics, having fun enriching your historical knowledge. Have you always been interested in history or did it all start when you gathered Fell and Fair group?

Ever since I was a small boy I have had a love for history and historical fiction. In fact, I was devastated at the age of six when I was told that I could not grow up to be Robin Hood. Our love of history was certainly a motivator in our desire to learn the crafts required to create our costumes at Fell and Fair.

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You’ve already mentioned your cooperation with filmmakers. You also work as consultants for movies. Could you name a few titles you’ve worked on?

We are currently working on several independent films, nut we cannot disclose the names at this time. However, you can see our work in The Password from 9/8 Central and the world stage debut of Prince Caspian by The Academy of Arts (shows in the US and UK).

By the way, if you were to pick the most historically accurate movie or TV series you’ve ever seen, which one would that be?

In my opinion, there are two types of historical accuracy in film, costume and story. As to costumes, Master and Commander and Kingdom of Heaven to have done a particularly good job of costume design and by conveying the spirit of the times, although the characters are fictional. As to story, most productions fall somewhere on the scale of more or less accurate. I can’t say I have seen a historical movie that was entirely accurate in all the facts and dialogue. Often, because we have no way of recording everything, and often, shortcuts are needed for the sake of time. I understand this from a storytelling perspective, so it is far more important to me that a film convey the accurate costume, feeling and spirit of the period and people than actually being 100% factual.

And what about the one that has the most serious inaccuracies and mistakes?

The movie Braveheart. The whole thing. Still an awesome movie, but not accurate as to the people or to the costumes / sets / battles.

You make films and short videos with Fell and Fair, but they aren’t the only productions we can see you in. Some time ago you appeared as one of the main characters in UnSuper, “a comedy web series about the unfortunately normal people living in a world with super heroes”, a Flagship Comedy original series by Micah Taylor. You played a superhero named Speedfast (I think the name tells everything). How did you like portraying this kind of character, playing in a series that takes on a lighter tone?

UnSuper was a lot of fun to be a part of, but I definitely had to adapt from my usual surroundings. I played a character who was really not a very good person. Someone who was selfish, prideful and self-absorbed. I enjoyed it because it was so different. I got to act as Speedfast in a way that I would never act towards other people in real life.

As for superheroes, who is your favourite one? And if you could be a superhero yourself, would you prefer to be a speedster, like your YouTube character, or to have different superpowers?

Thor is definitely my favorite superhereo. A wonderful combination of history, myth and the modern world. I think if I could have any power it would be those of Wolverine. He can pretty much win any fight, is always in shape and can heal just about any wound quickly.

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Together with Fell and Fair, you have, so to say, been to a lot of different realms known from literature, movies, computer games. Is there any realm you haven’t been to so far, but you’d really love to visit?

One of my favorite movies and book series is Master and Commander (or the Aubrey-Maturin Series) by Patrick O’Brian. If I could get a crew of sailors and sail about in an eighteenth century frigate, I may just die of happiness.

From what I’ve seen, I can say you have a really impressive collection of swords. Which one is your favorite one?

One of the oldest and most trustworthy is my Agincourt sword. It has a short twenty-eight inch blade which makes it easy to use with a shield, and it is very light and strong.

By the way, legendary warriors often give names to their weapons. Do you give unique names to your swords?

I have not. I guess I am not quite legendary enough for one yet.

Let’s talk a little bit about the technical side of Fell and Fair’s activities. How difficult is getting all the materials, clothes and accessories needed? How much of your equipment (weaponry, costumes, props) do you make by yourselves and how much do you buy as ready-to-use items?

We now make or modify everything ourselves. Some things, like chainmail or boots, we buy pre-assembled, then we just modify them to suit our purposes, in order to save time and money. It definitely takes time to learn each craft, and part of that is learning the secrets of obtaining the proper materials. We are still learning so hopefully there are some tricks we have not learned yet!

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Do you remember the first element of costume, weapon or piece of equipment that you made on your own? And what was the first thing you created that you were really satisfied with?

I believe I made an archer’s hood. I had wanted one ever since my Robin Hood days as a kid, so I learned how to sew one. My first set of Gondorian Ranger bracers were the first thing I made that I could look as and say, “That looks just like the movie”.

You made costumes for the “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” (“Assassin’s Creed Unity Meets Parkour in Real Life” – see below) and “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate”  live parkour trailers. How did that happen? How did the AC parkour team get in touch with you?

I actually met their lead costume designer over Instagram and she was having a baby the week they were needed. She had seen the Assassin’s Creed costumes I had made for myself and asked me to make them for the video.

Who can join Fell and Fair? What skills, what features of character should a good candidate possess?

Skills you can learn; character is far more important. We look for people who have a genuine desire to learn and a love for things that are good and wholesome. Often we find them because they do have skills and display them on Instagram. We meet people online or locally then after determining they would be a good match for the group, invite them to join us.

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For those who would like to start and try putting together their own costumes and equipment, could you recommend any internet shops / websites worth checking?

YouTube tutorials are the best resource I have found. If you want to make something, it is highly probable that someone had made a video about it on YouTube.

Fell and Fair is deeply rooted in Tolkien’s mythology. Do you remember your first contact with Tolkien’s books? Which book was that? When did it happen?

When I was nine years old my mother gave me The Lord of the Rings book trilogy for Christmas. I was really disappointed because I wanted toys. However, she forced me to read them before she would allow me to see the movie a few years later. I cannot thank her enough for forcing me to read those books.

And who’s your favourite Tolkienian character? Why?

Boromir, Eomer and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth are probably tied for my favorite. All are young men charged with the protection of their people. They all are exceptionally skilled in combat and honestly desire to be good leaders. As a young man, I saw them as the embodiment of all the virtues that a true man should exemplify.

From time to time, different fanarts and memes appear on the internet, titled “What I’ve learnt reading Tolkien’s books” or “What I’ve learnt reading The Lord of the Rings”. If you were to answer such a question, what would you say? What have you learnt reading Tolkien?

Tolkien taught me that dragons can be conquered. That you don’t have to win to make a difference and that sometimes things that people dismiss as trivial, childish or petty can mean more to people than money, power or popularity.

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Talking about Tolkien, what do you think about Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings? Some readers are big fans of it, some totally criticize it, some appreciate the effort and enjoy watching it, but nonetheless see some elements that are in complete opposition to the spirit of Tolkien’s story. What were your impressions when you watched it for the first time?

I was twelve years old when I first watched it, so my reaction was, “I want this to be my life.” Overall, I really do love it. Going back to the discussion about costumes and accuracy, I think Jackson and Weta Workshop did an amazing job with costume, set and character design. There were several important characters left out, and several that were changed. I can remember the horror I felt when the elves showed up at Helm’s Deep! Usually, when I think about the story, I think about the characters Tolkien created with the visuals, actors and places that Jackson made for the movie. I find that a very nice combination.

By the way, do you have your favourite scenes from Jackson’s trilogy?

The death of Boromir and the charge of the Rohirrim at the Pelennor Fields: to me those are the great moments of glory in cinematic history.

Were there any Lord of the Rings actors or actresses who enchanted you with their interpretation of the characters from the book?

I loved Sean Bean’s Boromir, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Karl Urban’s Eomer. While I wish Boromir had been portrayed in a more positive light as in the book. I just thought Sean Bean was the greatest warrior one could imagine. Let’s be honest, Ian McKellen IS Gandalf. Karl Urban played an Eomer that was a man, flawed, but determined to do right by his king and people. That is a man I would follow.

Apart from Tolkien, who are your favourite fantasy authors? What are your favorite fantasy books?

I love Lewis’ Narnia series. That was probably my first introduction to fantasy. I also read and enjoyed the Eragon series as well as The Chronicles of Prydain series and the Game of Thrones series. However I have always been a lover of historical fiction more than fantasy in general. What I loved about Tolkien’s fantasy or, one might call it myth, is that it is so real. It is not too fantastic. You feel as if you could walk through the woods and see a hobbit or an elf and they would not be out of place.

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And if you had to choose your top three (or top five if you prefer it this way) of your favourite books (of any literary genre), what would you choose?

The Silmarillian – Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings (that still only counts as one) – Tolkien

The Ballad of the White Horse – G.K. Chesterton

Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian

Henry V – William Shakespeare

What have you read recently (not necessarily fantasy or science fiction)? Can you recommend anything to our readers?

I recently read Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis’ autobiography. It really helped me appreciate fantasy and myth in a whole new way. It was also reassuring that an Oxford profession and world-renowned writer was just as much of a nerd as I am. I also recently finished Bernard Cornwell’s The Grail Quest series about archers in the Hundred Years’ War. It is most excellent if you want historical fiction about archery.

When I look at the photos on your page, they naturally remind me of my favourite books, but they also bring back the memories of RPG sessions I used to take part in. Do you play role playing games? If you do, what’s your favourite system?

I really do not. I have mostly stuck to tabletop games like The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (like Warhammer) and computer RPGs and games like Age of Empires and Total War. However, some of our battle scenarios do resemble LARP to some degree.

And your favourite character class?

Archer. Kill them with arrows and loot their pockets.

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You’re a helicopter pilot and because I live in a town famous for its helicopters, I’d like to ask about that part of your life, too. How did you become a pilot? How long have you been flying helicopters? What types have you flown so far?

I became a pilot in 2012 while serving as an officer in the United States Navy. I flew both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. As to helicopters, I flew the Navy TH-57 Sea Ranger (a military Bell-206) and the MH-60R Seahawk.

Do you remember the first flight you undertook on your own? How did it feel like sitting at the controls of the helicopter back then?

I remember thinking, “Well Zan, you have done it. Now don’t kill yourself.” It was a combination of terror and excitement. I have never been so scared or so proud of myself as behind the controls of a helicopter. I also may have hummed Flight of the Valkyries the whole time.

Are there any skills or habits acquired while serving as a pilot that come in handy in everyday life?

Well, you get know a lot about the weather actually. A large part of a pilot’s life is understanding how not to be killed by the elements, so you know a lot about weather patterns, storm fronts and how long different types of weather last and why. You also become very good at paying attention to detail and developing a “scan”. That helps a lot while driving and looking after your car/house.

As our interview’s coming to an end, let me ask a little bit different question. “So many times throughout history, the people of the day threw up their hands in panic and cried, “This is the end of the world”. Whether it was the people of Greece after the last Spartan died at Thermopylae or the people of Christendom when Rome fell or the folk of England when Alfred fled and they thought all was lost to darkness and despair. But day came again. And often the generation that lost the keys to the kingdom gave birth to a generation that would reclaim them. Even as Húrin, last to stand against Morgoth, gave birth to Túrin the slayer of Glaurung the father of dragons… Day shall come again.” These are your words. Great words, I must say – words that are always worth reminding. When you think about the history of the world, is there any such heart-warming story, a story of hope never lost, that you could share with our readers? A short optimistic history lesson?

As a student of military history and a descendant of Englishmen, I think my favorite example of what Tolkien called a “Eucatastrophe”, or a sudden and unexpected resolution to a story, would be that of the Battle of Agincourt. Henry V of England had been taunted and provoked into invading France to reclaim some of his ancestral dukedoms. However after a long and costly siege at Harfleur he and his small, weary and sick army were marching as fast as they could to reach Calais and take ship for England. He was cut off by the French army which at conservative estimates outnumbered him four-to-one and was fresh and boasted the greatest of Europe’s chivalry in its ranks. The French demanded his surrender again and again but he refused. Henry chose to take his stand on a small hill near the castle of Agincourt. There his peasant archers slew the nobility of France in their thousands. With losses estimated at less than three hundred, Henry won a victory for the ages. Not only saving his army, but he forced a treaty with France and to top it all off, he married the French princess. Sometimes thousands of years of cultural development culminate and decide the fate of a single day. The fact that the English had the unprecedented skill with the war bow, the fact that the French were so arrogant as to charge on horseback, or even that the fields had been plowed and it rained the night before bogging, the French knights down in the mud. Even though the whole world thought Henry was beaten, when the sun set on October 25, 1415 A.D. he stood victorious on the field of battle and his name lives on forever because he had the will to press on and to fight.

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Imagine a situation like this: on a cold, rainy, windy day, a company of weary travellers enter the tavern. They order a hot meal and a jar of ale and sit close to the hearth to get dry. Suddenly, an old man stands up and says, “Lo, listen to the song of an old bard, to the story of Fair and Fell!” What would this story be about? How would you like people to remember you?

I would have it be a story about people who found each other, saved things that were being lost and maybe brought a little more joy into the lives of people who would otherwise have remained alone in their love for history, myth and legend. That people were reminded through pictures, video and a few choice words that dragons may not be real, but that they can be conquered. That something does not need to be a fact to be true. Finally that people were reminded that nobility, truth and goodness were not lost to the world. But rather hidden in the hearts of a few bold folk, who were then able to remind the rest of the world of their existence.

Thank you very much. “A star shines on the hour of our meeting”, even though this talk is just a “remote” one.

by Łukasz Garbol, October – November 2016

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As usual, links worth checking:

Fell and Fair on Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

Photos:

Fell and Fair FB page

Nicolas Bruno (4, 14, 15)

An interview with Mariusz Migałka (Circle of Bards, Mr.Hyde)

A proof that you don’t have to look for interesting artists very far. My first interlocutor is Mariusz Migałka. On the one hand, he revives the tradition of bards, singing songs about dragons, knights and drakkar voyages, on the other hand, he doesn’t keep off playing rock music full of energy. If you haven’t known him yet, read the interview, listen to the music and wait for his new albums. Photos by Edyta Migałka.

Mariusz Migałka Fot.Edyta Migałka

Remote Talk: What does being a bard mean to you? Who can be called a bard today?

Mariusz Migałka: For me the word “bard” has always had very romantic connotations going deep into the past. It infallibly reminds me of the most sincere kind of playing music and the most intimate form of contact with an audience. I imagine the bard as a kind of lone wolf, someone who has something intriguing to show to others, who can, even on his own, grip the listeners with his story, make them slip into reverie. The element of loneliness is always present in my music, no matter which band I write for. I always compose my songs in such an intimate way – just me and my guitar. This kind of work helps me later on, letting me play every piece of music even with the accompaniment of only one instrument. I think that I have something interesting to say, using interesting means, so I consider myself a bard. Who is a bard nowadays for me? Well, the world has changed a little – and the bards have changed too. However, the needs are still the same – we still look for guides, for the answers to the primeval questions or simply good tales. In a sense, every artist is a bard, if his work is of any value.

Take a feather and be a poet
Do you remember when for the first time you “took up the quill”, wrote something and thought, “I can show it to people” ?

Ufff… it’s a difficult question. I think it never happened in such a trivial way, like “I have hereby created a great work, let me show it to the world”. It all happened in a normal way and, luckily, it took me many years. Every musician has his musical nursery. I also started very early, but my first compositions weren’t the best ones in the world and, thank God, disappeared into the depths of the past. However, that didn’t stand in my way as far as taking part in festivals was concerned. So, looking for an audience turned out to be something natural – something connected with making music from the very beginning. Probably every artist looks for his or her listeners. Whether a certain work is worth plaudits is a totally different question. I can only add that I started to compose my own pieces of music in about 1997 and I think that the demo of my high-school band Sham-rock, even though naive and imperfect, when you look at it after all these years – may be treated as my first work worthy of attention.

The song will remain
Which contemporary pieces of music would you like to save the most? Imagine that you can record a CD with the pieces that you would like to leave to descendants. What songs would be on such a CD?

Hmm… If you mean my own music, of course I would like the album “Tales” to stand the test of time and become something special. I’m also very proud of the last achievements of Mr. Hyde – I mean our EP “A New Direction”. We put a lot of effort into it and making it we raised the bar high for ourselves. Recording that material demanded a lot of courage, because in a way these songs are in a newer style from previous. On this mini-album you’ll find a lot of good music worth the listener’s attention. I have too many new songs, so I can’t say I would like to concentrate only on my old pieces. A lot of artists have this problem, I suppose. All the time you are creating something new and you would like to show it, because in your opinion it’s the best at the moment. It’s the same with me, so my album for the descendants would probably include the freshest songs because they represent the current state of my mind. As they say, “today you are wiser than yesterday”.

And what about songs by other artists ?

Well, there are many. But if I had to choose a few pieces that I think should be buried in a time capsule, these would be, among others, “The Bard’s Song” and “A Past And Future Secret” by Blind Guardian, “The Mummer’s Dance”, “The Mystic’s Dream”, “Beneath A Phrygian Sky”, “Santiago” by Loreena McKennit (I would probably include her whole discography there), “Ghost Of A Rose” by Blackmore’s Night, a lot of pieces by Clannad with “Robin (The Hooded Man)” on top of the list, plus many rock songs – it’s hard to enumerate them all here. I will just mention “Tears Of The Dragon” by Bruce Dickinson, my beloved “Out To Every Nation” by Jorn or the immortal “Holy Diver” by Dio. It’s impossible to limit my choice just to one genre or artist. My list would be invidious to some of my favourite artists – the list of the best songs of all times should be very long. What is more, I’m still discovering new music all the time.

Circle of Bards
Imagine that you can sit by the fire together with other bards, other creators of the kind of music that Circle of Bards play. Who would appear in such a circle of bards?

First and foremost, the ones who don’t refuse a sip of good beer, he he … And seriously, as a musician, I think I wouldn’t have enough courage and enough skills to invite myself into such a company, but I would gladly see such a dream team. It would be nice to hear how such artists play together: Ronnie James Dio weaving his ballad about dragons or Bruce Dickinson emblazoning Jerusalem to accompaniment of Clannad.

Fight the dragons inside us
What are for you the most dangerous monsters that a beginning artist, a musician has to face?

There are too many of them to number. First of all, a beginning artist must face himself or herself. He or she has to understand how much self-determination and strength he or she needs to do what he or she loves to do. Nothing comes easily and one success isn’t always followed by another. What is more, so-called show business doesn’t create a friendly environment for artists. What’s the biggest demon of this business? If you want to remain true to yourself, do what you really want to do, play the music that is in your heart, you often have to face rejection, criticism and the lack of understanding. Personally, I think that if what you do is something really meaningful, you should do it, no matter what the circumstances and others’ opinions are. The latter may be especially demotivating – often unsupported with any proof, venomous – this is probably the worst kind of monster.

Probably at the moment most of the listeners associate you with Circle of Bards, but this is neither where your musical work begins nor where it ends. Could you remind us, especially for those who are just beginning to listen to your music, what bands have you played in so far? Could you also in a few words say what each of those bands gave you?

My adventure with music began in about 1996, but Circle of Bards turned out to be a turning point in my career. However, before the idea to create Circle of Bards was born, there were other bands in the meantime. I’ll just name a few. In 1999, I recorded my first original composition with a band called Sham-rock – the name I’ve already mentioned. In 2004, I joined a group Solveig from Lublin. Later on its name was changed into Mr. Hyde and the band continues to play under this name. Until recently, I was also a member of Acute Mind from Lublin. Besides, I took part in different other musical projects, like a song “W drodze” (“On the way”) that was written as a part of the refugee assistance programme prepared by the Volunteer Centre. I appeared in the music video for this song too. I also appeared as a guest on the album “The Oratorio of the town Lublin” alongside such artists as Krzysztof Cugowski and Magda Welc, in the song “The Bernardines”.

You don’t only sing, write lyrics and compose. You are also a graphic designer. Is there anyone or anything that inspires you in this art?

I’m a philologist by education and I’m a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi literature too. If I can say that something inspires me, that would be it. I’m a fan of the artists making the covers of albums, like Felipe Machado Franco, Andreas Marschal or Paul Gregory. I am the author of a few covers myself and there’s no denying that this kind of designing work is what interests me the most. There are a few more things that inspire me, like the book covers, CD covers, already mentioned here, and movies. For many years I’ve also been a comic maniac – I was reared on the style of Janusz Christa, Grzegorz Rosiński and Papcio Chmiel.

Have you discovered any interesting graphic artist recently? Is there anything fresh you can recommend?

I must admit that my latest discovery is Salvador Dali – as you can see, it’s never too late to delve into the past. For me, his works are fresh and new. I recommend them to everyone who hasn’t discovered them yet.

Going back to Circle of Bards – as far as I know some changes were made in the band. Can you say something more about it? How does the line-up look now?

At the moment Circle of Bards works temporarily as a duet: Mariusz Migałka and Jakub Kotynia. The genesis of this situation is long and complicated. Playing a concert during this year’s WOŚP (Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity – a very big charity campaign in Poland) we discovered that it gave us a great amount of fun and we saw big potential in this kind of playing live – vocal-instrumental band consisting of two people, amazing atmosphere and, above all, great fun. We received a very warm reception and got a lot of offers for concerts in such a line-up. We decided to take a risk. Of course, it’s possible that CoB will come back in a bigger line-up. At the moment, however, we get a lot of joy from playing in this narrow circle and we’d like to use it to its maximum potential.

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In one of the interviews given about the time of releasing the album “Tales” you mentioned that on the next album you wanted to include more songs in Polish (“Tales” included songs mostly in English). Do you keep this resolution? Could you let us in on the secret and say what we can expect on the new album when it’s finally released?

Yes, I keep this resolution. I have a dozen or so compositions in my drawer, some of which are destined for the next album of CoB. At the moment I can say that half of them comprise lyrics in Polish. I’m still working on my English though, because we don’t completely turn away from it. A lot of people reproached me for bad pronunciation on “Tales” and I must agree with them to some extent. It wasn’t too good. In my defence, I can say that English wasn’t the main priority at the time. Singing in English just fitted the demands of that time. However, I’m an ambitious person so I concentrated more on improving my accent. I hope it’s much better now, but I don’t want to stop at this point, I want to keep improving it.

Some authors of the comments on YouTube wrote that your pronunciation was very bad. As an English teacher, I can say that my impression was completely different. If we compare the album by the Circle of Bards with the work of many other Polish artists singing in English, I think there’s really nothing to be ashamed of. By the way, it’s interesting that there are so many experts on English pronunciation on YouTube.

It’s very kind of you to say so. I’m aware that people cavil at my pronunciation on “Tales”, because from the perspective of time I realize some things that I can cavil at myself. Nevertheless, I received a lot of positive feedback on that album, including the ones concerning my English pronunciation. A lot of people from abroad were delighted by the fact that my singing in English was understandable. In Poland, however, the reviews and comments took no prisoners. I must admit that for me this phenomenon is a little strange, but perhaps it comes from our Polish character.

Speaking about the reactions of the fans, we must mention that Circle of Bards has fans not only in Poland, but also abroad, all over the world. How does the situation look now? Where do your fans come from? Which countries are on top of the list? Your music has been played on international radio stations, right?

You’re right. Circle of Bards has quite a big group of fans abroad, and, if we are to trust the statistics, it’s abroad where the sales of our CDs are best. It’s difficult to talk about the “leader” among fans. We receive a lot of e-mails and comments from different parts of the world: Italy, Germany, Ireland, USA, UK, Spain, Slovakia and Hungary, but also from Australia, Moldova, Brazil, and recently Norway – to mention only a few. These are various, sometimes exotic, countries. It’s always a great pleasure to read letters from our fans. At the same time, it’s a little sad that we don’t have a strong manager who could let us showcase our music to the world. I’m convinced that Circle of Bards would return victorious from such international voyages. Our music would be shown to be good enough. The proof of that can be found in the fact that foreign radio stations often play our songs.

Will the new songs – the ones that weren’t included on “Tales” but that we can now listen to on the concerts – appear on the new album?

First of all, I must say that I would really love to finally make this album. All the new compositions that we’ve already added to our concert repertoire, would appear on it. As I’ve already mentioned, at the moment we have a handful of pieces arranged for the recording. We are working on the rest of songs – temporarily as a duet. I’ll admit that the face of Circle of Bards has undergone a delicate change. I’m not speaking here about the fact that we play in a duet, but rather about some novelties we would like to introduce in the music of Circle of Bards. It will be the sign of the musical development of the group. There will be more rock ballad kind of sounds. Still, I promise there will be also dragons, sea stories and fantastical tales.

When we talked last time, we were looking forward to the film version of „Hobbit”. Now we are after the premieres of the first two parts of the film trilogy. What were your impressions after going to the cinema?

I’m totally satisfied. Once again Peter Jackson enchanted me, he took me on a journey to Middle-Earth. I’ve heard different comments on both parts of “Hobbit”, sometimes very critical. I can only tell the ones that are disappointed to take a deep breath or simply stop at the stage of reading the book and not to go to the cinema for the next part. I personally give the creators of “Hobbit” two A’s. The first part whetted my appetite, the second left me a little unsatisfied. I put it down to its being the “middle” film. I watched both parts at the cinema – each of them twice. Let it be my final comment.

And what do you think about the songs promoting the two films – the first one by Neil Finn and the second one by Ed Sheeran?

As for the first one, the song itself is amazing. I can say the same about the main theme that appears in “Unexpected Journey” now and then. Having heard it, you can’t stop crooning it. It’s one of the best themes – both from “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” and my second favourite, just after the theme of Edoras. However, I must say that the version by Neil Finn doesn’t really convince me. As for “I See Fire”, for me it’s a way-out song. The work of Ed Sheeran isn’t really my cup of tea, but this song is awesome.

Thank you very much for the talk.

 

I’d like to thank Mariusz Migałka for agreeing to be my first interlocutor. Many thanks go also to Edyta Migałka for letting me use her photos. Last but not least, special thanks to Siôn R. Williams for doing the proofreading. Short quotes in italics are taken from the album “Tales” by Circle of Bards.

Circle of Bards:
Facebook https://pl-pl.facebook.com/circleofbards
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/circleofbards
Official page http://www.circleofbards.pl/

Mr.Hyde
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bloodyhyde
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/mrbloodyhyde
Official page http://www.mrhyde.com.pl/

Wywiad z Mariuszem Migałką (Circle of Bards, Mr.Hyde)

Wywiad przeniesiony na https://remotetalkpolski.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/wywiad-z-mariuszem-migalka-circle-of-bards-mr-hyde/

Od niedawna wszystkie wywiady po polsku dostępne w jednym miejscu – na bliźniaczej stronie Remote Talk PL https://remotetalkpolski.wordpress.com