#FineArtFriday: Summer, Lake Ontario by Jasper Francis Cropsey 1857

Cropsey,_Jasper_Francis_-_Summer,_Lake_Ontario_-_Google_Art_ProjectTitle: Summer, Lake Ontario by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823–1900)

Genre: landscape art

Date: 1857

Medium: oil on canvas

Collection: Indianapolis Museum of Art

What I love about this painting:

Cropsey paints a summer evening in New York State, along the shore of one of Lake Ontario’s bays. Near the bottom center, a pair of fishers are placed on the wooden bridge over a creek. This image has a fantasy quality, as if it depicts a dream or a fond memory.

Our point of view is from a hill, looking down to the creek, the bridge, and the bay shore, and then across low hills to the great lake beyond. Cropsey gives equal importance to the earth below and sky above.

Cropsey’s signature deep colors are featured in this panoramic view of a summer evening. Warm reds, browns, yellows, and dark greens are lightened by wispy mists rising in the early evening air, lit by the setting sun.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Jasper Francis Cropsey (February 18, 1823 – June 22, 1900) was an important American landscape artist of the Hudson River School.

Cropsey was born on his father Jacob Rezeau Cropsey’s farm in Rossville on Staten Island, New York, the oldest of eight children. As a young boy, Cropsey had recurring periods of poor health. While absent from school, Cropsey taught himself to draw. His early drawings included architectural sketches and landscapes drawn on notepads and in the margins of his schoolbooks.

Trained as an architect, he set up his own office in 1843. Cropsey studied watercolor and life drawing at the National Academy of Design under the instruction of Edward Maury and first exhibited there in 1844. A year later he was elected an associate member and turned exclusively to landscape painting; shortly after he was featured in an exhibition entitled “Italian Compositions.”

Cropsey traveled in Europe from 1847–1849, visiting England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. He was elected a full member of the Academy in 1851. Cropsey was a personal friend of Henry Tappan, the president of the University of Michigan from 1852 to 1863. At Tappan’s invitation, he traveled to Ann Arbor in 1855 and produced two paintings, one of the Detroit Observatory, and a landscape of the campus. He went abroad again in 1856, and resided seven years in London, sending his pictures to the Royal Academy and to the International exhibition of 1862.

Returning home, he opened a studio in New York and specialized in autumnal landscape paintings of the northeastern United States, often idealized and with vivid colors. Cropsey co-founded, with ten fellow artists, the American Society of Painters in Watercolors in 1866. He also made the architectural designs for the stations of the elevated railways in New York. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

Image: Summer, Lake Ontario by Jasper Francis Cropsey 1857. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Cropsey, Jasper Francis – Summer, Lake Ontario – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Cropsey,_Jasper_Francis_-_Summer,_Lake_Ontario_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=618625179 (accessed June 30, 2022).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jasper Francis Cropsey,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jasper_Francis_Cropsey&oldid=1093620569 (accessed June 30, 2022).

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How the Written Universe Works: Exploring Theme part 3, Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders

Several years ago, I took George Saunders’ book, Tenth of December, to the beach as my summer guilty pleasure. For me, the most compelling tale in that collection of short stories was “Escape from Spiderhead.” 

how the universe works themeEscape from Spiderhead is a science fiction story set in a prison. It is built around several themes. The central theme is crime and punishment, and Saunders grabs hold of this theme and runs with it.

He asks us to consider where punishment ends and inhumanity begins.

He gives us the character of Ray Abnesti, a scientist developing pharmaceuticals and using convicted felons as guinea pigs as part of the justice system. The wider world has forgotten about those whose crimes deserve punishment, whose fate goes unknown and unlamented.

Saunders poses questions that challenge us to re-examine our own virtue. Do we have the right to treat a person inhumanely just because they have committed a crime?

Wikipedia gives us this Synopsis: 

Because he was convicted of a crime, Jeff has been sent to an experimental prison where inhabitants are guinea pigs for a man named Ray Abnesti, a sort of warden who develops pharmaceuticals. In an experiment to determine the strength of love, Abnesti puts Jeff in a room with a woman named Heather. Neither finds the other very attractive until a drug is administered and they suddenly fall deeply in love with each other and have sex. This continues until the drug stops being administered when they suddenly lose all love for each other. The process is repeated with Jeff and a woman named Rachel. The next day, Abnesti brings both Heather and Rachel into a room and asks Jeff to decide which woman should be drugged with Darkenfloxx, a drug that causes extreme mental and physical distress. Jeff wants no one to be hurt, but has no preference as to which should endure the drug. Satisfied, Abnesti decides not to administer the drug. Later, Jeff finds himself in a room with another man who he realizes also had sex with Rachel and Heather. He realizes that Abnesti is asking one of the women which one of the men should be given Darkenfloxx. The same result happens each time, and the drug is never administered.

Later, after Abnesti presents the love drug he is developing to his superiors, he says he must go into greater depth and gives Heather Darkenfloxx, saying that Jeff must say exactly what he feels while he watches Heather suffer in order to prove he has no romantic feelings for her. But the Darkenfloxx is so damaging that Heather commits suicide to escape the pain. When Abnesti reveals that he will do the same thing to Rachel to determine whether Jeff has a romantic attachment, Jeff refuses to participate. He insists that the drug should not be used. Abnesti leaves to get a warrant to administer drugs to Jeff that will force him to comply. To prevent Rachel from being tortured, Jeff administers Darkenfloxx to himself, and while under its influence kills himself. A voice tells him that his body is salvageable, and he can return to life, but Jeff declines, knowing he’s had enough of life. Jeff’s final emotion is happiness that, in the end, he did not kill and never would again. [1]

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingSaunders takes a deep dive into the theme of redemption in this tale. He didn’t take the expected path with his plot arc and didn’t opt for revenge by giving Abnesti the drug, which was the obvious choice.

Instead, he takes us on a journey through Jeff’s personal redemption, which is why this story impacted me.

Of course, the scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world. It exposes the callous view modern society has regarding criminals and what punishment they might deserve.

That raises the theme of morality vs. immorality. Who is the real criminal here, Jeff, Abnesti, or the justice system that would even consider funding such a prison?

Then there is the theme of compassion. Abnesti explores love vs. lust for his own amusement. The different drugs Jeff is given prove that both are illusionary and fleeting. Yet Saunders implies that the truth of love is compassion. Jeff’s action shows us that he is a man of compassion.

What does it mean to be human? This theme is a foundational trope of Science Fiction. Saunders shows us that to be human is to be aware and compassionate.

Abnesti demonstrates that one may be genetically and technically of the human species, yet not human in spirit. They are not aware of others as people; without that awareness, they have no compassion, no humanity.

A common theme in science fiction is the use of drugs to alter people’s behavior and control them emotionally. That theme is explored in detail here, ostensibly as a means to do away with prisons and reform prisoners. But really, these experiments are for Abnesti, a psychopath, to exercise his passion for the perverse and inhumane and for him to have power over the helpless.

Jeff is aware of the crimes he and his fellow prisoners have committed. Still, he sees Heather struggling with her dose of Darkenfloxx and states his belief that every person is worthy of love.

Spiderhead (the movie) premiered in Sydney on June 11, 2022, and was released on Netflix on June 17, 2022. The film received mixed reviews from critics.

Tenth_of_DecemberI will say now – the story and the movie are two different things. The film bears some resemblance to the story it is based on but – it is not that story. All writers should be aware that you no longer control the direction of your story when you sell the movie rights.

In Escape from Spiderhead, Saunders’ voice, style, and worldbuilding are impeccable. It is a stark journey into the depths to which some humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

This short story was as powerful as any novel I’ve ever read, proving that a good story stays with the reader long after the final words have been read, no matter the length. His questions resonate, asking us to think about our true motives.

Where do we draw the line between crime and punishment? When is a legal act really a form of criminal behavior? What does it mean to be human?

For me, that is what good science fiction does—it raises questions and requires us to think.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Tenth of December: Stories,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tenth_of_December:_Stories&oldid=1093865742 (accessed June 27, 2022).

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How the Written Universe Works: Exploring Theme part 2, Don Quixote

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is known today as Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. If you are a regular here at Life in the Realm of Fantasy, you may know I am a Don Quixote fangirl.

how the universe works themeThe main character, Alonso Quijano, is possessed of a mighty imagination. In search of chivalric adventure, he becomes Don Quixote, the great knight of La Mancha.

I believe my early exposure to this book was the subconscious inspiration for the Achilles heel of my own great knight, Julian Lackland. Both men believe in the chivalric code, and both are a wee bit insane. However, the plots and narratives have no other commonalities.

I first came into contact with Don Quixote when I was given a children’s illustrated version of the novel for my eighth birthday. I read that book, cover to cover until it fell apart.

Virtue-miguel-de-cervantesThe summer I turned ten, I was scavenging the house for something to read and discovered my father’s personal library. He had the entire collection of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. To my surprise, volume 29 was Don Quixote as translated by John Ormsby.

Several years ago, I bought Edith Grossman‘s modern translation, published in 2003. I think her translation is the best of all that I have read. This excellent version is available as an audiobook for those too impatient to read literary fiction. It does require a bit of perseverance.

Cervantes wrote a brilliant, enduring story that has survived intact since it was first published in 1605. He took many risks with the vocabulary of his native language. He had as immense an effect on the Spanish language as William Shakespeare did on English.

The themes in Don Quixote’s story are timeless, as are his quirks and flaws.

The conflict between the modern world and outmoded values – No one understands Don Quixote, and he understands no one. Sancho, a modern man of the peasant class (and with his own agenda), has a basic understanding of morality that is rooted in common sense. Sancho often agrees with the morals of his day but then surprises us by supporting Don Quixote’s outdated ethics and chivalry.

a-knights-responsibility-miguel-de-cervantesKnightly virtues – This is a morality tale. Don Quixote strives to present himself as an example, becoming a knight-errant as a way to force his contemporaries to face their failures. In his eyes, noble society has abandoned honor. They have turned their backs on the traditions of morality and the chivalric code. His duty is to show them the way back to righteousness.

The nature of reality – Don Quixote doesn’t understand the priest’s rational view of the world or his objectives. Conversely, Quixote’s belief in enchantment is ludicrous to the priest, but it is real to him. Only Sancho, his good-hearted, loyal friend, can mediate between Don Quixote and society. He interprets for Quixote, a buffer who translates his philosophies to the world, and in turn, explains the world to him.

The Distinction between Class and Worth – Cervantes gives us philosophers in the walk-on characters, the shepherds. He challenges the notion that social class and worth are entwined. Cervantes demonstrates that Nobility of Birth does not necessarily confer wisdom or kindness. In the characters of the Duke and Duchess, he gives us thoughtless cruelty, casually delivered purely for its entertainment value.

These themes share equally in supporting Don Quixote’s narrative. The plot may wander, and so does the protagonist, but the themes keep the narrative glued together.

where-madness-lies-miguel-de-cervantesQuixote’s insanity is gentle and easy to sympathize with—he can’t understand the harshness of the people around him. He is a man of action and a champion of the oppressed.

And being a man of action, Don Quixote’s efforts frequently are not appreciated by those victims he steps up to help.

“For the love of God, sir knight errant, if you ever meet me again, please, even if you see me being cut into little pieces, don’t rush to my aid or try to help me, but just let me be miserable, because no matter what they’re doing to me it couldn’t be worse than what will happen if your grace helps, so may God curse you and every knight errant who’s ever been born in the world.”

~Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, 1605 [1]

The life of Miguel de Cervantes was worthy of a novel in its own right. In 1575, pirates kidnapped Cervantes and his brother and sold them as slaves to the Moors. Originally from Morocco, the Moors were the longtime adversaries of Catholic Spain, which they had once conquered.

Cervantes was taken to Algiers. His three or four attempts to escape his slavery were unsuccessful. Finally, he was ransomed in 1580 and returned to Spain.

He was a true indie author, a genius who never earned much from his writing and didn’t expect to. He just wanted to write.

After gaining his freedom from the Moors, he worked in many clerical capacities, notably as a purchasing agent for the Spanish navy (i.e., the Spanish King). His ill-placed trust in Simon Freire, an Andalusian banker with whom he had deposited Crown funds, led to his imprisonment for a few months in Seville after Freire went bankrupt. [2]

Don_Quijote_and_Sancho_PanzaHere are a few sayings you might hear every day in one form or another that were coined by Cervantes:

  • By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.
  • Can we ever have too much of a good thing?
  • No limits but the sky.
  • Why do you lead me a wild-goose chase?
  • Thank you for nothing.
  • Let every man mind his own business.
  • The pot calls the kettle black.
  • Tilting at windmills.

Don Quixote’s story of insane genius and chivalric mayhem was born when Cervantes went to prison. All his life, Cervantes had to work a day job to support himself, writing at night and whenever he had the chance. Although he was wrongfully incarcerated, prison allowed him to spend his entire day writing.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote: Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, 1605 PD\100.

[2] Information Source:
Royal provision of the judge of the Degrees of Seville, Bernardo de Olmedilla, to collect the assets of Simón Freire de Lima, amount that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra had given him. Date 1595-08-07. Cervantes Universe (universocervantes.com)

Image: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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#FineArtFriday: Barge Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin, 1870 (revisited)

Barge Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin  (1844–1930)

  • Date: 1870
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: Height: 131.5 cm (51.7 ″); Width: 281 cm (110.6 ″)
  • Current location: Ж-4056 (Russian Museum)
  • Inscriptions: Signature and date: И. Репин / 1870-73

What I love about this painting:

A burlak was a person who hauled barges and other vessels upstream from the 17th to 20th centuries in the Russian Empire. Most burlaks were landless or poor peasants.

These men are shown working, painted with brutal truth. They are beyond exhausted. Their skin is darkened and weathered from years of work in the unremitting sun, except for the young man in the middle. One day he will be like the older men, hardened to the misery and enduring his lot in life.

Each face is filled with emotion, with a story of their own. Who knows what tragedies brought them to agree to this terrible existence, this seasonal slavery of physically towing boats upriver?

For the women and men who towed the barges, winter was even worse, because once the river froze over these burlaki were unemployed. Their life was a constant circle of starvation and hellish labor under the harshest conditions.

This post first appeared in November of 2019. Each time I view this painting, I am moved by the unwritten stories, the tragedies that led these people to the life of a burlak, and the hardship shown so clearly here.

About this Painting (via Wikipedia)

Barge Haulers on the Volga or Burlaki (Russian: Burlaki na Volge, Бурлаки на Волге) is an 1870–73 oil-on-canvas painting by artist Ilya Repin. It depicts 11 men physically dragging a barge on the banks of the Volga River. They are at the point of collapse from exhaustion, oppressed by heavy, hot weather.[1][2]

The work is a condemnation of profit from inhumane labor.[3] Although they are presented as stoical and accepting, the men are defeated; only one stands out: in the center of both the row and canvas, a brightly colored youth fights against his leather binds and takes on a heroic pose.

Repin conceived the painting during his travels through Russia as a young man and depicts actual characters he encountered. It drew international praise for its realistic portrayal of the hardships of working men, and launched his career.[4] Soon after its completion, the painting was purchased by Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and exhibited widely throughout Europe as a landmark of Russian realist painting. Barge Haulers on the Volga has been described as “perhaps the most famous painting of the Peredvizhniki movement [for]….its unflinching portrayal of backbreaking labor”.[5]

The characters are based on actual people Repin came to know while preparing for the work. He had had difficulty finding subjects to pose for him, even for a fee, because of a folklorish belief that a subject’s soul would leave his possession once his image was put down on paper.[8] The subjects include a former soldier, a former priest, and a painter.[9] Although he depicted eleven men, women also performed the work and there were normally many more people in a barge-hauling gang; Repin selected these figures as representative of a broad swathe of the working classes of Russian society. That some had once held relatively high social positions dismayed the young artist, who had initially planned to produce a far more superficial work contrasting exuberant day-trippers (which he himself had been) with the careworn burlaks. Repin found a particular empathy with Kanin, the defrocked priest, who is portrayed as the lead hauler and looks outwards towards the viewer.[10] The artist wrote,

“There was something eastern about it, the face of a Scyth…and what eyes! What depth of vision!…And his brow, so large and wise…He seemed to me a colossal mystery, and for that reason I loved him. Kanin, with a rag around his head, his head in patches made by himself and then worn out, appeared none the less as a man of dignity; he was like a saint.”[11]


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Barge Haulers on the Volga,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Barge_Haulers_on_the_Volga&oldid=918607811 (accessed November 1, 2019).

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How the Written Universe works: Exploring Tropes #amwriting

Epic fantasy, like all genre fiction, has certain tropes that readers look for and expect to find in one way or another. Tad Williams injected new life into the genre in 1988 with the epic fantasy, The Dragonbone Chair. Simon’s story is volume one of the trilogy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

how the universe works tropesThe events set in this world are linked by family, warped by lies and secrets kept across three generations. Themes of hubris, truth vs. falsehood, heroism, and coming of age power this truly epic fantasy series.

In literature, the word trope describes commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices or genre-specific themes and motifs. Literary tropes define almost every writing category, including poetry, television, and art. Tropes can be found in all literature.

What Williams did with The Dragonbone Chair was to take the tropes we expect to find and turn them on their head.

We lesser mortals hope to do that with our work, no matter the genre in which we write. We know what we want to read and attempt to make our work recognizably sci-fi, western, romance, or whatever.

We must play to the readers’ expectations and exceed them. To do that, we must give the expected tropes an original twist.

I love reading epic fantasy. Traditionally, epic fantasy features several recognizable elements, such as elves/fairies, dwarves, dragonsthe hobbit, demons, magic or sorcery, and multilayered quests. They often have constructed languages, coming-of-age themes, and multivolume narratives.

The way that Tad Williams changed epic fantasy was to take what J.R.R. Tolkien did with Middle Earth and create his own world, Osten Ard. It’s completely foreign, yet has a relatable flavor because it is built around a traditional fantasy model and takes clues from our real world history.

He peopled this world with human and non-human races, all of whom have roots in human history and folklore, but with his own spin on them.

With Jiriki, we have Williams’ introduction to his version of the fair folk. He and his people are recognizably elvish but with a trace that feels almost Japanese. They are a people who suffered a violent schism that split their society into two separate cultures, Norns and Sithi.

Norns are the bad elves.

Just sayin’.

300px-The_Dragonbone_ChairBinabik‘s people, the Qanuc, are called trolls by the humans and Sithi. They are a cross between Tolkien’s dwarves and hobbits, made wiser and less concerned about gold. The Hunën are brutish giants who serve the Norns and are often at war with the Qanuc.

There are often warriors embodying certain typical characteristics, such as the paladin or, conversely, the black knight. In Osten Ard, the broken knight, Sir Camaris, fills the paladin’s role. He is a noble knight serving the king and the religion of Usires Aedon, a riff on Medieval Christianity. Every death at his hands is a blot on his soul, and his commitment to honor is what ultimately ruins him.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post on Theme, Simon (the kitchen boy) and Miriamele (the princess) are the main protagonists and have the roles of unlikely heroes. Together and separately, they face overwhelming odds and must find courage in the darkest moments.

The hero represents hope, the human belief that salvation is just around the next corner.

Often in epic fantasy, the first villain is not the real villain. They may be the henchman of the true antagonist or a would-be usurper of the Evil One’s throne. Pryrates is evil. His henchman, Inch, is also evil.

They get what they deserve because they are not nearly as evil as the truly evil mind orchestrating the chaosIneluki, the Storm King. He is clever, immortal, and possesses a tragic backstory.

Inch and Pryrates are merely cruel and greedy for power over others.

When we write any novel, certain tropes will find their way into the narrative, often emerging from our subconscious without our noticing. The tropes appear because we know what we look for in a story and our subconscious mind wants to write that narrative.

Sometimes, we hear the comment that “certain tropes are overused.” This blanket statement is incorrect because a literary trope is a fundamental aspect of a subgenre.

They can be poorly written and framed by cliché treatments. Readers can and do eventually become bored with the books available when nothing written with a new and exciting spin emerges in their favorite genre.

Maybe you’re tired of Romance’s central trope, tired of happy endings.

magicIn that case, it’s time to widen your reading horizons and try reading something in a different subgenre. Maybe you’d like a space opera or a portal fantasy. You’ll never know what you are missing if you don’t read outside your favorite genre.

Maybe you will like it, and maybe not. But no one says you have to finish a book you hate.

Even if a friend swore that they loved it.

If you’re tired of the commonalities in the books you read, be adventurous. You might like something you wouldn’t usually read, which could inspire you to change up your palate.

You might paint the tropes of your genre with brilliant new colors.

And that can only be good for the readers.

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How the Written Universe Works: Theme #amwriting

Epic Fantasy is often dark in tone and always epic in scope. It usually explores the struggle against supernatural, evil forces.

how the universe works themeTad Williams’s Memory Sorrow and Thorn is a classic Epic Fantasy series. Many of the themes and tropes he explores are rooted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. However, Williams took those themes and tropes down a darker, more violent path, laying bare the evil and the good of which humanity is capable.

This trilogy revolves around a schism in the family of the late king, Prester John. That enmity drives the larger narrative. In this 3-book series, the underpinning theme is the circle of life represented through birth, growth, degeneration, and death. A prominent theme driving the action is the family dynamics, warped by lies and secrets kept across three generations.

The other fundamental themes are the hero’s journey and coming of age. Both Simon (the kitchen boy turned hero) and Miriamele (the princess turned hero) are driven by these themes, as are Jiriki and Binabik to a certain extent.

I’ve mentioned before that theme is the backbone of the story. It’s an idea, a thread that winds through a plot arc and connects events that would otherwise appear random.

Themes are often polarized, good vs. evil, faith vs. doubt, fate vs. free will, human vs. nature,

Epic fantasy novels, being longer in word count than other genres, leaves room in the plot for multiple themes to appear. This creates opportunities for the subplots to add depth, revealing the backstory without an info dump.

Polarity is a fundamental aspect of the inferential layer of a story.

The inferential layer is the unspoken, the knowledge a reader gains by extrapolation, interpretation, and reasoning. It is the layer that requires the reader to think. Polarity guides the reader as they make sense of the clues.

300px-The_Dragonbone_ChairWhen the story opens with the first novel, The Dragonbone Chair, events show the royal family is fraught with violent emotions, creating conflict. King Prester John’s sons, Elias and Josua, appear to be the center of a storm that will destroy Osten Ard.

In any story that explores the relationships within a family as part of the larger narrative, we begin with the circle of life.

Hubris is another theme that drives the plot and is expressed in the character of the apparent antagonist, Pryrates. Hubris refers to excessive self-confidence and the terrible decisions that arise from it.

This conflict allows Williams to employ the subtheme of chaos and stability. Evil is portrayed by taking this theme to an extreme: Pryrates enables Elias’s possession by the true antagonist, the Storm King.

Williams also riffs on the Hero’s Journey, the bonds of friendship, and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity.

A crucial consideration in planning a fantasy novel is plot structure or how the story is arranged. As in all works, the central underlying theme is introduced in the early pages and supports the plot through to the end.

Subthemes are introduced and combined with the main theme to create a backbone for the story. Without that backbone, the narrative can wander all over the place, and readers will lose interest.

The hero’s journey is a theme that allows authors to employ the subthemes of brother/sisterhood and love of family. These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, so they find their way into my writing.

Tad Williams supported his themes by adding these layers to his narrative:

  • character studies
  • allegories
  • imagery

These three layers are driven by the central themes and advance the story arc.

Williams’s large cast of characters is portrayed as if they are real people. They are a mix of good and bad at the same time. Some lean more toward good, others toward bad. Either way, he has them act and react with good, logical intentions. Each desperately wants what they think they deserve.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1By the end of the third book, To Green Angel Tower, Williams has employed the theme of Truth vs. Falsehoods to completely corrupt the Circle of Life theme. All the characters – the antagonists and the protagonists – deceive themselves about their own motives.

Regardless of their race, they share some characteristics with humans. Each character hides the truths they can’t face behind other, more palatable truths.

I always think that inserting a whiff of human frailty into a character makes them more interesting, more relatable.

Memory Sorrow and Thorn is considered a cornerstone of modern epic fantasy. This is because in the early 1980s, when Tad Williams began writing this trilogy, he took traditional themes and tropes and applied his original angle to them, along with modern prose and phrasing. He took each of the themes binding his narrative together and went one step farther, adding a hint of horror.

The horror would have been gratuitous if he hadn’t supported his narrative so well with all the themes and subthemes. Williams was inspired by Tolkien, and in turn, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has inspired countless authors.

Your assignment: on a new document, pick a theme from the following list, create a character or two, and write two paragraphs exploring that theme.

  • plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedFate vs. free will
  • Faith vs. doubt
  • Good vs. evil
  • Greed
  • Hubris
  • Humanity vs. nature
  • Justice
  • Lust for Power
  • Pursuit of Love
  • Revenge
  • Sacrificial Love
  • Survival against the odds
  • War

All genres are made specific by the tropes that define them. Epic fantasy shares some tropes with high fantasy.

It often includes elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives.

My next post will discuss the tropes featured in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and how the themes we’ve discussed support them.

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#FineArtFriday: River Landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder 1614

A_Wooded_River_Landscape_with_a_Landing_Stage,_Boats…_by_Jan_Brueghel_the_ElderArtist: Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625)

Title: River Landscape (Wooded river landscape with a landing stage, boats, various figures and a village beyond).

Date: 1614

Medium: oil on copper

Dimensions: height: 25.9 cm (10.1 in); width: 37 cm (14.5 in)

What I love about this painting:

Men, women, and children fill the boats for a day on the river, dressed in colorful garb. Everyone is in good spirits, looking forward to a day of relaxing and perhaps a little fishing. Onshore, crews will fillet and smoke or salt whatever can’t be eaten right way. When weather is fine and the fish are plentiful, the party is on. Everyone will eat well for a few days.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Jan Brueghel’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, is regarded as an important innovator of landscape art. By introducing greater naturalism in his Alpine mountain settings, his father had expanded on the world landscape tradition that had been founded mainly by Joachim Patinir. Some of Pieter the Elder’s works also foreshadowed the forest landscape that would start to dominate landscape painting around the turn of the 16th century. Pieter the Elder also developed the village and rural landscape, placing Flemish hamlets and farms in exotic prospects of mountains and river valleys.

Jan developed on the formula he learned from his father of arranging country figures traveling a road, which recedes into the distance. He emphasized the recession into space by carefully diminishing the scale of figures in the foreground, middle-ground, and far distance. To further the sense of atmospheric perspective, he used varying tones of brown, green, and blue progressively to characterize the recession of space. His landscapes with their vast depth are balanced through his attention to the peasant figures and their humble activities in the foreground.

Jan Brueghel’s landscape paintings with their strong narrative elements and attention to detail had a significant influence on Flemish and Dutch landscape artists in the second decade of the 17th century. His river views were certainly known to painters working in Haarlem, including Esaias van de Velde and Willem Buytewech, whom Brueghel may have met there when he accompanied Peter Paul Rubens on a diplomatic mission to the Dutch Republic in 1613. [1]

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Jan Brueghel (also Bruegel or Breughelthe Elder 1568 – 13 January 1625) was a Flemish painter and draughtsman. He was the son of the eminent Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A close friend and frequent collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens, the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century.

Brueghel worked in many genres including history paintings, flower still lifes, allegorical and mythological scenes, landscapes and seascapes, hunting pieces, village scenes, battle scenes and scenes of hellfire and the underworld. He was an important innovator who invented new types of paintings such as flower garland paintings, paradise landscapes, and gallery paintings in the first quarter of the 17th century. He further created genre paintings that were imitations, pastiches and reworkings of his father’s works, in particular his father’s genre scenes and landscapes with peasants. Brueghel represented the type of the pictor doctus, the erudite painter whose works are informed by the religious motifs and aspirations of the Catholic Counter-Reformation as well as the scientific revolution with its interest in accurate description and classification. He was court painter of the Archduke and Duchess Albrecht and Isabella, the governors of the Habsburg Netherlands.

The artist was nicknamed “Velvet” Brueghel, “Flower” Brueghel, and “Paradise” Brueghel. The first is believed to have been given him because of his mastery in the rendering of fabrics. The second nickname is a reference to his fame as a painter of (although not a specialist in) flower pieces and the last one to his invention of the genre of the paradise landscape. His brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger was traditionally nicknamed “de helse Brueghel” or “Hell Brueghel” because it was believed he was the author of a number of paintings with fantastic depictions of fire and grotesque imagery. These paintings have now been reattributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

Image:  River Landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1614. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:A Wooded River Landscape with a Landing Stage, Boats… by Jan Brueghel the Elder.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:A_Wooded_River_Landscape_with_a_Landing_Stage,_Boats%E2%80%A6_by_Jan_Brueghel_the_Elder.jpg&oldid=358393285 (accessed June 17, 2022).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Brueghel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Brueghel_the_Elder&oldid=1082625249 (accessed June 17, 2022).

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#RoadTrip! The Resort, The Vegan, and June-uary #amwriting

Traveling, even in the Great Pacific Northwest can be—intriguing—if one is vegan. Sometimes the food is good, other times not so much. This week we are at Alderbrook Resort and Spa on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

road tripNow, we probably wouldn’t have plumped for such a fancy getaway, but my husband has a conference there, and what with him not driving right now, I am along as chauffeur.

Anyway, the restaurant, like most here in the Northwest, does offer a few vegan entrees and I have been well (if unusually) fed.

I will get to the unusual part in a minute.

This place is built in the style of a Timber Chalet, but it wasn’t always so elegant. It was begun in 1909 by Henry Stumer, a Seattle business owner. He had previously owned the Hotel Stumer in Union City (now Union, WA). He and his friends at Seattle’s Swedish Club bought several parcels of beachfront property just east of Union City. The resort is situated on the fjord known as Hood Canal, which is a part of Puget Sound.

Locmap-hoodcanal-ssIt’s a fjord, not a canal, so why they named it that, I don’t know. But there it is, one more thing our pioneering ancestors have to answer for.

Stumer built tent cabins out of frames covered in black and orange striped canvas. They had no windows or electricity, only a wood stove for heat and cooking. The creek running through the property was used for refrigeration.

There was no road when Alderbrook opened in 1913, so guests arrived by boat from Union City or on horseback.

Alderbrook went through many iterations over the years, including a hotel. In 1959, Wes Johnson, a Hood Canal realtor from Hoodsport purchased the Alderbrook Inn. Johnson’s redevelopment plans included an indoor swimming pool, marina, 18-hole golf course, and 70-room hotel. To finance the redevelopment, Johnson sold the vacation cottages individually.

Zoom forward in time to 2022, and Alderbrook Resort is a posh palace for those with money to burn. Greg’s wallet is on fire! So much to do, so many ways to spend money, and so little time. The staff here is marvelous, and there are many activities for families. They have a fabulous spa, a high-end restaurant, yacht tours of Hood Canal, and numerous trails for hiking.

But I’m not into spa treatments, for which my husband’s budget is grateful. It’s peaceful and pleasant to just sit on my balcony and observe the waterfront and the forest around us. I have done quite a bit on my writing projects while visiting here.

I’ve spent a lot of time (and $$$) in the restaurant, where I have terrific views of the activities of my fellow guests.

I’ll just say I’ve seen some stuff worthy of a novel. Here is one people-watching moment that sticks out:

Kimball_BostonDirectory_1868The man and the baby: We arrived on Sunday afternoon. We sat at a romantic table for two for our first dinner, overlooking the beach. It’s the Pacific Northwest, so people come dressed for January in June (or June-uary as June is known here). The lawn chairs were full of guests lounging in their summer finery of Gore-Tex and wool, ignoring the intermittent misty rain and drinking steaming coffees. Off to one side was a young man sitting alone. Beside him was the fanciest baby pram I’ve ever seen.

Seated above it all in the restaurant, I had ordered grilled cauliflower. I was not disappointed in the quality of that entrée. It was seasoned perfectly, with just the right amount of tenderness, and was a delicious, satisfying dinner.

I just happened to look up from my meal in time to see the young man wheel the pram to the side of an enclosed area, park it, and walk away. This baby was very tiny, not more than a month old.

That was not a happy moment for me, as you don’t do that here in the US. I later discovered that the enclosure is an outdoor coffee bar on weekends, but I didn’t know it then. Here in America, you never leave a baby or small child unattended in a public place, whether outdoors or in a car. People will assume it’s been abandoned and call the police and Child Protective Services.

The longest five minutes I’ve ever lived passed while I watched that baby carriage like the hawk-eyed grandma that I am. Then a young man emerged from the coffee bar with a steaming cup. He walked to the pram, placed his cup in the cupholder, and pushed the baby out of my visual range.

I’m a terrible witness. I couldn’t remember if it was the same young man, but they both had red jackets. The author in me went into overload. Perhaps the baby was a doll, and I had witnessed a spy transaction, two men handing off secrets. Or maybe it was a big-time drug deal.

Ooh, the possibilities. Now, if Ellen King Rice will only write that novel!

So back to the food.

peas and vinesOn Monday, I decided to be adventurous. I thought I would try the spring salad with fresh peas, pea vines, fennel, watermelon radishes, and a champagne vinaigrette. I had never thought of eating pea vines, but I’m not afraid to try new things.

That was … interesting. The vinaigrette was divine, and the peas and radishes were delicious, as were the dandelion greens. Unfortunately, while the pea vines were good, they were difficult to get into my mouth without embarrassing myself.

Somehow, I had thought the vines would be cut to a manageable size, but alas, they were five to eight inches long and wiry. Not only that, but they were impossible to cut with the lovely silver flatware set so neatly beside our plates.

I tried wadding them up into little bales and pitchforking them as one might do spinach, but they sprang apart before I could get them into my mouth. Vinaigrette splattered all over my face and glasses.

I had been raised with manners, so I wiped my face with the white linen napkin and soldiered on.

I tried twirling them around a fork – with the same result.

I ended up leaving most of it on my plate, something I rarely ever do.

This supports my experience that punishment food is on the menu in the most unlikely places and is often labeled vegan. Usually, it’s soggy eggplant or limp portobello mushrooms, which are much easier to get into your mouth than my elegant pea vine salad was.

avacado dinner saladToday we are on our way home, where we will indulge in budget-friendly home-cooked meals and other economies for a few weeks to make up for this splurge.

And next Monday, here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, we will delve into some of my favorite books and see how the authors employed themes to emphasize atmosphere and unite the threads of their stories.


Credits and Attributions:

Baby Pram, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Kimball BostonDirectory 1868.png,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Kimball_BostonDirectory_1868.png&oldid=463698022 (accessed June 14, 2022).

Map of Hood Canal, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Locmap-hoodcanal-ss.png,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Locmap-hoodcanal-ss.png&oldid=449541623 (accessed June 14, 2022).

Peas and vines, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Doperwt rijserwt peulen Pisum sativum.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Doperwt_rijserwt_peulen_Pisum_sativum.jpg&oldid=483824040 (accessed June 14, 2022).

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How the Written Universe Works: 7 Rules of Construction #amwriting

Words, carefully chosen and arranged with care, have the power to bring your writing to life.

7 rules of constructionWe who write because we love words spend a great deal of time framing what our words say. We choose some words above others because they say what we mean more precisely, or they color our prose with the right emotion.

We take our chosen words and bind them into small packets we call sentences. We take those sentences and build paragraphs, which become novels.

The author’s job is to understand how the grammar of their native language works. The great authors use those rules to energize their prose.

However, when it comes to word choices, some things are universal to the best work in all genres, from literary fiction and poetry to sci-fi and fantasy, to thrillers and cozy mysteries, or even Romance.

The world is in a state of flux—money is tight. In the US, the cost of getting a university education is prohibitive, with students incurring massive debt that follows them for years afterward. Some people have the luxury and the desire to seek a degree in writing.

Others must rely on self-education. To that end, here are seven rules professional writing programs teach about sentence and paragraph construction.

One: Verbs—we choose words with power. In English, words that begin with hard consonants sound tougher and carry more power.

Verbs are power words. Fluff words and obscure words used too freely are kryptonite, sapping the strength from our prose.

Use Active ProseTwo: Placement of verbs in the sentence can strengthen or weaken it.

  • Moving the verbs to the beginning of the sentence makes it stronger.
  • Nouns followed by verbs make active prose.

I ran toward danger, never away.

Three: Parallel construction smooths awkward phrasing. When two or more ideas are compared in one sentence, each clause should use the same grammatical structure. They are parallel, and the reader isn’t jarred by them, absorbing what is said naturally.

What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, who used the phrase “I came; I saw; I conquered” in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela. Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of arriving, seeing, and conquering.

Buddha quoteFour: Contrast—In literature, we use contrast to describe the difference(s) between two or more things in one sentence. The blue sun burned like fire, but the ever-present wind chilled me.

Five: Similes show the resemblances between two things through the use of words such as “like” and “as.” The blue sun burned like fire.

Similes differ from metaphors, which suggest something “is” something else. The pale moon shone, a lamp in the sky that comforted me.

Six: Deliberate repetition used occasionally emphasizes emotion and atmosphere but doesn’t increase wordiness.

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in the opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of the same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition at both the end and beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • Repetition is a construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause.

Every book is a quotation, and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry. [1]

alliterationSeven: Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of successive words, such as the familiar tongue-twister: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Alliteration lends a poetic feeling to passages and enhances the atmosphere of a given scene without creating wordiness.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe 1845) [2]

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees, (Birches, by Robert Frost 1916) [3]

The way we habitually construct our prose is our voice, and that voice determines the impact of our work. Different readers have widely different tastes, but no one enjoys bad writing.

Constructing our work to fit the market we are writing for is crucial to finding readers. However, all readers want to find good writing and are attracted to work that tells a story with atmosphere and emotion.

Neil_Gaiman_QuoteActive phrasing generates emotion. Sometimes, using similes, repetition, and alliteration in subtle applications enhances the worldbuilding without beating your reader over the head.

We all know worldbuilding must be organic and natural, but we don’t all know how to achieve it. Subtle application of these seven rules will empower your worldbuilding. The casual reader will be immersed but unaware of the mechanics. They won’t realize why the work is powerful.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works. Published in 1904. Vol. VIII. Letters and Social Aims, VI. Quotation and Originality, Bartleby.com, accessed (June 11, 2022)

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “The Raven,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Raven&oldid=908701892 (accessed June 11, 2022).

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Birches (poem),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Birches_(poem)&oldid=886359747 (accessed June 11, 2022).

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#FineArtFriday: The Bird Concert by Jan Brueghel the Younger ca. 1640 – 45

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Artist: Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601–1678)

Title: the Bird Concert

Date: between circa 1640 and circa 1645

Medium: oil on copper

Dimensions: height: 13.2 cm (5.1 in); width: 17.9 cm (7 in)

Collection: Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum

What I love about this painting:

This is a joyous, surreal exploration of all the birds the artist had ever seen in his native Antwerp, and many rare birds that he could only imagine. Brueghel has gathered birds from all over the world into a mystical, fairytale glen, posing them around a songbook.

They are learning to sing a in a language they all can understand, a wonderful allegory of the aspirations of the artist for humanity in the turbulent times during which he lived.

This painting also celebrates the new discoveries made by European explorers, as Brueghel had only seen scientific drawings of many of these birds. Even though he hadn’t seen some of these birds personally, he paints them as if they are before him.

The amazing flock of birds gathered here gives us an insight into the mind and sense of humor of Jan Brueghel the Younger, a man not too different from us even though he lived over 300 years ago.

This composition must have been important to Brueghel and says something about him. He went to the expense of getting copper as the base upon which he painted this scene. He was comfortable but not rich, so that tells me he intended this painting to last, to be something he would be remembered for.

About the medium of Oil on Copper, via Wikipedia:

Oil on copper paintings were prevalent in the mid sixteenth century in Italy and Northern Europe. The use of copper as a substrate for an oil painting dates back to Medieval times. The Flemish masters and other artists including Jan Breughel the ElderClaudeEl GrecoGuido ReniGuercinoRembrandtCarlo SaraceniAmbrosius Bosschaert IICopley Fielding and Vernet painted on copper. They favored copper for its smooth surface which allowed fine detail, and its durability. Copper is more durable than canvas or wood panel as a support for oil painting, as it will not rot, mildew or be eaten by insects. Contemporary painters also use copper as a base for paintings, some of them allowing the metal or patina to show through.

The old masters prepared the copper for painting first by rubbing it with fine pumice abrasive. The copper surface was then treated with garlic juice which is believed to improve adhesion of the paint. Finally a white or grey ground layer of oil paint was applied as a primer. After drying the copper panel was ready for the artist to begin painting. Later artists used the patina process, in which the copper is oxidized with the use of various acidic solutions, as part of the art work itself. The resulting patina or verdigris includes darkening of the metal, green and blue tones, depending on the chemical solution used. Patina is characterized by beautiful, variated patterns and textures which occur on the metal’s surface. [1]

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Jan Brueghel the Younger was born in Antwerp on 13 September 1601 as the son of Jan Brueghel the Elder and Isabella de Jode. His mother was the daughter of the cartographer, engraver and publisher Gerard de Jode. He trained and collaborated with his father in his workshop. His father was a friend and close collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens. Brueghel likely assisted with his father’s large-scale commissions.

On the wishes of his father he traveled around 1622 to Milan where he was welcomed by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. The cardinal was a patron and friend of his father who had met in Rome about 30 years earlier. In what was likely an act of rebellion against his father, he went to Genoa where he stayed with his cousins, the Antwerp painters and art dealers Lucas de Wael and Cornelis de Wael. Their mother was a sister of Brueghel’s mother. At the time his friend and fellow Antwerp artist Anthony van Dyck was also active in Genoa. He later worked in Valletta on Malta in 1623. From 1624 to 1625 he also resided in Palermo on Sicily at the time when van Dyck was also working there.

Brueghel learned that his father had died on 13 January 1625 from cholera only after his return to Northern Italy in Turin. Wanting to return to Antwerp immediately, he had to delay his departure for 16 days due to a severe fever. After recovering from his illness, he set off for his homeland by way of France. In Paris he met the Antwerp art dealer and painter Peter Goetkint the Younger, who was the son of Peter Goetkint the Elder, the master of Jan’s father. Goetkint was eager to return to Antwerp because his wife was expected to deliver a baby soon. The child was born on 25 August, the day on which Breughel arrived in Antwerp with his traveling companion who himself died a few days later.

Brueghel took over the management of his father’s workshop, sold the finished works of his father and finished some of his father’s unfinished paintings after completing them. In the Guild year 1624-1625, Brueghel became a master painter of the Guild of Saint Luke of Antwerp.

In 1626 he married Anna Maria Janssens, daughter of Abraham Janssens, a prominent history painter in Antwerp. He continued to operate the large workshop of his father. He became dean of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1630. That same year he was commissioned by the French court to paint a series of paintings on the life of Adam. It seems that his studio declined after this period and that he started to paint smaller scale paintings which commanded lower prices than those produced earlier.

In later years, he worked independently in Paris in the 1650s and produced paintings for the Austrian court in 1651. He is recorded again in Antwerp in 1657 where he remained until his death. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Oil on copper,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Oil_on_copper&oldid=1060711380 (accessed June 9, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Brueghel the Younger,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Brueghel_the_Younger&oldid=1086952033 (accessed June 9, 2022).

Image: The Bird Concert by Jan Brueghel the Younger ca. 1640 -1645, PD|100. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Bruegel Vogelkonzert@Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum (1).JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media

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