‘Fish Wielder’ Is a Rollicking Romp

Image Source: Jim Hardison, fishwielder.com
Image Source: Jim Hardison, fishwielder.com

Smart. Silly. Funny. Engaging. J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison’s Fish Wielder is all of these. With short chapters packed full of tiny little gems that catch you unaware and let you enjoy not just Thoral and Brad’s adventure but also the experience of reading the story, it’s fun. December, I’d say, was the perfect month to read this tale, when I was too frantic with readying myself for the holidays to have the luxury of fully submerging myself in a book. And I say this in the best of ways; this is not a book you want to lose yourself in because then you’d miss out on fully appreciating the editorial asides that this story is so rich with.

You’ve got a quest. And a talking fish. A love story. Enemies galore. There’s fighting and magic, shifting alliances. It’s Princess Bride meets Monty Python. This is what you’d get if the sharp wit and comic timing of Robin Williams and Mark Twain had been extracted, blended into a smoothie (with some liquor), and chugged by Dr. Seuss’s fish from the Cat in the Hat–who was then asked to recount Lord of the Rings.

I had the chance to ask author J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison a few question, and while I’m posting this a little late to help with my holiday shopping, perhaps this glimpse into the mind and humor of the author will give you a feel of what to expect when you get your hands on this book.

GeekMom:
Ack! A trilogy?! When does book 2 come out?
J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison
Unfortunately, yes. When you are writing epic fantasy, it has to be a trilogy, pentalogy, orheptalogy. I’ve never heard of an epic fantasy duology or tetralogy. That’s not allowed. So, Fish Wielder is a trilogy. The second book will be titled Fish Wielder II: A Fish Out Of Water and I am writing it as fast as I can. I’m hoping for a release date sometime in late 2017, but you can never tell with books. I have, however, taken the extreme measure of growing an “author’s beard” in order to speed my writing process. Now, whenever I can’t think of the next sentence to write, I thoughtfully stroke my beard. Then the words come to me.
GM:
Would you consider this more a parody of the epic fantasy quest, a mockery of the genre, or an homage to a particular world?
JRRR:
I consider it an epic screwball fantasy with strong notes of parody and vague hints of farce. It’s meant as an homage to the whole genre—which I have loved almost since I first learned to read. There are no puns in it.
GM:
As you poke fun at the tropes, which fanbase are you most afraid of coming and beating you up?
JRRR:
Wow. I hadn’t really thought about that, but now that you’ve suggested it, I’m starting to worry. I’ve played with and poked fun at every kind of fantasy I’ve ever read, so that could set me afoul of a lot of fans. If I have to choose one set of fans to worry about the most, though, it would probably be the fans of the Lankhmar series by Fritz Leiber. Not because I’m worried that Fish Wielder will particularly offend them, but because those folks are bad-asses. I’d rank the fans of the Silmarillion second because they are very dedicated and detail oriented. If they want to get you, they will probably get you.
GM:
Gandalf vs. Dumbledore. Who’d win?
JRRR:
While my answer is slightly dependent on the kind of fight (swords? spells? smoke-ring-blowing?), I’m going to have to go with Gandalf. Although I love Dumbledore and find him to be a more internally conflicted and warmer character, he’s a mortal and consequently killable. Gandalf isn’t even human (he’s a Maiar), and when that Balrog tried to kill him, he was merely transformed into a more awesome wizard. It’s hard to beat folks when they return from the dead stronger than when you killed them.
GM:
Whomping Willow or the Ents?
JRRR:
At the risk of starting to sound anti Harry Potter (which I’m absolutely not! Love those books!) I have to go with the Ents. First off, they’ve got mobility on their side. The Whomping Willow really only gets to take a swing when you get close to it. The Ents can march. Also, there are multiple Ents, which gives them the numbers advantage. And finally, the clincher, they can talk to trees and persuade them to do things. I think the Ents would probably wind up mind-controlling the Whomping Willow.
GM:
Your favorite fantasy world growing up? Did you play D&D or Magic?
JRRR:
Hey! That’s two questions disguised as one! But ok. My favorite fantasy world growing up was the one I happened to be reading about at the moment. I started with Middle Earth and couldn’t get enough of it. Then it was Narnia. Then it was Barsoom. Then it was Xanth. Then it was Hyperborea. Then it was Lankhmar, and on and on. That’s the awesome thing about good fantasy. When you’re immersed in it, it’s like you’re there. And, when I was a kid, it was D&D for me. That’s partly because Magic: The Gathering wasn’t released until 1993 and I was almost thirty by then, but it’s also because D&D was awesome. I was almost always the DM.
GM:
I have a 12-year-old kid who’s totally into Magic (but has plenty of cards). What can I get him for Christmas?
JRRR:
Well… as a writer, I feel a professional obligation to recommend fantasy books. Fantasy books are just about the best thing ever, and they make great gifts. Apart from fantasy books, I would have to suggest… other kinds of books. Beyond that, I will have to suggest things from my personal experience of being twelve. When I was twelve, the two things I wanted most were a pet monkey and a silver-plated skull with jewels for eyes. So, you might try those.
GM:
What inspired this tale, and how long did it take to write?
JRRR:
I wrote the first rough draft of Fish Wielder when I was 15 years old and reading a lot of Conan the Barbarian stories. Conan was always using his massive battle-scarred thews to hew through some monster’s neck so that its head would tumble through the air spraying stinking ichor which would splash at the feet of a scantily clad princess. While I inhaled that kind of fantasy, it also seemed ripe for a bit of parody because it was just so… enormous. I had also recently discovered A Spell for Chameleon and had been amazed to realize that fantasy could be funny and still gripping. The first version of Fish Wielder was complete at a staggering ten pages long and it took me about three days to write. When I finished it, I put the story aside because I’d only really written it to amuse myself. But then, years and years and years later, I was trying to write something really dark and serious and it was bumming me out. So, I decided to take a little break and write something funny to cheer me up, and I stumbled across the original type-written ten pages. I picked it back up as a bit of comic relief, but the more I played with it, the more the pieces seemed to fall magically into place and the more it seemed like there was really a story there. It took about a year to finish the first real draft. So, the book took either three days, a year or thirty-five years, depending on how you want to look at it.
GM:
Have your kids read your book?
JRRR:
Yes. I have two daughters and they have both read Fish Wielder. One thing that was very different between writing the first version all those years ago and finishing the book was my perception of the roles of the female characters. When I first started writing, most of the female characters I had encountered were… well… kind of shallowly drawn. There are no actual female characters in The Hobbit and precious few in The Lord of the Rings. The women in Conan stories tend to cower and tremble, and while a woman or two in the Barsoom books are fiery, smart, and strong, they still tend to exist to be won over and magnetically and irresistibly drawn into the well-muscled embrace of the hero. So, knowing my book would likely be read by my daughters, I tried to do a better job of depicting the key female characters as people while still honoring the tropes of the genre.
GM:
Is there an audio version of this story? Or animated? Will there be?
JRRR:
No, no, and maybe. We haven’t done an audio book yet, although I’d be open to that. There have been a few requests. I come from an animation background (used to be an animator and an animation director), so I’d certainly be thrilled to see Fish Wielder brought to life in that way—but there are no plans at the moment. I have done a series of animated shorts for a graphic novel I wrote for Dark Horse Comics, The Helm. It’s possible I might do something similar with Fish Wielder after I finish writing the sequel. But I should probably get that done first.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a copy of the book for review purposes, yet opinions expressed are entirely her own (except for the interview answers; those belong to the author).

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Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of North Korea is Pyongyang. And now, so will you.