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Literature / Mithgar

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The Mithgar books by Dennis L. McKiernan are a series of books with an interesting backstory: the first ones written (the Silver Call Duology) were meant to be sequels to The Lord of the Rings. After figuring out that publishing this would be illegal, it was necessary to file the numbers off the Tolkien bits, which meant inventing a replacement backstory for the setting. That backstory eventually developed into a much longer and more involved tale, and was released as the The Iron Tower Trilogy. The rest of the books from the Mithgar series get much more original as time goes on, but for some readers it's still hard to shake the facts of its origin.

Though the series was dormant for some time following the release of Silver Wolf, Black Falcon - effectively the Grand Finale - (not counting a short story collection and City of Jade, a novel only about half the length of normal), another Doorstopper called Stolen Crown was released in February 2014.

This series provides examples of:

  • Above the Gods: The Fates are said to be above the gods, and the Great Creator is above them. Whether or not any of these exist as discreet entities or just abstractions is left ambiguous.
  • Action Girl: Plenty, but most notably Elyn from Dragondoom, Riatha from Eye of the Hunter, and Aiko from The Dragonstone, who is basically Mulan.
  • Anachronic Order: Many of the later books start in the middle of action, then jump back to show the heroes first meeting, then intersperse development from different periods until it all comes together and starts flowing on to the climax. Each chapter starts with a time-and-location stamp to help you keep track.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Ogru trolls, which are big dumb brutes with the ears of bats.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Apparently all of the evil minion races under Modru. Whether they're like this because they were created for evil by Gyphon, or because they've lived under his and his minions' tyranny for so long that any good has been beaten out of them is unclear.
  • Bald of Evil: All Black Mages with the exception of Stoke and Nunde (who had long black hair) and possibly Modru (who wears a mask all the time, so its hard to say).
  • Bastard Understudy: Sometimes a Black Mage will take an apprentice, who tends to be one of these. Most obviously, Andrak to Modru.
  • Big Bad: Gyphon for the whole series, though he usually works indirectly through others and rarely appears in person. Most individual books/subseries therefore have their own, with Gyphon's background plotting tying the Myth Arc together:
    • The Iron Tower: Modru
    • The Silver Call: Gnar
    • The Eye of the Hunter: Baron Stoke
    • Dragondoom: Black Kalgalath and Andrak are a Big Bad Duumvirate.
    • The Voyage of the Fox Rider: Durlok
    • The Dragonstone: Ordrune
    • Hel's Crucible: Modru
    • Silver Wolf, Black Falcon: Ydral
    • City of Jade: Nunde
    • Stolen Crown: A Big Bad Ensemble, with Arkov as the obvious villain and Nunde the behind-the-scenes plotter playing Arkov and Reyer against each other.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Nunde, taking his role in the larger series into account. He's showed up in several books, been a main villain in two of them, and as of yet accomplished little in the grand scheme of things besides butchering his own minions by the bucketload.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Spells are fueled by the wizard's own life energy, except in the case of Dark Wizards who steal it from someone else. This energy will slowly regenerate with rest - centuries of rest. In most time periods wizards are little more than myth because they're all holed up hibernating.
  • Conlang: The author tries to do this for the languages of the dwarves and elves, but it's just a direct word-for-word translation.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The author loves making these, which he terms "Red Slippers". He'll usually insert them for flavor, then end up picking them up at a later date for use in a novel or short story. The biggest is probably the War of the Usurper, which is mentioned constantly but never elaborated on- until Stolen Crown comes out.
  • Damsel in Distress: Princess Laurelin of Riamon in the first trilogy. She does at least make some attempts at planning her own escape, but achieves nothing.
  • Darkest Hour: Happens in the third book of the first trilogy when Modru completely shrouds the light of the sun.
  • Doorstopper: Almost all of the books, with the exception of City of Jade.
  • The Dragon: All the major Black Mages want to be this to Gyphon; Modru succeeded in taking the title and held it for several milennia. After he died, Ydral took over the role.
  • Expansion Pack World: The world has gotten a lot bigger than its roots. McKiernan is generally good about dropping a tiny hint in one book in order to pick it up and flesh it out in the next.
  • Expy: The Iron Tower trilogy has many of characters from The Lord of the Rings (not unexpected, considering the series' origins). From a broader perspective, this is most obvious with the main villains- Gyphon is an expy of Morgoth, and Modru of Sauron.
  • Fan Disservice: Nunde is a creepy, physically repulsive necromancer who tends to be up to his elbows in blood and other bodily fluids. He spends much of Stolen Crown parading around his lair in a state of complete undress.
  • Grand Finale: Silver Wolf, Black Falcon. Though Red Slippers and City of Jade were published later, Silver Wolf was where the Myth Arc got quite definitively wrapped up.
  • God of Evil: Gyphon, who is basically Morgoth in terms of his role in the cosmology, but with a different backstory. A couple of other Gods of Evil are namedropped occasionally, but never but in direct appearances. At one point a character states that all the gods of evil are just Gyphon in different guises. Including a thinly-disguised Old Testament God.
  • Heinz Hybrid: Bair is the most obvious example- he's part human, part elf, part Mage, part Spawn (which type is unclear), and part demon. Baron Stoke is a less extreme example- his mother was human, his father half-Mage and half-demon.
  • Hobbits: The Warrows of the Boskydells were naturally a complete copy of the Tolkienian hobbits to begin with, although they developed a slightly more martial flavor. Their homeland is much better defended than the Shires, and there have been a number of notable Warrow heroes.
  • Latin Is Magic: The spellcasting language of mainstream Mage society is represented as Latin, and the language used for the related-but-distinct rituals of the Black Mages is Ancient Greek. These not actually meant to be Latin or Greek, but rather Cultural Translations intended to give a feel for how the actual Mage languages sound and relate to each other.
  • Loophole Abuse: No dragon will ever be killed by the hand of a man. Therefore, the two heroes who set out to kill a dragon are a dwarf and a woman. (There's also the one man who basically maneuvers the dragon into being killed by a god.)
  • Mage Species: Mages are their own distinct race; they resemble a cross between humans and elves and while they age (especially when doing magic) they can go into special trances that let them regain lost youth. Though other races have certain mystical abilities, Mages (and hybrids like Stoke and Ydral with some Mage blood) are the only ones who cast formal spells.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Modru always wears his iron mask.
  • Malignant Plot Tumor: An Evil Sorcerer with yellow eyes cameos or is mentioned in numerous books throughout the series. His name is Ydral, and he turns out to be the main villain of Silver Wolf, Black Falcon and probably the third most overall significant villain of the entire setting, with Gyphon being the first and Modru the second.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Elves are immortal, as are a number of other magical races. Humans, dwarves, and warrows are not. Combining these tends to end badly. Subverted when the 'human' in one pairing is first frozen for centuries and then revived, and then turns out to have sufficient non-human blood to be actually immortal after all.
  • Medieval Stasis: Nothing ever changes in the six eras (each of which comprises a few thousand years), technologically or politically. Except for the sinking of Atala and the Hel's Crucible at the end of the War of the Ban, both of which happens in the Second Era.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Since they're basically the Tolkienian ones, complete with an utter lack of female dwarves, which is a complicated story that has been slowly teased in a number of books.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The elves are portrayed as better than everyone else in almost everything. Just as the orcs and so on from the Lower Plane are always evil, short-lived, mostly mindless, and so on, the elves from the Higher Plane are always good, immortal, and brilliant.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: The Ghuls, who superficially resemble Ringwraiths (but are much weaker and much more common, and are a race in their own right rather than undead humans). They basically look like gaunt, pale humans that are all but impervious to harm, barring a handful of Achilles Heels; they like to ride on Helsteeds and are usually the field commanders of the Spawn. It's sometimes hinted that they're actually a very weak form of demon, unrelated to the ordinary Spawn.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: The Rucks and Hloks, pretty much the typical Tolkienian type. Rucks are small, goblin-like creatures; Hloks, their larger, stronger, and more intelligent cousins, are more like the Uruk-hai. It's not uncommon for a force of mooks to consist of a bunch of Rucks backed up by a handful of Hloks, possibly with a Ghul in command.
  • Pointed Ears: Elves and warrows have them. Mages' ears are slightly pointed.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: And there are a lot of them!
  • Rotating Arcs: The individual books and subseries jump around the timeline a lot, but numerous characters and plotlines recur. Most obviously, Silver Wolf, Black Falcon is both a direct sequel to The Eye of the Hunter but is also the culmination of most of the major storylines.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Most nobles are portrayed as people who would actually defend their subjects. Shown, for example, with Galen in the Iron Tower trilogy.
  • Shining City: The city of Challerain Keep, which is like Minas Tirith, complete with tiers of terraced rings.
  • Single Line of Descent: Played with in the Baron Stoke plot arc. A pair of Warrows, Tomlin and Petal, join a group of adventurers hunting Stoke, but he and one of the heroes end up trapped in a glacier and won't be freed for centuries. The elves in the party will still be alive, but the Warrows obviously will not. They get married and pass their lore and quest items down the generations, hers to her firstborn daughter and then her firstborn daughter and so on, his to his firstborn son and so on. When the destined time finally rolls around, we end up with Gwylly and Faeril, who look just like Tomlin and Petal, but are no longer closely related. So they meet up, fall in love, and continue the quest, just like their ancestors. Then one of them dies, breaking the line of firstborns.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: The usual dwarves, elves, humans, plus giants (which seem to parallel the ents as an elemental species). A lot more races work their way in as the series goes on, particularly the Pysks (pixies) and other Hidden Ones and the wizards (which as in Tolkien are a separate species).
  • Tragic Bromance: A common trope here, especially in the early books. Someone dies in battle, someone who cares about that person is filled with rage and superhuman strength, enabling them to destroy the enemy before quickly burning out.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Justified; Mages are a nonhuman race who only age as a consequence of spellcasting (and youth lost this way can be recovered with hibernation), making them effectively immortal if they pace themselves.
  • Worldbuilding: The world of Mithgar (which apparently means "middle world") is the primary setting of the series. Other worlds, such as Adonar (homeworld of the elves), Neddra (homeworld of the Spawn), Vadaria (home of Mages), and Feyer (home of the Hidden Ones) are mentioned often and occasionally visited. The Dragonworld is mentioned occasionally, but never seen, and a homeworld of demons is alluded to.