"The Chronicles of the Pride Lands, or the lion's share ofForeword:
With Simba Wiltz first essay on the Chronicles of the Pride Lands serie of Fan-fiction works, it stirred in me the many-times-delayed essay I wanted to write about that gigantic piece of fan-fiction.
Thanks to Simba, TCS seems to be now a useful accronym (oh no, not another one! :) to designate The Chronicles Series (which I always called The Chronicles of the Pride Lands otherwise - both designating the first chronicle and the overall serie). So TCS it is :)
In this essay, I attempt humbly myself to cover as much as possible of the aspects I like and don't like in TCS, bringing in arguments to support my ideas. Lots of informations were taken from fan's comments, posts on the Lion King mailing-list, as well as exchanges via e-mail with John and David.
Acknoledgements and thanks go to:
John Burkitt and David Morris, who wrote these wonderful fan-fiction works, and who gladly shared with me the 'making of' of the Chronicles Serie,
Simba Wiltz, who wrote the first essay that sparkled my attention and will to write this one.
Larousse for making such a convenient French/English dictionnary I can access any time when I'm on my PC. Whitout it, this essay (and everything I write in english) would be a lot worse than it is now !
Please keep in mind that this is a VERY PERSONAL point of view - no offense is meant other than simply criticizing and wanting to raise a discussion. Particular points of view concerning faith and religion are mine and not generalized :).
Comments and suggestions are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also excuse the sometimes ackward grammar/syntax as english is not my first language :-)
If you never read the "Chronicles", well, my essay has extensive spoilers - so you might want to read these wonderful stories FIRST. You have been warned :-)
1. TCS: A major milestone in Lion King fan-fiction
__________The Lion King movie is now more than three years old. From its first release in theaters, in June 1994, the Lion King, or TLK as it is often refered to by fans, has proven to be one of the most popular, if not THE most popular Disney movie ever. Not even the latest movies like 'the Hunchback of Notre Dame" or the live version of "101 Dalmatians" topped the african-based animated movie.
__________Among the high impact on popular culture, the movie has also generated an important group of enthusiastic fans. These are people sharing a common passion for The Lion King, its characters, landscapes, music, animation, drama, comedy elements and so on. TLK Fans are eclectics, often dedicated to animation, wildlife, Disney movies, some even working or studying in these fields.
__________Regrouping and getting in touch on the Internet, these fans, like myself, put some of their time to create Web sites, draw fan art, mail each others, and also, write fan-fiction. Like any other cult movies/series, like Star Wars or Star Trek, TLK generates fan-fiction work, from authors - rarely professional writers - who whish to extend TLK universe, and fill the gaps surrounding the movie storyline, the character's personalities and the universe in which the action takes place.
__________Along with works considered by fans as 'classics' like "The Tales Of Tannabi" by Joshua C. Templin, "A Matter of Pride" by Christine Morgan, "The Pride" first started by Brian Tieman, or "Jungle Flame" by Adrian M. Rossi, two others writters managed to impose their work as a major piece of fan-fiction: John Burkitt and David Morris.
__________Started as a serie of short stories regrouped under a general title of "The Chronicles of the Pride Lands" by John Burkitt, David Morris then co-wrote the entire re-working of these stories into one, coherent piece called "The Chronicles of the Pride Lands". The quality of the intrigue, the depth of the characters, along with the coherence and the style of the work took the Lion King community by surprise. The author John Burkitt explains:
"When I did CotPL, I did not know how it would be accepted. My earlier work in fanfic was met with absolute silence. There were other ideas I wanted to explore if there was interest. Dave Morris' kind words were responsible for bringing "Chronicles" into existance. I literally wrote most of it for him in private e-mail. He's a great friend, and if you enjoy the other three works, thank him." (1)__________The _rate_ at which Burkitt and Morris produced their works of fiction also amazed (and still amazes :) the fans. Within the year that followed the release of "Chronicles of the Pride Lands", six other works were given to the expecting fans to read. "The Spirit Quest", "The Shadow of the Makei", "Under the Acacia", "The Leonid Saga", "The Promise". The dynamic duo was joined by Ian Layton (also solo author of the story "Redemption") for the recently released story "Touched by the Nisei". Changing in approach, character's point of view and in less extent, in style, all these works tell the story of the Pride Lands, centering mostly on PrideRock and the pride of lions, over more than four generations. What pushed them to write so much? David Morris tells us:
"Chronicles," when finished, left an enormous amount of material still left uncovered that simply didn't contribute to the story that we we trying to tell. "The Spirit Quest" grew out of that, but our work there raised a fresh set of questions. These ultimately resulted in "Shadows" and "Acacias." Each work has it's own story to tell, and I believe they do it rather well. In retrospect, however, the story was there all the time...we just had to write it down." (2)__________TCS extends vastly the original universe described by the Lion King movie. One could say that the TCS universe is now one and only, and very distinct from the Lion King movie in some aspects, but always integrating successfully the characters and plot elements from the original movie. The TCS add-up dimensions not even foreseen in the movie, thus creating a genuine universe - that some even consider as 'canon' so much the coherence and appeal of this universe is great.
__________Often due to promiscuity in the small TLK community, little has been said about works of fan-fiction, apart of the enthusiast kudos or the polite congradulations, and this is for the works of TLK fan-fiction in general, not only TCS.
"Turn my dreams into the real thing"
TCS represent nearly a thousand pages of written material - even though some parts of each stories re-use/repeat few parts to maintain coherence and recall some events. Only with the amount of work involved, TCS can be seen as an oppressive presence to aspiring Lion King writers - or even established TLK writers. Because the universe described in TCS is very complete, complex and accepted, it may be seen by some as a crushing competition.v
__________However, some fans, like David Cleary and Chris Boyce, pointed out that there were practically an infinite pool of possibilities to explore in writing. On this, David Morris comment:
"I can't say enough about the other works that have emerged. Each one is a glimpse into someone's life; they've taken time to devote part of themseves to show how they feel about TLK and the world in general. Anybody willing to do that deserves praise." (3)__________TCS effectively only scratched only the surface, but what may seen sometimes as 'oppressive' is the immense universe already in place. Lots of what is in TCS is material already known, about lions, their way of life, wildlife and the african landscape, weather, fauna and flora. For example, the layout of the Pride Lands, as well as Pride Rock's architecture (the cistern is a great addition though ;-) might be considered as a given thing to any fan-fiction talking of TLK. On the other paw, all the hunting, courting, myths, languages and other social customs are genuine to TCS.
Most of the 'basic' aspects of the lions' life, and the 'public domain' knowledge were also already explored in other works of fan-fiction, but what makes TCS daunting to fan-fiction writers is the way everything was summed up in a compact and credible ensemble.
__________My shaky comparison would be that the Graphical User Interface (GUI) as we know it today (i.e. Windows, OS/2, NeXT, Mac OS) are all implemen- tations of a somewhat public domain concept wich is the "windows-and- buttons" concept. TCS is a particularly successful implementation of the TLK universe.
__________What we may see as a 'oppressive' is exactly like not to devellop for Windows environment these days. It's hard because it's what it seems as vastly accepted - but it's not a reason not to try. For some, it's even the best reason to try something else. On that point, it's interesting to note that lots of fan-fiction writers decided to embrace, more or less, the TCS universe in their own fan-fiction - thus creating an fan-fiction movement on its own
2. Taka's Curse
"If the anger is the ending
of the thing that we've become
For the father and the mother
And the sister and the son
Through the shallow
Realization 'till mistake
In the ugliness, the open
All the things we can't replace
I will control"
__________The heart of the story in TCS, still revolves around the Lion King movie. Scar kills his brother Mufasa and puts the blam on his nephew. His reign at Pride Rock turns to disaster, and finally, Simba fights his way back from exile and takes back his rightful reign as Lion King.
__________It's still TLK, but the authors expands the plot, and give more to the reader than what the movie started with. Young Scar is Taka, and his destiny as "vilain" is due to the action of a malevolent Makei on his life. The Makei are evil spirits (somewhat close to demons, but more similar to voodoo evil spirits). Since we don't have any account of what may have been Scar's life before the movie, it's up to the authors up to come with something :).
__________TCS shares some of the popular "Taka as a young cub, mistreated so he became the evil lion we know" belief. But only partly, since it quickly departs from it when TCS introduces the concept of Makei - Taka is 'cursed' by the evil spirit. This is an interesting part, since we can wonder what part of Taka's mishchief is due to the Makei - or if Taka makes up all his own problems by himself - thinking it's the curse's fault. The doubts, however, are cleared in the introduction of "The Shadow of the Makei" where the doings of the Makei are clearly shown as responsible for Taka's curse - and ultimately, for his evil actions.
__________The only problem is that this version effectively goes somewhat against the movie itself, where Scar is only depicted as pure evil - without any 'excuses' for himself. Disney may have depicted one of its best vilain ever with Scar, and TCS tone down this pure evil to a terrified cub. In TLK, Scar is a frustrated, cruel lion, against a good, honest lion, Mufasa. TCS implies much more than that - mostly posing Taka as a victim of fate than an active actor, and may be unsatisfactory too when compared with the movie.
__________Supporters of Taka's "goodness" point that someone can't be evil as the Scar depicted in the movie. David Morris sums up it well when he says:
"As John says, something had to cause the tremendous bad will and hate in Taka. The portrayal of Scar in the movie hinted at so much, but essentially left too many questions unanswered, leaving Scar as a bad guy who was evil incarnate.__________We can't deny that the Taka version that TCS comes up with is well done. It embraces the generally accepted idea that Taka was always second to Mufasa - and does it pretty well, by describing many episodes that fleshes out Taka's character. The way Taka's life and the curse meshes together is impressive - and integrates itself nicely with the movie plot.
Ask the sheeps, for their beliefs,
"Do you kill on God's command?"
__________I always thought that TLK has spirituality, but no real religion. But mind you, it is a very personnal point of view - and how we view TLK's religious aspect/spirituality is always dependant of our own background.
__________Religious aspect may be what really bothers me in TCS. Because Aiheu's morality, history and pantheon is the key to the whole TCS universe, you are forced to embrace it in order to fully appreciate the story. Also noticed by Chris Boyce, a fellow member of the Lion King Mailing List (TLK-L), this aspect has not been approached (either favorably or not) in lots of posts on mailing lists or in general in the Lion King online community.
__________In TCS, not only the spiritual aspect is present, but also are the morality and the religious parts - as they take much place in TCS universe.
__________In a nutshell, what troubles me it is not so much the messages that the TCS series promote, but the lack of 'subtlety' in which they do so. The message is bold, impossible to ignore, and comes back, often with plots to support it heavily. The Lion King movie also had some very big messages, but it was integrated with the story and the characters so successfully, that it wasn't annoying. TCS may gain with more subtlety to carry the author's messages (all artists have some to pass!)
__________Oddly, many avenues were explored in CotPL before the Spirit Quest and the definitive Aiheuism finds its bases. The following paragraph deals with the death and features Rafiki explaining some beliefs to a young mourning cub, Misha:
"Death has always been a part of this world. It is part of life. Otherwise there would be no more room to move about. It makes room for new generations to grow and flourish. It renews the world. It makes sense."__________In my humble opinion, this is probably one of the parts where the beliefs expressed in TCS were closest to what's expressed in the original movie. It's a much more primitive, animist, conception, and no 'moral' is related to it - no other message than a hope for a certain afterlife, and a comforting message for those who remain.
__________John and David proved, with 'The Promise' that they didn't need a strong religious background to a story to always wrap-up a neat tale. Even if Aiheu is still present, the main plot is centered around more down to earth concerns. The dilemna and struggles of the characters are really effective, the story credible and it extends very well the background tapestry of TCS - without always poking at Aiheu :-).
4. Timon and Pumbaa - and some more religion
They're selling Jesus again...
__________In TCS, Timon and Pumbaa's presence is reduced to the minimum, to keep the coherence with what the movie tells us. But little more than this is done to appeal to the fans of the 'dynamic duo'.
__________The decision of ditching Timon and Pumbaa was probably taken because they are difficult to integrate with the general 'saga like' environment of TCS. Beside, they are just diffilcult to write about credibly. But I was sad to see them simply return in their jungle after the Reclamation battle - not to ever re-appear.
__________Timon and Pumbaa do appear in other parts, though, previous to the 'Reclamation scene' - and in fact, John Burkitt and David Morris attempted to depict what could be the life of Simba in the jungle (a little similar to Jungle Flame, though a lot less extended). The point in time where the handling of Timon and Pumbaa really bothers me is when Simba gets sick and Timon and Pumbaa have an illumination and start to _pray_. I admit that I have a really hard time to figure myself Timon and Pumbaa, kneeling and joining their paws at praying for Simba. The miraculous healing is a little bit to swallow as well.
__________While talking of miracles there's another one, in the ending of 'The Leonid Saga' in which Makaka saves the world with a single prayer. Hard to swallow - although the rest of the ending is very nice - the wrap up of all the chracters who influenced Makaka through his life is very touching. A point to justify this miracle would be the general nature of "The Leonid Saga" story - which consists of fables and tales of the leonine society, thus this piece is different from the others works of TCS.
__________Chris Boyce brought up the fact that calling upon a 'higher power' is often an easy way to move the story, from a writer's point of view. For their defense, TCS relies very rarely on 'Aiheu's power' only to progress, story-wise. The majority of the characters resolve by themselves the problems they face - often written with brio.
5. The Societies
__________What gives a unusual depth to TCS compared to others fan-fiction works is the meticulous creation of various societies, with their habits, customs, rules and cultures. The three societies explored in TCS are the three species who interact the most in the stories: Leonine, Mandrill and Hyanic society.
__________The general structure of the various societies in TCS reminds me a lot of the 'Star Trek' universe - both in characterization and in stereotypes. Although John Burkitt pointed out that the Hyanic society was insipired from some obscure ancient civilization, they still remind me of a mix of Klingons and Cardassians (if you are not aware of these societies in the recent Star Trek universe like 'The Next Generation' or 'Deep Space Nine' know that the former are warriors and the former, similar to a totalitarian-regime ruled society. Both are using names and languages that sound similar to Hyanic). The way they act, their schemes and their customs can be compared to both Klingons (duel fighting for example, code of honor) and the Cardassians (the way they deal with Shaka, the trial of Gur'mekh before he's used as a scapegoat). Note that the societies in Star Trek are also caricatures of human aspects - so it's not surprising that at one point or another, similarities may arise with any work of fiction depicting races and societies like TCS does.
__________The mandrill society is an interesting one - probably one of the closest to the human kind as well. Politics has a predominant role in mandrill village, and close-mindness is abundant, and can be seen as a parallel to our own xenophobic tendencies, racism and intolerance.
__________A point with mandrills that I found puzzling is: how come they're not more advanced than they are on a technological standpoint? They seem to master fire, writing and have a great deal of intellect to spare. Again, answer might lie both in religious answer (because Aiheu keeps them like that) or because the close-minded mandrills prevent more evolution.
__________And the mandrills and hyenas are both used to point out where the TCS located TLK's universe within the human world: the humans _are_ present, but far... (well, not always that far, with Fabana beeing taken prisoner by a human). There's a very funny quote concerning the humans:
[Busara speaking] "Aiheu made us all for one reason or another. I haven't figured out why he made their kind yet [humans], [...] but they make some great stuff, though" (9)__________Interesting enough, each societies have outcasts or different ones who then join the lions' ranks, and embrace their way of life and their beliefs. Uhuru for the Hyenas, and Rafiki for the mandrills.
__________Also important to say, all of these societies, Mandrill and Hyenas are really well depicted. Details about their faiths, love, life and habits are mentionned, only to add to the dimension of the characters - thus avoiding to make a too flat characterization.
__________Other customs (like the gourd with some dried herb tied to it, indicating when the owner of the gourd would be back) also enrich a lot the universe in which TCS is set. In some sense, the building of such a complex universe reminds me a lot of Frank Herbert's Dune epic saga.
6. The Lions
"Find your sisters and brothers who can hear all the truth
in what you say,
They can support you when when you're on your way"
__________The leonine society. This is where I forget about all my rants and critics ! In my opinion, this is where Morris and Burkitt really shine at their best. Most parts of their stories dealing with the Pride are interesting, and well written, when they're not simply delicious to read.
__________The characters of the movie melt very well with the rest of the fictitious pride, and every lion, lioness and cubs have their very distinct personnality. From 'Miss Priss' to the infamous playboy Ugas, from the respected and noble Ahadi to the rambuctious duo of Togo and Kombi, the lions are nearly always as close as possible to the idea I had of an extended description of the Pride Rock pride in the movie context. Excepted the occasionnal 'religious fever' the may indulge into, the lions stay very faithful to the wildlife way of life.
__________The depiction of the way of life of the pride is wonderful. The same attention to details put into the rituals and prayers is also, fortunately, applied to descriptions of such activities as the hunt, establishing a very credible structure of hunting - close to reality - with the Hunt Mistress and the various strategies and tactics to hunt different preys.
__________The hunt is also a place of initiations, acceptance, joy, humor, disasters, deaths or tragedy and illustrates very well the balance of the overall life in the pride.
__________Where they put efforts to establish religion, the authors also put a lots of efforts into establishing traditions, pride rituals (mantlement for example) and various customs. This is done through a long process, as the reader, over the now seven installments of the serie, witness four generations of lions and lionesses, sometimes following characters from birth to death.
7. Writing style, poesy and music
__________What I consider an important factor of success of TCS in addition to the story and ideas, is the writing style and its quality in general. In the vast world of fan-fiction, everything can be found, from top-notch quality text to awefully botched stuff.
__________By using rich descriptions, nice figures of speech and a good vocabulary, TCS sets a clear standard of general quality. This can only be beneficial to the TLK fan-dom, as it may raise the general standard in fan- fiction. A technique I particulary like is the repetition. Used to emphasize (the finale of "Under the Acacias"), or to have the reader familiar with some element of the story (these same gourds to indicate one's absence for example), repetition is used efficiently through all the stories.
__________The regular change of viewpoint through a work (i.e. from hyenas to lions, then mandrills, and then back to lions) also contribute to create a comfortable rhythm and diversity. I like the way characters are sometime 'singled out' to describe further their personnality, or the way destinies of different characters cross each others, to create a vast saga that forms slowly but surely in the reader's head. Sure, these are recipes proved and trusted by many authors, but that level of sophistication is not always present in fan-fiction work, and is worth of beeing noticed.
__________Music and poetry are also rarely found in fan-fiction, but TCS has a good share of them - sometimes more successful than others. Some parts - especially the songs - suffer the same "problem" than most Disney movies: the characters break into song in tragic moments, sometimes breaking the tension that was established. Since poems are also used as an addition to the narrative rather than dialogue, they work more successfuly (some of them are really touching and emphasize the drama/joy of the situation).
TCS is one of the best, most evolved fan fiction work dealing with The Lion King universe. Even with its flaws and shortcomings - as well as with its good share of controversial subject matters, it is however compensated by a very polished and balanced writing style, a brilliant imagination and some of the most memorable characters I know in fan fiction.
David Sauve - July 17th 1997-August 4th 1997
(1) Email interviews with John Burkitt and David Morris, between October 1996 and march 1997
(7) "Chronicles of the PrideLands" p.13~ John Burkitt, David Morris, 1996
(8) Elements from the essay "Chronicles of the Pridelands, a critical look", by Simba Wiltz, first appeared on TLK-L mailing list.
(9) "The Spirit Quest", John Burkitt, David Morris, 1996
David Morris and John Burkitt maintain a wonderful homepage, "The Gentle Kingdom", reachable at http://localsonly.wilmington.net/~damorris/Tgkhome.htm where all the TCS serie is available to download.
David Sauve‚'s homepage can be found at http://www.otterspace.com/~dsauve where a large section of his site is devoted to TLK, with original fan-art, songs, information about the Muck, meerkats and lion pictures, etc.