FROM the DRAGON'S BREATH:
An Interview with L. E. Bryce
There is no author of Masters-inspired fiction more unanimously respected than L. E. Bryce. She is soulful. She is mysterious. She is impious and mocking, at times, .. and there has yet to come one better. While I really wanted a much more in-depth interview and had tons more questions, this is as close as any journalist has come to peeping beyond the veil of the most enigmatic being in He-fiction.
HMT: One of the things I found particularly hard about preparing to interview you is where exactly to start. You're probably best known for your fan fiction (Lord of the Rings and He-Man stories), but, you no longer write fan fiction of any kind -- correct?
LEB: I haven’t written fan fiction in over a year. The reason is rather twofold. I burned myself out doing Lord of the Rings. At the same time, I started writing and finding an audience for my original fiction, which has turned out to be much more rewarding.
HMT: How has the fan fiction scene changed, since you started writing in the 1990s? For the better? For the worse?
LEB: Since I don’t read a lot of fan fiction these days, I really couldn’t tell you. There will always be people who write excellent fan fiction, and then those who write who have no regard for canon whatsoever. I can think of numerous examples from the Lord of the Rings fandom. When the films came out, the fangirls came like moths to the Lord of the Rings section of Fanfiction.net and began proliferating it with god-awful Mary Sues, most of them involving Legolas. The sad thing is, many of those girls gleefully confess they’ve never read the book and as a result had no concept of canon. Most of my stories came from the Silmarillion, an extremely dense text which few fangirls would ever think of touching. Fans who write in this pre-Lord of the Rings setting are usually more literate than your typical teenaged squealing Orlando Bloom fangirl, and generally take the time to research their stories.
HMT: What got you into writing fan fiction? What was it that you found about a TV show or series of novels that caught your interest enough to continue the story through your fiction?
LEB: Fan fiction was something I did out of boredom. When I discovered the Internet in the late 1990s, I was extremely frustrated with my original writing, but still wanted to tell stories. At the time, there were less than a handful of MOTU tales out there, so I decided to try my hand at it.
HMT: I want to ask about your new, original work; however, HMT's readers are more familiar with your He-Man stuff. What was your MOTU about and how did it differ from the TV cartoon?
LEB: My MOTU stories treated the characters as real people and the world they inhabited as a real place. I added little details to flesh out the cartoon and make the universe I was writing about as authentic as possible.
HMT: Even when He-Man was on stage in your fiction, so much revolved around Prince Adam. Were they two, different entities, as you saw them?
LEB: He-Man is omnipotent, and someone who is that strong or self-assured is not as interesting to write about, in my opinion, as someone who isn’t. Prince Adam has an enormous burden on him, both because he craves his father’s approval and at the same time can’t reveal the secret that would earn him that approval. Adam is someone the reader can identify with, a young man with a lot of insecurities and growing pains.
HMT: In your fic, “Too Long A Sacrifice”, Teela is a bitter, old woman watching her old companion, Prince Adam, marry and become a father. It seems as though she's completely destroyed by Adam's life without her. What was your Prince Adam's relationship with Teela? Fraternally platonic? Romantic? Casually or intensely sexual [Keeping in mind that one may enjoy intense sex, without involving romance at all]?
LEB: That particular story was written around the thematic element of the four seasons. I don’t think I ever really had a canon fixed in my mind for what would happen between Adam and Teela, though it seemed difficult to picture the two of them together. Teela always struck me as being far too abrasive.
HMT: Your Sorceress was a very lonely woman, as was your Skeletor, most surprisingly? Do you think their loneliness, as you perceived it, made them more interesting to you and your audience?
LEB: I never really wrote much about either one, and at the moment I can’t really recall what prompted me to write about them.
HMT: I think most fans of the TV cartoon subscribe to the lonely Sorceress idea, and I can think of at least three authors at HMT, who have explored it by getting her in bed with He-Man. Could that ever have happened in your stories -- was it even remotely possible?
LEB: I always saw He-Man as a champion of Grayskull, someone who went out and physically defended the castle and what it stood for where the Sorceress could not. The relationship seemed to me to draw on the medieval ideals of chivalry, in which the knight would go out and perform deeds for an unattainable lady, who is usually married; in many real-life cases, the knight himself was married, too. Where MOTU is concerned, I saw the Sorceress as being married to Grayskull itself.
HMT: You didn't deal with Skeletor that much, did you? Any particular reason? Didn't find him very interesting, maybe?
LEB: I’ve never really dealt with canon villains that much. I never dealt with any of Tolkien’s villains, and in my Blackstar, stories I physically took the Overlord out of the picture by placing a restriction on the Starsword and its twin that would make a direct confrontation impossible. Hero-villain conflicts don’t interest me that much. I either create my own villains or deal with other types of conflict.
HMT: In my opinion, the MOTU premise has always been defined by a negative profit principle -- what is there to lose, if the bad guy wins? Is it poop falling from the sky? Orgies in the streets? Tummy-aches for everybody? What were your heroes, He-Man and the others, fighting for?
LEB: I never really explored it much, to be honest. As I said earlier, I spent very little time with the established villains. The conflicts my He-Man dealt with were always local ones, never global. The idea of the world being threatened every other week episode story never struck me as being terribly authentic. In real life, soldiers never fight on a global scale. Consider a series like Band of Brothers. The soldiers in that show were never involved in any tremendous all-or-nothing battle, except perhaps outside of the Normandy invasion, and then they were only a few of many troops parachuting in. Instead, they fought one small skirmish after another, slowly advancing through France into Germany. That’s real warfare, and that’s how I choose to portray it.
HMT: Nudist-author Nick Alimonos's naked He-Man in DARK AGE has been called a 'nudist' hero. In what ways does your He-Man represent the things that are important to you?
LEB: I haven’t written him in a long time, and even then I rarely focused on the He-Man aspect of him. Adam was always in there, trapped in that body.
HMT: Dragons or dragon-like beings seem to be a recurring presence in your stories? What is your fascination with dragons, and what made Granamyr especially interesting to you?
LEB: I’ve always liked dragons, and Granamyr is so delightfully cranky and misanthropic. He knows the difference between right and wrong, and I believe that in his crusty old heart he really is good, but he wants nothing to do with mankind because he has such a poor opinion of us. Really, all he wants is to be left alone.
HMT: Were you ever much into She-Ra? Is there a puffy, fluffy, pink archive of L. E. Bryce She-Ra stories out there -- Lookee's Lair or some such?
LEB: Oh, God, no. I couldn’t stand She-Ra.
HMT: Any opinions on the Pre-Classic Masters or Mineternian movement? Are there any Mineternian writers whose work you enjoy?
LEB: I confess that I don’t really read fan fiction these days, so I can’t answer the second question. As for the first question, from what I’ve seen of the discussion in the Mineternian forums, some very interesting and exciting things are being explored by Mineternian writers. It’s too bad it isn’t getting more attention.
HMT: Like the original or Pre-Classic vision of MOTU, the world of the *Blackstar TV cartoon was never fully realized. In your opinion, why do you think it is that Blackstar never made the impression on folks that He-Man did?
*Blackstar was a sci-fi cartoon hero from the 1980s.
LEB: At the time, Filmation was working on seven other animated series, so they never put the time and effort into the Blackstar series as they did into the He-Man one. There was, to my knowledge, no series bible and very little continuity between episodes. In fact, if you watch carefully enough, there’s a marked difference in how each writer treated the hero. Michael J. Reaves wrote intelligent characters and believable plots, while some of the others didn’t care what they did as long as they got a paycheck. I think the failure of the Blackstar series basically comes down to two things, the first being the lack of any underlying mythology or archetype. It grasped at Tolkienesque elements without really developing or exploring any facets of its alien creatures, landscapes or history. Second, it never developed its hero. People cared about He-Man not because he was super-strong or inhabited a fantastic world, but because under that muscular façade he was Prince Adam, a character with strongly defined relationships, quirks and concerns.
HMT: I'm not sure how many people are aware of it, but, you have an entire canon of Blackstar stories that actually dwarfs your Masters collection.
LEB: I wrote those for myself. There isn’t a huge audience for it.
HMT: From what little I know of the Blackstar cartoon, your stories feel almost entirely original to me. Should they?
LEB: Yes. As I said earlier, Blackstar really has no series bible or much of a canon, so anyone wanting to write fan fiction in that universe is going to have to build their own canon. I had always wanted to write a Blackstar story, but I initially chose to do it through a crossover with the medium of He-Man. It became very interesting to me to contrast the two characters, one (Adam/He-Man) a very young man of about nineteen or twenty, and the other (Blackstar) much older, perhaps in his forties. Of course, to do this I had to change the cartoon image of Blackstar. He’s supposed to be an astronaut, yet he never quite fit the bill. He never struck me as being old enough or intelligent enough for the part. My version is tougher, smarter and a bit more morally ambiguous. And this time he doesn’t spout a cheesy one-liner every two seconds.
HMT: Your Blackstar stories seem to be more heated than your Masters works -- more passionate. Is that because those stories demanded more creativity and original input from you than the Masters works?
LEB: The character of Blackstar is also a lot more dynamic than He-Man. Filmation didn’t create a superman with him. He doesn’t have the benefit of an alter ego to hide behind, and he’s got a lot of dramatic potential, being someone suddenly cut off from his home, his culture and his loved ones and thrust into a situation where aliens are not only looking to him as a savior but his life is constantly in danger. Filmation never explored this aspect of Blackstar’s character. He never seems fazed at all by his situation, especially when all the aliens inexplicably speak English. My version treats Blackstar as very much of an outsider who has to struggle with the native language, as well as his own feelings of resentment when the Starsword and all its trappings (which include a figurehead political office and a troupe of eighteen intrusive, hyper-loyal bodyguards he doesn’t want) are forced upon him. He doesn’t even get along with Mara in this version.
HMT: You've recently taken the index to those Sagar stories offline -- a real loss for fantasy lovers everywhere in my opinion. Any reason in particular?
LEB: Yes. In those stories I mixed a lot of original elements, and at a certain point I started to develop the ideas for what would become the Water-lover stories. Therefore, as a matter of copyright I needed to make a choice about what I kept online.
HMT: Your take on Tolkien-inspired fiction seems to take a back road through the world of Lord of the Rings, avoiding the high-profile characters. Did you do this to give yourself room for creativity, or to distinguish yourself from the Tolkien fan-fic mainstream so fond of writing stories about Frodo, Sam and Aragorn?
LEB: Those characters have been written about ad nauseum. I usually don’t touch the timeline of the Lord of the Rings, with one exception and that was a story called “Leave Us Not in Darkness,” which was about what Aragorn, Legolas and Gandalf discovered at Isengard when Saruman was defeated. Everything else comes from the Silmarillion, either from the First or Second Age. I’ve written a number of stories about Númenor and several about Glorfindel.
HMT: Do you even like hobbits?
LEB: Actually, no. I’m not really partial to hobbits. I’ve only ever written them once, in a story called “Not For Pride Alone,” which is about Glorfindel’s confrontation with the Witch King of Angmar a thousand years before the Lord of the Rings. In an appendix, Tolkien mentions that hobbit archers were present at that battle, so I wrote them in.
HMT: What turned you on to Tolkien? Where did it start?
LEB: I discovered Tolkien at age thirteen. By fifteen, I’d read all of the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales.
HMT: Do you feel there are homophilic (and NOT homoerotic) undercurrents in the LOTR stories? Do you feel they are intentional?
LEB: People can and certainly do read such elements into Tolkien. Tolkien came from a culture in which men enjoyed extremely close contact with each other. During his schooling, World War I and Oxford days, he belonged to male societies, and these probably provided him with emotional, social outlets he did not have with women. That is not to say he did not have positive relations with women—he was close to his mother, who died when he was about eleven, and he passionately loved his wife Edith, whom he called his ‘Lúthien,’—one should think of it as very proper, English male bonding. It’s perfectly natural that Tolkien would write such relationships into his novels.
HMT: Do you feel that the women or female characters in your Tolkien-inspired stories have a lower profile than the men do? If so, is that intentional?
LEB: My first Tolkien story was about Tar-Míriel, the ill-fated last queen of Númenor, so I have written about women. It’s just that I don’t have much interest in writing women. I’ve done more of it lately, when I started to notice that my original works were almost entirely lacking in women. I was just too interested in writing the men.
HMT: How has the recurring theme of platonic, male love in Tolkien's stories influenced your original *slash fiction stories, if at all?
*Slash fiction or slash is internet slang for homoerotic fiction and typically short stories featuring same-sex pairings. The shorthand cue for readers seeking or avoiding slash is 'm/m' for gay male stories and 'f/f' for lesbian tales; hence, the nickname 'slash'.
LEB: I confess to having read a good deal of Tolkien elf-slash, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do that to Tolkien’s characters, and I wasn’t even sure I could write a sex scene, much less one with two men. One reason my first story, “Ki’iri”, is so laden with sex scenes is because I was pushing the envelope. In fact, that first sex scene took two days and a lot of cold showers to write. Nowadays I write much less sex, though I allude to it frequently.
HMT: Let's talk about your 'Water-lover' stories. What exactly are the talevé'? Are they mortal or divine?
LEB: Talevé are very mortal. They are young men who have caught the notice of the Lady of the Waters, a sea goddess with an amorous nature. In the act of touching them for the first time, their hair turns white, but their lives are shortened. They only live to be about forty.
HMT: From what I've read most of them are bisexual, as well as impossibly beautiful. What about the idea of beautiful men exploring each other sexually appeals to you and followers of your work?
LEB: The idea is that the Lady is attracted to gay or bisexual men because this way they have no sexual feelings toward other women. Their beauty comes from the Lady’s touch, which hallows and enhances whatever looks they had before.
I should make clear that this is not my idea of what I think gay men are really like, as I’ve known several gay men. I do my best to portray all my male lovers as men first and foremost. I have, for instance, a character called Olenwë who is happily, unabashedly homosexual but is also more than capable of putting somebody’s head through a wall. The talevé are a fantasy: forbidden fruit who live sequestered behind temple walls and are served by eunuchs because they are so sacred and so beautiful that they drive both men and women crazy with desire.
Asking why I find interest in two beautiful young men sexually exploring each other touches on a double standard in Western culture. Watch any mainstream porn movie and you will see at least one scene in which two women are having sex, sometimes right in front of a man. This is a common male fantasy and has nothing to do with either real-life lesbians or any bent toward homosexuality. Yet when women become curious about what men do together, somehow people regard that as unnatural. However, I think it perfectly natural for a woman to be curious about men’s bodies, the equipment which they themselves lack, and about sex in which they play no role.
HMT: Ninion is interesting -- fragile, but intense. Passionately noble, but just as impious. What or who inspired your creation of him?
LEB: The romance of Olenwë and Ninion was actually the first Water-lover story I’d conceived, but the third written. As time went on and I began to further develop the talevé culture, I realized that the Blue House where these young men live was for them a sanctuary of tolerance in a rigidly homophobic society. I wanted to write a gay character who ended up in the Blue House as the indirect result of such rejection, and to show how difficult it might be to change one’s views even when reassured that it’s okay, even desirable, to be homosexual.
HMT: How do you imagine most hetero guys will be effected by Ninion? There is something about this character that makes even str8 men want to protect and comfort him, wouldn't you say?
LEB: Straight guys would never read a story like "Becoming" to begin with. The audience for homoerotic romance is mostly straight women with perhaps a few gay men reading.
HMT: Is the sex in the Water-lover stories symbolic of anything, or is it just sex?
LEB: The only time sex is symbolic for a Water-lover is when it is between him and his goddess.
HMT: This is a very conservative time in the Western world. Have you received any negative reactions to the gay themes in your Water-lover stories? If you receive such reactions to them in the future, what do you imagine your response will be?
LEB: No one has ever written to me to complain, probably because homophobic people tend not to look at publications where my work appears. The only complaint I foresee is in regard to the novel I’ve recently had accepted by Renaissance e-Books. This contains some very unpleasant material. The protagonist, Erred, is a talevé taken captive and sold as a pleasure slave in a distant land. He is abused both physically and psychologically before he is redeemed, and this does involve explicit rape. I don’t flinch from that aspect of his captivity, and those three scenes are the only sex scenes I would never consider editing out of the book. My response to that is that what I do is not for the purpose of titillation; in fact, the manuscript would not have been accepted had I treated the subject in such a manner.
The title of the novel has not been decided yet, as the editor wants to change the original title.
Readers ought to know that most of my stories do not, in fact, deal with the Water-lovers. The Ninion story, “Becoming”, is archived at Forbidden Fruit, but the other story, “From This Night”, deals with two young men forced to marry each other after their fathers swear a foolish drunken oath. Another story, which may be out by the time this interview appears, is called “Red Clay”, and involves the homoerotic longings of a Minoan-type bull dancer.
I also write for JACK magazine (http://slashgirls.tripod.com/keystroke), and the work which currently appears there, “Grave Offerings”, is sexually very dark and a little disturbing.
HMT: What do you want folks to know about your work, before they approach it?
LEB: To keep an open mind. Honestly, if homoerotica is not something a person wants to read, they should not approach it.
HMT: Are you excited about the upcoming Procrustus Awards?
LEB: To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even aware of them, that’s how out of touch I am.
HMT: If, just for a second, you actually believed you were the best Masters-inspired fan fiction writer EVER (and I happen to think you are), what would you suppose made you the best? What has L. E.. Bryce brought MOTU that is uniquely her contribution?
LEB: I really can’t answer that question. What I think is my best work or the best aspect of my work isn’t necessarily what others may think.
If you haven't read L. E. Bryce's GRANAMYR'S LAIR stories, you really missed out. Before she discontinued all exhibition and distribution of her works, they were the benchmark of quality Masters-inspired fan fiction. She has since written several short stories based on Filmation's Blackstar cartoon, as well as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and is presently writing a series of original homoerotic novellas.
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