Favorite Musical Instruments in Science Fantasy Literature

Grimward

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Weigh in on Your Favorite Science Fantasy Musical Instrument

Much has been said within the Chronicles about protagonists, villians, the magic they deploy, the author's skill at laying down a plot, the relevance or (gasp!;)) worth of a book as compared to Tolkien's stuff, and even (in several places) commentary about how often the good J.R.R.'s surname is revised. Here, however, it's time for something slightly different.

Introducing "Instrument Wars" (strains of John Williams begin in the background), or perhaps the Clash - es (shameless, I know!) of a Different Kind of Axe. What is your favorite Science Fiction/Fantasy Musical Instrument, and what exactly is it about the instrument that has you whistling more than "Dixie"?

I'll seed the discussion here with a couple of my favorites, then turn things over to you, all-knowing forum! As follows:

1. The Lyranthe wielded by Arithon in Janny's Wurts' Wars of Light and Shadow series. There doesn't seem to be anything this instrument can't do when wielded by him.

2. The duar from Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series. Unlike the lyranthe above, the hero (it's been a while, but I think his name was John Paul) can never quite seem to master this instument, and the results were occasionally hilarious. Enjoyed the classic rock references Foster re-employs as spells here, too.

(Note: I had some instrument images included for illustrative purposes in this thread initially, but forum rules won't let me post them until I've contributed a few more offerings....you need 15, apparently! Please don't let that stop those of you who've already met the requirement, however!)​
 

lin robinson

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Jack Vance is a master of weaving music and instruments through his stories. The flute player in "The Dying Earth" is a classic.

In one of his short stories he had a society in which all speech to others was sung, accompanied by small instruments people carried around with them. Using the wrong instrument could amount to an insult. The only one I remember was a squeeze-operated reed thing, kind of like a bicycle horn with fingering holes like a tiny saxophone.
 

Talysia

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I've always been a fan of the Pernese type of instruments from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. The gitar, drums and pipes, not to mention the tambours and harps, of the Harper Hall always captured my imagination.

I also liked McCaffrey's The Crystal Singer - how the singers use their voices to sing to the crystal and have it reverberate back to them. (I know, I know, it's not strictly an instrument:eek:.)
 

D_Davis

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If we can count the voice as an instrument, then I would chose the choir in the first Elric book. Each member has been surgically altered to sing only one perfect pitch. This is such a memorable moment in the series, one that will haunt me for life. I would love to hear the music such a choir could produce.
 

Rane Longfox

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Uther Doul has a possibility instrument that he plays to Bellis in Mieville's The Scar. It's not as cool as his sword, but it's still awesome :D
 

Clansman

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Yes and no. This choir "sounds" both beautiful and horrific at the same time, no pun intended.

My vote is for Arithon's lyranthe. Janny Wurts has pictures on her webpage, but out of respect for her copyright (she does her own cover art) I will not post it without her explicit permission. The North American covers of Curse of the Mistwraith and Ships of Merior show good illustrations of the lyranthe, which appears to have the rounded sound box of a mandolin, the long neck of a guitar with six strings, plus an additional set of two or three free strings positioned above the fret board (in other words, I assume that when struck, these free strings will always sound the same, as the player's fingers cannot press them onto a fret board and thus change their pitch).

The reason that I vote for the lyranthe is that it is so central to the story, it is almost a character itself. It figures largely in each book.

The duar in Foster's Spellsinger series was played by Jon-Tom, or Jonathan Thomas Merryweather. He was called Jon-Tom because Mudge (that sex-fiend otter) could not manage his full name.

There is the golden harp in Jack and the Beanstalk that comes to mind. Luthien's voice in The Silmarillion put all of Angband to sleep, thus allowing Beren to take the Silmaril from Morgoth's Iron Crown.

I would argue that the Pern stories are not fantasy, but rather science fiction (after all, the dragons were created by genetic manipulation of fire lizards), but I am sure that has been picked up elsewhere in the Chrons. It is, however, the Harpers themselves that are central to the story, not the instruments. The instruments cited by Grimward are very central to the stories in which they appear. Still, I liked the Harpers' instruments too.
 

Montero

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Darwath Trilogy, Barbara Hambly.

The world as they know it has ended. Wizard and his apprentice travel somewhere in hope of assistance, but they're all dead too. Do find a small harp. The apprentice, who was someone sucked over from California, used to play bad rock and roll guitar. On the way home, on this depressing journey, he proceeds to try and play bad rock and roll on this beautiful harp while sitting at the campfire. Master wizard regrets he needs the **** too much to kill him for a bit of peace.
 

Montero

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Anne McCaffrey again - The Ship Who Sang.

I do like the idea of the ship singing in four part harmony with itself.

Does also use the voice and music as a weapon at one point.
 

Grimward

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Right you are about Jon-Tom, Clansman; couldn't find my copies to check myself (need to add more shelves, I suppose!). Regarding the Melnibonean choir, unfortunately, yes, as I recall, the surgical alterations were imposed, rather than chosen. *cringes!*

I also neglected to mention the Harp in Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed series, almost as central to Morgan's abilities as Arithon's lyranthe and Jon-Tom's duar.
 

Montero

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The Abhorsen's bandoleer of bells in Garth Nix's world. I love how they all have characters to them and all the different powers inherent.

I know the thread said "favourite" but I like everything I've put up - for different reasons. :)
 
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Clansman

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AS per my post above, I asked and received permission from Janny Wurts to reproduce her cover art here (please note her copyright in the upper right hand corner, and respect same). The lyranthe is in Arithon's hands (DUH!)

CurseOfTheMistwraith.jpg


As something of an amateur musician, I'd love to give this baby a try. Being able to do grand conjury with it would be amazingly cool.

Some one else can find Jon-Tom's duar. I needed four days to do this.
 

Urlik

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the duar from Spellsinger would be my choice

but seeing as how most of my repertoire is punk with the occasional rock and blues song, I dread to think what the results might be.

although the UK Subs' Warhead could prove a useful song as a last resort
 

Parson

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How can the flute of the Mule in the Foundation series be topped? A whole planet subdued by the music!?

If we are simply doing music, then the Songmaster from Orson Scott Card has to be right there. The whole plot revolved around singing, and a cracking good yarn it was too!!

Ahh! the good old days when OSC wasn't doing things from the book of Mormon etc.
 

chrispenycate

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The instrument is the Unseen University's BSJ organ, with special ranks for sound effects, as described in (I believe) "The Hogfather". It is exceedingly useful to have two sets of hands (like the librarian) to play it.
As far as I can tell, it has no magical properties whatsoever.

The guitar in "Soul Music" which plays the musician would have been handy for some sessions, too.

Science fiction? I can't remember the name of the universal instrument in Norman Spinrad's "Little heroes", nor could I conceive of any way to control it except by direct brainwaves (in the book you get the impression of an extended keyboard, but this doesn't give anything like enough flexibility to put sensitivity into a performance by five or six instruments simultaneously).
 

Hari Seldon

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Tregean Pipes from Tigana by Kay. You haven't lived until you heard them dole out "Lament for Adaon"
 

McMurphy

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Warning: Possible Minor "The High King" Spoiler

What a great idea for a thread!

A poetic moment near the end of The High King of The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander involving Fflewddur Fflam's harp. While he routinely used it throughout the story and it was instrumented to keep him truthful unless he wanted to end up with a harp without strings, the paramount musical moment came when he had to sacrifice the harp for his and his party's warmth. Now, I fully admit that I haven't read the book since 1998 (I even had to look up the spelling of his name again), but I remember Alexander's description of the harp burning while it sorrowfully played amongst the crackles of the fire absolutely elegant and sad.

Upon reflection, The Prydain Chronicles (or Chronicles of Prydain depending on publication) had a grand amount music for themes, as do most tradition Celtic or Celtic based literature.
 

Grimward

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Fflewddur's harp! Excellent choice, McMurphy. I read that series in Jr. High, and remember Alexander getting tons of mileage out of the whole "pinochio" aspect of Fflam's relationship to the harp. Even though the series was targeted to kids, you've gotta like the magical pig (Henwen?), Taran's faithful (if also fearful) companion Gurgi ("smackings and whackings") and the basic but effective way he dishes out magic. It was very Celtic-influenced, but Alexander used the influences to weave a good story. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and for the offered instrument! Will keep my eyes out for the others listed here, as well Hari, Chrispencate, Nesacat, Parson and the rest.
 

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