12.10.12 An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences in Crafting The Codex Lacrimae, Part 4.2 Keeping it Literary while Getting to the Medieval History & Epic Fantasy!
Thankfully, as far as the fiction-side was concerned, in creating the story and characters for The Artifacts of Destiny, I’d already sketched a plot-line that would keep my storytelling grounded, no matter what direction I took when I professionalized my approach to medieval studies. So, as I began training in matters medieval, I made it a priority to keep my fantasy-writing aspirations completely separate from the vocational calling I felt for teaching and researching at the college level.
Moreover, I resolved early on that, no matter how much I learned about European history while becoming a medievalist, that kind of specialized historical knowledge would always be put to serve the characters, plot, and the story, and not the other way around! I wanted my story to be a tale that I wanted to read in my off time. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that meant it had to reach a very high bar that had been set by the epic fantasists whose work I respected. (Besides, I felt that I’d be doing enough history writing in my classes and later professional life, so I really didn’t want to “write history” in my novels!)
To put it another way, I know that some writers (& readers) really enjoy historical fiction (e.g., for the 13th c., see Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth), and that’s great, there are plenty of periods within the “fiction genre” to play around in.
But, remember, I wanted this story to be a contribution to the same types of high fantasy that had blown my mind as a kid. In my series of books, my ambition was to impart to the reader fantasy impressions similar to the ones that had kept me enthralled from ages 10-26.
To an author, my most favorite stories were the ones where impressions achieved literary standards (listed in no particular order):
- the wonder of youth & innocence embodied by Lucy Pevensie when she emerges from the wardrobe for a tea party with Mr. Tumnus;
- the excitement of a quest as a groggy Bilbo Baggins races without a pocket handkerchief to catch the dwarves for an adventure of a lifetime;
- personal battles and sword-wielding heroes themes (with some camaraderie and horror) that mark Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser’s first battle with the Thieves’ Guild of Lankhmar and the warlock Histromilo;
- the disorientation, then complete immersion into another world with combined elements of fantasy and science-fiction that the reader feels while stumbling after Rincewind and Twoflower across Discworld;
- the weight of destiny and power of prophecy that begins to weave itself around the Ta’veren Rand al’Thor and his companions in their flight from Emond’s field;
- the hopes and fears about the limits of religion and magic that mark the persecution of the Deryni in high medieval Gwynedd, which even the high ranking Camber of Culdi and his family can’t escape;
- the theme of the doomed knight that lays behind all the Arthurian tales, especially those that relate the Quest for the Grail;
- the perspective of women one gets when following Morgan Le Fay’s upbringing in Avalon and relationships with Viviane, Morgause, and Igraine when she return to the realms of the Arthurian myths
- the complexity of being “good” while doing evil that Ged experiences as he makes a personal journey that spans from the goat-tending Duny, to Ogion’s apprentice, to creating a shadow that haunts his life and endangers all existence
I could obviously go on and on, but the point’s made: I wanted my tale to incorporate all of these elements (and more), and you can’t do that if you’re writing a historical research paper. To tell the story I wanted to tell, history would be there because that’s part of who I am, but the aspect I’d really need to focus on was storytelling and literary presentation.
In that, I learned very early on that the main trick would be keeping to one style of writing for the history field, and employing another for the entertainment industry.
Next time: Historical Expertise in Medieval Studies (Or, Having Some Fun Setting the Mythical Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology against the Three Religious Worlds of Medieval Europe & Mediterranean Sea)