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About A. J.


A. J. Carlisle holds a Ph.D. in medieval European history, with varied interests that include Roman history and Late Antiquity, the High Middle Ages, and the Crusades of 1096-1291.  (
Wait!  Come back!  Don’t you dare hit the “jump” button on that browser just because you saw an academic degree! It does not disqualify one from writing epic fantasy…. Whew.  Calm down, take a breath.  We good?  Good.  Think about it, okay?  J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were professors at Oxford back in the early 20th century…you gave them a chance with Middle Earth and Narnia, didn’t you?  Ah.  Thought so.)  So, onto some of the most important aspects of A.J.’s credo for writing epic fantasy:

Poulnaborne Dolmen Tomb (megalithic portal, Ireland; Rob Shaw, Irish Archaeology.ie)

Poulnaborne Dolmen Tomb (megalithic portal, Ireland; Rob Shaw, Irish Archaeology)

The Norse Imagination: An Aspect of Mimir's Well (Aurora Borealis over Glacial Lake at Jökulsárlòn (Iceland; Wikipedia)

The Norse Imagination: An Aspect of Mimir’s Well (Aurora Borealis over Glacial Lake at Jökulsárlòn (Iceland; Wikipedia)

Epic Fantasy Influences & Departures from the Genre:
Now, where were we?  Right — for a fantasist, all that the credentials really mean is that A.J.’s readers are in for a treat, and what he believes to be a reading experience unlike any other in the worlds of “epic fantasy.”  He’s writing the kind of escapist fantasy story that he wants to read, and one that does honor to his early influences of Tolkien and Lewis by both incorporating and differing from their approaches to the Middle Ages.  Say what?  Well, on the “traditionalist” side of things, A.J.’s stories are truly high fantasy, informed (1) by a love of the genre that attained mainstream popularity with Tolkien and Lewis, and (2) by growing up voraciously reading (and being influenced by) authors such as Michael Moorcock, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Katherine Kurtz, who all did away with many of the conventions upon which Tolkien and Lewis relied/invented.

Portal to Welsh Otherworld of Annen Verden (Isle of Arran Scotland)

Portal to Welsh Otherworld of Annen Verden
(Isle of Arran, Scotland)

Midgard, Levantine Coast (Caesarea)

Midgard, Levantine Coast (Caesarea)

On the very different side of things, unlike staying solely in a fantasy realm, A.J. will take his reader deeply into the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology (along with introducing readers to heavy doses of his passion for Celtic & Welsh mythology, as well as Arthurian Lore), but he also isn’t going to shy away from the medieval worlds of Europe and the Middle East where his stories take place — he finds them all utterly fascinating!  And, guess what?  Those lands and that history are still here!  Remember, Tolkien and Lewis were medievalists who created worlds that resonated the medieval lands, peoples, and languages they studied, but they kept the worlds separate from the historical ones we know.  Tolkien created an entire new mythology with Middle Earth, while Lewis wrote a Christian allegory in his stories of Narnia.  Carlisle wants to write epic fantasy that treats the medieval world on its own terms, while also introducing elements that haven’t been seen before!

The Krak des Chevaliers, Syria (the 1185 A.D. home of Ríg, Khajen ibn-Khaldun, Marcus, & Pellion at beginning of The Artifacts of Destiny)

The Krak des Chevaliers, Syria (the 1185 A.D. home of Ríg, Khajen ibn-Khaldun, Marcus, & Pellion at beginning of The Artifacts of Destiny)

Trust in the Middle Ages:  A.J.’s approach to fantasy stays grounded in places like the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Continent, and southward to the ancient Roman lands bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, and then shifts both the story (and the reader) into a cosmology that seriously treats medieval realities  influenced by Norse, Welsh, Celtic, and other world mythologies.   Yes, yes, A.J.’s treating history and folklore with an adventurous touch, but, so what?  Like many of his readers, A.J. is a fan of Doctor Who, so certainly isn’t afraid to let things get a little “timey-wimey” and dimensionally distorted in his approach to epic fantasy, nor should his potential readers.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Bk 1, Pt.: Ch. 3, where Clarinda initially meets Urd)

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Bk 1, Pt.: Ch. 3, where Clarinda initially meets Urd in pre-Islamic Constantinople of 1185, when The Codex Lacrimae takes place!)

The cool thing about the medieval period that influenced scholars such as Tolkien (Anglo-Saxon studies) and Lewis (literature) was that those 1,000-years were anything but “Dark Ages.”  We know that vibrant cultural encounters and economic exchanges took place in the western world from Late Antiquity (c. 337 A.D.) to the Fall of Constantinople (1453), and those are the places and times where many of the books in The Artifacts of Destiny series take place.  Why completely invent another world, when our own provides a multitude of times, peoples, and adventures that one could spend a lifetime playing around with?

Another benefit for remaining partially in “our world” is that, unlike heading to Middle-Earth or stepping into Narnia, A.J.’s readers can actually visit many of the places in this series…modern-day Istanbul was Constantinople 800 years ago, the Scandinavian lands and British Isles are still here, and the Krak des Chevaliers remains standing as a World Historical Site in Syria… . (Hmmm.  Well, okay: given the current conditions in Syria, that last one’s not a good example.  Stick to reading about the place as it existed in 1185 A.D.  You might not want to go to Syria to visit the castle of the Krak des Chevaliers until things settle down.)

Midgard (Mount Etna, Sicily -- homeland of Servius Aurelius Santini, a main character in The Artifacts of Destiny series)

Midgard (Mount Etna, Sicily — homeland of Servius Aurelius Santini, a main character in The Artifacts of Destiny series)

The point is that remnants of the medieval world linger everywhere we look, and fans of A.J.’s books will be able to visit many of the places he writes about; although, be warned: you might experience some frustration in trying to find Norns or dwarfish arch-mages appearing via runeportes in today’s Hagia Sophia as Urd and Dietrich do in The Codex Lacrimae. (However, if you do, please Tweet @AJ_Carlisle with an update; he’s very much trying to keep those two pesky characters under control, and like most of the Norns and Arch-Mages who appear in the books, they tend to bend space and time to suit their needs!).

The Grand Canal, Venice (a 21st century view of Clarinda Trevisan's 12thc. homeland...)

The Grand Canal, Venice (a 21st century view of Clarinda Trevisan’s 12thc. homeland…)

A Diversity of Characters: A.J.’s had plenty of experience with the gaming world, & part of his goal is to create stories where readers can imagine themselves living and “play” to their heart’s content.  Tired of imitators that endlessly recycled the themes, lands, and characters of Tolkien & Lewis’s respective worlds, Carlisle also trusts that the “real” medieval world presents as much of an opportunity for adventure and fantasy as any that could be imagined. Remember, the Vikings & Icelanders looked around their own lands when they created Norse mythology, and those environments endure:  Muspelheim’s land of fire in the lava flows of Icelandic volcanoes, Jotunheim’s world of ice in the far reaches of Nordic landscapes, Alfheim & Svartalfheim’s lands of the elves in the northern forests of Germanic lands. A thousand years ago, these places were just as exotic as any that could be created whole-cloth, and a reader’s trip into the The Artifacts of Destiny is a voyage into the medieval mind.

NIdaveller, one part of the World of the Dwarves (a.k.a., Reed Flute Caves, China)

NIdaveller, one part of the World of the Dwarves (a.k.a., Reed Flute Caves, China)

Moreover, in this fantasy series, you’ll find characters who matter, and an over-arching story that pits both male and female heroes (and villains) against a threat borne in Norse mythology.  The Mediterranean World of the 12th Century was a polyglot of peoples and cultures, and in many ways what Barbara Tuchman would call a “distant mirror” of our time.  A.J. Carlisle’s characters are drawn from every part of medieval life — knights, merchants, priests, musicians, scholars, peasants, nobles, — and each has a role to play in the greater story.  You’ll not find in his books the clichés that drive A.J. bonkers and which still currently plague some of the shadowy side-streets of the fantasy genre;  no one-dimensional walk-on characters who serve only to be slain by a dragon (or die so that numbers can be added to a macabre body count), no token appearances by women (or men) whose purpose in the story is only to be bedded by the close a chapter, and especially no characters who appear simply as plot-devices, dragged on-stage by the hair to utter a couple of lines, and then booted off, never to be seen again.

The Viking Underworld of Hel (Solheimajokull Glacier, Iceland; 2013, by Marketa Kalvachova, Daily Telegraph, UK)

One Exit from the Viking Underworld of Hel (a.k.a., Solheimajokull Glacier, Iceland; 2013, by Marketa Kalvachova, Daily Telegraph, UK)

What will be seen is an epic fantasy that focuses on the main characters, Clarinda and Ríg, as they make their way through 12th Century Mediterranean and Scandinavian worlds that hold perils neither the Venetian girl nor Hospitaller knight could ever imagine when they start their journey in Constantinople and the Middle East! As they each begin their respective paths to self-discovery, they’ll meet friends and foes from Midgard and the rest of the Norse Nine Worlds who are fully realized personalities and determined to either save or destroy them.

___________________________________________________

 A.J. Carlisle lives in the United States with his wife and children. Besides working as a practicing historian, he has passionately nurtured a dream of writing fantasy novels since an early age. While the nine-book The Artifacts of Destiny series began as a relaxing counterpoint to A.J.’s historical research, he’s now having to write as fast as he can to keep pace with the epic fantasy that’s unfolding around his characters!

The Codex Lacrimae, Pt 1

The Codex Lacrimae, Pt 1

The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2

The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2

The first book of that series, Book I: The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter and Doomed Knight was available as an e-book and in-print on May 29, 2012.  The second (& concluding) part of that novel, Book I: The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears, was published on November 18, 2013, and currently available on all major platforms via Argo-Navis (Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc.)  The fact that this novel was split in twain still drives A.J. a bit nuts, so he recommends fortifying yourself with a latte, pot of tea, pint of Guinness, or a finger/bottle of Balvenie (depending on time of day…or not), and then purchase both books to read.  Hopefully, by the time you finish the book, he’ll be well into the final draft of completing the next novel in the series, Book 2: The Codex Vindicta: The Book of Vengeance.

A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight
http://www.amazon.com/Codex-Lacrimae, Part 1
A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears
http://www.amazon.com/The-Codex-Lacrimae-Part 2

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Robert Denham #

    You might be interested in Frye’s assessment of Tolkien, whose lectures he attended during the first term of his second year at Oxford, 1938″

    “Then there’s Tolkien on Beowulf, dealing with a most insanely complicated problem which involves Anglo Saxon genealogies, early Danish histories, monkish chronicles in Latin, Icelandic Eddas and Swedish folk lore. Imagine my delivery at its very worst: top speed, unintelligible burble, great complexity of ideas and endless references to things unknown, mixed in with a lot of Latin and Anglo Saxon and a lot of difficult proper names which aren’t spelled, and you have Tolkien on Beowulf.” — The Diaries of Northrop Frye

    October 17, 2014

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