August 1, 2012
August sees the publication of James Enge's A Guile of Dragons, Book One of A Tournament of Shadows, a trilogy set earlier in the life of swordsman and master of makers, Morlock Ambrosius. James joins us for an exclusive interview to celebrate the book's release.
|Exclusive Q & A with James Enge|
Rene Sears: What are the challenges
of writing stories set earlier in Morlock's
timeline? Did you find yourself
constrained at all by previously
James Enge: I did! But that was a feature, not a bug, as far as I'm concerned. I know it's not the only way to go; Harrison's Viriconium books or Russ' tales of Alyx the Adventurer, for example, deliberately disrupt continuity between stories. And comics have been retconning their backstories practically since comics were invented. But, like Tolkien, I guess I prefer "history, true or feigned" to most other types of fantasy. So I tried to maintain consistency between the first set of Morlock books and the new ones, which are sort of an origin story.
The biggest challenge of writing an origin story is that some people reading this book will know how at least some of the story worked out. "Spoilers!" as River Song is always shouting at the Eleventh Doctor.
But... I'm not sure I believe in spoilers.
When I was young I was working a really awful job (day-laborer, washing dishes) and the worst thing about it was that one day, while a couple of my co-workers were talking about movies, I heard the key secret from the sequel to Star Wars. If you hadn't heard, let me be the first to break it to you: Darth Vader is Luke's father.
I was mad that the movie had been "spoiled" for me--except it wasn't, really. The Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite part of the whole series. And people love the movie who grew up knowing this big secret-that's-no-secret.
So I really think it depends on how the tale is told, rather than knowing (or not knowing) stuff about the end. (I even wrote a Morlock story about that once--"A Book of Silences". I knew this day would come!)
RS: The first Morlock "trilogy" (Blood of Ambrose,
This Crooked Way, and The Wolf Age) were three
standalone stories, whereas A Tournament of Shadows
has an overarching plot for all three books. How did
that affect your writing of the trilogy?
JE: I always claim (somewhat futilely, maybe) that the first three Morlock books are not actually a trilogy. They're just three books with the same main character. Significant numbers of people have read the second or third book, and then commented, "And then I found out it wasn't the first one in the series!" Which makes them mad sometimes, but which I think is the ideal state of things. Life begins in medias res--and ends that way, too, I guess. And a standalone should be able to stand alone.
I also felt the individual books in "A Tournament of Shadows" should have their own plot arcs, in addition to the overarching one entangled in the rise and fall of Morlock. You know the typical cliffhanger end of the first book of a trilogy? Or the stereotypical second book where everybody treads water for four or five hundred pages? I wanted to avoid all that.
A modern fantasy trilogy is about 300,000 words or more. That's a massive demand on the reader's time and attention. Someone telling such a tale has an obligation not to waste the reader's time.
So the main task I've set myself is to make the plot material serve both the needs of the immediate book and the whole trilogy. No filler. No lists of trees and rivers. Any walking will have a definite end in view. And each book will have its own plot resolved by the volume's end.
RS: The Graith of Guardians has a very different
political system (or lack thereof) compared to, say,
the more traditional kingdom of Laent. What inspired
JE: There's a complaint about imaginary-world fantasy which is partly valid and partly nonsense. The complaint runs something like this: Always with the kings, and the dukes, and the princesses. Where's the pluralistic democracy? Do you fantasy people HATE FREEDOM?
Personally, I love political freedom so much that someday I'm going to buy some for myself. But the issue of why there are so many non-democracies in fantasy is complicated. Most people who have ever lived did not experience the joys and sorrows of living in a democratic state. Are their stories not worth telling? Then there's the question of what the monarchies in these stories actually represent. Frequently they seem to be fantasies (in both the literary and psychological sense) of the Freudian "family romance", the journey a person takes from dependency to autonomous adulthood. A democracy may not be a proper symbol for that emotional material, because personal autonomy is not subject to someone else's check or veto. So it's not like being the leader of a free state; it is actually more like being a monarch, with other autonomous people being like the independent monarchs of neighboring realms.
But fantasies would no doubt be better if they had a richer political ecology. We wouldn't get so many chosen ones who were prophesied in the beforetime to do all that stuff that chosen ones always do. I've tried to mix it up a little in the earlier Morlock novels, having him run afoul of bureaucracies and timocracies and theocracies.
And the Wardlands were always supposed to be a little different--a kind of utopia, that Morlock was cast out of. What's the ideal government for free people, after all? No government at all--no restraints on personal autonomy except respect for others' autonomy.
So the Wardlands are an anarchy, where all the things we think of as governmental functions (national defense, criminal justice, road-building, you name it) are taken care of by voluntary associations. The Graith of Guardians isn't an arm of the government, because there's no government for it to be an arm of, and any Guardian who tries to act like a governor will be driven out of the Wardlands. That's exactly how Morlock's father gets in trouble, as a matter of fact.
Anarchy or libertarianism is usually associated with a self-regarding ruthlessness: Ayn Rand, "going Galt", and all that. But the only way for people to survive in the long term is in a community, and a community requires people to look after each other--out of enlightened self-interest, or idealism, or whatever leads people to benefit the community even at cost to themselves.
There's another reason why anarchy is a type of community suitable for a fantasy novel. It probably couldn't work in the real world. You'll always get bozos who are more than willing to screw things up for everybody. (Consider the sad state of almost every unmoderated comment section on the internet.) But if you're interested in thinking about what a free state is, you have to at least think about what it would be like if there were no state at all, and there are a lot of people who have done more of that than I ever will. (I think I'd be right in naming here an old friend I haven't seen in a while: Shawn Wilbur, whose Libertarian Labyrinth is a document-rich history-in-progress of anarchic thought, from a left-leaning point of view.)
RS: What are you reading right now?
JE: I just finished a spree of rereading old comics (some Spider-Man, some X-Men, and some of Alan Moore's work for DC including "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and "The Killing Joke"). Now I'm launched on a big history of the transcontinental railroad, David Bain's Empire Express. And I'm also rereading some of Charles Williams' "supernatural thrillers" from the 1930s--War in Heaven, The Greater Trumps, etc. And I just started Ruth Gordon's memoirish Myself, Among Others. She was Maude in Harold and Maude, of course, and won an Oscar for her role as the grandmotherly Satanist in Rosemary's Baby, but as a young actress she would pal around with people like Harpo Marx and other luminaries of stage and screen. And she tells a good anecdote. (I usually have a stack of books that I'm working on--but maybe that goes without saying at this point.)
Many thanks to James for joining us!
|A Guile of Dragons|
"[E]fficiently excellent epic fantasy... Enge's engaging portrait of Morlock...will have readers hunting down earlier books to learn more about the adventurer and his history."
- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"James Enge's books are like a strange alloy of Raymond Chandler, Fritz Lieber, Larry Niven and some precious metal that is all Enge's own. They're thrilling, funny, and mysteriously moving. I see 10 things on every page I wish I'd written. I could read him forever and never get bored."
-Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians
"...what Tolkien might have written had he lived in this postmodern age."
- Grasping for the Wind
"Providing a back door into the Arthur/Merlin mythos, Enge creates a fascinating counterpoint to the familiar legends." -Library Journal
It's dwarves vs dragons in A Guile of Dragons, the origin story for Enge's signature character, Morlock Ambrosius!Before history began, the dwarves of Thrymhaiam fought against the dragons as the Longest War raged in the deep roads beneath the Northhold. Now the dragons have returned. The weight of guarding the Northhold rests on the crooked shoulders of Morlock Ambrosius. But his wounded mind has learned a dark secret: the Longest War can never be over...
The adventures of younger Morlock make a perfect entry point into his story, but for readers who want more, check out our coupon for Blood of Ambrose, nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, below. For more Morlock, enjoy "A Book of Silences" and "Fire and Sleet," available free on our website, or "Travellers' Rest," available on the website or for download.
|New This Month|
"McEntire's writing shimmers. The world she's created is intricate and full of life. Reaper will leave you breathless."
--Kristopher Reisz, author of Unleashed
"Reaper is a fascinating and touching story built in a rich, layered world where the stakes are bigger than life or death... . K.D. McEntire's writing is smart, sharp, and utterly engaging. Reaper will take you on a thrilling trip... where death is only the beginning."
--Leah Petersen, author of Fighting Gravity
After the death of her mother, Wendy attempts to fill her shoes. Her first surprise is learning that she is part of a powerful and ancient family of Reapers, which her mother had forsaken. Now that both her mother and Piotr are gone, Wendy must struggle to maneuver between the machinations of the dead and the dark intentions of her living Reaper family. She has only days to unravel the mysteries her mother left behind and to convince her wary family to accept her as one of their own.
That's it for this issue. As always, please check out our entire catalog
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an imprint of Prometheus Books