Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Paul Freeman talks magic and myth

Yeah, he's a grumpy git. :-) 

Today I’m handing over the blog to Paul Freeman.  Paul’s a good guy, a seriously good guy, and he writes good books.  I always say I don’t really *do* fantasy, yet I’ve read Lord of the Rings a ridiculous amount of times and spent my teens immersed in mythology and magic (hmm, come to think of it, not much has changed).  I’m now dragon-deep in Game of Thrones so…  I don’t know, maybe we all need the occasional flap of wings to fan the flames.  Maybe when the present seems tough we need to immerse ourselves in alternative pasts (fantasy) and/or alternative futures (SF).  Anyhow.  Paul’s new book, Tribesman, is out now and so I asked him if he’d riff a bit on  myth and magic.  And he said yes.  And here it is. 

Cold air misted above the surface of the water. Translucent shapes clinging to the black pool. Frost hardened grass crunched under the boots of the traveller as he approached the glass-calm lake. White wraiths stirred and hovered over the dark waiting for him. Calling to him, beckoning him, needing him. He could taste the cold on his tongue, feel the ice in his blood. He turned away then, unwilling to face the ghosts of his ancestors.

Ever wonder where myths come from? There’s a road near where I live, and the maddest thing happens there quite regularly. A column of mist forms over the road in just this one spot; it’s the weirdest looking thing. Just a small section of road for about ten yards is shrouded in mist. Now, what’s not immediately noticeable is that a stream runs under the road, and every now and then when hot air and cold air interact they make magic. But how would this have looked to the ancients? Is it possible a ghost could be inhabiting the stream? Or a bridge spanning the water could be a portal to another world?

Or what about a burning red sunset? I Googled this to see why it occurs, because I could. I won’t bore you with the details, but I know for sure that if I were sitting on the side of a mountain two thousand years ago, herding my sheep, that red sunset would be a portent of doom.

And that’s before we get into hallucinogenic consumption. How many myths were created by people ingesting mushrooms and other substances? I remember this funny story from school. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it was told to me and the rest of the class by a teacher. An area close to me was famous for sightings of ghosts, (I live in a crazy place). Dozens of people all saw the same apparitions on the road, and legends grew out of it. Well it turned out some ingredient in the local bread had them all tripping out, and they were all having hallucinations. Like I said I don’t know if that is true. I hope so, it makes a funny story. That is unless you were one of the unfortunates seeing a headless horseman on his way home from work every evening.

And dragons! There is actual proof that they lived. At least – imagine an ancient digging up a dinosaur fossil.  How did they reason that? Which brings me around nicely to, well, me. 

I write fantasy books. A lot of my inspiration comes from mythology, Celtic mythology in particular, being as I'm Irish and all. I have a character in my book, the war god of the northern clans, and I loosely based her on a figure from Celtic mythology, The Morrigan, a dark god if ever there was one. The old tales were deliciously dark. Take The Children of Lír for example. Lír’s wife bore him four children, three boys and a girl. Alas for poor Lír and the children, his wife died, so he married her sister. The sister didn’t fancy having the four children around so she turned them into swans and cursed them to live for periods of 300 years on different lakes. When eventually a monk breaks the curse and turns them back into humans, they are nine hundred year old men and woman, and they die. No kiss from a prince and live happily ever after here.

So much fantasy written today is heavily influenced by ancient mythology, Lord of the Rings for example is laden with references to Norse and Celtic myth. There would have been no Gimli or Legolas without Viking lore, no dwarves, no elves, no ring. And what better place to find a source for our stories? It is our heritage, the dreams and fears of our ancestors come to life. In a lot of ways we are the new myth makers. Modern technology has dispelled the magic, myth and rumour. It is in our hands, in the worlds we create. It is up to the fantasy writers to bring the magic to life. To create spaces where readers can immerse themselves, and believe in the unbelievable. We are the custodians of the magic now.

We need magic, just as we need larger than life heroes. Who wants everything explained away by science? I want to believe in a time of legend when heroes came to life.

Long may the magic live.

Paul's new book is called Tribesman.  Here's the blurb:

A warrior in exile seeks a path home. 

Banished from his homeland, a warrior of the Northern Clans grows weary of life in a harsh, alien land. With the dark god Morrigu haunting his dreams, and a desert princess as a companion, Culainn, a warrior and champion sets forth on a journey north in search of a merchant's daughter abducted by clansmen and taken back across the mountains. Through a land baked by a scorching sun, where bandits roam free and dark beasts stalk the night. 
An ancient evil is rising from the desert. A Benouin myth of a ghost city inhabited by the souls of their ancestors, a bridge to the Underworld is unleashing demonic creatures on an unsuspecting world. Culainn and Persha, warrior and mage stand alone against a tide of darkness. All the while, Morrigu, the dark war god of the north seeks to use Culainn as her own tool, her own champion.

Dontcha just love those ancient evils rising from the desert?  :-)

You can buy it at Amazon.com here and at Amazon.co.uk here
You can also read his blog.  Which contains an excerpt from the book. 
Or just hang out with him on Facebook


Gerald D. Johnston said...

Excellent post, Paul. Very informative. I'm a big fan of fantasy, and an even bigger fan of your writing.

Do something about the scowly pic, tho. You scared my kid. B)

Paul Freeman said...

I'm smiling on the inside :)

Sharon Van Orman said...

Very good blog. I really enjoy fantasy novels and Tribesman is an excellent one.

Mary said...

Tribesmen is now on my must read list.

Jane the Booklady said...

What an interesting post. I like the ghostly mist myth and don't they now think one of the famous witch happenings in America was caused by ergot in their bread?

Paul Freeman said...

Thanks, Sharon :)

@Mary Yay!

@Jane That sounds really interesting. I'm going to look it up!