An interview with John C. Wright

Scott Cole of the Castalia House blog interviews Castalia author John C. Wright about his recently completed trilogy, (and first quarter of his MOTH & COBWEB duodecology) The Green Knight’s Squire, which consists of the following three books:

Scott Cole:   After reading both books my thought is the series is influenced by The Once and Future King and shares similarities with the Book of Revelations (i.e. descriptions of some of the beasts, especially at the first elf tournament), Shakespeare, Narnian anthropomorphism, and Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch along with a multiple mythological references.

John C Wright: You are a little off, but not too far. Any similarity with Lukyanenko’s NIGHT WATCH is pure coincidence. Shakespeare I certainly steal from, but I don’t recall stealing anything from Narnia, aside from a mood. I am not a fan of T.S. White; I take my Arthuriana from Mallory and the Mabinogion and Tennyson’s IDYLLS OF THE KING. Alan Gardner’s WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN is also an inspiration.

Since the book is called SWAN KNIGHT’S SON’S SQUIRE, expect to see the events of THE SWAN KNIGHT’S SON played out. Also, I decided to borrow the bad guys from G.K. Chesterton’s THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY, and to make Gil a member of the Last Crusade.

SC: What was the inspiration for the Moth and Cobweb series?

JCW: Once upon a time I asked my editor, Vox Day, what I could write that would reach a wider audience. He suggested writing something aimed at the juvenile market, and said that talking animals were always popular.  He also admired my short story ‘A Parliament of Beast and Birds’ which appeared in the anthology BOOK OF FEASTS AND SEASONS.

The mystery of where writers get their ideas is a perennial one, but the truth is that we have no more ideas than anyone else. The difference is that, unlike muggles, we write our ideas down and use them. Every writer I have ever met keeps a notebook in purse or pocket or in his smartphone where he jots down ideas.

So, I threw the idea of a talking animal into the pot and looked through my notebook of unused ideas to find what else might go into the stew. Usually a writer needs three ideas to get the ball rolling.

I had the germ of an idea that had been in the back of my mind for some years, a juvenile originally set in a mythical place called Uncanny Valley, Nevada, where four seniors in high school, cousins, each had to do an apprenticeship or internship over the summer with one or another of their mad uncles. Instead of the normal jobs, because some of their uncles were from beyond the fields we know, the kids end up being a squire to a knight, the sidekick to a superhero, a sorcerer’s apprentice, or something of the sort.

A second idea came not from my notebook but from my wife’s Harry Potter inspired role playing game. Like all the games we run, we made up our own rules. In her role playing game, she decided that in addition to buying character stats like strength or scholarship, dexterity and intelligence, you could also buy social stats like fortune, friends, fame, and family. So, for example, an orphan with a vast bank account would have a zero in family and high marks in fortune, whereas a poor boy from a large and supportive family would have the opposite.

One innovation in her rule system, which I had not seen used elsewhere, was that each player had a star he could use to mark one stat and only one he had purchased, and this carried a secret benefit revealed in the course of the game. So, for example, putting a star in scholarship gave the character total recall. Putting the star in family meant you were a member of the largest and most supportive extended family imaginable, the children of the seneschal of Titania, the Moths. This did not give you any magic powers, but it meant that you had uncles and cousins both in the human world and beyond, including royalty, famous scientists, mermaids, and so on. Indeed, my wife had umpired more than one game with these rules, so it became sort of a running joke that I always played a member of the Moth family. My first character was named Dusty Moth, and he was a cowboy from Utah, and an amateur alchemist, who had the blood of elves in his background.

The third idea came from the song ERLKOENIG or the medieval tale of TAM LIN, where a boy is being sold by the elfs to hell. I had noticed that elfs and fairy creatures from the days before Tolkien and Gary Gygax, and indeed from before Shakespeare’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, were actually quite spooky and frightening, not the pretty and twee tween girls of Disney’s Tinkerbell cartoons.

I noticed traces of the sulfurous scent of the inferno clinging even to such recent and childish works as DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, a favorite film of mine, based on an older series of books, where the Leprechauns are terrified by the powers of a parish priest, whose blessings and exorcisms can shrivel them. Even in the lighthearted Disney version, as in the original books, the elfs are angelic beings who neither aided Satan during his rebellion, nor fought on the side of Heaven, and so were cast out of paradise, but not all the way to Hell.

It’s a really good interview. Read the rest of it there. And the books are really good as well. If you ever enjoyed Susan Cooper or Lloyd Alexander, you will almost certainly enjoy John C. Wright’s MOTH & COBWEB series.