To celebrate the release of his new novel (and to kick off Wyrd and Wonder month), The Sword Defiant, Gareth Hanrahan stopped by the Asylum to talk about the myths and inspiration behind the worldbuilding. The Sword Defiant, book one of the Lands of the Firstborn series, published by Orbit hits shelves on May 2, 2023.
If you’d like to learn more about the book, I highly recommend following all the cool content collected HERE. Instead of a blog tour, Gareth invites you to go on a blog quest, moving across the map! I freaking love this idea, if we are being honest. Definitely check it out!
Gareth Hanrahan’s three-month break from computer programming to concentrate on writing has now lasted fifteen years and counting. He’s written more gaming books than he can readily recall, by virtue of the alchemical transmutation of tea and guilt into words. Follow him on Twitter at @mytholder or at garhanrahan.com.
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It’s no secret that The Sword Defiant – the first book in my Lands of the Firstborn trilogy – is inspired by Tolkien. One of the first sparks of inspiration was a line of his in the introduction to The Lord of the Rings. “If [WW2] had inspired or directed the development of the legend… Barad-Dur would not have been destroyed but occupied”. The story began with that question – what if a fellowship of heroes occupied the fortress of the dark lord instead of going home at the end of the quest?
But I took some other cues from Tolkien’s legendarium. The Firstborn of the trilogy title, for example – they’re elves. Tolkien spoke of creating a myth-cycle, “a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story – the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths”. His cosmological myths are mostly contained in The Silmarillion, with only echoes and references showing up in the better-known The Lord of the Rings (as well as a few supporting characters, like Elrond and Galadriel – or Sauron). One concept I wanted to play with was to see what might happen if you maintained continuity – if the cosmological figures who were active at the dawn of the world were still involved thousands of years later. (Or, what if Feanor lived, for those steeped in Middle-earth).
Like Tolkien’s elves, the Firstborn are not merely long-lived, but immortal. Their number was fixed at the creation of the world, and it’ll be the same at its ending. Eight thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine elves awoke with the first dawn, and eight thousand one hundred and fifty-nine elves will see the world’s ending. Should an elf be slain, they’ll be reborn as the child of another elf. In the meantime, they’re condemned to the nightmarish wraith-world. So, some of the elves who were there before the creation of humanity are still active players in the games of intrigue and power.
The elves are immortal and physically unageing, but not imperishable. Over time, their bodies wear out and fade. How long this takes depends on many things – injury and illness, hope and tenacity – but almost all the elves encountered in the story have died and been reborn at least once. Memories fade with each rebirth, so the elves risk losing even whatever small spark of unique identity endures through many centuries of existence.
One solution – turn your city into a memory palace. Carve your own deeds into every wall; raise statues of yourself to commemorate moments of significance. Make stone your memory – and hope that, say, no upstart dark lord takes over your city and turns it into his war machine, or that even more upstart-y mortals throw down the dark lord and strip your city for trophies and magic. (Other solutions used in the series by the elves to avoid fading: bind yourself to a tree, or drink the blood of mortals.)
But even if the memory palace of Necrad had survived intact, it wouldn’t have been a solution. Telling a story, even your own story, is an act of editorialising. You choose what to remember, what to emphasise – and what to conceal, what to forget. To my mind, a myth’s a story that’s been retold so many times that it’s become disjointed, dissolving into symbols and archetypes, into disassociated events without the connective tissue of context and necessity. It’s boiled down to its essence, its purest, brightest form – and that purity is a terrible thing in the light of the real world. No real king can ever be as kingly as Arthur; no knight so brave as Lancelot. Creatures of myth, liberated from the doubts and limits and dependencies of reality, are greater and truer than we can ever be.
The elves are lost in the shadow of their own mythology, diminished by their own half-remembered deeds. They see monuments to what they did, but cannot always remember how or why.
Mortals do it too, over and over. We have our ancient stories and epics, stories handed down from generation to generation, shaping our values and common culture. We have family stories, tales that emphasise who we are, showing off the best accomplishments and hardships endured by previous generations (and editing out so, so much). And we have personal stories – we mythologise ourselves. Alf – the protagonist of The Sword Defiant – never really had a chance. Everyone tells him he’s a hero. Every story and song speaks of his great deeds. He was exalted, made a knight, offered lands and titles, even offered the hand of a lord’s daughter in marriage. He turned them all down, because what he mythologised wasn’t his adventurers or his deeds – it was his friendships. He’s made those days of his youth into a personal myth, a golden age of shared adventure and sacrifice and joy. And like every other myth, it’s dangerous to try to live up to it…
The Sword Defiant, the first book in the Land of the Firstborn series by Gareth Hanrahan, is out now!
Set in a world of dark myth and dangerous prophecy, this thrilling fantasy launches an epic tale of daring warriors, living weapons, and bloodthirsty vengeance.
” The Sword Defiant is a treat for all fantasy fans . . . . It’s an absolute blast.” ― Justin Lee Anderson, author of The Lost War
Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord’s cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.
Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.
If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.
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