EVOLUTION OF ANIETH
1983 - 2005
When I first conceived the world of the wood, I thought to myself that one could design a world in two ways. One could wing it and rely on intuition to make the world seem true, or one could do the research. Fantasy, in my opinion, has to ring true in its background in order for the suspension of reality to work. Since the purpose of Fantasy is to suspend the reader's reality in order to introduce universal truths in a new context, the world must have a cohesion to it that does not jar the reader's skepticism. Many of you may have watched movies or read books where you were suddenly jerked back into reality when the author uses the a weapon in the wrong way or forgets what a character looks like, or says something that does not fit the reality of the world. Sometimes, the background of a world becomes a place in which to play, a fantasy, in the other sense of the word.
I confess, the thing I don't like about Fantasy is the magic. I was always attracted to the "wild" magic or "earth" magic in Fantasy novels and not the "wizard school" magic. I noticed early on a similarity between magical characters in books. Alan Garner's Bodachs showed up in other books with the same names and slightly different characteristics. Susan Cooper's rhyme: "I am the womb of every holt. . ." shows up in other places. The wizards and unicorns seemed similar because of some conscious consensus to be in line with Tolkien and Peter Beagle, but the subtler characters and the subtler magic seemed to me to be tapping something deeper. Of course, in re-inventing the wheel, I decided that the similiarity was Gaelic and Nordic folklore. I wanted to write a book where the magic was subtler and the world was empty of wizards and gods.
The series began as a picture book that took place at the end of a Fairy Tale in which the princess is found by the prince in the wood and goes to the palace to live as his wife. I wondered what would happen if one switched the tables and the attraction was in the wood and the princess did not want to leave the wood. The princess was a dancer that fell in love with a man of the forest over the prince. Thus my first characters: Osar, Estella and Runion were born. I made this picture book for a class in illustration. At that time I collected picture books of Fairy Tales by such greats as Mercer Mayer and the Dillons and my favorite, Trina Schart Hyman. This was the cover done for this book in colored pencil.
Another idea I had had since I read Tolkien's books at ten was to write about his character, Beorn, from the Hobbit. In the Lord of Rings, Tolkien mentions Beorn briefly in his son, Grimbeorn and the "Beornings of the Wood". This made me stop. What woman would have married that grouchy, introverted, touchy, bear-shaper, Beorn? I could not imagine some peasant woman wandering into his lands and saying, "here I am, darling!", let alone one of the Elves or other peoples of Tolkien's imagining. Maybe someone like Goldberry, Tom Bombadil's wife. A dryad or naiad or some such "old magic" person. So the Star of Aragón became a novel of Osar, the bear-shaper, and a woman who became his wife but was lost to a castle where she was like the princess of "The Seven Swans" accused of being a witch and burned. The story was called the Beast and set in Medieval Europe, like most Fantasy of the time.
I quickly realized that the book did not work because it became a stereotyped book of witches versus the church and the magic of shapeshifting was lost in the religious conflict. So the first major development of the series began by shifting the time to the Roman Conquest of Britain. What a change! Suddenly, I had my world. So, I returned to my question, should I wing it or do the research? This series is the result of the research. Thasátos was a reconstruction of Stone Age Europe at war with a invading Iron Age culture that was a mix between the Celts and the Saxons, and another invading culture in the form of Persians with Hoplite mercenaries. The Greek world came very close to being part of a Persian Empire that spread across Europe. In my alternate history, the Persians conquered the Sythians and kept on going. There are some Roman flavors to the Zelosians, yet most of these peoples borrowed from one another and much of Roman military style evolved from the Persian. And, of course, the luxury of every Fantasist, from Tolkien who borrowed Finnish to make Quenya to all the writers who "borrowed Fairy Tales to reconstruct, is to mix and match the past to "ring true" for a new world.
Ever since I was twelve years old, I have been obsessed with world building. By the age of eighteen, I had invented three languages and was drawing by hand complicated orthographic projection maps of worlds showing altitude and weather patterns. Everything I read got tossed into the mill of world building. I wanted to study world building in college and received strange looks from councillors who could not understand why I wanted to take geomorphology and diachronic linguistics along with mythology, folklore, and comparative literature. I put up with the stinging name of "encyclopedia brain" knowing that all my interests were for a purpose and that it might take a very, very long time to show the results of my labors.
As I learned bits and pieces of Irish Gaelic, Welsh, Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Latin, the languages began to influence the writing of the book. I became fascinated with different forms of poetics other than the Latinate which we are taught in school. My ear developed for different kinds of language and I learned that one thinks in different ways as one changes language. Reading Victor Hugo's description of Brittany and how he believed it affected the psychology of those who lived there made me investigate the influences of climate and geography on world view. My intuition told me that pre-Classical humans were very creative with their technologies which led me to learn a wealth about plant lore that, ultimately, led to the creation of the Tree Clans and their associated correspondences. A study of symbol and correspondence opened up the world of Fairy Tales for me and allowed me to layer up versions of the book in ways that would not only "ring true" but be as esoteric as the study of the Kabbala.
I had also decided at the age of twelve, that I would draw the people of my books. Above is the first drawing that I did when I made this decision. I devoted endless hours to the study of the human body as a machine and as a way of projecting character. As the characters grew in words, they changed and grew in drawings. As I learned the nature of cultural characteristics on physiognomy, it became apparent to me that people recognized class and culture almost as readily as they recognized race. This, too, influenced my characters' appearances. I'm sure I amused my friends by pointing to a person's image and saying "that, there, is a Celt face." I became aware that much could be said about a character if one knew the cultural artifacts of invasion. For instance, Timothy Dalton need not need to speak with a lilt to advertise that he was not of English blood, even if his birthplace was in Essex. His face is one of the finest examples of Gaelic blood showing up in the British. I worked and worked to try to get the characters as I imagined them. By the time I had finished the early versions of The Beast, I felt that I had captured some of them, but I knew that my artistic skills lacked considerably. I focused more on the writing.
It was ten years before I felt as though I could wield the language of symbol in my book. Yet, it took me another ten years to find a comfortable level writing. I am dyslexic with right-left reversal, was ambidextrous as a child, taught to write right handed, and I am as uncomfortable with syntax in English as a foreigner. When I get an idea, I get a vision. The labor involves trying to translate the vision into words. For me, this is extremely difficult, although, because I have spent my life at it, it my seem that my verbosity is natural. I have had to work and work and work some more to write in a way that others can comprehend. My verbal thoughts are rambling and indicative rather than explanatory or orderly. I leap around the world and put the puzzle together in my mind, and I would write like that, if writing were not so important a tool of communication for me. So, it was many versions of the book later that it became fully there in the sense that a stranger could pick it up and follow the plot.
The other major evolution of this book, (and the series,) was in the characters themselves. As the book became more rich, crawling out of a first person psychological tale into a world class tale, the "bad guys" demanded better treatment. The theme of the half-breed caught between two cultures added dimension to Runion, Hav, Tréan and Dubh. Yet, the biggest improvement was in the character of Korutos. Korutos started merely as the father of the prince Runion. In one version, a man noted that Korutos was the real character of interest and that the story should be about him. I found that criticism to tell me more about the reader (who was interested in Roman history) than about the book, yet it stuck with me. I looked at Korutos and in writing a story about a deer who enchants two princes who hunt them, the story of Korutos and Marsyas appeared. Korutos almost leaped off the page and said, "this is my story". The story's theme was on seppuku or the Japanese ritual of suicide. It was then that I realized that the theme of the series was not about half-breeds but about people who have lost the will to live. And then I understood An Doras, the gate.
Thasátos became a world designed to host people who want to play out the idea of suicide. Although it was a self-contained world, the gateway, An Doras, would allow the natives to pass into other worlds or into the creator's world. Most of the natives who do pass through the gate go mad. The arangement of the gate is that those people who wish to explore suicide, or who wish to end their existence, enter into Thasátos with no knowledge of their past life until they pass back into the gate. The gate draws them although they do not know why. The books do not concentrate of this particular aspect of the gate, although the theme of each book now has to do with sloughing off one life for another.
In 2000, The Beast, now named The Wings of Gallanis finally sold to a small press imprint. By the time the book was set to print, the imprint was dead. While the main publisher honored our contracts, the book was a mismatch with that editor who cancelled the contract. By this time, I was feeling a bit like the never-ending project was going nowhere fast. I had done several illustrations for this version and an extensive web site showing the nested world and attempting to do articles on the vast amount of data I had learned over the years about the Stone and Bronze Age. At that time, having spent well over ten years working on the books, I was ready to publish and have done with it!
Fate was not to let me publish. I beat myself up over it, knowing that it was me; that my work was not good enough. I had tried to make money doing fine art, and I now wrote several other books, including non-fiction, that I hoped to publish. I sold a little, but nothing enough to keep going, let alone live on. I fell back again onto working a day job just to keep some money coming in. I wrote other stories in the series and changed the name of the world to Anieth. At this point I was averaging over 500 rejections a year on the art and writing. Although it was very discouraging, I was born very stubborn. My mother, herself a writer, was convinced that I just had to work harder to try to sell or that my work was not good enough. Since then, how many hundreds of writers have I met in the same situation? It would appear that half the world now writes fantasy books!
I kept working on other stories in the series. One I wrote for YA boys, got me interested in the dryads of the series and helped me to flush out more of the background races that appeared in the other novels. The Killing Tree was about a boy who was elected champion and played upon the idea that I had about twins and brothers killing one another, not out of hatred, but out of necessity. This was inspired a bit by Irish legends that always seem to be so tragic, like the Greek, with mistaken identies ending up forcing people to be on opposing sides. I also wanted to work out much of my philosophy of the "space between the breaths" or the berserker disciplines of the ancient warrior. I loved stories of ancient warriors who had to go to school to learn what one might call, "western martial arts." I had loved the television series, "Kung Fu," and the philosophies of the East found in the Tao and Buddhism. I also wanted to merge these with the hardcore Viking and Celtic "throw yourself into it" kind of blue collar working class stiff upper lip wildman punk thing that is very Western. I came up with the basis of my Holly Clan, which also translates to the "people of pain" of the "spine and needle." This is very much along the lines of Dune, another of my favorite childhood books.
Another character that I always enjoyed was that of the angry, solitary man out for vengeance. Clint Eastwood likes this kind of character as well. He is often "the man with no name" yet sometimes has a name, a reputation and a mission. Yet he is mostly secretative and often on the wrong side of the law. When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with Captain Nemo, probably one of the most famous of this kind of character. Although Faol (Osar) was close to him, Faol was outside the realm of men. I traced the roots of this character to the darker mythological archetypes of the "green man" or "the hunter". This study of ancient archetypes that existed before the hero/adonis/vegetative king archetype led me to an understanding of the role of Christianity in "coloring" these visions. Recently there has been a backlash against this kind of filtering as the bloodiness of the ancient hunter/warriors has become more celebrated.
This character was less heavy than Faol, less earthy, less grounded in fire and water. He was a quick man, with a caustic wit and a deep cynicism. He hated people yet he championed them. He was more than a miserable person, he was deeply at odds with the manmade world and against it entirely. Unlike Faol, who was just himself and involved in his art, the character of Herne, the Hunter, was a warrior in the true sense in contrast to Faol's being a hunter. He was against things and for things and always in conflict. He was moody and selfish yet also generous and brave. He did not do art as much as he was art in the sense that I imagagined him always coming into a scene with trumpets blaring and flags flapping to the roll of hoofbeats. In my mind, he was a red headed man with a pointed face. He was small and thin and light as if he were a whirlwind rather than a flood. Tréan came into being in on of the versions of Faol and Kileen's story. Rather than an animal, he sprang forth fully formed as a tree. He was one of those accidents that cry out for their own story. He became the story of the man who kills his brother, the tragic of the tragic, the Túin Turambar of my world. Tréan was hopeless. He was a man twisted up by fate, doomed to have to kill his only friend. He was ruthless and cynical and one of the most sympathetic characters that I have ever created.
Tréan is my acknowledgement to Celtic mythology. He embodies the heart of the Celt, that dark is light, bad fortune is to be borne with a laugh, good fortune to be mistrusted. In him, I spent a long time trying to pin down the face of the Celt. Celts, like many modern people, were a racial mix. Long years of invasions across Europe from Asia had mingled and mixed the bloodlines of most across the entire continent. We know some descriptions from what the Romans reported of them, that they were fair of hair and skin, large and drank heavily. Yet, when I was in England, I discovered that the English have very fine lines of racial identity and that most fair-haired people with fair skin were not considered English by far.
The trick in drawing the characters of Anieth was to create the influence of mixed blood on the characters so that they were stereotypes, yet held their own personalities. Faol, Dubh, Téan and other members of the deep wood had to have the stamp of locality heavy in their faces. I gave LiHara and Runion more of a Gothic appearance, making them blond without the well-shaped mouth. Korutos and Abaedes had to look entirely different, yet still be long-headed. To give Téan his personality, I relied more on the eyes than on the brow. Like Faol, he has little frontal eminence, yet the stamp of the widow's peak hairline and the arching brows was more pronounced. His face was very pointed to give him a Puckish look. But the eyes were the key with Tréan. In this picture you can see the pronounced white of the sclera under the iris, a mark of intense melancholia. The draw of the brows gives him a cruel look, but the eyes betray him as a tragic figure rather than a sadistic figure.
This image shows better Tréan's features although not his personality. You can see here, as in the picture of Faol, the full and curled mouth of the Celt, still used today as a mobile instrument of hot emotions unlike the mouths of the more repressed Norse and Goths. To those with thin lips and small mouths, the fashion of fullness was always a sign of debauchery while the curl indicated satire, cruelty and violence. This is likely a prejudice for as many Celts today have the thin cut of a mouth seen in many English, so much so, that it is almost unrecognizable as a feature today. Both Faol and Tréan have the flat nose of the Celt, with wide nostrils and usually bent where the cartilage joins the bone. The Rowan in Tréan put a red cast in his black hair, but he had the bone white skin of the Holly. I had decided to make skin color match the color of the different wood and eye and hair color match the leaves, fruits, bark or berries of the tree. As I played with matching characteristics to the nature of the trees that were their totems, Tréan's personality emerged more and more as a characteristic of the Holly and not just of a Captain Nemo. He became "the Cuilinn" or the Holly, a berserk whose only goal was to kill the Oak king at the appropriate time. Although the Holly were tall, the Oak were about twice their size and vicious in the way that the Holly could not be. They hunted people for sport and enjoyed brutality for its own sake. The interaction between these two peoples created an interesting what if? for me. I made the decision to make Tréan want to be like the Holly, like them in ways he did not like, but enough of the Rowan to feel shame for the "spine and needle" philosophy of the Tir Tinní. This translates both as "the Holly People" or the "nation of pain", having many connotations in Gaelic that all point to a nature of the Holly as a killing tree. (See Graves, The White Goddess)
In contrast to the Holly, I made Dubh of the Oak very unlike the Oak. His mother was Elder. He became king by accident, having first been the only friend of Tréan. Dubh was a difficult person to create. His nature was placid and phlegmatic to contrast with Tréan's melancholia. He had to be slow and placid enough to let Tréan yell at him enough that the Holly cooled in him and he began to see Dubh as a person and not as an Oak. The personality was easy to get, because I am very placid myself, but Dubh kept coming off as slow and stupid, not slow and deep thinking. It became necessary for me to draw the man to hone in on the way he looked so that I could write his speech and the reactions of others to it based on what he looked like rather than just what he said.
This is not a common thing for a writer to do. It demanded of me a skill at personality drawing that I did not have at the time of Dubh's creation. I also had the challenge of creating a giant man with dark skin and the features of a Celt. Most giant people have pronounced head types that cross racial boundaries. I did not want to create the "Lurch" look in Dubh. I wanted to contrast his physical stature with a face that would indicate his Elder nature, studious, thoughtful and the sensitivity of a healer. The Elder were a Clan of healers rather than fighters and the liaison between Dubh's mother and his father the king was extremely unusual. The boys had that in common as well as their difficulties being half-breeds.
The result of a patch job was this drawing, one of my more successful drawings. I had found a picture of a man relaxed with his eyes closed that gave me the feeling of peace that Dubh possessed in his face. I then added the eyes. Although much of Dubh is in his eyes, much more of his personality is in the head. The Oak king was shaved as a mark of humility since the Oak prided themselves on their limed hair, much like current day punks. He was allowed the mustaches. The most difficult part about drawing a man for me was learning to draw facial hair. Every man's beard is very individual with some racial marks. Since Dubh had no hairline, I had to indicate his intelligence not in the breadth of the brow, but in the finely modeled shape of the forehead and temporal lines. I gave him the super orbitals of a large man with the frontal eminence very prominent but played down the temporal lines to get rid of the giant effect. The long nose, again bent and flat, the full mouth in quiet repose gave Dubh the Celt features without the emotion.