Tuesday, December 06, 2016

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.

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Anonymous Avalanche December 06, 2016 5:32 PM  

I enjoyed the interview very much!

Anonymous Kyle Kiernan December 06, 2016 5:40 PM  

Off topic but might there be any chance of getting re-prints of Joel Rosenberg's books issued under Castalia? What about getting his worlds licensed for use by other writers? He created fascinating worlds like other writers created books and I would dearly love to see more of those worlds if possible. He is the writer I most regret passing before his time.

Blogger VD December 06, 2016 5:52 PM  

Off topic but might there be any chance of getting re-prints of Joel Rosenberg's books issued under Castalia?

It's remotely possible, but someone picked up the rights pretty soon after his death and I don't think they ever did anything with them.

Blogger MagisterGreen December 06, 2016 5:53 PM  

"The Middle Ages was actually the period in human history where the most innovations in all the science, arts, and scholarship were made most rapidly, and legal and social institutions where most perfectly suited to real human needs and the limits of human psychology. I will not bore you with a list of the accomplishments, but I will mention in passing such things as the university system, the printing press, the windmill, the stirrup, Gothic architecture, the cannon, canon law, musical notation, and perspectival drawing, and the elimination of slavery and of divorce throughout Europe. (It is notable that slavery returned during later ages.)"

And thousand times yes. This is why Wright speaks to me. The hardcover of the whole duodecology cannot come soon enough.

Blogger Lance December 06, 2016 5:56 PM  

Would this series be appropriate for the library of a small Christian school of K-8 grades, or is it more suitable for high school?

Anonymous BGKB December 06, 2016 6:13 PM  

you could also buy social stats like fortune, friends, fame, and family. So, for example, an orphan with a vast bank account

In most games money is the thing you can ignore. In the white wolfe series of games you can take penalties as high as a one eyed, deaf, one armed man which would have penalties in every action, but chose penalties that would only penalize you if the DM did more work.

Anonymous BGKB December 06, 2016 6:18 PM  

And thousand times yes. This is why Wright speaks to me.

If people call him homophobic again he can tell them he has a gay reader, but one who eats steak and owns guns. They might think it's fiction.

Blogger Scott Birch December 06, 2016 6:33 PM  

I loved Susan Cooper. This is very tempting. I still enjoy juvenile fiction if it's good.

Blogger Mr. Naron December 06, 2016 7:08 PM  


It depends on how churchian the library. I'd put it in there in a heartbeat, but some might object to a few things.

It's a great series. Very interesting interview.

Anonymous Clay December 06, 2016 7:17 PM  

For God's sake. If I were John C Wright, I would ask you to leave my success to my own.

I'm sure he can do it.

Blogger Feather Blade December 06, 2016 7:28 PM  

@10 ... you do realize that it is the publisher's job to promote the works of the authors who publish through them, don't you?

Blogger Orville December 06, 2016 8:14 PM  

Just finished book 3. I'm hooked.

Blogger John Williams December 06, 2016 8:47 PM  

@10 Many people appreciate the recommendation of a good book. What's your problem with that?

Anonymous Brick Hardslab December 06, 2016 9:01 PM  

The series is great. I am looking forward to the next but I'll miss Gil and ruff

Anonymous The Original Hermit December 06, 2016 10:53 PM  

Aside from being an amazing author, everytime I read an interview with him I always come away with a reading list of other great authors. I recently finished my first Jack Vance book that I never would have started if he hadn't been so highly recommended my Mr Wright.

Blogger Pteronarcyd December 06, 2016 11:29 PM  

My quantitative analysis prof was John C. Wright:

Is this the same guy?

Anonymous combinedchaos December 06, 2016 11:41 PM  

> ...shares similarities with the Book of Revelations...

Not being pedantic, but it's the book of "Revelation".

Anonymous Bz December 07, 2016 7:07 AM  

Lovely books, and I would say Wright evokes actual medieval fantasy far better than anyone else today. I'm actually a bit surprised that his sources are so recent, but I think there is a considerable amount of classical larnin lurking behind that. While the trilogy ends at a quite reasonable point, I'm still a bit put out that we won't follow Gil Moth further.

We hunt! We kill! Always glad to help out a pal!

Blogger Ned December 07, 2016 9:55 AM  

Wondering who T.S. White is...?

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