Tad Williams, The Witchwood Crown, and the Gardenborn calendar

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arly this morning, Tad Williams released the latest edition of his newsletter, where he talks about his writing, specifically with regard to The Witchwood Crown and the Gardenborn calendar.

Readers of Williams’ classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” series (comprised of The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower) will remember that the Gardenborn are the elder, elf-like race who sailed across the seas to Osten Ard from a mysterious eastern land known as Venyha Do’sae, the Garden That is Lost. The Gardenborn clans, composed of Sithi, Norns, Dwarrows and Niskies, settled in Osten Ard and established rule over a land empty of men… until centuries later, when mortal men arrived from across the western seas.

In “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, Williams had previously developed calendars that were used in most of the mortal realms; the main calendar closely resembled our own (Gregorian) calendar: months with alternate-reality names like Septander, Octander, Novander and Decander. The months July and August were named Tiyagar and Anitul, after the Nabbanai imperators Tiyagaris and Anitulles. (An interesting aside: although they are never mentioned in the text or the appendices, a careful reader can infer (even though readers are told to “avoid assumptions,” we’ll risk it here) that there are old Nabbanai gods named Jonevus (or similar) and Marris based on the Erkynlandish months named Jonever and Marris, and also likely an old Nabbanai god named Satrinus, based on the Erkynlandish day named Satrinsday).

Despite Williams’ detailed work on the mortal calendars of Osten Ard, the full calendars of the long-lived Gardenborn were never revealed in the original Osten Ard novels. However, with the upcoming release of the new “The Last King of Osten Ard” sequel series, the focus has turned to the Norns, according to the author, and their calendar now plays a part in the new books.

Mr Williams gives some insight into his creative writing process as he talks about how the Gardenborn calendar developed in the writing process. He also gives some insight into how important it was for him that the new books match up with the old books when it comes to continuity. Williams writes:

So a few weeks ago I’m working my way through the 1st novel of the new trilogy, The Witchwood Crown, in final rewrite.  One of the many things that happens during my final rewrites is that I crystallize a lot of the smaller details, or sort out confusions and inconsistencies and commit to a final version of troublesome bits of the history/plot/etc.  In this case, I decided I needed more references to calendars for the “immortals”, especially since in this book I’m actually spending a lot of time with the Hikeda’ya — aka, the Norns.  One of the things that we learn in the new books is that the name of the Norns and Sithi when they were still one people was “Keida’ya” — “Witchwood Children”, because of the importance of that tree and its products to their civilization going all the way back to their old home, the Lost Garden.

There’s already some built-in complexity because of their old calendar from the Garden and their way of counting years — a Keida’ya Great Year is a bit more than sixty years in length (and why that’s true is another story for another newsletter) but they’ve been living in Osten Ard, which is more or less like our world, for thousands of years, so they have to have developed some kind of calendar that matches our world.  The most obvious markers for such things are the stars, the sun, and the moon.  The stars feed into the Great Year idea and others, so I concentrated on moons as the source of the calendar, as they are (roughly) with most real-world societies.

Williams states that during the writing of The Witchwood Crown, he conceived of months with names like Mother, Father, Child, Flower, etc. Eventually, however, he discarded these names entirely when he realized a partial list of months might potentially already exist in the later chapters of Stone of Farewell, in the magical song that Aditu sings when she brings Simon to Jao e-Tinukai’i, the Gardenborn settlement hidden deep in the ancient Aldheorte Forest:

"Memory, Sorrow and Thorn"

Aditu and her brother Jiriki, cover of To Green Angel Tower

I realized that I already had the beginning of what could be a symbolic lunar calendar back in Stone of Farewell, when Aditu the Sitha leads Simon “from winter into summer” — from the rest of the world, in the grip of the Storm King’s winter, into Jao é-Tinukai’i, a place where the Sithi hold sway, which is at least temporarily immune to the Storm King’s magic.  When I thought about all these evocative characters that Aditu mentions as she takes Simon from one season into another, it suddenly made sense that she should be invoking the names of things or powers or spirits or gods or whatever pertaining to different times of the year — in other words, her journey through seasons should be in part evoked in the names of the moons from different parts of the year.

The character names that Aditu invokes in this passage (the Serpent, Wind-Child, Tortoise, Cloud-Song, Otter, Stone-Listener, Lynx, and Sky-singer), then temporarily became the basis for the Gardenborn calendar in Williams’ draft of The Witchwood Crown, providing an explanation for Aditu’s invocation of those names in the novel. Williams then added four additional names (Ice-Mother, Wolf, Raven, and Fire-Maiden) to the already existing names to bring the full number of months to twelve. Then the author ran into a major problem:

I made this list and was all happy and pleased with myself — I even went back to the Witchwood Crown manuscript and put these moon names in various places where I’d left a blank space waiting for a date-name, especially in the Norn sections — I had a horrible recollection.(Horrible because it would mean more work.  Thank God it came to me before the book was finalized!)

Anyway, what I remembered was that when Simon, Binabik, and Miriamele entered into the deserted Sithi city of Da’ai Chikiza by river (and the city will almost certainly feature in the new books) they passed under a succession of bridges, called “Gates”, that had something to do with moon cycles.  So I went back to The Dragonbone Chair and looked it up and damned if Binabik didn’t specifically say “These gates represent cycles of the moon”.  So immediately my most recent moon calendar turned out to be wrong, because TDC mentions several “gate” names, and none of them correspond with Aditu’s incantation.

So there I was.  I either had to say Binabik was mistaken (which goes clear against my principles, unless it’s in a minor, minor mistake that can be easily explained) or I had to throw out everything that didn’t match, which would mean that the new Da’ai Chikiza stuff would wipe out my (still unpublished) second version based on Aditu’s incantation.  Which would be a shame, because I really liked the connection, and it brought a little quasi-historical light to a magical section of the old books.

The author then decided to merge the two draft calendars together to create one unified calendar:

Thinking about it, I decided that what seemed quite realistic to me was that each patron spirit (or god or ancestor, or legendary hero/heroine, or whatever) might have both attribute names and animal names — that both could be ways to describe them, but neither would be the patron spirits’ actual NAMES.  So then the problem was to make the two lists match up somehow.

Williams’ letter not only sheds light on his creative writing process, it also reveals how deeply committed he is with establishing a continuity between two series of novels (“Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” and “The Last King of Osten Ard”) which were written thirty years apart. It is clear that Williams has been working diligently to avoid major continuity errors.

The Dragonbone Chair, book 1 of Memory Sorrow and Thorn

The cover of The Dragonbone Chair shows Simon, Binabik, and Miri traveling through the ruins of Da’ai Chikiza

Hidden in Williams’ text is another (small, but important) revelation: that the lost Sithi city of Da’ai Chikiza, Tree of the Singing Winds, will also feature somewhere in the new series. Da’ai Chikiza is the ruined city depicted on the cover of The Dragonbone Chair; what remains of the city are the old Sithi ruins through which the main protagonists, Binabik, Simon, and Miri, travel as they attempt to escape the Queen’s hunter Ingen Jegger and his deadly white hounds.

The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the upcoming “The Last King of Osten Ard” series, is set for publication in April 2017, to be proceeded by the shorter Osten Ard novel The Heart of What Was Lost in January 2017, and to be followed sometime thereafter by three more long Osten Ard novels (provisionally titled Empire of Grass, The Navigator’s Children, and The Shadow of Things to Come).

To subscribe to Tad Williams’ mailing list, and for regular updates on the publication schedule for the five new Osten Ard novels, click here.