his coming week marks the long-awaited return of bestselling author Tad Williams to his fictional world of Osten Ard. The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of the ominously-named “The Last King of Osten Ard”, will finally see release on Tuesday next week, after a year of delays and over 20 years of readers’ requests for this book.
I already have my copy, of course. It arrived in the mail just last week, courtesy of Joshua Starr over at DAW Books (thanks Josh!). It is actually the fourth version of the novel I’ve seen, for I previously read and reviewed three earlier versions of the book: an early, very rough manuscript which Tad Williams kindly sent me in May 2015; a heavily-revised manuscript from June 2016; and an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) in January 2017.
Beautiful new Osten Ard maps!
I received these early versions of the book because it was my rare privilege to be asked by Tad to be part of the team reviewing The Witchwood Crown manuscript for mistakes, a process I very much enjoyed because I absolutely loved the previous novels ever since I first read the first Osten Ard novel, The Dragonbone Chair, in November 1988. I also later helped as a consultant for the new Witchwood Crown maps. A pictorial map I drew back in 1992 served as the basis for the beautiful new maps created by mapmaker Isaac Stewart. And near the end of the process, I also worked on the Appendix in the back of the book. That itself was an adventure. I also served on the team that reviewed the shorter Osten Ard novel The Heart of What Was Lost in 2016.
I was quite honored to serve as a beta reader; I also feel I did a good job pointing out continuity errors in the manuscripts. The truth is, I had plenty of practice: for 40 years, I was an avid television-watcher, and I grew up in an era (the 1970s and 1980s) when American television writers weren’t always so careful about the continuity of their worlds.
Chuck Cunningham disappeared without Joanie or Richie ever noticing their brother was missing.
As a television viewer, it always bothered me immensely, for example, when on The Cosby Show Cliff and Claire Huxtable claimed they had five children when previously they had stated they only had four, and when oldest child Chuck Cunningham suddenly disappeared from Happy Days without his family, or anyone else, ever noticing he was gone. “Why didn’t someone on the show say something?” I wondered. “How hard would it have been to mention Chuck was away at school?” As I grew older, I realized that most television writers of that era didn’t care about continuity. But my past irritations about the limitations of fiction helped me become a better continuity-checker, I think. You won’t find any examples of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome in The Witchwood Crown, I promise.
The Witchwood Crown is large, say those who have held it, though not quite as heavy as a small child. The 721-page volume now sits proudly on my shelf, its onyx cover a stark contrast to the gleaming white covers of the earlier novels in the Osten Ard saga: The aforementioned The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell (1990), and of course To Green Angel Tower (1993), which holds the distinction of being one of the longest novels ever written.
In 2016, in the throes of writing two novels at the same time, Tad wrote:
Been a really interesting last couple of days for me, work-wise, although nobody would have known it to look at me, since I spent most of it on my back, staring into space or with my eyes closed. Thank God Deb and the kids know that I’m actually doing something when I look like that, and I am not dead so nobody has to call the EMTs.
I have about eight or nine plot/history/worldbuilding issues that I have to commit to before I finish the rewrites on the first new Osten Ard novels (one short and one long), but all eight or nine or eleven or whatever are such broad and complex and interrelated clouds of ideas that I have to focus at a much more granular level than I did earlier in the process, nailing things down in their final forms instead of “I’ll figure that out later”. I have to know how all the details actually work because these nexes or point-clouds I’m considering all affect each other and the whole rest of the story, plus the invented world history behind the whole thing.
For regular Tad readers, when I say that I have to work out the entire history of the Sithi and Norn people from back in the Garden up to the present moment of the new story — some fifteen thousand years’ worth, probably — and integrate it with not only what is going to happen in the new books (The Witchwood Crown and The Heart of What Was Lost, which will come first) but of course everything that happened in a million words of MS&T, you may understand why although I’m lying on my back, I’m also clenching my teeth.
15,000 years of history, Tad wrote. This is an interesting number, for several reasons. The Sithi and Norns, Williams’ near-immortal characters, live for thousands of years. Clues peppered throughout the text of the original Osten Ard novels indicate that the main Sithi characters, Jiriki and Aditu, are less than 500 years old: they are youngsters among the Gardenborn. And yet their great-grandmother, Queen Amerasu, was born on one of the great ships which brought the Gardenborn to Osten Ard. And Amerasu’s great-grandmother, Utuk’ku, is still alive in The Witchwood Crown.
Williams previously stated that Queen Utuk’ku Seyt-Hamakha was around 10,000 years old during The Dragonbone Chair (for those doing the math, this would make the Norn queen roughly 10,037 in The Witchwood Crown). Almost nothing is known of a time prior to Utuk’ku’s rule of the Gardenborn in Venyha Do’sae, the immortals’ lamented Lost Garden, outside of a short, strange passage in The Heart of What Was Lost, which states:
“When Hamakho was dying,” the magister said, “he drove his great sword Grayflame into the stone threshold of the Gatherer’s Temple in the very heart of the Garden. But when the time came to board the ships, no one could pull Hamakho’s blade from the threshold, so it was left behind, another sacrifice to the Unbeing that claimed our homeland. But my forefather Yaaro-Mon prised this gem from the sword’s pommel […] The carving depicts great Tzo, our beloved city on the shores of the Dreaming Sea, lost with all the rest to Unbeing when the Garden fell.”
The appendix of The Heart of What Was Lost lists Hamakho Wormslayer as the “founder of the Hamakha Clan and ancestor of Queen Utuk’ku”. It is clear that Tad Williams is not just writing a sequel to the original Osten Ard books, he is carefully examining the roots of the Gardenborn, and expanding his mythology. It is possible that by the end of the new series, the mythopoeia of Osten Ard will cover the 15,000 years Williams mentions.
He also writes:
And of course, as everybody knew was going to happen, I’m already troubling those few, kind, long-time readers who are giving me feedback on the early drafts, because nobody is going to agree with me on every explanation of something that already existed, or new developments for my old Osten Ardians. These are characters that have been in people’s heads for thirty years in some cases, so anything unexpected is going to feel like a violation.
As one of those draft-readers, it is gratifying to see the changes Tad made to The Witchwood Crown (and The Heart of What Was Lost) based on our feedback: storylines revamped, lands renamed, bird species revised, characters renamed, and histories re-examined. Williams is an author who truly cares about preserving his old mythology while still expanding his world. He says:
[E]ven if one comes up with solutions everyone likes in these situations, there’s always the struggle to not let the cracks show. I remember reading the follow-ups to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and (maybe because I’m another writer) feeling pretty certain that I could see places in the later volumes where he was trying to explain discrepancies between what he was doing now and what he’d done earlier; in fact, I felt pretty sure he was trying to retcon a lot of stuff that he hadn’t expected to ever touch again. (“Retcon” means retroactive continuity — it’s when you explain something later in a way that might not have been anybody’s original intention. A good example of this is how they keep trying to come up with believable reasons why nobody recognizes Superman when he puts on a pair of glasses and calls himself Clark Kent.)
Anyway, the What in this case (trying to retcon my own work in a believable way) is not as interesting to me right now as the How, because I’ve found that the only way to work with all these issues at speed (since I can’t get on with the rest of my work without solving them) is simply to grind away at it. That means clearing my mind as much as that cluttered mess can be cleared, then pursuing all different configurations and possibilities through as many ramifications as possible, examining them, reworking them, refitting with different combinations and emphases, all in detail. Then trying another set of possibilities, and another, and so on, over and over, through each nexus-point where plot and history come together. And doing that is very much like trying to meditate, at least for me. Trying to make a clear space. Trying to follow a single idea (however ramified) through until I’ve exhausted its possibilities, without being distracted.
So Tad Williams is aware of the damage an author can cause by expanding a mythos in writing sequels; while he mentions Dan Simmons, perhaps the most obvious example of sequels causing damage to a beloved world is George Lucas’ ill-advised Star Wars prequel abominations, which introduced Midi-chlorians and talking rabbits into a once-beloved franchise. But it is my opinion, after reading four different versions of The Witchwood Crown, two versions of The Heart of What Was Lost, and having read the previous Osten Ard novels The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower, and The Burning Man countless times, that Tad Williams has been successful in expanding Osten Ard without damaging the existing mythos, in a way that George Lucas wasn’t able to do with his own sequels.
After 24 years of readers’ expectations, Williams had a Sisyphean challenge in front of him: how could he write for new readers, while still trying to please existing readers who had spent over two decades wondering what had happened to the characters at the end of the story? Not everyone will be pleased by the answers the author provides, some of which may prove very unpopular, but at least there are no flat-out contradictions, such as George Lucas’ strange decision in Revenge of the Sith to kill off Padme just after Leia’s birth when previously Leia said she could remember her mother.
Ultimately, I believe The Witchwood Crown will please most readers. I’m certainly pleased by the result, and I’m already looking forward to reading the next volume, Empire of Grass.
t is almost a joke, certainly a cliche, that any large-scale multi-volume fantasy novel will be described on its dust jacket as being ‘in the tradition of Tolkien at his best’, regardless of its actual merits or the degree to which, if at all, it has been influenced by Tolkien. Such descriptions are an attempt to shill readers into purchasing books; they also, both for good and ill, reflect the immense influence Tolkien has had on his readers and especially perhaps on those of his readers who subsequently become writers. There is inevitably a close relationship between the desire of publishing houses to have new saleable product in their lists, the desire of many readers to buy something which at least superficially adheres to a much-loved formula and the ambition of writers to produce books which resemble those of a writer they admire. It should not be assumed that this relationship is entirely corrupt; life and literature are more complicated than that.
The creation of fantasy as a publishing genre, eventually a highly successful genre, was in large part a consequence of the successful issue of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (hereafter LOTR) in paperback, especially the various US editions, quasi-pirate and approved, of the mid-1960s. Ballantine, who produced the authorised paperbacks, followed this in due course with the Adult Fantasy line of reissues of classics such as the romances of William Morris, the Poictesme novels of James Branch as well as some current works of High Fantasy such as the novels of Katherine Kurtz and Evangeline Walton. This list overlapped – Lindsay’s ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’- with earlier lists of fantasy classics such as that produced by Gollancz, and has been highly influential. Notably, the reissue by Ballantine of Hope Mirrlees ‘Lud-in-the-Mist’ in 1970 provided a whole generation of British writers – Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke to name but the most obvious – with a template for fantasy which quite specificially enabled them to avoid a debt to Tolkien. By the mid-1970s, declining sales and the simple fact that the series editor Lin Carter had acquired most of the material in which he was interested led to the cancellation of the line; Ballantine searched for a new strategy and partly found it in the issue of Terry Brooks’ ‘The Sword of Shannara’ perhaps the most obviously derivative of all post-Tolkien quest fantasies. (One of their other answers was the less clearly Tolkien-derived Stephen Donaldson Thomas Covenant trilogy; another turned out to be Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels. The fact that the series which started from it is charmless and gormless should not entirely blind us to what merits ‘A Spell for Chamelon’ possessed.)
Another possible line was that pursued at roughly the same time by other publishers. In 1963 L.Sprague deCamp had produced for Pyramid Books an anthology ‘Swords and Sorcery’ which drew on the extensive pulp literature of what we may as well call Low High Fantasy, which is to say fiction which is set in the same world as High Fantasy’s epic quests but in general chooses to deal with the adventures of rogues who are looking for loot rather than plot tokens, aiming to survive rather than to cure the world’s pain. ( He produced a similar anthology ‘The Spell of Seven’ in 1965.)
De Camp reprinted in these books stories by both Robert E.Howard and Fritz Leiber; Low High Fantasy story cycles such as Howard’s Conan stories, many of them completed by deCamp and his associates, and Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales were reissued in paperback in the course of the late 1960s. (Leiber was encouraged by this to write more stories in the cycle, which reflected the preoccupations of his late phase with disillusion and recovery.) De Camp’s own original work in comic portal fantasy, including his collaborations with Fletcher Pratt, continued to be reissued during the Sixties and Seventies and were an influence on such minor writers as Marvin Kaye.It is important to remember that Howard, deCamp and Leiber were of a generation that were formed by the same influences – Dunsany, Eddison – as Tolkien himself; Howard died before Tolkien had published a word of fiction and Leiber and others read him as adults.
One of the most interesting fantasies of the early 50s is Poul Anderson’s ‘The Broken Sword’ (1954) in that it draws on the Scandinavian material that was one of Tolkien’s influences, but does so with a bleakness entirely alien to Tolkien. Though the universe Anderson shows us is one in which good has a role, possibly a primary role, there is never quite the sense that all will, in the end, be well that pervades LOTR in spite of its effective portrayal of the possibility of universal jeopardy. The young Anderson had a tragic view of life – even a conservative like Anderson who found a measure of social hierarchy congenial was not necessarily sold on the essential optimism that, in Tolkien, goes with that sense of the restoration of order.
Those writers in the next generation who specifically rejected the theodicy of Tolkien’s trilogy on ideological grounds were inevitably drawn to imitate Howard and Leiber in much of their actual work, even if the models they professed to draw on were more literary. Michael Moorcock was derisory in his attacks on Tolkien referring to LOTR as ‘Epic Pooh’ and claimed as his master the Mervyn Peake of the Gormenghast books (a trilogy only in the sense that Peake was only healthy long enough to write three of them). The various versions of the Eternal Champion which Moorcock wrote about from the early 60s onwards were posher and more sensitive than Conan, less likely to wander into farce plots than Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but they recognizably inhabited the same moral universe even when compelled to save the world. Moorcock’s dislike of Tolkien’s Christianity resulted in his choosing to make his protagonists defenders of the Balance between Order and Chaos rather than, ultimately, partisans of either side.
It is also crucial that part of what made Moorcock reject Tolkien was the older man’s politics around class and hierarchy; Moorcock, as a man of the Left, found the sentimental patrician conservatism espoused by LOTR repellent. However, as a bohemian aesthete, Moorcock tended to produce protagonists who are antinomian aristocrats rather than working-class heroes. It has also to be noted that Tolkien’s central characters, Bilbo and Frodo, are solid members of the rentier class rather than members of what passes for hobbit aristocracy – Tolkien’s Merry and Pippin, it needs remembering in the light of the particular shading of the Peter Jackson film in this respect, are feckless scions of landed gentry, sowing wild oats, rather than more proletarian
Moorcock and such associates as M. John Harrison actually wrote material influenced by the pulp Low High Fantasists, but their aspiration was higher than that. The model they professed to admire was Mervyn Peake, the visual precision of whose prose derived in part from his artist’s eye for detail. At the same time, it can hardly be said that Peake influenced their plotting save through pessimism – Harrison’s ‘The Pastel City’ and ‘A Storm of Wings’ remain firmly in the Low High Fantasy tradition, and even the later, more genre-crossing additions to the Viriconium cycle retain some links to pulp stories of warriors and maguses, even when they are mostly concerned with doomed Decadent artists. Harrison has in turn inspired younger writers like China Mieville, whose rejection of Tolkien on political grounds is far more considered and intellectual, far less instinctual. In all of these writers, rejection of Tolkien is a rejection even of an antagonistic relationship with him, a collective view that his influence had been altogether bad.
One of the other strains of fantasy which grew up in the late 60s was revisionist about gender and to a lesser extent race, but was far more involved with Tolkien and his legacy. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy (1968-72) was published in the first instance, like the reissues of Leiber, by Ace Books, who had been responsible for the unauthorised publication of LOTR. This trilogy, subsequently expanded and auto-critiqued by later volumes such as ‘Tehanu’ (1990) made a point of having its ‘good’ culture be brown-skinned and its unpleasant theocracy blond, taking quiet note of the tendency of other High Fantasies to be inhabited by the white-skinned. LeGuin’s later criticism of herself and her readers in ‘Tehanu’ for not being anti-sexist enough should not obscure the fact that even the male-centred ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ refused much of fantasy’s standard ideological baggage about masculinity and its discontents – Ged is not merely a man who goes on learning, but one who is uneasily aware that there will never be any end to his need to learn more.
LeGuin’s relationship with Tolkien is complex and uneasy; she is aware of his influence on her, critical of much of his ideological baggage and totally aware that killing the father, or walking away from him totally, is something boys do, and she need not. At the same time, she found his emphasis on the theme of return highly congenial, and some of her quasi-Taoist thinking about the appropriate use of magic derives from the differentiation made by Tolkien between the showy magical effects of his evil mages and the minimalist use of it in dire necessity by Gandalf, even after his transfiguration. She also welcomed Tolkien’s decision to centre his narrative on the unconventional heroism of Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, whose virtues are those of endurance and nurture, and whose courage is more moral than physical. Tolkien was a very long way from being a feminist and yet there were emphases in his work that a feminist like LeGuin could make use of.
Both LeGuin and Tolkien are theoreticians of story. Again, Tolkien’s metaphor of the stewpot into which elements are eclectically thrown was one clearly congenial to LeGuin, whose own preferred metaphor of the shopping bag into which the female gatherer puts what comes to hand without necessarily organizing it into something as phallocentric as a plot, with an ending, is to some degree an echo of it.
Much of LeGuin’s highly considered and thoughtful relationship with Tolkien takes the form of a strategy of revisionism or refusal. Where Tolkien’s plots are set in motion by individual criminality, albeit on the vastest of scales, LeGuin’s have to do with the consequences of what is false within, or the tyranny of institutions like the Karhidish religion in which no one single person is specifically guilty of more than petty oppression. Where Tolkien’s dragon Smaug is, while personable enough, a traditionalist one with a hoard and a taste for sarcasm and riddles, LeGuin’s dragons are far more complexly Other, beings whose whole point is that communication with them is possible, but empathy harder. When, in later books, the relationship between humanity and dragons is shown metaphorically to reflect the complexities of that between men and women, it is a happy piece of retconning that never feels like a cheat.
Rather later on, there grew up a strain of high fantasy which was explicitly feminist and therefore almost as entirely uninterested in having a critical relationship with Tolkien as the Moorcock group and its epigones. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ‘The Mists of Avalon’ (1982) is an Arthuriad centred on the perception that Guenevere is a priestess of the Old Religion, a Celtic paganism back-projected from the works of Gerald Gardiner and Margaret Murray rather than closely related to what we know of the actual history of Celtic religion, which seems to have been in most respects quite as patriarchal as its successful rivals. Many of Bradley’s heirs and imitators avoid such issues by placing their pariah elites of witches, telepaths and elves in fantasy worlds untrammeled by the inconvenience of historical fact.
Much of what has been published as fantasy commercially derives at least as much from the Howard and Leiber tradition, or from Moorcock, LeGuin and Bradley as it does from Tolkien, even when its rogues are caught up in plots which oblige them to save the world. Mid-list fantasy is eclectic in its sources – one has only to look at writers like Martha Wells and Barbara Hambly to see all of these influences in full flower, and the same applies to better-selling writers like Robin Hobb (Megan Lindholm) and George RR Martin, who have demonstrated that it is possible to write large scale best selling novels of heroic fantasy whose debt to Tolkien is peripheral at best. However, most of the best-selling fantasies of the decades since Brooks have nonetheless been written in a mode that clearly derives from imitation of Tolkien and from a relationship with him which is one of endebtedness rather than primarily antagonism and it is this strain which we will now consider – such texts as Brooks’ Shannara books, David Eddings ‘The Belgariad’, Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever’, Terry Goodkind’s ‘The Sword of Truth’, Robert Jordan’s ‘The Wheel of Time’ and Tad Williams’ ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’.
The post-Tolkien fantasy can be recognized partly through its scale – LOTR’s three volumes have usually been exceeded both numerically and in terms of the size of individual volumes – and partly through the imitative use of recognizable tropes. As a general rule, and with variations that may take the form of deliberate refusal of the tropes, a Dark Lord who has attempted to take power on earlier occasions, often in the distant past, and been defeated, is returning to potency with the assistance of creatures he has warped and other allies. A group of the powerless is assembled, often under the tutelage of the wise, and they travel the threatened Land, gathering both the wisdom and the talismanic objects which are needed to defeat Evil. Martial valour is important to this victory, but so is a capacity for fine discrimination, and perhaps compassion. At story’s end, to some degree, earlier falls from grace are partly compensated for, but at some terrible price.
Some of what is taken from Tolkien is what John Clute and I, in the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, termed maggots – half-baked and offensive unexamined ideas about the importance of virginity, the role of women and the innate evil of certain groups that derive eclectically from religion, Victorian pseudo-science and Orientalism. Some of it is more interesting, if equally unexamined – an assumption, for example, that evil is less capable of understanding the motives of the good than vice versa, and a belief that Providence works through paradox. Another often-copied Tolkien mannerism is the interpolation of songs – where Tolkien was at least a minor poet of the Georgian school, few of his imitators are that competent.
Interpolated stories are one of the ways in which Tolkien gives his readers a sense of the deep abyss of time which provides his narrative with roots. We know far better now how much LOTR was merely one of a number of narratives which Tolkien had fleshed out in his mind on paper and the extent to which the interpolations and appendices are allusions to these other works. What this background does in the specific contex of LOTR is to provide the trilogy with a thickness of epic texture which has always been one of its major appeals – each reference slingshots the reader into a sense of the vastness of Tolkien’s project. Most of Tolkien’s imitators have at least attempted something of the sort, but without decades of rumination on their secondary world’s back story – accordingly, the texture is liable to be significantly thinner. The chunks of mythology with which David Eddings starts each volume of the ‘Belgariad’ are a good example of this limitation, as is the comparative slightness of his portrayal both there and in appended volumes like ‘Belgarath the Sorcerer’ of the burden of an immortality that causes his mages to outlive everyone they care about.
An aspect of Tolkien which inspired his new readership of the 1960s was his distrust of technology and its effects. Pollution and environmental degradation are seen almost always in post-Tolkien fantasy as examples of debasement and desecration, as the outward signs of inner corruption. Mordor and the lands on its borders are a transmogrification of the industrial landscapes of Tolkien’s childhood after he moved to the Midlands from South Africa as well as the churned mud of the First World War’s trenches – one of his strengths as opposed to his imitators is that these were direct elements in his lived experience. Donaldson manages an effective portrayal of debasement by having evil inflict plagues and corruption on the Land somewhat in the manner of Jehovah. Williams restricts his portrayal of industrial debasement to the climactic scenes in which Simon undergoes ordeals by fire and water in Pryrates’ underground foundry; in scenes with malign giants, creeping squidlets and ravenous burrowers he derives from Tolkien’s other perception of evil, that it represents a return of repressed elements never properly dealt with.
The first of the major imitators, Terry Brooks became, with the publication of ‘The Sword of Shannara’ in 1977, and has remained, a highly successful author for as long as he has stayed at least notionally with the Shannara brand name, though later volumes have derived far less obviously from Tolkien. (His other lighter books – ‘Magic Kingdom for Sale’ for example, have generally been rather less commercially successful. For one thing, the main line of ‘The Sword of Shannara’s plot uses up much of the cure for the world’s pain, destruction of the Dark Lord, and metamorphosis of an ugly duckling hero to full heroic status that are part of the template for post-Tolkien fantasy.
For another, where the world of LOTR is one that has fallen away from close communication with the deity and with the natural world, the world of the Shannara books is one which has changed to a world of magic from one in which there was once advanced technology. Several of the later books deal in part with left-over pieces of such technology -‘Antrax’ (2001) has as a subsidiary villain a vast autonomous and self-aware computer. Generally speaking, Brooks is at his most interesting when his books derive least from Tolkien, while remaining within a world created originally in imitation of him.
What the success of ‘The Sword of Shannara’ ensured was that one of the main strains of fantasy publishing would become and remain material which derived much of its material at second hand from Tolkien. It would be a literature of comfort in which the ability of the reader to expect what a book or more probably a series of books would deliver would be at least as important as originality. Furthermore, where Tolkien was creating Middleearth and its inhabitants out of his long fascination with dead and created languages, and with literature that demonstrated the potential of those languages for expression of thematic material he found congenial, and for sheer linguistic complexity, many of his imitators were mostly concerned with Tolkien and the more superficial of his techniques and themes. Many of them have a tendency to verbal infelicity which indicates a failure to pay attention to Tolkien’s good ear for such things as names – Robert Jordan’s footsoldiers of evil, for example, are called Trollocks.
To take but one example of much copied elements of LOTR, Norman Cantor in his ‘Imagining the Middle Ages’ (Morrow 1991) rightly points to the extent to which Tolkien’s portrayal of the arduousness and duration of long journeys on foot and horseback has altered popular perception of the lived experience of pre-technological epochs. Tolkien disdained allegory, but his perception of the hardships of travel was inevitably informed by his Catholic sense of all mortification of the flesh as something which can be used as spiritual discipline. Hardship flenses Frodo of much of his earlier bourgeois taste for comfort and is part of what enables him to resist the temptation of the ring for as long as he does.
In many of the imitative epics which derive from Tolkien, journeying is a plot device with little in the way of moral content. It is a mechanism for wandering among peoples who represent aspects of the moral universe far more schematically than Tolkiens ever did, for collecting plot tokens (Nick Lowe’s useful term for the talismanic items often crucial to fantasy plots) and for collecting travelling companions. In David Eddings, in particular, it largely lacks emotional content – Tolkien was formed by his experiences in the trenches of the First World War and all of his journeys into war and peril have to some degree that sense of the journey up the line to death. Where that sense of potential doom is lacking, as it is in Eddings’ ‘Belgariad’ sequence, it is not enough to be travelling through difficult terrain.
Tad Williams’ Simon and Miriamele, in ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ undergo journeyings that are a part of the moral education that will fit them for rule – it is important that both nearly die on journeys, he from starvation and exposure, she from storms at sea. The jeopardy is real and evocatively felt; it is also there for a purpose other than the requirements of the Tolkien template since the hardship and jeopardy that Simon and Miriamele undergo are there to equip them for monarchic rule. Where Frodo’s hardship fits him for his mission, the mission Simon believes himself to be on is a colossal mistake; what saves the world is his capacity for compassion, a capacity that was present in him from the start.
In Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever’, Ballantine’s other great fantasy investment of 1977, the journey is as much fever dream as steady plodding. Donaldson’s debt and relationship to Tolkien is sufficiently marginal in most respects that he almost fails to belong in the group of Tolkien’s heirs; what he does derive from Tolkien, while putting his own spin on it, is a sense of journeying as moral experience. In his case, there is the complication that Thomas, as a leper, dare not allow himself too much sense of the reality of the landscape through which he passes because he is compelled by the necessity of his condition to a brutal realism threatened by the possibility that he has wandered through a portal into some other realm. Hallucination is less of a threat to his moral universe than magic – journeying potentially regrounds him in the Land, whereas he needs to be grounded in his constant need to inspect his extremities for further signs of decay.
In the end, of course, Thomas finds his way to a balanced perception that allows him to perceive the Land as real enough to involve him in moral responsibility for the welfare of it and its inhabitants, while maintaining his distance from full commitment to its epistemological status. Donaldson demonstrated that it is possible for the multi-decker fantasy novel to be a work of moral earnestness at a point where Brooks and Eddings were watering down Tolkien into a set of plot gestures and decorative descriptions, and ignoring part of the point of what epic is for. Unfortunately, this seriousness on Donaldson’s part has been to some extent vitiated by his inability to leave the material alone – in 2004 he embarked on a third Thomas Covenant trilogy in spite of Thomas’ death in the sixth volume – and by a style whose over-reliance on unusual vocabulary and set phrases many readers find alienating.
The other serious weakness of Donaldson’s work is one he shares with other High Fantasists such as Brooks, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. One of the strengths of LOTR is Tolkien’s creation of a cast of characters about all of whom we genuinely care – the emphasis placed by the title of the first volume ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ indicates that this is, among other things, a novel about comradeship in which the efforts of a large cast of characters are essential to the quest’s success. It is possible to engage passionately with Thomas Covenant and his fate, but few readers feel as strongly about, say, the giant companion whose laughter in the face of defeat makes it possible for Thomas to defeat his adversary Lord Foul as they do about even a comparatively peripheral figure like Tolkien’s Legolas.
Eddings’ admirers often argue that he is an exception among his peers and point to characters like the princely thief Silk as examples of endearing characters; in this case, and arguably even with the dangerous virtuous wizard and sorceress Belgarath and Polgara, asserts these characters’ lovableness so often that he wears the readers down. It is better to show than to tell, but sometimes telling often enough is reasonably effective.
The same is true of the characters met in chance encounters. Tolkien’s elf-lords and monsters are memorable; most of those of his imitators not. A partial exception can be made here for Jordan, in that his chance encounters are often with people or creatures whose status is at least intellectually interesting; Jordan’s interminable ‘Wheel of Time’ sequence is at its most interesting in side-bars to the conventional post-Tolkien plot where he creates, for example, a warrior people the motivating force of whose frenzied bravery is guilt at having abandoned their original pacifism.
There is a naive creativity to Jordan, a capacity for wondering ‘what if’ about the cliches of fantasy which sometimes leads him into odd tangents like the obsession of his conspirator nuns with corporal punishment, and sometimes creates genuinely interesting plot strands like the need to find a way of operating magically around the contamination of all male magic. Unfortunately, this is the positive side of a tendency to proliferate which means that the sequence has extended to so many volumes – each of Rand’s original companions has acquired some sort of kingdom with the affairs of which we have to be so continually updated that the sequence’s central topic – the battle against a Malign Sleeper Dark Lord and his various accomplices – has slowed down to a snail’s pace.
Terry Goodkind’s sidebar characters and plots are interesting primarily in terms of the way they fit into his overarching cynicism. We discover in ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ that ‘ People are stupid’ and the various death cults and groups of the magically empowered that we encounter subsequently do nothing to change this perception. The utter ruthlessness of both good and bad characters makes for a depressing read – Goodkind starts cynical and becomes bleak. The weakness of the Sword of Truth sequence lies in just this – that its hero and heroine are only likable by comparison with the utterly murderous.
What Goodkind does bring to the post-Tolkien epic is a sense of evil that is genuinely disturbing, deriving from 20th Century monsters like Hitler and Jim Jones. His use of sado-masochistic imagery is altogether more interesting than Jordan’s slightly fetishistic use of spanking – there is a real sense of the perverse in Goodkind.
One of the weaknesses of his rivals is in this area. Eddings, for example, has Torak, a Cain-like fallen deity hideously marked by the presumption which damaged the world. Torak’s minions are a cabal of evil mages, continually trying to outdo each other. All of which would be impressive enough were the felt experience of evil in the ‘Belgariad’ even as intense as that in Jordan, whose evil enchanters sometimes have glamour to make them interesting, but the final encounter is as slight and bland as anything else in Eddings, whose charm and weakness is his fondness for pastel-coloured prose.
One of the many strengths of Williams ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ has to do with his refusal to deal in the moral absolutes of Tolkien. For one thing, Williams deals far more convincingly than Tolkien with redemption – where it is necessary for the salvation of the world that Gollum finally fall to his damnation, the brutal warrior Guthwulf is changed forever by the consequences of a single unselfish act. He intervenes to save the housekeeper Rachel from murder by the evil magician Pryrates and is blinded for his pains, and left wandering in the cellarage of the Hayholt, the edifice which dominates Williams’ trilogy. In a particularly telling moment, starving, he decides not to kill a cat and we realize that he has changed. He helps Simon escape from the vast waterwheel to which the youth has been bound and dies of his efforts. Williams’ world is one in which it is possible for the evil to change.
(The analogy between Guthwulf and Shakespeare’s Gloucester is obvious, and points to the broader influence of ‘King Lear’ on a tale of an old king and his younger heirs, one of them good and one of them bad. Williams’ interest in the moral richness of quite minor characters is, in aspiration at least, Shakespearian. Given Tolkien’s professed disdain for Shakespeare, it is relevant that one of his most interesting imitators should so clearly disagree.)
Williams’ refusal of moral absolutes extends to his take on the figure of the Dark Lord; the principal adversary in ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’, the Storm Lord Ineluki, is a being who has suffered great wrongs, though his principal ally, the Norn Queen, is more concerned with the effects of great age and stored up grudges of a trivial, almost domestic kind. What Ineluki wants is not to have died, and he is prepared to destroy time and everything bound by it to return to the world – what he wants is something even more unjust than the human-on-elf genocide of which his death was part. This selfishness is what he shares with his pawns – Pryrates wants knowledge at the expense of all other value and the corrupted King Elias wants his wife not to have died.
What enables Simon and Miriamele to defeat them is in part a moral education which enables them to get past their own innate capacities for selfishness. Miriamele would like nothing better than to have her mad debased father restored to her as he once was – but the most merciful thing she can do for him is to kill him once Ineluki has possessed him body and soul. Simon would like back his carefree life as a kitchen-boy and scholar’s apprentice – but he returns to the Hayholt as its lord; he would like back the simple affection he and Miriamele shared before he knew she was a princess – instead, they have a marriage based on acceptance of each other’s sexual history with others and on the fact that, even if they did not in fact love each other, their marriage would be a necessity of state.
One of the reasons why ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ is arguably the most interesting of the post-Tolkien narratives is that Williams is so questioning of some of Tolkien’s unexamined values – there is a serious extent to which he is writing out of polemical engagement with Tolkien’s positions on the role of women, or attitudes in LOTR that are sufficiently cognate with racism to have appealed to neo-Nazis. In particular, and not without a certain dishonesty, he tries to have his cake and eat it – Simon is at once the lost heir of a rightful dynasty and a working-class lad rising on merit, he is at once a dragon slayer and warrior and someone whose principal claim to heroism derives from his endurance, and from the ecstatic bleak vision of reality he undergoes when bound to the wheel. ( This picks up on experiences undergone by Gandalf and Frodo in LOTR – Williams is not merely antagonistic and revisionist in his use of Tolkien.)
Another reason is that, far more than the other post-Tolkien narratives, ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ shows the footprints of other influences. In the first volume ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ in particular, Simon derives from T.H.White’s Wart as much as from Frodo; without realizing it, he undergoes the education of a future king, and gets it as much from the housekeeper Rachel (who gets the last word of the body of the trilogy) as from his Merlin, Doctor Morgenes. His self-education by clambering around the tunnels and roofs of the Hayholt, eavesdropping on secrets and catching sight of distant princesses, is reminiscent of the early phase of the career of Steerpike in Mervyn Peake’s ‘Gormenghast’ books, before that other young man on the make turns to evil. The Hayholt itself unites the influence of Tolkien with that of Peake – it is at once a gloriously complicated edifice, a haunted palace of the mind, and a repository of centuries of secrets, and repressed bad faith; it is a worthy successor of elements in both writers, because Williams learned, in this first of his major works, that the importance of an influence is to use it, and be transformed by it, not to be imprisoned by it.
OstenArd.com is humbly thanking the author for allowing us to publish this wonderful piece.
was fortunate enough to acquire an uncorrected proof and would like to share my review below.
The High King and Queen of Osten Ard are on a tour of their country, visiting their friends and allies in Hernystir and Rimmersgard. But not all who welcome them are friends… Suspect activities, dark rumours, and eventually an encounter with the deadly and secretive Norns call the royal entourage home early. Meanwhilst, their allies the Sithi are mysteriously silent. And that’s just the beginning of the story. A story that draws on all the wonders, and all the terror, of this magical world.
The Witchwood Crown is the continuation of the trilogy “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” and the short novel published earlier this year: The Heart of What Was Lost. But it isn’t necessary to have read those to read this book. Whereas the old trilogy is a buildungsroman, and much of the early story is told through the eyes of the hero, this time there are multiple, equally important, storylines from the beginning. This makes sense, since many of the mysteries of the world were revealed in the original trilogy, and the author can’t pretend that old readers haven’t already lived through those discoveries. New readers are introduced to Osten Ard gently, and in a way that isn’t tiresome to old fans.
Naturally, old characters are reintroduced in this book, though they have aged more than three decades. But there is at least an equal part of new important characters. We get to see the Norns up close and personal, and we also get more insight into the Thrithing clans.
The theme of the story has changed from the original trilogy of the kitchen boy thrown into adventure to discover his own self, into a more familial and pensive approach to the goings on. The King and Queen keep a close eye on their offspring and subjects, though admittedly the King has to be reigned in a bit by his spouse.
The secrets and mysteries that drive the plot are uncovered slowly and carefully. Not many realisations are acquired without much resistance. After all, why should we believe the world is different than what we have always known?
I love this book (and the previous ones) for the care and nourishment poured into them by the author. A well-developed world allows for a convincing story, however magical it might be. The characters are also supremely real and easy to like.
The publication of the next book, Empire of Grass, cannot come soon enough!
o, The Heart of What Was Lost (or HOWWL – I just love this acronym) hit the shelves. Tad Williams’ long anticipated return to Osten Ard is finally out for everyone to read and cherish.
This review is written by me, ylvs, and represents my view of the book. Other contributors to the site might add their own later. I was a beta reader of this book, following its development from first draft to final manuscript and I am delighted to finally be able to share my thoughts.
This is a must read for fans of MS&T. It is amazing how perfectly Tad manages to match the flavour and texture of the original. It just takes a few pages and you’re right back in Osten Ard. For someone loving this story as much as I do it feels like coming home …
It is also a fine starting point for those unfamiliar with Osten Ard. You never read MS&T and shy away from the sheer mass of it? Try this and find out if the world is to your liking. Of course the story has less depth without the background provided in the old books, but it is self contained and makes sense on its own.
When I first heard that Tad was writing a novelette (which finally became a short novel – anybody surprised?) about the aftermath of the final battle of MS&T I was not that excited. The victorious humans chasing their beaten fairy foes back to where they came from – that sounded more like “a story for the guys” than one for me. I do not mind reading about war and battles and people suffering but a book which is prominently about that? Nah, not really. But alas, it is a sequel to my favourite story of all time so of course I did read it and yes I do love it.
Why? First because it features one of my favourite characters from the old books: Sludig already was the hero of many deeds and battles and here he keeps doing the right thing although there never seems to be a reward or promotion for him. This is actually a sort of running gag in the novel, mentioned more than once – poor old Sludig.
Secondly HOWWL finally throws a floodlight on the Norns and their culture. In MS&T they were the unknown faceless enemy (apart from their queen Utuk’ku), here they are real people with hearts and souls and their enmity to humans and the century old hate for them becomes much more comprehensible. On a meta level this can be interpreted as a parable for us all: you cannot continue to blindly hate or fear the foe/stranger/immigrant you became familiar with. Little by little I felt my allegiance shifting from the human army seeking revenge and attempting to “root out evil for once and all” (which can also be called genocide) to the Norns trying to survive as a people and save their home.
And third and lastly what really makes this shine is the aliveness and humanity of the characters. Amidst war’s horror and desolation there is also loyalty, friendship and hope – on both sides.
Tad Williams is a master of ambivalence and changing perspectives and if a fantasy novel manages to make one question one’s view on the world it does deserve a label usually denied to genre fiction: literature.
he first review is in for The Heart of What Was Lost, the new novel by fantasy author Tad Williams, and it is very good. Set in the Osten Ard universe, the novel continues the story told in Williams’ now-classic “Memory, Sorrow, Thorn” series, one of the inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.
Douglas Croft from YouTube channel Geek In has reviewed The Heart of What Was Lost, calling it “a fantastic book”; he reveals that the story centers around the Norns, the embittered immortals of the far north, after the end of To Green Angel Tower. Croft states that readers who are curious about the ancient Norn society will finally have some of their questions answered, after an excruciatingly long 23-year wait, and that the novel “adds a whole layer of subtlety and meaning to what [readers] saw in the first three books.”
Mr. Croft also opines that The Heart of What Was Lost is likely setting up characters which will be important in upcoming Osten Ard novels The Witchwood Crown, Empire of Grass, and The Navigator’s Children. (The Witchwood Crown will be released in April 2017). The Witchwood Crown and The Heart of What Was Lost are both listed on Goodreads’ 2017 Highly Anticipated Epic Fantasy Novels list, near the top at #2 and #3, respectively.
The Heart of What Was Lost is scheduled for a January 2017 release, and the novel is now available for pre-order from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other retailers. Doug Croft received an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of the novel.
Doug’s full video review, with major spoilers for “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, and some mild spoilers for The Heart of What was Lost, is below:
(Bonus points for Douglas Croft correctly pronouncing Jao e-Tinukai’i).
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:
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 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.
Williams is now releasing some early, provisional sketches that he created during the writing of The Witchwood Crown, which his wife and business partner Deborah Beale kindly shared with us, and which we are now sharing with all readers.
The first sketch is a map (right, clickable) of Sturmrspeik, the great mountain of ill repute inhabited by the Norns, embittered relatives of the immortal Sithi. Beneath the great mountain lies the ancient city of Nakkiga, home to Utuk’ku Seyt-Hamahka, Queen of the Norns and Eldest of all living beings in Osten Ard. Williams’ rough map shows the location of the mountain itself, with the great Nakkiga Gate guarding the pass. Around these landmarks are the white waste of the Himilfell Mountains, which stretch both eastward and westward from the area. The second map sketch (left, clickable) is also of Sturmrspeik and Nakkiga, showing the locations of several well-known Norn landmarks as well as some which are entirely new. The Queen’s throne room appeared in the classic series, and makes a reappearance in the new map. Among the new landmarks are a Black Garden and a White Garden, as well as a subterranean lake, and an area marked as Great Processional. A bridge over the moat connects Nakkiga’s tunnels with the Queen’s Bridge.
We have more maps and diagrams, and will share more soon.
Tad Williams recently posted a partial character list for his new novel, The Witchwood Crown, Book One of “The Last King of Osten Ard”. There hasn’t yet been much analysis of this list in the blogosphere, so we at OstenArd.com are going to do some analysis.
Also returning are the Sa’onserei siblings, Jiriki and Aditu.
Several of the names that Williams released are returning characters. Among these are Jiriki and Aditu, son and daughter, respectively, of the House Sa’onserei, the ruling house of the immortal Sithi. Conspicuously absent, however, are the names of any of the other Sithi who dwelled in Jao e-Tinukai’i during “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”: there is no mention on the list of Likimeya, the queen of the Zida’ya; her brother, Khendhraja’aro; or Kira’athu, the healer. These three characters played important (albeit secondary) roles in “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”. Their absence indicates the possibility that the Sithi city of Jao e-Tinukai’i will not appear in “The Witchwood Crown” (other important Sithi characters included Amerasu, Shima’onari, Ann’ai and Kuroyi of Anvijanya, but these characters had passed on by the end of To Green Angel Tower).
Hakatri, son of Amerasu and Iyu’unigato, may reappear in the new series.
The only other “returning” Sithi character on the list is Hakatri i-Sa’onserei, son of Amerasu Ship-born and Iyu’unigato the Erl King, and brother to Ineluki the Storm King who played a major role in the destruction of the mortal world in “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”. It is not certain that Hakatri will return in the new series, or if he is simply a character mentioned in passing. However, even the possibility of Hakatri’s return sets the stage for a possible major conflict between the humans and the Gardenborn once more. Hakatri’s doings were legendary even among the Sithi. But Hakatri was badly burned a thousand (or so) years earlier, and has apparently not set foot in Osten Ard for centuries. Attempts by the Sithi to reach Hakatri via the Master Witnesses have all failed, indicating that he was far away from Osten Ard, or possibly no longer even alive.
With Jao e-Tinukai’i likely sidelined, the focus of the Gardenborn part of the story seems to be Nakkiga, the frozen city of the Norns, in the far north above Black Rimmersgard. In fact, Williams has stated that the immortal Norns will have an important role to play in the new series. Two of the names on the published character list are Utuk’ku the Norn Queen and Akhenabi, both of whom were antagonists in “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”. Utuk’ku is expected to be a major antagonist in the new series, as one of the few major villains left at the end of the original series. The part that Akhenabi will play is as yet unknown; the embittered Norns were defeated and seemingly broken at the end of “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, leaving interesting possibilities in the new novels, set thirty years after the end of To Green Angel Tower.
No other previously-seen Gardenborn names appeared on Williams’ new character list. Because the name of the third novel in the new series was announced as The Navigator’s Children, it seems likely that the Dwarrows and Niskies will have some part to play in “The Last King of Osten Ard”, but the names Yis-fidri, Yis-hadra, Sho-vennae, Imai-an and Nin Reisu, all Dwarrow or Niskie characters from “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, do not appear on the new character list.
Many new names on the list, however, do appear to be Gardenborn names. Among these are Nezeru, Takeru, Tsoja/Tsoji, Saojemi, Viyeki, Rinan, Khibi-Ya, and possibly Kulva, Jhesa, Ommu, and Makho. The names Rinan and Khibi-Ya follow formats similar to Niskie and Dwarrow names, respectively. Names ending with a -u and -a are likely to be female Norns. Names ending in -i and -o are likely Norn males. Alternately, the character names ending in vowels may be new Sithi characters. Some, including Kulva, Jhesa, Ommu and Makho, may be non-Gardenborn names.
Simon and Miriamele return in “The Witchwood Crown”.
Among the returning mortal characters will be King Simon and Queen Miriamele, who have apparently ruled Osten Ard for the last thirty years. Count Eolair of Hernystir, Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard, Jeremias, Binabik, Sisqinanamook, Tiamak, Prince Josua and Lady Vorzheva also appear on the character list, indicating that they will return in the new series as well. Hyara (Vorzheva’s sister) and Pasevalles (the young boy in Nabban) also appear on the list.
Notably absent are Rachel, Father Strangyeard, Sludig, and Josua’s twin children Derra and Deornoth. However, the original press release has indicated that Derra and Deornoth will have a role to play in the new series. Also not mentioned are Count Streawe, Duke Varellan, Lector Velligis, Queen Inahwen, and March-thane Fikolmij, who were the rulers, respectively, of Perdruin, Nabban, Mother Church, Hernystir, and High Thrithing thirty years earlier. It remains to be seen who now rule these lands.
The names John and Pryrates also appear on the new list. These two characters are likely only mentioned in passing, since they died thirty years earlier.
One “new” name on this list, Morgan, was announced in the press release in April. Morgan is the prince of Erkynland, heir apparent to Osten Ard. He is likely either the son or grandson of Simon and Miriamele. It seems likely that he is their son, named in honor of Doctor Morgenes, Simon’s long-dead mentor.
Little can be deduced from the remaining new names, save that Jarnulf is likely a Rimmersman; Qina and Ommu may be Qanuc; Little Snenneq is definitely Qanuc, and is probably the son of Snenneq, who appeared in “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”; Olveris, Drusis, and Saluceris are likely Nabbanai; Tylleth and Etan may be Hernystiri; and Grimbrand and Osric are probably Erkynlanders. Fremur may be a Rimmerman god. The remaining names — Astrian, Drojan, Goh Gam Gar, Hugh, Idela, Lillia, Narvi, Porto, Udrig, and Unver — are hard to classify. It has been revealed that Narvi is a baron, but where he lives has not yet been revealed.
Williams has stated that more may be revealed soon, sometime after he begins the second draft of The Witchwood Crown. At some point, he will conduct chapter readings for fans. The book is tentatively slated for a Spring 2016 release.