The Witchwood Crown, Continuity, and Chuck Cunningham

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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.

The Witchwood CrownI 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.

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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.

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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.

The Witchwood Crown – guest review by a friend …

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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.

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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!

©by Kenan, fellow regular @ http://www.tadwilliams.com/forum

Tad Williams Q&A: Writing That Long-Expected (by Everyone but Me) Sequel

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n TadWilliams.com there is a new Question and Answer session regarding the author’s long-awaited return to the world of Osten Ard.

Williams, the author of more than twenty science fiction and fantasy novels, will be returning to his beloved realm of Osten Ard at the end of June, with the release of The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of a new series of books called “The Last King of Osten Ard”. The novel takes up the story more than 30 years after the characters were last seen in the classic Osten Ard novels.

Tad was asked about how he felt returning to his old world and the old characters; in the Q&A session, he says he had forgotten “how much effort and thought [he] had put into Osten Ard in the first place, so many years ago. Layers upon layers.” (Those layers are no surprise to longtime readers, who have compared the Osten Ard novels to the layers of an onion: peeling one layer reveals another).

He also reveals why it took him so many years to return to the world:

I sat down one time to list off for Deborah (my wife and business partner) all the reasons I had no more stories about Simon and Miriamele and Binabik and the rest, I realized that I had left most of the main characters still very much in the bloom of their youth, and that after decades of life and growing responsibility—which I had undergone myself since I wrote it—they must all look at the world very differently. That set me to thinking, and within one night the first rudiments of the story for “The Last King of Osten Ard” (the title for the whole series) had begun to take real shape. So every moment I was aging, and moving from one country to another, and becoming a parent, and so on, I was actually creating a plot for new Osten Ard books without realizing it.

So Williams’ aging has helped inspire the new books.

We at Treacherous Paths were honored to be mentioned in the Q&A session, the full version of which can be read here. The Witchwood Crown will be released on June 27, 2017. It is available for pre-order on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other booksellers.

 

TOR.com publishes excerpt of Tad Williams’ “The Witchwood Crown”

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nline Science Fiction magazine TOR.com today published an excerpt from The Witchwood Crown, Tad Williams’ upcoming new Osten Ard novel.

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The 4000-word excerpt, found here, is told from the point of view of Jarnulf, a new character described as a pious Rimmersman travelling in the far north of Osten Ard. Jarnulf encounters one of the Hunë, an ice giant, a race that  fought for the Norns in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

This is the second released excerpt from The Witchwood Crown; the first, from the Foreword, and describing a scene with Tanahaya, one of the Zida’ya, was released via video format in September 2015 on Read For Pixels, and is available on YouTube:

A glorious return to Osten Ard

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do not start this review the usual way with the book but with myself. I was one of the first human beings in the whole wide world who knew that Tad would return to Osten Ard. The thought that there would be more stories in my favourite parallel universe overwhelmed and excited me in a fashion I never thought news about fiction could.
Later I was one of the first readers of The Witchwood Crown, giving comprehensive feedback on each new version. Now I write a review on the ARC I got from the publishers. I still feel like in a dream – this is surreal.

All this shall make transparent where I come from. Expect a eulogy.

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So. The long awaited and highly anticipated sequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. News from the vast world I keep going back to for 25 years now because I love it so much. It features a mind-swirling amount of characters: old and new, awesome and annoying, funny and frightening. And multiple places: familiar yet changed like the Hayholt. Others described in much more detail like Nabban. Those that never before had featured like Elvritshalla. And of course Nakkiga where the old enemy stirs again.

Tad masterfully manages to revive the old heroes although it took me a few chapters to feel close to them again. Simon and Miriamele, Eolair and Tiamak after all are not the same people I know – 33 years of story time have passed since I last met them.

A reunion scene brought tears of joy to my eyes, and from that moment on I was emotionally engaged with The Witchwood Crown as I am with Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

The multiple plots burble along like mountain spring creeks: there are trade wars, unrest in the west, fights for power and territory in the South, the occasional bloody fight – all the stuff expected from a civilisation on the brink of enlightenment and it is a joy to see it unfold in Osten Ard. Plus fearsome monsters and fairies, demons and a hilarious troll. All this is wonderful to behold while the real mysteries are slowly growing in a few passing paragraphs and the occasional subclause. A beautifully composed set-up for a great story. I would have been perfectly happy with that book and would have praised Tad über den grünen Klee for it. And I did not notice that it did not truly accelerated my heart rate for page after fast turned page… until it did.

The last 200+ had me reading until dawn. Tad shifts gears and… major stuff starts happening. The thing is hitting the other thing. Like big time.

This showdown had me respectively gasping in surprise, shouting: Finally!, laughing with joy, holding my breath for two pages straight, slapping my head, shedding more tears and smiling woefully at the very end. An incredible rollercoaster ride that made me crave for more the moment I turned the very last page. I’ve said it elsewhere and I say it again: I have not read a final act that exciting and surprising since George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords.

And I mean that literally.

A lot has been said about the similarities between MS&T and GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin himself names the former a major inspiration for his own epic.

While he was writing TWC in 2014 I talked to Tad about stories and tropes influencing each other in general and these two in particular and he said he “would like to keep the conversation going.” And darn, he fricking did. Iconic scenes from A Song of Ice and Fire are mirrored in The Witchwood Crown and I yayed every single one of them. This seesaw between two masters of story telling is an additional treat in this awesome book.

I am so much looking forward to reading the final version of The Witchwood Crown come June 27th. At last it will be a beautiful proper hardcover book with a shiny envelope. We’re all in for such a treat!

New video trailer for Tad Williams’ “The Witchwood Crown”

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enguin Books has just released a new video trailer for Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown, the fifth volume in his international bestselling Osten Ard saga. Over epic music, the camera pans over legendary artist Michael Whelan’s illustrations of the Great Swords of Osten Ard: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

Tad Williams holds Reddit AMA interview, answers readers’ questions

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egendary Science Fiction and Fantasy author Tad Williams held an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) interview today on forum website Reddit.Williams revealed several details about his upcoming sequel to “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, The Witchwood Crown.

Williams began his AMA interview in inimitable fashion:

I have returned to the world of Osten Ard, first introduced in the now impossibly ancient days of the late 1980s, in THE DRAGONBONE CHAIR, first book of the “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” series (also known as, “Those really, really, REALLY long books by that Williams guy.”) Just published is a short introductory novel — really a bridge between the end of the first series and some of the characters who will appear in the new books — the slender volume, THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST (http://www.tadwilliams.com/2017/01/the-heart-of-what-was-lost-first-reviews/) which will be followed by THE WITCHWOOD CROWN (a more typical Tad shelf-buster) in June. The entire series will be called “The Last King Of Osten Ard”, because that’s what fantasy fiction needs — MORE LONG TITLES.

(I also thought about calling the first books “Osten Ard Classic” and the current series “New Osten Ard” or even “Osten Ard Zero”, until various soft drink company lawsuits got in the way. Killjoys.)

I will be answering questions about the original series AND the new books live on Friday, January 27th, 2017 at 2:30 PM ET / 11:30 AM PT. Feel free to leave a question or subpoena for me ahead of time, or to join me online.

Heart_of_what_was_lost_Tad_WilliamsAmong the gems asked during the Reddit interview were questions regarding the new upcoming “The Last King of Osten Ard” novels, as well as questions regarding characters in The Heart of What Was Lost, the new bridge novel which was just published this month.

One question asked was (minor spoilers): “Will we eventually find out what Ayaminu’s agenda was?”Ayaminu is one of the Gardenborn characters who appears in The Heart of What Was Lost.

Williams’ response:

Yes. Yes, we will.

That really frustrated a few of my early readers, by the way, wanting to know WHAT SHE WAS DOING and why the answer wasn’t in the book.

I can’t help it. I work in long form. My days are everyone else’s months, especially when I’m writing really long stories.

Williams was also asked how far apart each new Osten Ard novel would be. Williams is known as a relatively fast writer, and has not had the extended delays between books which have plagued other bestselling speculative fiction authors. While Martin and Rothfuss have struggled to finish their novels, Williams has managed to mostly keep to his publishing deadlines.Williams replied:

Can’t say for certain, but I’m aiming for a year to a year and a half max between books. I’m pretty good at that these days, and I’ve actually started and finished several multi-volume series, so it shouldn’t take too long altogether.

I’m already working on the second large volume, Empire of Grass, and Witchwood Crown (first of trilogy) has been done for quite a while.

Williams was also asked about how “open-ended” his books are, and if he plans to revisit his other worlds, which would include the virtual world in “Otherland”, Eion/Xand (“Shadowmarch”) , and San Judas, the alternate reality city in his “Bobby Dollar” novels. Williams stated:

I have never written anything except the Bobby Dollar books with the idea of the story being open-ended. I’d be in trouble if I did, since I’m only now returning to Osten Ard, thirty years later. Half my original readers are probably dead and the rest are drooling. Like me.

As I said elsewhere on the AMA, I never start something by where it takes place (like a previous world of mine) only with a story I want to tell. I may come up with ideas for stories set in some of my other worlds, and if I do, I’ll probably write them. I’ve had a couple of tentative ideas over the years, and now that I’ve found I can live with going back to Osten Ard, I’ll probably be more open to revisiting some of the other creations as well.

Most intriguingly, Williams was asked if he has any plans to link Osten Ard, the world of the “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” books, to the Xand/Eion world in “Shadowmarch”, with a reader asking “Are there any Easter eggs/connections between the worlds or Osten Ard and Shadowmarch?”

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Although the worlds of Xand/Eion and Osten Ard have been considered separate, and there has been nothing to link them together besides some small similarities (strange properties of mirrors, for example), Williams, interestingly enough, did not rule this out:

Funny, I was just thinking about this the other day — connections between the two worlds. I think it’s possible that there may be a Michael-Moorcock-style multiverse underlying all my books, but I’ve never consciously tried to link them all together.

Maybe someday…

Curious readers asked quite a lot about the Norns, the embittered fair folk in the Osten Ard novels. The most clever term “Nornithology” has been coined by one reader. Of the Norns and their undying queen Utuk’ku, Williams writes:

I took the comparatively few things I knew about the Norns when I wrote the first books and have added/expanded quite a bit during the writing of these new ones. And you’ll see a LOT of the Norns and Nakkiga in the new books. I’m glad it seems to belong with the early stuff. I certainly mean it to feel as though it’s a seamless whole.

Reader Alaron asked:

Hi Tad. Huge fan here from Germany. I finished Heart of what was Lost a few days ago. It was great. I have a question about the timeline of Sithi/Norn history in Osten Ard. In Heart it was mentioned that the Norns came to Nakkiga more than 3000 years ago. Those Norns/ Sithi as Yaarike that were born before the Parting are considered to be old even by Keida’ya standard. I estimated that the Keida’ya must have arrived in Osten Ard at least 6000 years ago, as Utuk’ku is the last of the original Keida’ya that left the Garden. Is that timeline roughly correct?

And Williams’ response:

I’d have to check, and my notes are a mess right now. My tentative timeline actually has the Norns arriving, yes, at least 6000 years ago, but I suspect actually it’s a bit longer. (Along with some of my hardest-working friends and readers, I’m still trying to stabilize the timeline.)

But yes, at least 6000 years previous to the stories.

Williams was also asked about how many pages he has completed in Empire of Grass, the middle novel of the new series. Williams responded:

Not sure. About a hundred pages, I’d say (I’m writing in separate chapter-files at first, so I don’t have a running overall page count). The last couple of months, with the holidays and various kid-related things, have been grueling. I’m expecting to have a nice long stretch in the next few months to get the first draft substantially done.

Over 200 comments were made in the thread.