... Sam Llewellyn on Scilly, Arthus and Lyonesse
: I have spent my life as a writer and a storyteller. I believethat telling stories is the summit of human achievement, and that the existence of humanity on earth is a story, and that the story deserves a happy ending.I live with my family in an ancient house in the remote Welsh Marches of Britain. I own an electric bike, a fifty-year-old guitar, and a couple of boats in which I go sailing every year in the North Atlantic.
: There are a lot of different versions of the Arthur story. Some of them are about life's pilgrimage, as in Malory. Some of them are almost slapstick, as in the Tristan and Iseult version relayed in the Old French Beroul fragment. And some of them have got mixed up with Celtic folk tales, as in the Mabinogion, the great collection of Welsh stories. The Mabinogion, incidentally, has as one of its main sources the Red Book of Hergest, which was found in the library of an ancient and haunted house some five kilometres from my own. And there is a peculiarly Scillonian version of Arthur, which I'll explain below. I don't think that any writer on the western side of Britain, and indeed Europe, can avoid tangling with Arthurian themes.
The main ideas in Arthur are the battle of good against evil, and the close connectedness of the two - Mordred in many versions is Arthur's half-brother; a quest; the investigation of destiny; and the power of a king first among equals to defeat monsters and injustice, and improve the lot of mankind.
: As you say, there they sit, little crumbs of granite fifty kilometres out in the blue Atlantic, wilder by far than the wildest shores of Cornwall. They are the islands beyond the sunset, to which the bodies of the great were in ancient times taken for burial. There is nothing but sea between them and America.
They are a hard, tough place, but paradoxical. For the climate of the islands is warmer than anywhere else in the British isles, and frost is almost unknown. 175 years ago an ancestor of mine founded a garden there, and planted in it trees and shrubs he took from ships arriving from South America, Africa, Australasia and the East. It is a remarkable place, and a powerful stimulus to dreaming, (Link: http://www.igpoty.com/competition02/winners/2_Overall/Overall_XL.jpg) the islands are covered with standing stones and burial mounds dating from prehistory. Walls of gigantic stones run under the glass-clear water from island to island. As a child, I was told that these were the field-walls of Lyonesse. Lyonesse is the British Atlantis, a green and mysterious land that before the beginning of history stretched west from Land's End in Cornwall. The Isles of Scilly were the mountains of Lyonesse, and the only part of it that remains above water after its drowning.
: There are fashions in Arthurian tale-telling. Recently, the trend has been to show him as a left-over Roman fighting against various kinds of encroaching barbarian. But my Scilly great-aunts Gwen and Babs used to tell me that this was all nonsense, and that Arthur (who was called Idris then, this being the Celtic version of the name) lived in Lyonesse. They explained that I had been born in a room overlooking the lake from which the sword had risen, and that St Michael's Mount had been his palace. One of the reasons that I wrote these books is to take poor Arthur out of the prison of history and free him by putting him back in a land of pre-legend, full of primal good and evil.
: Malory, the Morte d'Arthur, is good but difficult, because written in archaic language. Kevin Crossley-Holland is an excellent writer who retells the plain tales of Arthur with gusto. T.H.White, The Once and Future King, is brilliant and quirky. And a translation of the Mabinogion will be amazing, and perhaps illuminating.
: Poldark, eh? Very true, very eighteenth-century, a great piece of story-telling that I love. But let us go much further back. St Michael's Mount is now an island in the sea. But its ancient Cornish name translates as 'the rock in the wood.' And there is indeed a petrified forest in Mount's Bay. Problem is, in the accepted version of history, the sea drowned the forest before there were humans there to describe it...
On the surface, the various cultures of the Celt Belt are very different. But there are strong links between Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall (and Brittany, in France). They share a form of football, a form of wrestling, similarities of language, similarities of music, a strong connection with other worlds and their inhabitants- the 'little people'; and since earliest times they have bridled their horses using the kindly snaffle bit rather than the harsher curb. Above all they share a common heritage of legend. (Though as far as I know, kelpies are Scottish).
: I'm not sure I subscribe to the idea of fantasy as a genre with rules. As far as I am concerned, a fantasy novel is a book set in a world invented by the author. One of the reasons that I have always loved The Lord of the Rings is because it answers my secret hankering to live in a pre-industrial world (though I suspect Mordor was full of machines). One of the reasons I admire Terry Pratchett is because the Discworld is such a brilliantly distorted version of our own. When I was evolving Lyonesse, I had to work out why the land was threatened with sinking. Looking at the world we live in now, it wasn't hard to see where the blame lay; which made machines - not as we know them, of course - inevitable.
: I know what you mean about reading ages. I tried to get the publishers to recommend it for anyone 10-110, but they wouldn't. As to what kind of reader, well, difficult question. Anyone who likes an adventure story, of course. Anyone who wants to see good triumph over evil. Anyone who likes to be carried away to a peculiar universe where they can think for themselves, and where their thoughts can be overheard by monsters from another world... Anyone, really.
: Volume 2, Darksolstice, will be published in the US in February and the UK in April. There's no German publisher yet, but we live in hope!
: First sentence of Darksolstice:
At dawn on the fifteenth day after he had been washed up on the shore of Ar Mor, Idris Limpet started dreaming again. A thing with leather wings had been flying after him through bitter water. He woke, shouting.