The Big Idea: Ilana C. Myer
Posted on March 25, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi
Where some people end their books is where Ilana C. Myer, in her new novel The Poet King, begins hers. Why does she do it that way? She’s here to explain.
ILANA C. MYER:
Power is something we talk about a lot in fantasy—from rings of power to the One Power to the sword that makes a farmboy a king.
I wrote my first book, Last Song Before Night, intrigued by the idea in Celtic myth of poets wielding magical and political power. Through the eyes of multiple poets, I explored the tension between art and political gain. The path to success for a poet, in that milieu, was by using art to ingratiate himself with authority. And what did that mean for his art?
As the enchantments arise, so do new challenges. The second book, Fire Dance, explores the consequences of accessing enchanted power, on an expanded geopolitical landscape that introduces elements of Middle Eastern magic, Spanish flamenco, and more.
Finally, the last of the series tackles another fantasy preoccupation: The role of a king.
Many fantasies revolve around putting the rightful king on the throne as an end goal. Right at the start of The Poet King, that goal has been realized: A brilliant, charismatic poet has brought about the downfall of a weak king and taken the throne. He promises to bring the realm to heights of glory never before achieved, combining the enchantments of poets with the authority of the crown.
That is, however, the beginning of the story.
As a book where the enchantments of poets come at last to full fruition, at their most fierce, elemental, and dangerous, The Poet King required that I return to the original sources that first inspired the series. In order to write the end, I had to go back to the beginning. There is no roadmap for researching a novel, no syllabus assigned; there is only following one’s instinct. Mine took me to unexpected places. I went as far back as I could in time, to tales so strange to modern ears that even in translation they are nearly opaque. But the enchantment imbued between the lines needs no translation.
Readers will recognize some of the inspirations without difficulty: Arthurian literature, with its roots in Celtic myth, turned out to be indispensable as a source. And then there were other stories, wilder, that perhaps won’t be recognized by most but lent a hand in their own way. An accidentally well-timed trip to Ireland was useful as well, in particular for capturing the atmosphere of Academy Isle in winter. All these roads intersected to lead me to the story I wanted to tell about art, power, and the magnificent king who seems to flawlessly combine the two.
It may sound obvious to say that power comes at a cost, but that hasn’t always been the case in fantasy. Fantasy that relies on flashing wands like laser guns often doesn’t deliver a sense of awe for the forces that are being tapped. As someone who sees magic as analogous to the mysteries of our world, I believe a sense of awe is warranted. I also believe that power should function in fantasy much as it does in our world: Someone will always pay the price.
For me, literature is about the human heart or nothing at all. And there is nothing like a test of character for showing us who people really are.
Coming face to face with what we’re capable of—and what we choose to do about it—is the most meaningful use of enchantment I’ve found.
The Poet King: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
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