(The stunning covers for the Age of Misrule series, art by John Picacio, design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht)
Mark Chadbourn is just coming to the attention of a U.S. audience through his Age of Misrule series, which Pyr Books has released in three volumes spaced over the months of May, June, and July. Epic, substantial, and massively entertaining, World's End, Darkest Hour, and Always Forever are excellent examples of those blessed hybrids that make for excellent beach reading even as they manage to make you think. Chadbourn's premise? That the gods of Celtic mythology have returned, along with creatures like dragons, to our modern reality. The resulting clash takes place on a broad canvas while focusing on five flawed characters guided by a legendary champion to seek a resolution to the conflict. For once, too, a book's press release is correct, describing the Age of Misrule series as "one part Lord of the Rings, one part Illuminatus!, one part Arthurian romance, one part Harry Potter--100% original!"
Here's the final installment of three guest posts from Chadbourn (see also The Invisible Hand of the God of Writing and Mysterious Britain). Many thanks to Mark for taking time from his busy schedule to give us some insight into the underpinnings of his series.
THE REAL-WORLD ROOTS OF FANTASY
by Mark Chadbourn
In the summer of 1921, on a hillside in rural Herefordshire, England, a businessman noticed something very odd in the landscape sprawling before him: a whole host of features"“"“churches, old wells, prehistoric mounds and other ancient sites"“"“appeared to be in perfect alignment.
Taking a series of maps and a ruler, Alfred Watkins discovered the country was crisscrossed with a system of straight lines linking age-old places and sacred locations. Paths following these routes, which were christened leys, appeared to date back to the Stone Age.
His book detailing his discovery, The Old Straight Track (1925), was a major influence on my fantasy sequence, Age of Misrule, which immersed in the prehistoric sites and long-lost mysteries which still hold power over us here and now.
Age of Misrule is a work of fantasy"“"“it has earth magic and dragons, legendary monsters and supernaturally powerful swords, though set firmly in modern times"“"“but it is informed by the work of four real-world researchers, like Alfred Watkins, who went way off the map in their investigations.
In the fifties and sixties, T C Lethbridge was a Cambridge University academic who found his archaeological studies took him increasingly into the realm of the mysterious, to the fury of his colleagues. Forgotten by many now, Lethbridge followed his own spiritual quest with a series of books on dowsing, ghosts, witches and psychokinesis, all worth investigating. In the process, he had many strange experiences which appear to defy explanation.
When I was in my teens, I stumbled across the work of Colin Wilson, a scientist by nature, who found himself trying to make sense of the seemingly inexplicable. Wilson made his name as a philosopher in the fifties with his ground-breaking book, The Outsider, but in the seventies and eighties, after a series of odd experiences, began to build a theory of how many supernatural events could be explained by science.
His book, The Occult (1971), drew together a history of the mysterious and the supernatural and then infused it with physics, psychology, and philosophy. I'm currently reading his book Mysteries (1978), which goes several steps further in explaining how the weird and strange can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the real world.
My final debt of gratitude goes to what may seem an unlikely source. In the eighties, Julian Cope was the lead singer with the band, Teardrop Explodes, and still performs as a solo artist. Away from his music, however, Cope is an acclaimed expert on prehistoric sites and has lectured at the British Museum.
His vast tome, The Modern Antiquarian, was pretty much my bible while writing Age of Misrule. It covers virtually every important prehistoric site in Britain"“--stone circles, standing stones, cairns and more--combing directions (many are way off the beaten track) and history with Cope's own idiosyncratic commentary.
These four people share a world-view that any fantasy reader would understand: a belief that what we see outside our window is infused with wonder and mystery. I couldn't have written my books without them.