Michael Pryor is the author of THE LAWS OF MAGIC, a young adult series set in an alternate Edwardian England (called Alibion in the series), which I thought was “charmingly old-fashioned” and happily recommended. Michael graciously took some time off from his new series, THE EXTRAORDINAIRES, to talk to us about the connection between History and Fantasy.
History is the Fantasy writer’s best friend. That’s almost a truism, but it bears repeating. A good understanding of history gives a Fantasy writer a springboard into the whole world creation business. Why invent a whole world from scratch when you can delve into history and find a multitude of fascinating cultures, societies, customs and ways of living?
Thanks to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, much fantasy begins with a roughly mediaeval, Northern European world. This means a working knowledge of aristocratic hierarchies, castle layout and care/maintenance of horses is useful. And where do you find such stuff? History, of course!
Naturally, though, history has more to offer than Middle Ages Europe and this means the canny Fantasy writer has plenty to choose from. Ancient China? Try Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. The 1950s Cold War? Read Tim Powers’ Declare. Mediaeval Russia? Grab C.J. Cherryh’s RUSSIAN STORIES.
Long before Downton Abbey, I’ve been fascinated by the early twentieth century as a time of transition. It has many of the beginning of the modern world in its advances in science and technology, and society was moving out of the Victorian strictures, as evidenced by the beginnings of the Suffragist movement and the rise of labour associations. It’s a rich, textured, changing time and, with the addition of a little magic and mystery, the perfect world for my particular brand of Fantasy. Thus, THE EXTRAORDINAIRES.
THE EXTRAORDINAIRES begins in London in 1908. This is, in some ways, the height of the Edwardian period. London hosts both the Olympic Games and the great Franco-British Exhibition and is still the centre of a vast and prosperous empire. Naturally, this is an irresistible backdrop to imagine a world that lies underneath such a well-organised and forthright society, a shadowy world that contains both the malign and the magnificent, a world that can be found behind unexpected doorways, beneath the streets and in those parts of the city that are unfrequented by upright citizens. This Demimonde – the half-world – intersects with the criminal underworld and the world of the theatre, where our young hero, Kingsley Ward, is hoping to make a success. The problem is, though, that he was raised by wolves and this upbringing unfortunately surfaces in times of stress. Howling and biting people during your stage debut is never a good way to start a theatrical career …
What about you, readers? Tell us about your favorite historical fantasies.
One commentator will receive a copy of The Extinction Gambit, book one of THE EXTRAORDINAIRES.