Helena Sorensen has studied music, taught English, and dabbled in poetry and songwriting. She spends her evenings weeping outside the homes of authors like Urusula K. LeGuin, Megan Whalen Turner, and Robin McKinley. She lives in Nashville with her husband and two children. This is her first novel To learn more about Ms. Sorenson, visit her website: helenasorensen.com
I love John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. I mean, I really love him. I’ve read so much of his work and his thoughts on writing, and I’ve tried to suck every juicy detail about the lives of Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin and Eowyn and Aragorn and Arwen from Tolkien’s supplementary works. Of course, I love Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle. It has this wonderful, windswept quality to it, and Earthsea is alive with ancient magic. And J.K. Rowling blows me away. How can she tie up at least 72,458 loose ends into the world’s most elaborate and perfect bow?
Imagine my terror when I sat down to write a fantasy novel. Have you read The Silmarillion? Have you seen the dizzyingly detailed map of Earthsea? Do you have any concept of how Rowling navigated the whole wand conundrum in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Sigh. I had a story in my head, niggling at the corners of my brain. But the prospect of creating a fantasy world was overwhelming. I could spend years on such a venture. For pity’s sake, Tolkien spent his life on such a venture!
It was not until I read Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon that a spark of hope was kindled within me. If you’ve never read this little gem of a novel, I highly recommend it. It’s one of King’s only novels that I can read without contacting a therapist, and, also, it’s delightful. King’s world is rich. There are kings and princes, dragons and wizards, towers and magic. And there are no accompanying historical textbooks or character genealogies. It’s just one little story about rival brothers and an ambitious wizard. In two or three scenes, I understood the novel’s main characters. A few paragraphs here and there told me all I needed to know about their kingdom’s history and landscape. It was so clean, so simple. I wondered if, perhaps, I could do it, too.
My first draft of Shiloh was bare bones, maybe 45k words. When I went back to flesh out the story, I took heart, remembering The Eyes of the Dragon. I drew on something I know relatively well how to do: write poems and songs. Just a few of these could tell so much about the world of Shiloh, about what the people valued and feared, about the heroes they idolized and the things they most desired. The concept was so simple, but, in the end, I think additions like “The Tale of Grosvenor” and “Far, Far Away” progressed my world building and enriched my story immeasurably.
Granted, I’m no Tolkien, no LeGuin, no Rowling. (hello, dazzling understatement) But I’m so relieved to know that a great fantasy tale can be told without several thousand years worth of family trees or charts listing the shoe size of every minor character. If I’m wrong, and everyone loathes this book, I’m blaming it all on Stephen King. ;)
“Far, Far Away” (A Children’s Song)
Far, far away
In the crystal teardrops
Hangin’ from the branches o’ the Silent Trees
Gone, gone away
Ta the Hall o’ Shadows
Peerin’ through the mist with eyes that cannot see
Shine, shine away
Keep the lights a-burnin’
Never let the embers o’ the flame go out
Run, run away
Fer the Shadow Weavers
Come ta take a trophy ta their Master’s house