By Cynthia Light Brown
The Goblin Wars trilogy by Kersten Hamilton is one of my favorites – a rich YA fantasy set in our own world and Mag Mell, a mysterious “world-between-worlds” filled with creatures good and evil. Kersten mixes lots of action, memorable characters who make tough decisions and go through lots of changes and growth, and interesting themes and questions. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift, it’s not too late to order 2-day shipping for the first in the trilogy, Tyger, Tyger.
One of the most interesting things in this series is how Kersten weaves an Irish mythology and an underlying Christian worldview together in subtle and complex ways. The great majority of authors either leave religion out entirely, or write with an obvious – and often heavy-handed - religious perspective. The Goblin Wars series takes neither approach, but rather deals with reality—physical, emotional, and spiritual reality.
Kersten gives us a treat at the end of the interview, with a cameo that is an “extra”. For fans of her books, it’s another peek into a great character, and for those who haven’t yet read The Goblin Wars, it’s an invitation to read more.
Cynthia: You have woven Christian elements in and around the Irish mythology, something I see less and less of in current literature. Was that easy to do? Were there any tough decisions to make in whether or how much to bring in those Christian elements?
Kersten: Those elements – the worldview behind the story as it were, are actually the reason the books exist. Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy was very much on my mind when I started THE GOBLIN WARS. HIS DARK MATERIALS is a parable of the Republic of Heaven, a universe with no loving Creator; THE GOBLIN WARS is a parable of the Kingdom of God—a worldview that posits a loving Creator intimately involved with all creation.
It wasn’t really tough to decide how much to bring in or leave out; since this is my own worldview, I simply wrote my own struggles, fears, doubts, and stumbling faith into the characters.
Cynthia: Can you talk a little about the Irish mythology behind the Goblin Wars Series, and why you chose that?
The world of the pre-Christian era Celts was harsh and sometimes bloody, with wars between clans and occasionally human sacrifice.
But it was also wonderfully spiritual. The ancient Celts built no walls between the natural world and the supernatural, the secular and the sacred. Trees held a special place in the early Celtic understanding of the sacred. The destiny of a clan was twined to the life of a particular tree. Warring clans tried to attacked and destroy their enemies’ tribal trees. Their concept of reality was twined with threeness.
The understanding of the sacred, the importance of trees, and the concept of threeness, became important bridges to Christianity. The Christianity which first found its way to Britan, however, was very different from the Christianity which was later forged in Rome.
Early Celtic Christianity traced its roots not through Augustine and Rome to the authority St. Peter, but through Aidan of Lindisfarne and Iona to the authority of St. John, the disciple who leaned his head against Jesus’ chest at the last supper.
In Britan this became an image of the believer listening for the heartbeat of God. The Celts had been listening for the heartbeat of the Creator of creation since before the dawn of time. They had little difficulty reconciling a God who was three–in–one with their own concept of the threeness. The tree upon which Christ was hung became a new sacred tree around which all clans could gather.
Early Celtic Christians believed that God was present with them as a friend to be talked to in every moment of life. They believed in a good creation. And they believed that the image of God was in every human being, waiting to be woken by the Holy Spirit.
St. Columba (521 –597) declared “My Druid is Christ, the son of God…”
The two views of Christianity in Britan—Celtic and Roman—clashed in 664 at a Synod of the Church Catholic. The Roman viewpoint won, and the Celtic beliefs were pushed aside.
But they were never completely vanquished. You can find them in the carvings of the Green Man (a goodly creature of creation!) on church pillars and benches, and in the writings of authors like George MacDonald.
Cynthia: Who's your favorite secondary character?
Do you have any habits as a writer that you always follow - whether habits of time and place, or just mental exercises?
Can I answer them both together? My favorite secondary character is Mamieo Ida. One of my mental exercises is the write a cameo of my character at some point before my book begins. Here is Mamieo Ida’s:
“What should I do, Rory?” Ida hugged the framed photo as she paced. He’d been dead for almost a year, but it was sometimes a comfort to talk to him. She needed comfort now. “I’m shaking afraid, and that’s the truth.”
It wasn’t the storm battering the caravan that put the fear in her. It was what she heard behind the wind. Sure, she’d heard the bean-sídhe cry before—but not the rider’s horn nor the baying of terrible hounds. Goblin kind was sporting in Mag Mell tonight. The same goblins that had trapped her Rory on the moor, torn him open and left his children orphans and herself a widow.
“It’s the Hunt, love,” Ida said. Their prey would be a human child they’d stolen from her home. A girl. They’d run her as long as she could run…and then she’d die alone and afraid, with no máthair to hold her. “It’s the Great Hunt, and there’s nothing I can do, is there?”
Ida stopped pacing. If the Almighty saw fit to let her hear what was happening, there must be a reason. And if there was something to be done, she wasn’t going to find it by cowering behind closed doors, was she?
Ida set the picture down carefully. She took the crucifix from the wall by the door and hung it close over Liam’s bed, then lifted Fiona out of the drawer that served as a crib. She slipped the baby into her brother’s arms, and kissed both sleep–damp foreheads.
“Aingeals watch and guard thee,” she whispered.
She took her shawl from its hook and slipped out the door. Ida walked past the caravans of the Travelers, some dark and some flickering with the blue light of tellies, and out onto the lane.
The wind pushed her towards St. Wilfred’s Chapel, so she followed it, then hesitated on the steps, unsure what to do next.
A passing car slowed, and a young man threw a beer bottle at her. “Clear out, Pikey!” he yelled.
Ida snatched the bottle from the chapel steps. “Who scraped you off a shoe, you rooter cack?” She shouted as she threw it back. The wind took the bottle before it smashed the rear window. It landed in the hedge as the car raced away.
Ida followed the wind again. When she saw the Green Man under the lamppost at the end of the road, she knew she had been right to come out.
Ida had met him long ago in a chapel on the other side of England after her first communion. He was standing in his great green altogether, studying his own face carved in a column.
“You should wear britches in church,” she’d told him. “They’ll throw you out.”
“Haven’t any,” the green man had said. “Just my leaves and such.”
“Take my cape, then,” Ida had taken it from her shoulders held it out to him. “Wrap it round you like a kilt. They’ll let you stay for tea and biscuits then.”
He’d laughed so hard the windows shook, and the priest covered his head because he thought it was an earthquake.
“You’re the only one here with eyes to see me, girl,” the Green Man had said. “So let’s be friends.”
He was the kind of friend who never showed up unless things were afoot. She’d seen him the night she met her Rory, and he’d brought her holly and ivy and bitter tea the day Rory died. From the look on his leafy face now, there was death in the storm this night.
“Let me through,” Ida demanded. “Let me into Mag Mell.”
“What would you do there, Ida?’
“Find the child. I won’t let her die alone.”
“Do you know what you’re saying, lass? No one escapes the Hunt, and that’s a fact.”
“I’m a Christian woman,” Ida pulled her shawl tight around her to keep her courage from escaping. “I’ll do what I can. You should be doing something yourself, you leafy ox of a man. Can’t you hear the baying?’
“I’m not strong enough to stop them, but this I can do.” The Green Man grabbed the corner of the night and ripped a hole into Mag Mell.
“I’ll leave a light on for you, Ida,” he said. “You’ll never be coming home without it.”
“Will I be coming home, then?”
He didn’t say a word. Ida nodded, pulled her shawl closer, and stepped through.
She staggered as the darkness of Mag Mell enfolded her. The storm was worse here, but even its fury couldn’t drown out the hound’s voices, or the insane wailing of the bean-sídhe. It was too dark to see — until lightning slashed across the sky, burning a black and silver picture into her mind.
It’s here you’ll die, Ida. Here in Mag Mell.
She knew it with all the certainty of her second sight. So this was why she had come. Well, Rory’d gone before her, hadn’t he? That man had never once turned away from what must be done. She tried to take a step. It was harder than she’d thought to walk towards death.
“I can’t do it,” she said, but at that moment she heard a new sound carried on the wind — the cry of a frightened child.
“I’m coming, then.” Ida ran towards the sounds of the horn and the hounds. Towards the crying child.
She hadn’t gone far when she saw the girl in her thin white dress, bare feet flashing over the ground. The child screamed when Ida grabbed her, but Ida sank to her knees and held her tight until her struggles turned to sobs. She was exhausted, and done running.
The goblins were coming fast. She could smell them, feel them in the darkness. They could smell her as well, because now the bean-sídhe was calling her name.
“Damn you,” Ida whispered. “I won’t let her die alone.” The girl went still, and Ida felt her heart beat close against her own, as close as her own babe’s hearts had been when she carried them in her belly.
“Shh, shh,” Ida rocked the child and tried to wait calm and saint-like, but it didn’t work. A fierceness rose up in her instead. She wasn’t willing to die, not with Liam and Fiona waiting for her in the caravan, and this one shivering in her arms.
Ida jumped to her feet and spat hard up into the darkness, praying that the wind would carry her spittle into the bean-sídhe’s face.
“Damn your goblin souls,” she shouted. “I won’t let her die at all!”
Ida turned and ran towards the faint green light, the girl child in her arms.
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Cynthia!