Part 5: This conversation is in ten parts.
EH: I see. So, your writing career pretty much started with children’s books. When did LOME come into your mind as a story then?
OD: The genesis for LOME began in 1978, I would say. Everything I saw and experienced began to shape ideas, characters, beliefs, histories, etc. I began drawing maps, writing stories, all loosely connected but not completely formulated as a mythology yet, and amassing a huge amount of research notes. I think I must have more than two thousand pages of notes, if not more. It would take me about ten years to really create the world of Moel Eyris. Like Tolkien I wanted every detail to be correct and exacting, from the flora and fauna right down to the architecture and characters that would inhabit my mythical world of Moel Eyris.
EH: Then would you say that you have been working on LOME since 1978? Or 1988?
OD: I would say that 1978 started the creative process. It was that first trip to Scotland, the Orkney Islands, the Outer Hebrides that shaped my ideas and concepts. Over the course of the next thirty years I kept returning to Scotland, kept doing research, kept discovering more and more about archaeology and folk beliefs that really began to take shape in my mind and how I might use this information to create my own mythology, my own epic saga.
EH: Would you say then that it was Tolkien’s books and your trips to Scotland that shaped your writing of the story? Was there anything else that inspired your ideas?
OD: Definitely. Tolkien’s books were the springboard for my wanting to learn more about philology, languages, Norse mythology, Celtic mythology and so on. But I would have to add that the Arthurian legend was another tremendous influence on me as a writer. I think I have read every version of the Arthur story that you could think of.
EH: You mean Disney’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’ type of Arthur story?
OD: [laughing and shaking his finger at me] No! No, no, NO! Absolutely not! Most people seem to only have seen that Disney film and think that is the true version of the Arthur story. The books I mean include my favorites such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White; ‘The Merlin’ trilogy [The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment] by Mary Stewart; Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliffe; and my most favorite retelling of the Arthur story Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. But, I also read the early medieval versions as well, starting with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae — History of the Kings of Britain written sometime in the 1130s.
I’ve always loved the story of King Arthur. But, it wasn’t the chivalrous knights that appealed to me most. It was the ‘dark skinned wild men’ and Merlin. The Arthur story propelled me down the path of reading and researching anything I could find on Medieval Romance, druids, and Celtic mythology.
EH: How in the world do you remember all these books and so much history?
OD: Eric, when you are passionate about something it’s not hard to remember. These are simply some of my favorite books that I have read and reread many times in the course of my lifetime. But, it was still Tolkien and his books that really made me want to write my own stories, create my own mythical world. Like most of Tolkien’s fans I have my favorite characters in the stories and my favorite chapters that I go back and reread fairly often.
EH: Can you tell me what a few of them are?
OD: Sure! Beorn is my most favorite character and was my introduction to the concept of shape-shifting. Of course, I had to look up to see what Beorn meant because it made me think of Beowulf. In researching folk motifs in literature of came across the bear’s son cycle and motif and this had a profound impact on my thinking in regard to my main character, Caelean Faolán, whose father is bear that could shape-shift into a man. This naturally led to learning about the taboo of the beast marriage and began to shape my idea for who Cael’s parents were and why he was so special.
One of my most favorite chapters was the one when Frodo and his companions arrive at Bree. You have to remember that this was many years before the movies came out. And my interpretation of Bree was not nearly as dark and sinister as Peter Jackson presented it in the movies.
For me, traveling by train in the old-fashioned first class compartments or staying in a snug inn like the Prancing Pony is what appeals to me as a writer. I like cozy and snug, what can I say?
Having learned that Tolkien studied Old English, or Anglo-Saxon prompted me to buy a number of Anglo-Saxon dictionaries and begin my own adaptation of some of the words.
Languages fascinate me, and one thing led to another. For example, in the Orkney Islands there is a now defunct dialect called Norn. I first came across this fact while doing research in the Kirkwall library in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. I began to look at other languages such as Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Old Norse, Old Dutch, and Old Welsh for example. I took copious notes on words that interested me and that I thought I could use in my mythology. Some words I kept the definitions, others I completely made up my own meanings.
EH: Is that where the word ‘moel’ comes from?
OD: Not exactly. The word ‘moel’ has a much simpler explanation and history. I was trying to type the word ‘mole’ and I simply made a typo and when I saw ‘moel’ instead of ‘mole’ I loved it! And I made it my own.
I then went on to create an entire history for the word ‘moel’—in its most archaic form you have ‘mool’ or ‘maol’. The islands where I set my mythology and stories became Moel Eyris. Eyris is my word for ‘island’ but it has become problematical because I came to the conclusion that ‘eyris’ is actually the plural form of ‘eyr’. And then I went on to come up with ‘ey’ for an islet, a very small island. A rock, really. ‘Ey’, of course, is completely inspired from the Norse.
Once I had the word ‘moel’ the entire mythology really did begin to take shape. That one word inspired place names, characters, history and so much more for my stories. I can’t explain how this one word propelled me to create my own mythology. But, it did.
Eric, I have to tell you that I had once read a historical novel titled The Camerons, set in Scotland, in the 17th or 18th, possibly 19th century, and had come across the word ‘moudiewart’. I had no idea what this word meant and, once again, I turned to my trusty OED and looked up it. I was thrilled to discover that moudiewart was the archaic Scottish word for mole! And in 1989 my book Deep Down Underground was published that features one “wee moudiewart, digging, digging, deep down underground.”
Just real quickly I should tell you that, just as I discovered when I looked up ‘barrow-wight,’ having looked up the word ‘moudiewart’ led me to learn other words that were used for moles: moudiewart, moudiewort, mouldiwart, and the most archaic: moldo warpo, which literally translates as ‘earth thrower’. You can’t get any more descriptive when describing a mole than earth thrower!
If you study the Myvyrrian Map [the detailed map of Moel Eyris] you will see how the variations on the word ‘moel’ have been used in numerous place names or geographic features and specific regions (skeelings): mool dykes, Mowdie, Moudiewart, Moel Terre, Moel Weorpe, Moel Breeks, Moel Faulds, Moolland, Moelfree, Moel Gearde, Moolstery — these are the best examples as to how one word inspired an entire island world.