Part 9: This conversation is in ten parts.
EH: You have often been cited as referring to LOME as YOUR Lord of the Rings. And I can see that what you mean is that you have created your own distinct world in great detail, just like Tolkien did with Middle Earth. Do you ever think of your story, the books, as being similar in any way to the Harry Potter books? And, do you think your narrative has an overall theme or pattern? Good versus evil? Man versus nature? That sort of thing.
OD: Whew! Let me answer your last question first, since it’s the one that is freshest in my mind.
There is an overall theme and pattern, as you put it, in the five books. And that would be: the power of ritual. In the story the islanders, the characters, live by a prescribed internal sense as to where they belong in their world. For them it is the power of ritual that keeps life in balance. Each individual or group has their particular, their specific rituals that they perform, that they believe in with all their heart to keep their lives and their world held together. Whenever anyone’s life is out-of-balance that’s when disaster seems to strike most often.
In our modern world I honestly believe that what is missing from peoples’ lives is the power of ritual. Performing a task in such a way that you do time and time again in just the right way so that you keep yourself in balance.
My own life is filled with more little rituals than you could ever begin to imagine. In performing them I keep myself centered and in balance and help keep my sanity intact.
So, yes, it’s the power of ritual that creates the patterns in this story. And, perhaps, this power of ritual is most clearly seen in the five Initiations that each maolt must undergo in his pursuit to become a maol; a man/bear/trow, and so on.
What was the other question?
EH: I know, I lumped a number of questions together. I wondered what you thought of the parallels that will probably be made between LOME and the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books.
OD: I do that all the time. I tend to ask a string of questions as they pop into my mind and expect the person I’m asking to be able to answer them all in chronological order!
First of all I would have to say that it is the Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien writing that has influenced me the most. I see more similarities between my story and that of Tolkien. We are both telling a ‘quest’ story. Fulfilling one’s destiny no matter what the cost or odds.
Secondly, the Arthurian legends are another major influence for obvious reasons.
Thirdly, I’m pretty certain that people will compare my books to the Harry Potter books mainly because 1) the story starts off with a young boy going off to study and 2) there is a seemingly neverending struggle between the boy and the character that manifests evil to its maximum degree.
In LOME, however there is no wand-waving magic. The magic that can be seen is more an authentic earth magic—a belief in the power of ritual, and mind over matter, you might say. Cael does not become a maol in order to perform magic. Even though, one of the five Initiations does require him to master a difficult task in identifying and knowing how to find the rare doors that lead into the Realm of Faërie. But, this concept is not performing magic per se. It really is more about understanding the hidden facets in life. It simply requires keen observation, listening to your heart, and being able to perceive subtle changes around you.
To me that’s not magic. It’s a matter of being ‘aware’ of one’s self in the cosmos.
Now going back to the power of ritual and patterns in my story the structure of the five books falls into what is called “the Bear’s Son Cycle”. In its basic form the motif tells of a child whose human mother has been abducted by a bear or falls in love with a bear; the bear may be the child’s father. The child acquires bear characteristics and superhuman strength as he grows, and on is return to human society proves himself by a series of extraordinary feats. In such tales it is common for the hero to battle with a monstrous evil.
And then, to compound this motif with another you have to factor in what is called the “beast marriage”. The motif of a human married to a beast is found in folktales around the world, with many variations. One variation is the lover who is a beast by day and a man by night, or can otherwise change between the two shapes.
In Moel Eyris it was taboo for a human and a beast (bear) to marry. Cael’s parents broke this taboo and he is the result of their forbidden union.
Cael’s father, Brom Powys, is a bear who can assume the form of a man [he inherited this ability from his father and grandfather and his ancestors before him]. He falls in love with Hanne Tulloch, an island girl. Hanne falls in love with Brom as a man not knowing his true form. The two are married in secret. Brom reveals his true identity to Hanne in anticipation that she will reject and abandon him. Hanne, however, loves Brom with all her heart and remains true to him despite the fact that he is a bear.
It is these two motifs, the bear’s son cycle and the beast marriage, that was the genesis for Cael’s story. The details come from my travels in Scotland and my love of Neanderthals. And perhaps most importantly my love of stories and books. Mythographers are the ones that make certain stories are never forgotten; books are treasures beyond measure.
Oh, and there is perhaps one final pattern or theme that I should mention. It ties in with the power of ritual more or less.
It is the theme of ‘knowledge is power.’
Maols spend their lives learning the myths, the stories, the histories of the islands and of the world. They are educated and value nothing higher than knowledge and learning.
Christianity has no place in my mythology. The only passing reference to it is when Maol Rudha makes reference to the fact that there are some societies that will only listen to the “one story” and no other.
Learning and knowledge is a privilege in Moel Eyris and is not something that can be undertaken lightly. Maol Rudha is a firm believer in keeping knowledge in the hands of the maols and at Moolstery and being on hand to guide the islanders’ lives, quarrels, disputes, punishments, etc. Cael, having lived the first twelve years of his life ‘off-island’ and having attended public school in the United States, has a very different view in regard to education. He truly believes that everyone should have the right to learn and be educated.
It is on this point that he and Maol Rudha are at loggerheads. Maol Rudha observes that most islanders, and people in general, have very little interest in learning and understanding. Therefore, education should not be wasted on those who show no interest or aptitude for it.
This particular theme will be an important thread running through the five books.