Letter from the Author about “THE RED KNIGHT”
The Red Knight is the first of a five book series set in an alternative medieval setting. I won’t say ‘Medieval European’ because Byzantine Greece, Islamic North and East Africa, Seljuk Turkey, as well as Iroquoian and Algonquin North America will all play their contributing roles. The major story arc will take the Red Knight from the relative obscurity of command of a little-known mercenary company to fame, international renown, worldly power, and confrontation with the real powers of his world and perhaps with his own belief system. I hereby solemnly promise that I already know the story arcs and have outlines.
The Red Knight—the book, that is—has many purposes that I hope weave together. It even has a couple of levels. Without giving anything away, I’ll admit that it is in part an exploration of how hermeticism might have functioned as a physical reality—got that? And a diatribe on chivalry and its tenets and how very hard it might have been to live with them in the fantasy milieu we take for granted, where there’s stuff in the woods that can eat you.
I’m the veteran of about ten-thousand hours of discussion about magical systems and how they might function (aren’t you?) and this is the one I evolved—well, all my life from about my first Gary Gygax encounter in 1976, until I saw the Moliero reprint of a Hermetical grimoire—a real one. My views on magic are deeply entwined with my views on ancient and medieval philosophy. I’m not an expert, but it’s a subject about which I enjoy reading, and I hope—really hope—that you can see the underlying ‘logik’ of the magic.
I love the wilderness. I vary wildly (heh) between a modern ecologist love and a sort-of 1930’s conservationist but manly-hunter/fisherman love and I further confess freely that I can maintain both belief systems simultaneously. Sometimes, I love nature that is red in tooth and claw—sometimes, I’m the claw. I have done some mucking about in Africa to compliment North America and Europe, and again, I freely admit my ‘Wild’ owes something to the sounds that come out of the bush in northern Kenya or southern Zaire. I’ve never been charged by a rhino, but I’ve watched one walk past me about fifteen feet away, and I’ve been in the middle of fifty upset elephants, and both of those experiences are reflected in ‘Red Knight.’ Oh, and I quite stupidly got out of my vehicle and walked up and watched some lions at a kill because I was young and dumb. They were old and well-fed, and I’m pretty sure there’s a moral there, but the way they looked at me—and the way the youngest female crawled through the Zebra to get at—stuff—is in this book, too.
I love history, too. Sometimes history didn’t come out the way we’d prefer—sometimes it did. Fantasy allows the amateur historian an opportunity to explore some facets of the past. And really, we are products of that past. I could, I suppose, create a fantasy setting with no reference to history, but I suspect it would be tedious to explain and very clumsy (economics, military situations, and religion all come to mind) and history is so full of great stories…
As a writer, I don’t believe in making your read too easy. Sorry—I want you to wonder whether the pov of the character is giving you an accurate story. My motto as a writer is ‘everyone (every monster) is the hero in their own tale.’ Characters may tell an incident differently—numbers may not match. Both sides in a fight may claim to be heavily outnumbered, for example. Experiences of terror and combat and childbirth and sex can seriously cloud our ability to remember and tell the ‘truth.’ In addition, if there’s a good medieval word (like conroy, a military train or retinue) I’m probably going to use it. Please just ignore my petty pedantry and plow on.
So far, no one has asked me why Christianity seems to operate at par in this world. There are at least two reasons, and I think you might want to know. First, I really, really wanted to write about chivalry, and the ethic of chivalry is so very strongly linked to Christianity as practiced in the European Middle Ages (I strongly recommend my mentor, Richard Kaeuper, and his works, especially ‘Holy Warriors,’ about the role of the church and lay piety in chivalry) that I really couldn’t untangle them. You may think otherwise. Second, it is worth noting that modern Christians believe that if Christ came to earth, he must have come everywhere—I assume that means everywhere in the M-brane multiverse, and that
thought has intrigued me since I caught it from the Jesuit Fathers. But fear not—books two through five will offer several variants of Christian practice, as well as Islam, Judaism, and some pagan Neoplatonism. And—for those of you who love creating worlds, and run massive role playing games—I promise that there is a cosmology, and it is at least decently coherent. A character may misperceive how the laws of physics or magic work—but I have rules… As we move on into the later books, I’ll lift the curtain a bit, but I wish to say now that in the early 21st century we still don’t really know all that much about how the universe was created or why, so I don’t think I should have to reveal either in a fantasy novel.
And reenacting. I’m a passionate reenactor, and I can’t pretend to understand an historical period (or a fantasy setting) without wearing the clothes, eating the food, and camping for a week in the kit—riding using the saddles, shooting the bows, wearing the armour, using the swords. There is no substitute. Most things about the past that look silly or stupid are easily explained when you walk a mile in the past’s shoes. So—if you have no gear at all and you are an escaped slave—can you just lie down in the woods and sleep? What’s it like?
It’s cold and wet, that’s what it’s like. But if most of your clothing is wool, it’s really not that bad.
And all those fights with swords and pole-axes? I do a lot of that, too. I haven’t ever faced and wyvern or an elephant, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do very well in the encounter. Again, when you wear the real clothes of the past and the real armour and a correct helmet with a correct liner and so on, you see that the martial arts of the past are supremely rooted in practicality. Try doing a fencing lunge in armour. You absolutely can. Fast as lightning, too. The problem is that you end the move with your head advanced beyond your center of mass—and that head has a fifteen pound helmet with a six pound chain aventail on it. It wants to keep going, and it takes real effort to recover, and if, in that time, your
opponent didn’t die, you are in trouble. Stuff like that.
So much to learn. I imagine I’ve gotten a hundred things wrong and I look forward to seeing you criticize the result, first, because it will mean you bought my book, and second, because good criticism will make me a better writer. In the meantime, I hope you like my first fantasy novel, and I want to seize this moment to thank my editor, Gillian Redfern at Orbit, who contributed heavily from the inception to thefinal edit; to my agent (and now old friend and fellow reenactor), Shelley Power; to my early readers,Nicholas Cioran, Nancy Watt, Joe Harley, and Guy Windsor. Cole, Joe, and Guy are all chivalric martialartists—Guy runs the most famous school of historical swordsmanship in the world. Joe played in the original role-playing campaign. Cole goes trekking in the deep woods with me. And Nancy, my sister-in-law, who loveth fantasy in all its guises, who teaches writer’s crafts to kids who love her, and who provided me with some much-needed copy-editing. Also a veteran reenactor and leader. Also a detector of spurious female points of view (no girl ever thought she was that beautiful, she said.) To her I dedicate this book, with love.
Last, my homage to other writers. When I first sat down with the editorial staff at Orbit, the conversation immediately turned to what we all read and loved—it only seems fair to end this essay with the same. This is a genre I’ve always read—my mother read me the hobbit in 1967, and I’ve never stopped. I can’t begin to thank all the writers of fantasy who’ve thrilled me and delighted me over the years, or influenced this work, but I want to name a few just for fun. First and last, JRR Tolkien. Next, E.R. Eddison, whose works are no longer widely read, but I adore them. Katherine Kurtz, C.J. Cheryh, and Celia Friedman are among my more recent favorites; Glen Cook and his Black Company series changed the way I saw war in fantasy; Steven Erikson wrote the best epic fantasy series I’ve ever read, excepting only the Lord of the Rings, and his manipulation of plot and character set a beautifully high standard for Canadian authors.