I’ve just started reading Shield of Thunder, the first book of David Gemmell’s excellent Troy series; which, a hundred pages in, has already captured my imagination and drawn me into the ancient world of Odysseus, Penelope, Achilles and Kalliope.
It’s not the first novel I’ve read based in this era (fantasy or otherwise), Sara Douglass’ Troy Game series had its roots here, weaving a magical fantasy tale right out of the labyrinth into the heart of wartime London; Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series leans heavily on the mythology of that time; and who could overlook the movie Troy, which at least gave a taste of the larger than life characters who made a such an impression on history and legend.
But what makes this period such great fodder for the writer of epic fantasy is not only the abundance of kings and the history of battles and intrigues, it was also the time of the storyteller. Great battles have been fought countless times throughout the ages, but in the time of ancient Greece, the retelling was coloured by myth and becomes something quite magical.
For writers seeking to create memorable characters, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of these eras. If you write heroic fantasy, what made the heroes of legend? What drove them? What drew people to them? Or who or what was it that provoked them to action? How did the social structure contribute, especially in the areas of religion, slavery, natural resources and education?
David Gemmell, in my opinion, got it exactly right. His Odysseus is as charismatic and mesmerising as a man of legend should be; managing to be both powerful and vulnerable, virtuous, sentimental and pragmatic.
Yet this is no cookie-cutter hero. Gemmell draws Odysseus’ character through his reaction to the death of a recently deceased crew-member, a run-away princess, dishonoured soldiers and a huge black pig!
Although the world of ancient Greece has influenced many fantasy writers, there are many other eras (on a grand or small scale) that are equally as captivating: The Scotland of William Wallace; Marco Polo’s journey into the heart of the Orient; the record breaking airmen and woman who flew around the world in planes held together with wire and string; the Kennedy Era and the first astronauts.
History might provide the major plot points, but for writers there are endless possibilities to explore the crevices in between.
Has an era or a person from history ever influenced your writing?
– by Raewyn Hewitt