With the release of Book 4 of his acclaimed Arthurian novel series coming up–the novel in which Arthur himself finally becomes the main character of the story–author Scott Telek sat down to talk about what we can expect from the forthcoming book.
Give us an overview of the new book.
Well, the last one ended with Arthur born and placed into foster care with the Ector’s, and the famous sword in the stone appearing in a churchyard in Logres, which is their version of London. So this one will cover Arthur’s childhood until he pulls the sword from the stone. It begins with him as a baby, but quickly moves until he’s about ten years old, then focuses on his years from ten to fourteen.
How is this book different than the others in the series?
The biggest difference will be the tone. One of the aspects of this series that I love is that even though it’s one continuous story, each novel has a vastly different tone, and while the last one was very dark and disturbing, this one is very light and lyrical. We have a lot of family comedy and drama and a lot of Arthur exploring the forest and having young boy adventures. I wouldn’t be insulted by any comparisons to an old-fashioned boys’ adventure novel, because that kind of tone was very much in my mind as I wrote.
The other big difference is that there is nothing in any source about this period of Arthur’s life, which means that this novel is 95% original. The only aspect that is from the legend is that he pulls the sword from the stone—and how he pulls the sword—at the very end.
If we know Arthur pulls the sword from the stone at the end, don’t we already know the ending?
I doubt it, because I have found a way to tell the story that I am pretty sure no one would anticipate. There is another thing going on at the same time—which is very much in the legend—but I have never seen any other telling focus on this aspect, so I would guess that even if you’re very familiar with all things Arthurian, this is a take on the same events that you haven’t seen before.
Without any sources to go on, how did you go about crafting the story?
It came together most intuitively, and one of the things I found about this novel, as opposed to the others, is that I wrote it in non-linear order, meaning that I was writing scenes in each of the four parts and skipping back and forth a lot, instead of writing it beginning to end. This ultimately helped, as I think it contributed to the pleasantly meandering quality the novel has, where it seems like we’re just hanging out and having fun with Arthur, while the stuff driving the plot feels organic, not tightly plotted.
That said, I was mainly thinking about showing some of the early traits that we know in Arthur and how they developed. Not just bravery and honor, but impulsiveness and perhaps even a bit of arrogance. People who have read the previous novels know that my characters, even our heroes, are far from perfect, and showing their flaws and failures is one of the ways in which I strive to make them come alive, and take them out of archetype to make them seem like real people. And the book is not out at this point, but I am pretty confident that most people will have a strong affection for Arthur by the end.
Did you have Arthur’s adult character in mind as you wrote his childhood?
A little bit. I would also say that his character became much more focused in my mind through actually writing for him, which is often the way it is. One of the ways I think my version differs from most, which normally focus on Arthur’s toughness, valor and prowess in battle, is that I see Arthur as a very joyous character, who is—mostly—delighted by the special experiences he is granted in life. The other thing that strikes me about Arthur in the legend is that when someone comes in saying he’s the lowest low-down dirty so-and-so they know of, he doesn’t react with anger or defiance, he asks them why they say that. And that joy and curiosity very much come through in his childhood incarnation.
Do you have to read the previous books first?
No, I purposely intended this book as a good place for the newcomer to start. However, I can say with confidence that those who have read the previous books will get a lot more out of it, and have a much, much richer experience. That’s all I’m going to say for now, as there are several things that will be fine for the newcomer, but will carry great meaning to those who have absorbed the previous three books, and it is definitely purposely designed with that effect in mind.
Do any familiar faces show up in the book?
Yes, and I will warn that some of them could be considered spoilers, so if you really want to get the full experience, you should probably skip to the next question. But even so, I’m not going to mention the best ones in order to preserve some nice surprises. That said, we will see the progress of sisters Morgan and Margause, we’ll catch glimpses of Ulfius and Bretel, we’ll check in with the Lady of the Lake and we’ll find out what Blaise has been up to this whole time. We will also have our first glimpses of Gawain, Balin and Balan, and… well, there are some others, but they’re too good to reveal.
Any work so far on Book 5?
Oh yes. For the last few, I’ve started the next book before finishing the one, and it definitely helps give me a sense of continuity, seeing how the next one is going to feel. There is one short line in Le Morte D’Arthur about Arthur being put into training with some of the knights of his father’s generation, and when I noticed that line I knew it had to be a whole novel. So it will cover Arthur’s training and adolescence until he is coroneted as king, and it will be about 75% original because there is so little about that period in the legends. These two novels will have the most original story of any in the series. And while Book 4 draws on classic boys’ adventure novels, that one will have a lot of elements of wilderness adventure novels, so I’ve started reading and re-reading Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, people like that.
If the story for these books is already in place, what personal aspects do you add?
I have been really surprised, and delighted, that these novels do turn out to have so much room for my own personal thoughts and obsessions. The original legend is so sparse on emotions and motivations, and really just touches on the highlights, that it becomes a great framework to overlay one’s own personality onto. And these stories really do hinge on issues that do make up a very high-level look at the core questions of life itself.
That said, this particular book surprised me. By the end, I could recognize that the Ectors are very much patterned after my own parents, and Arthur’s experience as a boy is definitely influenced by my own childhood, in which I spent a great deal of time alone, exploring nature. There is so much nature in the new book, with Arthur spending at least half of it out in the forest, I don’t know, I really just love the sweet, languid unrolling of the story and I hope that others enjoy it, too. This is one where you can really just relax and enjoy your vicarious time in a beautiful, magical world.