Was this book the impetus for the entire series? Or did it start some other way?
I was fascinated with the entire legend of King Arthur, and the deeper I dug into it, not only did I become more fascinated, but I realized that people really don’t know these stories, as well as we all feel like we know King Arthur. But when I read this story, I couldn’t help but think what a terrific, self-contained novel it would make, with its elements of horror, faith, and finally surprising mother-son tenderness. And on top of all that, it’s the birth of Merlin, so it’s kind of incredible.
You released a major revision about 6 months after publication. Why did you do that?
After I completed the second book, The Sons of Constance, I realized that I had really gotten into a groove and found a more confident voice than I had on writing the first book, and my friends started asking me if I was going to revisit the first book to bring it more in line with the tone of the series.
But also, with the first book I was still finding my way in this series, and as I looked back I could see that I had given Meylinde short-shrift as a character. Probably because I was eager to get to Merlin, and at first I wasn’t sure that, or how, Meylinde would continue into the later books. But because of that, she didn’t come into focus as a character, when in retrospect, she is so important. She is sort of the Virgin Mary of this story, and the way I have developed her—now that I’ve thought more carefully of her place—she is going to become very, very influential on the story going forward.
So I revised the book just to make her more of a vibrant character, and I also gave her a prophetic dream, in which she rejects violence as a means of power, which will have important symbolic resonance as the series continues.
How did you change Meylinde from the original legend?
Well, I gave her a name, which she didn’t have in any of the sources, she’s just “the mother.” She’s a very passive, blank character in the legend, so her whole experience in dealing with the death of her family is new, her bravery and faith in the tower is all new, and certainly her place in Merlin’s moral development is all my creation.
Also, in the legend, she vanishes once Merlin leaves her—never to be seen again—and I was going to follow that for a while and just say “it’s a harsh world, folks!” But midway through Book 2 I started to see a way she could remain, and it just seemed too cruel to dump her, so she has a good role in Book 2, a big one in Book 3, and then will leave a hugely influential mark over the entire series.
How else does the novel differ from the original legend?
I wrote an article about that for people who want to know in detail, but in brief, everything about psychology or character is added by me. All of the elaboration on the death of Meylinde’s family is added. The characters of Rossa and Farah are created by me—they don’t even get names in the original legend. The judge, Norris, is also not named and everything about his character, including his emotional scene at the end, is created by me. And everything about the development of Merlin’s mind and his moral development was created by me.
The development of Merlin’s mind is one of the most striking sections of the novel.
Thank you, I’m very glad to hear that. I knew from the start that I wanted to explore the formation of Merlin’s mind, and the novel offered a wonderful chance to look at that, since we have him starting as an infant. And since we are told that he is born with all knowledge pre-installed, it seemed that the experience aspect of life would be lacking, and that he would not be able to make sense of any of this knowledge without experience.
I knew that this section as going to go off in a very, um… visionary way that is a bit at odds with the rest of the novel, but I was also trying to tell readers; get ready for that, because this series is going to take sharp detours into flights of fancy fairly often, or at least, is not afraid to head into poetic territory.
You also show the development of Merlin’s sense of right and wrong, and how his mother influenced that.
In the legend, Merlin is essentially born perfect and is always right, which is uninteresting as a character, so this was a way for him to have flaws and also for his mother to influence his development. I didn’t intend this to be a big thread of the series, but now, having just published Book 3, this has become a very large theme, and in retrospect it worked out perfectly, because it gives Merlin an arc and a place to develop to, and brings some suspense to the Arthurian story as a whole, because we’re no longer sure Merlin didn’t make a mistake of youth in creating Arthur, and this will go on to be a very rich question haunting the entire series.
This kind of quiet, intimate novel may not be what people expect from Arthurian fiction.
I know. As my father once said, I like to do everything the hard way, and… there’s a lot of truth to that! I love the idea that we’re starting the story here, and then it turns and goes there. And I like the idea that each book can be very different, even different genres, but that they all make up one huge, epic story. And in retrospect, once we’re deep into the series, it’s going to be amazing to have this section showing all the build-up to Arthur, all the world-building beforehand, and to re-frame the entire story as the result of a failed takeover attempt by the devil.
But with the first book, it’s like “Hey, here’s the beginning of the King Arthur story, only there’s no King Arthur, no knights, no battles, just a quiet, character-driven story taking place in one small town!” Then with Book 2 it was like “Now there’s knights and battles, and dragons, but still no King Arthur and no characters you would know (unless you’re a serious Arthurian)!” Now, with Book 3 out, at least we have King Arthur in the story, and we have a story that many people are familiar with. But once it’s all a bit further along, I think it’s going to be great to have this prelude section where we begin from nothingness and then gradually develop into the King Arthur we all know and love.