Here, author Scott Telek answers readers’ most-asked questions about the first novel in The Swithen series. Please note that this discussion will contains SPOILERS for the plot of the book. Submit your own questions using the contact form or by submitting a comment in the fields below.
Is there a Meylinde in the legend?
The character of Merlin’s mother is never named in any of the sources, so “Meylinde” is the name I invented for her, but she is very much there in the legend, and the basic plot of her story is exactly the same as found in the novel.
What did you change from the original story?
The entire legend, in its longest telling, is only 20 printed book pages. As mentioned, Merlin’s mother is never given a name in the sources and she vanishes entirely once he leaves. She is also a quite blank, uncomplicated character, so everything about her personality was enhanced and developed by me. The family is never named, and only the Maven character has any dialogue of note, so all family members are vastly expanded from the sources. The midwives are not given names and only a few lines of dialogue, so their characters are greatly expanded. The judge is not named and the only thing we know about him is that he learns news of his father, and then his judgment, so his character is greatly enhanced. Explore a more detailed breakdown of the differences between the finished work and the original story in Legend to novel: Our Man on Earth.
This story is so Christian! Is the rest of the series going to be this way?
As for the entire series, not just this novel, one of my goals is to unify the disparate material even further than it has been, and a huge, indispensible part of the series—the quest for the Holy Grail—could not possibly be more Christian. I am not Christian (nor am I against Christianity), and the novels are not intended to promote any religion or belief.
As for this novel, however, it begins in hell, is set in motion by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and God is an active character. Christianity is one thing that unifies the entire story, from beginning to end. But it is a very different, centuries old, weird and mystical Christianity, one that had some very brutal practices, extremely harsh judgments, and wild psychedelic visions. It is not the Christianity of today.
The source material is extremely bare-bones on character and emotion, and what fascinates me is to imagine what it is like for these people, who are ordinary people (or extraordinary people) forced into truly monumental events and forces beyond their control, because those forces are metaphysical and incomprehensible. Like in Greek myths, these people truly are at the mercy of a realm of Gods—and these Gods just happen to be Christian. There’s just no getting around it.
That said, while Christianity will be ever-present and ever-respected in the series, the majority of the novels will have it as more of a constant background force, not nearly as in the foreground as it in here. And this series will, as the saga progresses, more fully examine the spread of Christianity vs other beliefs.
What were the sources used for this novel?
Geoffery of Monmouth’s version has Merlin’s mother visited many times by the demon, and is compelling, but says nothing of the trial. I didn’t use that version, except for reference. The Lancelot-Grail (approx. 1225 AD) tells a longer version of the story that is still only 20 pages, and the Prose Merlin (approx. 1450 AD) is 442 lines. These were the primary legendary sources for the novel.
Is there really a Blaise in the legend? Will we see him again in future books?
Blaise definitely appears in the legend, and he is given the assignment we hear him get at the end of this book. However, he just sort of fades out from the legend at a certain point, meaning that his end is uncertain, offering me a chance to create my own ending for him… which I already have in mind.
Does the judge, Norris, appear in the legend?
There is a judge character in the legend, but he only shows up at the end and is not named. All of the development of Norris and his emotional reaction to the news Merlin offers about his parentage are invented to flesh out the climax of this novel.
Is the development of Merlin’s mind in the legend?
No. All of that was added by me. All we know about Merlin at this stage is that he was born will all knowledge of the past and future, and we know that later on he has the ability to shape-shift. But, since we are delving into the creation of this character, I thought it would be fascinating to explore what it would mean to be born with all knowledge of the past and future pre-installed, but no life experience to make sense of it all.
Does Merlin really plot to kill Farah at the end?
In the legend, no. Farah herself is also not named and is just another midwife in the legend. I wanted to use her as an example to show how Meylinde helps to form Merlin’s sense of morality, so I purposely made Farah horrible in order to bring Merlin to this point.
You revised this novel twice; why?
I was still fumbling through what I wanted to do with this series, and how faithful it would be to the letter of the legend at first. Then Book 2 came out and my friends asked me if I was going to flesh out Book 1 to make it match the style and tone. More importantly, when I initially wrote this novel, I was thinking of it as Merlin’s story, and rushed through the Meylinde parts because I thought everyone would be eager to get to Merlin. Only later did I realize that Meylinde really is the main character of this story, and a very important character in her own right, so I wanted to go back and flesh out her character and position her in her rightful place within the larger story.
Does Meylinde have that important dream in the legend?
No, that is one of the major changes to the second revision. Given what follows, Meylinde is sort of the Virgin Mary of this story, and I thought she should have a prophetic dream. The other important aspect of the dream is to show that she rejects violence as a way to solve her problems, which, as you can imagine, is going to receive some serious counterpoint over the course of the rest of the saga.
Is it true that women who bore illegitimate children were burned at the stake?
I have heard that it was not, but that is what is in the legend, so that is what I have gone with. It is important to remember that these novels are not historically accurate, they are accurate to the legend and folklore only.
Will we see Meylinde again?
Yes! In the actual legend, after Merlin leaves her at age seven (portrayed here at the beginning of The Sons of Constance), she is never heard from again! It seems incredibly hard-hearted that, after everything she has been through, she is just tossed aside—and never so much as named!—but these stories are brutal, and that’s one of the qualities we love about them. I had initially thought to emphasize the brutality of the tales by following the tales and having her vanish, but after some more research, was able to come across a way that she can remain in the story while still remaining true to the original sources. After all the suffering we go through with her, and the way she has become close to so many readers’ hearts after this first novel, it was simply too cruel to toss her aside as she is in the original tales. She will be around for a while, and will ultimately leave an extremely influential mark on the story.