by Garth Nix
This is a variation on a talk I gave at Aussiecon Three and at Swancon 2000. While I'm better known for writing quite dark fantasy, I do like to let the lighter side of my writing brain take over once in a while . . .
I'm going to read the prologue from my new 47 book epic fantasy series which is currently titled THE GARBELIAD. The titles of the individual books include:
Book One A Time of Wheels
Book Two A Throne of Games
Book Three The Dragon Who Died Young
Book Four The Sorcerer's Thirty-Seven Apprentices
Book Five The Witch Wardrobe of Lyon
Book Six The Dark is Falling
Book Seven The Seventh Book
Book Eight The Return of the Mistakenly Purchased King
To tell the truth I'm not entirely sure about the other 40 books yet, though I'm toying with 'The Book Whose Title Must Not Be Spoken' for Book 26. You know, to keep the series sort of atmospheric and spooky.
Anyway, I decided that before I write this series I'd analyse the components of successful epic fantasy. Like when to have the ultimate evil first be mentioned and so on -- should it be page 42 or page 67? And one thing I discovered pretty early on is that you need to have a prologue and preferably a prophecy as well. A birds-eye view of something is a bonus and you can add that in if you like, but it's not essential.
So this is the prologue and prophecy from the first book of my new 58 book series -I just decided I'd need another eleven books to do it properly, 42 isn't enough.
From the Secret Ledger of the Accountant
High above the dusty plains, an eagle whose wings stretched from side to side, soared and soared and . . . soared. Its eagle-eyes focused on the ground below, seeking out tasty vihar-vihar-rabbits.
Then a glitter caught its eye. Not the glitter of dull vihar-vihar-rabbits. No, this was metal, not fur.
The eagle folded the wings that went from side to side and dropped like an eagle that has stopped flying. Down and down and down it plummeted, until two hundred and three feet and seven inches above the ground its wings snapped out. The eagle stopped in mid-air.
When it recovered from the shock of stopping so suddenly, the great bird of prey, the raptor of the skies, the lord of the birds, saw that the glitter came from a metal badge. A metal badge that was fastened to a brim. The brim of a hat. A hat that was on a head. A head that was connected to a body. The body of a man, who was a traveller. This was not a vihar-vihar-rabbit. This was not food. Still, the eagle circled in a soaring sort of way, watching and listening. For this eagle had not always been an eagle. It had once been an egg. But even so, it had the gift of tongues and could understand human speech. It could speak it too, though badly. It had a stutter because its beak was bent.
This is what the eagle heard, when the man with the metal badge on the brim of his hat began to speak to the other men who didn't have metal badges and thus didn't glitter in a way that attracted the attention of eagles that soar.
WHAT THE MAN WITH THE METAL BADGE ON THE BRIM OF HIS HAT SAID
Gather round, unpleasant acquaintances, and partly listen to a tale of our knuckle-dragging forebears and the battles they ran away from. Our recorded history goes back some three weeks to the time that Sogren the Extremely Drunk burnt down the Museum. But I remember tales older still . . . going back almost ten years, to the time when Amoss the Stupidly Generous gave the Midwinter Party with the ice-skating accident.
Know that this is a story before even that - back to the almost legendary but still quite believable times of twenty years ago. The time when rumour reached the Lower Kingdoms of a new, dark power growing without aid of fertiliser in the north. The name of the Overlord was spoken softly for the first time in secret and troubled councils. In many dark corners, lips whispered it, and then trembled with the effort of not laughing.
For the Overlord's name was 'Cecil' and he was known to have a lisp. Naturally enough, he preferred to be referred to as 'Overlord', and whenever his agents heard his true name spoken, dire retribution would swiftly follow. No one was safe. The merest innocent mention of the word 'Cecil' would result in hideous and usually magical destruction of everyone within hearing distance.
Within days of the first outbreak, the town of Cecil was completely vaporised, and poor unfortunates who had been baptised Cecil were forced to change their names to 'Ardraven' or 'Belochnazar' or other wimpish monikers lacking the macho virility of their own true names.
How is it that I dare to mention the word 'Cecil' to you now? I have this amulet, which magically erases the word 'Cecil' from the minds of listeners after ten minutes have passed. Instead, you will remember a conversation littered with small chiming sounds where the word 'Cecil' has been erased.
But I digress. Where was I? Yes. Frantic messages from the Dwarves went unanswered as their messenger service took so long to walk over the mountains that they weren't actually received until three years after the dire warnings they contained were sent. In any case, Falanor and Eminholme were unprepared to send men to war. Instead, they offered a troop of armoured monkeys and the entire population of a reform school for small children.
This elite force went into the mountains and never returned alive. However, they did come back dead, even more horrible than before and in the service of Cecil . . . I mean the Overlord.
Shocked, the kingdoms ordered a massive mobilisation and the kings had extra horses harnessed to their personal escape chariots. Yet, even as they extracted the most valuable items from their treasuries, many feared it would be too late.
The forces of Cecil were on the march. Slowly, it is true, for dead Dwarves march even slower than live ones. Yet it became clear to the minds of the Wise that within the next seventeen years, something must be done.
But it seemed that there was no power in the South that could resist the Overlord. For he was the mightiest sorcerer in his age bracket, the winner of all the gold medals in the Games of the Seventeenth Magiad. He was also a champion shotputter, who practiced with the skulls of his enemies filled with lead. And his teams of goblin synchronised swimmers could cross any moat, could emerge at any time in private swimming pools or even infiltrate via the drains, dressed in clown suits. No one was safe.
It was then that the Wise remembered the words written on the silver salad bowl they had been using for official luncheons the last hundred years. It was brought from the kitchens, and despite the scratches and dents from serving utensils, the Wise could still make out the runes that said, 'Sibyl Prophecy Plate. Made in Swychborgen-orgen-sorgen-lorgen exclusively for aeki.'
The other side appeared completely blank. But when olive oil was drizzled upon it, strange runes appeared around the rim. Slowly, letter by letter, the Wise began to spell it out.
'A s-a-i-l-o-r w-e-n-t t-o s-e-a s-e-a s-e-a t-o s-e-e w-h-a-t h-e c-o-u-l-d s-e-e s-e-e s-e-e.'
Days went by, then weeks, then months, as you would expect. If it was the other way around it would be a sign that the Overlord had already triumphed. Finally the Wise puzzled out the entire prophecy.
A sailor went to sea sea sea to see what he could see see see
But all that he could see see see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea
The meaning of this prophecy was immediately clear to the Wise. They knew that somewhere in the Lower Kingdoms, a boy would be born, a sailor who would use the power of the sea to defeat the Overlord. A boy with eyes as black as the bottom of the deep blue sea. A boy who might even have vestigial gills and some scales or maybe a sort of fin along his back.
But the Wise also knew that the Overlord would know the prophecy too, for his spies were everywhere, particularly amongst the waiters at the Wise Club. They knew that he knew that they knew that he knew.
They all knew that the Wise must find the boy with the power of the sea at his command first, and take him somewhere where he could grow up with no knowledge of his powers or his destiny. They must find him before the Overlord did, for he would try and turn the boy to the powers of darkness.
But who was the boy? Where was the boy? Was there a second salad bowl, a second verse to the prophecy, long lost to the Wise but known to an aged crone in the forest of Haz-chyllen-boken-woken, close by the sea, where a small boy with eyes the colour of dark mud swam with the dolphins?
Yes, there was.