Internationally acclaimed Australian author Juliet Marillier writes epic fantasy novels with true-to-life characters, singular plots, vivid weavings of myth and magic, and buttery prose. Her meticulous research of unique settings – Norse Orkney, ancient Ireland and Pictish Scotland – put her on the cutting edge of historical fiction as well.Read the entire interview.
Q: Where do the seeds for these epic stories come from? Are they all based on bits of old tales?
JM: The seeds often come from real history – for instance, the story for Wolfskin was inspired by my interest in the history of Orkney and what might have happened when the first Norse settlers (0r invaders) clashed with the indigenous Pictish population. I like unanswered questions: why did the Picts vanish from the north of Britain so quickly, after being such a strong military and political presence? The basis for The Bridei Chronicles is real history. I was fascinated by the story of the young Bridei being groomed for kingship by an influential mage or druid, which has some parallels with Arthur and Merlin. Because I love myth, legend and folklore and have been reading it all my life, many motifs and themes from traditional stories work their way into my books almost despite me. I also gain inspiration from what I see, hear and experience in my daily life. There are elements in the Bridei books that relate strongly to the fact that I was writing in the early days of the Iraq war.
Q: The stakes are always exceedingly high in your stories, whether characters are out to save a race of people, win peace, or in some other way combat evil. How important are high stakes in the fantasy genre and why?
JM: I find it hard to generalize about the fantasy genre because it is now so diverse, spanning everything from gritty urban fantasy to the traditional invented-world epic to outright comedy and covering a wide range of writing approaches from the highly literary to the unabashedly commercial. Many fantasy stories do tap into the archetypal themes of mythology, which involve the highest stakes – defeating evil, saving the world, being happy ever after … It is traditional for a fantasy story to be about the struggle between good and evil, although that can be portrayed in a thousand different ways and need not be a grand epic story. Readers tend to expect a quest of some kind. Again, that need not involve slaying a dragon or saving the whole of Middle Earth, it can be an individual, personal journey to enlightenment.
In my novels, although often there are high stakes involved on a political or family level, I try to balance that with the personal journey of my protagonist. As a reader, I like to be involved in the characters’ struggle to become wiser or better, so that’s what us most important in my stories. That touches me more than a quest to save the world.