Mythology has always been a rich source of material for authors. These timeless tales inspire and amaze both readers and writers, allowing beloved stories to live on. Erika Lewis is no exception, and has a deep love of Celtic mythology in particular. Her latest, Game of Shadows, follows a boy named Ethan as he journeys to Tara to find his mother. Here, Lewis talks about her favorite books inspired by Celtic myths, as well as the one myth she is dying to see written into a novel.
When writing Game of Shadows I wove Celtic mythical races (ravens, Faoladh, Bugganes, and even Cat Sidhe) into the fabric of the story and re-imaged the the Celtic seat of power in Tara. Celtic myths are filled with rich characters on extraordinary journeys, with unexpected endings that, many times, leave the reader with as many questions as answers. Many have familiar archetypes: the evil stepmother, or a son seeking revenge for his father’s murder. And yet, these characters are set in a time and place that twists and turns their stories, making the tale completely novel. As I’ve seen firsthand, it’s fertile ground for writers looking for inspiration, and many have tapped into these legendary tales.
Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, the first in her Sevenwaters series, tells the story of the seven children of Sevenwaters. Their evil stepmother cursed the six sons, turning them into swans. The youngest, a sister, had to suffer a painful journey to break the spell. This was inspired by “The Fate of the Children of Lir.”
The Celtic tale of “The Fairy Palace of the Quicken Trees” is similar to Bernard Cornwell‘s The Last Kingdom, the story of an English boy taken during a battle with the Vikings. He’s raised by the Viking leader, becomes part of his family, but then after he’s grown, betrays them and helps the English defeat them.
Still, there are plenty of myths that have been untouched by modern fiction. Personally, I’m a sucker for a good love story and would love to see writers tackle the more romantic myths. Those ancients took dating to a whole new level! The story I’d most like to see turned into a novel is the tale of “Oisín in Tír na nÓg” (the Land of Youth). I read the translation from Gaelic by P.W. Joyce in his book Old Celtic Romances. The story is about Oisín, the hero and poet, son of a Celtic king, who comes across Niamh of the Golden Hair, a beautiful girl riding a white steed (which should’ve been his first clue she was a fairy). She turns out to be a princess from of the Land of Youth in the Otherworld. She tells Fionn, Oisín’s father, that she’s in love with Oisín. Having never set eyes on her before, Oisín’s immediately enchanted, and tells her that he wants her above all others for his wife. Seeing his love-struck son, Fionn sadly gives Oisín permission to go with Niamh. He tells Oisín that he fears he’ll never see him again.
After bidding farewell, Niamh and Oisín ride away on her white horse. They don’t stop until they reach the Land of Virtues, where a Fomorian (a race of giants) king and his kidnapped queen reside. The poor queen was taken from the Land of Life, and she cannot leave until a champion fights and slays her husband. Well, there’s no way Oisín could pass up the opportunity to show off his fighting skills. He is a warrior after all. He fights the Fomor king, and wins in grand fashion by beheading the giant. Once he has buried the Fomorian King, Oisín and Niamh continue on to her home, the Land of Youth. There, Niamh’s father, the king, welcomes Oisín to their home. In short order, Niamh and Oisín marry and begin a wonderful life together.
But after three years, Oisín begins to miss his father and friends. He asks Niamh if he could possibly visit them. Worried he won’t return, she agrees and loans him her white steed. Before he leaves, Niamh warns him to remain in his saddle, for if he steps foot on the ground, he’ll never be able to return to Tír na nÓg.
When Oisín returns to Ireland, he finds 300 years has passed. Everyone he ever knew and loved is gone. The familiar landscape is full of strangers. The poets of Gael have written down Oisín’s great accomplishments. They’ve detailed his personal story, how he’d left with a fairy for the Land of Youth. Dismayed, Oisín is about to return to Niamh, to the Land of Youth and all that he has left, when he notices a group of men trying to lift a flat stone. He bends forward in his saddle, grabbing the stone in an effort to help them raise it, but instead, the saddle-girth breaks and he falls off his horse. The steed takes off for home. Oisín, with his feet firmly on the ground, ages instantly growing old, feeble, and blind. He dies a short time later never seeing his beautiful Niamh again.
It’s incredibly easy for readers and writers to get swept up in these stories. Pretty soon, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be walking down the block first thing in the morning noticing each and every crow that lands on the power lines overhead, suspecting that any moment they might partially morph and dive-bomb in your direction, beginning what could be the worst or possibly the best day of your life.
Erika Lewis graduated from Vanderbilt University, and went on to earn an Advanced Certificate in Creative Writing from Stony Brook University. She has had a successful career in television production for the past fifteen years, working with Sony (V.I.P, Strong Medicine), with Fireworks Television (La Femme Nikita, Andromeda, Mutant X, Strange Days at Blake Holsey High), with Fox (On Air with Ryan Seacrest, Ambush Makeover) and with G4 (Attack of the Show, X-Play). Erika is the author of The 49th Key, currently running in Heavy Metal Magazine, and the recently released Firebrand with Legendary Comics. Game of Shadows is Erika’s debut novel.