Writers can find inspiration just about anywhere, but it’s not surprising that a major source of insight for novelists is other novels. This is certainly true for Margaret Rogerson, whose new book An Enchantment of Ravens is out this month. In it, a young portrait artist named Isobel makes a dangerous error in her work, and the consequences could be deadly. Here, Rogerson shares four books and one poem that inspired her own work.
One of my favorite books in high school almost got me into a car accident. On February 14, 2006—I remember the exact date only because it was Valentine’s Day—a policeman watched expressionlessly from a parking lot, half-hidden behind a bank of plowed snow, as my lone car swerved around the icy four-lane road like an inebriated ice skater. I was the only person trying to drive that morning. The weather was so bad my school had declared a snow day the night before, but I was in need of a book, so (completely understandably, in my opinion) I had decided to make a trip to the library, even if it killed me.
Looking back, it was miraculous the library was even open, and doubly miraculous that I made it home intact with a copy of Robin McKinley’s Beauty in hand. Wrapped up in a blanket, I read the entire thing in one sitting while clumps of snow fell silently from the trees outside. It was a formative experience. Years later, deciding what kind of book I wanted to write, I knew instantly that I wanted to write something that would make readers feel the same way I did that day: a fairy tale, a romance, warm on the inside and chilly without.
Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t just one of my favorite books; as a teen, it also established my romantic ideal. One thing I especially love about Diana Wynne Jones’ writing is that it takes impossible-to-deal-with characters and makes them hilariously, achingly real. Her stories are full of such a wry affection for and vivid understanding of human nature. For me, Sophie and Howl are the ultimate OTP: hysterically funny, complete opposites, perfectly matched, with a generous helping of green slime. Thanks to this book, I’ve developed a clear and probably obvious preference for a specific kind of odd couple that appears in some form or another in everything I write. Not to mention vain men who need to be taken down a peg…
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is not only one of the best but also the funniest book I have ever read. It also features my favorite depiction of fairies, ever, in fantasy—frivolous, hilarious, sinister, and deeply unsettling, frequently all of those things at the same time, constantly forcing the reader to laugh and then feel a bit uneasy about it afterward.
I stumbled across The Folk Keeper in high school, and it’s one of those books that frequently floats up to the surface of my subconscious mind like something dark in a still, algae-covered pond. It’s the story of a girl who works as a folk keeper, a job that involves protecting country estates from fairies—which are in this case horrible creatures that lurk underground, ravenous for flesh. For the safety of all they must be appeased, and barring that, repelled.
It’s the only book I can remember that addresses one of my favorite aspects of fairy folklore, and one that inspired my own novel: the idea that bread can be used as a protective measure against fairies.
At the risk of sounding massively pretentious, my final pick is a poem, not a book. I was obsessed with “Erlkönig” in high school after learning Schubert’s rendition on the piano (to assure you of the depths of my passion, I melodramatically practiced it for hours in the dark, much to the delight of my parents, I’m sure). “Erlkönig” encapsulates what I love most about fairies: Beneath their beautiful glamour they’re sinister, deceptive creatures whose promises can’t be trusted, creatures that might be mistaken for a streak of fog or the wind sighing through dry leaves. The literal translation of “Erlkönig” from German to English is “Alder King,” which is what I went on to name An Enchantment of Ravens’ primary antagonist, the king of the fair folk.
Prior to writing her first book, Margaret Rogerson worked a variety of jobs ranging from canoe livery counter girl to graphic designer. She has a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from Miami University. When not reading or writing she enjoys sketching, gaming, making pudding, and watching more documentaries than is socially acceptable (according to some). She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, beside a garden full of hummingbirds and roses. An Enchantment of Ravens is her debut novel.