Jaime Lee Moyer’s new novel Brightfall (paperback, Kindle) isn’t the first time someone’s put their own spin on the legend of Robin Hood, and it won’t be the last. But as Moyer explains in the following email interview about this Marian-centric fantasy story, it may be the first that isn’t about Robin.
Brightfall is you putting your own spin on the legend of Robin Hood. So what’s different? Does Robin steal from the poor and give to the rich? Is he now a senator from Vermont while the Sheriff of Nottingham is a real estate developer from New York? Are the merry men all women and they’re pissed…?
Making Robin a senator from Vermont might be a bridge too far, even for me. The only magic coming out of the senate is magical thinking, and I’m not going there.
Brightfall takes place twelve years or so after the traditional Robin Hood legend ended, and in this book, Marian is the hero, and the resident witch of Sherwood Forest. Sherwood is a place of magic, full of Fae lords and ladies, a dragon guardian sleeps in a meadow, and the Sheriff of Nottingham is only an unpleasant memory. Robin abandoned her while she was pregnant with their twins and ran off to become a monk. Robin is not a nice guy.
Marian moved on, fell in love with Will Scarlet — Robin’s brother — when he stepped up to be a father to her children, and has a good life. All of her rebuilt life is shattered when Will dies suddenly, and Marian finds out he’s not the only one of her and Robin’s band of bandits to die without warning. Her old friend Tuck, now Abbott Tuck, suspects a magical curse and witchcraft are involved, and asks Marian to find the person responsible. Tuck is head of Robin’s order, and he forces Robin to go with her. Things go downhill from there.
So did you set out to tell Marian’s story or did you come up with the plot and then realize it would work as a story about Marian?
I was browsing in a book store, years ago now, in the before times, and they had a big display table set up full of novels about the Robin Hood legend and characters. Every single one of those books was about Robin or Will or Tuck or the Sheriff, and not one was about Marian. She wasn’t even mentioned on the covers.
That bothered me a lot. It was one of those feminist moments so many women writers have. Women hold up half the sky, but their side of the story is missing in so many books and stories. I walked away from that table asking myself why no one ever wrote about Marian. She was a big part of the Robin Hood story, and more than a bit player in my mind. I thought about that as I was walking out of the store, and the central idea, story, and plot for this book dropped into my head in one big piece. That wasn’t the first time my story brain gave me a gift like that, but it was the most dramatic.
One thing we’ve seen a lot of lately is gender-swapping in retellings. Did you ever consider doing that with Brightfall?
I never considered gender-swapping with Brightfall. This is Marian’s story. I had two ideas, or goals, in mind for this book. The first idea was to show that characters live on after the legend ends. Second, I wanted to write about an older woman and the challenges of single motherhood, both of which are rare in fantasy. There’s a lot in the book about the Church’s attitude towards women and witchcraft in the medieval era as well.
Now, Brightfall is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Brightfall but not on anything else you’ve written?
Barbara Hambly wrote a novel called Dragonsbane that was the most adult fantasy novel I’d ever read. Adult in the sense of growing older, how the responsibility of being the best parent and partner you can be weighs on you, all while watching your dreams and ambitions slipping away. One of the best books I’ve ever read, and a big influence on what I wanted Brightfall to be.
What about non-literary influences; was Brightfall influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, local TV stations ran old black and white movies on Saturday afternoons, and old TV shows in the mornings. I watched every episode of an English Robin Hood series they ran, but I was five at the time, so I can’t remember the name of the show. I do remember Marian on a horse and having forest adventures. The Errol Flynn movie was also a favorite.
Brightfall is not the first time someone’s put their own spin on the story of Robin Hood. Carrie Vaughn, for instance, did it with her recent novellas The Ghosts Of Sherwood and The Heirs Of Locksley. What makes Brightfall different from what other writers have done?
Brightfall originally came out in the UK in 2019, a little over a year before Carrie Vaughn’s novellas, which I read and were very good. The biggest difference between Brightfall and other reimagined versions I’ve read is that all of those other stories focus on Robin Hood as the hero. My Robin is far from a hero, and I’ve never made a secret of that. Marian is the hero of this story.
One thing we’ve seen writers of similar books sometimes do is use their reimaginings of someone else’s books as a jumping off point for their own series. Are you thinking you might do this as well?
If I did write more books about Marian and Sherwood Forest, those books would likely revolve around her and Jack, and Uncle Bert pulling them into misadventures. Or a book about Kate and Rose and Robbie. Those are vague ideas, not plans. I have too many other books I want to write.
Robin Hood’s legend has, of course, been told in numerous movies. Do you think Brightfall could work as a movie as well?
Brightfall would make a great movie. I try really hard to make my writing vivid and paint pictures in a reader’s mind, and I think that would translate well to film.
And if that was going to happen, who would you want them to cast as Marian, Will, and the other main characters?
I have my own vision of what the characters look like while I’m writing, but off the top of my head, Robin Wright [Wonder Woman] would be the perfect Marian. I can see Benjamin Cumberbatch [Doctor Strange] as a conflicted, guilty Robin, a slightly scruffy Chris Evans [Captain America: Civil War] as Jack, maybe [Thor: Ragnarok‘s] Idris Elba or [The Book Of Eli‘s] Denzel Washington as Bert, whoever can pull off an arrogant trickster best.
Finally, if someone enjoys Brightfall, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?
That would depend on how dark they like their fantasy. Delia’s Shadow is the first book in a trilogy set in the 1910s, and the series is full of ghosts and serial killers, and witches who don’t call themselves witches. Divine Heretic came out in August 2020, and is a very dark retelling of the story of Jeanne d’Arc, with a major twist. While the Delia books aren’t fluffy, they are a bit lighter than Divine Heretic. I do think Divine Heretic is the better book.