Just as J.R.R. Tolkien had Middle-earth, George R.R. Martin has Westeros, and R.A. Salvatore has Corona, so too does fantasy writer Tad Williams have a realm to call his own: Osten Ard, the fictional land where he’s set such fantasy novels as The Heart Of What Was Lost, the Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn saga, and now Brothers Of The Wind (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), a prequel set a thousand years before the first Osten Ard novel, 1988’s The Dragonbone Chair.
Photo Credit: Deborah Beale
To start, what is Osten Ard like? Is it like where Conan The Barbarian lives, is it like Middle-earth, suburban New Jersey…what?
The human kingdoms are similar to, say, 14th century Europe. This was intentional, because the farther from those places the human protagonists move, the less familiar the world becomes, and the “human” way of looking at things begins to seem limited. Basically, it’s like High Medieval Europe if most of the folktales — ancient fairies, haunted forests, monsters — were true.
And then what is Brothers Of The Wind about, and how does it connect to the other novels set in Osten Ard, both narratively and chronologically?
Brothers Of The Wind takes place about a thousand years before most of the other Osten Ard material I’ve written. It’s a foundational story, detailing the events that lead to the eventual corruption of Ineluki, later known as the Storm King, who will become the antagonist in Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn series (my first series). Within the world of Osten Ard, it’s a famous historical tragedy that almost everyone knows about, but I’m telling the actual story for the first time.
When in relation to writing the other Osten Ard novels did you come up with the idea for Brothers Of The Wind, and specifically, for it to be a prequel set so far in the past?
It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for years. I was going to make a long short story of it, but for various reasons decided it should be even a bit longer than that, and when I agreed to write two short novels to accompany the current series, it seemed an obvious (and for me, exciting) choice.
And is there a reason why Brothers Of The Wind is set a thousand years before The Dragonbone Chair — which is the first book in the Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn series — as opposed to a hundred years or ten thousand?
Perhaps because J.R.R. Tolkien’s worldbuilding was a big part of what drew me into fantasy fiction, I’ve always tried to create a believable setting for my books, which includes a cohesive history. This book is set a thousand years in the past because that’s when these events happened (within the world of the books) and that’s been established in previous stories. (But readers don’t have to know the history to enjoy the tale.)
I also love the study of history in general, especially tracing the patterns of the past that affect us in the present, and this (the downfall of Ineluki) is a past event that ripples through the entire history and “modern” world of Osten Ard.
The other Osten Ard novels were epic fantasy tales. Is Brothers Of The Wind one as well, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?
It’s a mini-epic, I guess, considering it covers a huge amount of territory and gives readers a lot of new information about the Sithi (this world’s “elves”) in their last era of glory before humans become dominant.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Brothers Of The Wind but not on any of the other Osten Ard books? Or, really, anything you’ve written?
Interesting question. If I had to name one, I’d say Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day, which has some similar themes of loyalty, obligation, and moral responsibility. Also his An Artist Of The Floating World.
But the monster-fighting scenes are more Godzilla than Ishiguro. I love monsters, whether inhuman or human.
What about non-literary influences; was Brothers Of The Wind influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Besides Godzilla’s oeuvre, of course.
I realized the other day that most of the things that influenced my writing are far in the past — my past, that is — and that I’m probably post-influence, at least for big themes in my work. Now I try constantly to improve my craft, but I think the things I have to say are deep, deep in me and will never change — sprung from events that impressed or horrified me when I was too young to understand them very well — and those things still reverberate for me and always will.
And what about — and I’m quoting you here — the “…far more cats, dogs, turtles, pet ants, and banana slugs than they can count” who live with you and your family. What influence did they have on Brothers Of The Wind? Because I’ve heard turtles and banana slugs are both great at describing action but don’t work well together.
Paradoxically, turtles are great at developing fast-paced action scenes. Banana slugs, however, are much more interested in character development. And mulch.
More seriously, I’ve been living in semi-rustic places for most of the last thirty years, and that was intentional. My wife Deborah Beale and I very much like to live somewhere that we can watch the year roll by and interact with the animals and plants around us. Whether that influences my work or the other way around, I couldn’t say.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, Brothers Of The Wind is a prequel to your Osten Ard books, and specifically to the Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn trilogy. But is it the first book in its own series as well?
Brothers Of The Wind is a stand-alone novel. My intention, if / when I write more Osten Ard stories, is to interleave the longer stories (series books, I suppose) with shorter works that will give me the freedom to write about ideas, places, and characters I want to explore without committing five or more years each time. I hope the shorter books will also allow readers to see if they like my work without having to commit to a dauntingly long volume as their first experience.
I’m also curious if, when you were writing Brothers Of The Wind, you looked at anyone else’s books that were prequels to existing series to see what to do and what not to do? Like maybe Tolkien’s Silmarillion.
Although I know Tolkien like most people know the layout of their own home, I try to avoid looking at other people’s fiction that is too much like what I’m working on at any given time. I’m much more likely to study actual history, or folklore that has a similar feel or sweep — in this case, more Dark Ages than Medieval. So for Brothers Of The Wind, I went back to a lot of pre-Conquest English history, and re-read the Carolingian (Charlemagne) legends. But I’ve written so much Osten Ard stuff that ultimately, a lot of the settings and events are already locked in by the already invented history.
Finally, Brothers Of The Wind might be the first time someone has heard of you. Do you think Brothers is a good place to start reading Osten Ard series?
All readers are different, so it’s a bit hard to say. Certainly this book, coupled with the other short novel from this project, The Heart Of What Was Lost, is a fine place to start, and will give readers a pretty good idea of what Osten Ard is like — and also what Osten Ard books are like.
Or you could just jump in with The Dragonbone Chair, the first novel of the first series. The longer books are, of necessity, more varied in tone, with a bit more humor and variety than I can work into a shorter novel. But I think of the shorter books — like Brothers Of The Wind — as being shaped and honed for a specific purpose, like a tool or weapon, and that purpose is to tell a single story as powerfully as possible.