Everyone knows Emily Brontë wrote the classic novel Wuthering Heights. What you may not know, though, is she also fought werewolves. Seriously. Would I make that up? No, because someone else did: Tim Powers, the author of the new ghostly horror novel My Brother’s Keeper (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, Powers discusses what inspired and influenced this story, including its real-world connections.
To start, what is My Brother’s Keeper about, and when and where is it set?
It’s set in the moors around the remote Yorkshire village of Howarth, in the early part of the 19th century.
When young Emily Brontë helps a wounded man she finds at the foot of an ancient pagan shrine in the remote Yorkshire moors, her life becomes contentiously entwined with his. He is Alcuin Curzon, embittered member of a sect working to eradicate the resurgent plague of lycanthropy in Europe and northern England.
But Emily’s father, curate of the Haworth village church, is responsible for having unwittingly brought a demonic werewolf god to Yorkshire forty years ago — and it is taking possession of Emily’s beloved but foolish and dissolute brother. Curzon must regard Emily’s family as a dire threat.
In spite of being at deadly odds, Emily and Curzon find themselves thrown together in fighting werewolves, confronting pagan gods, even saving each other from the lures of moorland demons.
And is there a reason you made the main character Emily Brontë as opposed to Charlotte Brontë? Or Jane Austin? Or Emily Blunt? She kicked butt in Edge Of Tomorrow; she could handle a bunch of ghosts and a werewolf.
Emily was the adventurous sister, self-reliant and strong-minded, always hiking miles across the wilderness in all weather with her big bull-mastiff. If one of the Brontës was to encounter supernatural perils out on the moors, and be able to deal with them, it would be her. Charlotte was more the stay-at-home type.
I’ve always loved the wild landscape and forceful characters in Wuthering Heights, and I was intrigued by the fact that Emily Brontë and her brother Branwell were both bitten by supposedly rabid dogs. The incidents were years apart, but I thought, What if it was nevertheless the same dog, both times? In fact, What if it was not exactly a dog?
Is that why she fights a werewolf and not a wolfman? Or a werebear?
Well, “wolfman” is a creature partway shape-shifted from a man into a “werewolf.” You’re as likely to meet one as the other, and either way it’s going to be a bad time.
I don’t think there were bears in Yorkshire, luckily.
My Brother’s Keeper sounds like a horror novel…
It’s a horror novel in that ghosts and werewolves — and ghosts of werewolves! — menace the beleaguered Brontë family; but it’s also a novel about Emily’s struggle to save her compromised brother and her whole family.
Now, My Brother’s Keeper is far from your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on My Brother’s Keeper but not on anything else you’ve written?
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights largely gave me the tone and locale for the book, though it owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft’s novelette “The Shunned House” and his short story “The Thing On The Doorstep,” too. And I imagine there are some echoes of Kingley Amis’ The Green Man, a great scary ghost novel.
What about non-literary influences; was My Brother’s Keeper influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I really can’t think of any. I’m resolutely not going to say Cold Comfort Farm [a 1995 British TV movie].
While some of your novels have been stand-alone stories, others have been installments of a series, be it the Fault Line series or the Vickery And Castine series. What is My Brother’s Keeper? Is it a stand-alone novel or the first in a series, and why is it whatever it is?
It’s a stand-alone, necessarily. The dramatic parts of the Bronte siblings’ story is pretty much over by 1848, when the book ends.
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has inspired multiple movies (as well as soap operas, telenovelas, musicals, stage plays…). Do you think My Brother’s Keeper could work as a movie, too?
I think it would work beautifully as a movie. Or a multi-part TV series. Lots of very different and variously-opposed characters, dramatic scenery, spectacular conflicts. You mentioned Emily Blunt; she’d be a great Emily Bronte. It’s too bad that Oliver Reed is dead, he’d have been perfect as Alcuin Curzon.
You do realize, by the way, that if someone does make a movie out of My Brother’s Keeper, that they might rename it Emily Brontë: Werewolf Hunter, right?
That reminds me that someone once told Truman Capote that Paramount Pictures was going to change the title of Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Catch That Blonde! Capote had a fit.
I would just remember what James Cain said when someone asked him what he thought of what Hollywood had done to his books. He waved at a bookshelf and said, “They haven’t done anything to them, see?”
So, is there anything else people need to know about My Brother’s Keeper?
Oh… It’s as historically accurate as I could make it. Most of the events I describe really did occur. (There are also, of course, some supernatural events that somehow never got recorded in the biographies.) It’s not an “alternate” Yorkshire or Howarth — it’s the real ones that you can go visit.
Finally, if someone enjoys My Brother’s Keeper, which ghost story novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I mentioned Kingsley Amis’ The Green Man, which is about a rapacious ghost besieging the inn which was his house centuries ago. I’d also recommend William Hope Hodgson’s The House On The Borderland; a bit old-fashioned, but genuinely and disorientingly scary. Oh, and Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows” [available in The Listener And Other Stories], which will make you uneasy about broad marshy woodlands.