Myth, Legend and History: The Shaping of THE HEIR OF NIGHT The Orbit Team January 26, 2012


When asked, I always describe The heir of the night as “classic epic fantasy”. That’s partly because it’s a hero’s tale with the fate of the world, and maybe even all worlds, at stake. It’s a story of adventure, magic, and battles, of friendship, betrayal and love, of individuals and of a whole people under pressure: all the things in which the mythologies and legends that underlie our Western culture – the Greek, the Norse and the Celtic , with a good deal of secondary influence from Egyptian and Babylonian – are imbued. The heir of the night is not the retelling of any one saga in particular, but it definitely draws on the concerns that inform mythic stories, which are not simply war and heroic journeys, but the conflicts surrounding power and great questions of ethical and/or correct behavior when tested. So in that sense, it’s very much in the classical tradition that goes back way beyond The Lord of the Rings: for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Death of Arthur from medieval times, and further still, to Beowulf, Sigurd and Cuchulain, Achilles and Penthesilea, Jason and Medea.

But myth and legend aren’t the only influences I believe shape The heir of the night epic fantasy style. Story also tends to be a major driver, with the classic pattern of epic worlds, from Middle-earth to Westeros, being mostly medieval. Although there are exceptions, like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Troy Brandon or David Gemmell’s Greece Macedonian Lion, worlds, their politics and players, and weapons and technology are always story-based. The heir of the night takes place in an alternate world, a world where technology and society are fundamentally pre-industrial, albeit with hints that it might have been otherwise. Culturally, the core concept is Western Europe – and other story elements have definitely informed the story. These include the initial age of the central protagonists, as discussed in my recent article “The Evolution of Character”, the elitism and militarism of the Derai people (think Spartans), and the civil strife and prejudice against elements within their own society that has characterized their recent history. (You can take your historical pick of civil wars, from the Roman to the Spanish, plus a plethora of religious and racial conflict and discrimination, for sources here!)

But although historical understanding has undoubtedly shaped The heir of the night story, it’s not based on any period or incident in history – although I really enjoy fantasies such as macedonian lion which are strongly linked to a particular historical figure and period. I might even write one myself “one day”. But the closer one gets to the real story, the more historically accurate the story elements have to be – and often the magic and sense of the fantastical is that much harder to maintain. I believe there is a place for both types of storytelling in epic fantasy, but The heir of the night belongs more to the realm of myth and legend (although it doesn’t tell any in particular) and is steeped in the deep magic that resides there.


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet and interviewer. His latest novel, The heir of the night, the debut of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet, is released in the US and now in the UK. Helen has twice won New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award, for thorn spell (Knopf) in 2009 and The heir of the night in 2011—and The heir of the night has just been nominated for the Gemmell Awards, in the Legend and Morningstar categories. Helen posts daily on her Helen Lowe on anything, really blog and you can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we

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