This post was written by David Wiley, one of the authors involved in the King of Ages compilation. For my review, click here.
When I read about the premise for King of Ages, the wheel of possibilities began to spin and spiral out of control. I had been a fan of Arthurian fiction for as long as I can remember, having devoured greats such as Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, White’s The Once and Future King, Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King. I had also explored some more modern takes on various parts of the Arthurian legend, enjoying Nancy McKenzie’s Queen of Camelot and A.A. Attanasio’s The Dragon and the Unicorn series above all others. So the opportunity to not only write a King Arthur story, which was something I had dreamed about doing ever since I started writing fiction for myself, but to also place it during an alternative time and place in history was something I simply could not pass up.
Coming up with the right setting was a bit of a challenge. I love to write about knights and castles and chivalry, but I couldn’t justify any sort of Medieval or Middle Ages England setting. My first love in history is set in that time period, covering the Dark Ages through Shakespeare, but no matter how I turned ideas over in my head they were just too close to the standard Arthurian tales. I had been meaning to read Icelandic sagas for a while, having been turned to them from my own personal Medieval Literature studies. I had recently purchased a nice book containing seventeen Icelandic sagas and tales. And I knew I wanted to learn more about the Viking culture. So the beginnings of the idea came and a draft of my pitch was written before I even dove into reading an Icelandic saga.
I dove into the first saga, Egil’s Saga, and was instantly drawn toward the style in which it was being told. It reminded me a lot of Malory’s own way of telling his stories in Le Morte D’Arthur, and I was treated to a saga that was epic in scope and massive in scale. It made me want to read more sagas and to learn more about Icelandic culture. So I checked in with my resident Icelandic expert: Dr. Google.
After a few days of scouring as much information as I could handle, I had settled on the setting. Much like how Egil’s Saga started long before he came to Iceland, I wanted this tale to be about King Arthur when he first arrived at Iceland. The settlement era was perfect for this, as it provided a valid reason for him and his men to be sailing away from Norway and a reason to stay and explore the island. It also allowed me to cast Merlin as a Gallic monk, who had been the only inhabitants on the island prior to the settlement by the Norwegian Vikings.
My contribution has some nods to the things I enjoyed in Egil’s Saga: great feats of strength, tragic loss, the composition of a verse with kennings, berserkers. Working in a few plays on Norse mythology was fun as well, with references mistakenly being made to both Thor and Loki. And, while I did not extend the saga to the epic proportions that some of the Icelandic sagas achieve, the story ends in a way that made it clear that this was just the first of many great things that Arthur accomplished during his time in Iceland.
It still amazes me how perfect the setting of Medieval Iceland was for this tale. It allowed me to explore two things into greater detail: Icelandic history and the sagas, and inspired me to continue reading and learning about both. Alongside so many other great stories in the collection, my own saga is content to dwell in its cozy corner near the back of the book and remain ready to sweep the reader back to a time and place that is both strange, yet comfortingly familiar, to readers of the Arthurian legend. My hope is that it inspires others to read some sagas for themselves, as they are a truly wonderful treasure of literature.