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Thursday, February 20, 2014

GUESTPOST: Pride and Prejudice, War, and Dragons by Anne Leonard


For this guest blogpost, I was asked to write something about combining Pride and Prejudice and dragons with a background of war. P&P was essentially a source for characters and details of the setting, not for plot, which is why I don’t spend the whole book re-enacting the Elizabeth and Darcy story. (I also stole some dialogue directly – it’s amazing how modern Austen’s language really is.) I didn't want to write a novel in which the love story was the entire narrative arc. So I asked some “What-if?” questions about changes I could make that would lead to a more epic story.

There’s a little known secret about P&P; the whole time it’s occurring, there’s a war going on. The only real indication of this is at the very end, when Austen’s doing her wrap-up of all the characters and says about Lydia and Wickham, “Their manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme.” All we as readers see of the soldiers is the handsome uniforms and parades, but somewhere outside the boundaries of the story people are dying.

Since this was pointed out to me years ago, I've thought about it every time I reread the book. So when I decided that I was going to rip off P&P for my fantasy romance, I decided that I would foreground the war more than Austen does. I didn't want to write a lot of battle scenes or soldiers in camp, first because military SFF is just not that interesting to me, and second because that wouldn't allow the kind of social interactions between my characters that I wanted to play with. However, I also wanted war or the threat of war to be a fact of people’s lives, putting urgency into decisions that otherwise might be delayed. That dictated some of my character choices; I needed people in positions of power and responsibility, not men of leisure like Darcy.

Additionally, the war element is also in part a personal response to September 11. I will never forget the feeling in my gut as I realized that the plane crashes were an attack, as I watched the Twin Towers fall. The war that started then hasn't ended yet. I don’t think I could write a story now that isn't in some way shaped by that terror and by the subsequent steady pulse of violence. It’s like the universe’s background radiation; I can go long times without thinking about it, but it’s always there. A lot of fantasy novels have a war or some sort of armed conflict going on, sometimes up front and sometimes in the background, so including one was playing within the tropes. But it was also an expression of my own awareness that things are not all well with the world.


OK, on to a much cheerier subject: dragons. With dragons, the trick was really figuring out how they entered the story. I knew at the outset of writing that there were going to be dragons, and I had this vague idea that they would somehow be important to the war, but it wasn't until I’d been writing for several months that I realized they were an integral part of the plot.

My original notion came from thinking about what would be the most un-Austen like element of fantasy, and large, flying, fire-breathing, destructive creatures fit the bill. I had vaguely imagined them as more or less filling the niche held by luxury barouches, but that changed almost immediately. Obviously if dangerous creatures like dragons could be controlled by humans, they would first and foremost be used for military purposes. But dragons as glorified cavalry horses or fighter jets weren't very interesting in the long term either. The dragons needed to have some sort of agency.

It was when I tied this need for agency to the presence of magic that my storyline really fell into place. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because that gets into spoiler territory, so suffice to say that the dragons are the driving force behind a lot of the events. They’re strange, distant creatures that humans can’t understand, with motives people don’t know. They aren't gods – they’re vulnerable and mortal and can be killed or captured – but they are also mysterious and unexplained. Because that’s what magic is.


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anne Leonard was born in Chicago, Illinois and after staying in a whole bunch of states, finally settled in California. She has done her BA from St. John’s College and then gotten an MFA at the University of Pittsburgh. After those two came a Ph.D. in English as well as Law school. She loves Pride And Prejudice and is a Chicago Cubs fan. She lives with her family on the west coast and this is her debut.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Judith Love Pietromartire and the author. Dragon art courtesy of HDScreen.

1 comments:

Terry W. Ervin II said...

War and conflict does influence us, just as it does characters in novels. How that's portrayed, such as you've decided, has an appeal to it, although I lean more towards the military SF/F, than I would the character focus of P&P.

Interesting post.

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