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Friday, May 27, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Crafting Fantasy from Myth by Mark Tompkins

Last Days of Magic was a book that I was really looking forward to due to its combination of fairy tales, myths, and legends. When Mark Tompkins asked to guest blog, I accepted right away. So, without further ado please welcome Mark Tompkins to Fantasy Book Critic as he shares insight into crafting fantasy from myth.

More information on Last Days of Magic:
An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth
What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.

Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and—with her twin, Anya—unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.

As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today’s world—and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.

The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale—a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.


 Crafting Fantasy from Myth by Mark Tompkins

Writing about Ireland is writing about magic, the two are bound together, at least to me. Once I determined to set my debut fantasy novel The Last Days of Magic on the Emerald Isle. I had to make a decision: Was I going create a new magical system from scratch? Or craft one from references to existing mythology? Complicating matters was that I planned to include three factions of magic users: the Irish (including faeries and druids), the French witches, and the Roman Church’s exorcists.

Two discoveries lead me to the answer. The first was that the ancient stories depicted the faeries as tall, powerful, and dangerous, none of this modern, diminutive Tinkerbell stuff. For how could faeries procreate with humans, as my research indicated they did, if they were dragonfly-sized? The old legends had them carrying great swords and fighting in epic battles.

I stumbled upon the second discovery when I visited St. Patrick’s museum in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Displayed prominently in a glass case was his Bell of the Blood, which Patrick had enchanted so that its ring would kill people who had not paid their tithing. This was a much darker version of St. Patrick than that of my Sunday school – it was the version I wanted to write about. It was then I knew I was going to draw all the novels references to magic from existing mythology.
This decision was affirmed when I began delving into the origin stories of the Celtic faeries. The strangest tale, the one used in my novel, traced faerie bloodlines to the first age of the world when randy angels sneaked out of heaven to procreate with daughters of Eve, producing magical hybrid offspring. I could not pass that one up.

For the French witches of the High Coven, I used mythology from medieval times. All of them but one were based on actual accounts of women tried or accused of witchcraft, some of who were subsequently burned at the stake. I was able to take many of their spells, potions, and other exploits from records of witch trials. For example, there were acquisitions that witches powered spells by burning or boiling innocent victims, and harvested their fat to use as a reagent.

Finding suitable weirdness for the Roman Church’s sorcerers, aka exorcists, turned out to be easier than I thought. There was plenty of lore about the magical powers of relics the Vatican was thought to possess, like the Ring of Solomon and shards of the True Cross of Jesus. In addition, there were rumors of five hidden books by Moses. Two contained instructions for the spells Moses used to win the magic contest with the pharaoh’s sorcerers and the magic he worked during the subsequent exodus of the Jews. The third explained how to conjure angels and subdue demons using their true ineffable names. The last two books, sometimes called The Sword of Moses, contained lists of symbols corresponding to those names. Lots of marvelous material for a fiction writer.

Using existing mythology to construct a magical medieval world provided a framework, which produced a grounding effect that helped me avoid some of the biggest problems with writing fantasy. While magical worlds are wonderful places for readers to inhabit, they can be devilishly tricky places to create.

The magic must be powerful enough to be instrumental to the characters and storyline, and yet not so potent that the characters who wield it become indomitable and their stories therefore boring. I believe that flawed and vulnerable characters are essential elements of a good novel. Consistency is another key. What magic can and cannot do in the first chapter must be the same in the last. The reader cannot be expected to suspend disbelief and go with the narrative if the rules are not coherent and do not follow each other logically.

My hope is that when a reader finishes The Last Days of Magic they can look back and imagine that having taken a couple of things on faith, the rest could have happened.


Mark Tompkins debut novel, The Last Days of Magic, is an epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth. The Washington Post called it “Fantastic…an honest, beautifully detailed book and an entertaining read.” People Magazine put it on their Best New Books list, saying it is "A fantastical treat."

Connect with Mark online on Facebook and Twitter, or visit his site to learn more.


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