When I first met Eli online several years ago, he became one of a very select group: those whom I immediately like. He’s an intelligent, friendly, well-read conversation partner and has proved himself an excellent friend, and I am incredibly proud to know him. Through the years we’ve shared bits of writing with each other (his read-through of Paper Crowns provided me with invaluable help), and when he announced that his novel Albion Academy had a publisher, I was thrilled. The book is a fresh take on many mythological facets I know and love (King Arthur? Puck? Valkyries? Triple check!), and so here I present an interview with the one and only Elijah David.
—ONE: You obviously have a very strong attachment to legends and mythology. When did you first develop these interests?
Well, I can remember watching Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin from a very young age, so that’s probably the beginning of it all. I loved fairy tales all through childhood (and still do). I also remember reading a book of Greek myths in elementary school and being fascinated by all the different creatures and heroes featured in those stories. (The gods on the other hand were mostly confusing or maddening, with the rare exception of Hermes.) As far as developing the interest in legend and myth, I’d say that really started in late elementary and early middle school, around the time I discovered Narnia and began to read fantasy of a broader scope than had been my wont. It’s still something I’m developing, as there are always new old myths to explore.
—TWO: You explore many different types of myth in Albion Academy – which mythological being was your favorite to write?
The Valkyries and other Asgardians. Hands down. Bryn’s addition to the novel (as a narrator) was one of the best things that happened to this book. She was such a different perspective to write, and most of her chapters were completely new material. (A little backstory here: the book was originally told solely from Merlin’s point of view. Then, after reading through my first full draft, I realized I wasn’t telling the whole story, so Mortimer and Bryn joined Merlin as narrators. This necessitated rewriting of whole chapters, excising now-irrelevant sections, and inventing mostly from scratch several new chapters.) Bryn’s chapters allowed me to dig into Norse mythology and shed some light on the larger cosmology of the Albionverse. And I loved every minute of it.
—THREE: We probably shouldn’t have favorite children, but we all have favorite characters. Which characters were your favorites to write?
I’m so glad you said characters, plural. Bryn, obviously, because her perspective was so fresh. Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) because he’s wild and important and a little bit scary. Bryn’s sisters, who are Norns but maybe a bit more than that. Belchor, the talking not-bookshelf, whose snark will be returning full force in the sequel. There aren’t many of the major characters (and in this novel, I’m close to your view that there are no minor characters) who weren’t my favorite when I was writing them.
—FOUR: What were your biggest writing influences, the authors who made you want to take up the pen and create something?
C.S. Lewis is without doubt the biggest influence. I started writing seriously in middle school when I decided I wanted to write something that would impact other people the way Narnia had impacted me. J.R.R. Tolkien is another big influence, if only for the way he builds a universe and hangs it on everyday heroism. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was another early inspiration, and Tad Williams’ trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has left indelible traces in my novelverse (though none in Albion Academy that I’ve spotted). Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, and T.H. White all had their say in some way or another. I’m sure there are others, but with few exceptions it is difficult to say exactly which authors shaped my writing in specific ways.
—FIVE: What was the hardest part of the writing process, and what was the easiest?
The hardest parts: finishing a book that was 5 years going from idea to first draft; editing that first draft; making the opening work for the third or fourth time.
The easiest parts: writing Bryn’s chapters, writing Gabriel’s last few interludes, inserting new myths (and yes, this can be a case of too much of a good thing is a bad thing, if you aren’t careful).
—SIX: What are your thoughts on the blending of originally ‘pagan’ material with a Christian worldview?
It’s a tradition going back as long as Christianity. Even Paul used “pagan” poetry in one of his sermons. I see it as part of the Christian purview to redeem the culture around us; sometimes that redemption comes through stories. It’s what Lewis and Tolkien do in their works, or what you do with Cernunnos in Paper Crowns. (Incidentally, old Cerny is trying to weasel his way into one of the Albion sequels, so keep a weather eye out.) There’s nothing to be feared in bringing these stories under the umbrella of a Christian worldview. While some might criticize this as a sort of whitewashing of myth, I’d argue that it’s giving the myths new life in a new form, which is how myths survive after all.
—SEVEN: What’s next in your writing life?
Currently, I’m doing battle with Albion Apparent, book two in the quartet. If I can finish it in a timely manner, I may try to finish some other projects, like my cyberpunk-ish Wizard of Oz retelling from a couple years back. Then there are always books three and four of Albion, and some side stories in the Albionverse that have been clamoring to be told.
Is a Djinni just a trickster? Can a wizard only learn magic? Must a Valkyrie always ferry the dead?
For Mortimer, Merlin, and Bryn, it seems the fates have already written the ends of their stories. When Mortimer asks unorthodox questions, the Djinni Elders exile him to a human school of magic—Albion Academy. Merlin’s friendship with a mortal only increases his mother’s determination for him to live up to the heritage of his ancestors. And Bryn’s prophetic sisters outright declare that her fate is tethered to Mortimer, Merlin, and the mysterious door in the school’s basement.
As the three of them struggle against the constraints of their families’ expectations, they find themselves inexorably drawn into a conflict that encompasses rogue Faeries, dangerous mortals, and sorcerers hidden in Albion Academy itself. Defying their fates might be the only way they survive their first year at . . .