Yesterday, a friend of mine called and offered me some unsolicited advice about a reading he thought I was doing this week. It’s a signing, not a reading, but it was good advice, so I’m writing about it. He suggested I take the time to tell folks why I wrote different things and where my motivation came from. As interesting as readings tend to be, they are greatly enhanced by the “behind the scenes” view. So, here goes…
On Wednesday of last week, a young lady at my church’s midweek program asked me about the turtle on my t-shirt. Her mom had read her my novel at her bedtime, and she was wondering if the turtle in my book was the same as the turtle on my t-shirt. It was not. The turtle on my t-shirt is the “Great A’tuin” from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
The Great A’Tuin is a giant star turtle who carries the world on his back. It’s the sort of silliness I expect from Discworld and the reason I grabbed the shirt that day, though almost no one ever gets the reference. I will confess that the 60 something books from Pratchett’s series are among my favorite books and probably influenced my choice to use a turtle in the book to some degree.
However, the turtle in my novel was inspired by a different bit of fantasy lore. When I was a kid, I watched The Neverending Story about 300 times. The film tells the story of a boy who discovers a magical world through a book he found at a mysterious bookstore. The concept has always appealed to me and was part of the inspiration for the “fairy books” idea in The Curse of the Vassal Fruit.
In the story, Atreyu (the hero) seeks direction from an ancient sea turtle named Morla. The turtle is onlymarginally helpful, but the way the film presents him made a huge impression on me as a kid. I wanted a wise, older character to guide the hero in my story, but didn’t want him to be an Obi Wan Kenobi knockoff or a strange oracle type figure as is a common trope in fantasy literature. I prefer “the wise teacher” idea, mainly because I think boys become men because other men guide them in the process. Stories often gloss over this aspect of character development to their own detriment. This is why I put so much emphasis on the teacher and the grandfather in the story. Joseph, the frog prince, makes many of his decisions based on what those two mentor characters modeled and taught him. In the end, I decided to name my teacher “Morla” and make him a turtle as an homage to Morla the ancient turtle in The Neverending Story because I liked the idea. I also wanted to include a reference that would make older readers smile and potentially inspire younger readers to check out a movie I loved as a kid. I also needed an animal character that would live a long time.
In the end, the character himself owes more to the Old Ones from the Dark Crystal or Aristotle (who was Alexander the Great’s teacher) than to any of the tropes I referenced.
The novel I’m referring to is The Curse of the Vassal Fruit it’s available on Amazon as a kindle or paperback.