By DC Green
Unfortunately, and here I risk the equivalent of a literary lynching, I believe Tolkien’s tales reveal their age. Powerful females are noticeably thin on the Middle Earth ground. The different races contain a range of easily-scratched racist stereotypes and a lack of shading in all but the major characters. As for style, Tolkien wrote more like an author from the middle of the Nineteenth Century than the Twentieth. Despite my fatherly reading zeal, my own Twenty-first Century children tended to sneak from the room before the story progressed beyond Tolkien’s traditional leisurely openings and invariably obtuse prose.
More unfortunate is the massive shadow that Tolkien has cast over the genre of fantasy. From Dungeons and Dragons to Eragon and beyond, so many fantasy stories follow the Tolkien blue-print. The setting is always Medieval, with lots of swords, bows and battle-axes. The same species and archetypes recur – not just goblins, elves and dwarves, but also human rangers, at one with nature; gold (and maiden) loving dragons; bearded and robed magicians, and behind all the badness, a powerful and utterly corrupted dark lord. If you read enough fantasy, this formula can grow boring and predictable with celerity.
I used to wonder: was it possible to write fresh fantasy, to create truly modern stories about goblins, trolls and dragons? Of course the answer is a resounding “Yes!” On the best-seller front, the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series both do so brilliantly, while the Disc World series magnificently mocks so many stale fantasy conventions.
Hunting for my own unique angle, I decided to change the backdrop, to make the world that Tolkien created totally unfamiliar and, in the process, hopefully challenge old archetypes in new ways. Tolkien established a fantasy medieval world in which cities and even towns were relatively rare. Much of Middle Earth was wild or rural. I decided the best opposite to the Middle Ages was not the present, but the future (though not necessarily a hi-tech future). Hmmm...
The opposite of rural was, of course, urban. Gradually I began to envisage a futuristic city where all different monster types lived together. Such a scenario would definitely generate conflict, the life-blood of all fiction. But why would goblins, for example, voluntarily live next door to a monster type they hated or feared, such as a ravenous ogre? That made no sense…
Unless I gave them no choice. That’s where imagination comes in – to not only make a story idea feasible, but even better, remarkable.
I considered a range of options. Finally I came up with what I thought was the best way to force a bunch of species to live in a single area, while also commenting on the world we live in: flooding. So, global warming caused my ocean levels to rise until only a single plateau remained. Sure, there’s no such plateau on Earth, but this is the future and/or a parallel but not exactly the same Earth or… well, the story just wouldn’t work with half the cast clinging to a frosty rock atop Mount Everest.
But where did the monsters come from? The easy answer is: they were always here. They just kept a low profile while humans ruled the Earth. But when the flooding came, when humans fought each other and human rule crumbled, the monsters returned with a vengeance.
The hardest part of creating the City of Monsters was figuring out which monsters would receive major character status. There are many western monster classics that I didn’t want to leave out because they’re so recognisable and so much fun: besides all the classics from The Lord of the Rings, there are also ogres, vampires, mummies, and zombies. But I also wanted to make this story a global one, so my short list included monsters from every culture and part of the world: wokolos, super-powered children from Mali; azemans, skin-shedding lady vampires from Surinam; aniwyes (giant skunks) from the Great Lakes area of North America; and swamp-dwelling bunyips from Australia. Before I wrote a single word of my novel, I planned my world and city for two years.
I still have no idea if I succeeded in writing a Lord of the Rings for the new millennium; but at least I can’t be accused of lacking ambition!
About DC Green
DC Green is an award-winning surf journalist and the author of six children’s books, including the Erasmus James fantasy series and Stinky Squad. His new novel, Monster School, has won two pre-publication awards and been hailed as ‘a wild, wise-cracking ride’ by Ian Irvine, and ‘a monster mash of hilariously epic proportions’ by Sue Warren.
DC’s blog, with all the latest Monster Blog Tour updates: http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com.au/
Ford Street Publishing (for Monster School orders): http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com
Amazon.com (for a kindle Monsters): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FDKBTVQ
DC at Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4527538.D_C_Green
DC’s facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/DCGreenAuthor
Thanks for visiting my blog, DC Green, and all the best with Monster School. I love this book. I can honestly say that this is one book I wish I'd written. It's fantastic!
Robyn Opie Parnell