Myth and Incarnation and Japan

Myth and Incarnation officially comes out on 31 October, but the paperback is already available for order. You can have it in your hands before the release date, if a traditional book is your thing. As we lead up to the book’s release, I reflect on my experiences living in Japan over the past year, and how aspects of Japanese life and culture (and geek culture) has influenced my work on this book.

Living in Japan

Every time I travel to a new land or simply go to a historical museum, I find new inspirations for additional details and layers in Ahmbren. Living in Japan has been no different. There are three things specifically that influenced Ahmbren and Myth and Incarnation (M&I):

Kaiju: Japan is the land of the kaiju story, which literally translates to “strange creature”. Kaiju often refers to large monsters attacking Japanese cities, or battling it out with each other. The most famous, perhaps, is Godzilla. The recent movie Pacific Rim continues the trend. When I set out to write M&I, I was keenly aware of how little ‘screen time’ actual dragons got in When Dragons Die. The most we see are young hatchlings, or visions of the Archdragons. By that time, the great dragons had already died. I knew for this book I wanted to show an adult dragon, and not just the Archdragons. Fiolthalnas was born, and he lived under the sea with his selkie worshippers. I started to think what he must have looked like, and how he would have interacted with the world, and I thought to myself, “He was big. I mean, like Japan kaiju big. Godzilla big, but even bigger!” There are times in the book where he’s called a “leviathan dragon”, and from the book’s cover art as he swims beneath the pirate ship, the Siren’s Call, you can get an idea of his immensity. He could swallow ships whole, and melt cities with his dragon fire.

Hiroshima: Last November, I visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, which chronicled the lead-up and aftermath of the atomic bomb. In all my travels, this was the most impactful tour I’d ever had. We spent over four hours in the museum reading every declassified document and every display. We walked to ground zero, and saw the model which showed the fireball to scale that hung in the sky that day. One of the things that really struck home, in addition to the sheer devastation, was the strategic effect it had on influencing the decisions of the sovereign emperor to surrender. The devastation was so great it was unbelievable, and it took a second bomb to make it “real”. I thought to myself that before this event, no world leader could grasp the impact of what an atomic bomb meant. It was a game changer. It was simply inconceivable to anyone who hadn’t witnessed it. Even today, in our post Cold-War era, I don’t think we truly appreciate the implications. We’ve become desensitized to it, and don’t truly grasp the implications of its destructive power. It’s mind-boggling.

There are two ways the incomprehensibleness of the atomic bomb influenced M&I. The first was Fiolthalnas’ sheer size. There’s a point in the book where the heroes realize that they had no idea what it meant to hunt a dragon. They weren’t prepared for his size and power. Later on, even though they’ve seen him before, they still stand in awe; their minds can’t comprehend how terrible he is to behold, and so their minds forget. “We’re not prepared. We couldn’t plan for this.” The second reflection of this idea is in Artalon itself. If you’ve read When Dragons Die, you know that in the distant past the Gold Dragon destroyed the city of Artalon and sank it beneath the sea. There’s a point in the book where the heroes get to witness a vision of the past and see this event. In describing how the Gold Dragon goes about destroying the city, I took direct inspiration from the eyewitness accounts from Hiroshima. The Gold Dragon gave a warning to the Artalonian king beforehand, but there was no way the king could have comprehended the implications of the warning. What the Gold Dragon did was simply beyond the scope of the king’s imagination, just as what the atomic bomb did was beyond the scope of imagine of our world at the time. It was a completely new paradigm.

Honor: Finally, there’s the idea of Japanese honor, and shame, and being considerate of others’ honor. The Japanese sense of honor seems to me a very personal, almost intimate, thing. This plays a minor role in the M&I book, but I started to think this is how orcs must have been in Ahmbren. I’d originally thought of orcs not as monsters, but more as huns… tribal horse lords. In When Dragons Die, I believed they were a barbarian warrior culture, but we never saw much of them. From living in Japan, I realized there are different kinds of warrior cultures, and I wondered if orcs were less barbaric and more civilized. For the warrior orc, honor was a very personal thing, and they had high degrees of self discipline. This becomes apparent later in the book when the heroes visit a city close to the border of the orc tribal lands. It’s mentioned in passing that whenever there’s any trouble or violence in the city, it’s never from the orc traders who come through. The orcs might be a threat when their tribe decides to expand and take land, but they are never individually rowdy. When traveling in a foreign land they retain their sense of purpose and respect the culture they’re in… unless their honor is challenged, of course.

I hope you all enjoy Myth and Incarnation as much as I enjoyed writing it. Happy October, and keep dreaming big!

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