Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Did He Smile His Work To See?

WHEN THE STARS THREW DOWN THEIR SPEARS, the third book in Kersten Hamilton's YA Goblin Wars trilogy, just released. Inspired (in part) by William Blake's poem The Tyger, the story deals with choice, destiny, faith, and the burden of the past. Woven together of magic and myth, art and poetry, the world of the Goblin Wars is a place where evil has a will (and a shadow following) of its own–but also where song has power, and bent things, once good, can begin to find their way back to where they began.

It's the conclusion to a gorgeous series (we talked about TYGER TYGER and IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT earlier) that does not disappoint. I already want to go back and soak up a little more magic. (and if you haven't read the first two, this is your lucky September, because they should all be read in a row, and now you can!) (seriously, GO.)

Kersten, ever gracious, has answered some questions for us. Enjoy!

AG: You've spoken before about your reasons for writing the Goblin War books; can you now tell us more about writing and creating them?
KH: There was one element of the creation of these books that I did not want to talk about until I knew whether or not I could finish well. I have finished as well as I am able. And so:
Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy was very much on my mind when I started THE GOBLIN WARS. I hope that, like Pullman’s books, mine are enjoyable to people who simply want an adventure. But there is more to both trilogies. HIS DARK MATERIALS is a parable of the Republic of Heaven; THE GOBLIN WARS is a parable of the Kingdom of God.

I completely love Pullman’s writing and completely disagree with the final note of his worldview. Here is a quote from one of my favorite Pullman interviews:
“Firstly, a sense that this world where we live is our home. Our home is not somewhere else. There is no elsewhere. This is a physical universe and we are physical beings made of material stuff. This is where we live. 

Secondly, a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a real and important story, a sense of being connected to other people, to people who are not here any more, to those who have gone before us. And a sense of being connected to the universe itself. 

All those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, 'The Kingdom of Heaven'. But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things. We can't live without those things because it's too bleak, it's too bare and we don't need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of Heaven.

This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with – and this is the important thing – responsibilities.” (
I agree wholeheartedly with Pullman that “All of those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’.”
But if the Kingdom is dead, if it never existed, why do we still need those things? Why do we feel that living without them is too bleak and too bare? We—all of humankind—are hungry for exactly those things. We long for the Kingdom. That longing shines through the myths, legends and great stories of every tribe and nation. It is part of what makes us human.
AG: Poetry and song are wound through all three stories, especially the last one. Did you have to go searching for the right lyrics to fit, or did the songs come first and guide the story? 
KH: The lyrics, poems and stories had worked their way into me for years, and were present in every part of the story’s creation, like strands in a Celtic knot. For instance, G.K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse burned into my soul the first time I read these lines:
For the man dwelt in a lost land
          Of boulders and broken men,
          In a great grey cave far off to the south
          Where a thick green forest stopped the mouth,
          Giving darkness in his den. 

And the man was come like a shadow,
          From the shadow of Druid trees,
          Where Usk, with mighty murmurings,
          Past Caerleon of the fallen kings,
          Goes out to ghostly seas.
Last of a race in ruin--
          He spoke the speech of the Gaels;
          His kin were in holy Ireland,
          Or up in the crags of Wales.
But his soul stood with his mother's folk,
          That were of the rain-wrapped isle,
          Where Patrick and Brandan westerly
          Looked out at last on a landless sea
          And the sun's last smile.
His harp was carved and cunning,
          As the Celtic craftsman makes,
          Graven all over with twisting shapes
          Like many headless snakes.
His harp was carved and cunning,
          His sword prompt and sharp,
          And he was gay when he held the sword,
          Sad when he held the harp.
For the great Gaels of Ireland
          Are the men that God made mad,
          For all their wars are merry,
          And all their songs are sad.
He kept the Roman order,
          He made the Christian sign;
          But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
          And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
          Rose to his head like wine.
He made the sign of the cross of God,
          He knew the Roman prayer,
          But he had unreason in his heart
          Because of the gods that were.
Even they that walked on the high cliffs,
          High as the clouds were then,
          Gods of unbearable beauty,
          That broke the hearts of men.
And whether in seat or saddle,
          Whether with frown or smile,
          Whether at feast or fight was he,
          He heard the noise of a nameless sea
          On an undiscovered isle.

AG: If you have any links to any favorite recordings of Minstrel Boy, please share!
KH: I love Charlie Zahm’s version of The Minstrel Boy, because he includes all verses:

AG: What made you choose Chicago as the setting?
KH: There is an Irish connection to Chicago, of course. But the real reason is Rose Hill Cemetery. I visited Rose Hill while I was researching my CALEB, SON OF NONE series and fell in love with the place.

AG: Your melding and manipulation of mythology blows my mind. How free were you with the original tales?
KH: I was pretty free. I’m going to cheat, and use my Authors Note from TYGER TYGER: THE GOBLIN WARS books are based on a ‘reimagining’ of Celtic prehistory and mythology. I have borrowed the stories of Saint Patrick and Saint Drogo, and the life of Myrddin Wyllt, the Welsh bard who became Merlin of legend, as well as the modes and manners of Ireland's gypsies, the Irish Travelers, in order to fasten this story securely in our world.
I am indebted to the young Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the great Celtic hunter/warrior of myth, a paragon of Irish character. While researching this book I devoured the stories of the Finnian Cycle, soundly ignoring the accounts of Fionn's later life, when his character became questionable. Legend has it that Fionn, like King Arthur, will rise again when he is needed—so I didn’t think he would mind that I woke him for the telling of this tale.
The SĂ­dhe (pronounced “shee” as in banshee) of this book crept out of the shadows all on their own. I knew them before I met them in Irish mythology, and recognized them instantly when I did: a powerful people who fled to another realm when they were defeated by the magic of music and art. These are not fairies or fair folk, but creatures from older, darker tales, noted for malice and the stealing of human children for pleasure or sport. Please remember that this book is merely a single storyteller’s reimagining of what is, what was, and what just might be.

AG: Teagan has to deal with the effects of what happened in the previous books (both things she did herself and things done to her) in order to determine who she is going to ultimately become. Why was this theme important enough to write three books about for you?
KH: It is important because I wholeheartedly agree with Pullman on this: the Kingdom is about freedom…and responsibility.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about my books, Amaris!
AG: You are beyond welcome. Thank you for writing such books of my heart!

Oh, and as to the question in the title, the question Blake never answers in his poem, I think the book answers it, and beautifully. I guess you'll have to read it to see if you agree. :)


  1. Awesome interview! I've never heard of these books but can't wait to ck them out bcz I love the idea the she takes Celtic stories and mythologies and "reimagines" them. Those type of stories low my mind too.

    1. Thanks! And trust me, you will not be disappointed with this reimagining. As awesome and engaging as the characters are (oooh, you will LOVE Finn!), I am almost more engrossed with the world, with all the possibilities, all the beauty, all the straight-up MAGIC.

  2. Oh, I ADORED Tyger Tyger - can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

    Great interview - it is so fun to read about the inspiration behind great books!

    1. Agreed! I love how thoughtful and deliberate she was in her motivations and purposes in writing this story–but I love even more how you only see the fluid loveliness and truth of the world she created.

      Also, go get the next two books and read them NOW. You will not be sorry. Unless you get the second one without having the third one ready to go. You will definitely be sorry if THAT happens.

  3. Wonderful interview! I can't wait to read all three, they sound fabulous!

    1. Thanks! And you should definitely NOT wait to read them. Grab all three and give yourself a week to get sucked in to this amazing world!

  4. GREAT Interview, I loved Kersten's answers and I wholeheartedly agree on The Kingdom of Heaven. :-) Love her books, too! She is such a talent!

    1. She does give the best answers, doesn't she? And I'm so glad you've already discovered how great her books are!

  5. Great interview! I loved this series, but you can tell Kersten went all out in The Stars Threw Down Their Spears. It feels like it's own story without being the end of the trilogy.

    Great non-spoilerish questions. Especially the one about Teagan. Great wording!


    1. Thanks, Heather! So glad you liked the interview (and the compliment is much appreciated, as I always have such a hard time coming up with questions).

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