Jack Whyte speak­ing at li­brary fundraiser

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Frank PEE­BLES Ci­ti­zen staff fpee­bles@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca WHYTE

The bat­tle lines have long been drawn be­tween the pen and the sword.

It’s been said the pen is might­ier, but in the hands of au­thor Jack Whyte, it seems to be an even duel. His pen has scrib­bled to life many a sword, in­clud­ing the most fa­mous of all, Ex­cal­ibur. He wields swords, and en­tire ar­se­nals of me­dieval weapons, with Tem­plar skill, all through the im­ages and scenes he con­jures with his pen. They – the pen and the sword – are sym­bi­otic.

The win­ner of this never end­ing clash is the reader, in their le­gions. Whyte has sold more than a mil­lion books in Canada alone, and there’s barely a bor­der on the planet un­crossed by his his­tor­i­cal tales of knights and bish­ops, kings and peas­ants.

His flag­ship se­ries is a reimag­in­ing of the King Arthur le­gends. He found a vo­ra­cious au­di­ence when he stripped the magic out of these tales and forced the char­ac­ters – Mer­lin, Lancelot, the fa­mil­iar cast – to abide by re­al­ity to earn their eons of fame. His A Dream of Ea­gles se­ries (known as The Ca­mu­lod Chron­i­cles in the U.S.) has be­come one of the world’s most ea­gerly con­sumed set of books in the his­tor­i­cal fan­tasy genre.

Whyte came by the trade quite au­then­ti­cally, be­ing a child of Scot­land, a sur­vivor of Bri­tain’s black­outs and at­tacks from the air, and a in­side those re­al­i­ties were thick, aro­matic lay­ers of na­tion­al­ist iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and epic sto­ry­telling on a daily ba­sis from the pub to the school­yard to the front par­lor. Whyte was raised as much by nar­ra­tive as by flesh and blood.

When he moved away from Scot­land, the sto­ries in his blood kept beat­ing from his new ad­dress in Canada. Kelowna, more pre­cisely.

De­spite that nearby res­i­dency, Whyte has only been to Prince Ge­orge a cou­ple of times and not in the past 15 years at least, he strained to guess. Tonight he will be in per­son at the Prince Ge­orge Playhouse in a rare per­sonal ap­pear­ance to dis­cuss his books, the his­tory he milks them from, and how he has so suc­cess­fully crossed the pen with the sword.

One of the points of tallest praise for his books is the eyes he al­lows the reader to see through when wend­ing through an­cient ad­ven­tures. The sto­ries over­flow with fic­tion, but they are stewed in hard facts and many of those are nat­u­ral facts.

He paints with the smell of horse sweat and sound of birds and the move­ment of boats un­der­foot or horses upon which the reader is sad­dled.

He ex­plained to The Ci­ti­zen that he goes to the trou­ble of get­ting in a small boat to close in on the coast­line of Scot­land, or walks the long trails that cross the hills and dales of the High­lands, so he can bring those re­al­i­ties of na­ture to his imag­ined sto­ries.

“Oh yeah, and the more I’ve writ­ten the more I’ve be­come con­vinced that travel pro­vides the big­gest hur­dle for an au­thor to over­come in a modern novel,” he said. In or­der to hit au­then­tic marks in the tim­ing of a bat­tle or the flight of an emer­gency mes­sen­ger, the modes of travel and con­di­tions of the ge­og­ra­phy and weather had to be strictly ad­hered to.

He has gone so deeply into the postRo­man days of Scot­land and Eng­land that many could mis­take his works for a more ac­cu­rate ren­di­tion of his­tory than the non-fic­tion books on the sub­ject.

He nei­ther dis­misses nor con­sents to this no­tion. Of course his sto­ries are largely made up, he said, but there is also an im­pos­si­bil­ity to the books and doc­u­ments that get filed un­der non­fic­tion, and peo­ple – writ­ers and read­ers alike – should strive for the truth, en­joy the fancy of tales, and never for­get that the two are con­joined twins.

“One of the first things you learn when you start do­ing se­ri­ous re­search and go­ing back to orig­i­nal doc­u­ments is, that orig­i­nal doc­u­ment was writ­ten by some­one who had al­ready been brain­washed into their point of view,” he said.

Another level of truth gets sanded off, but dif­fer­ent truths painted on, when a book is adapted into the vis­ual arts – a play, an au­dio­book, a film, a tele­vi­sion show. Many of his works are avail­able in au­dio form, which keeps the words fully in­tact but im­poses the reader’s voice and in­to­na­tions onto the con­sump­tion process.

He has no is­sues with any ver­sions of his books in this form, and in fact his Guardians Tril­ogy has just been recorded for Au­di­ble Books (Ama­zon) “and he is an ab­so­lutely bril­liant reader,” he said of the Scot­tish per­former.

He is also inch­ing to­wards his nov­els be­ing trans­lated onto the screen. Friends like Or­son Scott Card (En­der’s Game) and Diana Ga­bal­don (Out­lander) have had their works turned into film and tele­vi­sion, so he has their coun­sel of what to do or not do when om­ni­scient lit­er­a­ture is ren­dered into sound and vi­su­als.

He has to think about this lately be­cause his A Dream of Ea­gles se­ries, the one that’s been his big­gest suc­cess, has been op­tioned by a vet­eran tele­vi­sion pro­ducer in­tent on mak­ing a se­ries akin to Game of Thrones.

“Hav­ing read some of what he’s done, I’m just in awe of his abil­ity to step back and an­a­lyze the en­tire sweep of the story,” Whyte said. “As an au­thor I write from Point A to Point Z (which of course he cor­rectly pro­nounces Zed), lin­early, be­cause I’m telling a spe­cific story at that time. But from his per­spec­tive, look­ing at it as a tele­vi­sion de­vel­oper, he sees the over­all arch of the six or nine nov­els in­volved, and a whole se­ries of lesser archs in­side that. It’s ab­so­lutely as­tound­ing, what he’s do­ing. I couldn’t do it.”

What he can do, how­ever, is keep adding new swords to the shelves of lit­er­a­ture, and he has done so lately by go­ing back to the be­gin­ning. His first book just over 25 years ago was called The Sky­s­tone and it is still a pop­u­lar seller. Now it will have a pre­quel to go with it. That book will be out soon.

He en­cour­ages fans of that book, or any of his works, to come out tonight and have a word with him about it.

Whyte will be at the Playhouse as a fundraiser for the Prince Ge­orge Pub­lic Li­brary. His ap­pear­ance is at 7 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) thanks to the spon­sor­ship of UNBC’s English Depart­ment and Prince Ge­orge Mo­tors. Tick­ets are $20.

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