Jack Whyte speaking at library fundraiser
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.