Today, I’m happy to welcome L. T. Getty to my notebook to discuss five of the myths that influenced her novel, Tower of Obsidian.

John Howe, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 1995

John Howe, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 1995

Five Mythic Influences – Tragedies and Sagas

by L. T. Getty

Tower of Obsidian was heavily influenced by mythology – the two defining mythic bases I used to develop the magic system set in our world were Celtic and Norse. I think it is important to acknowledge the stories that inspired me – and while there are many more, I have listed five stories that I think help explain some of my artistic choices in the novel. I’ve done my best to get the story across to you without telling you everything – and for the most part, these stories have seen adaptation beyond translation – from film, art, opera, and poetry. If you’re looking for something different to read, pick up a translation or adaptation of any of these stories, even if you think you know it already – you might be surprised how influential these stories have been on modern western literature.

I’ll add that many of these stories have different versions of the same events depending on which source you site– a hero’s death, oftentimes, such as sources agree that they died, but one town says he killed himself, another says his brother did him in, and so on. Rather than picking an adaptation and sticking with it, I utilized this nuance in Tower of Obsidian – which is why, when asking about the heart of the story – the girl in the tower – we never get a direct answer as to which version of events is the correct one.

1)      Deidre of the Sorrows (Celtic – Ulster Cycle)

The story of Deidre of the Sorrows begins before she is born – Deidre is to be the most beautiful woman in the world, but with that great beauty, she would bring with her great tragedy.  While many urged the king to kill the child at birth, Conchobar took the child into seclusion, to be raised by an old woman and he intended to marry Deidre when she came of age.  Deidre, on the other hand, had other ideas, and eloped with the young and handsome Naoise. They ran away to Scotland, and were happy for some time, until Conchbar tracked them down. He tricked them into believing that they would be welcome back at home, and as such, they returned, were betrayed, and Naoise was murdered, and Conchobar took Deidre as his wife. There are numerous accounts as to how Naoise died, as well as Deidre’s death that followed several years later – for while many accounts say that she died of grief, the more popular account is that she threw herself from a moving chariot.

2)      Gawain and the Green Knight (Celtic – British)

King Arthur’s court was having a New Years’ Feast, when a giant Green Knight appeared, and challenges the courage of Arthur’s Knights – he will allow a man to strike at his head, and then a year and a day later, he will return in kind the injury at an appointed Green Chapel. The only one brave enough to do this is Gawain, and he rightly strides over, and cuts off the Green Knight’s head with one blow. The Green Knight picks up his head, bids Gawain a fairwell, and says he’ll see him in a year. Not wanting to besmirch his honor, Gawain sets out to the Green Knight’s Castle a bit before the year is out, and goes on adventures before eventually coming to the home of Bertilak de Hautdesert and his wife, where he waits out near the Green Chapel. Bertilak tells Gawain he can stay, but the two men must exchange whatever they get – Bertilak goes hunting, Gawain tries to ignore the advances of Bertilak’s wife. At first, things go well – for the first two days, Bertilak’s wife gives Gawain a kiss, Gawain gives Bertilak a kiss in kind when he returns for whatever animal Bertilak has caught – but on the third day, in addition to the kiss, Bertilak’s wife gives Gawain a girdle, promising to keep him from physical harm. Scared for his life, Gawain gives Bertilak the kiss but says nothing of the girdle. Leaving the castle, he meets the Green Knight on the appointed day, and Gawain bares his neck. The first two strikes miss, but the third scuffs his neck slightly – the Green Knight then reveals himself to be Bertilak de Hautdesert, and that the reason he held back was the first two days, Gawain was honest – but the day before, Gawain lied about the girdle. Some accounts say that the wife was really Arthur’s enemy, Morgana le Fey, but most accounts agree that Gawain and Bertilak part on good terms with one another.

3)      Siegfried and Brunhilde (Norse – Völsunga Saga)

There are numerous accounts of these characters, I’m sticking with the Volsunga Saga – the valkyrie Brunhilde upset Odin and was cursed to live as a mortal, sleeping encased in a ring of fire until someone rescued and married her. Siegfried came, rescued, and the two wanted to be married – Siegfried proposed with a magic ring, left his bride-to-be and was enchanted into marrying another woman. Sometime later the sorceress who forced Siegfried to marry her daughter wanted her son to marry Brunhilde, but her son couldn’t get through the ring of fire surrounding the fire. Siegfried then took the shape of the would-be suitor, got through, stole his engagement ring and gave it to his wife, and presented Brunhilde to the real would-be suitor. Angered somewhat, Brunhilde urged her husband to kill Siegfried, which he eventually does, and Brunhilde kills Siegfried’s son. She then kills herself by throwing herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre.

4)      Tristan and Isolde (Celtic )

Thought to be influenced by the stories of Celts and Arthur and his Knights, the tragedy of Tristan and Isolde is that Tristan took Isolde to marry King Mark of Cornwall in alliance, however, the two took a love potion along and fell hard. Isolde marries Mark, however she and Tristan continue to meet as lovers. King Mark eventually catches on, and although he intends to kill the lovers for their adultery, the two escape. King Mark eventually catches them, and agrees to spare their lives and sends Tristan into exile. Tristan marries someone else, and is eventually gravely wounded. Knowing only Isolde can heal him, he sends for her, saying to fly white sails if she is on the ship, black if she is not. Tristan’s wife lies about the color of the sails as Isolde comes to save him, and Tristan dies of grief. Isolde dies shortly after – legend has it that their side-by-side graves grew hazel and honeysuckle that intertwined, despite King Mark’s attempts to cut them down repeatedly.

5)      Beowulf (Norse)

This is considered one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxan literature – this epic poem tells of how the hero Beowulf helps the King Hroðgar deal with a troll who keeps eating his men by the name of Grendel. Beowulf slays Grendel, though if I remember correctly, the more dangerous character is Grendel’s mother – Beowulf later goes on to slay a dragon, and dies of his injuries. I know I’m not doing this story justice – and I can’t. You need to go read a translation of the original poem. It’ll be work, but it’s worth it.

Tower-of-Obsidian-small ABOUT TOWER OF OBSIDIAN

When Kale mac Tadhg is betrayed by his Lord’s men, he is sent on an impossible quest: slay a witch in a tower, and end a people’s curse. Both Kale’s best friend and brother-in-arms Aaron Smithson and former betrothed Aoife of Westgate set out to rescue him, but their journey takes them into the uncharted waters and Northwestern Nordic colonies, to a land cursed and all but forgotten. They begin to realize that there is some truth to old legends. Kale’s rescue comes at a price—for by the time Aaron and Aoife know where to search, like so many before him, Kale is bound to the ancient tower’s fate.

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ABOUT L.T. GETTY

L.T. Getty obtained her degree in English from the University of Winnipeg , and has studied creative writing both there and at the Canadian Mennonite University.. She is an open-water scuba diver, has studied kendo, and currently works as a paramedic.

To find out more visit her at http://ltgetty.wordpress.com