The Storyteller – GUEST POST by R. R. Virdi (THE FIRST BINDING)
by R.R. Virdi
What inspired me in part for Tales of Tremaine was learning how Tolkien wanted to create a new mythology for England and go back to a pre-Arthurian time and source for that. So he turned to what he studied and knew well: the Norse epics. Things like the Prose Edda and Beowulf, of which you can see the influences all through Lord of The Rings.
For me, I wanted to dial back South Asian history and mythology back to the cradle of Proto Indo-European myths, put it in a secondary world so people from the eastern parts of the worlds can see like/similar things and myths evolve in a new place, and then let them all evolve to their iterations in The First Binding.
Once I had that, I had to decide what would play a pivotal role in my world building, and for a story about a storyteller, it made perfect sense to let folklore, fables, and myths be the vehicles for teaching you more about the world than anything else.
Not just about Ari, or the many people he’s met, but the ones that shape this world, beliefs, cultures, mannerisms, and daily life. This tied into the themes of storytelling and how no-one’s story is really what you think it is, be careful who and how you judge people, and that sometimes stories get told over and over and over and people lose sight of their origins.
It’s a real world theme I intentionally incorporated. I’ve talked about it a lot, but there are South Asian influences in the Norse pantheon and epics, and that’s why the origins are called Proto Indo-European.
Indra, the god of storms and rains is famous for slaying a giant serpent using his proto-hammer, a war club, that has all the powers of a thunderbolt. Sounds like another famous god who kills a big ole serpent with a thunder imbued hammer/club, right? I mean, Thor, of course.
That’s an easy one, but there are so many tropes, story techniques, plot beats that go back well before the Greeks and the Heroes Journey (dear god) that many people have lost sight of that. And one theme I wanted to tackle is be very careful who you think came up with what beats in any given story, and you make not realize the buck does not stop where you think it does. You may think an author borrowed from an author before them, or even further back to a famous myth…but the question then is: does that myth have a myth it stole from?
The answer is usually yes.
There’s strong evidence that stories from One Thousand and One Nights has stories incorporated from Indian mythology into it. There are traces of South Asian mythology in many pantheons still to this day. Indra, from above, well he’s also worshiped in Japan, still as a storm god mind you. Very little has changed in some ways, and yet in many other ways, he has different characterizations. Stories travel, they evolve, and seldom do they keep their shape. That stands true today.
In creating this, I came to the idea that the story of South Asia is really the story of the Silk Road, it’s too much a part of so much that has happened and defined it. But if we take it back farther, it’s a story of stories. How they’ve travelled to and from South Asia across the world. With that in mind, storytelling and all things stories became the focus. And that’s where I went.
Mythology, history, and our own world of existing fiction. Tracing what author inspired who, what myths led to what pieces, or story beats. How often does a hero meet a temptress in their journey, and who really came up with it?
It’s as old as tales have been being told.
Which is to say far older than most of the classics were refer to today.
What about the giant serpent obstacle, be they dragon, or a child of a god that encircles the world, oh, like Jörmungandr?
None of these beats are original, none of their themes are. Many were stolen because, well, that’s what people do when they like a story, and they re-tweak and twist to serve their environments. Sometimes it’s the simple fact that no story can travel so far and hope to keep its truest first shape.
But when I started creating the stories for Ari—of Ari—I gained a new appreciation for just how fluid stories could be. After all, we’ve all certainly had a rumor or two spread about us. I mean, everyone’s gone through high school, right? At the very least, we’ve heard some. But rumors aren’t the truth, but many carry a hint of them. How do you separate them? How do you know what’s what? And how fast can they spin out of control to take the place of the truth and come to be the reality people will come to believe?
Worse. The reality they want to believe? Because that’s a huge part of this too. Sometimes people want to believe certain stories, whether or not they’re true is besides the point. And we all know that living in an age full of misinformation.
So, it wasn’t really one thing that inspired this. I had a character, and I knew his role—a storyteller. But it was a rabbit hole of holes that led me to think of a much larger picture than I had before. A concept of concepts that are all fluid and nebulous. Because stories are. Belief in them are. And belief itself is such a complicated thing. I suppose that’s just a start to what all started this, but if you really want to get a better idea, read The First Binding. Because it’s all in there, and it will keep rewarding the patient who can peel back layer after layer on read and reread.
Nothing should be taken at surface value, like any good story. And no one is all that you think they are. No story is only what it presents itself to be at first look. And certainly no story is has one true origin in this day and age.
I think that’s the best way I can put it. That’s what made me want to write this. I guess just the idea of better understanding us—people—stories, because we’re all storytellers in the end. And we all have our own stories in the making. We’re living them. And we all come from places with stories of their own, like South Asia. Sometimes there’s just room to breathe new life into all of that.
The stories of our pasts, the stories of who we are, and maybe the stories of who we’d like to grow to be.
The First Binding is out from Gollancz today! You can order your copy HERE