INTERVIEW: John R. Fultz, author of “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” is about the sacred relationship between a book and its reader. It’s about shedding the illusions that surround you…finding the true reality that lies beneath the Big Lie. It’s about being an outsider, someone who doesn’t fit in, and finding out that you were never meant to fit in here at all…but are needed and essential somewhere else. It’s about one man’s journey of discovery as he unlocks a mystery that spans space, time, and the soul. It’s also about letting go of the past so you can move forward into the future. Finally, it’s about magic…the magic of reading and writing books.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Books. The incredible magic of books. The timeless mystique of bookstores. I’m a firm believer in the mystical power of the written word. But I’m not one those guys who reads “everything.” In fact I’m very particular about what I’ll read. I can spend two hours roaming the shelves of a bookstore and find nothing that I want to buy. However, many times in my life certain books have called to me. I’m walking through a bookstore–it could be a gleaming new superchain or an old, musty den of used books–and I end up wandering directly toward a book that thrills, captivates, and amazes me. There, among thousands of possible tomes, I discover just the right book…the literary needle in the haystack. In this way I have found books that have changed my life through sheer inspiration. Portals to strange and fantastic worlds. I started thinking about how I have always done this, from the time I was old enough to read. It got me thinking that maybe we don’t find the books we’re truly meant to read, they find us. Is there a mystic link between readers and books? Are there certain books you are supposed to read? This concept was the genesis of the “Thirteen Texts of Arthyria.”

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Actually this story flowed like…well, magic. Once I locked into the concept and decided to run with it, everything opened from there like the petals of some gorgeously weird lotus. Much like the main character, who is drawn into a quest for certain books that unlock massive secrets, I was drawn into the world (or worlds) of this story to discover the details and capture the images as I went. The parts I spent the most time on getting just right were the first couple of segments, when the modern world is slowly slipping away and something else begins to show through. I had written this bizarre scene where thousands of automobiles on the interstate were suddenly replaced by thousands of horses with modern commuters riding them as if this was totally normal. I decided to cut that scene because, although it was bizarre and ironic, it just didn’t fit the greater scheme/mood of the story. It would have been a glaring distraction from the subtle, gradual emergence of a second reality. Other than that, this story evolved without much pain. It was a smooth birth and no drugs were required.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I suppose the story reflects my own mystical/spiritual approach to choosing the books I read…as well as my love of books in general and how I venerate the books that truly made a difference in my life. Yes, I am a Book Addict. This wouldn’t be a problem if I owned a vast library somewhere, but as it turns out I leave books scattered in my wake everywhere I move…like a hurricane. Have you ever felt drawn into a bookstore…didn’t know why but thought “I need to go in here right now.” I have…many times. On those occasions I always discover something amazing. On the other hands, many times I go into a bookstore out of boredom and leave without finding a single book that interests me. I also love finding old used book stores…they are treasure troves containing a billion gateways to alternate realities. There’s something very sacred about bookstores, and this story reflects that belief. I always tell my students that writing (and reading) is a form of magic. How else can you share the thoughts of someone who lived 500 years ago and enter his world in all its beautiful and ugly detail? So this story is sort of an exploration of my own fascination with books. It’s also an extended metaphor for discovering those amazing fantasy worlds into which only books can take you.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story? 

A lifetime of prowling through stacks of new and used books, looking for the next Great Fantasy Tale.

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

Ah, the wizard. What more fascinating character is there in all of literature? Whether you call them wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, witches, magicians, or what-have-you, they are the Mysterious Ones. The ones who know the obscure secrets of the cosmos…they wield the eldritch powers that would make most of us flee in terror. They command the forces of nature and supernature, they weave destinies, they create and destroy worlds, they study the eternal mysteries of existence and non-existence. They are the Keepers of Knowledge…the archetypal Wise Man (or Wise Woman) who holds the secrets of the universe in the palm of his hand. There is so much mystique, wonder, and possibility in the wizard/sorcerer character that it’s hard to ignore. I think we all have a link to this character imbedded in our DNA…our Universal Consciousness. It comes down to us from ancient times, when wizards and Wise Men and shamans were very real–and very essential to daily existence. Today, we still have our wizards, but we don’t call them that anymore…they’re Doctors, Professors, Scientists, and Artists of all types. But the concept of the Learned One still remains an essential human quality…we need these “wizards” because they are a vital part of the human race. When we strip away all of the modern-day trappings and get back to the primal wizard figure, there’s a fascinating and wondrous journey there…it takes us back into the depths of our own forgotten history, to a time when the world was a conglomeration of wonders and terrors. The men (and women) who could master those terrors and bend cosmic forces to their will were the wizards. Some were to be feared, others sought for advice and favors. Stories of wizards transport us into the primeval world, where sheer awe comes alive. Allow me to quote the great Black Sabbath: “Evil powers disappear…demons worry…when the Wizard is near. He turns fear…into joy. Everyone’s happy…when the Wizard walks by.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Wow, how much space do you have for this answer? The first wizard I remember reading about was Gandalf, when I read The Hobbit in third grade. I was absolutely captivated. That led me to The Lord of the Rings. Soon after that I learned the legend of Merlin, and I saw the movie Excalibur as a kid on HBO and that was a major deal for me (as well as Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings movie). Gandalf and Merlin are maybe the greatest examples of the archetypal wizards who appear in literature. There is no denying the appeal of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Arthur’s mystical Britain. In the cannon of classic fantasy, there are many examples of terrific wizardry, such as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales, where Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face are the heroes’ patrons–mysterious inhuman wizards who watch over and protect Fafhrd and the Mouser, as well as giving them preposterous quests now and then. The tales of Clark Ashton Smith are rife with wizardry (although he prefers the term “sorcerer” usually)…Malygris of Susran, Namirrah of Zothique, and Evagh the Warlock, to name only a few. Nobody could build a rich, phantasmagoric world of dark wonders like Smith…his prose is hypnotizing and his necromancers are legendary. Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone is one of my favorite wizards as well (although once again he’s usually called “sorcerer”–to me these two terms are interchangeable). Elric was a revelation for many reasons: Not ony was he a warrior-hero (or anti-hero), but also a master of wizardly power. Who knew a wizard could be such a bad-ass with a sword? Of course, he was also the tormented prince, a tragic figure whose sorcery couldn’t save him from the doom that awaited him in the end. Tanith Lee’s Tales from the Flat Earth are some of the most magical and beautiful stories involving wizards and magical beings. She brings wizardry to life in poetic, lyrical, and gorgeous style…and she explores essential human truths via these fantastic and ancient concepts. These stories are like magic spells that weave the reader in a web of jewel-bright prose. Darrell Schweitzer is another writer who simply amazes me with his lyrical, metaphysical, and often surreal tales of wizards and sorcerers. A few of my favorites are: “The Sorcerer Evagdorou,” “The Mysteries of the Faceless King,” “A Lanter Maker of Ai Hanlo,” “The One Who Spoke with the Owls,” and “The Witch of the World’s End.” All of these are splendid jewels dripping with the light of wizardry. Recently I discovered Patricia A. McKillip’s superb Riddle-Master trilogy, beginning with The Riddle-Master of Hed, and I have to say it’s one of the greatest examples of wizard fiction I’ve ever encountered. I’m currently devouring the second book, Heir of Sea and Fire. McKillip evokes that Tolkien-esque feeling without actually stealing from Tolkien–not an easy thing to do. The world of the Riddle-Master is a place you want to go wandering in, to experience its endless enchantment firsthand. Finally, I have to mention A. A. Attanasio’s Arthor series, and R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series, both of which approach magic/wizardry/sorcery in stunningly fresh ways. Unforgettable stuff.