When I was a kid, I loved my fantasy fully immersive. Just a sniff of the real world was enough to put me off a book. I needed to open in a village called something like Irylyn, meet the plucky son of a blacksmith with a single syllable otherworldly name like Nyrt, and set off towards the Mountains of Kirth N’Gah in search of the Dagger of Sagshadoom within, absolute max a chapter or two. Hopefully meeting a fair maid called Unya along the way. This little book changed all that.
1986. I was fourteen. This was Terry Brooks’s first non-Shannara novel, and I leapt on it, only to find it featured a dude called Ben Holiday, and opened in a department store in Chicago. I mean, jeez. Shopping? In America? I was gutted.
Then Ben buys a faery kingdom from a catalogue and goes through a magic door to be its new king, and a curious thing happened as I read. I liked it just as much as his other stuff. Maybe, I began to think, the one world works as a foil to the other, and by a process of juxtaposition, we come to critically assess the two states of existence in profound new ways. OK, I didn’t think that. I was fourteen, dammit, I hadn’t even done my GCSEs. But it opened my eyes.
Lifers is a magic door story too, and as I invented amazing new ways to screw up the middle of the novel, I realised that one of the big decisions you have to make in a magic door story is this: at what point in the story is your protagonist is going to go through the magic door?
Brooks does it on pg 57. That’s 17% of the way through. But a rather more recent inspiration for Lifers was a Stephen King novel called From A Buick 8. Here, the crazy stuff beyond the magic door is glimpsed on pg 447 – 97% of the way through. Hmmm. Two very different models.
Having written Lifers as many times as I have, I can conclude only this: a King-style act three journey through the magic door didn’t work for this particular story. And also that a super-early venture didn’t work either. Looking back, it took me a long time to get the positioning right particularly if, as I hoped, the one world would work as a foil to the other, and by a process of juxtaposition, we’d come to critically assess the two states of existence in profound new ways.
Or something like that.