"Stories never really end...even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don't end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page."
I am sure I will get mixed reactions when I own (to those who did not already know) that it was the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf which gave me the inspiration for Adamantine. Beowulf, like The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Song of Roland, belongs among a range of old poetic classics that everyone would have liked to have read and feels a certain hesitance to do so. When you do sit down to read them you often find they were not so daunting as you had first supposed. Beowulf is no exception. I confess I, too, was daunted at the outset...until I became swept up in the plot and the characters and the rich, abbreviated style of poetry and dialogue. I loved it. I loved it like autumn and bonfires and tea and spice. It was all of those colours and tastes to me and I just had to, after the last page and the last line and I was left sitting in a hollow shell of sadness and longing, I just had to write something more.
I was glad to know that Rudyard Kipling wrote Puck of Pook's Hill, for, upon closing A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck was the character I wanted to know more about - and there was more to read! But there was no more Beowulf when I closed the book, no more to read, though the story went on...so I would have to write it myself.
There was, of course, no more Beowulf. The understanding of Beowulf may be a little abbreviated itself among those who haven't read the story. Everyone knows about Grendel and his watery mother and the triumph of the Geats' champion over the Danes' monstrous oppressors. What gets perhaps far little press (though around this time of year in 2012 people are unwittingly raving about another book heavily inspired by the second half of Beowulf) is the gentle reign of Beowulf, the prosperity, the love of his people, the many conquests that are strung like pearls upon a string of time throughout his life...until the end, when a runaway servant sneaking into a sleeping dragon's lair steals a cup and gets away, only to wake the dragon's self-avenging fire across the land.
Does that sounds familiar now?
As the representative, governor, and champion of his people, Beowulf, having now exchanged a golden beard for one of badger's grey, sets out to slay the dragon. There is no champion like him, no one else capable of tackling such a foe, and Beowulf is determined to do or die.
And so Beowulf's followers rode, mourning their beloved leader, crying that no better king had ever lived, no prince so mild, no man so open to his people, so deserving of praise.
There is no happy ending. Old and valiant Beowulf is pressed by the dragon almost beyond bearing. At the last moment, when he most needs his sworn followers, every man turns and abandons him. Every man save his young kinsman Wiglaf, who alone runs forward to save his king from destruction. Together they kill the dragon, but the cost was heavy and high: Beowulf has been dealt a mortal wound. With the last great trophy, a dragon's head, the Geats' great king passes into legend, breathing out his last in the arms of the one man who loved lord and loyalty over his own life. It is no happy ending.
But what of that young man? After I had cried and been angry and cried some more, I wondered, what about that young man? What about Wiglaf? Surely such a hero had the beginnings of a splendid story. He shone like a star on the page but he deserved even more than that. So I sat down at my computer, opened up a new Word document, and began a new story, a Puck of Pook's Hill for Wiglaf.