My Inspiration for A Rokian's Curse
"How did you come up with the idea to write this book?" I get asked this a lot. The origin of this story started many years ago. I was just discovering my love for folklore and wanted to express it in my writing, but I didn't know how to for a long time. The idea roosted in my mind, not building beyond a vague idea for many years. Once I found my inspiration, it wasn't too long until the characters and setting you're familiar with came to be and the book I've been longing to write for many years finally came to the surface. Some of my readers asked about the significance of the Scottish feel for the story. It wasn't a random choice, but I personally don't have a connection to Scotland.
I wanted to write an original story with roots in an old one. Kinda like a fairy tale retelling, but I didn't want to use a popular one like Snow White or Cinderella. There's nothing wrong with those tales, but many people have already inspired retelling on those and I feel like there are so many obscure stories out there that deserve a chance in the spotlight. I eyed "Scarborough Fair" for a long time. For those not familiar with it, Scarborough Fair is an old Scottish ballad. It's still around today but mostly played in instrumental versions. The song lyrics comprise a story from a figure wishing the listener to go to Scarborough Fair and tell their true love to do a set of impossible tasks in order for them to be together. Their partner responds to the listener with their own set of tasks, causing a standstill between them both.
I wanted to use this idea to create a brand new story, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't take it anywhere. I didn't just want to find inspiration, I wanted to bring an old piece of folklore back to life. That means I wanted readers to recognize certain elements I used from the original story. Scarborough Fair is lovely and all, but it's not much of a story. That's why I struggled with it so much.
Then something happened. I found another Scottish ballad! To my delight, it had everything I wanted. It was even more obscure than Scarborough Fair and it had set characters and more of a story to go on. It was called "The Elfin Knight," and it had so many similarities to Scarborough Fair. It's often labeled as a different version to Scarborough Fair because it uses all the same impossible tasks in the story.
There are many different versions of this song, including those where the maiden summons and tries to trap the elf in marriage, but I'll be focusing on the version that inspired the book. In that version, the elf summons a young maiden with a magical horn. (Sound familiar?) When she responds, he threatens to whisk her away in marriage. The only thing that will stop him is if she does a set of impossible tasks for him. She takes him off guard and tells him she'll do his impossible tasks, but he has to do some for her first. Realizing he can't possibly "find an acre of land between the saltwater and sea strand," or "plow a field with a single peppercorn," and "reap it with a sickle of leather," the elf sets her free and leaves empty-handed. Yes, it's a messed up story, but a lot of folklore is and I love it anyway. There's a particular version sang by Jean Luc Lenoir that I like the most, so I'll leave it here so you could listen to it. Take note of the horn that plays right at the start.
I took the characters from the ballad and locked them in a Scottish themed world because that's where the ballad originates. That also allowed me to fill the story with other essences from Scottish mythology. Actually, I originally didn't make a new world and was going to use medieval Scotland, but I decided to change it when I realized the elf would introduce our main character to a world of magic hidden either in or outside the areas of Scotland, so I created a new world inspired on Scotland. That way, I can keep these wonderful elements without Scotland disappearing from the story.
The book is my love letter to fairytales and folklore on the brink of being forgotten. In writing this story, I hoped to bring something both new and old to the table by rewiring my inspiration to be relevant in the modern world. I believed if I used a fairytale everyone overlooked, readers would discover an interesting world under the surface. Did it work? Do you think The Elfin Knight is as lovely as I do? Do you have any lesser known fairytales you would like to see rewritten?