Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Interview With T. A. Barron -- Part I

T. A. Barron is the author of the popular and five-book epic, The Lost Years of Merlin, which is soon to become a movie, based on the first book. His books have been translated into eight languages, and he is the recipient of the 2011 De Grummond USM Medallion for his lifelong contribution to the field of Children's and YA literature, as well as numerous other awards, including 2005 Nautilus Book Award-Grand Prize Winner, for The Great Tree of Avalon trilogy (another series that follows The Lost Years of Merlin and the Merlin’s Dragon trilogy). He lives in Colorado with his wife and children. In addition to his YA novels, Barron has written picture books and nonfiction. His titles can be viewed and purchased at: .

Q. You have said that Merlin intrigued you because of a missing space in the legends about him. But there are missing spaces in stories of Arthur, Morgan La Fay, and Margawse, and the latter two also had magical powers. Why Merlin instead of one of the others?

A. Merlin is simply the most rich, amazing, wondrous character of all! He is, after all, the original wizard – the first mythic person who embodies the magic of nature. The more I have written
about him (now almost twenty years), the more compelling he becomes.

Here are the reasons why:

Let me start by saying that I've been fascinated with Merlin ever since my first year as a student at Oxford, when I sat in the shade of an ancient English oak tree and read T.H. White's Once and Future King. But even though I eventually named that oak “Merlin's Tree”, I had no idea that twenty years later I'd have the chance to weave another thread or two into the marvelous tapestry of myth about Merlin. Life is really more surprising than legend.

So why has Merlin persisted in our minds and hearts? Why have people been telling stories about him, adding to his legend, for over fifteen hundred years? Well, here's my theory. It's because Merlin stands for three basic ideals—ideals we need today, more than ever: universality, humility, and the sacredness of Nature.

First take universality. When you look at the original Celtic tales, Merlin's role was truly astounding. And unique. Despite all the chaos, warfare, plagues, and hardships of life in sixth century Britain, here came this wizard who actually succeeded in building bridges among people—Druids and Christians, nobles and peasants, archbishops and old gray wolves. And now, in our own time, when so many people are bent on tearing humanity apart, Merlin gives us
hope that we can still perhaps come together.

Then there is humility. There is always a tension in Merlin's legends between the light and dark sides in humanity. And in Merlin himself. That is why, in the Celtic tales, he was given a saintly mother and a demonic father. And that is why, in my own tales of Merlin, he often grapples with his own dark side, his own flaws. All this makes him a wiser, more compassionate person—and a truly remarkable mentor.

And finally—Merlin's wondrous connection with Nature. To him, the language of the river or the tree isn't so far from his own; the echoing call of a wolf is full of wisdom. Humanity has always yearned to connect with the cosmos, to belong to the universe as wholly as light belongs to the stars. Merlin reminds us of that yearning, and inspires us to explore it.

Much like Merlin, the mythic world of Avalon kindles some of our deepest longings. For it is a place that combines mortal and immortal, transitory and eternal. A place where all creatures, whether they walk or fly or swim or crawl, live together in harmony. And also, a place of hope amidst human suffering. The sort of place where Merlin himself might live—and where, through the magic of story, we all can live, for a time.

Q. Are you the screenwriter for the movie, The Lost Years of Merlin? If so, how does writing script appeal to you? If not, are you comfortable with how it is being handled?

A. Originally, my agent asked me if I wanted to write the script. I said no – because writing a script is quite different from writing a novel, and I want a movie script that is the absolute best. And that’s what we got from Simon Kinberg! He is a fabulous script writer and producer, whose recent credits include Sherlock Holmes, XMen 3, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In addition to being an accomplished script writer, Simon is as passionate about this project as I am – and equally respectful of Merlin. So I have had no difficulty at all in giving Simon the opportunity to bring this story to life on the big screen. It’s been a true delight to work together with him.

Q. Is there a projected date yet for the movie? In other words, is the screenplay finished and have the stars been picked?

A. No date yet. We are still in development, with a terrific script. Now we are going out to directors, an exciting stage. So we are making progress … but this is a bizarre process.

Q. You have spent nearly 20 years writing about Merlin and Merlin’s dragon, Basil. Do you think any future projects will captivate your imagination to the extent that Merlin did?

A. After finishing my trilogy, The Great Tree of Avalon, (which, I'm pleased to say, made the New York Times best seller lists), I began the final trilogy to complete my saga of Merlin and his worlds. The result is the new Merlin's Dragon trilogy, which reveals what really happened between the final scene of The Lost Years of Merlin saga and the opening of The Great Tree of
trilogy. Book I, titled Merlin's Dragon, follows the amazing adventures of a tiny little fellow named Basil... who has a future that is just as magical, heroic, and extraordinary as Merlin's. Though he has a very small body, he has a very big destiny! Book II, called MERLIN'S DRAGON: Doomraga's Revenge, continues his epic adventures. And Book III, titled MERLIN'S DRAGON: Ultimate Magic , will call on him to show the magic, power, and wisdom of the greatest dragon of all times—if he's going to save his beloved world of Avalon.

I am also delighted to announce an illustrated compendium volume, due in 2011, titled The Book of Merlin, which will reveal many secrets and back stories about more than 150 characters and places and magical objects found in all the Merlin books! Together, these two books will complete the 12-book saga of Merlin and his worlds. (And they cap off an 18-year creative process for me ... quite a journey.)

Tomorrow T. A. Barron discusses his writing process, his love of nature, advice for young writers, and the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, named after his mother, a woman who believed one person can make a difference.

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