I recently had the honor of sharing this on Mighty Thor JRS, an awesome blog to follow if you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings and Norse Mythology. Here it is again in case you missed it.
When I was a little kid, my mother would read me stories from a vintage 1960s Childcraft book. Well (clears throat), it wasn’t vintage then but whatever. My favorite story was called “Georgie,” about a ghost that haunted an old New England house and its kindly owners. Georgie wasn’t a bad ghost, just a little confused. I related to him. The addition of Herman the cat and Miss Oliver the owl permanently embedded this tale in my subconscious—or perhaps it was the other way around. Hard to tell.
Anyway, as it turns out, Georgie was a herald. All my favorite tales involve the Otherworld in one way or another, whether it’s a ghost, a vampire, an elf, a god or mortals such as shamans or witches who negotiate with such beings. I went from devouring high fantasy, swords and sorcery, and fairy tales to creating worlds of my own in which, despite Georgie’s charm, I quickly discovered a natural penchant for the darker side of things.
Of course, “dark” is a complex term that means different things to everyone. In my head it might take shape as a creepy, sightless demon that chews your face off, a malevolent phooka that will promise you one thing but deliver another, an elven warlock that might be your friend but probably isn’t, that cold finger on your spine at the thought of traveling through that particular forest, or the grim, sickening despair in your gut after a sorcerer curses you and you know you’re going to die.
Poor Georgie! He fell in with a bad crowd. Well, that’s what happens when you listen to the cat.
Being a votary of Tolkien since around Georgie’s time, I am strongly influenced by Northern European folklore and Norse mythology, which formed a custom groundwork in my high fantasy series The Fylking. Add to this palette works like The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is a motherlode of creepy, nasty fairytale monsters and the bastards who hunt them, or Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, one of my favorite anti-heroes, and inspiration knows no bounds.
Here are some of my favorite beasties.
Draugr, Goblins and Phooka
Draugr. The draugr is an undead creature in Norse mythology. While often compared to a zombie, this creature is a bit more sophisticated. In Old Norse, draugr means “ghost,” but it’s closer to a vampire. Accounts vary, but generally, the draugr are described as walking dead warriors with superhuman strength, the ability to shapeshift, and the unmistakable stench of decay. They are implacable, seek vengeance and will kill anything that crosses their nightly rampages. In Outpost, these beasties bear these traditional attributes, but they are also given life by an immortal warlock with his own agenda. They are not bound to the night and, because of their otherworldly origin, they appear half somewhere else, are demonic and malevolent, cannot be killed and can only be released by the magician who created them.
Forget honor. While inhumanly strong, the draugr are only as skilled in arms and familiar with the land as the men they once were. Distract and disable. If overrun, flee. – Outpost, Book One in The Fylking
Goblins. Nasty, foul-mouthed, wicked creatures. You would not want to cross their path, let alone offend them. Arcmael, the protagonist of Outpost, does both. He is a seer and a servant of the Fylking, immortal, unseen warlords who hold dominion over the realm. Arcmael lands on the bad side of the Otherworld, where most beings revere the Fylking as gods. But goblins revere nothing. They capture Arcmael and throw him in the bowels of their palace. Aside from his being fed some really disgusting fare, I won’t spoil what happens.
Truss him up! Drag him hither! Bind his limbs! Make him slither! – Outpost, Book One in The Fylking
Phooka. The name has many variations which show up in Celtic cultures throughout Northwestern Europe. In Irish, púca means “spirit” or “ghost.” The Old Norse term pook or puki refers to a “nature spirit.” This creature is a shape changer, part human at times, or part or all animal such as a goat or a horse, always with dark fur. Bleak, uncanny and generally wicked, the phooka is best to be avoided; yet can also be beneficial depending on mood or circumstance. In Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a phooka summoned by a desperate sorcerer wreaks havoc as only a phooka can.
The village girl who went missing and was found on the last dark moon, floating in her uncle’s millpond, was said to have been fey and prone to accidents. A comforting tale. Leofwine saw the poor creature’s death in the runes: drowning by twilight, the pale green eyes of the phooka glinting on the surface of the pond. – The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking
So if you’re into monsters, creepy creatures, fiends and the idgits who cross them, I have goodies for you. Don’t worry. I won’t tell Georgie.
The Chronicles of Ealiron features wizards, warriors, gods, a wolfish apparition with an agenda, clever ravens, a dastardly winged predator and an immortal sea serpent.
The Hunter’s Rede, Book One. Lorth of Ostarin is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.
The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.
In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.
The Fylking involves immortal warlords, elves, goblins, phooka, draugr, demons, warlocks, witches, sorcerers and all the trouble one can find dealing with them.
Outpost, Book One. In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.
After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s Ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.
The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.
The Wolf Lords, Book Two. The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.
The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.
When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.
Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.
© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.