Interview: Douglas A. Anderson on Evangeline Walton
- Tell us a little about Evangeline Walton.
Evangeline Walton was born Evangeline Ensley—the “Walton” came from a family name which she used to form her penname. She was an only child, with a very large and close family on her mother’s side. She was born in 1907 in Indianapolis, and raised there. Her parents divorced when she was in her teens, and after WWII she and her mother moved permanently to Tucson, Arizona, where Evangeline lived until her death in 1996.
- In what ways would you say that Ms. Walton has left her mark on fantasy fiction?
She is perhaps best remembered for her four-volume reworking of the Mabinogion, the Welsh mythological cycle. The first volume was originally published as The Virgin and the Swine (1936), but was retitled Island of the Mighty when it was republished in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in 1970. The subsequent volumes are The Children of Llyr (1971), The Song of Rhiannon (1972) and Prince of Annwn (1974).
Walton also published a fine novel of witchcraft, Witch House, the first original novel published by August Derleth’s Arkham House in 1945. A new expanded edition, including a long prologue originally published only in the 1950 British edition, together with some previously unpublished chapters from another witchcraft novel, will be coming out in 2012 from Centipede Press.
Another of Walton’s books, The Cross and the Sword (1956), is a very fine novel about the about the clash of the Vikings and Christians a thousand years ago. It has had an unfortunate publishing history. The manuscript was considerably chopped and altered by the publisher without her consent. Even the title was changed (her original title was Dark Runs the Road). We hope to see the complete novel published.
- How did “They That Have Wings” come to light, and why was it only now discovered, fifteen years after her passing?
Walton’s papers were left in disorder at her death in 1996, and after being roughly sorted they were stored in California by her family. More recently the large number of boxes have been sent to Walton’s literary heir in Chicago, Debra Hammond, and I’ve worked with Debra in further sorting and reading, based on the pioneering categorization done by Debra’s mother. With some manuscripts the whole process was easy, but with others the difficulties have been great. For instance, in the mid-1940s Evangeline wrote a trilogy of novels about Theseus. In the mid-1950s she wrote entirely new versions of all three books, but then put them on hold after Mary Renault starting publishing her Theseus books. In the 1970s, after the success of the Ballantine editions of her four volumes of the Mabinogion, Walton visited Greece and started reworking the trilogy. So imagine taking three different versions of three related novels, plus various carbon copies, and mixing all of the pages in a metaphorical blender. I think there is something like eighteen or twenty linear feet of papers related to Theseus, so the sorting of these papers has been the most difficult. Walton published a revision of the first volume, The Sword Is Forged, in 1983, and that serves as a basic point of reference. But there remains a lot of work to be done with all the Theseus papers.
- Does this story have any connection with Walton’s own experiences? Did she, for example, know someone who fought in the Greek Theater of WWII?
No connections or personal experiences that I know of, but Evangeline was widely read and had a close circle of friends with whom she discussed the events of the day as well as her own writings, so there possibly could have been some related thread or inspiration. More likely, though, was her wide reading in mythological studies, and thus the idea of putting modern clothes on an old mythological legend.
- Would you say that “They That Have Wings” is typical of Ms. Walton’s writing in subject matter, style, etc., or is it an unusual example of her work?
What makes it very typical is that it takes a mythological (or fantastical) concept and puts living flesh to the idea, making it especially real. In the most general sense that is what many of her stories do, and do so well. With regard to details of this particular story, it may seem uncharacteristic because Walton is best-known for using Celtic materials, but the Greek stories were very important to her too, and she did work on her Theseus books for something like five decades.
- As Ms. Walton’s literary agent and in going through her papers, is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s been a fascinating endeavor, because going into it you have no idea what might be there. Walton did not write for a living, and did not have a pressure to publish what she wrote. So among the surprises have been a complete Gothic novel that she wrote in the 1960s, and a fine children’s fantasy novel that she wrote in the early 1940s called The Forest That Would Not Be Cut Down. There are two related mystery novels (and two more novels that I haven’t read yet). A verse-play titled Swan-Wife (about the Norse King Harald’s passion for a witch), some of Walton’s own translations of Wagner (Parsifal and Siegfried), and various shorter works. I’ve put together a collection of her ten completed fantasy stories. This includes her brilliant Breton tales that first saw publication in some anthologies in the early 1980s (though they were written many years earlier), as well as her sole story in the legendary Weird Tales magazine from 1950, and the newly-published “They That Have Wings”, along with a few other unpublished tales. We’re also working doing the full version of The Cross and the Sword, and considering what is the best way to share the Theseus novels. We’ve just begun a website (evangelinewalton.com) where we’ll post news as things become settled. It’s all very exciting.
Ms. Walton’s posthumous short story, “They That Have Wings,” appears in the November/December 2011 issue of F&SF.
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