- 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edition, including a long prologue originally published only in the 1950 British edition, together with some previously unpublished chapters from another witchcraft novel, will be coming out in 2012 from Centipede Press.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.
Tell us a bit about the story.
“The Ice Owl” is about a smart, slightly alienated teenager named Thorn who has grown up traveling from planet to planet along with her charming but irresponsible mother, Maya. They are members of a class of people called Wasters, who have given up the sequential, rooted existence on planets for a roaming lifestyle that takes them all over human-inhabited space. In this story, they are living in the iron city of Glory to God, where a fundamentalist revolt is brewing. When extremists burn Thorn’s school, she is forced to find a tutor. But the tutor she chooses, Magister Pregaldin, turns out to be hiding a secret that Thorn has to become a detective to find out. The answer is more than she bargained for.
What was the inspiration for “The Ice Owl,” or what prompted you to write it?
Truly, this was an accidental story. I set out to write the story of what happens to Thorn and Maya on the next planet they land on, but I felt I needed a flashback to explain the situation they just escaped from. Then the flashback took over and became the story.
As Gordon noted in his introduction, “The Ice Owl” is set in the same universe as my novella “Arkfall,” but it’s also the same universe as a number of other stories I’ve written. My novel Halfway Human is set in this universe, and the ice owl comes from the planet where “The Honeycrafters” takes place. I’ve started calling this universe the Twenty Planets; I sure hope I don’t use them all up. I never planned to write linked stories; I just keep coming back to this universe because the rules are congenial. They have light-speed transport and (by the time this story takes place) primitive instantaneous communication. This creates some interesting situations I like to play with. For example, in this story I wanted to explore what it would be like to grow up as an interplanetary vagabond—a childhood similar to what military kids have today, but with the time delays of space travel built in.
Another ingredient of the story came from my work in a museum. The professional literature is just now full of stories about the repatriation of art looted by the Nazis, which a lot of museums have inadvertently ended up owning. The situation has created legal problems that will long outlive the survivors of World War II. It has always seemed to me there was a story there.
What kind of research, if any, did you do for this novella?
I am virtually always doing research, though I don’t think of it that way—I think of it as keeping up with the world. I’m an avid reader of science magazines and scientific news. I never know what sort of tidbit is going to come in handy, so I just shovel it all in, and something is sure to come out. In this case, I admit I had to spend a day doing some directed research on chemistry to get one part of the story right enough to be convincing.
The setting of “The Ice Owl” is very vividly imagined and described, to the point that it’s almost a character itself. Could you speak further about Glory to God: its genesis, etc.?
As in “Arkfall,” I started with a type of planet found in our own solar system, in this case a tidally locked planet like Mercury, where one face is permanently turned toward the sun, making half the planet too hot to inhabit and the other half too cold. Life would only be feasible in the narrow strip between permanent day and permanent night. Such a planet is unlikely to have an atmosphere, so my city had to be domed. The inhabitants would have plenty of solar and geothermal energy, so they could get their oxygen from the iron oxides that are plentiful on this planet, and use the iron for building. Living in an iron city on an airless planet seemed a rather grim and desperate existence to me, so I gave them a grim and desperate culture. Fundamentalist religion, authoritarian power structures, and extremism are all reactions to the sheer difficulty of surviving in a place like this.
In editing the story, Gordon suggested I put in more nonhuman life forms, which was an interesting challenge. I wanted to put in cicadas because they would have given the story a rather maddening sound track; but they couldn’t survive without foliage to eat, so I have to give them up. But there are two life forms that are going to go everywhere human beings go—rats and cockroaches. We’re vectors for their spread. So they are the dominant nonhuman residents of Glory to God.
Most authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way is “The Ice Owl” personal?
The main personal element in this story is one just about anyone has experienced—the moment when you realize that your parents are not really adult. Or rather, that being adult doesn’t make a person any wiser, more powerful, or more competent at life. I remember how disillusioned I felt when I found that my parents were just muddling along, and didn’t really know any more about coping with the world than I did—in some ways, less. It takes a long time to forgive them for that.
This is also a story about the moment when you first realize that life is a series of deliberate choices for which you are going to be responsible. When we’re children, all the important choices are made for us by adults; we might not like them, but the onus of deciding is out of our hands. But that phase of life ends. I am frustrated by how many stories indulge in the wish-fulfillment fantasy of a life that is guided by outside forces. Think of all the stories where the protagonist is fated to become king, or to save the world, or is thrust into a situation where there is only one right course of action. It’s all about the author’s longing for a return to an infantile existence. But life is not like that. We aren’t just acted upon by events; we have to create our own futures through our own decisions, for better or worse. What’s more, we create other people’s futures. This is the main lesson Thorn learns from Magister Pregaldin.
What are you working on now?
I have just finished final revisions on my next fantasy novel, Ison of the Isles, the sequel to Isles of the Forsaken, which came out in August. It’s a very intense book. And for all the people who were frustrated when the first book ended with “to be continued,” the second book does wrap up the story! It comes out in spring of 2012.
“The Ice Owl” appears in the November/December 2011 issue.