The Book That Ate My Life

This book almost killed me. Many people have been amused at the reference to it as “The Book That Ate My Life” in the acknowledgments, but it was damn near true.

For one thing, I was already horribly behind schedule. We (my publishers at DAW and I) had planned that I would write one volume a year, and I was something like two and a half years behind deadline before I even began TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER.

It also coincided with a very difficult part of my life, where — among other things — my first marriage ended. I was a mess.

Last but not least, I had set up a very complex story and promised to finish it in one more volume. Thus, TGAT (as my friends on-line came to call it, pronounced “Tee-Gat”) would prove to be terrifyingly long. When I finished it, the manuscript was 1650 pages, a stack of paper over a foot tall. It barely made it into hardcover binding, and was so large it had to be published in two volumes in paperback.

Despite all this, I desperately needed and wanted to finish the Osten Ard story. Not only for the sake of the readers who were asking, “Where the hell is Volume Three?” but for myself. I had lived with the characters so long, while my own life was changing so much, that I needed to find out what happened and see it through. There were times I worried that I was punishing Simon in the final volume as a way of dealing with my own unhappiness and pain. I can only say in my defense that the original outline (done years earlier) had suggested that the last volume wouldn’t be a happy time for Simon so his travails weren’t only because of my own misery.

There were pleasures too, of course. You can’t be as involved with a book as I was with TGAT, and come as close to what you hoped to do when you set out as I did, and not feel good about it. But it was a very dark book as well. In fact, I’ve often been surprised when some readers talk about what they feel is too blithely happy an ending. Without giving things away for people who haven’t finished it yet, I can’t comprehend seeing everything these characters go through, tallying all the characters who don’t make it, and then thinking that things are all hunky-dory just because some survive.

I thought that the crucial messages of TGAT were actually pretty subtle and a touch depressing: that life can be unfair, that the only thing you can do when it knocks you down is get up; that some hurts never heal; that hatred and revenge are ultimately useless, but that resisting hatred and revenge doesn’t mean you’ll have a personal happy ending, either. (The list of good, decent folk killed off in the trilogy would fill a page.)

Besides, an epic has a certain, time-tested form, and I was trying to write an epic. I suppose I could have had Simon fall downstairs at the end and break his neck, or get eaten by rabid badgers or something, which would have satisfied a certain sort of critic, but I think it would have been a dreadful thing to do to readers who had just finished reading a million words, waiting to find out Simon’s ultimate fate.

(Admittedly, the ending of TGAT could have been worse. My joke to my friends during the darkest days of The Endless Manuscript was that I had decided to go with the “Everybody Dies” ending just to simplify things.)

A question I frequently get asked about TGAT is what people perceive as my preparing a sequel — that matter of a certain pair of children. I deliberately put those children and that prophesy in the book, NOT to pave the way for a sequel (please notice that I’m in the middle of writing a completely different four-book series for the foreseeable future), but to show that Osten Ard is not the kind of place where the magic and strangeness suddenly stops just because this particular adventure has ended.

(It’s always been one of my pet peeves — fantasy worlds that seem to be completely static until everything swirls into chaos during the time the novel describes, then drop back into complete stasis again when the story ends.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t ever write another Osten Ard book; the only thing certain is that when I was finishing the trilogy, I had no such plans.

It’s hard for me to say anything very clever about TGAT. It was the ending of what — at least until I finish OTHERLAND — has been the main creative achievement of my life. Like I said, it almost killed me. But I also feel like I took responsibility for a world and for a lot of people in it, and gave those characters and their world respect, and paid attention to what happened to all of them, and allowed each one the room to have his or her own story. Yeah, it took me 1650 pages to finish the thing off, each page metaphorically covered in my own blood, but I wouldn’t take a single one of them back now.

Well, I wouldn’t mind having some of that blood back.

Tad Williams © 1996
All Rights Reserved

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