The Fell Gard Codices

This was a tricky one to write, but not necessarily for obvious reasons. I started out writing The Fell Gard Codices with a rough idea of who the first six characters were, and obviously their backgrounds have taken shape the more I’ve thought about them. At this point I’d say Gryselde’s got the most detailed backstory of the bunch, and some of that shows up here.

Figuring out how much of the story would go into the chapter wasn’t that difficult. Figuring out how to articulate it, figuring out the level of self-knowledge the character has, figuring out how she felt about it and what images to use to explain those feelings — that was the trick of it. In the end, I’m quite pleased with how it came out.

I’m also happy about some of the things I was able to get in at the sides, including mention of different stories about demons, and some of the background matter about religion and geography. Along which lines I have to say this: alert readers may note the reference to the Koïvut, which I believe literally means “the birches” in Finnish. There’s a bit of a story there.

I used to be a hockey fan. I currently feel like I’m in the odd position of being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, while being appalled by the league in which the franchise plays. Various decisions by the NHL have actively driven me away from the sport, but I used to follow the league in general and the Canadiens in particular quite closely. And anybody who knows the game probably knows where this is going.

One of my all-time favourite players has to be Saku Koivu. You can check his Wikipedia page for a list of his accomplishments. But like a lot of good players, and all the best players, the numbers and awards don’t really sum him up. He had a particular approach to the game, a fusion of skill and absolute determination, that was inspiring to watch. Never more so than in the spring of 2002.

On September 6, 2001 (I remember the date easily; it was my twenty-eighth birthday), about a month before the hockey season started, Koivu held a press conference announcing that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. It’s still shocking to think back on. Here was a professional athlete, a young man who was literally one of the most physically fit people on the face of the planet — and there was a fifty percent chance that he’d be dead in a year. Not ‘out of hockey,’ not ‘permanently physically impaired,’ but dead. It was terrifying and depressing and made me think about my own mortality in uncomfortable ways; later on, I came to think of it as being five days ahead of the rest of the world.

Which is why it was so powerful to see Koivu take to the ice in 2002, with several games still to go in the season — as it happened, the game in which the Canadiens clinched a playoff position. My understanding is that his recovery was astonishing, bordering on being a literal medical miracle. It’s something that speaks to the man’s drive and willpower, a feat on a literally heroic scale, maybe the most impressive physical accomplishment I’ve witnessed.

So, to get back to Fell Gard: I’d decided when I was kicking around ideas for the world outside the dungeon that there’d be a people, or group of peoples, to the north who held to a basically shamanic, even animist religion. A vaguely Finnish kind of culture. It made sense to me that they’d be one of the peoples that Gryselde’s order would be preaching to (or against, depending).

And since I was thinking of them as Finnish, there was no doubt in my mind who I wanted to name the people for. Hence, the people of the birches. Hence also the line about Those Remembered by God; what I’ve found online suggests that the name ‘Saku’ is short for the Finnish version of ‘Zachary’ or ‘Zachariah,’ which means ‘The Lord hath remembered.’ It’s a resonant phrase, so I used it, and there it is. I don’t know how the story will unfold, so I don’t know for sure whether the Koïvut will be mentioned again. But, given who they’re based on … I wouldn’t be surprised.

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